Sitting in my room looking across at my wall plastered with hand-drawn welcome messages, painted pictures and banners welcoming me home. Outside the music is blaring as the children bounce to the beat, scrubbing up a mountain of soapy laundry suds. It’s washing day in the village. And god it’s good to be here.
My annual welcoming committee seems to grow each year and this time, Nicko and I were met not only by Rose and Dominic but also the new head teacher, Teacher Sam and Courtney, our fellow Kiwi volunteer (whose boyfriend I worked with in the Greek Islands – it’s a small world!). We reached KAASO where the school term had already ended but our arrival was colourful as always. The children had strung a ribbon across the school gates and stood waiting for us, squealing with excitement, waving us in. Teacher Sarah invited me out of the car and handed me a pair of scissors. I cut the ribbon and cheers rang through the village: we had arrived.
The best part about coming back during the holidays is that the sponsor students are back from secondary school and I am reunited with these handsome young men and beautiful young women whom I first met as hopeful little children almost seven years ago. Some of them are now finishing school, others graduating from vocational courses, while others are preparing to start courses that will help send them on their way to getting jobs which will enable them to support both themselves and their families. I have learned so much on this journey over the years about how the schooling system works, how educational courses operate, the opportunities available to children here – and the challenges they face. With Dominic and Rose guiding me every step of the way, I am proud to say that we are making progress. Our graduation celebration is set for next Tuesday and I can’t wait to recognise the tremendous dedication these students have shown over the past six years.
Everyone has been so thrilled to finally meet ‘Brother Nick’ – family is everything here and it means so much to the KAASO family to finally meet the last member of the Blackman family. Needless to say, Nathan’s future visit is much-awaited (which will coincide with our Ugandan wedding…).
Nick has joined me on my village visits over the week, walking muddy tracks through villages to meet families who welcome us with open arms into their homes and we catch up on the year that has been. As always, it is incredibly humbling and it has been amazing to share this journey with Nick – one he has been following from afar for years but there’s a huge difference between reading words on a screen and kneeling on mud floors with the people that feature in these emails. It was with great joy that I watched Nick and Henry meet for the first time. They are now brothers and have spent many happy hours together catching up on Nick’s sailing – with Henry dressed head to toe in Nick’s sailing gear.
Life in the village has been busy as ever. The Pope flew in two days after our arrival which saw the entire country transfixed as this predominantly Catholic African nation welcomed their beloved spiritual leader. Dominic, as only Dominic could do, managed to get an invite to meet the Pope and he now grins as he shakes everyone’s hand back in the village – sharing his holy blessings. This boy from the village who now runs a school, is a mentor throughout the whole community and who inspires a generation, never ceases to amaze me.
Nick’s journey is ending but mine will continue for another few weeks and I am excited to continue my visits and to keep moving forward with all the new projects we are undertaking. It’s been amazing to see the progress of the past year – the solar is now fully functioning and powers the entire school, the water pump brings running water to the school each day, the school truck continues to be loaded to the heavens transporting supplies around the community and the chickens are thriving. Thanks so much to all those of you who have contributed to these projects over the past year. Your donations go a long way here.
Sending much love from beneath the banana palms.