Tag Archives: Child support

Our 2017 visit to Uganda in Photos

The first great pleasure was to get together and chat with our friends and colleagues, the Senyonga family.

Our first day get-together with George, Berna, James, Esther and Maria

An early task – and a very pleasant one at that – was to help perform the opening ceremony for the new Vocational Training Centre at Golden College Nsaggu. The project is in its very early days, but has an enormous potential to change for the better the lives of a large number of young people.

My attempt at addressing the company in Luganda

At least George and Berna found it amusing!

The prefects showing off the charity t-shirts that we donated.

The student body

Making a start on vocational activities

Meeting with Golden’s sponsored students

Some of the senior students are spread far and wide across the region. That meant quite a lot of travelling to meet them…

Zachaeus – doing well at his new school

Joweria has moved away from Kampala, but is a great success at her new school where she is Head Girl.

The link between Stockport County and the Maganjo Wisdom Academy has prospered for almost 10 years. Thanks go to the SCFC Community Foundation for their donation of tracksuits.

The boys showing off the tracksuits donated by Stockport County Community Foundation.

The next generation of players?

Bulumbu’s scout group met us on the road and – slowly – led us to the school.

Ten years ago there was not even a school at Bulumbu – nothing. Now it is a fully functioning school and, following a great deal of financial support from generous donors, there are two blocks, each housing 3 classrooms. We were delighted to be able to participate in the official opening of the second of these blocks. The occasion was made even more memorable by the presence of a group of these donors.

The children had gathered to greet us.

Among the invited guests

Cutting the “ribbon” to officially open the new classroom block.

Visiting various craft villages to bargain for and to purchase crafts is always an important part of our time in Kampala

Buying crafts

A Kampala craft village

With around 75 children sponsored at the infant and primary school levels, it is a major job to make sure that we see as many of them as possible.

Alex Sekibule

Gerald Tendo

Rose Nalukwago

Our final official event was at Bubebbere, with lots of singing by the children and – of course – speeches!

Pupils prepare to entertain us at Bubebbere

A major development has been the progress made in enabling our sponsored students to benefit from vocational courses and giving them increased chances for employment. This does not mean that we neglect academic achievement. We already have one young woman at university and two more hope to join her later this year.

Brenda could not go to secondary school. Now she is studying Cosmetology.

Tamale is following a course in building and construction.

Polline is the latest young woman to attend Nangabo Vocational Institute. She will become a nursery teacher.

Café Victoria on the banks of the Lake at Entebbe for a plate of tilapia is a regular destination for us to relax by the water. On this occasion, we stopped off on our way to the airport for this year’s departure from Uganda.

Tilapia and chips on the banks of Lake Victoria.

Finally, let us say thank you to James Ssenyonga who accompanied us throughout our two weeks in the country. It was not only helpful to have him with us, but also a great pleasure. Here he is sampling the delights of jackfruit.

James enjoying a slice of jackfruit.

Keith’s Story (second part)

… 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.

A self-sufficiency project.

A self-sufficiency project.

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.

A community support programme; providing a water source for village.

A community support programme; providing a water source for village.

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.

The “road” to family homes at Bubebbere.

The “road” to family homes at Bubebbere.

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.

Our first sponsored girl to reach university. Here she was still in primary school.

Our first sponsored girl to reach university. Here she was still in primary 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.

Another home visit, together with some of our first sponsored children.

Another home visit, together with some of our first sponsored children.

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!

forever friends of uganda

1972. The Mills family with our old friends from way back, Charles and Kevina Ssentamu. We still see them on every Uganda visit.

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.

At home - a family of children from Little Angels Primary School, Bubebbere.

At home – a family of children from Little Angels Primary School, Bubebbere.

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.

Keith’s Story (first part)

Keith’s Story

Where Les Amis d’Ouganda/Forever Friends of Uganda Came From

We have already told you the stories of George and Berna Senyonga, our charity  partners in Uganda, and more recently you have seen things from the perspective of Danny’s visit to Bubebbere and Bulumbu. Perhaps our friends and supporters might be interested in knowing the story from our own point of view.

