Tag Archives: President’s Report

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.

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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.

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President’s Report for 2014

It is fair to say that our progress in 2014 was solid rather than spectacular, but that is not to denigrate what we have done. That could not be so when we were able to complete our biggest and most expensive project in all the years that we have been supporting our Ugandan colleagues. I refer, of course, to the construction of the school hall at Bubebbere which was completed at the end of the year with considerable support from the Region of
Haute-Normandie.

The hall at Bubebbere approaching completion

The hall at Bubebbere approaching completion

Some years ago we initiated a small revolution in the village with the introduction of electricity by means of a solar panel in the orphanage. We have now continued that process by
their installation in the new hall. This will expand the possibilities for everybody. Not only will it benefit the staff and orphans but also the school as a whole. In addition it will be a considerable asset to the whole community which until now has had nowhere (apart from outdoors) to meet.

Ready for use

Ready for use

I should also like to take this opportunity to offer sincere gratitude to a charitable Foundation based in Kampala which over many years now has supported our work. Although our contacts have requested anonymity, that must not stop us saying: “Thank you enormously for your help. It is truly appreciated and valued. We should have achieved far less without you”. The Foundation has financed the three classrooms at Bulumbu and is now helping with the fourth one which is currently under construction. It has supported us with fees to train the young women taking courses in early childhood education at the Nangabo Vocational Institute, as well as with another project for 2015 which I shall talk about later.

Work is under way on the 4th classroom at Bulumbu

Work is under way on the 4th classroom at Bulumbu

Back in Europe.

The sponsorship project has some 90 supporters. My pleasure in how this has been such a success must not mask the enormous amount of time it takes, both for us and for
Berna Senyonga in Uganda, to keep things personalised for the sponsors. I believe the effort is well worthwhile. The whole thing has also become much more complicated to operate. In the early days it was straight-forward enough; it was the same fees for all of the children as they were all in primary school. Now we have secondary school children, youngsters on vocational courses and the young women in training. Of course that requires a whole range of different fees. I thank all the sponsors who have accepted extra costs as well as others who voluntarily, without any prompting, pay more than we ask.

The sponsored secondary school students at Nsaggu

The sponsored secondary school students at Nsaggu

Perhaps now is a good moment to repeat that we have the cheapest sponsorship scheme available anywhere, thanks to the voluntary work performed in both countries.

Lilian with the dolls sent by her sponsor

Lilian with the dolls sent by her sponsor

Our Blog has now established itself, both in French and in English. As well as being a means of keeping supporters up-to-date with our activities, it has helped them to understand the
difficulties of everyday life in the villages. May I pick out two recent examples? Many people were shocked by the dangers of jiggers. The result was twofold; some sponsors decided to buy shoes for their children and others offered second-hand pairs for the benefit of the children in general. Then the piece on the problems of water supply brought in a number of donations to enable us to make more progress with our plans. Many thanks to Martine Acoulon for her support in making the Blog a success. On a more everyday basis, we can use Facebook for communications but as many people do not use that site, it is of more limited value.

The Balade Contée in the sculpture gardens at the Château of Bois-Guilbert by Friends of Uganda

The Balade Contée in the sculpture gardens at the Château of Bois-Guilbert (by Friends of Uganda)

Our 9th Balade Contée signalled a new departure. Instead of the wander around the highways and byways of a local village, we strolled through the beautiful statue gardens of Jean-Marc de Pas at the Château of Bois-Guilbert. We were blessed with beautiful end of September weather and the event was a tremendous success. Our thanks go out to everybody who helped in this: Jeane Charionet-Herrington and all of the story-tellers, donors of prizes and refreshments, as well as to the participants and not least to the De Pas family for their welcome.

The sales of Ugandan crafts continued to help our income stream. Although we sold on fewer occasions than usual, both the Balade Contée and most particularly the support from Céline
Romano meant that it remained an important source of revenue to help the Ugandan children in need.

This little girl is the future. Help us to keep her smiling.

