By Mandy Yu
No one likes to be apart from loved ones. No one enjoys the heartache and tears of saying goodbye, especially when you have no idea when you'll see that person or those people again - or what will happen between meetings. However, as hard and painful as they are, the reality is that saying goodbye is a necessity of life. And I dare say, an important part of life too.
I had just sat down on the bus, which was unusually quiet and subdued, with none of the normal laughter and singing. Sitting there I was being forced to contemplate the fact that we were leaving Bukinda, we were leaving these precious, resilient children, and that our day to day lives of Shanghai was what soon awaited us. Seeing so many of these normally such happy and bubbly kids with wet tearful eyes was just too much for me. As the bus pulled away, the dam burst and my own tears began to fall. I wiped them away, but they continued to stream down my face. No amount of wiping could dry my cheeks. We'd only spent two weeks together. What had happened in that short time that turned us all into such emotional wrecks at goodbye time. Being a team of expats, living thousands of miles from home nations and friends and family, you'd have thought we'd be accustomed to this.
Was it because of that night we all spent dancing singing? It was a night without moonlight but the sky was covered by millions of stars. A power cut hit us after dinner and suddenly everyone disappeared into the dark. I started to dig for a torch in my bag when one of TPC kids started to sing. I'm not sure who it was, although my guess would be Promise, she lives to sing! “There is something today..." Suddenly more and more voices joined in. I found my torch and turned it on. With just the light of a single torch, we danced and sang. Our kids joined in too, and our teachers. One song after another our singing and dancing carried on well into the night, under the light of a single torch and millions of stars.
Or was it because of that “Goodnight”? There is a girl called Joan, she is one of the littlest ones. Every afternoon when she got home from school she would come and sit beside me and we'd read or weave bags together. Once time weaving she got a cut and came to me show me to ask for help, using the local language. I didn't understand at first, but then I saw thr small wound and her Bambi eyes said everything. I gently cleaned her cut and put a plaster on. I felt that if I was too strong, her tiny arm would easily snap. After we finished cleaning the cut, she gave me a huge thank you smile and it warmed my heart. Later that night, I was standing on the balcony when I looked down towards her room and saw her lying on the bed through the window. I met her eyes and quietly whispered, “Goodnight”. She responded with that warm smile and closed her eyes and fell asleep. She looked so happy, peaceful, and safe.
Going back to that final bus journey, we all tried to say goodbye with smiles and hold back the tears, but our resolve lasted all of thirty seconds. It is so hard to say goodbye after all those fun times; it is so hard to say goodbye after you've developed such close bonds; it is so hard to say goodbye to children who've already said goodbye forever to their own parents.
But as I said before, as hard as it is, we have to say goodbye. Why? Because we need to return to our community and tell this story, we want the world to hear about the strength of these kids and their inspirational success stories. We need to continue to drum up support to keep The Peace Centre in funds. We need to return to our studies so that we can get jobs and continue to look to the future. Life goes on.
So we have to say goodbye. Just like parents have to leave teary children at kindergarten, or on their first day or school, or even their first day of University (but then it's the teary parents), saying hard goodbyes is a part of life. But we prefer to think of it not as goodbye, but au revoir, see you later.
Because we will return. And in the mean time, we will miss you, wish the best for and think of you often, safe in the knowledge that you are safe under Peace and Golden's tender care. Look after each other kids, through the good times and the bad. We'll see you next year for more smiles, laughter and no doubt, more tears.
By Andrea Chan
This is the best school trip I have ever been on. In fact, it hasn't even felt like a school trip, which is ironic because we have all learned so much.
It's amazing how many pineapples you can fit on a bicycle. That's what I thought as I looked out of the car window on my way to a home visit, and saw local men pushing bicycles dangling with multiple pineapples up an unforgiving slope in the intense heat. They transport these pineapples to the market everyday to make a living. Hard, unforgiving work. Sadly, this was only a small glimpse of the hardship that I was about to witness. I knew that the conditions of the homes we were visiting might be dire, but it still didn't prepare me for what I was going to see. The homes all had walls made out of dried mud, and their interiors were beyond simple, and of course with no running water or electricity which are an unimaginable luxury for the vast majority of rural Ugandans. Three children shared a dirt caked single mattress - so old that it didn't even resemble a mattress anymore, but was really just a block of foam littered with holes and dents - with a fourth being forced to sleep on the dusty floor because they would wet the 'bed' at night. Between fifteen and twenty shared a tiny compound that would really only comfortably house a family of three. In their 'free time' the children would have to go on exhausting water collection runs, chop firewood or dig in the field for hours at a time... while only receiving one basic meal a day. It is heartbreaking that we cannot offer each and every one of the children living in such conditions a place at The Peace Centre, but the harsh truth is that even in extreme poverty some children are in more need than others. Quantifying poverty is an impossible task, and certainly a great deal harder than counting pineapples on an overloaded bike.
When someone says the word 'orphanage' to you, what comes to mind? Prior to visiting The Peace Centre, the word orphanage for me conjured up images of a bleak place filled with dejected children; a grey shell; a basic means of food and shelter until they are old enough to be able to forge their own way in the world. Something coming from the world of Dickens. It pleased me greatly to have these misconceptions proved totally wrong. On the contrary, The Peace Centre has a warm, caring and loving environment. The relationships that the children have formed with the staff and other orphans in their new home are close, tender, strong and loving. When little 7 year old Joan was asked how The Peace Centre is a home to her, she replied: "The Peace Centre is a home to me because Peace and Golden are my parents." This shows how TPC fully embodies its motto which is to provide children with 'Love, Care and a Home'. It is a place that allows these orphans their right to a childhood, gives them the love and attention they deserve, and allows them to develop to their full potential. I am glad that when I next hear the word 'orphanage', images of children not being able to ask for second helpings of porridge will be far from my mind.
"I would rather die a rich person than poor", was a comment made to me by one of the volunteer staff at The Peace Centre. My first interpretation of this comment was that the word 'rich' only referred to monetary wealth, which made me feel a bit guilty. It was a reminder that even though we were in Bukinda together our lives are very much different. Although through the two weeks in the village our lives became very much closer and intertwined, the difference between 'us' and 'them' is that after these two weeks we will get on a plane and resume our lives all over the world, whilst for them Bukinda, is and will continue to be, their daily reality. However, upon further reflection, I believe that the word 'rich' also refers to a sense of happiness and satisfaction, that comes from within the heart, and has a great deal more to do with love, deep friendships and a sense of belonging than it does to do with anything as fleeting as finance. Based on the many comments from our new friends, it seems that bit by bit our stay here has contributed to improving that less tangible richness for not only The Peace Centre members, but the wider community too. It was fantastic to see the news that The Peace Centre had a brand new swing set and 15ft trampoline spread like wildfire, resulting in many more kids from the village showing up to play. Specific to The Peace Centre children, we have helped to support their education, which will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities and a greater sense of self worth in the future. As the Primary School headmaster bluntly put it, we have given his 'monkeys' the chance to go to school. I guess the reason why I was a bit shocked to hear the TPC volunteer share this statement about wealth, was because I have never heard someone poor explicitly state that they are. Although we can't give everyone monetary wealth, we can help make others richer in terms of experiences, relationships and through love. As they say, money doesn't always buy happiness, right? I feel so blessed to consider how my own life is infinitely richer as a result of the love and friendships I have built in this past fortnight, and if any of their richness has increased by even a fraction of mine, then I would consider them wealthy indeed.
Why do people do volunteer work? I always thought that volunteering was all about giving up your time to help someone else. But I now realise this doesn't account for all the things that you learn as a volunteer. On the surface you can easily pick out the few new experiences such as using the long drop toilet, trying (and failing) to chop wood, or building a chicken coop (more like a chicken palace). However, if you look harder you will see that there have been much more significant changes within, and that our outlook on the world has undergone a somewhat radical shift. Although some of the jobs we worked during the two weeks were not easy, no one complained. For example, fetching seemingly endless wheelbarrows of sand from up the hill may have been exhausting, but we took turns and got the job done because it was worth seeing the smiles on the children's faces when the project was complete. The reward for hard work was no longer an arbitrary grade, something that is in itself (if you are honest with yourself) meaningless, divisive and only creates unnecessary comparisons and boundaries where there don't need to be any. The reward now was a smile, was seeing unbounded joy in action. Which, I ask you, has more real value?
In addition, we learned how to overcome language barriers. When the vast majority of conversations in English with the children go as far as...
Child: "Hi. How are you?"
Me: "I am fine. And you?"
...you have got to get a bit creative. We learned that non verbal communication works great, such as playing hand games, drawing, or kicking a ball around. In fact, we may have even learned more about them through such activities than we would've if we had tried to have a sit down conversation. This trip has taught me that volunteer work is about personal learning experiences, and about building meaningful relationships. It isn't really about helping others at all.
