Mick Lee recently visited one of Restless Development’s (our chosen charity) programmes in Uganda.
Below, Mick pens his trip in detail and boy did he fit a lot in! Read on to hear about some of Restless Development’s fantastic work and how it opened Mick’s eyes to the massive undertaking and truly phenomenally important job they are doing.
Day 1: Dubai
I had immersed myself so much in the in-flight entertainment that I neglected to notice that the plane took off over 40 minutes late, this, of course, has a knock-on at the other end, meaning we missed our connection and had to stay in Dubai for a night.
Whilst not part of the plan, Dubai provided Carrie [Fellow Corporate volunteer from IP Integration] and I some great foundations for our following six days as we were going from one extreme to another.
The lavish city and visual wealth of Dubai which is on view for all to see are both beautifully astounding and somewhat shocking at the same time. Whilst I knew it is something that is the same the world over, seeing both ends of the scale in a short period brought it home to me.
Day 2: Uganda
Up at 05:45 for the next journey, this time on-time and excited to be joining Dom [Restless Development Corporate Partnerships Manager], Keith and Bobby [Corporate volunteers from Virtual 1] for the week. We arrived to a wet and cloudy Uganda and drove to the capital city Kampala.
The drive was colourful and the road lined with people, bodas, livestock and extremely lush countryside with small pockets of villages along the way. Someway along the journey the rain stopped, the sun came out and illustrated colours of red mud and green fields.
It was a whistle-stop at the Bush pig bush packers hostel before we were whisked away by our taxi driver, Godfrey, to watch a local dance troupe. The troupe of 50 dancers, musicians and singers performed traditional dances from all over Uganda. It was a spectacular welcome.
Day 3: Kampala, Restless Development Offices
Up bright and breezy for breakfast to be collected and taken to the offices for an introduction to the Ugandan team. We were introduced to Catherine the Uganda Hub Director, followed by Kaajal, from the Nepal Hub, and Noel the Uganda Hub Finance Manager (to name a few). What struck me was their dazzling smartness, which made me feel like an old scruffy Bear Grylls impersonator. Everyone was incredibly happy to be there, extremely polite, helpful and obviously love what they do.
Everyone in the office introduced themselves and said how long they’d been with Restless Development, some as long as 13 years, which again, shows dedication and love for their job. We ran then training sessions on how to win charity corporate partnerships and the Google Suite.
Carrie and I had our very first Rolex, not the watch, unfortunately, but a tasty pancake filled with an omelette, meat and salad.
We had an early finish as the next day we were off to Jinja to meet some volunteers and see the difference Restless Development is making.
Day 4: Jinja – Kangulumira School, Kayunga District
Once all assembled in Kampala we jumped onto our travel bus and headed off towards Jinja, a 2 hour journey through the forests and villages. The heavy rain created a stunning backdrop of grey, outlining some of the hills in the distance and bringing out the colours of green in the foreground.
Upon arrival, Brenda [Restless Development Programme Manager], who had accompanied us from Kampala, introduced us to the entire team. After a quick coffee and some boiled corn we went with programme staff Oliver and Nora to see a Restless Development International Citizen Service (ICS) program in Kegola school.
When we met the ICS volunteers, they were enthused and raring to go with their energiser and menstruation workshop. We sat amongst the children in the classroom. I found the girls experiences difficult to comprehend, having two daughters myself, until I saw the children perform their short plays about menstruation. I felt quite naïve about the stigma around menstruation and that young girls miss whole weeks of school at a time whilst on their periods.
The workshop was for children between 13 – 19 so there was a wide spread of teenagers in the room, around 50 in total. We were then broken into groups to make reusable sanitary pads, in which I had an all-boys team that were no less engaged than anyone else.
We were grateful to everyone for sharing and widening our understanding of the issues around young girls, their menstruation cycles and the stigma that the Restless team are doing an amazing job of breaking down.
Day 5: Jinja – Nazigo Village and Kitimbwa, Kayunga District
A stunning backdrop of the Nile awaited me this morning, it may have been raining but it did not dampen my spirits, I even managed to see the monkeys rise and play in the trees just behind our tents.
We were out on the bumpy red road by 08:45 to visit the ICS program again and observe a liquid soap making workshop. There were at least 60 people from the surrounding villages taking part, all mustered with their pens to take note of the instructions.
The liquid soap can be kept for up to six months and used in a variety of ways from the body to home. The key element is that families are able to sell the soap they make for a profit of around 53,000 Ugandan Shillings on 20 litres of liquid soap, no small amount of money and something that can keep an average sized family of 4-5 going for over a week. 40 litres doubles the profit and is a huge boost in income to the families that were able to get involved. After the demonstration, the soap was distributed to the attendees.
On finishing the workshop we headed to another ICS project, a sports day. The attendance was large and enthusiastic. The main events were football and netball with some focus sessions on menstruation, cleaning and hygiene and a further session on basic first aid.
