Sunday 9 July, sometime before midnight: the group has arrived, assembled, checked the weights of each other’s check-in luggage (who has the heaviest? Who has the least? Who has rooms for the Rev’s additional books to donate?) and are eagerly anticipating the beginning of their two week adventure to Uganda. And so it was that the minbuses were boarded, the route to Bristol was checked and the team were on their way. So far so good… Needless to say shutting the A30 overnight caused a diversion via the north of Cornwall which one bus took to mean a McDonalds stop by the time they got to Taunton Deane services, much to the annoyance of the other bus who were keen to forge ahead and clear the way to the departure lounge.
Check-in was relatively straight forward, the departure gate beckoned and the first (short hop) flight to Amsterdam was over almost as it begun. Next up was the 10 hour flight to Entebbe, with a stop-off in Rwanda, which was passed by sleeping, watching in-flight movies or undertaking viciously competitive games of Tetris. Having submitted online applications for Ugandan visas, we had expected things to be relatively straightforward upon arrival. This wasn’t to be, as little did we know that border control was to take longer to proceed through than it does to clear the Temple roadworks in July. Still, having patiently waited in line, the staff were overhead to ask “what more could delay us?”. That would be baggage reclaim then… Sadly one suitcase had not made it out of Amsterdam at this stage, but the group rallied around to ensure sufficient clothes and cosmetic products were present for the affected student until their back finally arrived in Uganda.
The first full day was billed as an ‘orientation day’ by the staff. In reality this meant being hurled head-first into the sounds, smells, sights and general business of life in Kampala, accompanied by our guide Ivan. It was a shock to the system to many, although Mr Brewer blatantly enjoyed risking life and limb as he took on the boda-boda drivers at each road crossing, but it was a fantastically enjoyable and chaotic experience nonetheless. People, cars and boda-bodas seemingly honed in on us from every direction and it felt weird to just step out into oncoming traffic as we crossed roads, hoping that they’d stop but reassured by the confidence of Ivan and the staff. Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting to become (almost) millionaires: changing £200 left us just shy of 1 million Ugandan Shillings and some of us certainly felt rich, until we got our heads around the exchange rate. With an exhilarating walk back to the guest house as rush hour in Kampala began, we slept well that night and looked forward to beginning our projects.
Day Two – African Hearts School, Ssenge
On day two we headed to the headquarters of African Hearts HQ, where we received one of the warmest welcomes we could have ever experienced. After many songs, dances and prayers we headed off towards the African Hearts school in Ssenge where we were greeted by all of the different classes. We went around the classes who all introduced themselves to us and, much to our surprise, we discovered that the content of the curriculum matched ours back home. At lunch we were surrounded by so many smiling children who stole our cameras, raced around the school grounds taking photos and gave us an insight into their school life. Our hats and sunglasses soon made their way onto their heads as well. As lunch came to an end we were set to work, half of us painting the chapel and the other half painting paving stones outside. Miss Hargreaves, ever the responsible adult, started a paint war with those in the Chapel and, generally speaking, it was fair to say that plenty of paint ended up on us and the school pupils as it did on the walls and paving stones themselves.
Days Three & Four – Building Tomorrow Academy, Voluntary Action for Development (VAD)
Our third day was spent at Building Tomorrow Academy with VAD (Voluntary Action for Development). After what felt like an endless bus journey we finally arrived at the school and received the most moving and upbeat welcome; greeting us off of the bus with bunches of flowers for each and everything one of us were members of the Health & Sanitation club, along with the entire school present on their field. Their dancing and singing certainly put us in high spirits, making us want to join in. We split into our three groups and took it in turns to make ‘Tippy-Taps’, something we had learnt about in Geography in early years, a drying rack and a ‘Talking Compound’, consisting of carefully pleased signs that carried a message of hygiene and sanitation.
Each task required elements of construction, be that using a panang to cut the branches for the tippy-taps and drying racks, or mixing and pouring concrete for the signs, and all of us got stuck in with enthusiasm and humour, despite some of the school pupils laughing at our poor attempts! Lunch consisted of our own home-made sandwiches consisting of Nutella, jam and crisps, as well cassava and beans made by the school. The rest of the day was filled with dancing and games with the students of the school, before visiting an elderly couple in the village to see how VAD had supported them with a tippy-tap, drying rack and pit latrine, as well as a local shallow well built by VAD that served up to 30 households with fresh and safe clean water. Although being physically tiring, I can say for all of us that this has been one of our many highlights of the entire journey so far.
Day four saw us return to Building Tomorrow Academy with VAD, picking up where we left off the previous day and working on sustainable agricultural projects with the pupils and staff. We were put straight to work on the vegetable patch planting aubergines, onions and cabbages (I think we now have new potential members of Mr Baker’s sustainability committee!) and we learnt that in Uganda they practice two main types of agriculture: subsistence farming and agribusiness.
Although it was very hot, we ploughed through to get the job done allowing us to get to the real business… Uganda vs England netball and football matches! After first being told that girls don’t play football a large number of our girls stubbornly joined the football team. It was unfortunate that we lost 7-1, despite some heroics from the Rev in goal. However, we were a bit more successful in the netball winning 13-6. Soon the heat called an end to each game and the dance floor was calling our names. We tried to throw some shapes to the sound of the drums, but it was clear the children were much better at shaking their hips than us. As the day came to an end, we began to say our goodbyes, inciting a variety of emotions as sadly we could not promise to return. We were very grateful for the Building Tomorrow Academy and VAD for hosting us for these 2 days, teaching us the importance of sanitation and allowing us to be a part of their ongoing sanitation and hygiene development projects.