The water is hot, we have Wifi, and the food is refreshingly different. We may stay in Shyogwe a little longer!!!!

This morning we met with Bishop Jered who accompanied us to the Gikomero HC where Nurse Brigitte is supported through the CHI Nurse+ project.

We had a tour of the clinic and discussed the challenges they are facing, and the work that is being done, not just in the clinic but in the local community. We were told how they have seen the number of patients fall due to improved health as a result of the training received in the community.

There is currently a big issue with under age pregnancy. Culturally, sex is a taboo subject and these young girls, who have often been abused by family members are then disowned by the family. Nurse Brigitte is working with these girls, educating them and teaching them not just health and hygiene matters but also craft skills to give them a sense of self worth, a means to support themselves and help them reintegrate into society. The cost of the craft materials is prohibitive however and so this service is only available to a fraction of those who require it.

Structurally the clinic is in good order and the water and electricity connected since our last visit is a huge improvement, however they are woefully under staffed and despite having a busy maternity unit they have no incubator and most of the mattresses are in desperate need of replacement. They would also love an ambulance to transport patients to the nearest hospital when they are too ill to be treated at the clinic.

           

Nurse Brigitte expressed her thanks to all those who support the Nurse+ Project which enables her to remain employed at the clinic and continue the work which is obviously close to her heart.

Whilst there we met a grandfather with his grand daughter waiting to be treated by Brigitte, without any questions or prompting he told us how valuable the weekly health, hygiene and nutrition training undertaken in the community is.

We returned for lunch via a new health station recently opened by the church to help reduce the distance some communities are forced to travel to reach Gikomero. They are also understaffed with just two nurses seeing 80 – 150 patients a day.

After lunch a quick tour of some local Diocesan initiatives and then on to St Peter’s school to see the remainder of the show prepared by the students that we had to miss yesterday. They had put so much effort into preparing it we couldn’t leave without seeing it all. We had a fantastic afternoon and laughed until we cried, quite an unusual event in a culture which is generally so formal. The video of Pauline dancing will be available soon!!!!!

      

Posted in CHI

Packed and ready to move on and with a long day ahead we arrived for breakfast at 8am only to be told by the young man behind the counter that the cafe was shut, no one had told us they would not be open but hey ho, luckily we had packed a kettle, coffee and biscuits, we are well practiced at this travelling lark now.  Cases re-opened, coffee drunk and off to pay our bill. It turned out we had to pay for meals at the cafe,…. which had opened at 8.30am!!!!! Communication is definitely not a strong point here. Half an hour later we were still waiting for the bill, Africa time can be a little frustrating.

Eventually we said goodbye to Butare and set off for Gikonko School. This church run, government aided school has changed out of all recognition. The government has funded the building of an enormous hall / dining room and a kitchen and store room which is currently under construction.

       

A quick tour of the school and then we were guests of honour as the students performed traditional song and dance for us. Then off to the headmasters office (no we were not in trouble) for refreshments, not an egg in sight, thankfully!

         

 

And then it was time to meet Gregoire who is studying in senior 5.

Orphaned at aged 12, he and his younger brother were cared for by his older sister, his sister quickly married and moved away and he found himself the head of the home, caring for his younger brother. They were helped financially by a guardian who regrettably died in 2021.

We heard how the school sent Gregoire home in December to collect his outstanding school fees. Unable to pay Gregoire did not return for the start of the January term. Despite having 327 students in the school the headmaster sent someone on the 3 hour journey to find Gregoire and discover why he had not returned, when his story was recounted he was told to return to school. When we asked the school in January how they would use the School Partner funds they immediately told us they would like to pay Gregoire’s fees. When we heard his story it did not take us long to decide to offer him a bursary for his remaining two years.

Gregoire is now 20 years old but when he came in to the room his first reaction was to hug us, and he was reluctant to let go. He thanked God for the support offered to him and told us how he would eventually like to be a teacher. He is studying languages and his English was excellent. We asked about his younger brother and he told us how he had been forced to finish school in primary 6 and now, at the age of 17, lives alone in the slums of Kigali riding a push bike taxi trying to earn enough to survive.

       

Unfortunately this is not an exceptional story, sadly it is almost the norm here, life is so hard and it is heart breaking knowing we cannot help them all. The care of the headmaster for this one boy really sums up the loving ethos of this school.

We were presented with gifts and then taken to see the nearby home of a widowed lady, a genocide survivor who the students had assisted when her home needed repair, CHI helped fund the roofing sheets.

       

Then it was back in the car for the 2 hour journey to Shyogwe Diocese where we will spend the next three days. We were given 30 minutes to settle in our rooms and have a drink before being whisked off to St Peter’s secondary school. A very fast meeting with the headmaster and more gifts, then we headed for the hall where the students entertained us with an amazing talent show, mixing worship songs, during which the headmaster got up and danced, with a fashion show. This was entertainment unlike anything we have seen before. Regrettably time was flying by and the show had to be cut short. We had a whistle stop tour of the school and then had to leave as darkness was closing in. We have promised to make every effort to return before we leave Shyogwe for the remainder of the show, and to learn more about this joyful and innovative school.

         

 

Posted in CHI

Our trusty truck arrived on time and we were delighted to find it still had most of it’s gears.

First stop today was Nkamatira, our first ever parish project. Poor feedback and a report that the nursery school built by CHI had not reopened after Covid, had left us with low expectations. We were met by a small but enthusiastic group from the community who told us how the project had impacted them. How receiving a goat had enabled them to provide basic needs for their families and pay school fees, how the appropriate training had improved their health, and information on family planning had resulted in happier wives!!!

