Blog update! Uganda visit June '22
18 June 2022 16:13
This June, a team of volunteers from St John's Church, Crawley, have joined us in Uganda to support a number of our projects that are currently in full swing. The team are the first to join us in-country since the pandemic and we are so excited to be able to share regular updates from them during their visit. Read on to hear about what they have been up to...
Tuesday 14th June
We left Malakai Eco Hotel early on Tuesday morning to catch our MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) to northern Uganda. The 12-seater prop plane smoothly carried us over the vast expanse that is the plains of Central Uganda, while many of us dozed to the hum of the engine, one or two managed to take it all in. Arriving in Moyo, our good friend and driver Emmanuel (who had driven through the night from Entebbe) met us there to carry us onwards to the Multipurpose training centre. After lunch, we drove along meandering bumpy roads to a refugee settlement .We were deeply humbled by the living conditions and lack of infrastructure in along the roads we travelled.
We're working in Palorinya settlement, which opened in January 2017 and is home to around 128,000 refugees, the majority women and children displaced from South Sudan. HHA helped start two refugee schools here back in 2017 as part of their emergency response but is now mainly focused as one of leading agencies on disability care, including livelihood/agriculture training for about 400 households in this settlement. Upon arriving, we split into two teams; one team were leading a conference and kids work with parents and carers of people with disabilities. The kids were enthralled with Germaine who so wonderfully engaged and brought light with the help of other team members and local HHA team.
The second group gathered with pastors from this particular zone of the camp, where we shared about Unity, asked the pastors to describe the disabilities in there community and identify their causes. After much sharing, Stephen beautifully brought energy and enthusiasm while sharing a powerful example of challenging stereotypes of people with disabilities.
A great first day on mission, the whole team are enthused and eager to connect with more kids, carers, parents and pastors again tomorrow.
Ross and Germaine
Wednesday 15th June
Today we definitely improved a few elements of our sessions with both the church leaders and the individuals with disabilities/carers. Everybody interacted and laughed in the right places! It is certainly very humbling to see the extent of some of the disabilities and the lack of prosthetics, correctional surgery and access to support in the settlement. HHA took details of several people who they hope to be able to help and everybody was so grateful for our visit and the messages of God's love for every single one of them. Again, Germaine did a brilliant job entertaining the children - what a natural!
Highlight of the day yesterday for many of the team was visiting some of HHAs agriculture and livelihood locations, a project supporting 1,100 of the most vulnerable households (majority households supporting someone with a disability). The project provides emergency food aid for 3 months as average food rations in the settlement only last about 14 days of a month. Households have faced ration cuts of 30% currently. At the same time as the distributions HHA provide agriculture training, land and training for families so they can sustainably produce their own food. This project started in March and already, plants are beginning to pop up on the first project and the second piece of land has been ploughed up and maize planted. Now we all need to pray for rain!
Eddie and Jane
Thursday 16th June
It was an early start from Moyo for the journey to BidiBidi Refugee settlement where we will be staying for the coming 4 days.
We had a stop at the Government office overseeing the refugee settlement on the way, who shared details about the settlement with us (opened in 2016 when South Sudanese refugees had to flee the war and now hosts about 240,000 refugees - one of largest in the world). Services here are limited and we heard of one individual as an example, a young man (18) who dislocated his hip and needs an operation (which costs about £4K). Tragically he can’t afford this and in the words of the government official is ‘wasting away.’ It was a plea for help and a reminder how privileged we are for free health care in UK.
We then visited the HHA Rehabilitation Centre for a tour of the facility and lunch. The centre is the only unit of its kind in the region providing prosthetics and orthotics, wheelchairs and physiotherapy. The team who produce the artificial limbs explained how many of the patients come with wounds from the war where they’ve lost limbs through land mines, gun shot wounds or machete attacks. It's incredible to see the commitment and professionalism of this team serving those most in need and transforming lives with life changing care.
The team then split into 3 groups to give Leadership training to our wonderful team leaders here (Steve did this training which was amazing and a real blessing to the local team). Ross and Stephen did a conference/service to yet another Pastors group (31 church leaders) on disability inclusion and then we had a separate session encouraging members of the community, including able-bodied, carers and people with disabilities. So many arrived we couldn’t fit everyone in the venue so Eddie and Jane improvised and met under the village tree with well over 200 community members. As the conferences went on Germaine continued her kids work bringing lots of fun, joy and hope to the area. Particularly special was an invitation to visit a young boy who was quite severely disabled and wasn’t being engaged in the play. Germaine sat with him for some time using some of the more sensory toys like bubbles, which he responded too incredibly, clearly touched by the time Germaine had spent with him. In an environment where kids with disabilities are often totally alienated from community life including school and sadly often church, you can’t under estimate the impact of these moments.
