Uganda – Sponsor Day

23 12 2013

It’s been a busy month, coming to the end of these blogs now, I’ll try to finish them before the end of the year – here’s the Saturday!

For the sponsors on this trip, this really was the big day of the week – the day they met their sponsored children. Some of them met one, some met two or even more. Some had met before, for some it was the first time. For some of them their child was about to finish the programme, and so for them it may be the last time.

We got on the bus and headed to the amusement park. This wasn’t any Thorpe Park, but a small, slightly run down ground with dodgems, a couple of water slides, a pirate ship, teacups, and a few other little rides, along with face painting and other fun little things, and everything painted in bright, happy colours!

As we drove up to the park entrance there was a line of children, all singing and dancing, with their project workers who’d travelled with them from all over the country stood behind them. We parked up, got out and enjoyed the entertainment. Then joined in as they sang songs we knew.

Then it got emotional! With the children in their line, the sponsors formed a line opposite, and one by one, Lillian read out names and the sponsor and child would run into the middle, hug, and cry! As I wasn’t meeting my child that day, I borrowed one of the sponsors’ nice cameras and took photos at rapid speed as they spun around! Once we’d gone through a few though, I got pretty upset. I wanted to see my little boy who’s in Tanzania. I kept taking photos, even though there were tears running down my cheeks!

On the Tuesday we had been to Prisca’s home, who was sponsored by Patricia from our group, and so she was there again that day, and what’s more, her project worker Robinah remembered me from when we had visited on the Tuesday, saw me upset, took my hand, and took me over to the three of them. Patti asked what was wrong and I said “I’m just being selfish and jealous, don’t worry!” They let me hang out with them, but I knew it was their time, so once I’d sorted myself out I left them to it.

We entered the park and each group of sponsor, child(ren) and project worker(s) sat at a table and went through a folder full of all of the information the project holds on the children. School information, health information, all sorts! So lots of time was spent leafing through them, and chatting, getting to know one another. I went round taking a few photos while they did this, (and met a stunning stray kitten), and then went to sit with JoAnn and Jennifer, the American staff – they were my “family” for the day!

Everyone headed off to rides and I carried on wandering and taking photos – little did I realise I was getting sunburnt! I saw Jocelyn and her sponsored child were going on the pirate ship and decided to go on with them. This wasn’t quite like a UK theme park ride – the rail we pulled down to keep us in was still nearly a foot from my lap! It was just as scary though, and went on to ages, which her sponsored child did not enjoy at all. Of course, she’d’ve never experienced anything like it before! We just kept telling her it was ok and that it’d be over soon, and eventually it was, but she didn’t feel well and lay down for quite a while afterwards.

We went into a room for lunch in our “families” again, I had chicken, beef and rice 🙂 Then after a couple of children sampled ice cream, we took them back to the hotel on our buses. The kids and project workers came down to the field by the lake, and the sponsors went back to their rooms to collect their bags of gifts. Justus who was one of the kids hung out with me, it was nice to have the company, I think he knew I was alone, it’s amazing how intuitive kids are – plus he had his face painted like batman! He and a couple of other kids had been given cameras for the day so I also got him to take a photo on mine 🙂 I also had a lovely chat with one of the project workers who actually happened to be the church leader, Pastor Samuel.

The goodbyes were tough on the sponsors. I had a packet of tissues in my bag so just went round handing them out as needed, along with occasional hugs etc. When Prisca got on the bus I just took Patti’s hand, she’d had the privilege of seeing her child twice that week, had spent much more time with her, and so I guess the goodbye was a little tougher.

This day was particularly difficult because I didn’t get to say hello to my sponsored child, Hamad, in the morning. But it did mean I didn’t have to say goodbye at the end.

We went to the hotel restaurant for dinner and as it was the last night I decided it was safe to sample the Asian menu! The hotel was owned by Indians, so I ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala and it was fantastic! 🙂 I decided to only have half as it was so rich, and I’d had so much plain food all week, I didn’t want to make myself sick! That said, to get to the point where I was choosing not to eat where I would have expected to struggle to eat, this was a great step forward!

We had a debrief and a group photo (which I need to find actually!), packed and went to bed.

That night I wrote in my diary:

“I never thought I’d get to the point where I didn’t want to leave this place, but it’s happened. I’ve had the most incredible week.
We have seen the end result of Compassion!”

Uganda – Project Day

4 11 2013

Time to start story telling! So far I haven’t put much about what we actually did, so here goes!

On the first full day there, the Tuesday, after a few hours sleep (not many as we’d got in pretty late the night before!), and an interesting breakfast (I don’t think chicken was ever meant to go in sausages!), we filled up a couple of small buses (I’ll tell you about them another time!), and headed out of Kampala for the only time that week.

I’d heard that the welcome at the projects was a big deal, but I never expected anything like this. We parked down the road, and there was this noise coming from a distance. We opened the door to the bus and could just hear screams! The sort of noise you’d hear at a red carpet film première – utter madness, I kind of thought, “well that can’t be for us” but it was. As we walked down the road we could see the crowds of children and grown ups waiting for us, who knows how long they’d been waiting patiently. We got closer and a group of girls came towards us in a dance and hugged each of us. Once we passed them we arrived in a sea of children and grown ups, hugging as many as was physically possible – so special.

