Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Gillespie family’s Uganda trip report

Gordon Gillespie describes the family’s recent trip to Uganda…

Why did we go?

“An immensely humbling and challenging experience”

“hugely inspiring people”

“incredible welcomes and hospitality”

“amazing Christian faith and love in action”

“loving and reaching the poorest of the poor”

“hope and joy amidst huge desperation”

…just a few quotes from Sue Gillespie’s previous trips to Rwanda and Uganda.

It sounded like an adventure of a lifetime and the Gillespie boys (all three) did not want to miss out.

We had a lot of prayer and debate about whether spending money on such a journey was appropriate. It sounds trite but we wanted to make a difference in some way and not just be tourists or get in the way. We remembered how Patrick Dixon, the head of ACET, had spoken so clearly to St James about weighing up the cost of flights versus the amount of direct aid that could be bought with that same money.

Sue and I went along to a meeting back in February with other St James families who were contemplating a trip. We thought we might join a group going out and suddenly found we were the only ones going. We later found out that our good friends, the Allens, were planning to go and were persuaded that visiting and supporting some of the projects would be an encouragement to those projects. So, in February, we took the plunge and booked the flights while we prayed that other arrangements would fall into place.

What did we do?

Our trip started in Kiswa School, which has a link with the Church primary school in Gerrards Cross. Kiswa is in a very run down area of Kampala,

At Kiswa School We had an amazingly warm welcome. The whole school stopped for our visit. They sang and danced for us and gave us Coca Cola and samosas that they could barely afford. I embarrassed my sons by demonstrating a lack of keepy upy football skills in front of the whole school. We danced and played with the children all afternoon. A truly unforgettable experience. The picture shows us bringing T-shirts from our CofE school and footballs from St James FC to the teachers.

We then went on to Iganga, one of the poorest areas in Uganda, to visit some children we sponsor, who are also part of the Love Africa Centre for Evangelism (CFE) project. The CFE project is headed by Pastor Paul, who works with a number of different partners to show Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor through the 72 churches he leads in the area. Pastor Paul kindly, and unexpectedly, joined us in visiting the homes of a number of sponsored children that he and his team care for. It was wonderful to see our sons, Ewan and Rhys, playing with the children and making friendships and experiencing at first hand the great work that Pastor Paul and his team do in supporting a very poor and vulnerable community.

Our next visit was to meet the legendary Edith Wakumire. Uganda Women Concern Ministry This lovely lady runs another Love Africa supported project – Uganda Women’s Concern Ministry. She has developed a network of churches and volunteers who go out and help the most needy and vulnerable.

One of the people that UWCM helps is Aida. Her husband died of AIDS and she too is infected. Aida lives in a tiny fragile mud hut with her five children. She has a small area of scorched earth, about the same area as the St James crèche, where she has to grow crops to Aida and her family feed her family. As this is nowhere near sufficient, she works as a labourer for others when she is well enough. Aida rarely has enough food and relies on the Edith’s volunteers for help. Apart from meeting Aida, one other lasting memory of this visit was when Gordon was asked to address the Ugandan Women's Concern conference, despite admitting to a very poor understanding of women let alone their concerns, they seemed to gain immense encouragement from the thought that other people many miles away were praying for and supporting the hard work of these amazingly loving volunteers. They thanked St James so much for their support.

Our final visit was to the Tumaini Orphanage. On a dark clammy night on a red dirt track through the middle of the workers’ shanty town inside several fences and traffic barriers to mark the boundary of the sprawling Kakira sugar plantation, we suddenly Games at Tumainisaw the welcome beaming smile of Tim Allen looking out of another dusty Toyota minibus! That was the start of a memorable three days with Pastor Nicholas and his dedicated team who are running a church and  orphanage in very challenging conditions. We had a great time leading some PromiseLand and other children's activities with children from the orphanage, the local church and the surrounding area. Our most memorable moment was probably when we were surprisingly introduced as children's work experts to a group of 80 very expectant children. With all our props and ideas already used up that morning or packed away in our guest house ready for the following day, we had four hours of improvised fun and games!

What did we take away?     

Here are just some of the many things we took away from the experience:

  • New friendships and relationships that we hope to build and grow over many years
  • Huge admiration for the dedication and faithfulness of the Ugandan churches and volunteers who work so tirelessly and cheerfully with so little
  • Realisation that our support and prayers are just as valuable to the projects and children we support as any money
  • Lessons on hospitality!
  • A personal challenge to think how we could re-apply what we had seen to be Christ’s hands and feet to the most needy and vulnerable around us.
  • A resolution never again follow in the footsteps of the Drewetts – who had done a brilliant job and set a very high standard of PromiseLand leading the year before!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A St James Family reflect on their recent trip to Uganda

Family photo As 2009 was Janet’s 50th birthday we wanted to do something special as a family to mark the year. We’d been fascinated by the stories brought back from previous Love Africa trips. In particular the idea that the visits were very much a two-way exchange was intriguing. The chance to come alongside fellow Christians in the Love Africa projects putting their faith into action seemed too good an opportunity to miss. When we heard about the Drewett family going to Uganda we were particularly inspired to give our children the opportunity to see life from a different perspective; outside of the cosy Gerrards Cross bubble.

The plan for our trip involved visiting the Tumaine orphanage at Children at TumaineKakira; Mubarak (our sponsored child in Mawagala); Kiswa school in Kampala which is twinned with the Gerrards Cross CE School; and a number of ACET/Tearfund/Love Africa projects in the North of Uganda. We also participated in a build project with the Watoto church. In all, a very full, exhausting but fantastic three week schedule.

Family with Ugandan children The highlights of the trip were undoubtedly the children we met; they were so full of life, joy, fun and music. The whole family was captivated. Spending a few days with the Gillespie family at Tumaine running a PromiseLand style activity day was just wonderful. All of our family have been involved in PromiseLand in various ways, so for us to come together as a family to share that experience with the children at Tumaine was deeply satisfying and moving.

We also felt very moved and privileged to experience the love and affection that is felt towards the whole of the St James congregation for the support that the Love Africa mission has given and the difference it has made. To witness first hand the encouragement this gives to the community at Tumaine was a real blessing. The welcome that the children sang for us on our arrival was so beautiful it took our breath away.

We were amazed by Watoto and the scale of their work in Uganda.At Watoto With a congregation of more than 20,000, their mission to look after widows and orphans is on an unprecedented scale. It is incredible to see what God can do if we will only trust in Him. For us and our children to come alongside Christians making this sort of a difference in their community was awe inspiring. So too though were the ACET projects in war torn Gulu, where small communities are

Gulu, Uganda
putting lives back together. These projects are at the other end of the scale from Watoto; a few small, poor churches working together for the first time to look after the poorest of the poor in their own community. A real inspiration again for making Christianity relevant to our own community.

Prior to the trip our teenage daughters frequently asked, “Why don’t we just send the money, do we really have to go to Africa?” (In truth a couple of weeks in a nice villa with a pool would have been more their idea of a good holiday!)

Before we went that was a difficult question to answer convincingly. After our return, it was no longer an issue. To connect face to face was encouraging for the people we met and a privilege for us. A step that allowed God to work deeper in the hearts of both sides. To steal a lovely phrase from Sue Gillespie: “we came back with empty suitcases but very full hearts”. All in all it was a wonderful way to mark Janet’s birthday.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Love Africa Skills Sharing Trip – September 2009

In mid-September three members of St James went to Uganda for a week for the first Love Africa skills sharing trip.

Map picture

Jacky Hughes, Nigel Young, and Andrew Laughland spent most of the week in the ACET Uganda head office, in Kampala, meeting with staff members and discussing aims and objectives, vision and strategy.