*****************

Keith and Janette Mills at the Balade Contée for Africa Friends of UgandaJeanette and Keith Mills

In 2002 Jeanette and I reached the milestone of our 60th birthdays and decided that we should like to celebrate the start of our next decade by returning to Uganda where we had been teachers in the early 1970’s.

The idea was to hire a car and travel around the country to places that we had known and loved in those times when our two sons (who were both born in Zambia) were still very young. Those plans started to go awry when we listened to a BBC “Woman’s Hour” broadcast, an interview about a British involvement  in setting up  the Ugandan arm of a UK charity called Dream Scheme.

We were only going there on holiday and could not do much to help them …….. could we? We did offer to meet and give our encouragement; and that was all!

The morning of 2nd December 2002 dawned while we were on Flight BA 63 out of Heathrow. We approached Entebbe on schedule, but we seemed to spend an unquestionably long time circling the airport. Then came the Captain: “We are safer staying up here than attempting a landing!” There was a violent thunderstorm around the town.

Welcome back, we thought. On the occasion of our last departure 28 years earlier in 1974, the plane had been heavily laden. Over-loaded? We were not the most experienced of globe-trotters but that is still the only time in our experience when the passengers were weighed with their luggage. And of course the runway does come to an end at the shores of Lake Victoria!

1972. The Mills family with our old friends from way back, Charles and Kevina Ssentamu. We still see them on every Uganda visit.

1972. The Mills family with our old friends from way back, Charles and Kevina Ssentamu. We still see them on every Uganda visit.

The following morning two members of the Dream Scheme group were waiting for us at our hotel’s Reception Desk. And so it started. Much of the rest of our holiday was taken up with visiting schools, churches, Dream Scheme groups. We picked our way through alleys and across foul waterways in the suburbs of Kampala to be warmly welcomed in the poorest of homes. We were also able to visit our old friends Charles and Kevin Ssentamu (we had been fellow students in Sheffield at the beginning of the 1960s), as well as spending time with my old headmaster at the last school where I taught all those years before.

Even though we never got our safari around the country, it was a truly memorable holiday.

To get to Bubebbere, where a lot of our work is now concentrated, was a journey into what seemed, at that time, like a visit to the end of the world. The village is only an hour’s drive from Kampala, but the way (it could not be called a road in those days) was impassable without a 4×4. It is on the shores of Lake Victoria, a 30 minutes trek beyond the last power lines. And it is truly a “road” to nowhere for even this track  goes no further than the small trading centre.

This picture shows the horrible state of the classroom roof.

This picture shows the horrible state of the classroom roof.

It was no surprise to learn that many people saw no reason to stay in the area. There was no future for them there. In total contrast was the vibrancy of the children and the enthusiasm of the volunteers at the Little Angels Primary School. On one visit the place was full of shouting, excited youngsters who, although it was in the middle of the school holidays, had come in to to collect their examination results. They sang for us; they danced for us; we watched a display of gymnastics. It was also prize-giving time. Winners received two biscuits as their prize; runners-up only got one!

The classrooms at Bubebbere as they were on our fist visit in 2002.

The classrooms at Bubebbere as they were on our fist visit in 2002.

It was at this stage, witnessing the contrast between the terrible classroom and home conditions and the joyfulness of these children whose futures were bleak, that we decided that we should have to do a small something to help.

What could we do to raise some money to help them at Bubebbere? Just as a one-off effort, you understand. After pondering all sorts of possibilities, we came up with the idea of a Garden Party; a very English event in the middle of rural Normandy.

We discussed it with our neighbours; we should certainly need their support – and probably their gardens. They liked the idea, but we couldn’t call it a garden party, we were told. Such an event in France is only for posh people; in the local parlance, it is very “snob”.

2 euros! Cheap enough for a ride round the village.

2 euros! Cheap enough for a ride round the village.

We printed off programmes to sell, with advertisements from local business people who generously agreed to support us. The four gardens each had a different role: a craft and farmers’  market; a car boot sale, a bar and horse rides; live music all the day long. In ours, there were various stalls, competitions and games, and of course tea and scones!

