Uganda – Graduation

3 12 2013

Friday was graduation day! A ridiculously early start as the ceremony started at 9 and there was lots of security to get through first – by this point we were aware of the terror alert and so I think all the bag searches, armed guards and metal detectors actually made us feel safer.

We got in the room the ceremony was to be held in, and it was beautiful! It was decorated like a wedding reception, chair covers, centrepieces, everything!

What was weird was how the seating was organised. The room was in approximately 4 sections, front right – graduates, front left – sponsors (and us), back left – project works, other representatives (even DHL were there for all their work in delivering letters between children and supporters!), and back right, caregivers. The word “parent” wasn’t heard the whole day, there are so many different family combinations and dynamics, these students were brought up by all sorts of relatives, so the word for the whole day was “caregiver”.

It was ridiculous that we should have better seats than the graduates own families. But I guess that’s the way the whole week went, white people get treated like celebrities – kinda hard to handle occasionally.

The ceremony started with the graduates processing in while a group of kids from a Compassion project played To God be the Glory. There was also a group of kids from another Compassion project who did a dance as part of the entertainment – it was great to see how Compassion involved these kids, hopefully it’ll inspire them to work hard so that one day they can attend the ceremony as graduates themselves!

I scribbled down a few key quotes from the different talks again:

  • “Not everyone who is in a leadership position is leading” – Herbert
  • “Leadership is not about serving oneself, leadership is about serving others” – Herbert
  • “Leadership is an important combination of strategy and character, but if you must be without one, be without strategy”
  • “I believe that one day a formerly sponsored child will lead his or her nation” – Herbert
  • “Once Compassion, always Compassion” – Herbert
  • “Hope is rooted in faith”
  • “Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to Him”
  • HHH Leadership
    • Head (not empty headed)
    • Heart (Psalms, David led with his)
    • Hands (use the skills you have)

We heard from the Pastor of a church in Florida who sponsored over 2000 children, 700 of which were in the US, and also sponsored 7 LDP students, some of which were in that graduation ceremony.

As the students were called up in groups to receive their graduation certificates, they were also presented with a towel with the Compassion logo embroidered on it. This was to remind them that whilst they are leaders, they are servant leaders.

Also in the entertainment were an acapella group called Canaan Gents. These guys were phenomenal. Beautiful five part harmonies. They were even pulled up at the end of the ceremony to sing again even though they were on their way out of the building! Following the ceremony we all had lunch at our tables, chicken and rice for me, and then there was a cake buffet – what a great idea!

Of the 123 graduates, 10 were presented with awards for being “outstanding” – one of these was Edith, who I’d met on Wednesday, although her university graduation was on the same day, and so she wasn’t there. Another was Justina, who was also sponsored by someone in the UK. I found her afterwards and asked her to write a message in one of the programmes and I’d try to get it to her sponsor. A few of the other UK sponsored graduates gave me letters for their sponsors.

Later, we were sitting on the minibus in crazy heat waiting to go, no one really knew why we hadn’t left, just that we were boiling. Some people got a bit restless, and then, just when it was getting unbearable, Janat, who I’d met on Thursday, appeared at the minibus window and gave me a photo of herself for her sponsor, and gave me a bracelet as a souvenir and thank you. Ridiculously touching and humbling.

When we got back to the hotel we had a couple of hours to ourselves before dinner, so I put a pair of trousers on having worn skirts all week, and went for a walk around the hotel grounds. It contained a marina, and sat on the edge of Lake Victoria, so there was plenty to see. And to be honest, I could have just sat looking at those palm trees for hours and been happy!

We had our meal at the hotel restaurant again and then had a briefing ready for the next day when the sponsors would meet their kids! There were an awful lot of questions, they were all clearly excited and nervous, and wanting to do everything absolutely correctly!

Uganda – Project Office & Foot Washing

28 11 2013

Sorry for how long these are taking to get written up, life’s pretty busy at the moment!

On the Thursday we visited the Compassion Uganda country office. We were able to join the staff in their morning devotions, we worshipped with them, and had a message given by one of the ladies there. After the formal time was over, a few of the staff went to their desks to work, and we went round the room with all sponsors sharing their stories of why they had come to Uganda – most of these ended in tears!

