Our Church Elder Simon Fry heads up a charity called Life Bridging Works. It supports, helps and encourages the poorest of poor places in Uganda and the Horn of Africa. It was with great excitement that I heard the announcement at church that they were planning a trip to go on mission to a School in Uganda and were asking for anyone who would like to volunteer and be part of the group.
It had always been a desire deep within me to do something like this, not ever believing it would be possible. But at the age of 73, I thought if I don’t do it now, I never will. I signed up immediately, believing God would make it possible for me if he wanted me to be part of this trip. Everything seemed to fall into place, I had various vaccinations to protect myself should I catch any nasty diseases such as typhoid or yellow fever.
It was late January when we arrived at Gatwick airport to fly to Uganda. The trip was to go and visit a school called “Blessed Hope School “on the outskirts of Lira. There were 10 of us in the group going from the Church. The ladies on the trip, of which there were three, were hoping to teach the children to knit or sew, play games, teach the children about Jesus and generally keep them occupied while the men in the group, would help to plaster and paint some new dormitories that had just been built.
After a long 24-hour flight we landed in the middle of the night at Entebbe in Uganda, it was very hot dry and dusty. We were all tired and were thankful for a nice small hotel to lay our heads (we all had flushing toilet and cool fans in blowing in our room which later we realised was absolute luxury to behold)
The next morning we set off in our minibus to make a five-hour trip to reach our destination of Lira. As we travelled out of the city, the traffic was absolute chaos. Cars, lorries with many people standing on top of the open lorries, scooters with families of three or four (including the baby were travelling on them!) I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was certainly different to England.
As we drove more into the countryside and through small villages, deprivation and poverty were evident. The houses were nothing like ours. Occasionally you would see a little round house made from homemade bricks with a straw roof, but more often the living accommodation were sheets of corrugated metal nailed roughly together! There were electrical wires hanging from almost everywhere and groups of people sitting under trees or ragged umbrellas to get shade from the sun. The little children walking around in ragged clothes (we wouldn’t even consider giving them to a second-hand shop!) or children with no clothes at all! Such deprivation I have never seen before. Tears were never far away.
It was hard to take in the difference to how we live here in the UK. We have brick-built buildings, carpeting, central heating, dishwashers, washing machine tumble dryers. Shops and supermarkets where we can buy more or less anything we want. It was so, so different.
The other difference that was so radical and overwhelming, was the way the people sold their produce, yes there were some shops along the road side, however, there were countless stalls infront of the shops, selling their fruit and veg (bananas, melons, live chickens which were hung upside down by their feet until they were bought). Then they would be killed and eaten later that day? There were also stalls selling freshly cooked crepes/ pancakes and other cooked food (including chickens).
The traffic as chaos, no yellow lines in the middle of the muddy road to keep order, the traffic went where there was a space to go (or that’s what it seemed like). You name it, and it was carried on either a bicycle or a scooter: Big items of DIY, we couldn’t believe our eyes, as we witnessed a young man coming towards us on the other side of the road on a scooter carrying what looked like a garage door, as we followed this vision through, there was another young man stood upright on the back seat, straddling himself across the garage door so it didn’t fall off. Amazing. (talk about health and safety!! – Forget it !!)
After our time in Lira we then took another 2 hour journey east and we reached our second destination, Alebtong. We were hot and tired; we were so looking forward to a nice cool shower. However the accomodation was quite basic and we had to remind ourselves we were on mission, to help to poorest of the poor, and bearing in mind, the accommodation we were offered, to the local people was luxury, we had to humble ourselves and get on with it!
Just to explain: there were two squat toilets, one for each gender, and two showers cubicles in the same block away from the small and very basic sleeping quarters. The owners were very accommodating (Christian people) and cooked us an evening meal: Goat stew, mixed beans and potatoes!
The next morning after breakfast, we drove a short 15mins journey to finally, be at Blessed Hope School. Hurray! (The school is in the outback in a clearing in the middle of no-where). The children ran to meet us, it was an unforgettable experience, (they were so excited and so were we! this was the reason we had travelled all this way to meet them. Alleluia !!)
Blessed Hope is run by a Christian Pastor and Head teacher, Emmanuel Opio. One could see just how much the children loved and respected him, by the way they flocked around him as he showed us the project they had accomplished thus far (with the funds our Church has sent to them a few weeks before). They had paid for builders to build a new dormitory for the girls and a block of 3 new classrooms in the school compound. (Adding to the 3 class rooms that were already there). Now our job was to help the builders finish the work they had started. Plastering the inside and fixing windows so the children could use the facilities and start back to school asap.
Us three ladies of the group encouraged the children to join with us, singing worship songs and telling them stories of Jesus (a bit like a Sunday school at Church). We had much fun and laughter over the next few days. We had taken lots of craft things to do such as coloured pencils and paper, something they didn’t have much of. We were able to do drawings, sewing, knitting etc; playing Frisbee, football, badminton. They really enjoyed themselves. The first day we were there, there was about 25 children (the word must have got around because the following day the number had doubled!) It was great fun and the children were so eager to learn, it was such a rewarding experience.
Saying Good Bye was the hardest thing. We had held back some sweets and goodies for the children, for when we said our good byes to them. It was a sad time, but we promised them. We would be back!
My heart was heavy and we had been praying a lot while we were there, As I awoke one morning still asking the Lord. What can I do help these poor children? in such deprivation. Is there anything I could do to make a difference? He immediately spoke quite clearly saying, “Get the Kids a water pump.”
Just to explain – because the school is in the outback. it has no electricity or running water. It really touched my heart to seeing children 7 & 9 years old or younger (same age as my own Grandchildren) fetching and carrying containers holding 20 litres of water from the local community water pump, which was about ½ a mile away from the school (they seemed to be doing it all day long). They either carried them on their heads or used an old peddle cycle or an old wheel barrow to wheel the very heavy containers back to the school grounds. I knew immediately this was something with Gods help was achievable. I said OK Lord I will try to raise the funds when I get back to England.
And that is just what I did. I shared my testimony at Church when we arrived home. I carried or at least tried to carry a full 20 litre container of water onto the platform of the Church. I was surprised at the people’s response, they wanted to help and get involved to raise the money required to build a water pump. Alleluia!
To cut a long story short, the following year a group of us from Christchurch returned to Blessed Hope School and there it was, a fully functioning water pump on the School site just alongside the kitchen. Praise the Lord. God is good isn’t He?
To finish, my story and experience of going to Uganda on mission has changed my perspective on life. I must add although there was poverty all around, these people knew and trusted in God implicitly. He is their firm foundation. They praise and worship him with vigour, excitement and enthusiasm always focusing on God and giving Him the Glory no matter what age they are.
Can I encourage you. If you’ve ever had that longing and desire to get involved with something like this. Don’t hesitate. Just DO IT!!, You will never regret it.