Greetings to you all,
What an incredibly full but immensely fulfilling 10 days it’s been. I was worried that such a short trip to the village might feel like it wasn’t worth so much travel, but it went far beyond my expectations and it’s reassuring to know that, having spent so much time in Uganda over the years, I can get so much out of a whirlwind trip like this last one.
Rose and Dominic had done an incredible job of making sure everything was ready for our arrival and Kirsty and I were greeted at the airport by 8 of the Kiwi Sponsorships students, which meant that within an hour of arriving, my interviews had commenced!
We had a beautiful night at the Guinea Fowl, a blissfully chilled little guest house in Entebbe, sitting under the stars with Dominic, Rose and Ambrose, a boy we met when we first came to KAASO 10 years ago who Kirsty has been supporting ever since, now a grown man (and qualified pharmacist!) with his wife, Flower, and their 6 month old baby, Anthony. Such a special time.
The following morning, we caught up with John & Mirriam, Sonia & Paul – friends from NZ, Canada and the US, all living in Kampala with their expanding families and it was amazing to share stories from over the years and to meet the new additions to their families.
Our arrival in the village was magical – a full welcoming celebration had been organised and we were entertained by dancing, singing, speeches and countless hugs and smiles, while being refreshed by fresh homemade passionfruit juice – my absolute favourite! The children had made signs and pasted them around the school – ‘Welcome Back Home Emma and Kirsty’ – and that’s just how it felt. Like we had come home.
The days were full to bursting as we toured the school and got the updates on its myriad of projects. I managed to catch up with all the Kiwi Sponsorships students (something that usually takes 6 weeks – now done in record time thanks to the organisation of Teacher Gerald, the Kiwi Sponsorships Coordinator in Uganda, who had arranged for all the students to meet in central locations so we could get through them in the limited time we had!), got the latest on the Suubi Sanyu student microloan fund, spent evenings up with Kim up KAASO hill, shared stories with Rosie, the British volunteer currently living at KAASO, and saw the incredible progress of the KAASO Main Hall and Classroom Block we are constructing with the support of KATKiDS in Bermuda (greatly assisted, as always, by the unstoppable Rebecca Roberts!). There was certainly never a dull moment.
The Kiwi Sponsorships Graduation Day was very special as it was tied in this year with the 20-year celebration of KAASO. It seems so hard to believe that 20 years ago, KAASO began with just 12 young orphans living in Dominic and Rose’s living room, being taught in a grass thatched hut – and now that same school has educated literally thousands of children, with a current roll of over 630 students receiving top class educations, a third of them without paying a single shilling to do so. How far they have come.
Our Kiwi Sponsorships graduates this year were Anthony, the son of a peasant farmer, who has just fulfilled his dream of becoming a journalist, and Deborah, a girl with a shockingly tragic past whom Nath and I took on supporting a few years ago. Deborah has made such a dramatic turnaround and now has a qualification in tailoring, fashion & design. Seeing Rose wearing the most beautiful dress Deborah had made her on the day of graduation filled me with such immense pride. Again, I marvelled at how far we had come as the 5th annual graduation ceremony took place, and our 22nd graduate was celebrated.
It was very emotional being in Uganda for the first time since we lost our dear Damian, one of our beloved Kiwi Sponsorships students, who was murdered in May this year. His absence was greatly felt, but the gap was filled in a small way by his dynamic five-year-old daughter, Lizzie. None of us knew of Lizzie’s existence until after Damian’s death as he had feared to tell us for worry of disappointing us, but in the wake of his death, her gorgeous little face, so very similar to her father’s helps bring us some relief as we are reminded of her incredible father and we know that his memory will live on within her. She is now studying at KAASO, supported by Damian’s amazing sponsors, Sarah, Matt, Hugo & Amelia.
I didn’t know how it would feel returning to KAASO as a mother. I thought I would feel even more emotional than usual about the children and their difficult situations – and of course, I did feel that. But what struck me most what the new light in which I saw the parents and guardians. In the past, I had often been frustrated by the lack of things in the children’s lives – not monetary things, but love, support, encouragement, guidance. But now, as a parent myself, I know that raising children isn’t always easy – it can be exhausting, frustrating, repetitive and hard work (while at the same time being the most amazing thing in the world!). But couple all that with having no money, barely enough food, no real home to live in, no job prospects and no education, and parenting becomes near impossible. Meeting with the parents and guardians of the Kiwi Sponsorships students on graduation day has always been such a special time for me, as they show their immense gratitude to the sponsors for supporting their children in their education, but this year I felt struck by the realisation of how difficult it had been for these parents, guardians, grandparents and distant relatives to simply raise these children to where they now were – and I recognised that just having brought them up was an achievement in itself. Most of these adults had never made it beyond primary education themselves and were sustenance farmers who lived at the mercy of the rains, caring for at least half a dozen children in their simple mud brick huts. And here were their offspring now graduating as journalists, nurses, midwives, plumbers, electricians, teachers and lab technicians. I now understood the full extent of the immense pride they felt at seeing their children have the chance of a future they never even dared to dream about. And that filled me with a newfound pride for what we are achieving in the community – this wasn’t just about the children, but also about the adults that raised them, doing the best they could with what little they had. Anything I can do to help make their tough lives a little easier is immensely rewarding – and appreciated beyond belief.
Having Kirsty at my side on this trip after our initial blind date at KAASO 10 years ago (incredible now to think that we didn’t know each other when we first moved to the village!) was very special. It was amazing to share the experience – both that of being at KAASO, but also of having had to leave our boys behind in NZ. We both missed our little ones like crazy and I definitely won’t be rushing to leave Jack again anytime soon, but it was worth it in the end. He was soooo well looked after by his dada and his Nana Jas, who came to stay, and it meant that I could go to the village worry-free after my two-year absence. Jack is so incredibly well loved, and while that will forever continue, it’s also important to me to share some of that love with children who could do with a little more love in their lives.
So now I’m home to spend time with my boys, reflect on my time in the village, and get ready for Christmas, my favourite time of year. Crazy to think this time last year we were waiting for Jack to arrive – and now he’s not far off turning one. Oh, how time flies.
Thank you for sharing my journey and for all your continued support for KAASO. To all my wonderful sponsors, your reports, photos, videos and letters will be coming to you as quickly as Jack’s nap times allow!
With love and gratitude,