Refresh Team, St Paul’s Girls’ Brigade

In November 2016, St. Paul’s Girls’ Brigade held a very successful coffee morning, raising over £4000 for the I AM GIRL Project.  This provided the confirmation that our company had the impetus and support to undertake a mission trip to help the young people of Uganda.

Our initial aim was to raise £10,000 to provide latrine facilities for two schools in Uganda.  Between July 2017 and May 2018 a range of fundraising events were organised by the company and these raised approximately £18,000.  The events included catering, a company sponsored walk, a Ladies’ Night, concerts, participation in the Belfast Marathon in addition to generous donations.  We also received support from other parish organisations including the C.L.B., Mothers’ Union, Lots of Tots, the Knitwits and the Car Wash Team.

Our mission was taken from Matthew 28 verses 19-20.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Fields of Life identified two schools which would benefit from our support.  These were Nyakagyera Primary School near Kabale, Western Uganda and Mmanze Secondary School near Kampala.

Our team name, Refresh, came from the link with fresh water and the fact that we were aiming for physical and spiritual refreshment.

The team was comprised of 12 members with a range of experiences, skills and talents.  The team met many times for planning meetings to devise a programme based on Women of the Bible, the I AM GIRL Programme and the Living Well Programme.  The team was also well supported by friends of the company who provided all kinds of resources to support the trip.

Our Commissioning Service took place in St. Paul’s in June and it was a very special time of fellowship. Our company chaplain, Rev. Arthur Young, commissioned the team for the work ahead.

On 11th July the team left Lisburn to travel to Dublin Airport.  From Dublin we travelled to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and, after an eight hour stopover, we travelled on to Kigali in Rwanda.  From Rwanda the team travelled overland to Uganda. On arrival in Rwanda we were met by our link worker Grace Ninsiima who stayed with us for the duration of our trip.  Grace was a Fields of Life sponsored student and amazingly, her story features in the 2018-19 Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland (GBNI) Scripture Course.

Each evening we had devotions and a time of fellowship together.  We also shared Bible verses and worship on our daily journeys to the schools.  This was an important time of spiritual growth, fellowship and faith.

As we travelled to Kabale, we had the opportunity to visit Karwa Centenary Primary School.  GBNI celebrates their 125th Anniversary in 2018-19 and as part of this celebration has funded the construction of this school.  It was a wonderful opportunity for us to pay a brief visit to the school.

On Saturday 14th July, we visited Nyakagyera Primary School for the first time.  The greeting we received was overwhelming.  The children were marching and dancing with drums and led us up to the school.  They showed us traditional dances.  Refresh was the first mission team to visit the school so our arrival generated much excitement.  It was a very humbling experience for the team.

On Sunday we attended Nyakagyera Church and worshipped in Lugandan and English.  There was much singing and dancing and the team were introduced to the congregation.  The collections were taken – one for the church, one for the school and one for mission.  Donations of gifts and food were auctioned at the end of the service.  This was a truly uplifting service and the team were made to feel most welcome.

We were delighted to meet the head-teacher and deputy, both of whom were female.  The lack of resources in the school was striking but this did not present a barrier to the children’s learning.

The team had devised a programme as follows –

Day 1 Miriam & I am Girl

Day 2 Mary & Beads

Day 3 Lydia & I am Girl

Day 4 Sports & Women from the Community

Day 5 Fun & Celebration

We worked with children from Nursery to Primary 7, in addition to the women of the community.  Lessons took a similar format of an introduction, context, Bible story, drama, explanations, memory verse, prayer, craft and singing.  The children participated with great enthusiasm.  The children and women of the community also had the opportunities to make bracelets.  We delivered a personal hygiene programme to boys and girls and a programme on menstrual health to the girls.

There were over 130 women from the community in attendance and they enjoyed learning more about Lydia.  This was a time of great fellowship.  The love and passion for the Bible and for God that we experienced with the women was overwhelming.

