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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4

Uganda - the last few days!

Wednesday 26th Oct

This morning we join the Nursery children's assembly, repeating the "I am Special" song. Even these tiny tots sing their hearts out, led by a group of 5 children on a microphone passed along the line. One of the main school staff accompanies the children on an electric keyboard with wires trailing across the wet grass (no elfin safety here!) They must be able to hear us half way down the town!

The training has now been finished so Rosey and I can spend some time visiting the classrooms. It takes a while as the school has even more classrooms this year. One of the "problems" is the growing popularity of the school, mainly due to the great results the children achieve (Last year's P7 children scored the highest in the country in their Primary Leaver Exams). Three children from Kampala are now boarding at St Paul's! This has meant that class sizes have increased to the high 40's; large numbers by UK standards but Ugandan government schools can have up to 150 in a class, so this is not such a worry to the staff here! The children are so excited to see us, especially the Nursery children, some of whom have never come across a "Musungoo" (white person) before! The classrooms are looking smart, as is the girl's boarding house. The boy's boarding houses are looking a bit jaded as they were the very first to be decorated - anyone up for a decorating team next year? We then call out children whose sponsors have sent out gifts with us; they are so excited to receive these special messages (especially Denis with his Arsenal shirt!)

We join the children at break for fresh rolls again - there is a baker now on site who bakes 1000 rolls per day for the children and staff; selling off what is left at the end of the day. Today we have a hard boiled egg as well; the school commits to giving the children at least one egg each per week. They also have meat twice a week for lunch! Beans provide the protein for the rest of the week!

After break the the whole of the team, together with Martin and Shivan, the Social workers, and Moses, set off to visit one of the Community Groups. Martin and Shivan are responsible for the care and welfare of the Scholarship children and their families. Some of these families are very poor, some of the guardians are in poor health and many have not had any formal education themselves. To help with these circumstances, Martin and Shivan have gathered the families into 6 Community groups, centred around a village church, and have appointed group leaders from among the parents/guardians. Local Pastors provide spiritual help and guidance and the Social Workers look after the welfare of the group, but mostly, the groups are self supporting. "Together stronger" really does apply here as the members of the group help one another in many ways. Each of the groups has now set up a small Savings Scheme and every member is encouraged to save a little each week so that if they are sick and cannot work, they can borrow from the scheme. The group we visit has prepared hard boiled eggs, ground nuts, cassava, sugar cane and passion fruit juice for us. After we share this snack in the Pastor's house we move into the church, a large traditional type building with ceramic floor tiles in the front half of the church, mud floor at the back ("the rest is coming", they inform us!), wooden pews and windows with no glass! Moses and the Pastor share an encouraging message and Martin explains how the group works, then the group bring a greeting song and dance. An elderly lady who is part of the group addresses us next. Her grandson was one of the first group of orphans on the Scholarship Project back in 1999 after both his parents died of Aids. He has now graduated from University after winning a scholarship and supports the whole family. She is so thankful that St Paul's helped the family all those years ago that she has continued to help other families in need and is still a member of the community group, giving advice and encouragement where she can. I've met her several times before and remember her grandson and she greets me with a huge hug and big pats on my back. She chats away to me; I haven't got a clue what she's saying, but I feel the love and gratitude. It gives me great hope for the future, that such a difference can be made in just one generation.

We head back to school for lunch (more carbohydrates!), then sit and wait for the children's entertainment. The skies have opened and so we stay in the eating shelter for a short programme with songs from the Project choir, poems, drama and dance. All 3 Gensi siblings are around and have a huge good luck card for the P7 children who will sit their PLE's next week. It is great for these 3 adults to encourage the children with their best wishes. The result of the exams will determine which secondary school will offer the children a place to continue their education and whether the children will qualify for a scholarship, so there is a lot of pressure for these kids.

At long last, we hear that the Education Minister is on his way! We had learned earlier this week that the minister's "junior" retired earlier this year and has not been replaced. The minister has been doing the job of two men and has been very busy, so we had been warned not to be too hopeful of a visit from him. His visit is brief, but he is wonderful. His son actually attends St Paul's Nursery and he loves the creative way that his son is being taught. The minister is very enthusiastic about the research project that Pat is leading and promises that he will be as supportive as possible in the future if the project goes ahead.

The children are released early today as all the staff, Board members and CPA team come together for a communion service. We gather first at the Nursery, then the school entrance, the Head's and Director's office and finally the Boarding Houses to pray for the school and dedicate the work at St Paul's to God. It is pouring with rain and we run between the cover of each station, but there is an immense feeling of hope, love and thankfulness for all that has been achieved in this special place. As we gaze out through the rain across the Rwenzori mountains, I remember that God constantly tells us that this truly is a Beacon School.

Thursday 27th Oct

After dining with Moses and Betty, the Head and his wife and the Social Workers last night, we had an early night as we plan to leave at 7 am today. The bus is packed and on the road just as the sun rises, breaking into a misty morning as we leave Rukungiri. It's only been a few days at the school, but it feels like we've been here a long time. The partnership that CPA has with St Paul's is so strong now that, even though we only meet for a few days each year, the bond is sound and healthy. In Ugandan culture it is customary to provide food and entertainment for guests, but then to leave them to eat and drink alone; it is not polite to join them! We always feel very uncomfortable with this and explain that we want to spend time with our African friends. Thankfully we have come to a happy agreement that we are no longer guests, but family; we now eat together! Progress indeed in Uganda!

The journey goes smoothly with a couple of short comfort breaks before we stop at the Equator for some snacks. We finally reach Kampala at 3 pm; greeted by our hotel like long lost friends and fall into hot showers and onto our comfortable beds for an afternoon rest! Tonight we will visit an international club for a well earned gourmet meal and a bit of R & R.

Friday 28th Oct

After a good night's sleep on a firm mattress and with no creature threats, we pack the bus once more and head off to Caring Hands. This charity was set up by a Finnish missionary in Uganda, who initially gathered HIV+ ladies together to make paper beads. The charity has grown from strength to strength now making home made paper albums, jewellery and baskets and supporting over 148 households. (www.caringhands.fi) We tour the charity's new premises and hear of Milla's big dreams for the future of the now empowered women she works with. Our spare suitcase is quickly filled with bead supplies and other goodies to sell back here in the UK. Our purchases bring tears to Milla's eyes; small amounts for us make such a huge difference in Uganda.

Our journey to Entebbe airport is long and hot! Today is graduation day for many Universities here and is also the Muslim's holy day, so traffic is exceptionally busy. Our plan was to travel early to the airport to avoid the traffic and wait at a nearby hotel but we had hoped to make it a little earlier than 6 pm. Still, we manage to catch a quick visit from Deborah, one of the original children from Komamboga, now a Headteacher of a Nursery School in Entebbe and a mother herself now. Tyndale (named after the great reformer and martyr) is like a grandson to us and he is a bright little boy at 13 months. It's fantastic that Deborah has made such progress since she was abandoned as a child; such a testament to Komamboga Children's Home.

Saturday 29th Oct

Well, that's just about it really. An overnight flight saw us land in Amsterdam early this morning and after a brief stop over a quick hop over the channel brought us to Humberside Airport and a chilly English morning.

Thanks to all who have supported me and covered me with prayer during this trip. Hope to see you at the coming Quiz Night to show you our pictures of the trip.

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If you would like a PDF of the whole of Denise's Uganda blogs (in date order!) we have put one together for download here.

Posted by Denise Niel at 10:37 PM