In this blog, CharityWorks alumnus Hayley Gardiner talks about her experiences volunteering in Kihembe, SW Uganda, and talks about how many of the initiatives supported by The Zuri Project are starting to have a positive influence on the lives of local people. We’re so grateful to Hayley for all of her hard work, and can’t wait for her to return to Kihembe next week. Here’s what she had to say…
I had spent 2 months in Uganda before taking a trip to Kihembe and i’d already fallen in love with the country. I was accustomed to the natural beauty of the place and the welcoming attitude, enthusiasm and creativity of it’s people. However, Kihembe somehow managed to surpass my already high expectations. The warm welcome was continued in Kihembe, with Herbert and Sarah, teachers and other members of the community all showing me unbelievable kindness and generosity (one evening I ate 3 dinners on a walk through the village!). The recognisable lush green landscape was exploding out of the soil in the West and I had many opportunities to appreciate it: stunning bodaboda rides; the agricultural project at the school; and the majestic hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo ever present in the background. More than anything, what shone through during my time in the community was the creativity and imagination shown in the projects I was visiting. To name a few: the dances and songs the children performed at school; skits sharing the experiences of puberty and growing up; rousing football anthems; debates.. wow.
It is clear that Kihembe is a place with a lot of potential. I spent a week in the area, staying with Herbert and his family, visiting and reviewing the projects supported by The Zuri Project; most of which were only a month or two from conception. It was really exciting to see the projects so early on, growing quickly fuelled by the contagious enthusiasm of each local project manager.
I spent the most time on the O-PADS project; here The Zuri Project is supporting a local social enterprise to provide reusable sanitary towels to all the girls in P4 and above at Kishunju School. All around the world, women and girls are struggling with the natural and universal process of menstruation, and in Uganda it is the most likely reason why young girls drop out of school. In Kanungu where 38% of the population earn less than $1.25 a day (World Bank 2012), you can see why sanitary pads (which cost around $1 for a pack of 10) may be seen as a luxury rather than an essential. To introduce the pads to Kishunju School, Pamela (the genius behind O-PADS) led sensitization workshops with all the girls. This involved sharing stories about menstruation, a brief lesson from the matron at a local boarding school about the experience of growing up, and lots AND LOTS of questions. It felt so valuable and necessary to create a safe, supportive space to discuss these experiences and learn together. The transformation from timid questions at the beginning of the session, to the confident and lively conversation towards the end reflected an increased confidence in growing up and the power of mutual support. The boys at Kishunju also had a chance to discuss experiences of growing up with the male teachers.
It was great to see the agricultural project at Kishunju School also prospering. Here The Zuri Project have provided seeds and equipment required to transform previously unused land around the school into a bountiful garden in order to grow various fruit and vegetables. This has the aim of supporting school meals and eventually bringing income to the school from the surplus. The project manager Job Nahabwe, who is also a teacher at the school, was delighted to show me around the gardens and explain how he manages the land and the teams who work on it. The school is split up into 4 teams who compete to see who will yield the most. On Wednesdays the whole school leave their classrooms to help on the garden, engage with the project, and gain practical skills to go alongside their agriculture classes. In a country where 86% of the population are farmers these are important skills to learn. I also got the opportunity to get involved and struggle to keep up with the weeding with the powerful folk in team TIGER.
Another project I got to experience was Zuri All-Stars. Agrey, another teacher at the school, who qualified as a football coach with support from The Zuri Project, teaches football around the local area, and now has 6 teams ready for a local league. I was lucky enough to watch a preparatory friendly between two of the teams. What I loved about this project was (again) the dedication shown by Agrey, but also the use of football to influence and enhance the community of Kihembe in creative and unique ways. He explained how football training teaches his pupils (who range from 12 – 35 years old) lots of important life skills, including discipline, team work and dedication. Also, it is possible to get school sponsorship if pupils have good football skills, something Agrey and his sister both benefitted from, so this training could have an impact on many elements of the players lives in future. I also had the opportunity to practice my skills in rousing-speech-making when I was asked to represent The Zuri Project at the end of the game. One of the highlights of my whole trip was the Zuri-All Stars anthem that was written during my time in Kihembe and performed on my last day. It blew me away and again showed the enthusiasm and dedication of those involved in these projects.
I hope it is clear how inspiring and educational this week was for me. It flew by, and I am pleased to say that I am going to go back to this wonderful community in about a month! It is a rare opportunity to be able to work with a charity which has laid such brilliant foundations for genuine community-led development, and which is so flexible and open to input from volunteers. I hope to do some more research on my return, have ideas about skills I may be able to share and contribute, and (of course) want to catch the Zuri All-Stars League! I want to thank everyone in Kihembe for making me feel so welcome and for sharing your stories and passions with me. I can’t wait to see you all again!