There are two types of trips to Africa; one consists of a couple of beaches and a safari thrown in on a no expenses barred holiday. And then there’s the other, the charity led trip where it’s all about giving back something to people a lot less advantaged ourselves. Now don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with either and I for one love the beaches Africa has to offer but this trip definitely sided on the cultural one. I spent two and a half weeks in Uganda, one of the poorest African countries and perhaps known most too many as the unfortunate home to the film ‘The Last King Of Scotland’ which looked at Idi Aman’s brutal dictatorship of the 70’s. For the most part of our stay we were based in the capital, Kampala and it was as though construction had ground to a halt in the 70’s with a noticeable lack of development since then. On the hilltop lived the wealthy and down at the bottom we had the shanti towns, townships that stretched for miles and at night became nothing more than a black hole.
I travelled with a team of 19 volunteers from the UK supporting a Ugandan based charity called CRMI – Children of Hope. The charity aims to break the cycle of poverty by empowering children through education, healthcare and vocational training. It centres around a child sponsorship program that has been running for nearly 10 years. Every sponsored child receives an education, a hot meal everyday, and regular healthchecks and healthcare. The charity also provides free medical clinics to the rural communities, that would otherwise not be able to access healthcare services. This year the team comprised of 5 doctors, 2 nurses, a physiotherapist and an optician as well as 10 other volunteers. We ran 10 clinics and treated approximately 2500 people providing free medication, mosquito nets, dental kits and washable sanitary kits for girls.
I along with 9 others had no medical skills and it was our job to put a smile on the kids faces. People turned up at 6am hoping to see one of the doctors and often travelled miles with their children. For many of them, they had never seen a whiteman before and so making them smile wasn’t too difficult, it was as if we were angels. One thing I did notice about Uganda and something I have noticed in other poverty stricken countries is their ability to maintain happiness and hopefulness despite their impoverished positions. Without the materialistic greed we all possess, they are forever grateful for a sweet or anything you are willing to do to help them. All too often they would drop to their knees in thanks, something that was very much uncalled for and a tad embarrassing.
Despite all the smiles and laughter, there was no one we met that could envisage living as we do today. There were obvious differences between the wealthy and poorest families. There were those living in no more than a one roomed mud hut the size of some peoples ensuites with upto 6 people living in it but then there were many houses made of stone, some of which had electric. But this is by no means an easy life for any of them… Water is fetched from the wells, a good job for the youngest child and cooking often takes place outside over a fire resulting in poor health among many of the women breathing in the smoke. Aids and other STD’s are a constant problem that will not go away until education is improved. The same can be said for witch doctors who still practise and can all too often do as much harm as good. Children have too few clothes, no toys and many have swollen bellies from worms.
Of course a trip to Africa wouldn’t be complete without a little trip on a safari and so it was that we had a two day trip to Queen Elizabeth national park to see the natives. To get there we had a 6 hour bus journey across the country and I couldn’t believe quite how green and rich the country was in parts with tea and coffee plantations stretching for miles amongst the highlands.
After a lovely little break it was back to work with the opening of a new primary school in Bombo, just North of Kampala. The CRMI charity had helped raise money for the project through major contributors and whilst out there the team pitched in with painting and other little jobs to help make sure the school opened on time. Finally on 2nd February the first 50 children from the local area made there way to school. This year the school will teach 4 classes of upto 20 pupils per class with the plan to increase the school by adding a new class each year. A special thanks must go to Amanda Bradwell for her contributions to the project, to Juliet Burd for making the whole trip possible and heading up the charity in the UK and also to John Bunjo (below) the founder and dreamer that began this wonderful journey.
For anyone wanting any more information on the charity or wanting to donate any money to the charity please go to the website www.crmi-childrenofhope.org.uk