Report for Strathearn School
It was with great excitement and a measure of nervousness that fourteen Strathearn pupils and staff set off for Uganda on the last day of the summer term. As we boarded the bus to the airport there was a real sense of anticipation that after almost a year of planning we would soon be standing on African soil.
After a fairly uneventful couple of flights the team landed in the early morning Entebbe sunshine. The journey to Kampala in the morning traffic afforded time to see new sights or catch up on sleep. As the bus made its way into Kampala it was filled with the sound of cameras clicking and voices calling out, “waow, look over there!”
After settling into Shalom guesthouse the team spent an afternoon in Kampala city. A visit to change money opened out eyes to a bustling and vibrant city where people were friendly as they went about their everyday business.
On our first day we visited two ‘markets’ – one a traditional market where local Ugandans would shop and then onto ‘Garden City’ which was very much a western style shopping mall. The marked difference really hit home – extreme poverty and extreme wealth could exist so close to each other without ever crossing paths. As we walked around the local Ugandan market we were struck by the poverty as people lived and worked at their stalls. As the unpleasant smells of the local market invaded our nostrils and the mud became baked to our shoes it was so sad to think that this was all that these traders knew and might ever know. It put all our western values into perspective when confronted with such poverty.
On our second day after an incredible experience at a Ugandan church, our team went out to set up camp at Kiwumu School which was to become our world for the next week. As we drove into the school we were greeted with such warmth and excitement. It was overwhelming to see so many children at the school on a Sunday just to greet us on our arrival. That day we would see the site for our building project as well as meeting staff and students who would benefit from the house we were planning to build. And it would be by living at this school, without electricity and running water in what seemed liked rural Africa, that we would really begin to appreciate the full extent of the work that Christians are involved in when they give up everything they have to go and serve somewhere like Africa.
Over the next week we had many good times and some challenges as we sought to build a house for street children. Our team had very limited building skills but we were ably assisted by a team of builders who were to become our friends. We were particularly encouraged by the director of the school, Lydia, who came to build with us most days. Lydia was a determined and steely woman of God who laboured in prayer for the children who she cared for. We were overwhelmed by her love for the children at the school when we found out that she slept in a classroom with forty of the students from the school whom she cared for. She soon became a friend and fine example to all the team.
It was during that week living at the school, sleeping on the concrete floor, washing in a basin of cold water and using the pit latrines that so many of us were challenged about our own wants and goals in life. In many ways our experience of living at the school was still false as we had clean water to drink each day, mattresses to sleep on with blankets over us, and three meals a day, but it did begin to help us appreciate how so many millions right across the world live. Having talked with the girls on the team before leaving Belfast it was this week of ‘living rough’ that worried them most but it was this week that made such a change in their lives. The following week back in Shalom guesthouse the girls all remarked on how they wished they were back living in the school. Of course it was nice to have hot water in Shalom and a soft bed to sleep in but it was hard to live there knowing that the children we worked with were still living out in the school. Our time in the school was just a short week in our lives, but for those children living in that school was their life. It was also during that week in the school that the team became close as a team. There is nothing like having fourteen people all living close together to help you gel as a team!
For our second week our work would be split with the girls (students and one member of staff) working with the children at the Kiwumu school running kids clubs and the other four members of staff worked on building the house and a set of swings.
The girls ran a kids club where they made a bracelet with five coloured beads on it which would form the basis of the different bible stories for the week; green (creation), black (sin), red (Jesus’ blood), white (forgiveness) and yellow (heaven). It was incredible to hear so many excited voices singing choruses, learning memory verses and playing games. The warmth and trust which the children showed to us was so different from anything we have experienced before. The children loved making the crafts and all wanted to have their photos taken with their creations.
Down on the building site the four remaining members of staff completed the house up to the top of the windows…the rest of the building would have to be completed by another team or the local builders. We also made a set of swings which was probably the most difficult task I have ever done, partly because we had the wrong tools and partly due to my complete incompetence when it comes to woodwork. After three long days of sawing, cutting, hand drilling and digging holes our swings were finally lowered into place and concreted in. There was a great sense of satisfaction to see the swings in place as I imagined hundreds of children swinging on those tyres, and there was also a sense of satisfaction that I would never have to drill another hole or cut another tree trunk for at least another year!
Leaving Kiwumu School at the end of the fortnight was such a difficult experience for our team. For me the warmth of the children and the staff of Kiwumu School and the way that they cared for us was truly humbling. In such a short time we had come to love those children as well as the teachers who cared for them. We knew that though we were going home to our families and warm houses back in Belfast these children would continue to live with untreated illness, hunger, poverty and so many other things that children should never have to experience, but we also left knowing that we had been able to do something to help and that the work of Abaana would go on in this school.
Having returned home and reflected on our time away it is incredible to see how God is at work in Africa. It is exciting to be reminded that our God is big God; he is not just God of Northern Ireland or limited to the west, but he is the God of the entire world. Our God is just as intimately concerned with the students of Kiwumu School as he is with the girls of Strathearn School in East Belfast.
Date Added: Thursday September 13th 2007