Nearly 15 years ago, Tiffany Smiling was preparing to enter the fifth grade when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor. Her tumor was so rare, and the necessary procedures so risky, that many of the top hospitals throughout the country refused to operate.
Smiling was eventually accepted at St. Jude hospital in Nashville, Tenn., and over the next six years, she had four major brain surgeries, one of which resulted in temporary paralysis of the left side of her body. The process of healing was slow and lengthy. Over time, however, her illness went into full remission.
Smiling graduated from high school, then four years later graduated from Oklahoma State University, and shortly after, opened a frozen yogurt store. With her past medical problems behind her, Smiling seemed on pace to live the American dream.
But things changed quickly. She began to form a unique passion for orphaned children, particularly in the nation of Uganda. Though vastly different in a number of ways, the one similarity Smiling shares with the millions of homeless children of Uganda is the experience of pain and the uncertainty of the future.
In October 2012, Smiling connected with Brittany Stokes and Christina Yarid, and together the three women co-founded the organization Project Orphans.
“It’s an amazing thing to know that I was once a child in need, and I was once a child in a desperate situation, and I have the opportunity now to help other children in need,” says Smiling.
The mission of Project Orphans is to build permanent homes for the millions of orphans in Uganda by funding housing projects through local Ugandan ministries and organizations and “empowering them to stop the cycle of poverty.”
According to UNICEF, Uganda has approximately 2.5 million orphans, many of whom are forced to become sex slaves.
Despite the daunting statistics, Stokes, Yarid and Smiling are motivated by their faith to meet this challenge. “My faith is the most important thing in my life, and that triggers the passion for everything else I do,” said Smiling.
On Nov. 7, Project Orphans will host the Homes for Hope Gala to raise money for the cause. The guest speaker at this event will be U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi. Stokes, Yarid and Smiling believe that this is just the beginning for Project Orphans.
“We plan on building homes all around the world,” says Smiling. “As long as there is a child in need, we’ll be fighting to put them in a home.”