Houstonian adopts entire African village


She's a social butterfly and owns her own multimillion-dollar business, but this Houstonian's true passion is giving back.

Robin Young-Ellis comes from a proud and dedicated military family. In 2008, she founded Salute to our Troops Houston."

On Veterans Day, you'll find her at the parade downtown, paying tribute to service men and women.

"What drives you to do this?" we asked Young-Ellis.

"There are some countries that don't like us so much, but most countries at least respect us, and they know we're strong, we have the greatest military in the world -- I'm sorry, I'm just really proud of them. It's not sadness, I'm just really proud of the military," she said.

But two years ago, a new mission began for Young-Ellis. This one, not on the home front but thousands of miles away, on the other side of the globe. While Hollywood celebrities make headlines for adopting children from Africa, Young-Ellis, who couldn't have children of her own, adopted an entire village:

"The population is 14,000 but often they don't include the children that are orphans or some of the widows and some of the girls, so this village is 14,000-plus," she said.

Bukirayi is a village in the impoverished African nation of Uganda. There, Young-Ellis and her husband helped build church, clinic, latrine, and most importantly, a fresh water well, providing a resource more precious than gold.

"The life expectancy of a child that lives in a village without clean, fresh, safe water is age 5," Young-Ellis said. "This is not a rare sight. They spend most of their day collecting water.

"A child will travel with these water buckets five miles, and then she'll hope she has found some water," she said. "Because they spend all their time looking for water, they don't have an education, they're not able to go to school."

This happy celebration was in honor of the new well. With fresh water now flowing, Young-Ellis is working with the University of Texas to build a school for the village's 8,500 children. The villagers now call their home "Texas-Bukirayi" and note the UT "Hook 'em Horns."

And then, a chance meeting at an orphanage with a tiny newborn.

"She just squatted down in the middle of the night -- 4 o'clock in the morning -- gave birth to this baby and left this baby there to die," Young-Ellis said. "It's an area where wild pigs and wild dogs roam, but this baby screamed for her life."

That baby ended up in the arms of her fairy godmother. Now she arranges for little Esther's care, visited her on her first birthday and plans to bring her to the US next year.

"That transformed me and she will be a part of my life for the rest of her life," Young-Ellis said. "There's another part of me that will always be in Africa, and so those two worlds came together."

So as we're all consumed with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, a simple idea to keep in mind:

"If everybody helps in just one small, little way, it does make a difference. It makes a difference in at least one person's life," Young-Ellis said.

If you're interested in helping build water wells and a school in Uganda, or to contact Robin Young-Ellis, email her at robinyoung@robinyoungcompany.com. If you're interested in traveling to Uganda in July, please contact Robin.

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