Oakham School Volunteering in Uganda

Posted on: 10 Aug 2015

At 5am on a cold, dark February morning, 31 pupils and five teachers set out from a sleepy Oakham School to travel to Entebbe. Sixth Former Jessica Leaf describes how working at two primary schools was a humbling experience….

Our aim was simple: to make the learning experience better for the children at two separate primary schools and to bring hope for the future to the children and the community surrounding them.

In order to achieve our goal of travelling to Uganda we had had to raise money through fundraising initiatives – so through wine tastings, dinners and cake sales, we managed to hit our target of £12,000.

We arrived in darkness at Entebbe Airport so we had to wait until the next day to really see Uganda for the first time. The whole atmosphere was different to England; everyone was so happy and there was something interesting happening everywhere we looked, from the market sellers to the motorbikes carrying four people. However there were also some upsetting views, especially nearer the slums and in the side streets where there were children and babies in barely any clothes or footwear. Yet we knew that we were going to make at least some difference to some of the lives of the people that lived there which kept us going.

Driving through Kampala and Jinja was definitely an experience that is hard to describe. There was constant beeping, pedestrians had no care for cars, motorbikes were swerving quickly through the traffic and every time we stopped, which was frequently, street sellers approached the windows of our bus trying to persuade us to buy some food. This was already a massive culture shock for us all and we hadn’t even arrived at our camp!

We were greeted at Aisha Primary School with a welcome ceremony that included local songs that soon became part of our on-bus karaoke sessions. After the ceremony and teaching the children the ‘Hokey Cokey’, we started our work. Over the next few days we pulled together as a team of 16 to try and make the most of the time we had at the school and make as much positive difference as we could. We plastered the interior and exterior of our classroom, we bought desks and chairs that we sandpapered and painted, we also painted boards to lighten up the classrooms and we cleared the yard area. Before we had set out, we had invested in a concrete walkway around one of the buildings which the school had asked for and we also gave the school money to finish roofing a school building that they simply couldn’t afford to complete. In all the work we did I think everyone put as much effort as they could into it and there was certainly no complaining.

We also had a morning of teaching and put on a sports day for the children which, although there were language barriers, was a resounding success.

With each day we became more attached to the children and I think that the bonds we made certainly made our experience more real as we came to understand their backgrounds more.

On the last day, a large group of women from the community prepared a traditional meal for us as a thank you. The sheer amount of food that they produced and the mountain that they put on each of our plates, showed us how much their community appreciated our project. After the meal we were given a closing ceremony of a drama performance, songs, speeches and traditional dancing and we treated them to a rather spectacular rendition of One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’!

After the emotional goodbyes, we returned to our camp and in the following days we explored the local area sightseeing. Overall it was an extremely humbling experience. I think what surprised us most about the truly amazing week was the fact that the community was so happy and joyful despite the hardships that they face on a daily basis. Everyone at the school itself surprised us all with the passion, hope and commitment they displayed towards educating the children to lead better lives and I think that is one of the lasting impacts of our trip. We all came away truly inspired by a week of experiencing the unexpected, and at times challenging, situations in a group of people that barely knew each other at the start. Not one of us was ready to come home!

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