No school trip will ever be able to top this one, unless I am able to return to Bukinda next year - and Mum and Dad, now seems like as good a time as any to tell you that I definitely do want to come back here in 2016! Manual labour, working with kids, an inexplicably deep sense of love for children only recently met, along with rope swings, bag weaving, ropeless tug-of-war, heart-breaking home visits, counting pineapples, morning quests for a perfect egg, endless photos of beamingly happy faces, chapati making and waterfalls of tears at our farewells... this trip has truly had it all. It has been an honour and a privilege to be part of the 2015 Peace Centre team. If only all learning could be as deep and meaningful as this.
By Kat Barnard
Everyone has a future. What each individual’s future holds, however, will of course be different. Some people meet their potential, some exceed it and some fall short of it, but what really causes these vast differences? Education, food, shelter, family, culture, religion, money, careers and materialistic possessions are the obvious answers and while these things will certainly have an impact, we must not forget about those ideals less tangible. Over the last two weeks I have noticed how the things that cost nothing can change someone’s future. Love, care, generosity, patience, kindness and a smile can make the world of difference for those in the world who don’t have anyone in their life to offer these things. We have all been privileged to see how the staff, children, sponsors and extended family of The Peace Centre have now changed the direction of the lives of these 23 children; children who not so long ago, had nothing and a rather bleak future. In most cases they had very little to eat, barely any clothing to cover them, almost no chance of a better future and no one at home to love them, care for them or provide for them.
Each and every one of us on this trip has come away having received so much more than we gave. We have learnt from our role models Peace and Golden who demonstrate love, kindness, generosity, faith and a sense of fun and good humour in all they do. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet, but most importantly they are now parents to an additional 23 children. They have taught us all so many qualities. They have once again welcomed the DCS team into their home, into their lives with open arms. We owe them a big ‘thank you’ not only for their hospitality, but also for opening our eyes and for teaching us all how to prioritise what is really important. They helped us recognize that we should place more value on our relationships with others, to support someone in need and caused me to reflect not to rely on devices that actually have the potential to isolate us from each other. In the majority of the blogs the students have written, they have commented on how fortunate they are to have running water, a loving family or a top quality education. But the thing that stands out the most for me is how on this trip each person has become more loving, more caring, more understanding, more reflective and more appreciative for what they have.
By living in and by being part of the daily chores in The Peace Centre, we all have a very good understanding of how these children will now be brought up. How they will support each other to get through the ups and downs of life, how they will grow up having brothers and sisters and loving parents – from all over the world – how they will have a chance of creating their own success story by being educated, and most importantly we have witnessed that each of these children are being taught how to love, care and share with one another. In other words, they are a family. Just one that is slightly bigger than yours or mine.
Through the nature of their education, the loving homes they are part of and the opportunities that will come their way, I can say with a great deal of certainty that the 18 Dulwich College Shanghai students that went on this trip will have a bright future. I think it is fair to say, however, that due to these life-changing experiences they have all grown immeasurably over the past two weeks, and as such, their future choices will now be made with greater degrees of compassion, depth and maturity. As such, they will go on to make a difference in the world in which we live, impacting the lives of others with increased injections of love, care and kindness along the way. I am genuinely excited to see what their futures hold.
The next time you look into your future, don’t just think about jobs, experiences, holidays, places or friendships you have already established. Think also about those ideals less tangible that you would like to see in yourself and the impact you can have on others. Like our Ugandan hosts, don’t do anything without love and a smile. They may cost nothing, but they give more than you can imagine. And what’s more, they have the power to change futures.
By Andrea Costa
I woke up hearing the wonderful bird songs just outside of my room. The nature has been amazing at Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth Natuonal Park... some people had a hippo grazing outside their room last night, a warthog just wanders around scoffing down the grass, there are hundreds of birds and bats that zip all around us, and we have a stunning view of the lake where so many animals come to cool off and drink. I exited my room and walked leisurely towards the pool, where I relaxed at the edge by gently merging my feet In the cool water. Other people from the team arrived and similarly relaxed, or perhaps read a book on the sun loungers. It was very unusual to have a lot of time to relax because in the village there was always something that needed to be done, or always kids to play with. There certainly wasn't time to relax like this. I had been missing the village and its lifestyles. I had been missing the people from The Peace Centre, I had also been missing the work that always made me exhausted and normally ended with me being covered in brown dust. I guess it was very surprising to me to realise just how much I miss the hard work in Bukinda.
