“Small but powerful:” Being part of #teamzuri in Uganda & the UK

Zuri ambassador Jenna, who has been with us from the very start, shares her thoughts on the two months she spent in Uganda this Spring in this beautiful blog post. 

Throughout March and April I was privileged to join Ross and Danielle in Kihembe, visiting Kishunju Primary & Nursery School and finally seeing the projects supported by The Zuri Project. My first day at Kishunju is one that will forever be one of my most treasured memories; driving along the murrum road on my first of many boda boda rides, enjoying spectacular lush-green scenery and being greeted and waved at by everyone in the community we passed, we finally arrived at Kishunju. I was immediately and repeatedly told “you are most welcome” by huge African smiles and warm embraces by all of the teachers and pupils, and was made to feel just that; it was heart-warming and genuine, and incredibly humbling.

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My first day coincidentally fell on the first day of a new school term which meant the handing out of scholastic materials through the educational incentive project, to all 250 pupils, which included 2 pencils, 2 pens and 6 exercise books. They lined up in classes and came up one by one to collect their materials which also meant for a fantastic way for me to meet all of the beautiful young souls I was about to share 2 special months with! After my first experience of local food – a meal with the teachers of posho, beans and vegetables (grown from the school gardens!), we then spent the afternoon in a classroom with teachers doing a project evaluation for the ‘Educational Incentive Project’. This was facilitated by Ross using the 4+1 evaluation tool (read about it here http://bit.ly/227CmAC) and it was truly inspiring to see the teachers discuss what went well and not so well, lessons taken from it and then collectively decide on actions for next time. This was the first project evaluation of many throughout my time at Kishunju, and we saw them evolve from a very slow discussion almost led entirely by Ross continually asking questions and where teachers spoke shyly, to full blown debates with teachers becoming more and more engaged; sharing their ideas and any frustrations with increasing confidence.

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Throughout the next couple of weeks I got to know the school, teachers, pupils and got involved as much as I could in the projects. It was incredible to see the agricultural project in action; we harvested 300kgs of maize planted in the school grounds and then helped, along with the rest of the school prepare the soil and plant the new seeds just before the rains came. It was also inspiring to see the introduction of ‘sack gardening’ led by partners at Bwindi community hospital – an exceptionally innovative way to grow vegetables, in a sack as the name suggests, with limited space and resources! We also discussed plans to clear a further acre of land on the school grounds in order to expand capacity, meaning the agricultural project is well under way to achieving the long term goal of a nutritious meal for every child!

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My next few weeks flew by and were jam packed with activities. Whilst we were predominantly based at Kishunju where the projects are currently, I also visited different schools in the area, went to numerous church services, shared amazing local food at several different people’s homes, visited coffee plantations, explored nearby larger towns, spent a couple of weekends at the beautiful Lake Bunyoni, met other people from the UK working in the area and visited their projects, and even attended a lengthy and very interesting ‘giving away’ ceremony! Before I knew it, it was time for Joe and then Tomo to arrive, and we spent time again at Kishunju, where we did more project evaluations, spent time walking around Kihembe and the boys enjoyed several football matches whilst Danielle and I played games, sang and danced with the other children. It is hard to put into words how special it was just simply spending time with them all, their generosity and spirit never wavered and to echo what Ross has said I won’t make a fuss about how life changing it all was, however it undoubtedly does give you new perspectives on your own life back in the UK.

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It has been so difficult to summarise my trip to Uganda, we experienced so many things and there is so much more I want to write about but I’d end up writing a book, so I will try to keep it short. I can’t thank enough Ross and Danielle for organising everything, it was incredible to share such an unforgettable trip and thanks for making me laugh until my stomach hurt on so many occasions. Thank yous are also extended to all of the lovely teachers & pupils at Kishunju, to everyone we met in the community, to Herbert for always looking out for us, showing us round and for helping us understand Ugandan culture, to Herbert and Sarah for their amazing hospitality (and Sarah’s wonderful cooking) to our faithful boda drivers, to the staff at the BCC and to all the other Ugandans we met for their overwhelmingly welcoming attitudes!

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The Zuri Project is a small charity run entirely by volunteers and it has been amazing to have gone from helping to organise and take part in fundraisers in the UK, to then travel to Kihembe and see first-hand how donors money is spent – directly on the projects. These projects are truly community-led ; they are run by and for the people of the community, it is their hard work, their ideas, their dedications that are already producing some amazing results. On a final note I’d just like to emphasise how inspiring it is that all of this is ultimately driven by the passion and extraordinary commitment by both Ross and Martin who founded the Zuri Project. I’ve grown up with Ross; we went to school together and have known each other for longer than we will admit, and met Martin through the Zuri Project and both of them are passionate, kind, devoted, and two of my favourite humans. Without them, none of this would be possible and they both put in so much of their time to an incredible cause. Thank you both for including me in The Zuri Project; I love being part of a charity that is small yet so powerful, I’ve learnt so much and met some fantastic new friends both in the UK and Uganda through it, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds, and of course visit Kihembe again!

Jenna Draper 

@jennadraper

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