           This little girl is the future. Help us to keep her smiling!

Thank you to everybody who has supported us in the past year. We now look forward to the challenges of 2015.

Keith Mills

March 2015

President’s Report for 2013

It is incredible how fast time passes. It is already 10 years since the official founding of Les Amis d’Ouganda (and 11 years since we first started our work).

 

We can be truly proud of how much our small charity has achieved in that short time. 2013 was itself an outstanding year; both in terms of physical achievements in Uganda itself as well as for the amount that we raised in support of our friends there.

 

Making progress on the new school hall at Bubebbere.

Making progress on the new school hall at Bubebbere.

In France, the award of a grant from the Region of Haute-Normandy has enabled us to make a start on our most ambitious project to date, the construction of a school hall at Bubebbere. When it is completed later in 2014, the positive impact on the school, on the community and for the children will be highly significant. As ever, our annual Balade Contée was an enjoyable social event as well as an important boost for our funds.

 

You will be tired of my repeating this, but I shall do it anyway; for us to continue to add to our value, we need others to help. This started in 2012 when some British supporters in France put on an event in our name. In 2013 such support made a great leap forward with a range of events organised by a hotel, by a school and by individuals in England and in Ireland. I cannot thank these people enough for caring as they do.

 

If I have to pick out one thing from all of the other positives, it has to be our partnership with Westwood Primary School in Clayton-le-Woods in Lancashire which has three times raised funds on behalf of the nursery classes at Bulumbu and Bubebbere. As “twins” with these children, the plan is that the Headmistress, the staff and the children follow and help this group of children throughout their primary school lives. Bravo and thanks.

 

Even though the child sponsorship scheme is time-consuming and complicated to administer, it remains at the heart of our ethos of supporting children in greatest need. Because the social, economic and healthcare base is so low in their villages, it should go without saying that educational levels are below what we desire for these children who often drop out of school for a variety of reasons, including sickness (both to children and to their guardians), for economic necessity and through the utter frustration of an inability to make educational progress. Nevertheless, despite these frustrations, progress is being made. At the most basic level, we are helping these youngsters to have a childhood; I believe that is worthwhile as a stand-alone benefit.

 

What has been achieved however goes beyond this. Each year, more sponsored children reach secondary school (collège) and now into the 6th Form (lycée). Where it will finally take these youngsters remains to be seen, but there is hope where previously there was none. Beyond this, the first two young women at the Nangabo Vocational College graduated and we plan to have an additional graduate from there each year. We can but hope that they will be able to help standards to be raised at Bulumbu and at Bubebbere.

 

I do not propose to list our achievements. This information has been well publicised in two  general newsletters, in a sponsors’ update, in our Blog, on Facebook and in communications among members of our committee.

 

However, we are, I believe, at a crossroads. Can we continue to make significant progress? Or will things do no more than tick over? I know what I want and I believe it is what we all want. That is give all the children we support, hope for a real and successful future; and to make the twin villages self-sufficient and places which can be seen as beacons of hope for future generations. To achieve this desire, we have to find a way of spreading the workload, both in terms of organisation and in increasing our funding.

 

Thank you for your past support. The challenge is now to discover how we can maintain the momentum and push on to do more.

 

Keith Mills

January 2014

Logo from Friends of Uganda created by Nyanzi Art

Logo from Friends of Uganda
created by Nyanzi Art

 Officers and Committee 2014 : Friends of Uganda (Association  loi  de 1901)

Officers

Keith MILLS – President

Céline ROMANO – Treasurer

Martine FILLIAT –Secretary

Jeanette MILLS – Assistant Secretary

Martine ACOULON – Blogmaster

Committee

Olivier CAMUS, Hélène CARRE, Jacques CARRE, Philippe CAVILLON, Marc FILLIAT,  Andrew PARTRIDGE, Gill PARTRIDGE, François PEROTTO

Mail: 4 . oiseaux @ wanadoo . fr

website: http://www.amis-d-ouganda.com/