In the late afternoon our team went down for an exciting boat ride to admire the beauty of the channel that was set next to our resort which offered many animals to watch, explore and love. During the course of the boat ride we encountered buffaloes lying down on grass, mud or refreshing themselves in the chilly water; we saw crocodiles of different dimensions - some small ones just under a meter, others were over 2 meters long - who would lie on the short hot grass to sunbathe, keeping their mouths open to release body heat; there were also many hippos just cooling in the muddy eater's edge too, including a protective mama and her small and rather cute baby; and mixed in with all of these were many different types of birds such as kingfishers, African eagles, egrets and maribu storks. The boat ride was a wonderful way to relax for a couple of hours as we gently cruised through this natural habitat and got to experience Ugandan wildlife in its own home.
As we took our bus back to the hotel I found myself reflecting back to The Peace Centre. I am genuinely suprised how I have made really strong bonds with the staff and childen at The Peace Centre in only 2 weeks. Two weeks. Think about it, it's really not that long and yet I felt so attached to some of the people there. It's hard to explain how this happened. I had gotten particularly close to one boy at The Peace Centre, a boy called Alex. Alex and I were made to be together. He had chosen me for any reading or writing activity that Bright, the friendly and excellent teacher that helps at TPC in the evening, did with us at night. I felt honoured that he always chose me for these activities. I'm not sure why he chose me, but I guess it meant he felt relaxed and comfortable with me, and we came to be very close during those times we spent together. I'm not really sure of Alex's background, but I did wonder if he had had the chance to relax and just make a good friend before, enjoying time reading, colouring and making t-shirts together.
As I walked up the steep slope that ran from Peace and Golden's home up to the main road on that last morning in the village, a rush of emotions ran through my body. We had loaded the bus, we were ready to go and we were saying our final goodbyes to The Peace Centre and its amazing people. I did not think of the staff or the children at The Peace Centre as my friends, I thought of them as my family. Peace and Golden as my Uncle and Aunt, and the children as my brothers and sisters - especially Alex. The thing that made me cry just as I was going to enter the bus, was when Alex came and gave me a huge hug, and then looked at me in the eyes with sorrow in his and said, "Costa, please come back". I did not know what to say. I just hugged him, hugged him very hard and told him "I will try my best Alex."
The truth is that I don't know when I will be back in Uganda, but I really hope it will be soon. I know I'll miss my friend, and that he'll miss me. I hope I can get to be a part of his life, and that he can always be a part of mine such was the strength of the bond that was made. Two weeks! It's amazing what can happen in such a short time.
By Ben Morrison
This being the first day that we had spent away from Bukinda, the differences - both internal and external - were very noticeable. The first that came to me was the increase in insects in this part of Uganda. An amusing wake up call from the 'Clappertron' made me swiftly aware of the itching red spots covering my legs. There had been very few flies and bitey bugs in the village, and this increase was most unwelcome. I enjoyed a shower for the second day in a row. After living in the village for two weeks, trying conserve water, I took a (cold) shower only when it was essential, and so now showering everyday with hot water was the most bizarre idea ever. I think our ready and unlimited access to clean water, with a constant choice of both hot and cold, is the thing that I have previously most taken for granted. How easy it is, how commonplace. And yet that is not the case in Bukinda. It is not exactly scare in Bukinda, or in TPC at least. There they are fortunate to have a tap and a large storage tank, but it can run out (and did run out on a couple of occasions), and it does need to be used with consideration. But the majority of homes in rural Uganda don't even have taps and are forced into trekking to collect it and carry it back from standpipes - some having to go considerable distances. The idea of wasting water, perhaps running the tap unnecessarily as I brush my teeth, is something that I now feel more strongly about. I hope that when I return home, with the abundance of water around me again, I do not forget what a privilege this is.
The biggest difference, however, and what disappointed me the most, was not being able to wake up to all the kids' lively personalities and the hustle and bustle of joy and happiness that the children brought that I had become accustomed to over the days. That I dearly miss.
