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 – LDP Seminars

10 11 2013

We spent three days on the trip with this years graduating class (123 students) of Leadership Development Program (LDP) Students. These are young men and women who have been sponsored as children, completed the program, excelled academically and shown leadership potential. These outstanding students are then sponsored through their university course (at a higher monthly rate of course!) while simultaneously studying on the leadership course, to become exceptional leaders within their professions. [Taken from my overview post]

On the Wednesday afternoon we had been asked to run seminars with the students, so after breakfast we got into groups to prepare. My group was doing “Finding a job and keeping a job”. Fortunately there were some bolder people than myself in my group, so I didn’t have to speak (fear of public speaking still as strong as ever!). Mid morning we headed across the city and were there by about lunchtime.

We sat in on the end of their morning session where they were talking about CVs and interviews. One of the questions that was asked was “Should you put your tribe on your CV?”. They discussed this for a while, how if you don’t have a surname you might use it, but if you might be judged for it, you can leave it off. It was just surprising to me as it’s the sort of thing that of course would never even come up in the UK! They also talked about skills in Access, Excel, about companies like PWC and Deloitte – for those few minutes you could have been back in the UK! Some of the careers advice was exactly what we learnt at school – don’t list weak hobbies, focus on your Higher Education and A and O Levels. For an interview you need to be knowledgeable about 4 things: yourself, the job, the organisation, and the market the organisation is working within. “Lack of information is the first source of lack of confidence.” If I was job hunting this is some of the best advice I could have got!

We broke for lunch and sat among the students, I sat with Carolyn & Tyler from Florida, and were joined by students Busco, Moses, Emmanuel and Sarah, it was lots of fun! Lunch was liver and rice (I was ridiculously proud of myself for willingly eating liver, but the other option was fish, and I was avoiding that all week!). After lunch there was a short worship time, but you could have been forgiven to think it was a party going on! Africans know how to worship with passion!

In our afternoon session we had 22 students in our group, I didn’t take notes or photos as it seemed rude, but I did scribble 2 things down:

  • On the way to work, pray: “How can I glorify You, and bless the people I work with today?” – even if it’s not where you want to be.
  • You can’t say “I can’t handle this”. You’re an adult, it’s your job to handle it.

Eighteen of the graduates were sponsored through the Compassion UK office, and I’d been asked, if possible, to get short video interviews with them. That afternoon I managed to find one of them, a young lady called Edith who was so full of joy and enthusiasm managed to fill 20minutes of video time while I started to panic about my bus leaving without me! She was amazing, she told me how she would like to be a Reverend, and then go on to be an MP! (not unrealistic!) It turned out later in the week that Edith was awarded as one of the ten “Outstanding” students in her class, and no wonder!

We stopped for dinner on the way back to the hotel at a place called Cafe Javas, which was fairly westernised, and the excitement when we found out they had a proper flushing toilet with a seat, well, we could hardly contain ourselves! Ironically I did try new food here, but it was Mexican food…! I had chicken and cheese Quesadilla – very nice!

By this point in the week I was already realising how we weren’t seeing the poverty in Uganda, but were seeing the happy stuff. The happy, joyful, well looked after children on the Tuesday, the smart, young professionals today. We were seeing the benefits of Compassion sponsorship.

But at the same time, I was being reminded that even in the nicest parts of the country, you’re still in Uganda. In our very nice, safe hotel that we stayed in (metal detectors at the entrance to grounds and buildings, and armed guards at the gates), my shower wasn’t really working beyond a dribble, and this was the morning that my tap ran yellow water – that’d be why you brush your teeth with bottled water only!