When I was 16, I was fortunate to travel with my school to Uganda. The purpose of the trip was mainly to raise awareness for and visit the various charities and partner schools that my school helped to support.
It was on the 5th day of the trip that really got me thinking.
When we arrived at a small rural village to work with RHUEPAI, a Ugandan based charity with aims ‘To advocate for improved health and poverty alleviation initiatives geared towards better people’s livelihoods through their own participation’ .After a four hour journey from the capital,
Kampala we arrived at the RUHEPAI base centre. Leaving behind the capital meant leaving behind all of our luxuries…including a toilet, and so we were all faced with our first emersion into rural Ugandan life with the dreaded experience of the Pit Latrine. Whilst nowadays this would not faze me, a slightly more immature and naïve sixteen year old me, was indeed, fazed.
Toilet humour aside, we travelled from the base centre for about an hour. On sandy dirt roadsthat weaved their way through fields of banana plantations, before climbing their way up green mountains. It was beautiful. Growing up in Wales, greenery was nothing new to me. However I had never seen anything quite like that. The bright vivid green was reflected the strong Ugandan sun and contrasted against the clear blue sky. Uganda really is a beautiful place, populated with beautiful people.
The people in the small rural village we went to had an intense and lasting effect on me. Arriving at a small-holding, I first learnt that pineapples close to the ground…not on trees. But that wasn’t the most important thing I learnt that day.
We walked through the garden of the small-holding and entered into a small courtyard. Surrounded by low built mud buildings with straw roofs, sat a group of smiling women. We greeted them and they invited us to sit with them to talk, all through a translator. There was a young woman there, the same age as myself at the time, 16 years old with a child. After talking to her for some time, she asked me if I would like to hold the baby and with that she put her in my lap. The little girl smiling up at me was names Tress.
We were there to build a Lorena stove, as previously all cooking was done by open fire. In the middle of the courtyard, in-between a spread of drying peanuts and a goat hut, was a large mound. A mound made of a mixture of mud…and cow faeces. However unsanitary or unclean you may think this is, it is a sustainable and useful mix to create clay brinks to build with. So we dug in, moulding brinks out of what is essentially cow waste. Here was a lesson in not wasting anything. A product which in the western world is considered useless, here is used for building and creating.
Many of the girls stayed sitting with the women and picking peanuts of branches which would later be added to the masses already out to dry. However, I and my friend got our hands dirty…we were there to do one job, and that was to build.
The stove was nearly complete and my friend, becoming weary in the heat had no choice but to take a rest. The boys, in the kitchen (a small, empty room, with no floor and mud walls) continued to help with the more tricky parts of the build. I noticed one of the men, working to clean up the mound and the area around which we in our enthusiasm had spread mud all over. I went over to help him, realising that although we had built a stove and picked some peanuts…we had not done so without some damage. After working to clean the vast puddle of mud we had managed to create, the man thanked me in Ugandan. Unfortunately being welsh, I was not and am not fluent in Ugandan, but the man did not accept that I wouldn’t understand. He walked away, and I thought nothing of it until he bought a friend over who translated for me. The man wanted to thank me for helping to clean, he said I did not have to, but that I did.
I learnt that even small acts of kindness, which might not seem like much to you, can really have a lasting big effect on people. That man did not have to thank me, or go to so much effort to communicate that he appreciated what I was doing, but the fact that he did had a lasting impact on me. And I hope, that what we did that day, however seemingly small it may be, had an effect on the lives of those we were trying to help.
I often think about Tress, whilst we may have made life a little more comfortable at her home, did we really do much good for her at all?
Living in the UK, from the age of 5 we are given free education and whilst many may find issues within the system, the fact that we are given the opportunity for it at all is amazing. Tress will live her life at the small holding and go to the small primary school down the road (which we also visited). However, after her education there her only way to further her education or to get qualifications will be through sponsorship or the growth of charities that aim to provide an equal education for all (such as HUGS) due to the lack of secondary schools in the area.
However I feel there is a difficult balance here that cannot be ignored. Whilst we went to help at the small-holding, we did not do so without a damaging effect (the mess made). Many charities provide education for those who are not given the opportunity for it through the state, however it is important that that education is tailored to the customs, traditions and cultures of the youths it is teaching.
HUGS is a charity that works throughout Uganda and Rwanda to provide education to those who would otherwise not be given the opportunity. However, they aim to create schools that are self-sustainable and therefore do not rely solely on western intervention. They help villagers in rural areas to build schools themselves and educate their young, with Ugandan teachers. Therefore not only creating opportunities for education, but also opportunities for employment. The involvement of the Ugandan community in their projects help keep the Ugandan cultural identity alive, rather than employing western beliefs in their schools.
HUGS also take into account their environmental responsibility and understand the damage that could be caused, if they did not take precautions. They aim to make their projects as environmentally friendly as possible, they are currently installing solar powered water pumps into their schools.
Education is important for progression in terms of employability and development, this cannot be denied in the workings of the world today; however retaining a rich and varied culture is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Whilst I undeniably feel with great enthusiasm that children such as Tress should not be denied their basic right to an education, giving them the opportunity for employment that they would otherwise not have, it is just as important for her to keep her Ugandan traditions and heritage alive.
Sarah, Frances and I are currently in the planning process of a new fundraising project for HUGS. We will be traveling across the Greek islands (kos-athens) and stopping at 10 islands along the way. Along with camping for the entire trip, we will also be undertaking an individual challenge at each stop. Having funded the trip ourselves, 100% of sponsor money goes to HUGS. HUGS operates as a no-overhead charity, meaning that 100% of donations made go direct to the projects you want to help.
To sponsor us/donate to HUGS follow this link:
To learn more about HUGS follow either of the links below!