In 1991 Irene Gleeson, an Australian grandmother from the northern beaches of Sydney, heard about children being abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Irene was concerned about the plight of the children and felt God’s call on her life to help them.
Irene sold everything she owned including her beachside home, towed her modest caravan to Uganda and used the proceeds of the sale to begin a full day care school in Kitgum, Uganda. A schoolteacher by trade, Irene began teaching 50 children to write their names in the dust under a mango tree and to sing songs. Irene lived through 15 years of war, attacks, poverty and refugee camp life and spent a third of her life with the people of Northern Uganda.
From her first school under a tree, IGF has now grown into five primary schools that educate, feed and provide medical care for over 6,000 children daily. A business and technical vocational school provides youth with training in carpentry, building, tailoring, office skills, welding and information technology. A health program has evolved to keep children and parents healthy, including a 60-bed HIV hospital, health clinics, a maternity hospital currently under construction, and village and community health initiatives. A 1500 member Community Church has grown at the main campus and offers spiritual healing, restoration and support to members of the local community with vibrant youth, women, children, hospital, prison and discipleship ministries.
In addition, IGF manages 91.5 Mighty Fire FM, a community radio station that broadcasts educational programs and local gospel music. With over 1 million listeners, Mighty Fire is the second biggest radio station in Northern Uganda. IGF’s Creative Arts Centre and Community Centre provide counselling, adult literacy courses, youth activities, dancing, painting, art and music. These activities encourage creative expression and help to heal a community ravaged by 20 years of war.
IGF also undertakes water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs through the drilling and refurbishment of boreholes in the schools and local communities, the installation of rainwater harvesting tanks, the construction of drainable latrines, hygiene education and promoting the use of sanitary facilities.
Irene’s work has been recognised by the President of Uganda, the Parliament of Uganda and by the Australian Government. In 2009 Irene received the honour of Officer of the Order of Australia for “service to international relations, particularly through sustained aid for children affected by war and HIV/AIDS in Northern Uganda” and media outlets began to dub her Australia’s Mother Teresa.
Sadly, Irene passed away on 21 July 2013 after a long battle with cancer. She leaves behind an incredible legacy for IGF to continue. The Irene Gleeson Foundation employs over 300 Ugandan staff, led by Executive Director John Paul Kiffasi, who are faithfully continuing Irene’s dream of bringing lasting change to the people of Northern Uganda.