We asked about the nursery and were told it was open with over 50 children currently attending. After the formalities we were delighted to go and join the class. Unfortunately, in true Rwandan fashion, before we were allowed in the children were made to sit in very formal rows on little benches to greet us properly, we would much rather have joined happy children in a more relaxed environment. However, it all deteriorated a little as we taught them ‘head & shoulders, knees & toes. Not quite Causing Havoc Intentionally but it’s early days!!!

We heard how the parish had been without a pastor since 2017 after thieves almost killed the pastor and his wife with a machete, as a result they left the area. The lay reader has been trying to keep things on track since. After a welcome drink and the compulsory boiled egg and banana it was time to leave……….Oh no it wasn’t…….. trusty truck refused to start and, despite being pushed by the local men and boys of all ages, and Joff!!! for about a quarter of a mile up and down the hilly track it soon became clear we were not going anywhere. We were happy to walk the 4-6 km back to town, but Pastor Odilo would not entertain the idea, and so we waited, surrounded by local children, for a mechanic to arrive with a replacement vehicle and a battery for the truck. Pauline did suggest her AA membership covered her overseas, but we were not too hopeful.

The replacement car looked fairly ok, but in reality probably runs worse than our truck, which we have become quite fond of over the last few days. However, it did get us home and served us well for the afternoon.

After a quick lunch we headed for Gisanza, a new location for us. This community could become the focus of a new project. The poverty here is so overwhelming that it is a challenge to know where to start. Pastor Vincent said small animals would make a big difference given time, but in reality they would probably be sold to buy food and make only a short term impact.

The community have however almost completed a new church building and have a small school which is required to extend to enable it to reopen, one classroom is almost complete, two further rooms are planned. As always the community can provide the mud bricks and the labour but roofs, doors and windows are always a challenge. We asked about Bibles but were told that only a few of the congregation could read and so they would be of little use. We will undoubtedly have many discussions and difficult decisions to make before we find a way forward in this parish.

This evening we were joined for dinner by Robert, a delightful young man who has recently left the sponsorship programme in Byumba. He finished school with the top mark in his year and has won a full scholarship to Butare University to study medicine. We asked if he thought he would have completed senior school without sponsorship and the answer was an emphatic NO. He told us how his mother struggled to provide even the small amount of the school fees she was required to pay. It was such an encouragement to meet this charming and intelligent young man whose future could have been so different without sponsorship.

Posted in CHI

Our first taste of the ‘real’ Rwanda. So much seems to have changed in the cities, and as we travelled the main road to Butare the growth and modernisation was evident everywhere. Today we headed to Gasha to worship with the community, in the church which has been recently renovated with help from CHI. This parish is about 3 km off the main road and it quickly became apparent that the villages bordering the main road are almost like a facade, life beyond has changed very little.

We jolted along the mud track around the side of the hills and marvelled at the scenery, as local adults and children alike waved and called out to us.

As we arrived at Gasha the sound of singing, drumming and dancing spilled out of the church as we were quickly ushered in to the pastor’s house. After the usual greetings, welcome and prayer, we were escorted into the church for the 9.30am. It is impossible to be comfortable with the place of honour bestowed on us as we are seated on chairs at the front whilst the congregation crowd onto low benches. It is also impossible not to be caught up in the joy and enthusiasm of the worship. How do the women dance so nimbly with children as old as 3 strapped to their backs?

                        

The three and a half hour service (in Kinyarwandan) ended with the presentation of gifts to us, and us distributing tennis balls to the children. We had taken as many as we could fit into our bags but it was still one per family and the balls ran out before we reached the last children, we felt terrible but no one complained.

After a short time of greeting the community outside the church we were ushered back into the pastor’s house where a traditional meal had been prepared for us.

Then all to soon it was time to leave, as we climbed into our vehicle (no the car is still not fixed) it became clear we would have some passengers in the back, but when an elderly lady climbed in, Joff felt compelled to be a gentleman and offer his seat. His ride back down the track proved to be a true Africa experience, maybe not one he would wish to repeat though!!! The elderly lady was delighted.

                        

As we headed to the cafe for dinner, a familiar face greeted us in the form of Pastor Lambert, who had previously overseen the projects in Butare but has since moved to a parish of his own. He had heard we were here on a visit and had come to say hello. He joined us for dinner and we spent a sociable evening learning about his new appointment.

 

Breakfast at the Nehemiah coffee shop was not a surprise, it has taken Joff just three days to feel unable to face another egg or omelette, he might be struggling by the end of this trip.

This morning we were delighted to meet with 12 delightful young ladies supported with a bursary to attend the Mubumbano TVTC.  Their stories however, were not so lovely.  These girls, aged between 18 & 20 told us how they, whilst in their 2nd or 3rd years of secondary school, had fallen pregnant. It was heartbreaking to think that these young girls, and, to be honest none of them looked much older than 15, were all underage mothers with children ranging in age from 2 – 4 years.  They told of being chased from their homes by irate fathers, of being blamed for the breakdown of marriages by unsupportive mothers (family rows had obviously ensued the revelation), and without family support they had been forced to drop out of education. The overwhelming feeling was that they were worthless, they had given up hope of a useful life. Without the love of their family they did not know where to turn. One of the young girls was called Delice and this is her story.