Furthermore, we held a sports day for all ages and this was a time of great joy.  Sports kits, equipment and other resources were donated to the school.  We even met one lady who had been a member of Girls’ Brigade.

On Friday, gifts were exchanged and the children’s expressions of delight were unbelievable.   They were so appreciative.  We also provided gifts for the staff and they gave the team gifts and a plaque for our church.

On Saturday we left Kabale for Lake Mburo where we had an overnight stay before moving on to Kampala.  We were able to experience the native wildlife, showing us the beauty of God’s creation.  On Sunday we crossed the equator as we travelled to Kampala.

Our second week was spent in Mmanze Secondary School and we had devised the following programme –

Day 1 Mary

Day 2 Living Well

Day 3 Lydia

Day 4 I am Girl

Day 5 Competition and celebration

Our experiences in Mmanze were very different from the experiences in Nyakagyera.  Mmanze had a staff of 36 teachers, 30 of whom were male.  The head-teacher seemed shocked to encounter an all-female team. Throughout the week in Mmanze we experienced some difficulties and obstacles but with God’s help we were able to overcome these.  Our programme had to continually adapt and evolve at the head-teacher’s request.

It is our firm belief that God sent us here for a purpose as an all-female team. We taught aspects of the Living Well Programme in this school and it was particularly relevant as it addressed relationships, equality and violence. Although this was a challenging week with many children making disclosures to the team, we believe that we were given the opportunity to truly make a difference in relation to the treatment of the children in this school.  Many myths and taboos were also broken down by the team.

On the Friday there was a community day and it was interesting to meet with parents, particularly the mothers.  Bernard from Fields of Life was also in attendance and he made a hard hitting speech to the head-teacher and staff.  Gifts were presented to the staff, school and children.

As a team, although we expected nothing in return, we have been blessed by our experiences.  We have been spiritually refreshed.  Our perceptions have changed, as have our opinions.  We have been able to share the Girls’ Brigade (GB) message of, “Seek, Serve and Follow” with our Ugandan brothers and sisters.  We have bonded further as a team and as a GB Company.  We have watched the joy of simple things in a country that values things without cost.  And we have followed God’s command to share the Gospel.

These are the thoughts of some of team now they have returned from Uganda –

“My highlight was the welcome at Nyakagyera Primary School.  Refresh made me really appreciate the importance of equality in educational opportunities for girls growing up in Uganda”

“Refresh showed me the almighty love God has for us and how we should share it with everyone we meet.”

“Refresh mission team has completed another piece of life’s jigsaw puzzle.  My highlight was getting to know all the other team members and having lots of memories to cherish with them.”

“The highlight for me was blowing bubbles with the Nursery children and seeing them getting so excited about something so simple was a joy.  It was a refreshing new look on all things, through God all things are possible and no matter what trials there may have been, with His strength we can overcome.”

The fundraising for this project went solely to providing resources for the children of Uganda.  We are delighted to have been able to fund a girls’ latrine for Nyakagyera and a girls’ latrine and washroom for Mmanze.  This is in addition to the equipment and resources we were able to provide for the schools.  We are appreciative to all those people who helped fundraise or made donations to enable these projects to come to life.

The trip has benefitted our GB Company as we have been able to share God’s word with the people of Uganda in both a spiritual and practical way and we know that blessing will follow.  We have been able to generate a spirit of generous giving with our members and show them that they can make a difference in the lives of people far away who they have never met.

As individuals we have grown spiritually and have had our faith reignited.  We have a passion for mission at home and abroad and we hope that we may be an encouragement to other companies considering mission work.  We understand that we are not heroes but feel privileged to have played a small part in God’s vision for mission.

We have already had the opportunity to share our experiences in St. Paul’s and look forward to further sharing our experiences in the future.  We hope this this will encourage others to step out in faith on a mission trip like ours.

If we have made a difference in one child’s life then our trip has been worth it!