By Michael Cheong
Today we spent loads of time with the local children, first at the primary school, and then at TPC. At around 11am, after a couple of hours of painting and digging, we set off for the primary school. The school consists of two long buildings with about five classrooms in each, all equipped very minimally with just old wooden desks and chairs. The floors are dust and there is no electricity. There are up to 70 students in some of the classes. They were elated at the knowledge of our arrival, and as they saw us walking through the compound hundreds of little faces crammed around the shutters at the windows and peered out hoping for a glimpse of the visitors. Visitors are widely respected in Uganda and much is done to accommodate them and make them feel welcome. It is almost ritualistic. I cannot help but wonder if we treat all of our visitors, especially people we don't know, with such respect and care.
The school's campus was dotted with rusting metal signs that are aimed to ensure the kids' safety. Most of them carried messages of abstinence or of warnings to stay in school. The ones that I remember read,
"AIDS is for Life"
"There is No Safe Sex"
"AIDS is Slow But Sure"
"Don't Accept Gifts For Sex"
And simply, "Stay in School".
It was very strange to see these weighty signs in a playground, where kids run and chase and laugh. They all reminded me of how different our lives are. It was very sobering.
But there wasn't really time for silent reflection as the bell was rung and the kids all ran out of their classrooms - some things don't change in schools around the world! They assembled before us in a parade of happy faces and we each introduced ourselves to the 450 or so kids, before Alex and Andrea, two of our school leaders from Year 12 DCS, shared a short message. Alex used the analogy of being part of a sport's team to illustrate how we must rely on our teachers, guardians, siblings and friends to go through life. He wanted to remind them that they are never alone and that there are always people who care. Andrea used a practical demonstration of her rubix cube (at which she is a master!) to illustrate the importance of persistence and never giving up in school. Many students drop out of school here, and have very limited futures as a result, so this too was an important message. We then sang songs before breaking up into smaller groups with the children. I was paired with Mao and Megan and we had about 60 or 70 seven or eight year olds to look after. With no real resources it was exhausting! I take my hat off to the teachers there that do it all day, every day!
After a tiresome afternoon of hoeing, shovelling and removing bush roots for a small playground, we settled down for an evening activity of reading books with TPC children. We had brought a lot of books with us, so it was great to be able to use them with the kids. There was a power cut and we had to use torchlights and paraffin lamps to illuminate the words on the pages. Some of the children found it difficult to read. The child I was paired up with, Zion, did not know how to pronounce a number of words. I personally do not enjoy reading, but to see many happy faces illuminated by a faint glow of light reading books, I felt that we take so many things for granted, and sometimes, all we need is a bit of light and some peace to realise that we are all human.
Who are we?
A team working alongside Golden Magezi in Bukinda, Uganda, running an orphanage that provides kids with love, family and an education.