by Kieran Downey
Teacher Kieran Downey shares his experiences about visiting some of our projects in Uganda which benefited from funds from UKAID and generous donations from our supporters.
In April this year, I travelled to Uganda on a Trócaire-run trip as part of the educational investment the organisation makes every year to increase awareness of its work and allow people to see first-hand how the money raised is spent and invested.
We visited projects in the areas of livelihoods, governance and human rights and gender-based violence. We were able to see how Trócaire invested in local welfare and development agencies to promote and extend the fundamental vision of Christ in the Gospels and the Church in its Social Teaching: the dignity of every human being and the right to fair and equitable access to resources.
Staff and volunteers at Twizimbe Centre, Jinja, with teachers from Northern Ireland
The first project we visited was in Jinja where the river Nile flows out from Lake Victoria. There where we met Sr Maureen and Sr Catherine, Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Africa at the Twizimbe Centre which is part-funded by Trócaire.
Here the nuns with a small army of paid and unpaid volunteers work in four areas- adult literacy, community health, start-up businesses for widows and ‘learning for life’ – a sexual health and wellbeing course for primary and secondary school children in the outlying districts.
We visited the Anglican school of St Apollo where the students told us of the work the centre had been doing in terms of educating them about their bodies, about the dangers posed by HIV and AIDS and the problem of human trafficking.
We heard how the people had been ‘built up’ in education, in self-esteem and personal dignity. Their stories were both inspiring and humbling. In fact, that understanding of building people up was the very lynchpin idea that binds the work of Trócaire in all its aspects.
Sr Maureen said that they decided not to invest in building toilet blocks and school buildings – as important as they are – but rather building up people.
It is a long term investment in people and in their future, and indeed in the future of Uganda.
We moved on from Jinja to Soroti, some four hours drive on roads that quickly ran out of tarmac and left us shuddering and swaying on roads of red mud. Our base for the next four days was Soroti and we met with workers from Socadido – the Diocesan office for welfare and development. We travelled out to a nearby (that meaning only two hours) model village where we met men and women, young and old.
They wanted to put on a show for us and equally we must have been a novelty in their day but nonetheless the warmth of the welcome and the way in which we were embraced – literally and metaphorically – by the villagers, took us all aback.
In fact Augustine, the chairman of the local economic group talked of us as saviours for the fact that we had saved the old from illness, the clothed from nakedness and the young from malnourishment and illiteracy. Humbling.
Listening to him and feeling the warmth of the welcome gave a new truth to the idea of this planet as a global village for as we were shown around their village we got an incredible insight into how life had been changed by the help of funds invested by Trócaire.
The education about crop rotation and planting, the micro-financing afforded by Trócaire developing a series of “soft loans” – in which a loan of say £35 (!) would be organised and it would be paid back, with interest of 3% rather the usual 20% from Ugandan banks. The person would take this and invest it in seed or poultry and the loan itself would be repaid at 25p a week. The investment made would then start earning the family money with help from Socadido to get access to fruit, vegetable and animal markets in Soroti and beyond.
On the morning of Holy Thursday we visited the Catholic Diocesan curial offices where we met Caroline, Geoffrey and Helen – catechists involved in the Ugandan Catholic Church’s programme of combating gender based violence. We met with their staff and learnt about the methodology, the problems encountered and the successes they are having in changing people’s perceptions around domestic violence.
We even took part in a role play where the first set of statements read out from various family and societal voices enforced old perceptions of acceptance of the imbalance of power in relationships and the acceptance of violence as a part of life. Then there was a second set of statements of how figures in the family and society can speak up and out about violence in the home. To see their work drove home for me that for these people to keep working I need to keep supporting.
The week was a humbling and uplifting experience – one I will never forget. It was an experience of people who, having been given a hand up, are absolutely ready and able to fulfil their own potential.
I want to finish by assuring you that your generosity to Trócaire is changing people’s lives and working to build people up and in so doing affecting the future generations.