At the end of July, I was fortunate enough to lead another school trip to Uganda. This was the third trip to this location involving students from north Devon, and was originally set up as a joint project between geography departments from South Molton, Braunton and Pllton schools, working in collaboration with the locally based ‘Amigos’ charity.
Amigos is building a reputation for its innovative and successful work in supporting under-privileged youngsters in Uganda. The charity focuses on two key projects, the first being Kira Farm Training Centre, which provides a holistic and vocational education to around thirty disadvantaged youths aged 17-28 years. Secondly, it has a child sponsorship programme which supports deprived children through primary and secondary education. it currently provides school fees for 280 children.
Young adults selected to attend Kira arrive with harrowing tales of poverty, conflict and supression. Some have previously been forced into becoming child soldiers and ordered to carry out horrendous acts, many against their own family and friends. Others have been rescued from child sacrifice, or have lost parents to the AIDS virus. Over a year long course, their personal and academic development is supported by dedicated staff, and they are trained in core subjects such as sustainable agriculture, tailoring, carpentry, catering and mechanics. Amigos hopes that by training these young people they can bring positive change to a generation that has known only conflict, loss and heartache.
The July trip was made up of 22 students from South Molton and Braunton schools, and a fourth trip involving students from Pilton school will visit Uganda in October. All students worked really hard to raise £1500 each in sponsorship to fund their flights, accommodation and a contribution to the running and development of the work of the Amigos charity. To raise money, students organised music concerts and discos, took part in sponsored events such as cycle rides, abseils etc., made cakes and jams, and ran quiz nights and other such events.
Prior to the trip, South Molton School students embarked on an additional fund-raising project to raise money to help kick-start a sustainable clean water project at Kira. One of the highlights of the trip was the time English students were able to spend working with Kira students constructing bio-sand water filters. This was a labour-intensive operation, that required the manufacture of a concrete case in a metal mould, which could then be painted. Once finished, these were then taken to selected sites in the local area, where they were installed and filled with layers of different grades of sands and gravels that had been thoroughly washed beforehand. Within three days, ‘dirty’ water from the local supply – usually a community pump or nearby stream – could be converted into a clean and safe water supply for local families to enjoy. The wider use of a clean water supply that minimises water-borne diseases will inevitably help to improve health, particularly amongst young children. Sites were carefully chosen to maximise impact, and included local sports clubs, local schools, and homes of influencial individuals such as village councillors.Once local people have become accustomed to the ‘new’ water filters, it is hoped that more can be made at Kira and installed at many more new sites. A later blog will offer further information on this exciting project – an excellent example of intermediate technology working successfully.
As a sister project to the water filters, Kira has also championed the manufacture and installation of ‘tippy taps’ both at the farm and within the local community. These are simple wooden structures that provide a quick hand-washing facility to help improve health and hygiene. Again, more of this in a later blog.
Future trips hope to be involved with other planned sustainable technology projects at Kira. Experiments are already being carried out to test the efficiency of ‘eco-stoves’, which help reduce charcoal use and save time. Solar lighting projects are also in development, where a single solar panel can power lights for use in a Ugandan home. This eliminates the potential danger of commonly used kerosene lamps which bring with them a real risk of fire, especially in thatched mud-walled huts which are common in rural areas. More information on these projects will be made available in future blogs.
In the middle of the trip, the party was able to travel north to the Masindi area to visit the homes of past pupils from Kira, and also some of the schools attended by children who are part of the Amigos sponsorship programme. It was genuinely uplifting to see how some young adults had made a real success of their lives, putting to use the valuable skills they had picked up at the training centre. For example, we visited William who had developed his farm to include a number of ‘niche’ products that were in demand from local hotels. We also visited Esther, who had used a micro-finance loan from Amigos to purchase a sowing machine, and we were able to witness how she had used her tailoring skills to gain a contract with local schools to manufacture their uniforms.
At local schools, we were able to chat to dedicated teachers and highly-motivated students who displayed a real passion for learning in a very challenging environment. We saw large classes working incredibly hard in classrooms that were bare and missing the usual facilities we have come to take for granted in our own schools. Pupils attended school from before 8 in the morning until past 5 o’clock in the afternoon – six days a week. That made a few of our students pause for thought!
While travelling further north in the country, students were also able to enjoy a game drive in the Murchison Falls National Park and a morning river cruise on the White Nile. Good views were enjoyed of Murchison Falls as well as exotic game such as hippos, crocodiles, elephants, giraffe, warthogs, hartebeeste and waterbuck, and birdlife including goliath heron, African darter, crowned crane, and red-throated beeaters.
Students on this trip had a unique opportunity to see for themselves some of the great injustices that exists in other parts of the world. as well as take an active part in some intermediate technology projects. On their return, they have a choice of adopting one of three stances – indifference (where they quickly forget about what they have seen and go back to their normal way of life); passive (where they spread the word about the work of the Amigos charity, and what they have experienced); or active (where they continue to fund raise for future projects, and maybe even visit Uganda again). For many of them, it was a life-changing experience, and will serve to shape some of their future views on the geography of Africa.
Some quotes from student feedback:
“A very moving and life-changing experience, one never to forget!”
“An amazing and unique experience where you get to see Uganda from two perspectives. As a tourist we had the opportunity to go on safari, and also as an Amigo where you get to meet people who are directly affected by the charity and how they have changed their lives around.”
“This has been an experience of a lifetime! Kira Farm makes a huge difference to people’s lives.”
“The trip was an amazing experience tht taught me so many great values for life. I learnt so much about the lives of people who survive in such difficult conditions.”
A collection of photographs from the trip can be found on the Flickr website by clicking on the link below:
A souvenir photo album has also been prepared using the Photobox website, and you can purchase your own copy by clicking on the link below: