Tony Gaston, Director Of Development & Fundraising
In November 2019 I travelled with Richard Spratt and Maurice Donaldson to be inducted, meet the East Africa team and experience Fields of Life programmes. It was my first time in Uganda, and it was a very busy schedule visiting 10 partner schools across the country, the Vocational Training Institute in Gulu, and a borehole being drilled 5 hours outside Jinja.
Here are 5 things that stood out to me in my trip:
EXTREME POVERTY IS A THIEF OF JOY AND DIGNITY
I have seen many expressions of extreme poverty in my career, and it always strikes me how unfair it is. I meet many people who work so hard, yet never seem to escape a difficult and hard life.
Many people in Uganda work long hours, 12-15 hours a day, yet often they continue to live in a shack with no water, no electricity, and no kitchen or toilet. Over 30% of the population live on less than £1 per day, struggling to feed and clothe their families. Life is harder than I can ever imagine.
EDUCATION IS THE ROOT OUT OF POVERTY
Nelson Mandela famously said that education is the most powerful tool we have to change the world. If we really want to address the root of the poverty, we need to focus our efforts on education and creating opportunities for young people.
I met person after person whose life has been literally transformed by Fields of Life. One young man, Julius, was on the streets of Kampala slums a year ago. He was disabled, homeless and begged on the street to survive. When I was in Uganda he graduated as a website developer through a program called elevate, led by Fields of Life alumni, Levixone and Trinity. Apparently, he has amazing ability and knack for digital coding, and he is now employed through their company.
Levixone, one of those who leads this programme, was a slum child himself. He used to sleep on floors and steal to survive. He was sponsored to attend school through Fields of Life many years ago, and turned his life around, attending church and music classes. Fast forward 10 years, and he is now one of the leading gospel singers in Uganda, winning East Africa gospel singer of the year for the last 3 years in a row. His music is heard across the country, and more importantly, he is now giving back.
BUILDING A SCHOOL IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
Fields of Life have constructed 127 schools. Seeing a school being constructed for the first time in a community is something very special indeed and needs to be celebrated. One school I visited was constructed only last year and I saw a 17-year old in P5. That was hard to comprehend!
However, for a school to thrive, children need to be well fed, teachers well trained, and parents included. The ‘One Child’ project, sponsored by Peter Vardy Ltd really brought this to life and was one of the most impacting projects I have ever seen. This programme allowed 11,000 children to have access to good quality food, agriculture, and education. I saw for myself the difference that these initiatives were bringing to schools, and I saw smiles on the faces of well-fed children, eager to learn.
WATER REALLY IS THE WORLD’S MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE
I still can’t get my head around how many communities still have no water in 2019. When I visited a community of 500 households, I was shocked that they walked for 2 miles to get water from a dirty stream, shared with animals. I met people in their 60’s who had never experienced clean water in their village before. Seeing water come to this community was extremely special and was met with many tears and lots of dancing. Bringing water to this community now means people can go to school and work instead of fetching water, children are not getting ill and dying because of dirty water, and a whole community can be transformed.
THE POTENTIAL IS HUGE
Often when I go to places of extreme poverty, I feel a sense of hopelessness. But in Uganda I see amazing potential. The country is green and lush, growing avocados, mangoes, and sugar cane. Young people are eager to learn new skills, and want the opportunity to change their lives, and the lives of their families. For Uganda to flourish it needs leaders who have been well educated, empowered, and trained in strong Christian values.
Sam Opio chose to move from the capital city, Kampala, to work in one of the most impoverished areas of Uganda, Gulu. This is an area which was the epicentre of the Lord Resistance Army, who would recruit children to become child soldiers and commit atrocious crimes.
Sam came to Gulu because of his faith in God and passion to see young people in this region trained and empowered. He is now a strategic leader for Fields of Life’s Vocational Training Institute, the most ambitious project Fields of Life have ever undertaken, looking to unlock the potential in Uganda’s youth. Sam is an inspirational and godly man, and a great example of the potential in Uganda.