The purpose of the trip was two-fold: to use skills and experience that the visiting team could offer (in coaching and organisation, in finance and in information and communication technology) and to find out from the ACET team what skills they and the HIV projects need which members of St James could share in future trips.

Andrew takes up the story…

I had visited Uganda before in 2008 and had had the opportunity, at short notice, to do a day’s IT work and training in the ACET office. This time I was keen to plan ahead and I was able to take tools and equipment out with me and also to pre-arrange meetings with some of ACET’s technology providers with a view to improving service and reducing costs.

Meeting room in ACET's Kampala officeWe spent much of the time in a meeting room filling whiteboards with information and ideas but we also had individual sessions with various members of the ACET team. Additionally I was able to service and upgrade a number of the computers in the office.

One of the exciting things for me was going as part of a multi-disciplinary team so, for example, when Nigel shared his findings on their frustrations with aspects of the finance systems, I was able to locate and install some accounting software which should help overcome those frustrations. If only one of us had been there that probably would not have happened.

Children singing at Kiswa School. KampalaWe did take a little time out from the office and one of the  highlights for me was visiting the Kiswa school in the suburbs of Kampala. This school is partnered with our own Gerrards Cross C of E School and it was very special to be able to take out gifts of pens, paints and paper for them, and to build on the relationship with them. Visits to schools in Uganda usually involve much handshaking and singing and Kiswa school was no exception.

I think what has struck me the most this trip is the powerful difference cost savings and efficiency improvements in the office make for ACET and the HIV projects. I have worked for many years in business using IT to make improvements but it is a privilege in this relationship with ACET Uganda to help direct more of the money and resources to projects which change, and save, people’s lives.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Six short impressions from the recent Uganda trip

Six members from our church went out to Uganda recently (please read their contributions below). At our Nexus evening service they all showed us one photo each and told us what it meant to them...
(NB: If you click on "HQ" the photos will actually show in a pretty decent quality!)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Sue Richardson's reflections

One of the team that recently visited Uganda with the Advisory board was Sue Richardson. Sue is a retired teacher and has been keen to become involved with Love Africa from the beginning. here are some of her thoughts and reflections....

Having just returned from Uganda, visiting the Love Africa projects, I cannot help but reflect on the wonderful people and children I met. People who had so little but so much. It has changed my perspective on life.

I remember the day when we left Soroti in Eastern Uganda to travel to Mbale the country’s second largest town. It was early morning many people were up and about walking or on bicycles, the red earth creating a cloud of dust every time a heavily laden truck roared past. The countryside with fertile rich soil was well cultivated with beans, maize, potatoes and cassava.

We were on our way to visit UWCM (Ugandan Women Concern Ministry) and Edith Wakumire who has a passion and a strong Christian belief to help the poor and needy. This ministry cares for women with HIV/AIDs and their children. They work within the community helping the vulnerable women by reconstructing housing, giving the necessary seed for planting and making them self sufficient where possible.

Edith, a larger than life Ugandan lady with an infectious smile, met us. After initial introductions we were ushered into vans for our trip to Bulaago, a village high up in the mountains and close to Mount Elgon. The road was narrow deeply rutted and up!

Eventually we reached Bulaago to be greeted by local women singing and dancing happy to hug and shake hands with us. Children stroked our skins – we were the first “white” people they had seen.

UWCM work through Community Mobilisation Teams (CMTs) and use volunteers mobilised through local churches to reach those in need in the community. A group of us went to see a grandmother and her five grandchildren. She had been widowed; her daughter had recently died from HIV/AIDs leaving her to care for the children. Her modest hut had burnt down but with UWCMs help the community had provided her with a new shelter. She was now able to care for the family. She had been given encouragement, hope and love to continue.

This truly was God’s Love in Action. It reminded me of James 2 v.5, ....has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him.

