Thursday was a wonderful day No less intense, packed with Love Africa content, and a bit shorter
Bishop Sam was refreshingly honest about the challenges of PAG and the projects we visited, especially the landing stage community, but he is impressed that he now has a competent team he can trust. He graciously prayed over us before we left and gave thanks for the work of St James. Jill managed to persuade Pastor Patrick to provide copies of the PEP Bible studies which we have asked for years.
The drive from Soroti to Mbale was a beautiful start to the day We saw the countryside which was dark on the way up. There were fisherman in the shallow lakes and small road side markets selling produce. Nigel leapt into the lead in the "sleeping in the van" challenge, he is in a different league from Chris. The group arrived at the Mount Elgon and were immediately impressed with the location and atmosphere. After dropping off the bags (and laundry) we headed to UWCM. Edith and the UWCM team were, as always, delighted to see us and greeted us warmly. Edith in particular looked well and was optimistic. Jessica stood in to introduce the team members, now stable after losses earlier in the year, and still enthusiastic and joyful in their work with "Mai Edith"
After a round of hilarious introductions (they are looking forward to seeing the video from March of the greetings Gary and Tom filmed and the "dancing pastor") Edith was persuaded to tell us the story of UWCM which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016. She spoke movingly of how Matthew 25, v30 onwards inspired her to set up UWCM as a Christian response to the needs she saw in her community. She spoke clearly about the CMT or PEP process as a way of multiplying efforts and engaging people to help their own communities. It was a most inspiring session. She is a very gracious woman who breaks me up ever time I meet her.
UWCM split the group into 2. Edith insisted on taking the people who had never been to Uganda before, thats Judi, Beccy, Mandy, Heather and Brian for a crash course in community mobilisation and Pauline took Jill, Chris, Nigel Andrew and Frank. Both groups went to local CMTs where UWCM has worked for 10-12 years which are within the local area.
Bumbobi CMT was set up in 2002 We gathered in their church building with the CMT leaders and members and a sub county chairman (politician) joined us. We were welcomed by David the chairman of the CMT who had prepared an extensive (written ) report on the history achievements and challenges of the CMT over the last 12 years. UWCM has worked consistently to build up the leaders and people in this community and to reach out in God's love to the needs of the people. Over the years they have set up community projects to support people living with HIV/AIDS teenage mothers, orphans and vulnerable people, health and sanitation and constructed shelters for homeless or needy people.
Some of the achievements David presented were very impressive, such as the community now provides financial support to the CMT for their programmes, individuals from the community have been developed to serve in public office, overall living conditions and household income have improved and the church has started a new school. The CMT has a number of income generating activities including a fascinating plastic chair hire business The community owns 100 plastic chairs which they rent out for meetings and events in the local community! I have always felt there was a great business opportunity with the ubiquitous plastic chairs in Uganda.
The CMT then brought forward 2 women who gave testimonies of their lives and how UWCM and the CMT process had turned them around
Olive was married in 1992, had 2 children and her husband died in 1995 and she subsequently found she was HIV positive. She had to return to live with her parents where she was introduced to UWCM. She described how practically UWCM helped her set up a home, assisted with the children's education and provided counselling for living positive with HIV and managing her antiretrovirals. She was able to get a job and to devote time back to support UWCM's activities She has worked on programmes for vulnerable children teenage mothers with UWCM, putting back into the community after she had received.
Sarah was widowed in 2000 with several children , the youngest 1 month. UWCM provided practical to establish herself in the community and build a home and smallholding (more later) She too is HIV positive and on ARVs. She too has been able to give back to her community in a way that multiplies the work of UWCM
Daniel is the sub county chairman. he spoke movingly of how his family was supported by UWCM when his father died leaving his mother with 10 children. He seems to be a big supporter of UWCM publicly though Emma advised us later that politicians see a block vote from communities supported by UWCM and there has been some courting of Edith and her team to try to deliver votes in local elections
Our group were invited to comment on the work of the CMT and provide some words of encouragement Everyone contributed and spoke freely of their emotions and reactions to what we saw and heard.
The church had maybe the best sign on the wall I have seen for some time, "Switch off your phone and listen to God's voice"
12 of us then loaded into Emma's van (made for 8) and drove to visit some of the activities in the field. We parked in a small community and walked for some distance along a disused railway to Sarah's home This has been constructed by the CMT for her. It is a solid mud structure with 3 bedrooms, a sitting room and an outside kitchen All kept scrupulously clean and tidy with good practical furniture and even battery operated LEDs. She was so proud of her home and what the CMT had done for her It was avery ovine experience It was interesting to walk through the community and stop and greeting people who were all friendly All the children know to say "I am fine" to any question.
As we walked back the ACET van we noticed a large group of boys and found men with branches parading to a drum beat through the town I boy was dressed in skins and painted and covered in millet The group quickly surrounded Chris and the big danced energetically in front of him. Chris stood his ground and they moved on. Quite assay moment. It tuned out this was a circumcision ceremony for the dancing boy, a tradition in this region. One of the village elders approached Chris and asked if he would like to join in but he said he had a prior engagement (a late lunch with Edith) which seemed like a good reason to refuse!
We moved on to another village to visit Robina's house She had not been able to attend the meeting She too was a widow who has been provided with a house by the community. Again her home was clean and well organised Her sitting room was papered with news paper pages from the past 10 years or so, fascinating! She showed us round her small holding and introduced us to her daughter Mary She too now contributes back to CMT initiatives in the community
And so back to UWCM for a late lunch
The UWCM cook had prepared lunch for us which we enjoyed together. Edith then finished our time together asking the group for their impressions of the projects and talking about the difficulties of funding and administration costs and her plans and aspirations for the 25th anniversary. We finished with a "word" and prayers led by the "dear visitors"
The group were back at the Mount Elgon just in time to see the pool being closed for the evening, however we had some down time and a late dinner where we were able to unwind and reflect on what we had seen and heard. People are really getting in to Love Africa and the projects
It was great to see these mature CMTs in the 2 communities close to UWCM Particularly that people are giving back having been beneficiaries and making the CMT model sustainable and able to adapt to the changes in the communities. This is really delivering on Edith's vision in a wonderful way
We spoke to Edith and she asked us as a church and Love Africa community to support her and UWCM in our prayers as follows:
- for the continued need for donors and supporters so UWCM can continue its work
- for the staff to be motivated an encouraged in their work, UWCM cannot afford to pay competitive wages and Edith remains concerned about this for guidance on the plans for the 25th anniversary celebrations, what they should be to honour God in UWCM and how they can be used to give new profile and impetus to UWCM and I would ask that we give thanks for Edith and he vision for UWCM, for the great work that has been done over the years and the transformation in people's lives