… In those early days, the Dream Scheme network was much wider than it is today and over the years we were able to set up a whole range of self-sufficiency schemes: sewing, and pig and chicken raising in particular. The idea behind these is to enable children to learn skills which should help them in later life, especially if their education came to an end while they were still young – as was often the case.
Given their circumstances, it was amazing that some of the children had managed to get to school at all. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant developments was the start of the child sponsorship scheme which slowly got under way in the middle of 2006.
The number of orphans was high, AIDS having carried off so many of their parents’ generation. Often they lived with grandparents and when they died, the children could be dispersed far and wide to whichever members of the family were prepared to take them. Failing even this option, they had to work while they were still of primary school age.
Even the more fortunate ones have work to do, both before and after school; fetching water, caring for younger brothers and sisters and working in the family garden.
Just to get to school can be a real challenge. They have to walk of course, often several miles. That can be daunting enough, particularly for a six-year-old who is malnourished, but during the rainy season, the pathways become even more treacherous. It is not surprising that they do not always get there.
They also have to find their school fees. By our standards, these seem very little, but so often the youngsters would turn up at the beginning of term with a chicken or a few vegetables in lieu of money. Often our colleagues accepted them. However, without the fees, there was nothing with which to pay the teachers. How do you attract efficient, qualified staff, when there is the chance that their salaries will not be paid?
So people who are supporting one or more of the children are doing more than perhaps they know. They are not only providing the children with an education, but they are helping to give the schools a stability and a future. Thus, the whole community is benefiting; there is now a focus which makes the villages more viable.
Until recently, although we had many British supporters, we were officially a French charity. The advantage was that we were able to gain grants through French government links; from both the Region and our Department, Seine Maritime (rather like an English County). These grants and the events that we organised over the years enabled us to expand our activities.
If you ever join us on a visit to Bubebbere, you will see great poverty. We too see that – but much more. We see the progress: the classrooms that were not there, the teachers’ accommodation, the kitchen, the school hall. That is not to mentions the water provision and the solar panels in the hall and in the orphanage. When we first visited, there was nothing at all at Bulumbu. Now there is a complete and functioning school.
The sponsorship programme has added support year on year. Initially all of our children were in infant and primary school. Now we have more than 20 students at the secondary level; we have helped to train teachers (one of whom is now deputy head at Bulumbu), hairdressers and a welder. And now we are so very proud that one of our girls is making her way through university.
It sounds good, and it is; but it is not enough. There is so much more to be done if we are to achieve the dream of helping our colleagues to become totally self-sufficient so that they do not need us any longer. It is for this that we have helped with two ecologically sound programmes: the new brick-making machines and the forest plantations. Both are good for the environment and will help to bring in much-needed income.
To help achieve this dream, we decided (last year) to separate the two arms of our work. Until then, everything had been under the aegis of Les Amis d’Ouganda and our work in Britain was on an unofficial basis. That was not enough for us to try to attain our goals. It was not an easy transition but finally in June 2016, our application for official status was approved by the Charity Commission.
The biggest challenge was to separate the finances of the two charities. There were times when I despaired that it could be done, but in the end it just had to be – no ifs no buts.
Now we must work to complete what has been started.
As this is supposed to be “Keith’s Story”, perhaps it will not be too self-centred if I tell you something of my (our) background. Both Jeanette and I started our teaching careers in Manchester before we moved to Zambia and then Uganda where we taught in a variety of different schools. Eight years in Africa gets into the blood! We had loved it.
However, 1974 was the appropriate time to return to Stockport. The boys were happily at school in Entebbe, but needed long-term stability, I had an offer to resume my studies, and Uganda was becoming a more difficult place during the years of Idi Amin Dada. As an aside, we taught in the village where he was born and I met him twice (and lived to tell the tale) – but that is another story for another day!
We resumed our teaching careers in Stockport and Manchester. I have always had a love of football and both Zambia and Uganda helped me develop as a referee. By the time that I had to call it a day, I had become first Secretary and then Chairman of Stockport Referees’ Society.
I believe that the community side of football is of the highest importance which is why I have maintained a love of Stockport County which had started in the late 1940s. Today, the community of fans, as well as the Club itself have become important supporters of Forever Friends of Uganda and its work.
Also on the sporting side was my running – if you could call it that – which enabled me to be part of a superb community, raising funds for a cancer charity through marathon runs.
Throughout my career, I promoted drama in schools and took that into adult life both in Zambia and at Stockport Garrick Theatre where we passed many happy hours.
People regularly ask what I taught. The answer is that I kept moving – so that nobody managed to catch me, I used to say! The early days were spent in the past, as a History teacher, before I switched to English and became Head of Department. On our return to England, I specialised in ESL. The final switch – following a year back at University – was in special education in both Manchester and then Bolton where one of my final actions was to found the Bolton branch of NASEN (National Association for Special Educational Needs).
In the end I was forced to take early retirement on health grounds. Happily that illness has departed – but far too late for a return to the classroom. Which is why for the past 22 years Jeanette and I have welcomed holiday-makers to our self-catering cottage and our own home where we offer B&B with evening meals for those who are prepared to take the risk! Even that is coming to an end – we have reached an age where we have finally decided to retire.
But not from Les Amis d’Ouganda/ Forever Friends of Uganda. There is still a lot to achieve – and we hope for many more years to do so. Please forgive me for being so indulgent as I share this potted history. We are often asked and perhaps this will answer many of the questions.
Please continue to support this work.
We know so very well how much it is appreciated by our Ugandan friends and colleagues and the children we are all there to support.