At 22, Tennessee woman is mom to 13 Ugandan children
Five years ago, Katie Davis left home to go on a one-year adventure in Africa.
She had just graduated from high school near Nashville and wanted to take some time off before going to college.
So she found an orphanage in Uganda that needed help and signed up as a short-term volunteer.
"I moved over there thinking that I would be there for a year and then I would come back and go to college and be normal again," she said.
But God, said Davis, had a different plan.
Today, the 22-year-old Davis makes her home in a four-bedroom concrete house in the village of Jinja, Uganda, where she's raising 13 Ugandan children. She also runs Amazima, a nonprofit that feeds and educates about 2,500 Ugandan children, many of them AIDS orphans.
Davis was in Nashville last week to promote her new book, Kisses from Katie, from Howard Books. It's named after her blog, kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com, which recounts her work in Uganda.
She talked about her life on Wednesday while sitting on the couch at her parents' Brentwood home. Nearby her two youngest girls, Patricia, age 3, and Grace, 5, played with stuffed animals. Grace had a yellow cast on her ankle from recent surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to repair a problem with her heel.
Davis' 11 other children, ranging in age from 7-year-old Sumini to 16-year-old Prossy, are back home in Jinja with a friend of hers.
She was only 19 when she founded Amazima, while working at the Canaan Children's Home, an orphanage in Jinja, a village on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Davis was teaching kindergarten and noticed many of her students were dropping out because either their parents had died or they could no longer afford school fees. Some parents were dropping off their children at orphanages because they could not provide basics like food and shelter.
So Davis persuaded her parents and other friends to donate money for school, meals and medical care for the children.
Today, Amazima, which has a $700,000-a-year budget, sponsors about 500 students. It also runs a hot meal program for about 2,000 kids. The nonprofit has about a dozen Ugandans on staff to run the program.
Mike Mayernick, chairman of the board for Amazima, said that Davis' mix of faith and moxie has made the organization successful.
She saw that orphans needed help, he said, and decided that she needed to do something to help them. That inspires people to support her work.
"At such a young age — she made a choice to give up what we would call the American dream," he said. "She felt a call to do something more with her life."
Need is greatDavis said her work is hard but rewarding.
She tries to focus on the small things, like doing a good job raising her children. If she sees someone in need, she tries to help, and she says she lets God take care of the rest, which often means starting a new program.
At times, the work is not easy. Jinja is a community ravaged by AIDS and poverty.
"It's hard to serve and serve and serve and treat every sick person that comes in your gate and bandage every wound and feed every hungry person and still know that 10 minutes away, someone just died because they couldn't get to the hospital or they didn't have enough food," she said.
Amazima's goal is to keep children in the care of a parent or relative.
In a few cases, that's not possible.
Three years ago, Davis took in three young girls after their house collapsed. Their father had died, and the girls were on their own.
Now Davis is the girls' legal guardian and is in the process of adopting them. Ugandan law says that can't happen till Davis turns 25. She also has taken in 10 other orphans.
She spends her day homeschooling the kids and her nights doing administrative work for Amazima. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there's no school as Davis and other Amazima staff run Bible studies and health clinics in nearby villages.
Proceeds from the book and a small salary for the nonprofit pay the bills for Davis and her family. She also has a close group of friends in Jinja to rely on. The community has attracted a number of young Americans who work at local orphanages. Some are short-term volunteers, while others are permanent residents, like Davis.
They get together for Bible studies and meals on a regular basis. Those events make her feel like an ordinary 20-something, Davis said.
Mother helpsDavis' mom, Mary Pat, also comes to visit once a year, for at least a month.
Mary Pat Davis, who volunteers about 30 hours a week for Amazima's Brentwood office, said she's thrilled to be a grandmother of 13. She admits that she wished that Katie had gone to college before moving to Uganda permanently. But she feels her daughter has found her life's calling and wants to support her.
"She can make anything work that she wants to," she said.
Davis said she's happy with her life. She had a boyfriend when she moved to Uganda, but that relationship has ended. She's open to going back to school or getting married someday. But she has her hands full for now.
"If some crazy dude wants to move to Uganda and wants this many children and God ordains that, then great," she said. "But I am happy and content where I am."