Saturday, 1 November 2014

Saturday 1st November

So here we are, Dubai airport. Halfway home having left Entebbe at 3.30pm, we have about 4hrs here before our connecting flight to London Heathrow. Everyone has gone off shopping, leaving me with the bags, but it has given me some time to reflect on the past couple of weeks.
Before we came here, apart from Ian, none of us had been to Uganda and only one to Africa which left me wondering what we was in store for us in this great continent. One thing is certain- we have all seen, heard and experienced things that have amazed, shocked, and grounded us in many ways.  Through going to the church service which was unlike anything most of us had experienced before; Through working with the local builders on the site at Lubbe Farm; Through seeing the work of Watoto in their babies homes; Through meeting the children who have been rescued by Watoto from a whole range of situations; Through meeting Okello, the farm manager, who was once a child solider, was rescued by Watoto and was now managing a huge farm providing sustainability to the project; Through meeting Gladys at Living Hope and seeing the work Watoto are doing to help rebuild the lives of women in the local communities around Gulu.

We left Uganda with the ringing endorsements of both Pastor Harrington and Paul, our guide. On our way to the airport Paul once again expressed his gratitude for our work and said what great ambassadors we had been, both for the UK, and for Homewood School. He also commended the group on the relationships between staff and students and the way that Respect had been modelled by all, for all.

Over the past 18 days we have seen some of the work of Watoto and experienced some of the African continent and all of us have loved it!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Friday 31st October

We awoke to rain on our last full day in Uganda but a busy schedule to adhere to. Breakfast was at 8am for Godfrey to pick us up on the bus at 9am and we drove first to Watoto Church Central where we picked up our passports and any money we may have still had left before heading on to the Mall to change Dollars to Ugandan Shillings and have a last look in the Supermarket for any snacks we may want for the long journey back to England.

We then spent the rest of the morning in the craft markets- some super haggling went on between us and the shopkeepers and everyone came away very happy with the products we had purchased.

As a way of Watoto saying Thank You for all the work we have done whilst in Uganda they took us to one of Kampalas top restaurants, Fang Fang’s, for lunch. The group enjoyed tucking into the Chinese cuisine almost as much as they enjoyed playing with the Lazy Susan that carried it all!
We were joined at lunch by Pastor Harrington, one of the pastors at Watoto. He preached on Sunday when we were at the church and has a specific responsibility for cell groups within the church and looking at how the church can impact and be at the centre of community. He spoke to us all about how thankful he was and appreciated the fact that we had given up our holiday time to come and spend time working with them in Uganda when we could have been elsewhere, we all felt however that, though we could have been elsewhere, there is nowhere else in the world we would have preferred to have been for the past 2 weeks. The group shared some of their memories from the trip as well as some of the things that have shocked them most.
Then thoughts turned to home and with some of the group heading straight home to GCSE Maths re-sit’s on Wednesday and Friday and the rest of the group with coursework deadlines and other work coming up Harrington offered to pray for the group as we left. This was a really special time and this Uganda trip is something none of us will ever forget.

We left lunch and headed to our last visit of the trip, the Kampala office of MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). MAF fly planes all over Uganda and indeed Africa and the World to remote airstrips taking: people from NGO’s, Charities and Mission organisations; Medical equipment; and Supplies to those who need it most. They fly to more airstrips across the world than the biggest 9 carriers (BA, Emirates etc) combined do! Adrian who is acting Operations Manager gave us a brief overview of what they do and the group were again really amazed about another charity doing such good work in Uganda. It was on to the guest house then to start packing for home.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Thursday 30th October

It felt like we were back in the UK today as our plans were disrupted by rain!
Our plan was to leave at 7am to drive to the top of the falls and then on to Kampala. However the road to the top of the falls is very steep and after the rain we had during the early hours of the morning it was decided that this would be both unsafe and probably impassable anyway!