Edith was keen to show us the valley in which she had grown up, and once again children followed us. The view was spectacular and so beautiful. Our next stop was to view the new school building, which UWCM had funded. We stopped a football match to drive across the pitch!! Currently UWCM are working with five schools in the area, helping more children in villages by improving the rural schools. They focus on addressing health issues; training for teachers, improving the living conditions for teachers, and providing furniture and improved buildings.

Edith’s energy is limitless. The slogan on the back of the CMTs tee shirts is “Empower a woman and you empower a nation.” May the work of UWCM continue to help those women, children and people living with HIV and AIDs to live a dignified life, and may I never forget the wonderful work through Jesus Christ that they are doing.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Debbie Perrera has just returned from a recent Love Africa Projects visit...

During May 6 members of the St James Church family made a visit to the Love Africa Projects in Uganda. The team included three members of the recently formed Love Africa Advisory Board. The Board is there to give dispassionate advice to the Love Africa Steering Group as they develop relationships with our projects in a range of areas. The team also included one member of the Love Africa Steering Group, Debbbie Perrera who has been serving Love Africa with a very willing heart for some time but had never visited the projecst herself. Debbie was able to fund her visit with the help of neighbours and friends ....


I have just come back from 9 days in Uganda visiting the 5 projects which Love Africa is currently supporting. This was my first experience of Africa; in fact, it was my first ever trip to a Developing Country.

The sights and smells were intoxicating – the countryside more beautiful than I had imagined - I had never been anywhere like it and the people so friendly – children would wave whenever we passed them in our van.

The first place we visited was the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Soroti (about half way up on the eastern side) which runs a programme called PEP bringing church & community together. Communities take an active role in identifying their needs and being part of the solution, leading to a marked increase in self-worth and future capabilities.

We visited a community which had undergone the PEP Program and were working very hard to become self-sustaining. Their pride in what they had achieved (hand-dug wells, mosquito nets, latrines, kitchen gardens, AIDS training etc) was palpable and I felt that ‘the sky’s the limit’ for this community. I began to realise how important it is for the local church to act as the catalyst to empower communities to drive their own development.

Later we visited a Drinking Club in Nakibuyi where ACET volunteers were making a huge difference with life-skills training and I could see again that these people felt empowered and had pulled together to set up a small fund for the most needy in their village even though, to me, they all looked needy.

The lady pictured here, described how she took her one blue dress off at night and used it as a blanket to cover her children and then put it back on the next day.

I thought about my over-stuffed wardrobe at home. These were the poorest of the poor – even the adults had no shoes, yet they presented us with ten beautiful avocados when we left. I was reminded of the incident in Luke where Jesus saw a widow putting two small copper coins into the temple treasury…………’”I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”’ I was truly humbled to see this in action.

Throughout our time in Uganda I felt an immense love for our brothers and sisters there. I was only just beginning to realise the sacrifices they themselves were making in order to serve the poor as Jesus did. One might be forgiven for thinking that Africa’s problems are too complex to find a solution when one looks at the poverty, disease, corruption and the legacy of colonialism but the fact that we truly are brothers and sisters in Christ makes all the difference. It just cuts through the other stuff and bonds us together in Jesus’ love. This has to be the answer.
One highlight was going to Kampala Baptist Church on Sunday morning and worshipping in spirit and in truth as one family who will be spending eternity together. It was marvellous!

God broke my heart (again!) in Uganda and I pray that he will continue to break all of our hearts until we feel the pain of our brothers and sisters in Africa as our Heavenly Father does.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Father and daughter visit Uganda

Martin and Eve Williams spent time with Love Africa Projects in October 2008 and the impact on them and us continues...

Why did you go to Uganda with your dad?
The reason I wanted to go to Uganda is because I had heard so much about it and as it is such a major part of the church life I wanted to see it for myself. Nobody really knows how tragic and corrupted the lives of many people are there, until they see it through their own eyes. My Dad was always talking about it and the pictures shown to me before my visit were only just a fragment of what you could imagine it to be like. St. James church has raised so much money for this inspiring and amazing Love Africa project, and I wanted to see what it had done to make a difference.