Our first fund-raising event. Music in a neighbour’s garden.

Our first fund-raising event. Music in a neighbour’s garden.

Most popular of all was the recruitment of our donkey, Cipo. “Guess the weight of the donkey”, went down a bomb, especially as the prize was a bicycle. After all he was named after a record-breaking Tour de France cyclist!

Cipo with the winner of the guess the weight of the donkey competition - Pierre Decanter who at the time was “maire” of St Lucien.

Cipo with the winner of the guess the weight of the donkey competition – Pierre Decanter who at the time was “maire” of St Lucien.

We ended up with 1,000 euros in the pot and everybody confirmed that it had been a most enjoyable day.

My reaction? Thank goodness that was over. I was exhausted. Still, it was only a single  event, wasn’t it? Then came the neighbours’ question? “Can we fix the date for next year?”

Ah well! If we were going to do more, we needed to set up a committee, officially register as an “association” and get ourselves a bank account. The one-off  event had transformed itself into a permanent part of what we did. Our lives would never be the same again.

To be honest our work was very little in the early days. The wooden boards of the classroom walls were replaced by bricks; we helped to buy some land at Bubebbere; and on our next visit we ran a basic healthcare course. That was another case of us taking on something for which we had no training. But really it was no more than a new, and not very time-consuming hobby. That was going to change massively over the years.

 

Second part of Keith Mills’ story will be published soon.

What’s in a Ugandan Name?

There are various sides to this; things that can confuse us in the western world. Let’s try to bring a little light to it all.

First of all – the family name (the surname) as we know it in Europe is not part of African tradition. Children have a given name, often Christian or Muslim. Far more important though is the clan name, and there are more than 50 clans within the Buganda kingdom. Sponsors will have noted that on the school reports this appears ahead of the western-style name.

What we find strange for instance is that two sisters may have totally different names. A clan is like an extended family, but even so this name is also a given one, traditionally chosen by the child’s paternal grandfather. The name might also have specific family importance. For example the name Babirye can signify that the child is a twin and Kizza suggests a child born after twins. KIbuuka is a brave warrior. It is rare for people within a clan to intermarry.

Helen Nabayiki is ready for the PLE challenge

Helen Nabayiki is ready for the PLE challenge

A clue to gender can be seen in the first few letters of the name. If it starts with the two letters “Na”, you can be sure that she is a girl. The equivalent for a boy is “Se”.

Richard Ssali - a PLE candidate

Richard Ssali – a PLE candidate

That is the formal side – but there is another aspect that often puzzles our sponsors.

You may find that the name of your child is different this year from last year. This is often simply a matter of pronunciation, especially when it comes from the oral tradition. The sound of the name can dictate the spelling and it gets varied as the child grows. Sometimes it is a matter of preference. Names can be a moveable feast in Uganda.  So Phoebe can be Feibe; Sharon becomes Shalon; and so on. In fact in Bantu languages, of which Luganda is one, the letters “l” and “r” are often interchangeable.

With some of the secondary school students - following success at PLE

With some of the secondary school students – following success at PLE

We understand, and often joke about, this identical situation among our Chinese friends. If you do not hear the difference, you will write it as you hear it. When we lived in Zambia, a neighbouring town was Mufulira – even on the radio, the “l” “r” question meant that we heard it pronounced in at least four different ways. Later, when we lived in northern Uganda, we were among people who did not always hear the difference between “p” and “f”. Our own children learned to count: one, two, pee, pour, pive!

There also seems to be a trend among the youngsters themselves, as they get older, to change their own names – to something they find more “in” or “with it”. We receive school reports for students we don’t seem to know! The same child; a different name.

Tubagaliza omwaka omuja ogwemirembe.

Happy New Year

 

Lancashire to Uganda

A Partnership – Westwood and Little Angels

danny-mcgregor-forever-friends-of-uganda

The recent visit to Uganda by Danny McGregor has highlighted the partnership between Westwood Primary School and the Little Angels schools at Bubebbere and at Bulumbu. That being said, we must not forget that this relationship has been going on for more than three years.

