In the summer of 2016, Irish teaching volunteers Sheila McDonagh and David O'Neill travelled to Uganda as members of the Nurture Africa Volunteer team. Little did they both know that 3 weeks of volunteering would inspire them both to want to do more; which has led to the implementation of a new project with Nurture Africa, entitled Bia le Beatha (or "Food for Life" in English). Here, Sheila recounts the experience of her time in Uganda and why herself and Dave felt compelled to do more...
"It’s hard to believe that it’s just over seven months since a bunch of exhausted, nervous and excited primary teachers arrived at the doors of Kasengejje Primary School, Wakiso District, Uganda. Exhausted from the school year just finished in Ireland; nervous and excited for the new faces we were to encounter and hopping with anticipation at the experience we were about to undertake. What we found on the other side of those doors changed our hearts, minds and outlook forever.
Kasengejje Primary School is home to five hundred and fifty fabulous children and twelve extremely dedicated Teachers and Headmaster. The school atmosphere is warm, inviting, cheery and full of humour. We were given a royal welcome and everyday made to feel like rockstars arriving at school. Certainly one of the greatest memories was getting off the bus to a local, school football match where we were greeted with a sea of children excitedly running towards us with beaming smiles. It was just one of many outstanding experiences we found in the Pearl of Africa".
"Whilst Kasengejje Primary School often felt like one of the happiest places on Earth, there were often times when you were reminded that these seemingly carefree children are living difficult lives in so many ways. Without even thinking of the difficult circumstances many of the children were facing at home, it became obvious that these lovely children are at significant academic disadvantage in so many ways. Commonplace school resources in Ireland are rarely found in Uganda's Government schools (at this point we must be clear....this blog is specific to this school. There are schools in Uganda that do not face the same challenges as those that I write about here) Classrooms can be filled with 70 to 100 children. The staff room is a makeshift area in a hall no longer used due to major structural damage. There is little in the way of resources for subjects such as Science, Geography or Maths. There are no classroom libraries or large storybooks for story time. There is, however, fantastic resourcefulness amongst the teaching staff with lots of teacher made posters made out of the most surprising materials. Certainly not the usual school artwork seen at home! The blackboard is still king in Ugandan schools. Never before would it have crossed my mind that chalk would be a serious annual expense for schools who have so little. School books, pencils and copies are not plentiful and the classroom pencil parer is a blade."
"Unlike most Irish schools, Kasengejje P.S actually does have its own cook and tuck shop. Unfortunately though, only thirty children last year had parents who were able to pay for this hot food. Some received a cup of maize porridge for lunch, courtesy of Nurture Africa, whilst approximately three hundred and forty others brought a small maize corn, bread or nothing at all. What about water? Well, children are encouraged to bring in their own water as there are not enough water tanks to harvest water to last the whole of the dry season. In reality, there are few children, if any, that do this."
"Kasengejje Primary School gave us so much in terms of happiness, jokes, laughs, music, dancing, gratitude, warmth and welcome that we felt we couldn’t walk away without doing something for them. Whilst appreciating that there are children and families in Ireland living in very difficult circumstances the majority of us are so lucky in Ireland and don’t even realise (perhaps truly appreciate is a better description) it. Even in our lowest socio-economic areas, school children receive menus so they can choose water, milk, fruit, veg, sandwiches, pasta or rice for their breaks and lunches. There are no menus in Kasengejje. Many children do not even receive regular meals at home either. Well, without even taking into account the effects of this lack of nutrition on their health, growth and learning, we believe that the inequality and injustice of their situation is just not on. And If you have read this far, we hope that you do too! We can argue that it shouldn’t be our problem, or that people like us are allowing their government to continue funding their schools with the equivalent of 21c per child, per term. But we say, tell that to those beautiful children with bright eyes and beaming smiles. Those same children who are expected to maintain concentration and energy without the food required to sustain us".
We are just two ordinary teachers, spurred on by the support and backing of our friends, families, other volunteers, colleagues, Nurture Africa, the wonderful memories of the staff and children of Kasengejje Primary and the INTO who have so kindly donated €10,000 from their Global Solidarity Fund. Our vision, to set up a sustainable farming project to provide every child in Kasengejje with adequate food and nutrition EVERY day. We have called it Bia Le Beatha, Food for Life. This time last year, we could never have imagined all that we would have seen, heard, felt and experienced. Never would we have imagined that we would now be in the process of attempting to raise over €30,000 to help realise the dream of Bia Le Beatha.
We will be running a major fundraiser event called The Kube on Saturday, 29th April. The Kube is very similar to the popular game show of the same name and will be held in Westmanstown Sports and Conference Centre. Six teams consisting of six people will compete against each other to become the ultimate winner, bagging a whopping €1000. Competitors will raise €250 to participate and audience tickets will be €20. It promises to be an exciting night with thirty-six contestants, over four hundred audience members, DJ and raffle. If you would like to get involved as a participant, audience member or sponsor, please don't hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for full details.
You can also directly support this project by clicking here: http://bit.ly/BiaLeBeatha