Concerns have been raised over Trinity College’s charitable work in Uganda amid rumours it is linked with an evangelical Christian group with homophobic views.
The Trinity Uganda Team are working to take groups of students to rural southern Uganda to repair and improve a health centre originally built by Trinity members in 1998. The construction of the health centre was partly funded by the African International Christian Ministry (AICM), a Ugandan-based organisation that offers vocational training and community development across Africa.
Trinity sell college jumpers to raise money for the health centre, a scheme that was this year extended across the University. These fund-raising efforts were set back last week by Balliol’s decision to withdraw from the scheme due to AICM’s allegedly homophobic positions.
Rebecca Newman, an undergraduate in charge of the Trinity Uganda Team, strongly defended the project and its links with AICM:
“What I think has happened here, though, is people extrapolating from the fact that AICM is a Christian organisation operating in a country with a history of homophobia. Sadly, many of these rumours seem to have originated in our own JCR, which is upsetting given that we are always on hand and happy to discuss any concerns that people have.”
AICM currently assist with the logistics of visits from the Trinity Uganda Team by reporting on the condition of the health centre and procuring materials and labour.
Undergraduate Jamie Mawhinney was in charge of organising the sale of jumpers at Balliol.
He commented: “We had agreed to sell the jumpers[…]however, just as we were about to advertise them, someone approached me telling me that someone from Trinity had warned them that the team running the health centre were a group of evangelical Christians who were ‘homophobic’. After taking it back to the committee, we decided that we didn’t want to support such a charity even if the rumours were untrue, as Balliol is very particular about the charities we support.”
The minutes from the committee meeting confirm that Balliol’s LGBTQ Officer had sought further information on AICM’s position on homosexuality, and had found concerns to be based “more on rumour than on hard facts”.
Newman recognised the need for awareness, and stressed that the team was, “in no way angry with Balliol JCR, as we appreciate they had to raise these concerns.” However, she went on to state that:
“It’s been very distressing for the team to find some people so willing reject all our efforts when all we want to do is help. It’s also frustrating given that we’ve seen first-hand the work the health centre does out there – it ranges from AIDS talks to antenatal care – and the benefits it brings for this needy community.”
Trinity Uganda Team have since issued a press release, arguing that “homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and this makes it very hard for organisations like AICM and other charities to come out in support of equality for homosexuals”.
It concludes: “It is the view of the Trinity Uganda Team that we cannot stop working alongside Ugandan charities and the Ugandan people because it is a country where homophobia is tolerated and often encouraged. Although all our funds go to our own project and not to the work of external charities, what the Trinity Team can, and endeavour to do, is choose charity partners that we trust and whose work we know is fair and tolerant.”
When asked whether Balliol would stand by their decision in light of this press release, Mawhinney said that “our concerns were due to the claims against the group running the health centre, not the health centre itself and certainly not Trinity. If these claims are untrue, then we may well choose to reverse this decision”.