Africa on my horizon

Greetings from Tarifa,

Fourteen years ago I came to this hidden gem in the south of Spain, a mecca for wind sports, a stumbling maze of whitewashed buildings, an endless stretch of white sand dotted with colourful beach umbrellas, a never-ending steam of ships making their way out the mouth of the Mediterranean and into the open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

And, just above those ships, the mountains of Morocco, once again hovering tantalisingly on my horizon, so near and yet so far. Fourteen years ago, I caught my first glimpse of Africa, at the time still a dream, a hazy mirage I hoped I might one day grasp and find something solid. Today, nine trips and over a year spent in Uganda later, ‘Africa’ is very much a defined place to me. And yet, once again, it hangs hazily on my horizon – it could be the early morning light on a stormy morning but it’s also the fact that I truly don’t know when I’ll be able to return to my African home.

Uganda is in the grips of a second nation-wide lockdown. This one began in early June and we don’t yet know when it will end. My latest conversation with Dominic painted the rather bleak picture that it is predicted to be next year before schools will reopen. The mind boggles – 15 million children out of school since last March with only intermittent studies for some – and those are the lucky ones; some students have been out of school for close to two years. It’s beyond comprehension. Distance learning is impossible in remote villages with no connectivity and many children are suffering from a multitude of threats – violence, child labour and teen pregnancies are rising at frightening rates. It’s a difficult and uncertain time for my friends on the continent that hangs on my horizon and I’m so painfully aware that across the thin Straits of Gibraltar here in Spain, life continues largely as normal. Yes, there are masks and hand sanitiser and I’m sure there are those doing it tough, but there are also tropical juices, tapas and cafes con leches. How vast the divide this narrow stretch of water brings.

Despite the challenges faced, Dominic never finishes a conversation without his usual optimistic enthusiasm and overflowing gratitude, and he took great delight in updating me on the success of our latest fundraiser – a teachers’ project fund which is enabling KAASO to retain, pay and keep motivated their out-of-work teachers. With no government funding, KAASO is classified as a ‘private school’ so when students stop attending, school fees cease, making it impossible to keep paying the teachers who then have no way to support themselves and feed their families. Thanks to our new fund, KAASO teachers now come to school each day to work on their various projects – a piggery, a poultry project, goat-keeping, brick-making and various agricultural projects, including growing crops and seedlings. These projects not only generate much-needed income and sustenance for teachers, but also help keep them connected to KAASO and give them a purpose during these difficult times.

As Dominic wrote in his recent progress report:

Sustaining staff during a time when the main income generating route is closed is so hard in a developing nation like Uganda. As KAASO management, we are so grateful to our supporters and donors for that hand they have rendered to us especially during this challenging time. We know ‘’we can’t do everything, but we can do something’’.

Let blessed be your Hands.

Leaving NZ straight after my book was launched meant I had very little time to actually reflect on the enormity of achieving my lifelong dream and it’s only been the past couple of weeks here in Tarifa, staying in one place for more than a few days, that I’ve started to catch my breath and begin to take in the messages of love and support – and to realise the impact of my words and the awareness they are generating for KAASO. It’s a wonderful feeling. We now have 80 children sponsored through the Kiwi Sponsorships – something I never imagined when we first set out with just Henry. I’m so grateful to all our new sponsors, as well as to those who have donated to the teachers’ fund and also to all those over the past few months who have read my book and got in contact with me with messages of support and encouragement – it really has meant the world.

As our time on the road comes to a close (all going well, in just over a week we’ll be flying to Australia to spend the rest of the year there before finally heading home to NZ in January/February), I take this moment to look back on the last few months travelling across Europe with Nath and our two young boys to Nath’s various sailing events. What a whirlwind! It’s been incredibly busy looking after our wee boys (Jack is now just over 2 and a half and ready to take on the world and Charlie is coming up 9 months, bobbing his way through each day full of smiles), but I’m so very grateful that we’ve been lucky enough to be together as a family and to experience the freedoms of European life right now while so many of our family and friends back in NZ and Australia are in lockdowns.

I don’t know the answer to this strange global predicament, and I often feel conflicted by all that is going on in the world around us. One thing I do know is that it’s a time for unity not divisiveness and that polarising opinions do nothing to bring us together. So I’m trying to simply embrace an open mind, to listen to all sides of each argument and not let the weight of the world weigh me down, something my huge heart often struggles with. Everyone has the right to their own beliefs, everyone’s life experience is shaped by different forces and people’s minds work in different ways. There’s a lot I don’t know, but what I do know is that we just need to keep loving and supporting each other and that no one can underestimate the power of hope and positivity. I want nothing more than for my boys to grow up in a world of openness and love, not fear and separation. Time will tell where all this ends up, but for now I am just trying to live each day with my old mantra from years ago – open your eyes. And heart and mind. The world needs more openness.

As the sun climbs higher in the sky and the day begins to unfold, it’s time to rejoin my boys for the day. I feel clear-headed from my morning walk and from taking this brief moment to capture my thoughts. I hope this finds you well, wherever you may be, whatever shape your days may be currently taking.

I leave you with a beautiful moment from a few days ago when I took Jack down to the beach for an evening swim. The sand was warm and, unlike this morning, the horizon was spectacularly clear. I was looking over Jack’s head at the outline of the mountains, that undeniable magnetism that constantly pulls me towards Africa, when suddenly he stopped and grabbed my hand.

‘Look mama, look!’ he said, pointing the peaks of Morocco, jutting across the sky. ‘That’s Africa!’ he told me proudly, repeating what I’ve told him each day.

I smiled.  ‘That’s right Jack, it is Africa.’

He stood staring, eyes still fixed on those mountains. ‘Yes, and our friends are there. Dominic and Rose and Henry. They’re in Uganda.’

‘They sure are.’ I said, marvelling at the way he absorbs everything he hears, a little sponge.

‘Yes.’ He nodded solemnly and then looked up at me, his face wise beyond his years. ‘And mama, one day you’ll take me to Africa, won’t you?’

It was all I could do to stop the tears from falling. I nodded and crouched down to wrap my arms around his little waist to we could look over at Africa together.  

One day my boy, one day. 

Much love,

Em xoxox

If anyone is interested in donating to our teachers’ project fund, you can do so here:

NZ & rest of world: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/kaaso-covid-relief

UK (tax deductable donations through our partner charity, Unity is Strength): https://unityisstrength.org.uk/covid-19-measures

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