We are so impressed by the fortitude, perseverance and love for God within these tough settlements.
In the evening the whole HHA team met to eat together, chat and have fun. It was quite the event with about 30 HHA staff and volunteers. What a wonderful day; full of love, prayers and memories.
Eddie, Jane and Carwyn
Friday 17th June
Those that sow with tears will reap with songs of joy - Psalm 126: 5
Hello to all the wonderful HHA supporters following our adventures here in Uganda.
Steve picked up on some of our observations from yesterday as he led our devotions and time of prayer at 7:00am this morning. Tears were shed as we prayed into the day and asked God to move in our times of ministry at Amazing Grace School, and chapel.
Our plans altered slightly to meet the needs of the day; Eddie worked on wheel chair assembly, Germaine and Jane worked with young children and I joined Steve for a conference attended by over 40 local pastors with at least that number again added as the day progressed. He continued the theme of unity, understanding disability and how we recognise it in our churches. Then he shared his testimony and looked at importance of balancing church, family and personal devotional time to lead an effective ministry.
Carwyn fitted in agricultural site meetings with Ross and we all joined Isaac and his family for lunch under the shade of a passion fruit tree. The rice here is splendid, and there was a mix of greens, goats meat and chicken to go with it. We also sampled the white maize which looks so similar to rice but tastes quite different.
If you’d been there and overlooked our bright blue HHA teeshirts you could easily imagined were sharing a meal in Biblical Israel. We were joined by a 7 day old kid (goat) and Florence (Isaacs’s wife) not only served us but had also carried 12 heavy water containers 400 metres to help with cooking, and ablutions. Think of that - 3 miles of walking - just for a utility we all get from a tap without a second thought.
Later Steve and I took Bible Stories and dreams to the older students that ranged from 12 -20 years of age in Amazing Grace primary school. Steve was here 3 years ago, and new classrooms have been built and occupied since then.
Our combined efforts to connect with 100 children in a second classroom ended in hysterics as we invited the Headmaster to join in an hilarious countdown for one of Steve Burston’s light hearted games.
Our time at Amazing Grace ended with a staff vs HHA football match. 20 minutes in the heavens opened and the enthusiastic children headed for cover as the teams played on getting soaked in the process. Score line - Amazing Grace 1 - 0 HHA.
During the afternoon we were joined by another UK volunteer just back from Ukraine - and we had a chance to discuss the sorry state of affairs for refugees here and in Europe.
For me the highlight of the day was an amazing prayer as one of the team gave thanks for all the construction work on this wonderful site - which not long ago met under mango trees and now provides education for 450 children. We were reminded of various challenges as we bounced home in our indestructible Toyota minibus - and freshened up after another long day.
Please pray for our health, and remember Yoweri Oniro a local HHA worker who contracted malaria last night and had to have hospital treatment which would have been quite costly.
Sunday 19th / Monday 20th June
Our East African adventure is almost over. We have one last night before a 5:00am start and our return to Entebbe.
On Sunday the team split into 3 groups speaking at different churches relatively close to New Hope Rehabilitation Centre. I joined Carwyn and Jane as they introduced themselves to a congregation of around 60 adults and children and yet again, the church proved completely different to the others we’ve attended in the last week. The pastor wore a smart suit, the ladies present were dressed in long colourful dresses. We re-enacted the story of the disabled man who came in through the roof, getting the whole church involved. After this all the children sang a worship song.
I was struck by the congregations enthusiasm, and desire to thank God for everything. They even had a slot giving thanks that 3 new people had joined them since last week.
In the testimony slot one lady spoke of an injustice at work where she had nearly lost her job, but had eventually been exonerated. 89% of adults in the 245,000 population of the vast Bidi Bidi region are unemployed, so her relief had been immense. Her story emphasised the fragility of life in this region - and the church all gave God the glory as heavy rain had fallen overnight which will hopefully go some way to alleviate any possible crop failure after weeks struggling with a lack of rains.
These dear people really can’t take anything for granted, other than the fact each day will be a struggle.
