United Kingdom

Uganda Network

Avon Scouts - Avonja
In the early 1990s Avon Scouts embarked upon a 10 year project to construct a Scout Training Centre on the banks of the River Nile at Jinja.
Links to other information about Avonja Progress at Jinja | The UK Contingent at Jinja | Photographs of progress at Jinja | Avonja's part in 2000 | Camping at the BP Training HQ in Jinja

The Avon - Jinja (AVONJA) partnership started in 1993 during a visit to Uganda by a party of Venture Scouts and Leaders. Since then there have been at least nine visits to Jinja Map by Scouts from Avon (Avon Scouts Web Site) and some reciprocal visits to Avon by Jinja Scouts. The project is based on a 10 year commitment. This has involved Avon Beaver Scouts collecting pennies in Smartie tubes and raising funds to build Jinja district a Scout Headquarters.

In the summer of 1998 a team of Venture Scouts traveled to Jinja, Uganda. Below is there report which is a joint effort of the whole team who combined they excellent dairy entries....

Eleven English Scouts with the Avon Venture Aid project, a group of which I was proud to be part, have just spent three very successful weeks in Uganda. The eleven of us plus a leader, Nick Winter, left Bristol on Friday August 21st, arriving in Entebbe on the 22nd. A group of immaculately uniformed, smiling, polite and enthusiastic Scouts who insisted on carrying our not inconsiderable luggage to the waiting minibus met us at the airport. It was a pleasure to see and a welcome relief after the long journey.

We were taken to Kaazi, the National Scout Campsite, for a lunch of samosas and fresh watermelon, pineapple, jackfruit, and sugar cane, before popping into Kampala on the back of a pick-up truck. After visiting Baden-Powell House, we eventually made our way to Jinja, where we were based. Our first real experience of Uganda occurred on these journeys, as we drove through village after village of banana plantations, ramshackle mud huts and children playing by the roadside in rags, sometimes barely even that. We would pass countless numbers of people walking along the road - men riding 'boda-bodas' (bicycles with seats on the back for carrying passengers or cargo - the commonest form of transport), women and children carrying all manner of things on their heads, leading cattle or goats, or simply just wandering along at an African pace. As we drove past, all the villagers would stop what they were doing and watch us, and wave like there was no tomorrow, which delighted us no end. We felt like the royal family in their carriage.

All the while, the Ugandan Scouts kept us entertained - well, awake at least - with their vast repertoire of songs. They broke into song the moment we got on the bus and did not stop until we reached Jinja - they have incredible stamina if nothing else! The singing is wonderful and one of the strongest memories we have. Every Scout sings with such fervour and happiness and they all join in. Very rarely did any of them sit or stand still while singing they constantly dance and move to the rhythm of their songs, which quickly become very infectious.

The first two nights we spent in Jinja while we found our way around the town and did a bit of sightseeing (Source of the river Nile, Bujugali Falls, Owen Falls Dam), before moving out to Buwenda, the work site, on Monday. Buwenda is in a perfect position. On the edge of a cliff that is one bank of the Nile, its openness results in fabulous view s up and down the river, which is bigger than one can imagine. The hall is at the inland end of the site, so it is possible to sit on the veranda and look out over the whole site and the Nile, a view that will remain vivid in our minds for a very long time to come. Sunset on the Nile is the most beautiful sight. A silhouette of the inverted umbrella, and acacia tree, against the tinged red and purple as if a vast fire had just been lit below the horizon. The rare clouds become rimmed with gold, while the sun orange and round like and incandescent coin, moves lower until gone. In my memory I can still capture the elusive yet haunting quality of the landscape and people

So, the first week was spent on the site working under the watchful eye of Mike Bell (commissioner for Avon Venture Scouts. The main projects were: -
· To build an assault course - 'Challenge Valley'
· To erect sets of steps between the four terraces of land
· To plant grass and trees to hold the soil together
· To erect a perimeter fence
· To clean the cellar and build a lockable storeroom.

The Challenge Valley was built from scratch (except for the cargo net we took over with us) from large pioneering poles, rope and steel strapping. Everyone contributed ideas to what could be in it and it was completed before we came home, the finishing touch being the first use of the monkey bars, by monkey.

The steps proved much needed as time went by, to stop people running up and down the slopes and eroding them as well as trampling the newly planted trees.Photograph of UK and Ugandan Scouts Working together (88k) Being on the edge of a cliff there is considerable risk of the campsite falling away into the river, so eucalyptus trees and conifers were planted around the edge, some distance apart so as no to block our the view, while paspallam grass was planted over the whole site to bind the soil together. This has been done in the past, but due to and African tendency not to plan for the future - "tomorrow never comes" - the plants weren't watered and maintained so, naturally, all died.