I think my favourite Compassion story from the sponsors was Carolyn and her son Tyler’s. When he was younger he’d come home from a mid week church group and told his mum “I want a brother from another mother”, and so began their journey!

After this we had a tour of the office in small groups, we were taken round by Agnes, a Partnership Facilitator – her job is to manage the relationship between Compassion and a subset of the projects. We met people who check all the sponsor and child letters, people who audit the projects, people who write articles that can sometimes be found on the Compassion International blog, all sorts of people! I also got to meet the head of IT. As I’m in the IT team in the UK he asked if I wanted to see the server room – I said “Sure, though I’ve only been in the UK one twice!”. I couldn’t tell you anything technical about it, other than just it was bigger than our room!

We went back down to the room we’d had devotions in and had some Q&A time with a handful of the staff, before leaving gifts with them, and saying our goodbyes.

We headed back to the place we’d been the day before and joined the LDP students for lunch again. This time I sat with Janat, Lillian (whose birthday it was, so we got the whole room to sing to her 🙂 ), Regina, and Paul. We talked about football a lot – the international language, unless you’re American, I think the American guy on my table may have felt left out! The guys on my table were Arsenal and Man Utd fans… shame! Janat asked if I was married, I said I wasn’t, and she said I was getting old not to be married… how things are different over here! We then got into conversation about bride prices – they were surprised it’s not something we do. For them it can be the difference between their boyfriend being able to afford to marry them or not. I said all they have to do in the UK is to afford a shiny ring!

After lunch we had some worship time, hardly describable, and heard testimony from a young lady called Hope. Hope had been on the LDP programme but hadn’t satisfied the criteria to graduate. However, Compassion had allowed her to attend this week of workshops, and she still intended to be a student leader and was already volunteering in her local Compassion project. She was already sponsoring a child, wants to advocate for the children, she was incredible.

There was more shared and I just wrote down some bits (credit given where I caught their name):

  • “The world is ready and waiting for us, and we are ready and waiting for it”
  • “The antidote for 50 enemies is one friend”
  • “We shall work to change the world, to change Uganda” – Moses
  • “In the world of economics, the donor loses value. In the world of Compassion, everything gains value” – Jarvis
  • “What God’s done in the past He will continue to do. He is faithful”
  • “Find a problem in your community, or the world, and apply your God given gifts to it”
  • “Graduation isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning.”

After this we went outside for a class photo in their gowns, and lots of other small group photos etc. I got to use this time to meet some of those sponsored by UK sponsored and trying to get short interviews with them to take back with me!

Yet more worship time followed, it really was like a party with clapping, singing, stamping and a conga line of patio chairs lifted above their heads! A glimpse of heaven really. One of the guys in my group commented that that worship was far more like what heaven will be like that our more reserved churches back home, and I think he’s right! Even the mellow songs were the most beautiful blend of voices.

This was followed by the foot washing ceremony. I knew this was coming, but I don’t think I realised how special it would be. About 30 westerners queueing to wash the feet of about 130 students. We knelt down, washed and dried their feet, and then prayed for them, before rejoining the line to do it all over again. I was privileged to wash the feet of Grace, Winnie, Michael, and one other who’s name I couldn’t remember by the time I came to write my diary in the evening. Grace was particularly overcome with emotion so after hers I took her back to her seat rather than rejoining the queue and sat and held her for a while.

These guys really are inspirational.

Once it was over I went and sat on the floor while we sang some more. I had my second cry of the week at this point, (I think several of us did!) – and was comforted by a lovely lady called Cassandra (who just turned out to be VP of HR and the keynotes speaker at the graduation!)

These guys are the future. They are going to change Uganda. They are truly incredible!

Once back at the hotel we had dinner in the restaurant so I grabbed some bolognaise, which made 3 decent meals in a day!

I was blown away how much God was looking after me, it shouldn’t really have surprised me! But I never expected to handle it that well anxiety wise, I was truly being held safe in his hands.