When people have been asking me, “How was Uganda?” I say three words…
Exhilarating and Exhausting!
I didn’t sleep very well for the entire time I was there and worst of all on my last night because apparently, on the last Friday of the month – for many years it seems – a Burundi church sets up a keyboard, drum kit and possibly a guitar or two and blasts out their version of an all-night music & prayer festival. and when I say all night, I mean literally, all night! By about 3:30 AM, I was drifting off in sheer exhaustion as well as blissful gratitude when the music suddenly stopped. My drifting never got me to the desired place of sweet dreams however, as the music was resurrected at around 4:00 AM!
So, that’s a large part of the exhaustion – nightly traffic noise, the fan to both keep me cool and drown out the traffic noise, coupled with the local Imam, rousing anyone who wanted to pray at about 5:00 AM with his singing (actually more pleasant than the afore-mentioned church!) from the large mosque paid for by Colonel Gaddafi and completed in 2006.
The other part of the exhaustion comes from the driving across town or into the rural areas. I wasn’t doing the driving you understand but my colleagues did a heroic job that they consider a part of normal, every day life. Weaving in and out of traffic like a slalom skier, and then slowing down for the potholes that you could take a bath in if you were that desperate.
And desperate is what an enormous amount of people in Uganda are. 99% of all children surveyed, say they have suffered from either physical, sexual or emotional abuse. 99%!? That’s just one incredible statistic.
So why was I there and what do Viva do in places like Uganda?
I have been involved with Viva in one way or another for many years but now I am finally nailing my colours to the mast and getting involved, working for them on a part-time basis. My role is to speak to existing and potential donors – both individuals and companies, showing them what Viva does, and encouraging them to get involved by helping to fund the work around the world, or in some specific areas, depending on what their specific interest is.
It was all started by a Danish teenager called Patrick McDonald who through tragic circumstances, lost his mother through a downward spiral of severe depression after a drunk driver killed his younger brother and then his father also died a few years later. He received a small inheritance and spent it travelling all over South America. Whilst there, he experienced a simple revelation of how the tireless work of so many people who were trying to help street kids, could be massively improved and the overall impact be hugely increased.
For example, on a Monday night, several different church groups, and charity workers came to the same park to feed the street kids in a particular city in Bolivia. Why not organise yourselves, thought Patrick, so that one or two organisations come on different nights of the week, so that the kids get fed every night of the week, instead of this feast and famine situation?
So began a journey that led to the creation of Viva in 1994, that continues to this day and is impacting more than 1.4 million children around the world, across 22 nations through the work of 37 different networks that comprise more than 5,500 churches and community organisations.
So, back to why I was in Uganda. Simple really. To see for myself the work being done and how it impacts children at risk and delivers genuine transformation.
And I definitely saw plenty of evidence to back up the claims.
I spoke with girls who were once out of education but are now well on their way to making a life for themselves and will escape the seemingly endless cycle of girl child discrimination.
I heard from Child Ambassadors who are now actively helping to encourage any of their peers to get help when confronted with any form of abuse.
I saw girls who not long before, had trembled with fear at the sight of a laptop as if it were an strange alien being, now work their way around it as if it was their friend and ally during their weekly lesson inside a mobile I.T. classroom.
I watched in wonder as a mobile library pulled up outside a rural school and as well as the girls in the classroom taking a book to read for the next few hours; local boys and girls who had not been attending the school, came out from behind the bushes to take a closer look, holding the hands of their toddler siblings.
I listened to the officers of the Child Protection unit at a police station in Kampala tell me exactly the same thing a government official had just told me one hour before. How Viva and their network partner CRANE (Children at Risk Action Network) were unique in their response times to emergencies of children needing to be rescued from a wide variety of sometimes horrendous situations.
And finally, I met children who had, or who were in the process of being reintegrated back into either their own or a new family, instead of becoming institutionalised by growing up in an orphanage. There have now been more than 1,000 children returned to their homes or new families since 2011.
This is one network, in one country, primarily in one city alone.
There is so much more work going on in other parts of the world.
Uganda, I loved you but there is still so much more to be done.
On one beautiful evening, I was treated to a truly gorgeous sunset. Not exactly the Serengeti or Masai Mara but the suburban sky of Kampala was looking pretty spectacular.
If you want to learn more, you can check out the Viva website here
And if you want to get a brief glimpse of some of the things I saw, then you can watch a video that a colleague and I have put together. Watch this