After the service we headed back to the HHA Disability Centre, finishing the installation of a CCTV system, and adding further cheerful murals to the walls which will be special child spaces in each of the departments here. By 4pm the team was exhausted, and headed back to our rudimentary hotel for some well earned rest.
We celebrated Ross’s birthday at a nearby restaurant. The venue is situated within a walled compound with an armed guard.
The evening held one last surprise, whilst we were out much of the region had suffered from a plague of flying ants which littered our bedrooms as wave after wave crawled down the corridors or flew through the ventilation louvres. Once again Uganda had served up a powerful reminder of life in Bible times, it made me wonder at the stubbornness of Pharaoh in Exodus.
Sunday morphed into Monday with an emotional farewell at New Hope an hour before it opened to serve refugees in need. After prayers and hugs all round we headed south through deep puddles, and watched curious children scooping up the 3 inch ants from the previous night. These were extricated from the verges and puddles and will be used as food! I can’t imagine any of us doing the same in England.
As we headed back to our next stop near the Nile, Carwyn explained how his next task is to survey another region for possible future HHA activities as well as reviewing a Plumpy’Nut project they support with UNHCR which treats about 1,700 children with severe and acute malnutrition every year.
Our last afternoon concluded with a boat trip, where we saw God’s wondrous creation. Elephants, antelope, crocodiles, and hippos wowed us. What a way to bow out after a time of immense blessing! There have been so many highlights, but the bottom line is we are here to serve the Least, the Last, and the Lost.
I would never have imagined it could be so rewarding - we will return richer for the experience. Thank you for your prayers. Let us know if you’d like to join the next trip!
Tuesday 21st June
It’s always hard to do the final blog of a trip and try to summarise what’s been a rollercoaster week of emotions! In just one week, the team have shared in so much; some tears and some deep joy/laughter. I’d like to say a huge thanks to St John’s Crawley for their incredible support of HHA and a very special thanks to all those who came on this trip. This team was amazing! Full of humility, flexibility, joy, passion; values that make a perfect team. They were taken out of their comfort zone, thrown into situations unexpectedly, stretched but they rose to the occasion and have helped impact many lives (more than they probably imagine).
Perhaps the lasting memory for me was meeting a little boy called Alex. He arrived at one of HHAs community wheelchair distributions where the St John’s team were working. It was very quickly evident that Alex had a number of very serious pressure sores which needed urgent attention. Even having worked with this kind of situation for many years, it was hard not to be moved by his condition. Those members of the HHA team with the relevant expertise to help, did so, doing some initial wound management whilst we planned for a referral to the health centre at our rehabilitation unit is. Pressure sores of this kind require very long treatment, and it’s our hope and prayer that HHA will be able to assist.
Each night the team sit around and share their high and low of the day. From a trip perspective, Alex was both a high and low for me. On the one hand, I’m incredibly grateful HHA were able to connect with this precious family and are now involved in trying to secure the best outcome possible. On the other hand, I know the current infrastructure where we are isn’t set up for cases like Alex and there is a lot of uncertainty on next steps. Please do pray for this amazing boy.
Seeing the disability centre up and running was another high for me. This was the fulfilment of a dream we had back in 2017 when we first visited the region, witnessing families displaced by the South Sudan war, living in desperate conditions. Yet, whilst one dream is fulfilled, I was deeply humbled in my last few days on this trip traveling to south west Uganda where we meet with new refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo crisis, which has left families living in unimaginable poverty. We witnessed one mother looking after her 4 children in a desperate temporary shelter. Two of the children are receiving life saving treatment from the Plumpy’Nut we provide with Edesia each year, a therapeutic food that treats severe and acute malnutrition. This is a family living on the very edge of survival.
Their situation reminded me of where we started in northern Uganda with the South Sudanese refugee community. Since then, huge progress has been made trying to improve the living conditions of South Sudanese refugees with disabilities. This is something to celebrate. Yet, on the other hand, the new arrivals of these refugees from DRC provide a stark and humbling reminder as to why our work isn’t finished and must continue. Much has been accomplished on this trip, but there is much more work to be done! I’m incredibly grateful to church groups like St Johns Crawley who enable us to carry on this important work.
If you’d like to join the adventure, why not get in touch to find out how your church can get involved, or how you could volunteer or consider donating to the work, either as a one off or regular supporter of the mission. Probably the lasting memory of this trip will be remembered by these verses that one of the team shared in one of our morning devotionals…’Those who sow in tears will reap in joy’ - Psalm 126:5
With much love and thanks.