In the early days Mrs Martin (the headteacher) was happy for the school to “twin” with the Ugandan children  at the early infant school level, but as time has passed this support  has widened its scope.

Rogan with some of the children who had just received school uniforms

Rogan with some of the children who had just received school uniforms

The first fruit was the purchase of school uniforms for 15 children whose parents could not afford to buy them. A happy side to this is that it coincided with the visit of Rogan Mills to the villages where he acted as the school’s representative at the presentation of the gifts. Not only was he able to report back to the school, but his OSH Club took on the sponsorship of one of the children.

Forever Friends of Uganda help the poorest

Since then, donations from Westwood have been used for a variety of purposes; to purchase uniforms for children in the orphanage, to buy maize flour to help feed them; to obtain stationery – books, pens, pencils and so on. Most recently a donation was used to help us kickstart the reading for pleasure literacy programme. From a European perspective, these may seem to be modest things, but from the viewpoint of two schools in very poor villages, this has been an extremely valuable support.

Now of course the focus has become much more highly charged. The presentations that Danny has made at the school have brought far more individuals on board. Already, at the time of writing, we have another 12 children’s education being supported by staff, parents and friends of Westwood school. A recent Harvest collection has also boosted what we are able to achieve in the villages.

harvest-collection-forever-friends-of-uganda

There are other ideas in the pipeline and we shall of course keep you up-to-date with the progress.

I have to say that all of us at Forever Friends of Uganda, as well as our colleagues on the spot, are tremendously grateful to everybody connected with Westwood for helping us to make such a difference.

 

 

 

 

Heart-breaking reality : Danny’s Story Part Two

On day two, we walked (and baked!) to the Little Angels Primary School in Bulumbu. It soon became obvious that word had quickly spread about the ‘mzungu’ who was walking the villages with James – a highly thought of member of the community – to help the local children. As we passed, we were called into people’s homes and asked for help and for their children to join the programme. The heart-breaking reality is that it is currently unable to support any new children as it is already a struggle to sustain the current level of aid. This is why it is so important that we can drum up more sponsorship for these children as there are still so many more in need of support. I could tell that this weighed heavy on James. He, like everybody, wants to help all of the children that is physically possible, but the fact that he cannot make false promises to these parents and children breaks his heart, as it broke mine to witness it.

Meeting children on the road.

Meeting children on the road.

We finally reached Bulumbu, after meeting lots of people and children – many of whom were heading to work – children as young as 3, 4 and 5 carrying tools for farming with little or no clothing. The thought of this will haunt me forever and I will strive to help these children however I can. When we arrived at Little Angels, I was greeted by the children who were on a break, and by Berna – The school’s Head Mistress and James’ mum. I had previously met Berna at the airport and she greeted me very warmly again with another huge smile and a brilliant hearty laugh. She explained how the school works and is run and proceeded to introduce me to each member of the teaching staff.

A joyful classroom

A joyful classroom

We set about touring the school and meeting all of the children and seeing them working in class! It was assessment time and most of the older students were finishing their end of term exams. The children were an absolute delight to meet and chat to and, as in Bubebbere, each extended the utmost politeness and respect to all of the adults. We were then led into the school hall and treated to a special assembly performance of singing, dancing, drumming and drama. I feel blessed to have been there on that day.

Danny and James enjoy their jackfruit

Danny and James enjoy their jackfruit

During lunchtime, I spotted a tree growing a huge fruit that I had never seen before. James told me that it was jackfruit and asked if I would like to try some. Before I had said “yes”, five boys were already half way up the tree! I have never seen such teamwork and perseverance, seeing them attempting to release a ripe jackfruit! At one point the children evacuated the tree, escaping from what looked like a wasps’ nest. They then decided to get rid of the nest by throwing rocks at it (with incredible accuracy!). This wouldn’t have been my preferred plan of attack, but the very British plan of “let’s just leave them alone” didn’t fly… James ’reminded’ me, “We are African, Danny… We don’t do giving up!” With the use of a knife, a very long, adapted branch as a ‘poking tool’, extreme climbing and balance and the best example of team work and perseverance, the children tasted success as the giant fruit finally fell to the ground. Other children were waiting to collect the fruit, chopping it into individual pieces and sharing it out. One single jackfruit fed every child plus James and myself! I would definitely recommend jackfruit to those of you with a sweet tooth!

