Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Laura Luxemburg used to be the one to write checks to charitable organizations — now she in on the receiving end of donations for the nonprofit she runs with her son.
The organization, called Ssubi, does a mixed-bag of nonprofit work throughout the world: providing materials and opportunities for people in Uganda, linking discarded medical supplies with schools and homeless shelters, and more.
Although the official mailing address for Ssubi is in Mission Valley, Luxemburg’s organization is more based wherever she is at the moment in the world helping others.
What inspired you to become involved in nonprofit work and start Ssubi?
I have always been a supporter of nonprofits and through my travels to many developing countries, I saw firsthand how little it takes to make a difference. That’s when I began questioning how much money actually goes to the people or cause that need it? I found, in most cases, it was shockingly less than 25 percent. I felt there must be a better way.
In 2009, I was introduced to the Bishop Asili Health Center in rural Uganda. The 48-bed health center was run by seven nuns, served three districts — a population of over 660,000 people.
My initial involvement included self-funding of medical equipment and supplies; donating to the building of a surgical suite; funding orphans to local schools; building and stocking a piggery; and the purchase of 220 acres in a remote bush community that has no clean water source, health or education facilities. I kinda just jumped right in.
I only became a charitable organization to sell bags and beads made by patients at the health center in our local SunDiego stores. They required me to be a registered charity before they would place our Ssubi items in any of their clothing stores — even though I was not taking a penny of the proceeds. So we should all thank [SunDiego owner] Sharon Nash for being tough with me. […]
What is Ssubi? What does the word mean?
Ssubi means “hope” in Luganda. The name was made first for a group of Bishop Asili Hospital HIV-positive patients who had been denied jobs and micro finance loans because of their HIV status. They were really just left to die. I was trying to think of a word that meant something to everyone no matter where you were in the world — something we all have or should have. “Hope” came to mind.
My son Baron, at the age of 17, traveled with me to Uganda to start a project for these patients. We purchased 12 sewing machines and some paper. Baron cleaned out an old chicken house, put the sewing machines and tables together and started the Ssubi Group. The program has been very successful. The patients have gone on to have second businesses like clothing stores, soda pop shops, brokering commodities, and selling cooked food in the market. Children’s school fees are being paid and a population that was forgotten is doing very well. Ssubi truly means hope and brings hope.
What is the story behind the hospital in Uganda?
I have copied Sister Ernestine Akulu’s words, as she can better explain my involvement with the hospital than I can:
“For a number of years now Laura Luxemburg has been working with the Sisters, medical staff, patients and communities in and around Asili Hospital. Her spirit and presence has helped change the whole situation surrounding the hospital and communities served. […]
“When Laura came here she understood that health care is not just technical diagnosis of diseases and prescriptions of medications. It stands for social justice. It must always have a holistic approach because health is multifaceted. She was sure that living her vision together with Asili Hospital could restore dignity to thousands of rural poor, sick and vulnerable people. […]
“Before she came, the hospital had found itself in the midst of a community with huge and multiple problems of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and many others. […]
“Luweero is one of the rural districts in Central Uganda. It is an area ravaged by the civil war in the 1980s that left most infrastructure in ruins – still struggling to recover. Rural communities in Uganda represent 88 percent of the nation’s population. There are very few full health care organizations and professionals in rural areas, and the availability of health care services varies widely. […]
“We have understood that the main idea for Laura and Ssubi is to develop the communities. She does this through involvement and engagement of the people themselves so that they own everything to ensure sustainability. Each project is geared to a particular need of the community and that it can have a positive impact on the lives of the people. […]
“She has done this through training the communities to sew bags, make beads, rear pigs, chickens, rabbits and plant organic gardens to help fight malnutrition. She teaches money-saving and assisted in starting the Ssubi Bank. She insists to families to invest in the education of their children.
“Her plan is to penetrate deep villages to bring education, health care and economic development to the communities, children and the sick people. She purchases products/sells in order to provide medications for the sick, provides equipment and nutrition for the hospital and the needy, even sponsoring children to school. She donates her time to the hospital and the communities to plan, train and work together. […]
—Blessings, Sister Ernestine Akulu
What is Greening for Good? What organizations are involved?