After breakfast, all students from Years 9, 11 and 12 clambred aboard one bus, where we lathered ourselves in suncream and bug repellent, to go chimp trekking, whilst the Year 10s boarded another to go on a game drive. We would switch activities for the afternoon session. Once we arrived at the lush ravine that is home to 25 chimps, we met our tracker named Adolf. He had a very amusing and engaging manner and went through the ins and outs of the ravine with us as well as the dos and don'ts. "No doing poo poo in the ravine so animals don't come to taste it" and "If a chimp gets irritated by your presence and decides to come and beat you with a stick, do not fight back, just stand still and accept the blows" were the two that I most remember. So with the bizarre thoughts of monkey attacks and beatings in our minds, we set off. Within the first hour of walking we saw many monkeys, yet no chimpanzees. We did not know whether we would - there is a 50% chance of finding them - so we did not feel too disheartened, but we carried on enjoying the walk and the green ecosystem of the ravine and saw many interesting bugs and hippos.
During this chimp free gap my mind started to wander, and I thought back to Robert, the orphan that always chose me for our afternoon and evening activities, and what he had told me while I was saying goodbye to him. "Please come home again" was the phrase that rang in my head. "Please come home again." This meant a lot to me as it showed that not only did I believe that The Peace Centre was my home, but so did he. This brought a big smile to my face. I never thought that in just two weeks I would become so close to a child in TPC that we might consider ourselves 'brothers', and yet this happened. It was at this point that we spotted a chimpanzee swinging down from a tree which brightened my mood even more.
I am becoming aware that I will need to adjust back to my own culture when I return to Shanghai and this is something that I never considered before. I have never had to readjust back to my own culture after a trip or holiday, but it will be needed now as I have seen, and lived, so much that is different to what I knew before. It has challenged how I think and how I want to be. And it all comes back to love. A strong love that grew in two short but amazing weeks. Why should I waste water, or waste opportunities, when those I love don't have them? I mustn't. I must honour that love by being grateful for my privileges and by making the most of every day.
I wish the absolute best for The Peace Centre, for all those kids living there, and especially for Robert. I will return one day so that I can be a part of this family again. So that I can 'come home'.
By Nicolo Pellegrino
It's incredible how close you can get to a group of people in just two weeks. After having eaten breakfast, our team walked up the small hill next to Peace and Golden's house, walking past everything that we had done over the past couple of weeks. With the children by our sides it was impossible to control the avalanche of emotions flowing over us. We had all realised how life changing this had all been and the goodbyes were long and difficult telling the children and staff at TPC that we would meet again one day. My family and I sponsor a young girl called Norah, and as I looked my little sister Norah in the eye I told her I would be back as soon as possible. Struggling to compose myself and trying not to cry, I told her to work hard in school and to take care of her brothers and sisters in TPC. I never imagined it would be so hard to say bye to little Norah.
As I boarded the bus I realised very clearly just how important The Peace Centre is to me and how I will always carry it with me wherever I go. The small yellow home, with its dark red roof and many people waving and wishing us journey mercies disappeared into the background as we drove off, to be seen again in June 2016.
As we left Bukinda, I reflected on how this trip was not just about giving, but also about receiving. Receiving from the children, the staff and the whole community. Peace and Golden did everything possible to make the two weeks as comfortable as possible for all of us. Their hospitality really was incredible, and as we left, we were not just a group of visitors who had stayed with them, but we were family.
Our tired team reached Queen Elizabeth National Park and relaxed for the afternoon. In the evening we all sat around together and enjoyed a time of group reflection, sharing our feelings and challenges from the past 36 hours. The emotions began to rise in us all again. The main ideas shared were about how special the dancing and singing were last night, and about how amazing it is to think that we have only known these children for two weeks and yet we are so close. I used the word 'family' to describe The Peace Centre team, and the word 'sister' to describe little Norah and people might think these words are exaggerations or being used incorrectly, but they truly are the words that best describe how close we all felt, how close I felt to everyone there. And because of that, despite all the sadness and tears of goodbyes, there are many more reasons to be happy.
By Gracy Park
I woke up by the sound of Mr. Clapperton's drumming. As I climbed out of bed, I realised that it was the last day and finished up packing my bag. When I was leaving my room, I noticed Promise, a 15 year old TPC girl, tearing up because we were leaving. I reminded her that it wasn't goodbye, but my words made her cry even more. As I walked back to my room, I took a last look at the all the paintings we have done and felt a sense of accomplishment. I picked up my bag and slowly walked towards the stairs that leads to the canteen. I looked up and Amos had his little smile on, wanting to help me carry my bag. His little smile always warmed up my heart and that's when I realised I built a special connection with him and that his smile meant so much to me. This reminded me of when we were writing reflections about The Peace Centre together. Amos talked about how he was not happy about his life before he was at The Peace Centre. He said that his life was not good and he did not smile a lot, but now at The Peace Centre he is always happy and smiling. Something as simple as having a bed and the ability to go to school make their lives so much better. We think education and having a room to sleep in is normal but after being with the kids, you realise that we take so many things for granted.