On the beach - the shores of Lake Victoria

On the beach – the shores of Lake Victoria

The end of the week gave me the chance to experience life in Nateete and Kampala and officially become a Ugandan! James took me to Lake Victoria to meet friends and to join in a double celebration – one being the birthday of James’ friend Danny (not me – somebody else with a very good name!) and the other being a send-off for another friend, Charles, who has been awarded a scholarship to study for a Masters’ Degree in China. I felt really accepted into the group and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and night with these new friends.

Time for football - at the National Stadium

Time for football – at the National Stadium

We also visited Mandela National Stadium and caught a football match between Buddu FC and Gomba FC. It was attended by the Prime Minister of Buganda, Owekitibwa Charles Peter Mayega, and later the King (Kabaka) of Buganda.

With George and Berna outside the secondary school at Nsaggu

With George and Berna outside the secondary school at Nsaggu

My final trip was to Golden Christian College, in Nsaggu, which is the secondary school attached to the programme and met some of the staff. I was delighted to meet Majo who is something of a celebrity in the programme as she is academically the highest achieving sponsored student. The high school is another hive of promise and potential and with funding, it can become somewhere really special.

 

My last day in Uganda was a sad one. I was accompanied to the airport by James, Berna, George, Fred, Rebecca and James’ neighbours, with special mention to Mohammed, an extremely friendly and accommodating man with whom I also wish to keep in touch. This trip was far and away the best experience of my life. I can’t wait for the day when I can return. I will miss all of the people I have met and they each have a place in my heart, especially the children of the orphanage. But of course, there is one person to whom I have grown extremely fond of and whom I consider myself lucky to now call a friend… James. My visit would not have been possible without him and he made sure I got the most out of it. Thank you James for everything you did for me. You are an inspiration to children and adults alike and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Weebale and Tunaalabagana!

********************

In James’ words

On Thursday, we embarked on a deadly task. The day’s mission was to walk over 12kms from Bubebbere to Bulumbu; there and back!!! Although it was very tiring, it was worth every bit of the pain. On our way, we met young children with hoes bigger than themselves who walked 10kms to go and dig. Danny gave them sweets to motivate them to carry on with their work.

Danny and the Bulumbu teaching staff

Danny and the Bulumbu teaching staff

At around 11am we arrived at Little Angels Bulumbu where we met kids doing their end of term examinations. Danny took a tour around the school, met and spoke to every child and teacher. Then, on the field, he gave out clothes and a ball he had brought. There was a question and answer session where Danny talked about himself and the history of England with a map in his hands; the kids loved it. They had attended lessons conducted by a white man!

Back at Bubebbere, another incident occurred! One of the pigs from the orphanage had escaped. We had to get it back to the sty and Danny offered us a hand. With Ivan on one side and Danny on the other, they managed to tussle it in.

On Friday we met the children from Bubebbere who had come to collect their Reports. Danny offered t-shirts to the teachers and other clothes to the children. We had our last meal there and then left for Kampala. We rested and in the evening and were served dinner by my girlfriend, Mirembe Shammah.

On Saturday we visited Kampala and went to watch the final match of the Buganda Football league between Buddu FC and Gomba FC. We took a collective taxi to Nambole. At midday the prime minister of Buganda Owekitibwa Charles Peter Mayega arrived and the first match began to determine the third position winner. Unfortunately we left before the King of Buganda (the Kabaka) came for the final match.

We then walked through the city and I could see Danny struggle. He would later tell me that Kampala is the busiest city he has ever visited. The biggest challenge he faced was crossing the road! He looked left then right then left again then right; finally he just gave up and ran straight across even though the traffic did not stop!

