“So just how did Keith and I end up on a KLM flight from Dublin to Amsterdam at 5.30 am-yes am? Well, Willie Nixon our Rector here at Drumbeg Parish Church has realised a dream of building a primary school in Africa. This was achieved in partnership with Fields of Life and the Diocese of Northern Uganda. Bleary eyed and short on caffeine we met up with the rest of the team namely Roland, Jane, “Topley”, Mabel, Nigel, Erin and Rachel at Dublin airport. Much later in the day we met up with George our ever reliable and helpful Fields of Life link worker and Michael our driver in a very dark Entebbe airport car-park at 11pm. An ebullient Willie arrived shortly after us en route from Brussels and we set off to the Ndere Cultural Centre in Kampala, our stop over for 2 nights.
The main purpose of the visit was to participate in the opening of the Primary school, a Teachers Accommodation block and a much needed well. In addition to delivering Fields of Life educational programmes on personal hygiene, puberty and sexual health. The project involved months of planning and thanks are due to Rev Willie and Nigel for an itinerary which required much reflection and reaped many rewards.
On 7th July we set off to Gulu. Spare seats for Mike, Chris and Leo who would join us later in the week. We arrived at The Churchill Court Hotel in Gulu late afternoon to quite a welcome from Bishop Johnston Gakumba and his Diocese staff team. We quickly established a pattern of evening devotions which provided encouragement for the difficulties that lay ahead. This was an especially busy time of day for Matthew as he recorded and arranged the fantastic Drumbeg TV. What a wonderful way to relay our experiences to a wide audience. The videos can still be seen at Facebook.com/atstpatricks.
Sunday morning was the first of our daily trips out to the school. We were met near the school by a group of about 100 children and their teachers who broke into song as we jumped off the bus. Not a dry eye amongst us as we followed the singing and dancing throng towards the Church. The Church which doubled as a classroom had a chalk board on one wall with the readings for the service inscribed on it. In this confined space so many people, mainly women and children listened to Matthew’s sermon on Hosea 2.
Monday, our first day at school with the children dawned. On arrival at the school each day the children ran out to greet us with one of the older girls leading the singing “Welcome to our visitors, you are welcome to our school”-it was absolutely delightful to experience the infectious joy and the happiness of the children.
Assembly led by Rev Willie each morning focused on heaven/forgiveness and sin. Musical accompaniment led by Nigel, Matthew and Mabel. The children joined in enthusiastically and learned “This little light”. There was a quiz and memory verse from the Bible to follow for the older children. Nigel ably assisted by Rev Willie, Matthew, Erin and Roland worked hard all week delivering the Wash programme which will be a work in progress.
The “I AM GIRL” programme was delivered by Keith and Rachel. Rachel made excellent teaching materials and the pupils were very engaged and asked questions at the end of each session. This showed how valuable the content was to their understanding of puberty and the physical and emotional changes they were experiencing. Jane and I did Child Protection training with the teachers; this proved to be a very valuable opportunity to spend time with the staff and gave us valuable insights into rural life.
We all helped Mabel, Willie and Matthew with the craft activities. The children approached these activities with characteristic enthusiasm. Chris and Mike did a great job organising games and races for the children. All the children were delighted to get the chance to play games and play with the balls which Chris and Mike had brought out.
Really everyone had a part to play, Mabel with the tremendous effort she had put into coordinating the sewing of the reusable sanitary pads and the fantastic response from the Parish and wider community in the provision of pants. Let me tell you these items were so very well received by delighted pupils and staff. Certainly a heart-warming experience for us all and will hopefully result in fewer girls falling behind or even dropping out of school because of this issue.
We had planned to buy the children uniforms with a very generous donation we received before we left, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that this was not our first priority. Instead, after school we headed to Gulu to buy food for the children. We were fortunate that George our link worker could speak Acholi and was able to help us negotiate a fair price for the large quantities of fruit juice, biscuits, millet and sugar needed for the school community. George made a very valuable contribution to our visit. He is the most kind and capable young man. Amongst his many talents, he has a deep Christian faith, excellent English, an ability to see the best in everyone and all situations, a great sense of humour and a good musician. Having him with us made a huge difference to us all.
Finally, the opening ceremony for the new school attended by the Bishop who also received a rousing reception from the pupils and staff, and many people who live in the wider community. The highlight being Rev Willie leading everyone in song to the school buildings and the blessing of the buildings. By the time we were leaving the school for the final time, how were we feeling? Very sad to be leaving but happy to see the joy and hope that the new school buildings and well have brought.
Thank you to everyone who offered support, encouragement and prayers as we prepared to go to Uganda. The experience was unforgettable and personally very rewarding. We are truly blessed by the material comforts life has provided us with in Northern Ireland. Thank you to all at Fields of Life who so patiently answered our many questions. What has been achieved so far is already making a difference to the children of Nyapea.”
Report by Alison Steele