In order to avoid this happening a second time, we have employed a gardener who will live on the site, in the 'go-down' (cellar), and look after the plants. He and his wife are living in one half of the now-clean go-down, whilst the other half is a store for all the tools. We built a wall and inserted a lockable door to this end, to enable us to leave the tools which we have so far had to transport to and from the UK each year, in Uganda, for use in between party visits.

The perimeter fence was also a high priority as it is needed to provide some safety by the cliff edge and to prevent the local villagers helping themselves to our bananas and grazing their cattle on our land. For this, holes had to be dug and concrete posts in (hand-mixed concrete). The site is ten acres, so the fencing was quite some job.

On August 29th, we left Buwenda and went to Kaazi, on the shore of Lake Victoria, for the National Camporee. We were one of two UK contingents there and proceeded to instill a bit of English Scouting into the event by stealing the other UK camp's flag and replacing it with a slightly less reverend item, which was then returned to us the next morning slightly worse for wear, i.e. burned to shreds. Their leader reporting us to the police and getting two of our party arrested was just the icing on the cake!

But, mischief aside, the Camporee really was scouting as Baden-Powell intended it to be. It was actually a camping competition (although half the participators were 'open campers' as opposed to 'competitors') so each troop had to clear a plot of land in the undergrowth and build a working, self-sufficient campsite. It was a sight to see, with revolving doors, racks for every item of clothing but most particularly their starched uniforms, Rabbits and chickens kept in pens, lookout towers (one of which consisted of a tent pitched on top of a block of rooms - a kitchen, dining room, lounge, bathroom and storeroom), and tables dug into the ground by way of a deep circular trench which you sit on the edge of and dangle you feet inside, transforming the central mound into a table. We were mesmerised by these innovations and the Scouts, form all over Uganda, reveled in our attentions. It really did put English Scouting into perspective, no least when we were approaching Kaazi and realised that we had left half our tents behind at the guesthouse in Jinja. We thought this was terrible, then arrived and saw that there were about ten tents in the whole of Kaazi and everyone else had made tent-like structures out of cane, grass and branches. The majority of the Scouts there had arrived with no more than the clothes on their backs. We felt most pathetic.

From Kaazi which means 'hard work' in Swahili), we commenced Bennett Tours, led by the chairman of Avon Venture Aid, Colin Bennett. We travelled south across the Equator, to Lake Mburo National Park, where we stayed for two nights before going on to Kabale in the very south of the country for another two nights. Whilst in Kabale, we visited Lake Bunyonyi which is the deepest lake in Uganda, and canoed in dugouts to Bushara Island. On the Friday, we travelled north again to Queen Elizabeth National Park, in Western Uganda, where we stayed for one night and went on a boat safari down the Kazinga Channel. Saturday was an eight-hour drive back to Jinja. We took seven of the Ugandan Scouts with us on tour and a wonderful time was had by all. Probably the most wild, mysterious and exciting continent on earth. Diverse in its scenery, culture climate, and way of life and unique for its wildlife and natural beauty. At the very heart of this enchanting continent is Uganda, "the pearl of Africa." The places we visited were very new to us and to most of the Scouts as well. Most of them hadn't been further that Kampala, which is a far cry form the 'Little Switzerland' of the Southern region around Kabale

Sunday saw us up surprisingly early, ready to attend Mass at the Church of St Fatima, led by Father Pickavet, the local priest and an important member of the Avonja board. It was an amazing experience. The church was packed to the rafters and the congregation flowed outside, continuing to grow whilst Father gave a very moving sermon in a way that only African-bred preachers can. There was much singing and clapping to carry the service along. In the afternoon we visited to Waitambogwe Hill Scouts, who were the first 'open troops' in Uganda, namely the first troop to allow children who can't afford to attend school to be Scouts. Colin helped to found this troop, so there is a close relationship between them and Comila, the original Avonja Scouts, which is also an open troop

In the final week we returned to Buwenda - a welcome chance for stability after all our moving around in the previous week - to continue and complete the work we began when we first arrived. We combined this with a trip to Nile Breweries, who had kept us well supplied so far, and white-water rafting down the Nile

After emotional farewell on Friday 11th of September, we finally left Buwenda for the last time in 1998. We spent Saturday in Kampala, doing last-minute souvenir shopping, before leaving for Entebbe Airport and home

Altogether it was an unforgettable experience, one that will remain with us for many years. We saw a beautiful country and the incredible hospitality of its brilliant people. The Scouts are a credit to the Movement and to Uganda, a country that is very proud of them and their work, and some strong friendships evolved. All of us hope to return one day to see the fruits of our labour and to rekindle the memories of Avonja 1998.


Contact the Uganda Network Copyright © The UK Uganda Network - 2002
Last modified 9 June 2003



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