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'Little by little, he won over my heart': North Idaho woman visits Ugandan orphanage she helped as a kid

When the young man she’d met on Facebook asked her for money to buy medicine for a child sick with malaria, Verna Deno was skeptical.
Credit: CDA Press

HAYDEN, Idaho — When the young man she’d met on Facebook asked her for money to buy medicine for a child sick with malaria, Verna Deno was skeptical.

The young man — who goes by his surname, Kakembo — said he ran an orphanage in Mityana, a town in the Central Region of Uganda. He cared for more than 30 children, ranging from toddlers to young teens, though he was only in his early 20s himself.

Kakembo was desperate for help to save the dying child.

“Yet he was so humble and said, ‘I’ll just leave it to God,’” Deno said. “That pulled on my heart.”

She took a leap of faith and sent enough money to pay for the child’s medical treatment.

The child recovered — but Deno soon learned that Kakembo had medical problems of his own. After getting documentation from the local hospital, Deno and her husband, Bob, agreed to pay for his treatment.

Family worried that the Denos were being scammed. But the Hayden couple continued to communicate with Kakembo, as reported by our news partners, the Coeur d'Alene Press.

They first connected about a year ago, through a mutual Facebook friend. They’ve since forged a close bond.

“Little by little, he won over my heart,” she said. “I thought he was very much genuine in his love for the kids.”

Orphaned at a young age, Kakembo and his brother, Joseph, were taken in by a pastor who raised them as his sons. The brothers often brought home other orphaned children who they met on the street.

As adults, they opened an orphanage, which they called Blessed Hope. But when a new owner purchased the building, the brothers and children faced eviction.

Deno said she and her husband knew what they had to do.

“We realized maybe this was a divine intervention for the kids,” she said.

The couple gave Kakembo the money to purchase a small plot of land, where he could grow crops, and to build a permanent orphanage. The funds accounted for much of their life savings.

Deno recently returned from an emotional, weeklong trip to Uganda. Despite her husband’s concern, she made the journey alone.

“He was reluctant,” she said. “I convinced him. I never felt unsafe.”

When she landed at Entebbe International Airport, Kakembo and Joseph were there to meet her. It didn’t feel like a first meeting.

“I loved him so much already,” she said. “I grabbed him and hugged him and he cried and grabbed Joseph. There were no barriers at all, emotionally.”

The brothers call her “Mom,” Deno said, and she describes them as her sons in Christ.

She was impressed to see firsthand how Kakembo and Joseph run the orphanage. They walk the children to school each day, along a dusty road clogged with motorbikes and trucks.

“I’d love to get them a van, so they don’t have to walk down a busy street,” she said.

Deno said it was a joy to meet the children, who welcomed her with smiles and hugs. She misses them already.

“They love so much and so freely,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever felt love like I felt there.”

She and her husband hope to help put the children through school. They’d also like to build a well on the property, so the children will have access to clean water that they don’t have to boil.

Those dreams may become reality, all because Deno took a chance on a stranger she met online.

“We just kind of united in heart and in goal,” she said.

To learn more about Blessed Hope Orphanage, email verna_r_deno@yahoo.com.

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our partners, click here.

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