I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have had to stay in Uganda and visit the IRFF projects which The Tricycle Shop has contributed to supporting. I found the two weeks incredibly inspiring and have come back to England re-energised and determined to make as much money as I can to help fund these worthwhile projects! I have already had an opportunity to feedback my experiences to the volunteers in the shop and they are also feeling freshly inspired.
Robert and Agnes Mwogeza welcomed me into their home and looked after me as one of the family throughout my stay. I was impressed by all that Robert is doing in the community from looking after local children to mentoring the youth.
My first visit to an IRFF project was to Destiny School. I was privileged to meet Jessica who began the school with the help of IRFF. Jessica showed me the well that has been built and provides clean water for the children and others in the community. It also provides water to irrigate the plants that the school is growing. I was very impressed to see the amount of fruit and vegetables growing throughout the site. This was providing good nutrition for the children as well as teaching them about sustainable agriculture. Jessica showed me the chickens provided by IRFF and I was able to see how the money provided by selling the eggs had provided the funds to begin the building of a room for teacher’s accommodation. The brick work has almost been finished but it still needs a roof, windows and door.
The classrooms themselves, while basic to our standards, were well furnished with benches and blackboards and full of colourful work that the children had completed. It was good to see the kitchen that has been built and the excellent stove that must make cooking for the children so much easier and more fuel efficient. I was shown the teacher’s office, which contained some books and teaching aids but is still clearly in need of more, particularly with regard to teaching reading and writing. These sort of resources are something that can be collected by The Tricycle Shop and sent over to Uganda if and when a representative from IRFF travels there. Another need that was identified was for a photocopier. This would make the teachers job a lot easier as they could photocopy pages from books or worksheets that they have made for the children to use rather them requiring them to copy of the blackboard. A computer would also be useful for teachers to use to write up reports and also to begin to teach the children basic computer skills.
Although the school was not open as it was school holidays, I was very impressed by Jessica’s enthusiasm and everything I saw at the school. I was told how useful the child and teacher sponsorship money has been in ensuring that the children are provided with a good meal every day and in providing salaries for some of the teachers. More sponsorship is needed and I am hoping that through my talks in the shop and locally we may be able to get more people to sign up to this scheme.
The main need now is to extend the school to enable the teaching to continue to P5, 6 and 7. At present there is only enough room to accommodate pupils up to P4. The plan is to initially build three new classrooms and a new toilet block with the aim of further building including a medical centre and more classrooms in the future. I was able to see the land that has been purchased in order to complete this work. The land has been levelled and bricks are being made from the removed clay to be used in the buildings. There were volunteers making bricks on both days I visited, so it is really good to see that work is already under way. Although all the bricks can be made on site, funding is required for cement, doors, windows, roofs and furniture for the classrooms. It is thought that the approximate cost of building one classroom will be between £1000 and £1300. I was also able to pick up an architect’s sketch of the proposed building to bring back to the IRFF trustees. I was honoured to lay the foundation stone for the new building. It was a lovely ceremony attended by Jessica and some of the school’s pupils, who came in especially for the occasion. The children brought bricks up to the spot where the building will be built and then I made a speech on behalf of IRFF, before laying the stone. I hope it will be the start of a successful building project and the day certainly left me feeling very connected to the school, which I’m sure in Jessica’s hands and with IRFF’s support will go from strength to strength.
The Jiggers Project
I was fortunate to be able to travel with the IRFF team to the east of the country to observe the mobile medical team in action removing jiggers and educating the local people in rural communities. We stayed at Kigulu Prime Academy and met the headmaster of the school Paul. Again I was able to see the great work that IRFF has done in this school including removing the jiggers from the children’s feet, plastering the walls and providing the school with a computer and photocopier. Paul joined us when we went into the rural communities nearby. We met a local man called George Wilson, who was finding it hard to walk and use his hands due to a terrible infestation of jiggers. He had dozens of jiggers in his fingertips, toes and even his elbows which were removed by the team. Seeing the conditions where George lived it was easy to understand how he had come to have such a problem. His house had a dirt floor and he slept on the floor in the dust with no mattress. There was no window or door to his house and he only survived by the kind donations of food by his neighbours. To concrete the floor of his house, plaster the walls and put in a proper window and door it would cost approximately £400. The second sufferer I met lived in even worse conditions. His house was a lean to of corrugated iron with the jungle growing right up to the walls. He was extremely vulnerable to snakes and other insects in the jungle. The volunteers cut back the vegetation around his house to make it more habitable and removed the jiggers from his feet. It was humbling to see the care given to these people who were clearly in so much discomfort. The team had planned on treating some of the local children that day but unfortunately they had run away when they had heard the team were coming, afraid of what would happen! The team have since returned to the area and successfully treated the children.
I was very moved by a trip we made to Masaka prison. The prison, which housed 800 inmates was clearly overcrowded and while the prison officers were doing the best they could there was not enough support from the government to provide adequate food, water and hygiene. I was told that once sent to the prison many of the inmates are abandoned by their families and community and have to rely on the one meal of porridge a day provided by the prison. The conditions are poor and basics such as soap and razor blades are in short supply. Over 300 of the inmates have HIV and although they are given the drugs they need, the extremely restricted diet provides little nutrition and does not help their condition. There is very little in the way of recreation due to a lack of resources. Many inmates lose all hope. In the ladies wing things are in many ways even more difficult. There are around 60 ladies at present, 3 of which are pregnant and there are 5 babies on the wing. There is no special provision made for the babies. If mothers are HIV positive they cannot breastfeed but no milk is provided. There is nowhere safe for the babies to play. Most of the women just have the prison dresses provided to wear and lack underwear and bras. When they are menstruating no sanitary pads are provided. All this makes living conditions in the prison very difficult. Often when the ladies are released from prison they are released with nothing and have nothing to wear but the prison uniform dress.
