BGS Uganda 2018
Many of us who live in the developed world have a rather bleak impression of Africa. As with any generalisation, that is not the whole truth.
After departing BGS on the afternoon of the 30th June team BGS (4 teachers and 33 boys) touched down in Kampala after a 20-hour journey. After a few days’ rest and some basic training, we (in team A) began our journey north to Gulu province. There was a notable difference between Kampala and the more northerly settlements. Less than 10 years ago the northern provinces of Uganda were engaged in a war between the Ugandan military and the fundamentalist group, The Lords Resistance Army. The LRA took over 66,000 child soldiers and 2 million Ugandans were forced out of their homes and into cities such as Gulu. The war in Uganda is long over, but only a few hundred miles from there, other bloody wars are still being fought in Sudan and the Congo.
On arriving at Coo-rom, the school that Bangor Grammar is sponsoring, we were happily greeted by the schoolchildren who treated us to a traditional African folk dance. To see primary school children dancing in lines, wielding drums and hatchets seems strange, but it was, at the time, a most pleasing performance. In an age where so much tradition is forgotten, it is unusual to see such a thing performed so beautifully. This was seen again on our community walk, when we visited the collections of huts where the children who attended the school lived. All of these huts are made of clay and mud bricks, with roofs made of thatched straw. The men and women and many of the children spend most of their time maintaining their small farms, where they grow crops to feed themselves. They work so they may live. This is how their ancestors lived 50 years ago and 5000 years ago, and for many they shall live like this for many years more.
On returning to Gulu city and later, Kampala, I had a better understanding of what the Abaana organisation was doing. By building better educational facilities, these children had been given a better quality of education and a better chance of making it to a secondary school and later, university. Walking through the streets and markets we saw many smartly-dressed, professional Ugandans commuting to work. How many of them had been educated in a school like Coo-rom?
After a few days rest in Gulu, we embarked upon the second portion of our trip, when we would spend a week in Kampala, working with street children. These children suffer a precarious and unenviable existence. Starvation, injury, and abuse are never far away and the most basic needs of any human being, much less any unprotected child, are rarely close at hand. Abaana does it's best to give some protection and provision to these children. For a few mornings, for a few hours, these children could be in some ways 'normal', with the freedom to play games, to have a decent meal, and to sleep in the knowledge they were being watched over. A few hours later we would visit New Life Homes and saw what was possible for these boys. It must be stressed that NLH is not an orphanage, but a foster home, with the ultimate goal of trying to find somewhere for their occupants to live, usually with a familial relation that can support them. It is an unfortunate condition that Uganda's social care are vastly inadequate and only a few boys can be helped, but one that is slowly improving.
The reality of the Abaana organisation is that it can't fix everything. There are hundreds more communities where children don't have access to clean drinking water, much less an education, and thousands more children living unprotected on the streets. However, Abaana can make a difference to a number of individuals. This is because of the hard work of its organisers, and a willingness of its volunteers to broaden their perceptions of the world.
I will never forget the many faces of the children I met there and often think of them at unexpected moments. I would encourage you all to go on this trip if you get the opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will ever forget.
Jude Wilson, Year 13