Ssubi supports projects that are less likely to be funded by large organizations — filling those gaps that are left behind. In San Diego, that is the hospital and medical “discards” that are filling our local landfills.
Ssubi established the program Greening for Good in March 2014 to work with hospitals, medical centers, private physicians, home health care/hospice patients along with private citizens to repurpose medical equipment and unused supplies. It was initially started to collect for our supported hospital in Uganda, the Bishop Asili, and if we collected more than what we could use, we would share the wealth.
We have diverted hundreds of thousands of pounds from our local landfills. We have provided equipment and supplies to over 325 home health patients. We have made medical equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches and supplies of gauze, tape, ace bandages and more accessible to 16 San Diego Unified high schools and two Los Angeles County schools. This includes furnishing many with taping/stretching tables, massage tables and more.
We have also been supporting our homeless citizens by supplying supplies (badges, gauze, toiletries, feminine products) and equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, crutches) through our own efforts and the collaboration with other nonprofits and citizens working in the community. We have provided medical equipment and supplies to our neighbors in Tijuana, Tecate, Rosario and Ensenada, Mexico. We are committed to getting medical aid to those that have been been forgotten.
Aid in the form of medical supplies and equipment has gone to Ecuador to a leper colony, Egypt to an area where promises were made that a medical mission team would return and never did.
The Spirit of San Diego delivered a plane-load of supplies to hurricane victims in Cuba. Aide in the form of supplies and equipment have gone to Tanzania, Philippines, Kenya, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sierra Leon, Peru, Guatemala, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Columbia, Uganda.
All while, collecting supplies and equipment for our beloved Bishop Asili Health Center in Uganda that serves 49 villages a population of over 660,000 people. We are now ready to ship and we have enough equipment and supplies to open an orthopedic center, trauma center, pediatric center and eye center to give access to 1.2 million people without eye care.
What other programs does Ssubi have?
Locally, we started a program with donations from one of our hospital champions called Computers for Good. This program provides computers to students and institutions who have applied through other organizations or applied for funding in the case of institutions and were denied.
Some of the recipients to date: 146 computers to students; 20 computers to ABC Youth Foundation; The Boys and Girls Club of Claremont received 30 computers for their after-school program; Baker Elementary [received] 100 computers for a much-needed computer lab; San Diego School of Creative and Performing arts received 20 computers with another 60 for a makers lab and more.
Ssubi is big on sustainability. The old Chinese proverb comes to life with Ssubi, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” So on the campus of Bishop Asili Hospital in Uganda, we started the Holy Hams Piggery —named a model piggery by the minister of agriculture in Uganda — as well as a chicken farm, a grocery store, clothing store, cows for milk, and organic gardens.
On 220 acres Ssubi purchased, we raise maize, and goats. Patients and citizens come from all around to learn our animal husbandry and farming practices. Funds generated by these projects goes to the running of the hospital. They know if they are short on funding that the Ssubi projects will allow them the ability to buy needed medicine, provide staff for clinic days, etc.
How do you see Ssubi growing? How is it funded? What separates how Ssubi is run from other nonprofits?
Ssubi is a grassroots organization. Ssubi is community based. We can’t do this alone and that message is key to all we do. If you like what we do, join us in the mission or just tell our story, you become part of our Ssubi family.
There are no paid employees. Actually, there are only two full-time people and the rest volunteers. My son, Baron, and I have dedicated this time of our life to helping others in this way. It has been quite the journey. We have been included in the city’s and county’s recycling awards.
The city of San Diego made a proclamation that Nov. 17 is Ssubi is Hope Day and I was awarded the Points of Light by President Bush and I did a TEDx Talk. In four years, we have been housed in five locations. We just moved to a new location at the border. We are getting settled and hope to start up the volunteer program again sorting and packing.
Being a donor originally and the one to write checks, it is not easy for me to ask for monetary help. People give me things (medical supplies, crutches, wheelchairs) easily now but donation dollars are not easy to come by. But they are greatly needed to rent the trucks, purchase fuel, send the aid, etc. One dollar goes a long way in the right hands and 100 percent of donation dollars goes directly to the cause with Ssubi.
For more information about Ssubi, visit ssubi.org.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.