So we left at 9am for Kampala first we alighted the car ferry that would take us across the Nile. For ‘Ferry’ read ‘metal deck with a large engine on either side’, it felt very Top Gear-esque. We drove for 2 hours through the park seeing many Baboons as we went. The roads in the park were dirt tracks, some with great crevices down the middle so Godfrey our driver had a tricky day, another hour of dirt track bought us to the town of Massindi and we stopped to refuel the bus and use the bathrooms.

The journey from Massindi to Kampala was then relatively smooth, we picked up the highway and drove the 3hrs back to Kampala on Tarmac which was a great relief after the ‘African Massage’ we had been having all morning!

At 3pm we arrived back in Kampala and made our way to Cafe Java, our favourite local haunt, for a late lunch before tipping up at the guest house to rest- it is weird how travelling makes you so tired!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Wednesday 29th October

Today the group assembled at 5.30 for a 6am start to our game drive. We picked up George on the way and headed into the park. It was still dark as we drove off but at 6.38 we stopped to watch the sun rise over the park, the colours were amazing and added something really special to todays experience.

The first animal we encountered was a Hyena crossing the road. Hyenas are usually a pack animal but this one was by itself, it may have been lost of have been separated from the group. As we made our way through the park we saw more Giraffe; Elephants; Buffalo; Oribi, who are a small antelope who live for just 5 years and mate for life; Warthogs; Fish Eagles; Horn Bill Birds; Cranes, Ugandas National Bird; Kob; Jackson Hartebeasts and a troop of Baboons.
The group really wanted to see a Lion, as many who come on Safari do, however as the drive went on it looked more and more unlikely. There are just 300 in the park and George hadn't seen one for over a week. 
We made our way down to the shores of Lake Albert to observe some Hippo’s and were able to see a Shoe Bill bird of which there are just 8 pairs in the park, and only 6 countries in the Horn of Africa have any. We were able to get out the bus at this point and get close to the shore and these magnificent and large animals.

Earlier in the drive we had spotted some Lion foot prints that appeared to be quite fresh and as we were about to leave the shore and drive back to the lodge George spotted some Kob behaving strangely, as if danger was close by. He made the call to go and have a look and we drove down the track. As we got closer there was one Kob that was staring in the same direction without moving and others who were leaping- a sign of danger near by. We made the call to follow in the bus the direction they were looking. On the edge of the bush we spotted first one, and then a second Lion. The group was so excited and we made our way across the scrubland to get a better sight- they were truly majestic creatures and we were able to sit and watch them for 2-3 minutes before they disappeared into the thicker scrub. George told us they were young Lions- one male, one female who were siblings, there had been a third one but it had been killed by a Buffalo.

With this sighting under our belt we made our way back to the Lodge for Breakfast and then some time to chill out around the pool before our afternoon excursion. We were told later today that we were the only group to have seen the Lions which made our 5.30am start truly worth it!

At 2pm we set off for our boat ride along the Nile to the Murchison Falls. They are one of the worlds most powerful flows of natural water and are just 7m wide and 45m high meaning a huge amount of water cascades over the top in a very small space.

On our way down the river we also saw a huge variety of wildlife including Buffalo; Hippos; Elephants; Giraffes; Crocodiles- one of which we saw very close up from the boat as it was sunbathing on the bank; Kingfishers; Bee Eaters- a really colourful bird that nests in cliff faces; Warthogs; Fish Eagles; and a bird whose neck looked like a snake as it moved through the water.
The Sun was very hot this afternoon and we enjoyed sitting on the boat with the breeze coming of the water.

This Safari is a once in a lifetime experience and has been the icing on the cake of our time in Uganda.

Tuesday 28th October

Today we set off at 9am for Paraa Safari Lodge in the Murchison Falls National Park. The road wasn't as bad as we thought it might be, after last nights rain, and we made good time up to the trading point of Pak Wach. Here we stopped for petrol and discovered we had a flat tyre on the back, we found a small repair house to fix it but unlike last time we all had to get off the bus. We found shade under the small awning of a shop and were soon surrounded by locals trying to sell us all manor of crafts that they had made and also some selling us cold drinks- much of the group made use of this service and noted that you wouldn't get that on the hard shoulder of the M20!
They were also in the process of erecting power masts down the central street and we watched as a man used leg irons to make his way up the telegraph pole in front of us, I’m not sure whether the round of applause he was given was completely appreciated!