After eating breakfast, we took a group photo and all the kids wore the shirts that they had made a couple of nights ago. Amos stood in front of me when we were taking the picture and I couldn't stop smiling when I saw his shirt. He drew a football, a book, himself, and me. When we took the picture, everyone was smiling and having such a good time. I felt a sense of belonging and that The Peace Centre was now my second home. I walked up the hill, a hill that I'd crossed a billion times everyday the whole trip, with Amos by my side. He was holding my hand a little tighter than he normally did and I knew it was because he knew it was time to say goodbye. We walked up the stairs and looked down at The Peace Centre.
It was time to say goodbye and none of us were ready. Two weeks seem like such a short amount of time but we had grown a bond that couldn't be broken. Everyone was heartbroken to leave and we were all filled with tears. As I was hugging the kids and all the adults, I came across Amos hiding behind the door. The kid that always smiles was crying, and this really got to me. I tried to comfort him but he didn't seem like he wanted to be comforted. It was time to go and I gave him a big hug. Once I was in the bus, I looked for Amos through the window. He was hiding behind one of the older orphans, still crying. This precious little 6 year old boy had so many emotions in him and I wasn't ready to say goodbye to them. When I came to Uganda, all I thought about was helping the kids and changing their lives. But as I was leaving The Peace Centre, I realised that I received so much more from these kids, particularly from little Amos, and that they had changed my life. It's hard to explain how exactly, but I know my heart isn't the same as it was before.
The bus ride to Queen Elizabeth was quiet and most of us were thinking, sleeping or gently crying. Very different to the bus journeys when we arrived where we were all laughing and singing together. When I was thinking, I came across the thought that leaving the orphans doesn't need to be sad because it doesn't have to be goodbye. I know I'll see them again, one day.
We reached the simple hotel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, had lunch and relaxed playing cards and chatting. It was a very peaceful place and a good place to come for reflection. We wandered down to the lakeside and saw more than ten hippos wallowing in the muddy water. The closest were as near as ten metres and it was a special moment being that close to nature.
After eating dinner, our team gathered in a circle and reflected on the last 36 hours of our trip. A lot of the words my fellow students said really touched me. When Mr. Reich read the letter Brian, a 17 year old boy and the first child TPC sponsored, wrote for us I started to tear up again. I did not get to know Brian very well because he sleeps at school and only comes to The Peace Centre on the weekends, but it felt like I was so close to him. He thanked all of us for supporting him and choosing him to be part of The Peace Centre. He used the word 'gift' saying, "thank you for choosing me as your gift, I love you." It seemed like the most appropriate word to use. Gift. And I guess that's how I see all of these children, and this whole experience, as a gift. The best gift anyone could ever receive. Thinking back to Brian's words of thanks, I felt like I should be the one thanking him.
By Mao Nakano
With today being the last day in Bukinda, we quickly scurried onto the tasks that needed to be finished. As such we were all deployed to various parts of the compound to get tasks ticked off, before starting the sad task of having to pack.
Priyanka and I finished off the elephant measuring chart we had painted by the bathrooms and we can't wait to see the children's faces when they see it! We were guessing that they will be measuring their heights every single day, to see if they had grown at all in the night without getting sick of it.
Another thing that needed doing was finishing painting the base of the walls outside. The paint was not as runny as I wished it was, and it would take ages to spread out! Before starting the activity, I predicted it will maybe take an hour or two but it turned out to take the whole afternoon. Other students finished off organising our little library; painting and labelling our world maps; adding the names of TPC children to our 'family trees'; creating a birthday balloon chart, and a couple even got to go on a home visit to help the Social Worker assess the eligibility of a child who had applied for a place in TPC.
To finish the successful trip off, we had a small farewell party to thank everyone for their endless efforts in supporting us, and welcoming us as part of their community and family. We had all bought some gifts for different people in the community and all the staff received the lovely hoodies that we have. I think they will look very smart wearing them and it was an evening of broad smiles as people received gifts. Peace and Golden had arranged for everyone in our team to receive a beautiful hand woven wicker basket, all personalised with our names on them. I am not sure yet what I will keep in mine, but I know it will take pride of place in my home and will always bring back wonderful memories of this amazing trip. Although it was promised that no tears will be shed today (they were supposed to be stored up for tomorrow!) after only about a minute of the ceremony, a teardrop dropped onto my cheeks. Just the thought of not seeing all my Ugandan friends and families for a while triggered so many tears, and I had no choice but to let them fall.
