So this blog post is seeerriiiooouuussslllyyy over due but settling into graduate life has been hectic to say the least. However I can finally tell you all about my 3 amazing weeks out in Uganda, with an amazing charity and amazing people.
Around this time last year, I had just returned from a great challenge (which I will write up as soon as I can) with another awesome charity. So when the University of Portsmouth RAG offered the EAP Gorilla Trek, of course I was interested!
Some East African Playgrounds Charity facts:
- UK and Uganda based charity, hiring employers in both countries
- Their aim is to build playgrounds nation wide and support the schools curriculum by offering ‘Arts & Play’ sessions to enhance the pupil’s learning
- Recently started working along side UNICEF to provide a safe space for children, families and individuals who are currently living in refugee settlements
- Since starting in 2009 they have impacted the lives of over 130,000 children, created 45+ jobs and built over 100 playgrounds!
We can all agree that EAP are an incredibly worthwhile charity, who pride themselves on sustainability (they regularly visit each playground to check the quality and safety match British standards) as well as growth and support of the local community. After some long phone calls with the brilliant coordinator Andy, I signed up! And it was 18349% the right decision!
Starting from London Gatwick we flew over to Entebbe with Emirates, stopping in Dubai. Landed, through VISA and Yellow Fever control, sorted out our Ugandan Shillings and headed off…slowly. The bus was stuck in the infamous Kampala traffic but it gave us time to get to know each other (Bournemouth and Plymouth RAG was also with us). Later that evening we finally arrived at Nile River Explorers (blog post on this place coming soon) and crashed into our dorm beds.
Early the next morning we had a short bus journey to our school; St Pauls. It’s pupils range from 4 years old to around 17 and there can be up to 700 children attending at one point! We were welcomed with songs & staff introductions and in return we performed the hokey cokey…they loved it!
The next week consisted of early wake up calls and long, hot days labouring away working on the playground. As well as building we also assisted in daily chores (water collecting, washing up ect.) and helping out in the Arts and Play sessions run by Hilda and Joseph from EAP. This consisted of crafts like making watches or crowns to games such a bowling and ‘duck duck goose’; we found out the kids were extremely speedy runner! But almost every day we ended with a HUGE Hokey Cokey dance (photos by Ming Wu).
The first 2 days were full of digging which we quickly realised was a lot more hard work than anticipated! But with 28 of us we worked quickly, tyres were slotted and cemented into their specific holes, as were the swings and climbing frame. We also starting bolting tyres together to create bridges, tables as well as other structures. It was frustrating and fiddly, especially in the heat and tension were high at points. But with team work we pulled through it and progress was swift. The next day was full of small but vital jobs; sanding down the frames and washing the tyres so we could finally paint! Personally I was quite excited to sit down and focus on something a bit more calming.
The final painted playground looked amazing; equip with swings, see-saws, tyre maze and chairs, a barrel train, cars, a shop, animals and a climbing frame with a slide. We were all extremely pleased with our work. Thanks and speeches were shared with the EAP builders before we headed back to NRE. We were really going missed the team but our work here was done and we were very ready for our rest day!
However it wasn’t all tough! The evenings were spent relaxing, having bucket showers (trust me, they are better than they sound) watching the local football match or playing games with the children. One of my personal highlights was Rachel riding one the boys bikes around the school. Seeing her come round the corner with at least 20 children chasing her will forever bring a smile to my face. We also explored down to the Nile riverside as well as travelling into Jinja on boda boda’s (motorbikes: main transport in the city) for an afternoon of shopping. There was also a visit to a hotel pool, where maybe one too many drinks were consumed! However it welcomed our leader Megan into the group with a great sing-a-long on the bus on our way back.
I can’t emphasise enough how friendly the local community were, especially the kids. They found it very funny that I have a boys name (in Uganda). I met a very sweet little boy who was also called Emma. He continued to visit me everyday and gave me a mango as a gift (the most delicious mango ever)! However I don’t have a photo of just me and him.
TIP: to anyone going to Uganda (you will be nicknamed mzungu meaning ‘traveller’); there can be some issues about spending time with a specific child. It comes down to the old school rule ‘You’re not allowed to have favourites’. There have been cases of a child being bullied by others because they have been ‘spoilt’ by mzungu-s. Its best to spread you’re time with all of them and don’t give your attention to just one child.
Leaving our home from home (NRE Camp) we headed to St Pauls. The main hall was packed and after some lovely speeches from PTA, teachers and staff (there were some tears, but not mine – to Andy’s surprise), the children were let loose and ran on with excitement to play with their new playground! The day was full of games, sports, dancing and a million of smiles! And for traditions sake we had to chanted Ri’s favourite songs of course (Bungalow and Reeses Peanut Butter Cup). After a heart felt goodbye we headed back to NRE for our own celebration of a BBQ, £1 beers and alot of singing and table top dancing.
None of this would have been possible without our brilliant building team; Bolt, DJ, David, Geofrey and our wonderful cook Betty! I was also extremely lucky to have met with some awesome people (shoutout to 1B, you know who you are) and amazing leaders (we love you Joseph, Megan and Andy)! Thank you for one of the best adventures ever, its one I’ll never forget.
And last but not least a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who donated! You really have helped bring so much joy to so many children, thank you a million times over.
Is there a charity you would love to support? What trip can you take to make a difference?
Come join my adventures: Twitter & Instagram :@emmasoffagain
[DISCLAIMER – not all photos are my own, some were taken my team members who have shared them with me]