Delice’s story

Delice was 16 years old and in Senior 5 when she found out she was pregnant. She had been doing well in school but her parents refused to accept the situation and refused to pay further school fees. Her father chased her away from the family home and she lived alone. The birth was not easy and she had to have a Caesarean section. Her parents finally took her back home and encouraged her to return to school. She finished her senior education but was unable to go to university because she had a baby.  She was very happy to be able to do the tailoring course as she believes this will help her make a good life for her and her child.

During his ministry, Pastor Odilo,  Vice-Dean of the local cathedral, had learned of many young girls in the same situation, and felt that maybe they could be helped by attending vocational training.  With the help of local village leaders he manged to find these young ladies, their children were weaned and old enough to be left with family members while they studied.  He told us that when they were first invited to attend an initial seminar that they were miserable and struggled to engage. After one week of activities they were forming friendships and feeling more positive. The girls were offered a bursary to train in a practical skill which would enable them to be valuable members of society. Between them they have trained as tailors, shoe makers and bricklayers, and are just reaching the end of their year long course, each currently in an internship.  They have made strong bonds with each other and with Pastor Odilo, they refer to him as Papa Odilo.  He has also initiated helping their families by giving them livestock through the diocesan purse, so that the families are more supportive of them and mend the rifts caused by the pregnancy.   They have achieved so much, but their next hurdle will be to afford the tools needed to continue their journey, they will need tools and materials to work with, this seemed to be their biggest worry now.

They told us how they now have a sense of worth, all had been accepted back into their families and were looking forward to a positive future. They gave thanks to God for the opportunity afforded to them.

        

We bought them all a drink and a chapati, it seemed far too little after the stories they had shared with us

Our conversation with Pastor Odilo after meeting these young ladies has given much food for thought about the possibilities for a self sustaining project to enable these girls to purchase the tools required to gain employment after finishing their course.

After some sterling efforts by the driver yesterday’s vehicle has a full range of gears (we’re not sure how long for though!!!) and it was off to Mubumbano to visit the centre. A huge amount of building has been completed since our last visit and we were delighted to see the completed roof on the hall / dining room partly funded by CHI.

We were delighted to have an opportunity to hear the choir practising in the church and see the children practising their dance for the service tomorrow, we refrained from joining the choir, but it would have been rude not to join in the dancing!!!

 

First stop today was to buy a local sim, a relatively straightforward task…… 1 hour later we were still waiting for Joff to return. Despite his discomfort at the fact the Bishop’s driver walked him past a queue of about 30 waiting at the shop, straight to the front of the queue we, and Bishop Nathan, waiting in the car, were very glad he did. It did however give Pauline and I an opportunity to take a look inside the newly built Remera Church.

         

A chance to meet some of the sponsored children today and visit one of the homes. but by far the biggest adventure was the journey to Butare, the Diocesan car due to collect us broke down on the way to Kigali, the replacement vehicle tuned out to be more fitting to our status!! With no seat belts, some gears definitely optional extras and the adventurous spirit of the driver, a lot of prayers were said on the journey.

        

We left Kigali later than planned and arrived in Butare after four hair raising hours, and  several heart stopping moments for Joff. Travelling in Rwanda is an experience, travelling after dark is definitely not for the faint hearted!!!

Fast food takes on a whole new meaning when burger and chips takes 1hr 40 mins to arrive. There is no wifi in the guest house or cafe so we are hot spotting from our local sim, it was worth the wait.

We are due to visit Nkamatira tomorrow, a drive into the hills. Please pray the Diocesan vehicle is repaired.

A much needed leisurely start today as we were joined for breakfast by Bishop Nathan with whom we worked some years ago. Renewing old friendship’s is a big part of these trips and we are delighted to have been able to join him to visit two schools with which he is closely linked.

The first thing that hit us was the huge change in Kigali, new buildings, new roads and a huge increase in traffic. The city has spread and many of the slums are gone, replace by new buildings. Those who once lived in the slums have been given new plots of land outside the city to build new homes and have a small space to grow crops.

Everyone seems busy, and we are told that the government are providing paid work for those in the third economic class, able to work and improve their situation with a little help. Sweeping, tidying and painting seem to be popular occupations.

The beautiful schools we visited today are a far cry from many we have visited in the past. The children were smart in their uniforms and obviously very happy, however, heartbreakingly many children continue to be sent home as they can’t pay the fees, or spend all day hungry as they cannot afford lunch. Once again, the value of sponsorship could not be over emphasised.

        

 

A little late after a delayed start this morning and a sprint through the airport to catch our connecting flight we have arrived safely at St Etienne’s Diocesan Guest House in Kigali. We have been travelling for about 16 hours so are very grateful to find a comfortable bed, although one mosquito net between two beds doesn’t quite work. Hey ho, we will survive. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

  

 

We have planned and prepared as much as we can, our Covid tests are negative and we are off, the rest is in God's hands .  
It's 7am and we are in City Airport waiting for our flight. All being well we land in Kigali at 7.10pm tonight, although at the moment the flights are delayed.
For Pauline, a first trip to Rwanda, for Joff, some trepidation as he visits Africa for the first time. Carmen is looking forward to meeting old friends, and making new ones.
Please come with us on this journey and see for yourselves the importance of God's work through CHI.
Please pray for good health and safety as we travel. 

Posted in CHI

As another visit comes to an end we have returned to a situation that has seemed distant and slightly unreal. Empty supermarket shelves, children unable to go to school, workplaces shut and everyone worried about how they will afford to live, or even if they will live!!!