The WAIT team visited the prison with a message of hope. The inmates were given education about health and hygiene and the ladies about menstruation and fertility. They were engaged and inspired through music and dance and I witnessed hopeless and down trodden men and women laugh and smile and look hopeful again. Just knowing that there were people who cared for them and had not given up on them made a huge difference to these people. This visit really illustrated the ‘relief and friendship’ shown by IRFF as this was given to the people who needed it the most. We were able to give the women bras that had been collected at The Tricycle shop and also provided them with knickers and sanitary pads. The prison officers were extremely grateful for the continued support of IRFF and WAIT.
The Girl Child Project
During my stay in Uganda I met Florence, the director of the Girl Child project and was told about the brilliant work they are doing supporting and educating as many young girls and women as possible with regard to their menstruation. I saw the education in action at Masaka prison and was amazed at the lack of knowledge the women have and how grateful they were for the information. Girl Child’s current aim is to provide sanitary packs to as many girls as possible. The sanitary packs will include special pads that have been designed to be reusable and can last for up to 6 months. These can be made by local women, all they need is a sewing machine and materials. Extra pads made can be sold to make money for the project. It is hoped that the sanitary pack could include 4 reusable pads, 6 pairs of pants, a bar of soap, a razor, a mirror, nail scissors, pain killers and wet wipes. It is estimated that it would cost approximately £10 to put a pack together.
While in Uganda I visited Butale School, near Masaka. I found the headmaster of the school, Francis, to be a very inspiring man, who is working hard to improve conditions in his school and for the whole community. He told me about the difference that had been made to the children in the school by IRFF’s visit to remove jiggers from the feet of the children. I was also shown the new latrine block that IRFF had built following the collapse of their previous one. Most excitingly I was able to see the new bore hole that has been built to provide accessible and clean water for the children at the school and the local community.
Lack of safe drinking water has been a major problem for the school. The nearest water for the community was a long walk away through rural land. We walked the distance from the school to the water and experienced a difficult 30 minute walk there and back in the heat. In Uganda it is generally the children who are expected to collect the water and this is a task that must be completed twice a day. The children therefore were having to get up early in the morning to collect the water before attending school and then repeat the long walk in the evening after school. Francis was finding that the children’s ability to concentrate at school was being affected by the tiredness caused by this daily chore. In addition to this, it was often dark by the time the children returned and girls were being attacked and raped. The £3000 raised by IRFF for the installation of a new bore hole at the school has provided safe and accessible drinking water for the whole community. Not only will this improve the health, safety and education of the children it will also allow the irrigation of crops at the school providing nutritious meals for the children. Extra food grown will be sold to provide funds for the school and children will be taught about sustainable agriculture. Water from the borehole can also be used to keep the classroom floors clean to prevent jiggers. It was clear that the building of the borehole would never have been possible without the support of IRFF and hundreds of lives have been improved because of it. On the day that I visited the school the engineers had hit water at the bottom of the well and were just starting to insert the pipework to draw up the water, so it was very near completion. Francis expressed his heartfelt thanks to IRFF for making this possible.
Kibiri Community Organisation
During my stay in Uganda I attended a meeting of a community based organisation, of which Robert’s wife Agnes is a member. They are supporting each other to improve the lives of those in their community. There are 35 members in the group, which has been running since 2013. Each member pays a small amount of money to the group each week which is saved and used to provide loans to those in need and to improve conditions in the community. For example, the group were able to buy chairs, tables and crockery which they are now able to hire out to make money. Many of the ladies in the group look after the local orphans in their homes and money is given to them to help them do this. In the future they would like to build their own building to serve as an orphanage. Every member of the group contributes in some way to the fundraising. Some ladies make things to sell for example bags, bowls and mats. Others have taken up poultry farming or mushroom farming and the group owns a cow which produces milk that can be sold. It is really inspiring the hard work the women are doing for the community without much gain for themselves and everyone was contributing what they could using the skills that they had. They were selling bowls for £2, handbags for £12, purses for £3 and mats for £3. I bought as much as I could put in my suitcase to bring back and sell in the shop and they are already selling well! If they continue to do well it may be something that people could bring back with them from Uganda when they visit to sell in the shop.
Young Person Mentoring Scheme
I found Robert to be an excellent role model for young people in the community. On one evening we were visited by some of the young people who are mentored by Robert. They were all in their twenties and had set up small entrepreneurial business’s to support themselves and their families and improve conditions in their communities. Robert aims to give them confidence and a belief in themselves as well as providing training and business skills. I was struck by their determination and ambition. One was training to be a teacher, another was setting up his own banana plantation, one wanted to open her own clothes shop and another had set up a chicken farm. I was also shown the building at the front of the house where Robert intends to put an IRFF office, a hairdressing salon and a tailoring workshop. This is still to be completed but will provide more jobs for local people.
Overall I was very impressed by all the work being done by IRFF in Uganda and feel that the projects are having a hugely positive impact on the lives of many of the poorest people in the country.