Suffering in the gym

Suffering in the gym

On Sunday, we decided to hit the gym; and stretch our muscles before we headed off to the beach. We did basic drills since it had been a long time since either of us had done such a thing. Thankfully the trainer was very kind; he taught us like nursery kids! After that we met up with my friends and went to the beach. We were over 20 people in two collective taxis. It was party time – a birthday and a farewell.

On Monday we woke up quite late and George, Berna and Fred came and picked us up. George had arranged to take Danny for a tour along Nateete-Nakawuka road. We got onto the back of the truck and then off to our first stop; Golden Christian College Nsaggu. It was raining along the way to Nsaggu which made the unpaved roads treacherous. We toured the school premises and then continued our drive. The fun in this was riding behind in the cabin of the truck for over four hours. Even when I understand it was risky, we took our chances and enjoyed the moment. Riding at the back we could see everything. When we got back home, we experienced a Kampala power cut.

Leaving Danny at the airport on Tuesday was an emotional moment. He is a brave man. He reached out to the unknown and he succeeded. He came along with a lot of gifts for everyone and the kids still ask about him; we all do! We hope to see him again someday with more friends. Having witnessed first-hand the suffering of the needy children that we deal with, I believe he will persuade more to join in the work. I learnt a lot about humility and service beyond self. Thank you for coming to Uganda, Danny.

****************

An experience with one of the orphans

Having lost both her parents, Nana (not her real name) has been in the orphanage for 2 years. Both her parents were victims to the HIV/AIDS monster that has robbed us of a big number of our loved ones. Fat, tall and relatively healthy, the 12-year-old keeps a low profile. She is now in primary six. She is jolly and fun but she lives every day knowing that she will one day have to go and join her parents. She takes daily medication, understanding very well that the day she stops is the day her heart will stop. She too is HIV positive! Danny couldn’t hold his emotions in check while he was being told the story of this young girl. He had interacted with her for 3 days not knowing her situation. This was the girl that had helped him around and had given him company in the evening preps. She lived her life like the rest of the children. He was so shocked by the news. He was very inquisitive about her; he just couldn’t believe that she could live that freely knowing that she might die soon.

During the lunch break, Danny kept to himself on the phone. “Is everything ok?” I asked.

“Of course, I was just talking to Lotte (his fiancée) about this young girl with HIV. She has been crying all day and thinks nobody deserves to live such a life.”

She had been talking to her mum and they had decided to do something about it. They would want to get on board too by making a monthly donation to help the needy children. I did not know how to respond. The story of this young girl had changed a person at the other end of the world to come on board and help us. I was hesitant in telling him the girl’s story. I had not wanted to humiliate her by telling Danny, but doing so had opened up a door for the rest of the children at the orphanage.

BACK TO PART ONE

A first-hand view of the villages where we are working : Danny’s Story Part One

Danny McGregor is a teacher Westwood Primary School, FFOU’s partner school in Lancashire. He decided that he wanted a first-hand view of the villages where we are working and we were delighted to support his wish.

He spent a week of his August school holidays living at the school and with the children, supported by James Ssenyonga, the son of our long-time colleagues and friends, George and Berna.

Here is the first part of his experiences, told in the words of both young men.

 

PART ONE

DANNY’S ARRIVAL IN UGANDA

After 18 hours of travel, I arrived at Entebbe Airport, cleared security and proceeded to the bureau de change. Whilst waiting for my Ugandan Shillings, I received a tap on the shoulder. I turned round and was greeted by what I perceived to be a soldier, but who was actually a policeman, holding a huge rifle in my direction. This was my initial ‘Welcome to Uganda’! I had never seen a gun in real life before this moment and I can safely say that I could go a long while without seeing another! As it happened, I saw many over the next week during my visit, as security is paramount here, and by the end of the week it gave me a weird sense of security to see them. As it turns out, the policeman who had greeted me was there to point me in the direction of a man wearing the biggest smile I have ever seen!

