Uganda 2016 – Report from the group who travelled.
The video that accompanies this post details the full journey with songs that we listened to whilst we were over in Uganda and that are memorable to us. We hope it gives you some sense of the immersion programme and what life in Africa is really like.
In March, 27 students from TY and 5th Year recently travelled to Uganda with Aidlink, an Irish water based charity, to participate in an Immersion programme. Immersion involves really getting to experience the day-to-day life in another country. This unique programme allowed us students from the developed world, an opportunity to be immersed in the every daily life of our host communities in the developing world. We got to experience what it is like to be a young person attending an African school. We got to live the culture, the customs, witness the problems and were awarded the opportunity to interact with local people in a very authentic and real way. We got to see the real Africa, as equals, alongside our peers. This was not a ten day action based project. We were not going over there to tell them how to live their lives; that our way is better. We went to learn and for them to learn from us.
Throughout our stay, we visited multiple communites. We went to a local primary school in Kampala that has benefited from Aidlink support and saw the benefits and improvements that having access to clean water and sanitary conditions brings. At the primary school we were received in an unbelievable fashion. The students were extremely warm and welcoming and put on a stunning performance demonstrating song, dance and culture. The children, aged between 5 and 12 were very forthcoming and friendly and were clearly very excited to see white people at their school. They were completely amazed by us and were constantly by our sides. After we had been received, the children taught us how to construct tipi-taps and draining boards. These were water utensils that helped to improve sanitation and hygiene around the school. These inventions were very inventive and proved the ingenuity of the local people. We had such a brilliant experience with these schoolchildren and I think every one of us learned something from them. Later we played the school in football and volleyball, we lost both games.
We were invited into the house of a family who have received training in farming and saw how a little help in the right direction and how learning from one another, they became self-sufficient. We visited an elderly lady who, through financial support, now has access to clean water.
Over the course of the ten days we were there, it became apparent that water really is everything. On international water day, we were invited to a second primary school. They didn’t have access to clean water. Instead, young girls were sent multiple times a day to walk about 2km to collect water in yellow jerry cans and carry it back to the school. They had to walk through a forest – alone, unsupervised – to a stream and carry ten litres of water back to the school. It was more like mud. On this day, we walked with the school children, in solidarity, as equals. Having 35 white people from Europe attracted much attention and put pressure on the local government to send a representative to the school when they realised we were coming. In the end, a promise was made to the school and local community that funding would be made available to construct a well. When students are sent to collect water, it is mainly girls. We were told of horrible things that have happened to the girls when they are sent to collect the water. They also miss out on class time and fall behind. Often, their parents remove them from school as there seems to be little point in educating them if they are not getting good grades.
The second part of our visit was spent in Archibishop Kiwanuka Secondary School. We were divided up and two of us were put into classes in 2nd Year right up to 6th Year. Some of the classes had almost one hundred students. This is normal. However, the older year groups were much smaller as students were often taken out of school. The school was a mix of day scholars and boarders. It was really a unique opportunity to see how these teenagers live in contrast to our lives here in Ireland. They made every one of us feel welcome and accepted. What was interesting was that we learnt the same stuff just in very different ways. Saying goodbye was truly a difficult task. It’s impossible to imagine the bonds we would create with these people in such a short space of time. From winning them in football – something that rarely ever happens – to sharing stories about our own lives, we truly gained knowledge and an understanding about what an immersion project entails.
The longer we were there, the more obvious the problems became. However despite the difficulties people in Uganda face on a daily basis, the entire group of us from St Joseph’s were overwhelmed, shocked and even upset at the sheer happiness of every single person we met. There was no complaining, no jealousy, no bitterness, no anger. Just happiness; everywhere we went. We were made feel so welcome.
It took a lot of work for this project to happen and we’d like to thank everyone in the room here today who helped make it a possibility. Aidlink works with a number of charities on the ground over in Uganda. We met officials from two of them – VAD and Maddo – and saw the benefits of the work they do. Last year, when we started fundraising in March 2015, we decided to set ourselves a separate target of being able to donate €20,000 in cash to Aidlink. However, as a result of the very generous support we received during our campaign, we exceeded this target and actually raised €32,996 in cash for Aidlink, who will continue with their water improvement mission in Uganda. Because we exceeded our target, we are able to do a lot more – a new Primary School will be taken on by VAD and Aidlink under the name of our school, St Joseph’s. €8,500 will be used to construct toilet facilities called latrines, handwashing facilities and to introduce a wash training programme in a school that currently doesn’t have any access to these items that we often take for granted. This is something that our whole school community should feel proud of. €2,000 will be donated to the Secondary School we spent most of our time in, Archbishop Kiwanuka Secondary School. €3,500 will be spent protecting 3 wells and training three water user committees in Kampala. The remainder of the money will be used by Aidlink, in conjunction with VAD and Maddo, to construct shallow wells for communities in Masaka, Wakiso and Kibaale,to improve water and sanitation for 30 primary schools that are targeted by the charities and to train 200 farming households on sustainable agriculture. When we were there, we saw how simple measures to do with farming and water can make an enormous difference to the day-to-day lives of so many. Thank you again for all the support we received.