Que Sera Sera – whatever will be will be

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Growing up as a little girl, mama always used to sing to me ‘Que Sera Sera’ – whatever will be will be. It quickly became one of my favourite songs and so, arriving at KAASO in 2009 with my guitar on my back, it was an obvious choice to sing with the children. They adored it and the school grounds would often be ringing with little voices singing their ‘que sera seras’.

When I listen to this song, it reminds me that while life is full of the unknown, of ups and downs, twists and turns, and forks in the road, somehow everything works out in the end. Whether or not we have rainbows day after day.

This video is a celebration of all those gorgeous little children at KAASO, those I have come to know and adore over the past five years.

You can’t help but smile when you see their faces, their happiness is contagious.

Thanks once again to Beau Outteridge Productions for editing this for me – your time, patience and support is much appreciated.

Sing along and enjoy!

Back in my village home

I’m sitting at my makeshift desk looking out the window at the children sweeping the dust and cleaning the compound, moving quickly as the skies have darkened and thunder is rolling in. After months of no rain with only a few scattered storms, everyone is desperate for the water that will quench the thirst of the dry fields and withered crops. I am back in a world where the weather gods dictate the fate of the people who rely so heavily on the land below. Worlds away from our society of overflowing supermarket shelves and produce imported year round so that we barely know what should be in season when. For a city girl, this was all new to me in 2009. Now I just feel an overwhelming sense of belonging being back in my village home.

I arrived to the waiting smile of Dominic and, as usual, the journey south to the village was colourful. We stopped by to visit Rotary John who welcomed me warmly and filled me in on the projects that had been going on in Kabira. Beehives, micro-finance projects, eucalyptus forests, poultry farms, pineapple plantations and piggeries have kept people busy and while the drought hinders such efforts, the determination of the people is strong. We left John in Kampala and continued our journey south, making our way along roads which have been steadily improved over the years but this doesn’t seem to decrease the length of the trip. I first thought that we lived a thousand miles from Kampala but in reality it is only around 300 kilometers.

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This winding journey  is an appropriate way to adjust to African time. Dominic and I chatted about his trip to America and it was clear that he had been affected hugely by his time there. I didn’t think it possible for him to be even more motivated, even more determined, even more inspired than before but he has proven me wrong yet again. The trip opened his eyes to a world beyond his own and he made a huge number of friends from across the globe with his contagious enthusiasm and magnetic personality. Already some of these connections are starting to help KAASO and I feel incredibly proud that we could help facilitate these relationships.

At KAASO, I was welcomed by a mob of excited children who sang and danced and clapped as I entered the school gates. The first face I saw was that of Brenda, one of the little girls from my P1 class in 2009, now 11 years old and growing up fast. It is amazing to watch these children grow over the years and even though every year there are more and more new faces, the old ones take me back to the time when I called this place home. Continue reading

Back in the village

Sitting in my old favourite Nile Internet ‘cafe’ with the generator roaring in the background, the dust swirling across my skin streaked with red earth, cables and wires snaking across the shaky wooden desk and yet miraculously the internet is connected and the outside world is at my fingertips.

It has been the most incredible week back in the village, reunited with Dominic, Rose, Cherie, Kirsty and of course the 600 children that flooded through the gates as our car bumped into the compound.

The school has continued to grow and the progress they are making is staggering. I am constantly in awe of what they manage to achieve with so little and the dedication and passion of all who make KAASO operate, it really is inspiring.

My fingers are raw from guitar playing, my skin is scorched from the relentless sun of the dusty dry season and my face is aching from smiling as I try to comprehend the enormity of what it means to be back here with the two girls with whom this adventure first began.

It feels so special to be back and time I know will fly all too quickly. But this school is not going anywhere and I know that I will forever return.

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Off the beaten track

There is dust that won’t wash off, there are smiles that won’t fade, there is laughter that won’t be silenced and time that won’t slow down. In a place where everything happens slowly, my time in Uganda went all too quickly and before I knew it I was being rocketed from the dusty roads of the village to the sandy freeways of the desert wondering if it was all just a dream. In a way it was.

In Uganda you feel as if you have lived a thousand days in one and by the time you crawl into the cocoon of your mosquito net each night, the morning seems like a distant memory. The days are so full and phenomenal that your head is constantly spinning. On this visit to Uganda, Rose took it upon herself to show me the world beyond KAASO, straying seriously off the beaten track, wandering down every vaguely trodden path in the village, visiting over twenty households from the Empowerment Group, meeting pigs, chickens, goats and cows, traipsing through banana plantations, admiring expertly crafted woven mats and baskets, and meeting hundreds of extended family members from 9 days to 90 years old. It was an intense but incredible experience.

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When I was last at KAASO in 2009, the Empowerment Group was little more than a chance for the women to gather and chat through the evening while weaving mats and rolling magazine beads. It’s amazing the changes that have taken place over the last two years. The group is now well organised, motivated, determined and ultimately empowered. Their microloans project is thriving and helping solo mothers to send their children to school and feed their families. I felt humbled to be so warmly welcomed into their mud and thatch homes and embarrassed by their generosity as we were showered with gifts of avocados, melons, pineapples, cassava, matooke and even a feisty rooster which Rose carried for the rest of the day flung over her shoulder. I kept my distance behind while its eyes watched me the whole way home. That night we feasted on chicken. Life is immediate in the village.

