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AN emotional return to the school she helped build in Uganda has been a bittersweet experience for Starchild founder Michaela Foster Marsh.

The Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year finalist, who set up the charity in memory of her late brother Frankie, was delighted to see the good work already being accomplished at the facility.

But she fears her charity may fold if funding cannot be secured soon.

Michaela, who is from Newlands on the south side of Glasgow says: “I would be heartbroken if we couldn’t continue, after everything we have achieved so far.

“It’s not just the school – Starchild is helping to support a range of initiatives in Vvumba and I know without us, they will just stop.”

Singer-songwriter Michaela fundraised tirelessly for five years to build the school, which opened last summer.

It gives children the chance to explore the creative arts and is stocked with musical instruments, sewing machines and art materials aplently.

The idea came to her after she visited Uganda looking for the story behind Frankie’s adoption.

He had been adopted by Michaela’s parents when he was 13 months old and the two had grown up “like twins”.

Michaela laughs: “People used to stop and look at my mum’s ‘twins’ - one white, one black - we were very, very close.”

Tragically, Frankie died in a house fire, aged just 26, when a power failure started a blaze in his block of flats in Glasgow.

Just a few months before his death, he had begun to look into his background, and after the funeral, Michaela - who was also writing a book loosely based on her brother’s life - was determined to finish the task.

Having happily traced Frankie’s family to Luwero in Uganda, and had an emotional meeting with his brother, Michaela could have returned home – but instead, her horror at the levels of poverty she saw inspired her to help the community build a brighter future for its children.

She held art auctions, charity nights and teamed up with local businesses and renowned Scottish artists to raise the cash to build the school and she was delighted to attend the official opening last year, where a plaque in memory of Frankie was unveiled.

Michaela returned to Uganda last month with Iain Andrews, Starchild treasurer and Helen MacVey, an art specialist.

“I wanted to show people the Starchild School and how it works now that we have it off the ground,” she explains.

“It’s doing well – there are still some issues to sort out but it’s a very happy place and around 200 kids now have access to it, which is fantastic.

“It’s also open to the community on Saturdays, which is lovely.”

Michaela, Iain and Helen spent time with the children at the school,

But beneath the joy of seeing her dream a reality, Michaela is worried about the future of the school and her own charity.

“I have applied for grant after grant and have been rejected every time,” she says, in despair.

“Organisations seem to shy away from investing in Uganda because of the levels of corruption.

“That’s very frustrating because we have shown we can get round that corruption – we have battled strongly to keep our costs down and we don’t let people pull the wool over our eyes. We research our costs and make sure we know what things should cost. For example, we were being quoted a ridiculous sum of £100,000 to build the school but we refused to accept that and eventually built the whole thing for about a fifth of that price.

“We have shown we are tenacious and can are not susceptible to the corruption but still people won’t fund us. Maybe it’s because we are a small charity, I don’t know, but it’s so hard and the money has also run out.”

None of the volunteers at Starchild take a salary and their biggest fundraiser so far – Art for Africa, an art sale supported by artists all over Scotland – is also under threat.

Michaela explains: “The Art for Africa event has been an incredible boost for us, raising thousands of pounds, but it is a huge amount of work to organise.

“My partner, Rony, who is also one of the Starchild directors, is recovering from a serious illness – he had lung cancer – so it’s too much for him to take on this year.”

As well as the Starchild School, the charity has donated hundreds of mosquito nets to schools - along with comic books devised by Glasgow University that explain why the nets are life-saving – plus sanitary products for teenage girls who otherwise would not go to school, and even microscopes for science classes.

They also support a women’s health project and a local children’s home for some of the area’s poorest kids.

“They come from very damaged backgrounds, with little confidence, and coming to the school has really helped them,” says Michaela. “Many of them have shown real talent, so it’s great to see them improve.

“The women’s project has been amazing. These are women left by their husbands once they have had children – so we provide them with seeds to plant and harvest, pigs to sell and fabric to allow them to make and sell clothing.

“I hate to think what might happen to them if we can’t support them any more.”

Michaela is hoping to secure around £50,000 to allow Starchild to continue for at least another two years.

“That would give us some breathing space,” she nods. “I know we are not a big charity, but we are doing good work and it would be devastating to lose it all.”

Read Michaela’s Ugandan diaries in tomorrow’s Evening Times and online at www.eveningtimes.co.uk