At Inspired Villages, every team member is given three ‘giving back days’ that they can use on top of their annual leave for volunteer work. Ella Reeman, from the housekeeping team at Millbrook Village, used her days, and days kindly donated by colleagues, to travel to Uganda and take part in a project organised by education charity Edukid. Here Ella gives her account of the experience and the inspirational work she carried out.
I spent my lockdown finding ways to raise the money to be able to travel to Uganda with Edukid, a charity who have projects set in Cambodia, Palestine, and Uganda, and with a new one opening in Peru. When I first signed up for this trip I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect and the journey to get there involved a lot of resilience over the course of three years as the trip was postponed three times due to Covid-19!
The founders started Edukid when they realised families in poverty didn’t want donations or help with day-to-day things, what they really wanted is an education for their children. That’s because education allows them to be able to get a degree and a job that earns them good money with which to support the whole family.
When I found out about the ‘giving back days’ Inspired Villages offers, I decided to use them to volunteer for this project, and some of my team members also gifted me some of their days for a joint volunteering effort.
The other programme volunteers and I spent our days in schools in the north of Uganda located around Gulu. One thing that initially shocked me was how happy and satisfied the children were with things children here in the UK take for granted, like bubbles, colouring pens, or paper. In fact, one big thing they loved was stickers. We spent a lot of our time playing games and doing activities with the children with items we brought from the UK and getting to know them. This helps boost their education and experiences.
This next photo shows a little girl who is not in school as her family cannot afford it, but when she and a lot of other children who aren’t in school heard we were coming to the local school, they came to see us. It is great for these children to get involved in school life where they can, and it also gives us a chance to get to know them and see if we can help with their school situation – this is their main reasoning for coming to see us in fact. Some children handed us notes pleading for help with their education, these notes are always passed to Edukid leaders who investigate the children’s situation to see if they can help.
This picture shows a group of boys who are able to attend school and we are able to find out things like their favourite subjects and what they want to do when they graduate school. Many of them enjoy subjects like maths and science and when you ask what they want to do after school most say they want to be a doctor because this means they can help their family and community which is so sweet and heart-warming.
This photo is of a girl called Catherine. My old high school sponsored her so she was able to attend school and she’s doing really well. Her favourite subject is dance and after school she wants to be a teacher. She is the oldest of her siblings at the age of 13 but is the only one able to attend school as the others aren’t sponsored. Sometimes children lose their sponsors which means they then lose their education unless Edukid can find new sponsors for these children. To educate these children it costs a sponsor £30 a month, this pays for their school fees, their uniform, classroom materials and two meals a day – breakfast and lunch. Those meals are a real lifeline for some children.
I took this image to give people a rough idea of where all these children and their families live.
They build these small huts themselves out of sand and water and the inside is very basic with just somewhere to cook food and an area to sleep in. It’s very common for around five to six children to share one single bed.
This photo shows a water hole for one of the communities we visited. It was a huge shock because when you see images like this on TV you aren’t always 100% sure whether its all factual but they drink from here! They do have another way to get slightly cleaner water which is a pump however the villagers don’t actually prefer it because it dries up during times of drought, and it takes 15-20 minutes to fill a 15 litre Jerry can. This water in this image was full of animal waste, dirt, bugs and crabs. It was hard to get your head around that fact this is their water supply, when we can just walk to the tap!
Another thing they really struggle with in countries like this is sanitary products for the girls and women. Disposable ones like we use here are available but are expensive so they simply can’t afford to buy them! So what this community, called Kock Goma, are working on is reusable ones which they make from scratch so each girl can have a few and it’s a long-lasting solution. We were lucky enough to have one of the seamstresses teach us how to make one and we all made one ourselves.
Part of my time in Uganda involved helping a family of five children where the oldest was 17 and the youngest was six. They had lost both their parents their parents in separate awful accidents and were left to fend for themselves. The children didn’t know where to start or what to do and their home needed repairs.
Because of this the oldest boy had to drop out of school when he only had 2 years left, the youngest two never got the chance to start school, and the other two still sneak into school without paying. They don’t attend on fee check day but their teachers have now realised and notified Edukid to see if they can provide help!
The neighbours helped the best they could with these children but she has her own children to look after and provide for which left these children eating one meal a day, sleeping on hard concrete-like material and the oldest child working all hours of the days in the fields to try and get an income so he could look after his siblings. One of the children caught malaria due to them not having any mosquito nets and she was extremely close to death.
Our mission was to help this family so we started by going to the market and providing them with mattresses to sleep on, new shoes, a new change of clothes, some long last food, soap and body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, new jerry cans, mosquito nets, sanitary products, a few toys and new farming and cooking utensils. As well as this we brought them a goat and a chicken as this allows them to sell the eggs and milk for an income and buy anything like medication or essentials they need.
Our next mission is to be able to have all the children sponsored so they can have an education and a better life. Three of them want to be a doctor, the oldest isn’t sure what he wants to be as he’s been so focused on looking after his siblings, and the other wants to be a teacher. Edukid have now got sponsorship for two of these children, the hope is to find sponsors for the other three.
To me this was the most life changing experience because it shocks you!
I also visited a girls-only school where girls who are victims of abuse attend. These girls, who range in age from 14-20 years, have been raped or abused and had their own children. Some of these girls have been abused by family or members of their community but these men are not often held accountable the girls end up disowned and alone, and are often HIV positive.
The school accommodates these girls and their babies for free for six months, by which point they must have a sponsor for school or pay for it themselves in order to stay.
Once fees are received (either by sponsorship or self-funding) the school allows them to choose a specialist subject that they train in for one year after which they graduate with a qualification which enables them to have a job. This school is limited to one year so it can educate as many girls as possible. Edukid visits here to hear the girls’ backstories and have to make the tough decision who they can sponsor with the donations they have coming in.
The seamstress I spoke about trained to be a seamstress at this school. Her and her toddler are now doing well.
Overall the whole experience was life changing and I regret absolutely nothing, I’m already wanting to go back and see how everyone’s getting on. The vibe of the country and the people was absolutely amazing. The schools were welcoming and so kind to us all. It’s something I believe everyone should experience something similar to this in their life because genuinely it was a culture shock and made me realise as a 17 year old how lucky I am to live in England but also how in different parts of the world community is everything. I think the company Edukid, do an outstanding job to help these family and children and I’m so glad that I can say I made a difference even if it was a small one and that I can understand how others live.
To support a child’s education through Edukid’s programmes, click here.
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