This smiling, waving man, was James Ssenyonga – son of George Senyonga, founder of the schools and orphanage. James had the task of looking after me during my stay in Uganda and I must say that he did a wonderful job of introducing me to the real Uganda. Outside I was greeted by Berna, James’ mother and head teacher of Little Angels Primary School in Bulumbu, George, his father, Maria, his middle sister and finally cousin, Fred. They all extended the warmest of welcomes and I can’t thank them enough for their friendliness and hospitality.

At the Bussi ferry with Maria

At the Bussi ferry with Maria

We travelled through Entebbe stopping only to pick up some fruit from the roadside, until we arrived at Lake Victoria. We had to cross a small section of the lake to prevent adding an extra hour to our drive. To do so we waited for a ‘car ferry’ to transport us. This was my first opportunity to see Uganda’s real natural beauty.

On the other side of the lake, we encountered a mass of people, who were part of a funeral. James explained to me that when a funeral takes place, people from all over the area walk to pay their respects to the deceased. There is no shared cemetery, as in England, people are laid to rest in their own family area of burial. It was here that the car was stopped by a policeman; not just any policeman, but the Officer in Command of the area. After a short conversation, he proceeded to climb in to the car asking for a lift to the station. Initially, this made the journey a little tense for me as conversation was in Luganda and I was oblivious to it all, but I soon relaxed in his company.

We continued our journey through what was increasingly rural Uganda. At around 5:30pm, we arrived at Little Angels Primary School and Orphanage. I was shown to my new home which was very thoughtfully prepared for me. After encountering a cow, a small pig and a number of chickens, I was introduced to five of the most charming children. These children were orphans at Little Angels and each held out their hands, bowed their heads and introduced themselves as Phoebe, Carol, Shadiah, Shakibu and Ssekyanzi. I have never met children with such a joy for life, and motivation for their own education, regardless of their situation. This had a big effect on me and has raised my own expectations of the children in my own class. Ssekyanzi had a Spiderman t-shirt on and when I mis-pronounced his name and jokingly called him Spiderman instead, I saw five of the biggest and most heart-warming smiles I have ever seen. This melted my heart – something that was to happen an awful lot in the coming week.

Danny was welcomed with many smiles

Danny was welcomed with many smiles

I was then delighted to meet Ivan. He is 19 years old and is currently studying at high school. He has been with the sponsorship programme since his first year at school as a young boy. Ivan regularly heads back to the orphanage to spend his time trying to repay it somewhat by working there, doing anything that needs doing, from farming to chasing escaping pigs! Ivan speaks very good English, which is a testament to the teaching at the school, and is shyly proud of his fortunate journey through the programme.

That evening I also had the pleasure of meeting the teaching staff at their staff meeting. These teachers do an absolutely wonderful job, especially when one considers the constraints in which they are forced to work. No electricity, next to no resources, and with poor pay. They live at the school in conditions that are a stark contrast to those that we in the west take for granted every single day. I consider myself extremely lucky and privileged to have had this wonderful opportunity to live and ‘work’ alongside these truly inspirational people.

The following day was one that will live in my memory forever. James and Head Teacher Isaac took me on a tour of the classrooms and living quarters, which again are a world away from those that we are used to seeing in Europe. These classrooms are still in need of much more funding.

The children are not always sure what to make of things

The children are not always sure what to make of things

James then continued our tour of the school ‘gardens’ and grounds where there are various projects such as the forest areas and growth of many plants and trees. In addition there are projects for the children to run in an attempt to equip them with much needed life skills that will help them to survive. These consist of farming the land and caring for the animals. The work that goes into this is unbelievable. In all honesty, I hadn’t given much thought to these things before my visit, but am in awe of the scale of the full project here and the scale on which it is being planned. They are in the early stages but their potential is huge, with the end goal being self-sufficiency. Again, the biggest stumbling block is lack of funding.

Working on the school farm

Working on the school farm

After the tour, Isaac invited me into his office to discuss the difficulties that the staff and children are currently facing. He explained that it is a constant struggle to educate children who have empty stomachs and no shoes, yet they have to walk kilometres on dirt roads to school each day and then go and work on the farms to help provide for their families. It is hardly the ideal working environment for adults, let alone for small children.

