If you have been a regular reader of these pages you will have heard of countless experiences, of schools visited, teachers coached, hands high fived, songs sung, dances wiggled, cricket played, names chanted and arms and hair inquisitively stroked. Quite a lot can happen in just two weeks, and as our trip drew to an end the team was pretty tired, too tired in fact to take in a night out in Masindi, which for a town with barely a handful of paved roads has a surprisingly lively night life. Tired, grubby, voices cracking and limbs aching, everyone still agreed they had had a fantastic time. So how and why?
We all like cricket but two of us had never played (the rest of us just look like we never have). Only three of us had worked with children before, although a couple of the team have fresher memories of childhood then rest of us, not that you would know due to their tireless and growing contributions. We had a wish to spread a message, but none of us are teachers, and most certainly not missionaries in this highly religious county. However by the end of two weeks each team member has the skills to coach, to entertain and educate. Everyone contributed something, whether knowledge, skills, enthusiasm or laughter to a team effort. Each of us can stand in front of a class of 150 and keep them engaged and energised. All had grown with newly learnt skills, had priceless memories, both of each other (Sarah’s attempt to let her colleagues demonstrate a simple catch by expecting a fifty yard run round a distant boundary with a full length dive at the end of it being a particular highlight of my own, but I could list many others) and of course from the many delightful, cheeky, energetic, demanding, talented and grateful children we met along the way. These might be reasons enough, but I think the real reason was shown at the final festival of the project.
Eight schools attended, each bringing a loud and excitable group of supporters who cheered exuberantly all morning, loud enough to attract the attention of a passing radio journalist – whether we’re big on Bunyoro Broadcasting I’ll never know but the words of a couple of the team members describing the aims of the charity were recorded and respectfully considered. Each team played four games, smoothly administered by Lucy, who can now write the handbook on event management, flexible structure being key you’re not quite quite sure how many teams will make it and when they will arrive – bear in mind children mostly walk, some several miles, to be there.
Each match was keenly fought – the word competitive an understatement -but in good spirit with handshakes and smiles to match the screeched imploring to hit the ball harder and run that bit faster. For the record St Edwards just edged out their neighbours Army Barracks in the final – it seems that cows invading your training ground must do wonders for your speed and reactions.
However the competition was not the key event of the day. We always ask the local health service, TASO, along to carry out some HIV testing on those who want it (in Uganda children from 13 upwards can give their own consent). Whether inspired by the sporting endeavour on the pitch or our stressing of its importance in each of our school visits, a line of young people soon formed. In all 53 were tested and one young woman – we’ll call her Julia- tested positive. There is no easy way to be given this information at such an age. No more certainties in life. Her first reaction was to say she’d run away, her life was not worth living. Fortunately Isaac was at hand. Isaac is the founder of the Family Spirit Orphanage which has been a regular fixture on CWB visits to Masindi. Isaac is open about his own positive status and having survived from a time when fewer treatment options were available sees his mission as caring for others and promoting HIV awareness in all its forms. Isaac drew on his own experience to reassure Julia and calm her down. Practical arrangements were made for her to attend a follow up medical appointment where she will start on treatment medication. These matters attended to it was time to demonstrate what we mean by no stigma, no discrimination. Julia had her hand shaken, was cuddled when necessary and was presented with a CWB shirt and cap. Welcome to the CWB family Julia!
Small gestures maybe, but by the end of the morning Julia was visibly less distressed and a little less anxious. With luck and following the medication regime Julia will live a long, happy and healthy life. Had she not been tested, who knows what the future would hold. So today we know we changed a life.
That’s why we do it. If you were thinking of signing up, you could do it too. See you in Uganda!
Written by: Mark Campbell (Project lead)