"Curiosity can change the world"
"Listening and being curious matters." Advice for others looking to make history.
In honor of woman making history month, we want to take you on a journey in Christa Preston’s life that has become a life-long mission. The reality is, when one remains curious and passionate, an important journey can lead to a true purpose. In the case of Embrace Kulture and its founder Christa Preston, her journey has led to an amazing, history-making mission. It started with the not-so-simple act of honoring a loved one. She began teaching special needs children in an underdeveloped country. Now, it has evolved into a movement with the potential to change a worldview.
Christa’s journey began in 2012. It began with the personal loss of a family member with special needs. She had a strong desire to honor him, reconnect with a passion, and give back to the many in need. Christa, who never expected to be an entrepreneur, pushed the pause button on her otherwise busy life and travelled to Uganda and became a special needs teacher. This selfless gift of her time would, to many, seem like enough. But, after a year of teaching, Christa knew it wasn’t enough. Her seemingly simple request to visit the homes of some of her students as they finished the term, opened her eyes and changed her world.
What she learned on those visits is that her classroom was just the tip of a tragic iceberg. An iceberg where below the surface lie countless forgotten, abused, and hidden children. There is a lack of understanding and awareness in Uganda of what it means to have cognitive disabilities; instead, these disabilities are very much viewed as a curse or punishment, something that brings shame to the family. Children are hidden away in closets or stalls like livestock, tied by a rope to a chair or bed, or on the extreme side, murdered to avoid family shame.
In a country where only 1% know the terms Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Autism, they use the terms like kasiru, possessed, and cursed instead. Today these children are being hidden away, living their entire life in a single dark room, chained to their homes, institutionalized, or abandoned.
One year turns into...
What began as a one-year commitment to teach, became her new life’s work – her purpose. Christa literally walked and public-transited the entire country asking government officials what non-profits existed in this space. In the whole of Uganda, she found a couple of schools and one orphanage that focused on special needs. No one was doing broad community work and the government was ignoring the crisis. Christa, with the original social workers from the school she taught at (Stephen Kabenge and Hawa Nsangi) all sat down to discuss what would become Embrace Kulture. It was founded as an official organization in 2014.
As soon as they started talking about it and running small awareness events in different villages and communities, children were brought out of hiding. Soon, they gained attention from the National Rugby Team, some famous singers, and entertainers who then became aware of what was happening in their country. That attention raised the awareness of over 1 million people!
Children were being brought out of hiding at 8 – 10 years old. They simply couldn’t manage the normal education system. This was the beginning of the Amaanyi Center, the first and only Center focused on educating and empowering youth with developmental or cognitive disabilities. Many parents and children often flee their homes and go to the Amaanyi Center living there fulltime until Embrace Kulture could go back, educate their community, and reintegrate them back into their homes.
For years, Christa and Embrace Kulture have been fighting to have the Ugandan government acknowledge this reality. In 2022, after years of legal work and in response to a suit brought against the Ugandan government by Embrace Kulture, the government has finally admitted they have allowed these unjusts to go on. In the Ugandan constitution for special needs, children are afforded basic human rights. It was not until the tireless efforts of the Embrace Kulture team, that it was recognized that those rights were not only being ignored but, in many cases, grossly violated.
Through the legal work of Embrace Kulture, Uganda now has a timeline of actions and improvements that must be made. The new rulings state that the Ugandan government needs to write new guidelines within 6 months. In one year, they must show they are implementing the steps to put those guidelines in place. And in 5 years clinical guidelines need to be put in place to fulfill the needs of children with autism and other special needs. As you can imagine there are many complexities that continue.
Bringing the Mission Home
Christa’s goal is real: to significantly raise awareness of this issue. To continue all the wonderful steps and progress the team had made in Uganda; she needed to raise the funds and build Embrace Kulture into a non-profit that could create a world where all children are embraced. In the United States, no one has any idea that this could possibly be happening. The sad reality is that the international community is not talking about it, at all.
We have had the absolute honor of being a part of raising that awareness for this unbelievable mission. In our signature Brand Workshop, we work with our partners to peel back the layers of their purpose and get to the essence of what their mission and vision truly are. Christa, her board, and her advocates were invaluable in this interactive, visual, and creative exercise. The result clarified a single focus for all of them and defined the North Star they all wanted to reach for.
To support children with special needs,
by uniting local and global communities,
in creating a world where all children are embraced.
You can instantly see how this shifts to a more global approach and reaches further than Uganda. In a Brand Session when you are on a Quest to create a powerful vision, we push you to reach as far as you can imagine with the intent that someday it will become a reality. The session also resulted in the addition of a tagline that ensured memorability and that they always reach for that North Star every time they hear it. No More Hidden Children. Below the layers of that statement, beneath the iceberg is the awareness to the world that in fact, children with special needs are being hidden. Awareness is powerful.
Our work didn’t stop there. We knew we needed to spread this vision across the United States and that we needed new voices to help. Currently, we are working hand in hand with the team to create an organized and powerful advocate program. Our content makes it as easy as possible for Advocates to leverage their networks, inform them of the issue, and make a significant difference in the growth and awareness of this cause. An advocate in this space stands up for the rights of someone with disabilities.
With the help of LRobInspires to gain awareness and grow the base of advocates, Christa and Embrace Kulture are extending their reach. “Once people hear about this issue, they want to do something about it. What we need more than anything is for people to spread awareness that this is happening. That is how we truly activate change.”
What does success look like?
“I would love for us to have advocates throughout the U.S. I hope when people hear about Autism and Down Syndrome internationally, they can associate the terms with Embrace Kulture and eventually they are hearing the story of how the situation has changed so dramatically.”
Christa’s curiosity led her to this personal discovery almost 10 years ago, and it’s her passion for change that from that day forward drives her actions. Actions that educate the local communities she serves, actions that speak to the Ugandan Government to hold them accountable, and actions that shout as loud as they can to the global community that this cannot be acceptable. Christa IS a woman making history in Uganda. She has been directly responsible for a child being released from an animal pen, untied from a bed, and brought into the light.
Please take a moment to watch this video. Then, if you would, consider sending this page to your friends. Inform others. Help us make history and help ensure there are: NO MORE HIDDEN CHILDREN.
Remember, we’re here to inspire you as you set out to make history!
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