UGANDA VISIT - October 2001Having been on the original Northamptonshire Scouts Bwaise expedition and having maintained contact and support for Outspan School, Stewart (hubby) and myself were drawn back to Uganda to see for ourselves the changes we had heard and read about.
We spent a wonderful month, staying at Backpackers (not the Sheraton!!) spending every second day at Outspan with the staff and pupils at Outspan. Weekends were our own and we did the touristy things then.
What struck us immediately were the changes in Kampala. New buildings, tarmac roads where murram had prevailed 4 years earlier, new shopping arcades and supermarkets (western style), the TRAFFIC - it had become impossible to cross the road in the town - there seemed to be 4 times the amount of cars using the new roads, and MOBILE PHONES - everyone seemed to have them. On the surface this seemed a vast improvement but the contrast between the haves and have nots was more evident. I must confess though that we did see one apparent 'begger' - hand still out whilst making a call on her mobile phone. Gone were the empty shelves in dingy shops, each appeared fully stocked with everything you could wish to buy - and people were buying. Perhaps there was more affluence but street kids were still about and abject poverty still evident.
What a difference. Tom was looking well and the whole atmosphere at the school was good. The new classrooms were making a huge difference to the staff and pupils alike. The building was secure and problems with local children destroying the displays and teachers work had been solved. This was not so in the older, wooden classroom which was still in use. Whilst we were there we asked Tom to get an estimate for making the older classrooms secured with window grills and doors. Needless to say, the cost was negligible and we told Tom to get what was needed and get it done.
I am pleased to say that a carpenter was employed for a week and under Toms strict supervision the classrooms were secured, including the fitting of padlocks on the doors. As we had set aside a sum of money for school improvements in our budget, we also had some of the desks and benches, which were in a dangerous state, replaced. The carpenter actually made these at the school with termite resistant wood which Tom went to choose and would not let out of his sight until the job was completed.
I spent time with the 6 and 7 year olds giving art and craft lessons and I also became 'teacher' to the female staff, introducing sewing skills that could be used with the older students. I left enough sewing notions to last for years and will be happy to replace them as they run out. The after school tailoring class had to be seen to be believed. The children of all ages learn their skills by sewing with old wool on empty cement bags. They make their own patterns and the garments produced amazing. I was given a gift of a skirt made in this way by a ten year old.
Stewart gave his time to organizing the library. Sorting books into age groups and removing books that were not suitable for any young person to read. The school now has a good comprehensive library which seems to be used reasonably well. hopefully it can now be used more efficiently as staff can guide the pupils to the correct shelf instead of searching through before hand.
The staff have lost their 'staff room' but make good use of the overhang outside the new classrooms when they need to.
All in all the visit was a huge success and it was pleasing to see the changes for the good. The 'swampy' ground was a sound investment and is now well filled to make a suitable play area between the old and new classroom blocks. The new toilet block has improved hygiene standards and Ruth still cooks away (with her daughter now) in a slightly larger, if still inadequate, kitchen. This is one area which could be, and we think should be, improved sometime.
As always we were made welcome but we feel that visits to the school can be disruptive. We were careful with our visits and never went without careful planning with Tom, Dismas and the staff. They asked us to come at specific times to take a class or do certain tasks and we stuck to those times. Leaving the school at the end was very difficult and more than a few tears were shed at the farewell party thrown on the last day. The band played and we were provided with enough food to last a lifetime but the best thing of all was the genuine feeling of friendship we had felt all the time we were there.
Visit to our sponsored child's home.
Squatting in a room no bigger than my 9ftx10ft kitchen at home, we were greeted by Disans Aunt, Disan, his brother and his 3 cousins who all live, eat sleep, study and survive there. There were no windows, a broken door covered by a curtain, a wooden chair, a stool a covered bench, and a small charcoal stove in the corner where lunch was being cooked. Clothes were hung on nails hammered into the walls and I think there may have been a smaller room attached which may have contained a bed. I say may have because it was so dark in there that it was difficult to see. We took a gift for Auntie as a token of respect. Tom advised us that a paraffin lantern would benefit the family, so that is what we took. He was right - they had no means of lighting their home and, thinking of the light switches at home, were glad that we had taken his advice. We will always have in our minds the image of the reaction we got from the aunt at being given that lamp. The delight at, what to us was a £4 gesture, was immeasurable. We spent a lovely afternoon with this family and by the time we left we had a few more friends.
Sponsor a child 'YES', know the child 'YES', meet the family 'YES'.