Sun, rain and smiling faces!

A couple of weeks ago I had the joy of being able to stop off in Uganda on route to my sister’s wedding in South Africa.

My visit to Uganda was split in two between Sarah in Jinja and Pencott School in Mbale. I was so grateful to be able to catch up with Sarah and it seemed to be very timely. We chatted about where things are currently at and discussed some next steps. It is so evident to me that her time in Uganda has been a life transforming experience. It has not been easy working in under resourced children’s hospitals under a constant demand from children on the brink of death, often due to preventable diseases. Sarah’s experience of working in a different culture, amid these challenging circumstances is an important ingredient in her future work with Operation Orphan.

I said goodbye to Sarah and continued my journey north to Nabigyo, Mbale. As I travelled I remembered my first journey to Mbale and my first meeting with Philip and Margaret. Even at that early stage I remember understanding that here was a couple with a passion to make a difference in their community. It was on this first trip that I saw the school and met the staff and children. Infrastructure at the school was basic, resources were limited but what was evident, and still is today, was that the children were happy and the children were learning. Seeing how the school has developed is wonderful and this is thanks to the long term support of a number of schools, churches, teachers and individuals here in the UK. The ground floor of the new classroom block is complete and in use and the latest staff accommodation block is nearly complete. Philip told me the amazing story behind this accommodation block – the parents of the fee paying children clubbed together to get it built. Their motivation was to find ways of keeping the teaching staff more consistent. Over the years Operation Orphan has increased the monthly contribution to salaries but the cost of living is rising rapidly. Wages are critical in keeping staff and this is probably the greatest challenge the school faces.

On a very positive note, meeting the older children who started at the school in nursery was a joy and privilege. They were taking extra classes at the end of the day as their final exams are coming up soon. Apollo, the head teacher, said their mock results were very good and hopefully they should all pass. More than half the children coming to the school can’t afford the fees and would not be where they are today if it had not been for the opportunity provided to them through Pencott. This was brought into stark reality as, later on that morning I saw children from other schools walking home, turned away from school as they had not paid their fees.

As a continuation of our de-worming programme, I have purchased a year’s supply of medicine and was able to treat the new children at school straight away. A number of the children had clear signs of worms, so it was good to be able to do something about this. It was also really encouraging to see that the children treated 4 months ago show no more signs. Eradicating worms is vital in keeping the children healthy but on a practical note, it also reduces the food bills, as children’s appetites increase dramatically when they are infected.

I also saw that the school is still engaged in growing crops on the land and the staff are using the resources the UK teachers brought out in February. Both these are very encouraging for us as we look at introducing sustainable solutions for the school.

Infrastructure needs at the school include:

  1. A new toilet block

  2. Completion of the first floor of the new classroom block

  3. Completion of the veranda on the single story classroom block

  4. Painting and general maintenance

The moment I will cherish from my visit was definitely laughing with the children in the African sun one minute and the next cowering under cover from the tropical rain shower as it deafens everyone hitting the tin roof. A beautiful moment.

Thank you to everyone who is part of this humble yet effective work in Mbale you are truly making a tangible and lasting difference.