For so many in Uganda this is an everyday reality with no end in sight. There is no welfare safety net. Supermarket prices are comparable with the UK but many are casual workers struggling to earn £1 a day, the elderly and sick cannot earn at all, families cannot afford food let alone the fees or materials for their children to go to school, many, young and old die from easily treatable illnesses as a result of poverty, rendering them unable to access medical care, the church run clinics who treat regardless of ability to pay are empty of drugs. And just in case you’re wondering, toilet rolls are an unaffordable luxury, using leaves from the garden is the norm for many.

So we are not panic buying and, if we are able, we will continue with the everyday activities of CHI.

Our hearts will continue to break for those we met and the situations we encountered. We will remember the faces of those who welcomed us into their homes, who sang, dance and smiled, despite the often tragic stories later recounted to us.

 

But as we remember we will also rejoice, because in communities in which there has been intervention, congregations are growing, many are being baptised, the requests for Bibles are almost as great as the requests for practical aid, and Canon Patrick assures us the work of CHI is directly responsible for this growth. This is only possible as a result of your prayerful and financial support.

We will continue to pray for the projects, for individuals and particularly for Canon Patrick whose heart for his people is so large. We have seen the pain he feels when he is unable to help, the internal struggle that renders him almost unable to face the situations he encounters, and his tireless efforts to do everything he possibly can for those in his care.

So as you pray for those affected by the current crisis, please join us in remembering in your prayers those for whom life is uncertain every day, and pray that the work of CHI will continue to bring hope into the lives of those in need.

 

Our last day in Kijjabwemi and we planned to spend the morning visiting some of the sponsored children at their schools. The 129 children in this project attend a number of different schools, some as day students and some as boarders. These visits highlight for us the enormity and challenges of obtaining the letters and photos we request each year.

 

At school two the rain joined us. At school three, where we saw the open classroom, marginally better than a tree and lovely on a sunny day but not ideal in the rain, Pauline took a tumble, much to Patrick’s dismay.

After meeting the children and the head teacher, and the inevitable signing of the visitors book, it was back to the car. “That’s it, enough” declared Patrick, obviously deciding that the Muzungu in the rain were too much of a liability. And so we headed back to Banda Lodge.

As the most medically qualified amongst us (a retired vet) Ian did a sterling job of cleaning and patching Pauline’s wounds, no health and safety, surgical gloves or accident books here!

With plenty of time to write the blog, type up today’s very short report and repack our cases, we are signing off and taking a short safari in QE National Park.

We hope you have enjoyed following our travels and gained a small insight into the everyday challenges of life in Uganda for those in need.

Please keep us in your prayers as we travel over the next few days. We have no idea whether we will have internet or not, so while Pauline will endeavour to post on Facebook, do not worry if we are out of touch.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed and left messages during our time here.

We hope you will continue to support this work as we return to the UK to look at the finances and prayerfully consider which projects we are able support.

Today we set off with some trepidation to visit Kabwami School, a first visit for us as it is a potential new project.  Why the trepidation? We knew Canon Patrick hoped we could assist in the renovation of this school, a project rather larger than our funds generally allow for. As always we were made very welcome and then we began the tour of the school.

We were advised not to spend too long in the classrooms as there were jiggers in the dusty mud floors (they lay their eggs under the skin between your toes) and the children were regularly bitten by fleas!!! Many of the children spend all day in these classrooms…. Barefoot.

As we moved through the classes it occurred to us that this school was actually in better condition than the schools at Kimwanyi and Kagganda prior to their renovations, carried out thanks to two individual significant donations. Iron sheets are expensive but a large part of the roof is sound and the walls are in a fair condition. Some cement and paint would go a long way to improving this school and motivating both staff and pupils. Of course there is far more than that to be done, but maybe…. just maybe, there is something we can do to help.

We were a little worried about health and safety as we watched the students preparing the ground to plant vegetables for lunch.

We were horrified to learn that this church primary school has just one Bible, that the staff and children often go all day with only a small cup of porridge and the children have to bring their own jerry cans and then walk over 3 km each way to fetch water.

The church congregation here is very small, around 30 adults and children. Having seen the difference such intervention has made in other communities it would be wonderful if this was the start of real growth in Kabwami.

We caused a little CHI and left, with much waving, to cries of “see you” from the children. We hope we will ‘see them’ again on a future visit, hopefully without fear of jiggers or fleas.

On the way back at 1.30pm we made a short stop at the market to purchase some material, then left it with a local tailor. At 6pm we collected the finished garments. A mixed reaction from our families but we are very happy with the results.

The afternoon was spent in discussion with Canon Patrick reviewing our observations and thoughts on the projects we have visited over the last two weeks. It was a very productive time which enabled us to gain a better understanding of all that is going on in this Parish. We shared our challenges, and discussed ways in which the interventions can be made even more effective.

This is our first visit since the work in Kimwany, our first parish project, had largely concluded and lessons have been learned along the way. We are optimistic that the subsequent parish projects will prove even more successful.

As we head out each day to the various projects we are never sure what we will find. Every project has different challenges. Some initiatives work well, others not so well. A change of leadership can quickly alter the effectiveness of the work in a school or parish. Each day so far has brought a mixture of emotions, joy when we see a project working well, sometimes disappointment that the results are not as we would have hoped. We have danced with, and been brought to tears by, those we have met. We have listened to stories of hope and of despair. So as we set off to Kagganda this morning, a little late due to the heavy rain, we had no idea what we would find.

Our work in this rural parish started in 2017 with the refurbishment of the church run school. We had visited in 2016 and found it almost falling down, the 250 children were learning under the tree as the classrooms were unsafe.  Few of the parents were able to pay the fees.

