An Intern Abroad…in Uganda
By Jess Davy, Hope for Children Intern
It was not in my Internship agreement as assistant to Hope for Children’s CEO to accompany her on a trip to Hope’s projects in Uganda, but when I heard of Murielle’s upcoming trip I asked to join her at my own expense. A visit to Kampala to see Hope for Children’s work in action was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, and thank goodness I didn’t, for the lessons I learned from the inspirational people I met will encourage and motivate me in the years to come as I start my career.
The community where Hope’s work is predominantly focused is the Namuwongo slum, snaking along a disused railway line on the outskirts of Kampala. I have visited cities in Africa before, as a naïve 18 year old volunteer and as a tourist, but there was nothing that could have prepared me for the experience. The cacophony of noise, smells and sights is overwhelming; blaring music around every corner with that undeniable African beat and the calls of people selling their wares and services. The delicious smells of curried meats fought for prominence against the dust of the red earth and the smoke of thousands of cooking fires burning all day long. This is set against a background of ingenious home structures made from all manner of materials teetering on the edges of deep open trenches of stagnant, foul-smelling water. I was equal parts in awe and horror, amazement and shock, that people can not only survive like this, but make a life from this.
I learnt something exceptionally valuable while in Namuwongo; that from my university studies in development and poverty, from watching documentaries, news broadcasts and getting that familiar lump in my throat seeing the advert appeals; I thought that I had at least an adequate understanding of what the majority of our world faces every day. But it is only when you stand, in my case along a dilapidated railway line, surrounded by the homes and livelihoods of 33,000 (at last count in 2015) near destitute people, you realise one cannot possibly imagine, understand or appreciate the environment that thousands of children grow up in, and this is just one slum community in Kampala alone.
Barely clothed children waved from every doorway, or freely roamed the maze-like streets alone while many ran along the railway track with us for miles as we walked through the community. The harsh reality is that though school is free in Uganda, just simply affording a uniform and school books is a cost that far too many families just can’t bear. This leaves thousands of children to occupy themselves all day long in a dangerous environment. Hope for Children is working everyday to support as many children as it can from the community to have access to school and a safe home environment, through their own projects and partnerships with local organisations to increase their reach.
So far 199 children from the most difficult circumstances in Namuwongo have been able to attend school or other vocational training in the last 10 years, allowing a whole new world of opportunities to open up before them.
To see the Hope for Children logo on various buildings dotted about the length of the railway track, was wonderful. Thanks to Hope, the community now has 3 public toilet blocks for the community to use, with 30 more toilet units run by teams of local people as a small business to maintain its upkeep and earn a salary. The presence of these toilet facilities has hugely improved the general health of the community. We also met the wide smiles of mothers at their stalls, who have been supported by Hope for Children to set up their own businesses to generate their own income to support their families.
Despite being an obvious outsider to this alternate world, I felt very welcome in the community. I was proudly wearing my Hope for Children T-Shirt, and people recognised us and came over to shake our hands, embrace us and introduce themselves. I was truly amazed by the strength and dignity of the people of Namuwongo, who have been fighting their whole lives at the bottom of society, who wake up each day and forge the same hard path to lift themselves out of poverty. I thought this even as they laughed in dismay at my puce red sunburnt face, trust me, I was the very definition of a pale Brit abroad!
I found it hard to leave Uganda, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work still to do and people to help. I do however, find small peace of mind knowing that every day, our Hope for Children teams both in Uganda and the UK are making a difference. They are able to do so purely because of the kind donations of people who are lucky enough to live far away in a very different world, who understand that there are lose less fortunate through no fault of their own. I am so proud to have had a small part in Hope for Children’s work that is driving sustainable change in Namuwongo and am eternally thankful to Hope’s amazing CEO Murielle Maupoint for the opportunity to visit such an incredible place.