The tyre was fixed and we made our way off the tarmac onto dirt roads again as we sought the start of the Safari Park. By this point it was a race against time to get to the lodge before they finished serving lunch! As we entered the safari park and made our way the 10km to the lodge we saw a huge variety of animals including Warthog, several species of Antelope, and Giraffe; this excited the group as to what we may see on the evening game drive.

We did make it in time for lunch and tucked into 3 courses of Soup and Salad; Fish, Chicken or Pasta; followed by a selection of Deserts. With our first Game Drive at 4pm some of the group headed to the pool whilst other went to their rooms to freshen up.

We were led on our drive by George who has been working at the park for 19 years. He explained what we would be doing and we set off. The park has an area of 3,934Km2 and is protected by Rangers from the Ugandan Wildlife Agency. Unfortunately the park is still plagued by poachers and just last week 3 rangers were shot dead by poachers trying to get at the animals.
On our drive this afternoon we saw: many Giraffes, even having the opportunity to get out the bus to get a better sight; Kob, the national animal of Uganda; lots of Warthogs and Guinea Fowl; 1 herd and several loan male elephants, who were kind enough to cross the road just in front of us and then pose for photos; a herd of 500 Water Buffalo that seemed to stretch across the whole landscape; Jackson Antelope, which are known as the most stupid animals in the park as they will run from a Lion, then forget why they are running, stop and get killed!
Our drive lasted for nearly 4hrs and during the last hour it was dark across the park though George said we may still see some animals. Just as we were approaching the lodge we saw a loan hippopotamus grazing, it was the most amazing sight ever! The Hippopotami can roam up to 6km from water to graze during the night, eating between 180-250kg of food before heading back to the water as the sun is rising.
As we got back to the lodge Paul explained to us that the animals in the evening sometimes come very close to the lodge and as such we were advised not to leave the safety of our surroundings, this was something the leaders enforced too!!

Dinner was a buffet and the group made good use of all the food on offer before heading off to relax in the lounge, play pool and catch up with people back home online. Tomorrow begins with a game drive at 5.45am before some time to relax and a boat trip in the afternoon.

Monday 27th October

We awoke this morning feeling very much refreshed as breakfast hadn't been until 8am and most had had an earlier night!
For breakfast we had the most amazing African Doughnuts which tasted much like scones but were made of maize flour, wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and water and then shallow fried; with scrambled eggs and everyone ate well.

After the mix up yesterday we had visits to 3 projects to cram into today. We first visited Living Hope which is in the centre of Kampala. Living Hope exists to care for the most vulnerable women in society by helping them rebuild the lives. We were shown around by the administrator, Gladys. Living Hope was born in 2008 an took 900 women on to its program. Women who had been abducted during the civil war; who were HIV positive; who had been made to fight as child soldiers; who had been tortured and raped during the conflict; were all welcomed into the Living Hope family. Its desire is to use trauma counselling both 1-1 and in group situations to enable the women to process what has happened and then leave it behind before moving on with their lives. Gladys spoke of it like their hearts were full of all the bad they had experienced and they wanted to empty their hearts of that so that they could fill it with love and all things that are good. They then teach the women to make products that can be sold such as garments, table cloths, stuffed animals and dolls, peanut butter and Shea butter for your skin. When we arrived into the main room, full of sowing machines they greeted us by making the most amazing noise, like a high pitched battle cry that gave the group goose bumps! They were making stuffed animals that are sold at 20,000 Shillings, the women who makes the animal earns S3,000, meaning that they are learning a skill which makes them money. A lot of the women who Living Hope work with didn't get a full education due to the war or simply because of the view of women in society- to combat this functional maths, english and business skills are taught to all the women. Living Hope currently works with 450 women and seeks for them to be leaders in their community bringing about change in their towns.
The women are also discipled in the Christian faith through cell groups where Sundays Bible passage is talked about in small groups. Many of the women don’t speak English and only speak Acholi, the local dialect, so provision is made for this in all teaching.
Some of the women also have young children that may have prevented them attending such a programme in the past, however Living Hope has set up a Creche for those children to be looked after in while their mothers and learning and working. We had some time to play with the children in the creche which all the group enjoyed.

