The Course of Reason

CFI World Report: An Update on Our International Outreach Efforts

March 12, 2013

This report arises from my recent trip to Kenya, Uganda and Egypt.

CFI helps orphans in Kenya

On the fertile high country in central Kenya, in the shadow of the Nandi Hills, is the Ogwodo Primary School. Five or so buildings, two of them built by the parents out of mud and cow dung. All quite large and bare, with forty or more children to each room, sitting on hard pews and working at long benchtops. Here is where 24 orphans are getting their schooling thanks to the Center for Inquiry.

There are many orphans in Kenya, most the result of their parents having died from HIV/AIDS, being too poor to afford medication, or learning of their disease too late. The churches bear a huge responsibility for the unnecessarily high death toll. Their primitive attitudes toward contraception and their encouragement of superstitions and misinformation about what HIV/AIDS is and how it is caught is a scandal to all civilized people. In the face of this ongoing catastrophe, George Ongere of CFI–Kenya has set up the Humanist Orphans program.

School fees keep many of the poorest children away from school in Kenya, as does the cost of uniforms. Most schools in Kenya insist on a uniform. It's a way of weeding out those parents who are not serious about their children's education. But, with no parents to look out for their interests, most orphans miss out on school altogether, and have no future to look forward to.

So George Ongere has gathered together this group of orphans in his home district, overseen their placement in the homes of relatives or neighbors, and ensured their school fees and uniforms are paid for from his already-overstretched CFI stipend. It was deeply moving to see these young people being given a chance at life. The needs of the orphans are still legion. But some sort of start has been made.

CFI fighting HIV/AIDS in Uganda

Fifty or so miles out of Kampala is a small town called Wobulenzi, and here CFI–Uganda runs a clinic devoted to testing the local population for HIV/AIDS and educating them about how the disease is contracted. The education program is vital because, as in Kenya, superstition and misinformation are rife. So much of what is not understood is attributed to witchcraft and, not infrequently, whoever is identified as the witch ends up dying a horrible death. So CFI–Uganda is fighting these debilitating superstitions and testing people for AIDS by taking blood samples, which are then examined. You couldn't ask for better and more important combination of science and reason than this.

CFI–Uganda is also helping an organization called HALEA, or Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability. HALEA works in the Kampala slums providing basic information to the people there. It might be about successful job-hunting, or about sexual hygiene and contraception. As elsewhere, there is a strong need to educate people against the prevalent superstitions. Predatory churches seek members by spreading fear and misinformation about HIV/AIDS, contraception, vaccination, education and many other things. The young slum-dwellers, almost all unemployed, are also susceptible to criminal activities, so HALEA organises recreational activities to keep them busy and off the streets. It's not pretty work but, in the words of the recent Free Inquiry articles, this is humanism with a pulse.

Bill Cooke with a group of Ugandan humanists in Kampala. Fourth on left is Deo Ssekitooleko, convenor of CFI–Uganda. On the left among the three crouching men is Kato Mukasa, director of the humanist charity organisation, HALEA.
Bill Cooke with a group of Ugandan humanists in Kampala. Fourth on left is Deo Ssekitooleko, convenor of CFI–Uganda. On the left among the three crouching men is Kato Mukasa, director of the humanist charity organisation, HALEA.

Struggling for secularism in Egypt

The third country of my African tour was Egypt. There the needs were quite different from those of Kenya or Uganda. Though the poverty in Egypt is every bit as grinding as in sub-Saharan Africa, the primary need there is to defend the gains made by the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak's three-decade long dictatorship. CFI–Egypt is deeply engaged in this herculean task.

Bill Cooke with professors Mona Abousenna and Mourad Wahba speaking to secularists in Cairo. 
Bill Cooke with professors Mona Abousenna and Mourad Wahba speaking to secularists in Cairo.

Secularism has long been a dirty word in Egypt, where it's been equated with anti-religion and atheism. But since the election last year of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, many Egyptians are beginning to grasp the fundamental importance of the secular form of government. The significant Coptic Christian community is quite clear of the advantages of a secular constitution, and so are the well-educated. But now, even among the majority of Egyptians, the possibility is arising that Egypt could be secular without their Muslim religion being humiliated or endangered in any way.

Professor Mourad Wahba is a household name in Egypt. He has argued for secularism courageously for more than forty years. He, and Professor Mona Abousenna, has been the public face of Egyptian secularism. It is also gratifying to see dedicated young secularists coming up to take the battle on for the next generation. These young secularists have shown considerable courage by staging street marches, chanting "almaniya," or "secularism." They're noting that the hostility to their call is reducing all the time as people slowly realise that Islamist rule is much the same as the dictatorship they shed so much blood overthrowing two years ago. The battle to save Egypt's secular freedoms is on, and CFI–Egypt is there, at the barricades.

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About the Author: Bill Cooke

Bill Cooke's photo
Bill Cooke is the current Director for International Programs at the Center for Inquiry.




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