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Back down the red dirt road

I left this place with a promise to return. Whether or not anyone else remembered my promise, I certainly did and I know I would not have felt complete had I not honoured my word. To return at all was a dream come true. And to return with both my parents was beyond a dream.

After so much time away you can’t help but wonder if the children will still remember you, one of many volunteers to have made the trek down this red dirt road and I worried that maybe time had washed away the sense of belonging I once felt here.

I was wrong.

From the minute we touched down on African soil I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging, a warmth that extended past the heat of the day and a feeling that everything was in its place; I had come home. Dominic greeted us like the long lost family we came to realise we were to him, engulfed in emotional hugs. We spent a night amidst the chaotic rumbling of Kampala where you feel as if nothing is ever still and if you pause for too long you will be carried away by the crowd.

The road back to KAASO took my breath away. It felt as if I had never left as we flew back over dirt roads, through villages that had changed little in my years away, the urban quickly giving way to rural as banana palms overtook the roadside and buildings turned to mud. We arrived late at KAASO in the black of night and I assumed the children would be sleeping. Yet again, I was wrong. There was a cacophony of sound as from the darkness emerged a hysterical mob of children who would have carried away the car like a sea of ants had we not quickly jumped out and instead let ourselves be engulfed by the swarming crowd. Little hands fought to find my skin with cries of ‘Madam Emma! Madam Emma is BACK!!!’ White teeth and eyes smiled at me through the night and as their cries turned into song, my tears fell freely. ‘You are my Sunshine’ merged with ‘In the Jungle’ and the guitar soon came out for an impromptu rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’, little bodies swaying, overcome with joy. I was home.

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There is always the worry that in returning somewhere, things will have changed. Here, I had feared that perhaps this would be for the worst. I was crazy to have doubted for a moment. Dominic and Rose have taken this school, in the words of Ivan and Miral, from good to great! Kiwi House still stands as proudly as ever, there is a full-time librarian in a library complete with books, the other volunteers here have been taking daily computer classes on the laptops we left behind, there is a live-in nurse in the sick bay Cherie so lovingly painted in the hope that one day it would be used for its intended purpose and the children are still laughing, smiling, living, loving – and singing. Even the new children know every single word to the songs I taught in 2009. It is overwhelming. Continue reading

Home Sweet Home

The skies are grey but there’s still a certain kind of light here which means the colours remain so bright and alive – the banana palms are vibrant green, the muddy earth so red. These last two months have been the supposed rainy season but the rains have largely failed, with only three or four days of what people here would call ‘real’ rain. For a summer sailing girl like me, sunny days have always meant being outside, swimming, soaking up the sun and enjoying evening happy hours at sunset. I’m quickly learning that sunny days here mean famine. Dominic came in looking grim the other day and said that because of the lack of rains, next year much of the country would starve. He said it with regret but without sensation; here such things are a fact of life. Teacher Sarah has planted her own garden of crops and actually knelt down and praised the Lord when it started raining yesterday.

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It really feels as though a change has taken place in me this term. While our first few months here were all about learning, asking a million and nine questions, trying to piece it all together and make sense of everything, since we have been back it now feels as though this place is our home. Yes, everything is still completely different to all I’d ever known before I came here but now I have finally formed a kind of routine in which I have come to accept that nothing will go to plan, plans will change and no one will tell you, but that’s life. Once you get your head around that, it all feels strangely ‘normal’.

I teach English classes most days to my gorgeous little 5-year olds and everyone is amazed that they actually understand me but I have been teaching them almost every day for the last few months and we have reached some kind of hilarious understanding – usually involving me jumping and dancing around the room to get my point across. They laugh, they learn, we get there. I’m also teaching English to the older children who are preparing to sit their Primary Leaving Exams. It’s a big deal here – if you fail you have to repeat the year again and again until you pass to go onto secondary school – if you can afford it and that’s a big if. Some in Primary 7 class are 16 or 17 years old, either due to being held back or simply because their parents could not afford to send them to school until they were older.

I do a bunch of music classes which leave me with no voice but a huge smile, watching the children dance and sing – along with the teachers who love to join in. I’ve never felt like such a celebrity in my life – I only have to walk near the classrooms with my guitar and all of the children run to me screaming “P1?!”, “P2!?”, “P3?!” desperately hoping that it will be their class I’m coming to. One of my little favourites, Brenda, took my hand as I walked into the class of rioting children who had already begun to sing and whispered in my ear with a little smile, “Thank you for coming Madam Emma.” It makes me want to smile and weep at the same time, their gratitude is immense. I’ve just started teaching them ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and it’s all I can do not to cry every time I play it but I can’t help myself. It’s incredible to bring songs from my childhood to the children here and I know that they will live on at KAASO forever – these children never forget a song!

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I also help the teachers to mark exams which provides endless entertainment (in an exam letter to a friend, a girl called Florence signs off “I command you to stay a virgin and lovely as you were”) and frustration (when the English exam is written in improper English – how can a nation learn??). As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I really quite understood when I came here that I would be living and helping in a school not an orphanage and although many of these children are orphaned by AIDS, most go about their day quite normally as you would find in any school around the world. Well, not quite, but it’s not the dramatic scene I had pictured before coming here. My days are filled with wide eyes, big smiles, little hands, greetings of “Madam Emma!” and usually no more drama than a scraped knee. I’m going to miss it.

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Continue reading