Then it was on to Llamandera childrens village, Watoto’s 3rd village.
There we were greeted by many children running out to meet the bus, excited to see us. We were hosted in 3 groups of 5, by a family for lunch at which we were able to meet one of the Aunties and her 7 or 8 children ranging in age from 4yrs to 13yrs old. Lunch was a feast of Ugandan traditional foods and placed in front of us were 10 saucepans with lids on, the group held their breath as each dish was revealed 1 by 1. Everyone tried something and most of the group enjoyed a very healthy lunch.
After lunch we played football and games with some of the younger children as the older students had to go back to school before heading up to the school ourselves. Ian and Nathan were shown around the secondary school briefly by Ivan, the head teacher, where they currently have 60 students in 3 classes. Next year they will add 1 more class and the year after that 2 more until the school has 300 students in, the primary school already has a similar number. They are seeking sponsorship from individuals, groups and churches to help the equip a computer lab. The government recently put basic computer skills on the curriculum and the school currently has only a couple of laptops for the staff to use so they want to put the network infrastructure and computer terminals in to enable Watoto children to leave school computer literate.

Our 3rd stop of the day was to the Watoto babies home in Gulu. Here we were shown around by Gertrude. The babies home is organised into 3 stages- 0-6 months(babies), 7-12 months(infants), 12-24months(toddlers) each stage has nurses in it that look after 4 children each and care for their needs. The whole group were really impressed by the cleanliness and organisation of the babies home, the way it was run and set out. Every Watoto project we have been too looks like it has been thought about, they have been built architecturally well with good aesthetics as well as being practical, they also have made lots of green open space which makes the whole place ‘feel good’. By this point it was 5pm and the sun was still very hot so we made our way back to the guest house for some rest and dinner.

Just before dinner the heavens opened and we had the most fantastic rain storm for about 20 minutes- there was thunder and lightening too. Although this looked amazing it may have made the journey tomorrow even more tricky due to the impact it will have had on the roads, we have to wait and see!

Sunday 26th October

Today we left the guest house at 6.30am as the sun was rising and headed north. We arrived at Gulu at 1.30pm after a 7 hour journey with 2 toilet stops and some interesting sights along the way.

We came over 2 strategic bridges, 1 of which used to divide the North from the South in the civil war and it would not have been safe to have gone north without protection from the army. This bridge had army personnel around and Paul informed us there may well be guns in the trees too to protect this important asset. The bridge went over the River Nile and was the only road North making it such an important strategic point- beneath us were some amazing rapids and we watched as gallons of water rushed over them making patterns with the rocks. Just over this bridge we came to some baboons and the group took some photos as we waited for them to move from the middle of the road.

We had been warned the road would be bad but after the first 2.5hrs we wondered what they were on about. However it soon hit us- the road turned from a 2-way tarmac road; to a 2-way gravel road where work had started on improvements; to a 2-way earthen track with a single ribbon of pot-holed tarmac running down its centre which trucks and huge buses would come rolling down leaving us to move out of the way onto the surrounding earth.
Godfrey our driver once again did a fantastic job of getting us here safely and in 1 piece!

Today we saw being transported- a stack of approx 25 blue plastic chairs on the back of a bike. The balance of the driver was second to none!

We were supposed to be having lunch at the children’s village but after a miss communication they weren't expecting us today and so went to a hotel in the town where we had lunch in their ‘restaurant’. We then went to our guest house to rest after the long journey- several of the group slept before dinner and after dinner we had our evaluation session before chilling out together in the lounge area.