Alongside the work at the school, which included the provision of educational materials, lunch and uniforms for some of those most in need, goats were provided for families as an income generation project. The hope being that eventually these families would be empowered to provide for their children and this in turn would impact the school.

We were greeted with flowers and showered with petals as we walked through the now familiar rows of clapping children.

The transformation that has taken place at this school is astounding, the building is attractive and solid, the majority of the children were wearing uniforms as were the teachers, “it encourages the children” we were told.

In a country where parents do not place education high on the list of priorities we were delighted to see a good number of parents at the school to greet us, wanting to be involved in their child’s education.

The reputation of the school is now such that the numbers have grown to 430. This has resulted in too few desks and rather crowded classrooms, but no one seems to mind too much.

We saw the building that was constructed as a kitchen and store being used as a dormitory, alarming by westerns standards, but perfectly acceptable here. However, there were no bunks and the students simply covered the floor with mattresses and squashed in where they could.

The grounds around the school have been transformed with beds for growing an array of organic fruit and vegetables to provide lunch for the children and staff, hens are kept for eggs, we were startled to see a green chick but were told they are painted that colour to stop the large Kites taking them, apparently the colours scares them off. .

A piggery project has also been started at the school. Most of these children will never go on to senior education, however they will leave primary 7 with a good education and the skills required to farm, and care for livestock. As the pigs breed they will be given to the students to provide a sustainable means of support.

We were entertained by the children, and made to dance, complete with grass skirts!!! Then it was time for some CHI.

After lunch we visited the homes of some of those who had benefited from the Goat Project. The committee that oversee this initiative admitted they had initially had some challenges but were happy everything was now on track. 39 families had originally benefitted with the provision of one goat, the first born female to be given back and passed to another family. Today 44 families are raising well over one hundred goats and the number of families is steadily increasing. All those we visited told us they were now paying the school fees for their children, most had previously been unable to do so. Today around 40% of the children pay their fees, enabling the school to better provide for its students.

Most encouragingly, the church congregation of 38 adults and 20 children has grown to 80 adults and 70 children since the start of the work in this parish.

Our last stop was a visit to Mariam, the elderly lady who took in the two children, Atinah and Imran, who were abandoned on the steps of Kimwanyi church. Her house, built with CHI funds, is simple but sturdy although bare of any furniture. She was extremely happy to have us visit and the children both looked happy and well cared for. She also appears to act as an adopted granny for most of the local children.

There are still needs and challenges here but this was certainly the most positive day we have had so far.

This morning Ian preached at Kitengeesa Church, his sermon came from Matthew 13 v 31:32. Once again he excelled and the sermon was well received. as we signed the visitors book which was first used in 1997 we had a look through, as far as we could see we were the only visitors from outside of Uganda. What a privilege to be asked to speak. No wonder the children were initially a little wary of the strange muzungu.

We had not been able to meet all our sponsored children in this location on Friday and so most of them came to church to meet with us, at the end of the service we were presented with more gifts. It is so difficult to take gifts of fruit and vegetables from children who are luck to eat once a day, it would also be a huge insult to refuse them.

 

Due to the distance these children have to walk to attend Kijjabwemi, it was decided to start a second Saturday Group at Kitengeesa. After lunch the children demonstrated the crafts they learn at the Saturday Project.

Then it was time to say goodbye and move on to visit the Aunt Louise School. Just when we think we have seen everything Patrick springs another heart wrenching visit on us. Having a disability brings it’s challenges in any society, but in a society where at best, you are hidden away and often rejected by the family, where assistance and specialist equipment is almost non existent and education is a luxury many cannot afford life must be almost unbearable. This school is the only one in the whole of Masaka that offers a home and an education to those with disabilities. It is run by Pastor Edward and his wife Louise. They have four children of their own and also care for eleven disabled children. Both having given up their jobs as teachers they educate the ‘children’ in Maths, English, Science and Personal Care. Louise’ sister is the cook, they have no other staff. Sitting in a rural setting this is a very peaceful location, but they have no transport and are some distance from the village.

They keep a few livestock and have a large garden area in which they grow food for the children, however they have no income and we were told; “rely on God’s provision” to keep the school running. Two of their students have been with them since they started 10 years ago, Scovia 25 and Zeitun 24 have spent most of their adult lives in this school and they have nowhere else to go. Most of the students are unable to pay any fees.

Zeitun was happy to see us, she spoke excellent English.
Scovia enjoys making mats but wool is in short supply

Despite their severe physical disabilities both these young ladies were intelligent and eloquent. Zeitun has spent her whole life lying on a mattress on the floor but she was happy and smiling and they all seemed genuinely pleased to receive visitors.

We learned how their solar power had broken and so they had no lights and only a couple of the children had mattresses or mosquito nets, they use clothes and cloth in an  attempt to soften the bars of the metal framed bunks, we could not imagine how these children could get a comfortable night’s sleep.

As we bade them good bye we left our food gifts with them, we had already decided we needed to do something. We estimate about £2500 would give them electricity, mattresses and mosquito nets plus four goats to provide milk, manure and a small income going forward. Relatively little to improve the lives of these youngsters, who suffer so much every day.

Is it really Saturday again already, where did that week go? It seems like only yesterday we joined the children at the Saturday Project and yet here we are again.

As always we started with a time of worship, hymns, bible readings, and memory verses, Abdul, one of the older sponsored children explained very clearly the reading from Matthew 5:v43-45

We were asked to choose a hymn, Shine Jesus Shine seemed like a good choice, unfortunately, the children didn’t know it, and the three of us are probably the worst singers you could ever imagine. We tried to teach them but they probably regretted asking!!!

Then it was time for porridge. As many of the children were sitting exams today there were far fewer at the projects and so they received an additional treat of a Mandazi (a type of doughnut), these children who have so little to eat wanted to share these treats with us.

Then it was CHI time and we spent a wonderful couple of hours just playing games, we taught them some of ours and they taught us some of theirs. We had no idea what was going on but it was great fun, and Ian played wrestling games with Emmanuel who seems to have adopted him as his Jajja (granddad).

 

 

 

All to soon it was time for them to leave for their homes, as we said goodbye it was hard not to shed a tear, knowing what some of them were returning to, how uncertain their futures are, and knowing we would not see them again on this trip .

After lunch it was time to visit some of their homes. A tiring afternoon walking through the local community gave us a real insight into their lives, however dire the conditions they live in, there is a real sense of community, doors are open, children wander between the houses, and neighbours help those less able.

We also met with Leticia and her mum at their market stall. We were told that since Leticia became involved with the Project her mum’s mental health has improved as she now feels there is hope for their lives.

We arrived back at Banda Lodge tired, dusty and with a real sense of having shared in something that is making a very positive impact in the lives of some of those in most need.

Now we just need to encourage YOU to sponsor a child, to enable more of these youngsters to benefit from this support and come to know Jesus in their lives. http://www.christianhope.org.uk/kijjabwemi.html

Kitengeesa was our destination today, a short 10km drive from Kijjabwemi and we arrived at the school which sits next door to the church.

   

Around 20 of our sponsored children attend here and assistance has also been given in this community to provide two water tanks, educational materials, school lunch and bibles as well as setting up a piggery project.

The first thing we notice is the play equipment and the nursery age children jumping and dancing as they learnt their vowels, their teacher was joining in too.

As we met with Mariam the Lay Reader and the head teacher Paul, we quickly realised this was a far less formal school than is the norm. A warm welcome but no speeches, a quick tour of the classrooms but no formal introductions, we felt like we had been transported to another universe. As the children gathered under the tree, no formal lines here, we were briefly introduced and then invited to say a few words, it was time for some CHI (causing havoc intentionally).

 

This followed much the same pattern as yesterday but this time we divided the children into age groups to avoid the little ones getting crushed in the ensuing havoc. The teachers joined in and a great time was had by all.

Then as the balls were gathered in the drums arrived and an impromptu song and dance was quickly arranged, no table and chairs for us today, as we sat on the grass with the children watching anyone who felt so inclined join in (teachers included), singing songs to thank us for our visit and some traditional dance, we were moved by the lovely relationship between the children and their teachers. We couldn’t imagine the stick wielding discipline we have become used to happening here.

After a traditional lunch of luwombo (meat cooked in banana leaves) at Mariam’s house, we said a sad farewell to the children and headed out to see the pigs and visit the homes of some of the sponsored children.

The pigs are held in three locations, each group being the responsibility of some of the youth in the church. In this way they are learning to take responsibility for them and as the pigs breed, they will be distributed amongst the community and provide an income for the church. On the whole this seems to be working well and some have given birth to piglets.

One group of pigs were being housed in the garden of a church family. Both very active in the church, he taught primary 7 students in the school, Maureen teaches the Sunday School. She was delighted to show us her 14 day old baby girl, the youngest of 5 children, she then told us how her husband died…. 17 days ago. There were no words, we stood by his grave, a few yards from the pig pens and prayed.

We visited a number of homes of sponsored children. We met Joyce, a delightful elderly lady who cares for her 12 year old grandson Akram. They were also the recipients of one of the solar lamps recently provided. She took us inside the two room home she had built herself to show us how well the lamp worked. There were no windows they cost money, the only chinks of light filtered through the holes in the walls and roof. In the first room the fire was lit under the pot in which she was cooking dinner, the room was full of smoke, through the curtain the room was full, it contained a small dining chair and the single bed she shares with her grandson. She told us: “He cannot sleep on the floor because of the snakes that enter at night”.  As we returned to the garden (with one eye on the ground) she thanked us for visiting her, she could not imagine how we could ever visit her home. We shared a hug and then a dance, which still needs practice, before moving on.

 

Our last stop was to visit Mary, as we approached Patrick quietly told us “she is positive”. Her husband had died of HIV/AIDs, of her 10 children 8 had died. After learning she had been infected she made a promise to take in any child that came to her. She is currently caring for nine abandoned children, at least two with disabilities. Currently three of them are sponsored through CHI. Gift is 9 yrs old and a sheer delight, a very bright outgoing child who has a problem with her legs, walking on the uneven ground is a challenge which causes her to fall often.  Mary had a small plot of land on which she grew bananas to feed the children, however on returning to it recently she found it had been ‘taken’ by others. She now has no means to provide for the family and told us they live by God’s grace.

Mary with 8 of ‘her’ 9 children

Another day of two halves that has moved us to tears and left us humbled by the faith of those we have met.

Ugandan society is, by our standards, fairly formal. The discipline in schools is strict; classes are very formal and structured and the children are not encouraged to relax or have fun. But today we had FUN as we visited Kikonge School.
Children walk 2-4km to get to this school of 262 pupils. Uniforms, school equipment, water tanks and electricity were provided during 2017/18 and livestock and seeds were distributed in the community. We were told how the children no longer had to walk the 4km to fetch water at the start of each day.


Ritah, the new head teacher has only been in place for one month, she appears to be a force to be reckoned with and the children certainly seemed to toe the line. Having not been in post during our last visit she obviously did not know what was about to transpire in her school today.


A tour of the school and lunch was followed by the usual round of speeches, then some lovely song and dance by the children, to welcome and thank us. More speeches and then it was our turn. We kept it short and told the children we would teach them a song. Time for some CHI.
As they formed a circle around us we showed them Head & Shoulders, Knees & Toes, and then told them they must keep up with us. As we got faster and faster the Havoc increased, when we were all out of breath we opened the boot of the car and threw tennis balls and inflatable beach balls into the throng. By this time Ritah was hiding in her office, possibly having a nervous breakdown. Then Carmen joined in the drumming (the boys thought this hilarious), followed by our poor attempts at Ugandan dance. By this time any thought of discipline was long gone.

    
Eventually it was time to let the children have their porridge as we headed back to Ritah’s office where we were presented with gifts, including a live chicken!!!!


Then it was time to say goodbye as we headed off to meet with some of the recipients of the livestock.
On the whole this has been a very successful project, lessons were learned from challenges faced in Kimwany and most of the goats have been a blessing to the families who received them. We visited nine homes including that of Helen, she looks after seven grand children, their father has died and their mother is bed ridden with HIV/AIDs, all the children are in school and she is now able to pay some of the required fees.


Many of the children in the school require support to purchase uniforms, the fees which range from £3 to £10 per term depending on the class, include lunch, but many are still unable to pay.

The classrooms could do with a lick of paint, but on the whole the school buildings are sound and well maintained. We are told pupil numbers are rising, but more importantly, since these interventions, so is the church congregation.
All in all an uplifting day, although we are not sure we will ever be allowed back to the school.

Only a short drive to Kimwanyi from Banda today. An impressive welcome to the school by a huge line of clapping children accompanied by dancers in traditional dress. As ever our dancing skills left a lot to be desired!

Then onto the home of Pastor Dickson, his charming wife Linda and delightful little son Theophilus (one of 5) for a second breakfast, which included liver which we politely declined!!,
Headmistress Peace has only been at the school for a month, having transferred from Kikonke but is already making her mark. She was rightly proud of her school as we toured the classrooms, before the traditional welcome and energetic singing accompanied by more dancing. It is always a delight to hear the children sing songs about CHI with words they have put together themselves.

Then down the hill from the school to see the water pump and eucalyptus plantation (no carrying water up the hill this time though, as the pump is out of action!). A distraction was a column of safari ants which did not appeal to Carmen.

The whole school gathered to meet us, a sea of pink uniforms, even if some were torn and worn out. One little boy in his ragged tee shirt approached us afterwards, touching Pauline’s hand and pointing to the holes in his tee shirt, he was obviously desperate for a uniform so he could be the same as his peers.

We then met Imran, one of two abandoned children taken in by elderly ‘grandmother’ Mariam. He was a bit frail as he was just recovering from a bout of malaria. Lunch followed and thankfully Imran was included to sit with us – a rare treat for him.

In the afternoon we visited the Health Clinic, and caught up with Prossy, our sponsored nurse, and the newly appointed senior nurse Agnes, only one week into her new post. As ever the clinic is short of medicines (apart from HIV treatment available free from the government), but they are still doing sterling work in their community with blood tests and vaccinations.

One patient was in the labour ward, where Carmen and Pauline listened to the baby’s heartbeat using a Pinard. As we were typing this blog we received a message to say the mother had given birth to a baby girl.Thankfully she did not need the incubator seen in this picture.

A small child was receiving treatment for malaria, she was yelling as apparently it is painful.

It was great to catch up with old friends including Sister Mary whom we met in 2013 and 2016 as she came back from retirement for the day.

Kimwanyi has had its challenges since Canon Patrick left but is on the up again since Reverend Dickson arrived, and now approximately 120 attend church. So many places in Uganda have similar challenges to Kimwanyi but with Dickson and Peace at the helm we feel that this community has an exciting future.

A slightly late start saw us arrive at Kijjabwemi Primary School to find the entire school lined up ready to greet us, all 600+ of them!!!! We could only apologise as they had probably been standing in the sun waiting patiently for longer than was comfortable. We were greeted and processed through the lines of children by dancing students in traditional dress. Our attempts to join in were met with laughter and clapping.

   

Some of our sponsored children attend this school and it was good to see them in class and take a look at their work. Every child seems to have exemplary hand writing and the standard of their lessons is a credit to the school. The standard of discipline in Ugandan Schools is high, it needs to be with 85-90 children per class, and this is reflected in the level of work and behaviour of the children.

As we toured the school we were impressed with the improved condition of the building since our last visit in 2016.This has been achieved by the PTA and local community working together to raise funds. This was something that had been previously discussed with our partners. The desks provided by CHI were clearly marked. There are however still urgent matters that need addressing, not least of which is a new toilet for the boarding students!                                              

Having visited the kitchen the cooks now have even more respect than they did before, their working conditions are hot and smokey but we didn’t realise they also needed to have muscles like Popeye. We could hardly lift the paddle used to stir the Posho, let alone move it in this very thick, gloopy mixture the children eat for lunch.

   

We met with one of our sponsored children who had not been at the Saturday project as she was in the west of the country visiting her terminally sick mother, her father is already deceased and we had already been informed she had recently tried to commit suicide. Patrick hugged and spoke quietly to this young child aged about 10 years, who was probably one of the saddest children we have ever seen. Such a simple act of comfort that could never happen in the UK today. He took her by the hand and she joined us for a mid morning snack of boiled egg, banana and bread.  Then she joined the rest of the sponsored children as they filed in to greet and entertain us with song and dance. Several voluntarily stood and told us how they felt about their sponsorship and the difference it had made to them. The school choir and dance group then came and entertained us all, we refrained from joining in!!!

We were delighted to see Michael who we had met at his home. We had been told he was a ‘naughty’ boy and often skipped school. He seemed more spirited than naughty to us when he climbed a tree to pick Jack fruit when we said we had never tasted it. It was good to see him in school and so smart in his KOP uniform.

We know we should not have favourites but this is so hard when a child pops up round every corner with the biggest smile we have ever seen. You may remember Emmanuel from our Saturday post, we visited his home where he looks after his bed ridden father. In school he is hardly recognisable in his smart uniform; school is where he goes to get away from the realities of his life. Without sponsorship he would not have this opportunity.

Emmanuel at his home
Emmanuel at school

Another emotional roller coaster as we enjoyed the entertainment, but knew the heartbreaking realities of the lives of these children. We also saw the real difference sponsorship makes.

Then it was on to the senior school for a quick look round, a couple of our sponsored children attend here. The school is supported by a bigger charity and is reasonably well equipped.

As Patrick had a meeting with the Bishop we had an unexpected afternoon off, after the busyness of the last week we were very grateful for the change of plan.

 

Prayer and contemplation is a good way to start a day, and knowing we were off to Kaleere, something we needed.

Kaleere is a remote and needy parish.  When we visited 4 years ago the school consisted of groups of children studying under various trees around the church, and a mud and banana leaf constructed classroom.  They still have 2 classes under trees and use the dilapidated old classroom.  However they also have a fabulous new classroom block, built by the community with the roof, doors and windows funded by Christian Hope supporters.  It was a glorious day weather wise and the children studying under the trees appeared to be in the best place – but thinking back to the torrential weather last Friday I guess it isn’t always so good!  We looked at books and classroom displays, their handwriting is excellent, and they are learning words I have never heard of in their biology lessons – did I mention this is an infant/junior school?  Uniform, clothing, and shoes appear to be optional and ragged at best.

  

Whilst on tour we saw members of the community – many of whom are pensioners but still helping build foundations and flooring for new classrooms in progress.  We were presented with banana leaf sun hats in case we wanted to join in the labour!  We resisted that urge but wore the hats – much to everyone else’s amusement.

  

School rules insist the children speak English at all times in school which must pose some issues for the younger ones!  I was assured by the Headmaster (a mere youngster in my eyes) that the punishment was not too severe!

We were then taken into the church, the whole school of 326 children crammed in too, accompanied by their brilliant teachers, where we were welcomed by the youthful Headmaster, and then entertained by the Kaleere School Talent Group to a fabulous show of singing and dancing.  They made the songs up themselves, welcoming us “the visitors they cannot forget”, thanking us for CHI support, for books, fees, desks, water tank and the building help.

   

It was nearly time for lunch break as we came out of church so, as usual, Carmen decided it must be Havoc time and she and Ian proceeded to throw footballs and tennis balls into the throng of increasingly excited children.  I think they were almost engulfed by the enthusiastic children, but no one was hurt too much in the mêlée!

Reverend Canon Eriab was quick to rescue us and we were whisked off to visit the shallow wells which CHI  supporters have also funded.  Enos who has helped oversee the various projects in Kaleere accompanied us too, along with Samuel – Eriab’s son who does a lot of voluntary work within the Kaleere community.  Both Enos and  Samuel have a very in-depth knowledge of the community so their input was invaluable.  The shallow wells are used constantly, two of the wells serve approx 400 families, and at the moment one has been out of action for a few days awaiting repair.  The alternative of a mucky pond is no competition.  These wells have helped with health and sanitation issues in the community.  Another shallow well would not go amiss – oh for bottomless funds!

From there we visited some homes, where they had benefited from a parish project where they were supplied with livestock and garden tools and seeds.  Charles has made such a success of his garden that their family room is full of sun dried corn cobs which need to be stripped and ground by hand, in a pestle and mortar, to make maize flour.  He has 9 children aged 4 to 14, hopefully they will help him. I certainly think his wife deserves a rest and should be let off this chore!

We visited other homes, that of Teresa, who looks after 6 orphans, Clement who looks after 4 orphans, and Jalia who looks after 4 orphans.  All these ladies are well into their 70s and possibly beyond, but they keep pigs and chickens, grow crops and look after young children, housework comes last on their list of things to do! They truly are the unsung heroines in this community – but there are many more who do the same.  It appears from their testimonies that their lives have been helped immensely by Christian Hope input but still so much more could be done to help this impoverished and remote community.

The sky began to darken so we had to hot foot to our next appointment – with the younger members of Kaleere who had benefitted from the small loans projects, the three we met were all young Mums with 16 children between them, two had set up food stalls, each selling different fruit and veg, and the other had a general shop, all sited along the main road.  They all said they were doing well but would like to expand their businesses, but this could only be done with a further loan, and the waiting list is long!

Suddenly the heavens opened and we had to leave quickly.  The road had been impassable last Friday after the storms and so we knew we could easily get stuck!  We had a young and skillful driver for the day, also named Eriab, and thankfully he negotiated the flooded roads, the potholes and ditches and brought us safely home.

    

Tired, full of thoughts, saddened by the seemingly insurmountable task of deciding where our limited funds could be best used,  and knowing that our best option is to pray and leave this with God, we hope you will keep this community, and our decisions, in your prayers too.