Community Column: A lot of heart in Ottawa couple’s Ugandan project

This past September, a unique fundraiser named Harvest Hand-Up was at the home of Joe and Nathalie Schmidt in Ottawa. This basket caught the eye of Sally Van Cura.

This past September, a unique fundraiser named Harvest Hand-Up was at the home of Joe and Nathalie Schmidt in Ottawa.

During the auction, a beautiful hand-woven tray caught the eye of many attendees and was quickly claimed before I had a chance to bid. Nathalie graciously offered to bring back another tray when she returned from her next trip to Uganda. She and Joe make frequent trips there, occasionally with members of a dedicated local group, Believe in Uganda - BIUG.

To facilitate the Schmidt’s commitment to assist individuals in Uganda learn agricultural skills to sustain their community, Joe and Nathalie partnered with the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation to create the Transforming Ugandan Farmers Designated Fund to specifically support education, provide hands-on learning, acquire equipment and the supplies necessary to train individuals in agriculture, particularly crop farming. An agronamist was hired and the outcomes in a very short period of time have been remarkable.

Months have passed since that successful fundraiser, and I must admit, the tray slipped my mind. However, true to her word, Nathalie traveled 7,600 miles on her return flight with this remarkable piece. As it sat on my desk, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude towards Nathalie and Joe. I am grateful for their willingness to carry this extra baggage, which I’m sure was cumbersome during their return flight, but most importantly for sharing the spirit of their mission.

The tray is more than just a work of art; it symbolizes the warmth, resilience and creativity of the Ugandan people. Every intricate detail tells a story of hard work, tradition and the vibrant culture that Nathalie and Joe have had the privilege to experience and serve. It is as a reminder of the meaningful connections they’ve made and the spirit of the Ugandan community.

I am filled with gratitude to share the essence of the Ugandan community through the good work being accomplished through the TUF Fund. Nathalie and Joe’s mission extends beyond planting seeds of hope and empowerment; it embodies kindness and compassion. Thank you, Nathalie, for carrying such a precious piece home to me.

For more information about Transforming Ugandan Farmers, visit Transforming Ugandan Farmers (TUF) (

Sally Van Cura is a community organizer and volunteer. She headed the Illinois Valley Public Action to Deliver Shelter’s Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser.