Helping Orphans in Uganda

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Tracy Burns with Ugandan orphans. Photo courtesy of Tracy Burns

When Tracy Burns first visited an orphanage in Uganda in 2016, she was struck by the boundless joy and energy the toddlers greeted her with. But it didn’t take the owner and stylist of Topanga’s Vanity Room salon and barber shop long to realize that although their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter were being met, their environment lacked any of the neurological stimulants that developing brains need and those of us in developed countries take for granted.

Burns was so moved by the children she met that she has been back to Uganda four times since 2016 (at her own expense) and plans two more trips this year in June and November. 

“The children were safe, but what kind of future did they face?” asked Burns. “No books, no blocks, no balls and no stimulation. I’m changing that and I hope other Topanga residents will help me.”

As an entrepreneur and a mother, Burns understands the connection between creative thinking, problem-solving skills and the value of play.

“Being able to create one’s own stream of income out of nothing but ingenuity is something that can be cultivated and is a priceless skill for any child coming from poverty. It is a tangible way out of the cycle,” she said.

After some research, it became clear to Burns that play is not just fun and games; it’s how the brain creates neural pathways and connections that assist in creative thought and problem solving.

“Without building these necessary skills early on, these children will be handicapped for the rest of their lives because they are not equipped with the mental tools to invent and create opportunities for themselves in the environment in which they live,” said Burns.

Since she was 12 years-old and realized she could have a baby, Burns wanted one. She’s Mom to Mia, 16.

“I absolutely love being a mother,” she said. “And after meeting these children in a country where over half the population is under the age of 15 due to HIV/AIDS and war, I could not turn my back on a continent of orphans. I felt I had to do something to help prepare them for what lies ahead. If we can teach a child to think outside of the box, look at problems from multiple angles and create something out of nothing, we can give them the chance to not only survive, but the opportunity to even thrive and become leaders.”

In October last year, Burns founded the non-profit, The Business of Play, a 501c3 that makes all donations over $25 tax deductible.

“We launched our first free workshops in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, as well as in the rural town of Tororo where the orphanage we work with is located. Both workshops were packed with eager parents, childcare and aid workers who welcomed the culturally shifting information we were able to provide on the science and techniques to develop the impressionable brains of children ages 0-5 years though verbal language processing and reading,” said Burns.

She partners with a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow, Manuela Pacutho Mulondo, CEO and founder of a 24-hour daycare, The Cradle, in Uganda, where they focus on early childhood stimulation. Together they are spreading their message, first through community-based free workshops and later, when they can afford it, through radio and television. 

“We met in America at the end of Manuela’s six-week program studying early childhood development at the University of Oklahoma where she went to seek the answers as to why children of developed countries are so much further advanced in their learning than children from developing countries. She found that simply talking to our babies continuously from the third trimester was key,” said Burns.

The easiest, most cost-effective way to encourage a child’s brain to grow optimally is simple verbal communication with a loving caregiver.

“We had been seeking solutions to the same problem, coming from different angles and once we found them, we ran into each other on the other side of the world in Los Angeles. We had met two months before when I was in Uganda on my second trip there and had no idea we were looking for solutions to the same issues; once we connected all the dots, a strong and lasting partnership was born.”

Burns said, “Not everyone can travel around the globe to volunteer, but everyone can give what they can and still feel like they are doing their part to make the world a better place.”


Burns has organized an afternoon of family fun, Sunday Bop, to raise awareness and support for Ugandan orphans at Corazon Performing Arts Studio in Topanga Courtyard, 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, May 20.

Money raised will pay for more workshops in Uganda, books, toys and art supplies for the children. Donations of gently used toys (especially educational), books and dress-up clothes are welcome at the event and any time at the Vanity Room salon to deliver on Burns’ next humanitarian trip to Uganda.

For those not able to attend the fundraiser but who would still like to donate, visit and search TheBusinessOfPlay2018

Tickets are available from, search for Sunday Bop. Adults: $30, Under 12s: $15. Price includes traditional home-cooked African food, wine and coffee, African music and dance,


For more information:;;


Claire Fordham

Fordham worked for the BBC, ITN and Sky News in the UK and wrote a weekly anecdotal column for Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, The Sun. She currently writes regularly for Huffington Post, The Malibu Times and the Messenger Mountain News. See "A Chat with Claire Fordham" on this website under Podcasts.

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