When I was given an insight into the difficulties that families endure when sending their children to school I found the figures quite stunning. On average, a family in rural communities have 5 children to look after and earn around 10-20,000 UGS per week.
One school term can cost between 600,000 – 1,000,000 UGS per child.
It is law that children go to school until they are 18 but it is virtually impossible to police as many parents simply cannot afford to send their children. I met one such family whereby Joseph, the son, was craving learning from the ICS skills workshops so that he could put them to use and create an income for his family.
Day 6: Jinja, Mayuge District
Today was the day I’d been both most looking forward to and most anxious about. Today was about seeing, in my mind, Restless at it’s best and most potent, reaching into the community and carrying out valued work where it was most needed and treasured. For me, today was about seeing the unrestricted donations and corporate sponsorship put to use.
We arrived at Kyebando school and were greeted by the deputy headmaster, the patrons and our amazing host for the day Oliva Nalwadda [Restless Development programme officer].
First, the patrons and two children showed us the safe room, a room away from the main part of the school, built for children as an educational area highlighting their rights and health issues with posters created by the school children. Partitioned into the back of the safe space is a room specifically made for the girls during their menstruation cycle, not only to give them a haven but a place to clean themselves and rest. This enables them to stay at school during their menstruation cycle and focus on their education.
Then, the fun started with volunteers and teachers bringing the children to the front of the school to get everyone participating in dance for life, a program to bring awareness to HIV and life skills through the medium of music and dance.
A short play performed by some of the students took my breath away as it explained in such a simple concept the importance of girls being able to access sanitary products in school.
The play was based around a girl being shunned by her school during her period so she went to find money for a sanitary towel from a boy. On meeting the boy, she is raped and as a result, becomes pregnant and contracts HIV. Her family then take her to the police, which might lead to a conviction or result in her being sold to the family of the rapist for as little as 10,000 UGS, losing her family, her education and her future.
The message being that having access to sanitary towels at school could potentially halt all of the resulting episodes the girl was portrayed to endure. It’s not quite that simple, but the concept of basic rights and understanding what the children should say no to was clear.
Get Up Speak Out is a program that transmits the message that all children have the right to education, a life without violence, a life with choices and a positive future under their control. Something we, in our perceived civilised communities, all too often take for granted.
The day ended with a very tense sponsors dance off, my heart was beating like a train but I gave it all I could!
After saying our goodbyes and thanking the children and patrons, we moved onto another two projects, teen mothers and health entrepreneurs, two projects involving unrestricted funding, in Mpungwe Village.
The teen mothers on our arrival were gathered under a tree. The girls introduced themselves with honesty and openness which was again humbling. The way they make their start-up businesses work and continue to grow was a true testament to the purpose and absolute need for Restless to assist in these programs. The young mothers were a real team and planning to stay together in the long term to be there for other young mothers caught in the same experience.
Just behind the area we were with the teen mothers was a very smiley, smartly dressed chap from Baitambogwe sub county, his name was Waiswa Badiru and he was one of the Restless Health Entrepreneurs. His enthusiasm was infectious. You could see the real commitment he had to his business and the good he was doing in the community.
There are only 3 young people chosen for this role from a large area, around 200,000 people per parish, they remote first aid and simple medication to people living in villages who often can’t afford the necessary drugs or to travel to visit medical centres.
Waiswa is able to buy his drugs on loan at a cheaper price and therefore distribute health care at a low cost to people’s homes. Waiswa also explained that he was planning to seek out further training to further himself and his business. His drive was obvious, not only for himself but for his community.
Day 7: Jinja and back to Kampala
Friday was for saying our thank you’s and goodbyes.
Getting back to Kampala we closed the day off with interviews with the Restless Team and explained what we’d taken away from our week, I had so many positive things to say.
Final words and thoughts
I have said thank you a number of times.
As I have had time to reflect on the week spent in the company of so many truly amazing people; communities; volunteers; the Restless permanent staff and our drivers, Godfrey and Isa, I still struggle to come up with words to express the experience I had.
What I can say is, it has opened my eyes to what a massive undertaking and truly phenomenally important job Restless is doing. Every penny that we sponsor and donate to Restless makes a huge difference. It’s not about aid, it’s about supporting young people to make change happen, creating change-makers.
The real-life education young people receive and share can make a difference for the future. Restless Development are keeping it real, they are an amazing organisation that I feel truly blessed to be a part of, even for that short week. Going forward in my fund-raising efforts I am grateful.
I have to say my special thanks to Dom [Restless Development’s corporate partnerships manager] and Gem [Restless Development’s Communications Manager], our superb hosts for the week, to Godfrey and Isa for driving us and protecting us from Boda’s in all directions, to the volunteers and your work. You are all amazing and should be extremely proud of what you are doing, I’m proud of you and will continue to be your ambassador.