We gradually moved towards the main church building – building might be a bit of a stretch, the entire thing was made of sticks, though it seemed structurally sound and was large, but definitely not watertight. We danced and we walked, and at pretty much all times one child or another was holding each of my hands. The boy on my left held tight the whole time. We entered the church and as sponsors we were ushered to the front, but then mixed with all the grown ups and kids, and who should come and sit on my left but the little boy from earlier in his orange uniform. Some of the girls from the project danced on stage for us, and when they were done came and sat among us too. One of them took a spot on my lap – she was adorable, she kept pulling at the hairs on my arms and giggling, I guess they’re paler than she’s used too! And the hair tie on my wrist she kept fiddling with too. I asked both these children their names, but didn’t catch either of them, which I massively regret. I know I’ll never forget them, and God knows their names, but I so wish I did.

So I’ve mentioned “children and grown ups” a few times now. This wasn’t just a child sponsorship project, it also contained a child survival program (CSP), this means that they look after babies and their caregivers, and also pregnant mums. So in the church building we had mums, dads, babies, and children of all ages – quite a crowd! We worshipped with them, some of the mums and one grandmother shared a bit of their stories and how the project helps them. After this there was more dancing, and we sponsors we invited (the sort of invite you don’t refuse) to join the dancing on the stage, it was a lot of fun, the girls each took jumpers from around their waists and put them around ours. And then we introduced ourselves, asked to say our name, where we were from, and how many children we had… some people were listing grandchildren and great grandchildren! And two of the sponsors had their kids with them, well, not kids, they were 20 and 21, but it was great for the CSP mums to see the future as it were for them!

Gosh this is getting long already, sorry!

They gave us snacks of biscuits water, and then we divided into three groups to go visit some homes. One of the sponsors in the group sponsored a girl called Prisca in the project we visited. Patti only found out that morning that the project we were visiting had her in it, let alone that later that day she would be able to visit her home and meet her mother! I was privileged to be part of that group. Prisca’s home was made of brick, and had been funded by Compassion as previously she hadn’t had a home. we went and sat in the first room, the front door was just a curtain, and we were joined by several small children, some were her siblings, others were just kids from the neighbourhood who were here to see what was going on! We heard what a normal day was like for them, we heard how when they go to get water, the walk is 2 miles (so about 40 minutes at a normal pace, probably more with a heavy load of water), and this is a trip they have to do 4 times a day. That was a shocker, that’s hours and hours just to have something to drink, to wash with. Insane.

We saw the bedroom, 3 beds for 7 people (the mother Margaret, her teenage son Andrew, her baby daughter Jemima, Prisca, and 3 other children). There was a mosquito net over Prisca’s bed, and in the corner we saw a Water of Life filter which was great to see! The wash and toilet “rooms” made out of corrugated iron and wood were not so positive, but this is the reality of life there. We met Prisca’s pig which she’d bought with a gift from her sponsor, and we helped to prepare dinner. A few of us shelled beans and fed the pods to the pig, and others washed clothes and prepared plantain. It felt like hardly anything, just one evening of help, but when we left (with a gift of vegetables from them!) we knew that at least Compassion stays, Compassion cares for them.

We headed back to the project and saw more of the CSP project. How the men were learning woodwork skills and saw some of the furniture they’d made, and the crafts the women were learning, from jewellry making, and hair braiding, to weaving and sewing – skills that will generate an income for them and their children. Alongside this they are taught how to look after their children well. We each took a mum and served them lunch (this was 5pm!) – I met Rebecca, who had the tiniest little girl held against her; Alex was 3 weeks old! I have no idea how old Rebecca is, but she was amazing, cheerful, and so friendly! We served them beans, fish (eyes, scales and all!) and rice, and then went to eat our lunch of rice, noodles and beef, there was also the mashed plantain available.

After some play time we all got in a group and we left our gifts with them, piled them in the middle of the circle, and we prayed with those sat closest to us. This is when I started to feel my chin wobble… The pastor of the church gave us each a scarf made by the CSP mums as a gift, (mine just happened to be the exact same colours as the 2 bracelets I’d bought from the mums earlier that day!), and then I started to cry. One girl took my hand and hugged me, I didn’t realise ’til later because she’d got changed (into a uniform with a torn seam, I just wanted a needle and thread to sew it up for her), but this was the girl who had sat on my lap that morning, had kept poking me and giggling naughtily all day, and had barely left me. She was there when I needed her, and I never even knew her name. Such a beautiful young girl. The children looked quite concerned and hugged me, and I tried to explain (through the sobs) that I was ok, I was just sad to leave them all. I did NOT want to get back on that bus. But I did – and with a few more minutes before we left I found a bottle of bubble mixture and blew them out the window which they loved! (I was still crying, I did for a while after we left too!)

Once I’d calmed down I managed to doze off on the bus, and the next thing I know we’re sat still, I assume in traffic, but then realise there’s a big white wall behind us and people are getting off the bus. We were at a “gas station” (I was with American’s, had to get with the lingo!) in the middle of Kampala with a puncture. Patrick our driver was a superhero in sorting it while we all just stood around, but it was a great time to see a bit of regular Kampala life. While we were stood there a few guys pulled up on motor bikes and parked round one of the pumps, they got out a massive watermelon, and with a massive knife(!) chopped bits off for a snack. They then left the knife casually in the watermelon while wandering around a bit and going back for seconds – so so different to anything that would ever happen in the UK! Eventually we got back on the bus and after sitting in pretty bad traffic, got back to the hotel. It was far too late for dinner, (plus we’d had lunch at tea time!) so we all just had dessert at 10pm.

Several years ago I heard a quote which came back to me that evening: “You never know how much you love someone ’til you can’t face saying goodbye.”