Africa-loving Adam changes life for the Jews of Namatumba

WHEN Adam Williams went to Africa with his Australian fiancée Gen-evieve in 2007, it started a chain reaction that has changed living conditions for the Namatumba community of the Ugandan Abayudayan Jews.

Leeds-born Adam visited the tiny Namatumba community 18 months ago after meeting a local villager by chance at a seder in Mbale with his wife.

The couple had initially fallen in love with the African region during a year-long expedition before their marriage in 2007.

They packed in their professions for a new lifestyle in Kampala just five months after their wedding in Melbourne.

And when Adam, a chartered accountant, and dentist Genevieve visited Namatumba, it changed their lives for ever.

Today they live in Kampala, running voluntary initiatives including a charity founded by Adam called Kippot for Hope.

"Kampala has around 15 international communities doing various projects," said Adam, who went to Leeds Grammar School prior before gaining a management science degree at UMIST.

"During Pesach 18 months ago, around 200 people were sitting around a table at the central synagogue reciting the full seder service. It was a very surreal experience.

"I was sitting next to Aron from a satellite community called Namatumba and we got chatting.

"The Abayudayan community has a central community with six smaller communities spread across 100 miles in the hills overlooking Mbale.

"The central community receives funding from Israel and the Diaspora, but little support reaches satellite communities."

He continued: "Aron took me to his village and conditions were very poor. He explained that they did not want handouts but could make kippot and that is how Kippot for Hope started.

"Alongside sustainable projects we make large Sephardi and regular kippot.

"On a trip to Australia to visit Genvieve's family we promoted Kippot for Hope and sold more than 100 kippot. With the money we carried out two projects in the Namatumba community.

"We installed two glass windows in the synagogue to protect the congregation from the seasonal rains and cultivated a one -acre field and planted 10,000 pineapple seeds.

"Three times a year the community will harvest the pineapples and sell them to the local market, providing them with a sustainable source of income."

The history of Jews in the country started a century ago in the east of Uganda when a tribal leader called Semei Kakungulu - after reading the Old Testament and relating to its concepts - proclaimed his tribe to be Jewish.

Visiting Jews taught the community about festivals, the calendar and laws of kashrut. They were also instrumental in establishing a school with the purpose of passing on Jewish knowledge and teaching skills.

The population grew to 3,000, but in the 1970s dictator Idi Amin forced the majority to convert to Christianity.

Around 300 Jews survived and today 1,000 live in the remote hills of eastern Uganda in the shadow of Mount Elgon in simple mud brick houses with no electricity or running water.

With the aim of improving the living conditions for villagers in Namatumba, Kippot for Hope is realising dreams.

Other not-for-profit initiatives founded by the couple include Ki Kati (a fair trade supporting a group of underprivileged tailors and jewellery makers in Kampala), Art Aid Africa (art-based project raising awareness of Ugandan artists and supporting a selection of vulnerable groups and needy charities) and Alphabet Safari (based on African animals profits go to children's and animals charities in the UK).

Then there is Enlighten Africa, founded by Adam and a colleague from Vermont who is now based in Uganda. It is a solar-power project aiming to bring light to those not on the grid and replacing kerosene burners.

The management of all the projects are run jointly by Adam and Genevieve.

Following a gap year when Adam lived on a kibbutz in Israel, his humanitarian work began at university during summer holidays when he spent time in developing nations.

Living on a tight budget, he always found time to visit the local Jewish community.

"I'm not particularly religious but visiting Jewish communities is a connection to our lives," he said.

His journey to Kampala started after graduating at UMIST.

"Between university and work, I did a year backpacking in South America, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and India," said Adam.

"I qualified in 2002 and took a year-long exchange in Melbourne with BDO Stoy Hayward.

"I loved Australia and met Genevieve. I've always had a philanthropic nature and love travel, as does Genevieve.

"When we got engaged, we travelled for a year to South America and the Far East, but it was Africa that really spoke to us.

"Back in Australia we got married and then quit our jobs. I don't miss being an accountant at all and have no regrets.

"We got to Kampala and after voluntary work started the initiatives alongside Kippot for Hope."

Adam, whose parents are Judith Goldsborough and David Williams, added: "Living in Kampala feels like real life. Relationships with local people are more genuine and true to life."

Life in Kampala is very different to life back in Yorkshire and Melbourne.

He said: "We live in relative luxury compared to the majority of the population as we have our own water, fridge and generator if power goes. But it's not to the standards relatives and friends enjoy elsewhere."

Regarding the success of the Kippot For Hope project, Adam has further goals.

"Because of a barmitzvah order in London, we can now dig a bore hole for running fresh water to the village," he said.

"Villagers now don't have to make a 10-mile round trip.

"The quality of life will be better, but toilet facilities are still very basic and a couple of hundred sales would get four community toilets.

"This does not seem a huge amount, but it will drastically change sanitation. The community is fully behind the project and further down the line a cabbage plantation is coming up."

Adam added: "The biggest issues surround health because if someone is sick there is no one in the community who can deal with an illness.

"There are no medical facilities so villagers have to go on the back of a bicycle to get help.

"I've had messages from a community to tell me someone has died when they could have been cured if the facilities were there.

"A future project is to get a couple of school-leavers to university for medical training so that when they go back they can set up a medical clinic. That will be fantastic, but it's for the future."

Adam visits the village every three months. The rest of his time he spends running his initiatives.

"The days fly and efficiency is difficult because you can spend a day on one big task," he said.

"Going to the post office can take a day with queues and because something always happens on the way.

"There may be a presidential parade so you have to sit in a traffic jam for hours. The future is difficult to predict but our work is really rewarding."

To contact Adam on any of the projects email or

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph