Rakai Church of Uganda Primary school is on top of a hill with the most amazing views, but the youngsters who attend rarely have time to appreciate the view. Most are from child led families, few Primary 7 youngsters had arrived for school, they were busy digging and trying to grow crops to provide for the younger siblings in their care. It is very dry here at the moment as the rains were scarce during the wet season. Water to drink has to be fetched from the lake one mile down the steep  hill so watering your crops is not really an option. Some of the classrooms are falling down and the roofs are more hole than roof, there are no windows or doors. But the teachers battle on with amazing determination to educate these children and give them a hope for the future. The children entertained us with song and dance and much shaking of hands. But this is not the community we have been helping, “why”, we asked Canon Eriab, had he chosen Kaleere for the proposed project when this school was on his doorstep?

Half an hour of hot very very dusty road (even by Uganda standards) we arrived in Kaleere where we have supported the Bagonvu Elderly Women’s Project with basic needs and provided funds to build a latrine for the school and provide education materials for some of the orphans. What, we wondered, is going on here. A crowd of people seated under a rough tarpaulin, music playing and children everywhere, is there a celebration going on? And then we realised……. they were waiting for us. We walked down the track to see the latrine we had provided funds to erect (and christened it) and then saw the classrooms, a bamboo and mud structure with a matting divide housed two classes, three other classes are held in the small church building the last is under a tree. The kitchen could hardly be called a structure at all.

We were ushered to seats of honor under the tarpaulin where we were entertained by the children with song and dance, followed by speeches from the community and church leaders. Almost the entire community had turned out to greet us and have photo’s taken with us. Their gratitude for the small amount of assistance we had provided was overwhelming. Why this community had been chosen was obvious, their situation was far worse even than Rakai. Almost all the youngsters were orphans being cared for by grandparents who had no means of providing even the basic needs for the children in their care. We visited the home of one such lady who, alongside three young orphans also cared for a 97 year old mother.

Before we left we were presented with a carved Gorilla (named Paulo!!) and a straw mat and an apology from these people who live in dire poverty that they could not give us more. It was an honour to shake hands with, and hug, these proud people who  have given us so much and almost brought us to tears.

The project proposed here would initially provide garden tools, seedlings, livestock and training to 20 of the most needy families along with two shallow wells to provide water, which is currently fetched from the lake approximately 1 1/2 km away.

There is so much need and the cost to change the lives of this community is, by our standards relatively small, approx £2000.

We have such difficult decisions to make when we return home, how can we possibly choose between the many projects we have visited, and more to come. we just don’t have the funds available. What we saw today almost defies words. Please pray that we can find a way forward and that funds will be forthcoming. If you or your church or group would like to link with these communities please get in touch with us on our return. Your prayers and even the smallest of donation can be life changing.

Our planned trip to Sango Bay Refugee Camp was cancelled as due to the current unrest in the camp it was deemed to be unsafe for us to visit.

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586 children, 8 classrooms. What do you do with your 80+ pupils when it rains and the roof is full of holes? You huddle them in the driest corner and wait for it to stop of course. If we could raise £6000 these children could stay dry and continue to study through the rainy season, that would be the cost to replace the roof at Kijjabwemi Primary School. This school faces many challenges but replacing the roof is their primary concern. How we raise these funds and help this school is in all our prayers tonight.

We learnt how providing food is taking priority over school materials so the pupils who do not receive a meal until the evening can concentrate during the day, and how many children from the villages had still not returned to school as they could not afford the materials they need. How do you prioritize these needs? These are the decisions faced by many head teachers in schools in Africa. We complain about a difficult journey to work or school, these children often spend hours walking many kilometers to receive an education, the lucky ones own a bike but they are few.

We were entertained by the children who put on an amazing display of traditional dance. Ian took plenty of video as well as photographs so hopefully it will be on the website when we get back.

A visit to the senior school was an encouragement as we saw the difference new buildings had made (funded by a larger charity), and we were pleased to meet with the head teacher and staff member who had previously visited us in the UK.

We shared a delicious lunch prepared by the catering students and were presented with gifts before touring the school. We returned to the hotel at 5pm, a half day for us and a welcome relief to be back in time to order food.

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Today we had been promised an afternoon off at Lake Nabugabo beach after church.

First Paul preached two services at St John’s Church, Kijjabwemi, basing his sermon around ‘The Servant Queen and the King She Serves’. The first service started at 8.45am in English, the second at 10.45am in Lugandan (true the Bishop did translate for him). At the first a modern more lively service we sung Happy Birthday to the Queen, at the second we sang the National Anthem.

The service’s ended at 12.45pm and after lunch with great expectation and a quick stop to change it was back in the car. As we arrived at the home of Grace (a member of the church committee) we began to suspect all might not be as we expected. A table laden with fruit and a tour of her garden later it was back in the car. A generous hour of dusty roads later at 5pm we arrived at the beach, not a grain of sand in sight and rather uninviting looking water, the towels went back in the car!! A quick stroll round the grounds of what turned out to be a rather noisy holiday centre and it was in the car again, next stop was just around the corner to a church run centre used for youth camps and holidays, what a contrast, peaceful and beautiful. After a tour of the accommodation we spent a quiet hour wandering the grounds. Ian was delighted to photograph the Monkeys and a Hornbill which obligingly posed in the tree.

The journey home was a race against the setting sun and, after yet another unexpected visit, it was again dark by the time we arrived back.

Uganda is an amazing mix of relatively affluence and abject poverty all mixed in together. The homes we visited yesterday were small mud huts supporting roofs with more holes than your average sieve which we had to walk the tracks to reach, today we were entertained in a home I would have been proud to own.

Sometimes the enormity of the challenges here are overwhelming and it seems we cannot possibly make a difference, and then we meet a youngster who’s life has been changed through sponsorship and we are reminded that every life impacted is a difference made. Giving hope one child at a time does make a difference. There are many children still in need of sponsorship and needs that we would love to address if we had the funds. Can you imagine if the water poured into your bedroom every time it rained? We have so much and take so much for granted.

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We arrived at St John’s Church at 9am to spend a day with our sponsored children as they attend the Saturday Project. We brought 4 suit cases of sports equipment, to be shared between 4 project locations, including Cricket, Rounders and Football items, 2 Parachutes and several bags of Tennis Balls. There was huge excitement as the bags were opened and a great morning was had as we taught the children to play parachute games. We shared lunch and then played rounders, cricket and team games until 4pm when the children left for their homes.

We then set off for Kitengeesa to visit the homes of 5 sponsored children who live in this parish. The first thing that struck us was how far they lived from the project, it takes these children 2 hours to walk to the church each Saturday. We are often asked how much sponsorship is valued….would you walk for 4 hours a day to attend something unless it meant a great deal to you?? The homes we visited were very rural and the poverty was some of the worst we have seen in Uganda but we were offered gifts of vegetables by the youngsters guardians.

It is normal for gifts sent to the children to be used to buy livestock and Bridgette was very proud of her pig and piglets which will be sold to provide an income for the family.

It was dark by the time we negotiated the tracks that lead off the hills and we were relieved to arrive back at 7.45 for a shower (still cold) before writing up notes and posting the blog. I think another late night looms.

The thought of today does not fill us with joy as the journey to Masaka is approx 120 miles of dirt roads. It is difficult to convey the discomfort as we bounce around in the hot 7 seater being used to transport us and our luggage.The surface varies from at best driving across a good impression of a corrugated tin roof to gingerly negotiating mounds that threaten to remove the bottom of the vehicle often hitting dips or bumps which are deceptively larger or deeper than they appear, there is no ‘right side’ to the often narrow roads as you swerve around pot holes or try not get stuck in the deep ruts.

We have no idea how long the journey will take so at 8am we literally ‘hit the road’. Too painful to recount, it is sufficient to say our journey took 7 hours, after a detour was needed to avoid a road closed due to flooding.

Arriving at St John’s church, Kijjabwemi we were met by Canon Gaster who oversees the sponsorship project there, and Pastor Patrick who oversees the work at Kimwany Parish. After some short formalities we were taken to out hotel where we continued our conversation over dinner.

Another cold shower and bed at 11pm

The sign by Paul & Ian’s rooms read Banda Zoo!!!!        Low cost but not exactly slumming it

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The menu at Starlight Hotel is proving monotonous, omletts for lunch and dinner and boiled egg for breakfast is safe food but not very inspiring, we have decided to take a chance on the pork stew and rice tonight!!!

45 minutes drive from Matendo is a small Vocational Training Centre which was the vision of Pastor James Joloba Adyeri. Pastor James has been entrusted by the Bishop with oversight of Matendo.

This training centre started in 1986 teaching carpentry under a tree. Today, whilst still small it is a true inspiration. We spent the morning discussing with Pastor James the challenges he had faced, most of which we are facing at Matendo, and how they had been overcome. Many ideas were floated as he shared his wealth of knowledge. After a tour of his VTC and a traditional meal at his home (beef stew and rice!!) we headed back feeling a little more optimistic but still apprehensive, compared to these people we have so little faith in God’s power to work miracles.

A late night as we wrote up reports, still no internet for the blog we headed to bed. A long day tomorrow as we travel to Masaka.

Refreshed after a nights sleep (although the call to prayer from the local Mosque woke us at 5am) and a pleasant breakfast we started the day with a service at the church led by the Bishop. Then a short walk down the hill and an inspection of Matendo VTC reveals some of the challenges ahead.

The meeting that follows includes church leaders, Jackson Kasozi, The centre Principal and members of the local community. Many challenges we had previously been unaware of, and suggestions for a way forward, were discussed. The centre was officially handed over to the Diocese and a vote taken by the community leaders showed the majority were in favour of pursuing the Training Centre vision. The Bishop instructed them to put forward a sustainable long term plan, reporting back in one month.

We ended the meeting feeling a little despondent and daunted by the task in hand.

An afternoon of discussions with the Arch Deacon and a welcome early night, the power was back but still no internet.

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After a comfortable night and plesant breakfast at 8am and we meet Moses, our driver for the next few days. Prayers offered for journey mercies we set of for Kangahara.

Negotiating the traffic around the outskirts of Kampala is always a slow process but eventually we are through and on our way. Five hours later we reach Mbende, the end of the tarmac road. A short stop for some light refreshment and we se off again, two hours of dirt road later we reach the Starlight Hotel, tired, dusty but thankful to God that we have arrived safely. After so much traveling over the last 3 days we are looking forward to a quiet evening and early night.

A quick (cold) shower is closely followed by the discovery that we have no electric or internet. and the arrival of the Bishop, Arch Bishop and local Pastor who invites us to his home for our evening meal. We arrive to find about nine leaders of the local church and community waiting to greet us!!!!

It was a tight squeeze to fit everyone in but a pleasant evening of fellowship and traditional food, a quick look around the church which was under renovation when we last visited, and we return, grateful for the hospitality but very glad to final fall into bed.

Paul & Tony by our vehicle

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We arrived at Gatwick Airport at 6pm Sunday evening and departed on time at 9.45pm. A short stop at Dubai and we were on our way again finally landing at Entebbe at 1.20pm Monday afternoon. After an hour and a half clearing customs (I guess we are now on Africa time) and collecting bags it was a huge relief to find our driver waiting for us, a bigger relief still when all the bags and passengers were squeezed into the car. A stop to change up some money and we finally arrived at the guest house around 4pm.

A welcome cold beer and a shower later we felt somewhat revived and ventured out to find a meal.

It is now just after 9pm (Uganda is 2 hours ahead of the UK) and we are headed to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day of traveling.

Internet access may be a problem for a few days but keep checking in for updates.

Waiting for the off at Gatwick.