The afternoon, however, was to be one of my favourite experiences of the week.

He was welcomed into the homes by family members

He was welcomed into the homes by family members

Alongside James, teacher Moses, teacher Rose and some of the children from the orphanage, I set out to ‘move’ through the village to give me an insight into what real life is like here, to meet the children and their families and to drive home the reality of their daily struggles. It is hard to summon adjectives big enough to describe the kindness and openness of the people here and the friendliness that each and every person I met extended to me. It really struck a chord with me. Everybody was so very grateful for the work being done by the charity and sponsors. It was here that I had a really special moment, meeting Kisenyi Ronald – my own sponsored child. I was very emotional meeting him in person and seeing him in his natural surroundings. The trip has inspired me to sponsor more children!

******************

 

From James

After meeting Danny at Entebbe Airport, we headed to Bussi on the shores of Lake Victoria where we took a ferry to Buwaya and drove to Kasanje and then Bubebbere. We arrived at the orphanage at around 5pm, rested then at around 7pm went to have evening preps with the kids at the orphanage.

On Wednesday we woke, had breakfast and started our visit. First we toured in and around the teachers’ quarters, the new block being built with interlocking bricks, the school gardens, the eucalyptus trees, the pine trees and finally the gazetted forest reserve.

Visiting sponsored children at their homes

Visiting sponsored children at their homes

After lunch, since the children were on holiday, we went out to look for them in their homes. We visited over 50 families on a door to door mission to check out both the sponsored children and their parents. This was one of the most fulfilling adventures to the whole group; we went with teachers, Rose and Moses and seven children from the orphanage. The community was so excited. Often, Danny followed the culture of kneeling to greet and this I think lowered down the guard of the people he interacted with. They felt very comfortable in the presence of a man who made them feel welcome. A combination of his very big smile and the sweets that he brought to give out to every kid that we met on our way made him very famous. On the same trip we visited the young men who work with me in using the brick-making machine. We finally went back to the orphanage. Danny was entertained by the kids and teacher David who taught him how to dance some new moves.

********************

Danny with teacher Rose

Danny with teacher Rose

An experience with teacher Rose

For our first activity, we visited the teachers’ homes. Rose, a lower primary teacher, was the first to be visited. Knock… knock, the head teacher, Mr. Kirinya banged on her door; she hesitantly opened. You could tell that she had just woken up. She looked at us very shocked for the early morning visit to her single room doubling as both her bedroom and sitting room. She was not expecting visitors that early, especially a mzungu. She tried to hide some of her belongings but there was nowhere. She was embarrassed at her situation – that a teacher would live in such a room. I knew that her situation was no different from average teachers in Uganda, but Danny would not understand that. To him the room was inadequate! Danny looked on, sincerely touched, as the head teacher explained Rose’s situation.

Later in his room, he talked about it. He compared an average teacher’s standard in England and that of a teacher in a rural area in Uganda. The difference was enormous. He remembered the times he had complained about poor treatment in England. I could feel he wanted to pour out his heart to me. The poor conditions he had seen of a teacher in Uganda changed his perceptions.

Later on in the day he told me that he will be more grateful about his life than before. Rose could have been Danny under difference circumstances. Had Danny been born in Uganda, he would  have been in Rose’s situation; sleeping in a room that is no bigger than a kitchen.

He wanted to know how much we pay these teachers and how we manage to keep them engaged. I then broke his heart even more; their salary is about £50 a month! Danny just could not get it. How could a qualified teacher earn so little!! We should like to pay these teachers what they deserve but we cannot. We can barely afford what we do pay. Most of the children in the school are needy children, supported by the few who are sponsored. The rest come along, but cannot pay the fees. Of course a teacher is paid the same amount whether she teaches 5 children or 30 children so we make up the numbers. I could see him nod his head. He later told me that there is just one solution to take away all these problems, Money! None of us have it. We take pride however in knowing that at least we understand the problem and we look forward to a day when teachers will earn what they genuinely deserve for the difference they make in this world.

At the water pump

At the water pump

END OF PART ONE: Danny’s Story Part Two