Although the teardrops were mainly from sadness, I would also say that they were tears of joy. I am so glad and grateful that I was able to come to Uganda for the second time, to spend time with these beautiful children and to become a part of their lives. It was great to see The Peace Centre complete, which was only a construction site when we left last year. I feel really blessed about having been part of the team both this year and last year, in improving the children's lives, and in - unintentionally - improving my own in the process. It is impossible for me to imagine my life without Uganda, Bukinda and The Peace Centre. They have all become so linked with my own life and I know I am a lot richer as a result.
The highlight of the day, and perhaps even the whole trip, would have to be the triumphant dancing after the ceremony. Now it truly was a celebration! Most of us had shied away from the dancing at the beginning, feeling a little self conscious I think, but then soon after, we all joined in to be part of it! Surprisingly, I had immense fun dancing up and down in bakiga style although it was incredibly tiring... The dance is a crazy mixture of jumping, stamping, arms flailing all about, but yet it is all so rhythmic and harmonised. The joyous drum beat created by the chidren (even the small 6 years olds have amazing rhythm!), the energetic dance by everyone, the resonating shrieks and calls by the adults, and lastly the triumphant singing all combined to create the cheerful, ecstatic atmosphere. I was quickly taken up into a trance by this hypnotic ritual and was crazily dancing - I probably danced more this evening than the whole of my life!
The last night in Uganda was not so sad but rather exciting, with the incredible music surrounding us and drifting upwards into the twinkling night sky. It was great to see everyone enjoying their time, and our last evening in Bukinda would have to be one of the best of my life. This truly was a happy celebration of love and friendship that will last a lifetime full of smiles and joy. The tears will have to wait for tomorrow.
By Srijan Banerjee
Today was a special day for all of us here at The Peace Centre. The local culture encourages the community to attend church on every Sunday and so, wanting to integrate ourselves with the community, that is what we also did. Although I went through this experience last year, it felt like it was completely new. One by one the Reverends clambered up to the stage, and recited an exert from the Bible or shared a prayer. As many of the speeches were in Rukiga, we could understand little, but it was a good opportunity for personal reflection. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful hymns sung by the choir, all backed up with resonating beats booming from the African drums, and the sweet tunes helped us to better understand the local beliefs. We had learnt beforehand that today's service would be longer than most, due to our visit, but we didn't really know what this meant until Golden came up to us with his iconic smile and said, "When you hear the word, thanksgiving, you must go out of the church and help carry the pews we are donating". We gave him a confused look, but before any of us could ask him what he meant, the service had already begun. And so we kept our ears open for the magic word, and when we did, our odd group exited the church and within a few minutes entered again with four large benches, to a gleeful crowd. We lumbered to the front of the church with our heavy benches as the crowd sang happily. These were a gift to the church from The Peace Centre to thank them for supporting us and the children we care for.
Among the many messages shared in church, I understood one fundamental idea which appealed to all the locals: religion was an essential part of their culture, it provided them with hope, and for the most part helped them lead happy lives. I saw the exceptional role that Christianity plays to lift up the spirits of all the people, whether they were rich or poor, young or old. The local church has played an important role in supporting Peace and Golden to integrate our kids into the local community.
As I mentioned before, today was a special day. Important guests were invited to Peace and Golden's humble abode, and a "short programme" was held. Our guests included the Bishop from the Diocese (a very important local man), Mayor of the township, numerous Reverends, the local police, Headmasters from neighbouring schools, the Board of TPC, the staff of the Peace Centre and numerous others who are fundamental to our projects. The program started with a song from the children, followed by Ms. Barnard's nonsensical yet amazingly catchy "family anthem" that she's taught us all to sing. After our introduction, we had speeches from Golden, Peace, the Reverends, our teachers from Dulwich and many others. Perhaps the most memorable speech I heard today was by one of the Reverends. Although I can't recall his exact words, I remember his distinct use of a "futurescope" to explain to us the importance of The Peace Centre and the impact it has on the lives of the children living in it. From what I gathered, if you look carefull you can see your future through this amazing instrument, and because of The Peace Centre, the children now have a bright future, one which gives them the chance to become "lawyers and doctors and engineers and teachers" as put by the Reverend. The afternoon was drawn to a close by the soothing, grateful words of Peace and Mr. Reich who both talked of the large family that TPC has created, and not just for local orphans, but for all of us Dulwuch students too. What a special family to be a part of. I count myself fortunate to be a member. Although many things were lost in translation today, one idea was clear: the local community will be forever grateful to us, just as we will be forever grateful to them.
