It’s difficult to summarise an experience that, at the time, passed over in a haze of disbelief. Last summer I travelled to Uganda with a group of 9 other 16-year-old students from my school and 3 teachers and I wasn’t quite sure of what lay ahead. I even contemplated dropping out in the run up, from fear, as I had never embarked on such a journey before.
The journey there was extensive and spanned over 2 days. We arrived in Entebbe (Southern Uganda) and travelled 7 hours north in a bus to a town named Lira. We planned to be based at a school named ‘Lango College’ for boys aged from 12 to 20. On arrival at the school we were welcomed into the main hall that was later crammed with as many students as possible, sitting and standing in any available space, and the entire staff body. They filled the hall with music they had composed themselves with instruments that included a homemade drum from an old oil barrel. Never have I felt so welcome.
The plan for our week consisted of visiting several local primary schools whilst working with Lango College to put on a sport and dance festival at the end of the week, for over 200 primary school children to attend. The festival planning was challenging and many problems had to be overcome (such as having no budget). There were also few resources at the school so we had to take a trip to the market to buy most of the supplies with money from our own personal savings. The level of responsibility given to us felt quite immense and I certainly felt under pressure knowing it was our fault if there wasn’t enough food for all the children coming.
The week was broken up with the primary school visits that I still can’t quite describe in words. Our bus would pull up in the school grounds with the children running beside it, waving and screaming. Most of them had rehearsed songs and dances to show us that they planned to perform at the festival.
The day of the festival began on a stressful note as we had to hunt down a missing marching band that was supposed to be leading the parade through the town. When we finally began, the stress was forgotten as children from the village (as well as all the primary schools) joined in the march to the college. The band’s music attracted many people from the area who, unexpectedly, joined in with the festival.
One image particularly sticks with me from that day. I was sitting next to the table for special guests (such as the head teacher of Lango and our own teachers) with bottles of water lined up on it. I was surrounded by children from the village, watching the festival, and some of them kept glancing up at the water. How do you share 6 bottles of water between so many children? I felt helpless. I wanted to do more than I did whilst I was there but I think what you take away is also important. Personally, I was amazed at how well they treat new arrivals and I wish to apply that to my own life, to take more time to make a person feel welcome.
I urge anyone contemplating such a trip to go ahead and do it – see as much of the world as you can; meet new people of new cultures, understand the problems they face and compare them to your own.
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