Volunteer story: Nick Allen - Return to Lukomera
Feb 2015 was my fourth visit to Uganda, the timing of which coincided with start of the academic year. I had been convinced at short notice (one week!) to join Jerry and Elspeth already out there, to do my (little) part in discussing, planning and progressing SD potential objectives for this forthcoming year, both at WTA and at The Bridge Primary Resource Centre. As it happened, we added a little to The Rock Health Centre too.
Start of term is hectic at WTA, registering and ensuring payments complete (where appropriate) for over 500 pupils over a set number of days... or that is the theory. In reality the task is enormous and inevitably some students sneak under the radar ... only to be weeded out later by our efficient Bursar Patrick.
This visit enabled us all to determine WTA school priorities and to take advice from Director Charles about his view on sustainability... always at the heart of our planning. Balancing fee-paying boarders against disadvantaged day students is a key aspect; our lessons-learned have left us with a better view, but a fundraising challenge, in meeting that need. This, amongst many other aspects of school life, absorbed much discussion, planning and budgeting for this forthcoming year.
We also met with a number of groups interested in the 'unique' concept of The Bridge. This has proved to be an extremely innovative and valuable asset at WTA. It is also now being recognised in much wider circles as a key support to poorly resourced primary school education. We met with local landowners (far enough from WTA to cover a different set of primary schools) and even visited a site near the slums of Kampala. The intent is to seed this model elsewhere, both through local management where possible, but also as a model for others to take responsibility for themselves.
And for The Rock, we have ordered an ambulance.... well, a village ambulance :-) http://www.pulse.ug/products/ , through donation from New Life Church, Romsey. Transport for very sick patients to and from The Rock has always been problematic and this should help relieve that pressure. See interview with Amanda Jones from Nov 2014 trip at http://www.servedirect.org/news-media/news-updates-downloads/interview/#.VPAuyGOJ18F
I cannot finish a testimony about this trip without making reference to Percy... a 10 foot python rescued from village locals (who all seem to hate snakes with a vengeance). It was great opportunity for all of us to get up close and personal with a very beautiful and impressive beast. There was also the bonus to be able to 'show and tell' the python to the WTA students at their assembly, trying toallay some of their fears and incorrect preconceptions. I learnt a lot about pythons (more than I needed, I have to say). After feeding Percy up to regain his strength, we released him at a sanctuary further north where his dash for freedom was a good sign he was going to do well. See FB page of 'Rhino Fund Uganda' - Feb 14 posting.
What was I expecting from the visit?... I have been before, so have a reasonable idea of life in Uganda and around the school. I was expecting chaos at the school at start of term, but actually found a very ordered process, with students far more settled and 'back at home' at school than one might imagine. I was expecting lots of meetings and SD business stuff, and we certainly had that.
What do I regret?... Not spending more time just sat with the pupils under the trees, chatting, and not spending a little more proactive time in The Bridge which I love.... until some little fella starts pulling the hairs off my arm.
What surprised me? ...Just how good our Guest House is, compared to previous trips spent at outside guest houses. Heaven ... proper toilets, hot water, comfy clean beds, great food. I say "Send all first timers to an outside guest house so they get a real flavour...!" :-)
Advice for those planning to go on a trip?... Go with an open heart and mind. Be prepared to muck in and be flexible regardless of any personal plans you may have. Don't bring your UK expectations with you. Don't bring your best clothes. You will be well prepared before leaving but if this is your first time then there will be many sounds, sights, and smells that will be very new. Enjoy, absorb, capture the experience ... it will follow you home and your enthusiasm will be infectious to others.