After our program, we all went to the field to play with the children, and upon our return to the house, the children had discovered their newest source of fun: the swing that we installed on Friday was now stable enough in its foundations to be played on! The children had never even seen a swing before our trip to the lake on Saturday, so they were overcome by excitement! We soon saw that the children were ecstatic around the swing. Their joy brought a surge of energy, which I soon learnt was actually quite hard to control. Miss Yu and Mao had established a rule for the children, ten swings each and then they were to go to the back of the line. I think it is safe to say that this rule worked fine, but it seemed the children had turned into a crowd hyperactive toddlers, overflowing with eagerness to try the swing! I'm not sure I have ever had such a crazy experience before, the whole time my feelings jumped from happiness to dread as the swings came within an inch of each other... all amidst cries of laughter and ecstasy. It is great to see the children so happy.
Today was a long and important day. We continued to integrate ourselves into this community as Peace and Golden showed what great hosts they are, and as I reflected on how different the future can be for some of these children now. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the 'futurescope' will be right, and that we will see these children grow into people who can make a difference in this community, and who will be equipped to pass the message of 'love, care and a home' onto the next generation of orphans who deserve a future filled with hope too.
By Aisha Taylor
Today the whole team went to visit Bukinda Secondary School, which is the school that the older children from The Peace Centre attend. The walk was about two and a half kilometres and was all uphill along rocky roads. This completely shocked me as there will be children that live further that have to walk even longer distances, and I was already tired about 200 metres into the walk! When we arrived at the school there were groups of children sitting on grass chatting and staring at us as we went to talk to the headmaster. I don't think they often get groups of 22 foreigners strolling into their compound. There was no programme today, which was extremely surprising, so we just got to freely mingle around. Promise, one of the children from The Peace Centre, ran up to us and took us into her class because they all wanted to meet us. She was very happy to have us visit her school. When I stepped into the classroom I couldn't believe that it was completely bare. There were no display boards and the walls weren't painted. There was a blackboard with a sponge as the rubber, and that was it. The complete opposite of what we are used to seeing at Dulwich and not for the first time since I've been here, it really made me think about all we have. The children loved us introducing ourselves and they would repeat all our names. Promise took us on a tour of the school and we went into the library. It was quite small, but there were a few categories of books. Although the majority seemed to be textbooks with very few novels and seemingly little emphasis on reading for pleasure.
In the evening, Andrea and Sophia organised an activity where the children drew on T-Shirts with special fabric markers that they had ordered on Taobao before we left. What a great activity! We all paired up with a TPC child to support them. It was incredible to see how such a small thing meant so much to all of them. At the end of the activity they all had to share what they had drawn and they were so proud to tell the rest of us all of their creations. Some of the designs were brilliant, and some rather funny. One girl decided to draw a goat on her t-shirt, another a table. Many drew footballs and a few drew The Peace Centre logo. One shared, "I have drawn The Peace Centre as I now have a home." There was a sense of achievement and happiness that was booming off all of the children. I think this will be a fun activity to do again next year.
In general being with the children has been an absolute dream for me. They are all so friendly and caring. It is crazy to think that in such a short period of time I have grown so close to all of them, and I really do love them. I want to adopt them all! When I play with Joan and Moses I forget everything else that is happening in the world and I am completely happy. Their laughter gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Teaching them the word hug has been my biggest achievement because now whenever I say 'hug' they both give me lots of cuddles! When the children come home from school it is the best thing ever! From then on I lose track of time so easily and it just flies by. Even though I'm very tired at bed time, I'm also sad as it means I have to say goodnight to the children. I cannot believe we are leaving Bukinda on Saturday; it is going to be so hard to leave them all. I feel like they are now part of my extended family, so on one hand that is wonderful as I now have so many more brothers and sisters, but on the other it means that saying goodbye to them all is going to be gut-wrenchingly hard. They have achieved so much and come so far, they have shown me how to love and loved me in return. I will never forget them.
Who are we?
A team working alongside Golden Magezi in Bukinda, Uganda, running an orphanage that provides kids with love, family and an education.