What were you expecting and how did reality compare?
The reality was completely different to what I thought. It was like I had entered a different world. The first night I had such a culture shock mixed with tiredness from travelling, and I remember crying myself to sleep. I couldn’t believe what I had seen in one afternoon and this was before I had properly visited any project. I think the thing that made me most upset was the fact that the people around me treated me as if I was royalty, by cooking what was their best, expensive food and making me feel so welcome. My Dad’s arrival and mine made their faces light up and you could see their hope and faith restoring inside of them. Watching people who had so little but making the most of what they did have made me realize how much I take for granted, especially the small things like clean running water from taps, heating and a sturdy roof over my head.

Where did you visit and where did you stay?

I stayed in various places, all very different and new experiences. The first two nights I stayed in Pastor Paul’s bungalow. For someone that lives in Uganda I would think it is a pretty good place to live in but very different to what we think of as standard English house! I slept under mosquito nets in a room off the kitchen and had a blanket to cover me. He lived in a village with many children that followed me at every opportunity possible as they were so amazed by the ‘mizungu’ (a white person) as some had never seen one before. The cockerel and the nature sounds that surrounded our room woke us. The next night I stayed in the Madhvani guest house which was luxury! This was when we were at the Tumaine Children’s home. It was the equivalent of our B&B’s and here I got served chicken and chips with a substitute ketchup (I have it on everything) but I must admit I lived without it for the week as let’s just say it was fluorescent orange. After my stay here I slept the night at Edith Wakumire’s house, one of the most amazing women you will ever meet, the leader of the Uganda Women’s Concern Ministry. Her house was one to remember, my dad and I slept in the back yard in a small room with a noisy roof that scared me as it rattled due to various animals walking on it and avocado pears dropping from the huge tree above us. We were woken by Esther, Edith’s adopted child, with her beautiful singing.

Could you see if Love Africa was making any difference to the lives of the people you met?

Love Africa has made so much difference to the people in Uganda, providing them with concrete things and giving them strength to carry on. A family of 5 previously living under a banana tree now go to sleep with a small roof over their head. Abandoned and needy children now not only have a place to live but a family, education and happiness in the Tumaine children’s home. A lot of people we met now have clothes, clean water supplies nearby and some have medication for the killer disease HIV Aids.

What would you say is the most important thing we can do to make a difference?
Although giving money is the main source of making a difference, I think such an important key to the whole of this organisation is to build relationships with some of the people out there. It’s great just sending off money to charities, but when you know what the money is going towards it makes the whole thing so much more rewarding for both the people donating and the people receiving. To be someone living out there and know that you have all these brilliant people sending money and help, and actually knowing a bit about the church makes it real. Until you go out there you have no idea how thankful the people of Uganda are for your prayers and support, believe me you are doing such a fantastic job.

Is there memory that will always stay with you?

I had that when going on major, inspirational and life changing trips there is always something you take away from it and things that you will never forget. Although what I will never forget is the smiley, joyful faces of all the orphans that now have something to live for, there is one story of from one of the women that I met that has stuck with me ever since. She is a young woman of about 30 years old; she lives high up in the mountains near all the slippery mud and far from any shops or sources. She lives in the smallest tin roofed ‘house’ with her 3 children. She is suffering from Aids, and a few years ago her husband told her he was going to fetch some water. In the early evening he still hadn’t returned and he had been gone the whole day. Next morning he still wasn’t there. It was discovered later that day that he had jumped off a nearby cliff, he had had enough of his life and decided suicide was his last resort. She is being helped by UWCM. The woman could have left her children and done the same, but think of her courage and her living conditions. She has nothing yet she was such a calm, gentle woman that sat in the shade trying to make the best of what she had. There was something so special about that woman and her bravery. If she can carry on, so can you.