Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Team One has been and gone!

Wow! What a two weeks!! So the first team have come and gone and it has been fantastic! We have got so much done and all the volunteers left feeling really tired but really pleased with all the work they achieved.

Our team 1 trip started a bit behind schedule as the volunteers were delayed at Entebbe airport due to heightened security....this has seemed to be the flavour of our stay here in Uganda this year but for a variety of different reasons; first for the bombs but then for the arrival of a large number of African presidents who were attending the African Union summit being held in Uganda. Anyway, we finally met the volunteers and took them straight to Jinja to see the Source of the Nile stopping there overnight before the second leg of our journey to Kumi. Our first day in Kumi got off to a fantastic start as we had a great morning on the building site laying the first few bricks of the 6th house at the COHAD orphanage, intertwined with playing with some of the children who were keen to see a bunch of white people try their hand at building!! In the afternoon, we went to a rural village near to Kumi Town called Aakum where we renovated a mud hut! It was interesting to be building with cement and breeze blocks in the morning and then using simply mud and reeds in the afternoon! We had a fab time finishing off the mud walls – with our bare hands - and then helping to tie the wooden framework of the roof. We had to leave the finishing touches to the local workers but we returned to Aakum a week later to distribute food to families with HIV and we were able to see the finished house virtually ready to move into. The lady who lived there was so pleased and it was just fantastic to see the immediate impact that our work had had. I think overall in that village, we had a real positive effect, providing a new house for one family and giving food to 25 others with HIV/aids. Although it undoubtedly made the villagers very happy, I think we received so much more from them, learning how lucky we are to have what we do as well as the incredible welcome we received from them with singing and dancing and, of course, lots of smiles!

Smiles and happiness seem to be the key to life in Africa and we have certainly been privileged to experience that everywhere we have been. As well as being on the building site each morning we have visited many other partners in the afternoons. As well as visiting Aakum, we spent time at both a primary and secondary school doing crafts and sports with the children there. School life in Uganda is so different to back in England and I think this really struck a chord with our team, the majority of whom were from a secondary school themselves. We did a quiz at the secondary school about life in England with various topics, like school, culture and sports. I think we were all shocked about how little they knew because, according to them, our capital city is New York and our parks have lions and elephants! We were also able to rectify England’s football faux-pas in the World Cup as the school football team challenged us to a game. They wore the new football kit that we had bought for them but that didn’t help them much because we won! The boys were chuffed and had the strong back 4 of females to thank too I think!!! Crafts and sports at the primary school were also a lot of fun but I was struck by the sheer unfamiliarity that the children had with doing fun things during the school day – I think it is just because schools here just don’t have the resources for interactive or creative learning.

A highlight of the team for me was definitely our visit to the local health centre that I mentioned before. I think all the volunteers were affected by the basic need and real hardship of this clinic and everyone pulled together to work really hard to clean and decorate the entire ward in one day – changing rooms eat your heart out!! We were there from 9am until it got dark at about 8pm but it was completely worth it because it looked great and all the staff were so pleased. An eye opening incident of the day though came when we tried to move some of the beds out of the ward in order to clean and we found mice nesting in one of the mattresses. I think this spurred the  volunteers on even more and they have provided donations to give that ward 8 new medical standard mattresses as well as mosquito nets so hopefully we are making a difference there a bit at a time! One of our volunteers was an artist, studying illustration at university, and he returned to the clinic a few days later to paint a mural on one of the walls. He painted a lovely tree with some scripture references which gave the ward a bit of colour and left our mark!!

By the end of the team, the building at COHAD has reached the roof level. All the brickwork is finished and on our last day we were helping to fill the top beam before the roof is fitted while we are away this week. Besides building, the volunteers really enjoyed spending time with the children on site...who are just adorable, harvesting maize and building a chicken coop for the birds they bought at the market!! Both Louise and I were bowled over by the enthusiasm and generosity of the team – especially as they went on to buy COHAD two bulls and a plough as well! I don’t want to fill up this space too much but hope you get an idea about what we got up and catch up chats to follow in September I’m sure!!

We also enjoyed some really good rest time at the game parks at the end, and although the trip was dotted with stresses when our van broke down twice and had to be fixed at the mechanic (!!), we had a fantastic time and even now in our rest week are missing the vibrant spirit of the team. That said, we are now spending a few days in Jinja at a lovely retreat centre on the banks of the Nile – a good opportunity to recharge physically and spiritually. We are really looking forward to going back ‘home’ to Kumi though and bringing some new visitors with Team 2!