Joy Ngobi has seen despair in her native Uganda, where people struggle with poverty and disease.

She has seen it in her own life, when she shouldered the devastating loss of family members.

She also has seen it in Janesville, where she has lived and worked as a doctor for 16 years.

“Over the years, I have greatly been touched by the extreme hopelessness I see in this community of Rock County,” Ngobi said.

Suicide. Drug overdoses. Families in crisis.

They all create darkness where there should be light, she said.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Ngobi invites the community to the Hope Institute of Uganda’s fourth Annual Run for Hope.

Money from the event will combat unemployment in Uganda.

But Ngobi, who co-founded the faith-based Hope Institute, also sees the event as a chance for people to connect with others and to share stories of hope.

“Maybe we can save a soul or two,” Ngobi said. “None of us are meant to do life alone. We are meant to do it together as a community. We want to speak to those who are discouraged and ready to give up.”

People can run, walk or ride in the 5K event.

Ngobi said it is ironic that people in the United States are taking their lives when so many outside of the United States are risking their lives to get into the country.

“There is hopelessness in a place where most people think there is everything,” Ngobi said. “People are overwhelmed and anxious. When you are broken in the heart, you will break others.”

She wants her personal story to be an inspiration.

Passion for people

Ngobi is one of 11 children born to a farmer and a teacher in a small village in eastern Uganda. When she was 13, her brother, who had just graduated from college, was killed at a bar.

“My mother never recovered from it,” Ngobi said.

At the time, Ngobi attended a boarding school where she became a Christian.

Later, she lost two brothers from alcohol and a sister, who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 36.

When her sister died, Ngobi almost dropped out of a medical residency program at the University of Minnesota.

“I lost everything when she died,” Ngobi said. “I wanted to quit.”

But Ngobi persevered and finished. Eventually, the young anesthesiology specialist came to Janesville to work at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center.

She and her husband, Gideon, raised their children in the city. They also sent money back to Uganda to raise the children of deceased siblings.

But their support did not stop there.

In 2006, the Ngobis traveled to Jinja, Uganda, on the banks of Lake Victoria to build a church. When they saw starving children, they realized they had to do more.

The Ngobis decided to help the women make a better living by selling their jewelry in the United States under the title of Jinja Jewelry and opened a Janesville store.

Eventually, the Ngobis started the nonprofit Hope Institute of Uganda to sponsor scholarships for struggling students. In addition, they organized volunteer medical missions to their native country with the help of Rock County doctors, nurses and others.

Dorothy Newmark, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Mercyhealth and a co-worker of Ngobi, has traveled two times on medical missions to Uganda. The first was a 2015 mission to perform prenatal care and deliveries at the Buluba hospital. Newmark also brought desperately needed medical supplies and equipment and trained local doctors and nurses in basic techniques of her specialty.

Newmark’s entire family, including her husband Mike and their two teen-age daughters, went on the second trip in 2017.

In addition to providing medical help, volunteers worked with local builders to expand the school.

“The school doubled in size, and attendance went from 20 to 80 kids,” Mike Newmark said. “It was an inspirational experience to touch their lives.”

Mike Newmark is a member of the institute’s board of directors.

“The people of Buluba have so little, but they have so much energy and desire to improve themselves,” he said. “We are trying to be a partner with this village and address issues that seem impossible for people there to solve on their own.”

Buluba is a small fishing village with one well, mud streets and cinder block huts.

Eventually, the Ngobis want to build a 32-room guest house on land they own near Buluba’s hospital. The house would allow international volunteers and Ugandans to stay close to the hospital and eliminate the need to travel long distances to and from a hotel.

Money from the Janesville run/walk will support the project and provide work for at least 50 Ugandans.

At the same time, Ngobi sees the walk as beneficial to local participants.

“Getting outside is good for your mental health,” Ngobi said. “My hope is that we can come together and enjoy each other’s company. My hope is that people will realize they are not alone.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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