Do you know how the Love Mercy Foundation began?
Read about how the chance meeting between two incredible people started a cycle of generational change in northern Uganda.
Even if you’ve heard the story before, we’re sure there are a few details you didn’t know in the story below…
For as long as she can remember, Elzy Wellings wanted to compete at the Olympics.
All she wanted to do was run. Her early running dreams came true as she excelled in middle distance events in her teens and at 16 years old qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Her path quickly became complicated with challenges as she suffered a stress fracture just days later, which took her out of competition.
After a devasting series of career-threatening stress fractures, Eloise was forced to give up her dream of competing at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. She had all but given up on her dream, when her coach encouraged her to rehab her injured foot at a training camp in Portland, Oregon.
Elzy and Julius met after their paths crossed by chance when training with Nike in Portland in 2008. Eloise was no stranger to hardship after suffering 13 stress fractures and missing a third Olympic games. It was here she met Julius, who was being paid a small salary to pace some of the world’s best athletes, while trying to support 13 orphans he had taken into his home in Uganda. He had found them living underneath a bus during the height of the war in 2003.
Julius had never shared his story of being abducted by the Lords Resistance Army as an 11-year-old, or the fact that he had been forced to fight in the rebel army for months. Their lengthy drives to and from training meant that Eloise and Julius struck up a friendship and he began to share his incredible story. Eloise’s foot injury was quickly put into perspective, and she pulled over one day to stop at an ATM. She withdrew $100 and gave it to Julius to pay for food for his growing family back in Uganda. He was amazed, as no one had ever helped him help his community before.
Elzy took her husband Jon, and his parents to Uganda in January 2009 to witness Julius and Grace’s wedding.
It was a joyful celebration of their love, and Grace became a pillar of strength for Julius and a source of wisdom for the organisation.
After the wedding, the Wellings family made the long journey north to meet Julius’ extended family. By this stage, Julius had taken in 18 needy children, and his brother Jimmy had dropped out of school to care for them all while Julius worked at Nike and sent as much money home as possible.
Elzy remembers meeting Julius’ family, witnessing their living conditions and the tiny hut that they all shared, and then returning to her hotel room and crying. She knew she had to find a way to help.
Back in Sydney, Elzy met Caitlin, Love Mercy’s former CEO.
Caitlin was studying for a degree in International Development and had recently studied and volunteered with an organisation based in northern Uganda. When they met with Julius, Caitlin remembers saying; “I want to help you create something to help your community. I’m serious about this, and I mean it.”
The girls pulled together a board of their trusted contacts and a team of volunteers and started Love Mercy in February 2010. The first fundraiser aimed to raise enough to sponsor the 18 children that Julius had taken in. Caitlin thought it might take 12 months, but during the first fundraiser, all of the children were sponsored. The response was overwhelming, and so Elzy called Julius and told him she thought we could do much more. Julius said that since Elzy had visited, 13 people had died of famine in his village. He requested that Love Mercy send $100 to buy a bag of rice to feed his community.
Caitlin came up with a better plan – instead of sending money for food, they decided to give loans of seeds, so that the women in the community could provide their own food. Cents for Seeds was born in its pilot stages with 100 women in Barr village.
In 2012 Elzy travelled to Uganda just prior to qualifying for the London Olympics.
She spent her mornings training with Julius along the long dirt roads. This trip was spent meeting with the now 750 women who had joined Cents for Seeds to add a village savings and loans program to run alongside the agricultural workshops.
The most wonderful opening ceremony occurred in August following the London Olympics, when the team officially opened the Kristina Health Centre and began treating patients for various illnesses, dispensing medications, providing first aid and vaccinations.
Our team in Uganda needed to grow in order to expand the Cents for Seeds project.
Jolly, our much loved and deeply respected Village Savings and Loans Trainer joined our team and our family. Jolly commands a presence like no other in the village, and when she speaks everyone listens. She is deeply committed to the women in the village and is inspired by seeing their progress in Cents for Seeds.
KHC was expanded in response to the need identified by Kristina Health Centre staff. The medical team informed us that patients were travelling for many days on foot to reach the clinic and then needed overnight accommodation. Patients were sleeping outside on the veranda if they needed multiday treatment. The Ward was opened in February 2014 and elevated the clinic to a Level III health centre with 45 beds. The ambulance was also purchased and started servicing the district for emergency transport for patients.
Love Mercy became a tax-deductible entity thanks to the Australian Government’s belief in our work.
Cents for seeds grew from 1370 women to 7000 women in 2016.
A huge leap forward in progress. The strategic direction of the Foundation started to pick up momentum. Love Mercy has entered a team in the Sutherland to Surf every year since 2010, however, 2016 saw 350 runners manage to raise $150,000 to fit out the medical ward. This huge result left Julius very proud to run in green.
Eloise competed in the Rio Olympics and managed to run 10th in the 10,000m event with a personal best time of 31:14 – the best time ever run by an Australian woman in the event. Her Olympic success helped to bring awareness to Love Mercy in the media, with ABC’s Compass show screening a documentary about Eloise and Julius which raised over $50,000 in donations from the public in less than 24 hours.
On a trip to Uganda, the team met a woman who had given birth to triplets in an extremely remote part of northern Uganda.
She had to borrow money from her family to get to the hospital when her birth became complicated, and she was unaware that she was having triplets when she went into labour.
The team did a tour of the government hospital in Lira which was distressing and revealed the true extent of the dangers of being a pregnant woman in northern Uganda. After meeting with a local midwife, the team and clinic staff decided that after many months of planning, it was time to renovate the general patient ward in order to accommodate maternity patients.
Babies began being born at KHC in September 2017. Our dedicated volunteer midwife Christy Pope headed to Uganda for 4 months to assist with the establishment of our maternity services. Cents for Seeds expanded to 10,417 women… and Bec, our incredible current CEO joined the team!
In March 2018 Love Mercy achieved a long-held goal of proving with solid data that Cents for Seeds was changing lives.
Partnering with Sydney-based social impact measurement agency, Huber Social, 1200 surveys were administered to Cents for Seeds villages. For some of these women, it was the first time they had ever held a pencil. They were asked questions about their lives, in some cases, the first time anyone in their life had asked them these types of questions, specifically about them – like “my life has meaning, I can provide for my children, I am proud of myself”.
The questions were applied to a wellbeing framework. The survey proved that women who were part of the Cents for Seeds program had markedly higher wellbeing than others. Villages that were part of Cents for Seeds also had higher overall wellbeing, providing the ripple effect of the loan.
The surveys also highlighted another key issue: that wellbeing was linked with water access. As a result, Love Mercy partnered with Water for Africa to begin drilling new boreholes. Well Worth It was launched to drill new water wells for villages with little access to water.
Cents for Seeds also expanded to 13,800 women that year.
Elzy made headlines in the 2018 Commonwealth Games when along with her Australian teammates, they waited at the finish line for one of their competitors, Lineo Chaka, from the small African nation of Lesotho, who crossed five minutes behind the winner. This heartwarming gesture did not go unnoticed by sports fans, including the Commonwealth Games chair, who all voiced their admiration for the Australians. A true example of Elzy’s caring heart.
This year Cents for Seeds will reach 19,000 women.
With a forecast of 10,000 patients to be treated this year, and over 200 babies born the capacity of KHC and outreach programs to the local communities are being expanded.
20 water wells will be drilled & 130 wells repaired, bringing clean water to over 75,000 people.
And northern Uganda will continue to thrive with your support.
All thanks to an incredible friendship, grown with roots in athletics and a shared belief that one humble person can make a difference.