Lake Bunyoni is the deepest lake in Uganda at 6300 feet. Our campsite for two days was on the edge of the lake and it’s certainly the prettiest campsite we’d yet seen. The steep hills surrounding the lake are terraced with banana trees and other crops, the lake is a lovely clean greeny-blue and the air is a bit misty from cooking fires. Fishermen in dugouts ply the lake and you can hear cows mooing at the farms. Our tents sit by the water’s edge on thick green grass and even though it is very warm and humid during the day, at night it is nice and cold.
We spent half a day visiting a school that is run by a man who used to be a sponsor child himself. His name is Duncan and he told us that his sponsor parents lived in England and he wants to help the community here and give other children the same chance he’d had. He took us for a very steep walk over the hills to see the village the children come from and to meet a local lady, Frida. He warned us beforehand that Frida is ‘mad – but not crazy, just mad. I don’t tell her that!’ She is 87 years old and a tiny little lady full of life and smiles. When we arrived she came out of her house and spoke to us, giving each of us a hug, feeling our arms and, in the case of ladies with decent ..ah.. assets.. she felt those too. We all laughed with her. She always asks Duncan which of the ladies is his girlfriend and he gets her to guess. This time she guessed Nikki was. Leigh wasn’t so lucky, Frida asked whether he eats anything because he is so thin. Poor guy!
Then we walked on to the school through plantations of eucalypts. It is a free school and many of the children are orphans or their families are very poor. The school gives the children two meals a day. When we arrived they were having lessons so we split up and went into the classrooms. There were about 30 children in each room and about 200 children in the whole school. Thirty is unusually small for classes in Africa but then the rooms were so small they wouldn’t have fitted many more.
The classrooms had dirt floors, no door and the walls were rough boards with huge gaps and a corrugated iron roof. Each room had a blackboard and some posters – some of which were identical to the ones we have in my school at home.
We sat in a room with the kids and they were singing songs and doing spelling. Due to a lack of resources most lessons seem to be aural, which would be hard on kids who learn better through seeing or doing.
After the class time there was an assembly and then we helped hand out the lunches. The kids had two meals at school. We gave them a banana, juice, cup of porridge (no sugar or salt) and a slice of bread (plain). I can only imagine the look on kids’ faces at my school if you gave them food like that, but while they were eating the teachers gave a spelling quiz and if a child answered correctly they got another slice of bread.
Along with the school we saw the beginnings of buildings Duncan had designed for volunteers to stay in. A lot of places charge volunteers money to stay but his plan is to offer free accommodation for people who want to come and teach. If I ever decided to do something like that, Lake Bunyoni would be the perfect place. My only regret is that Swahili is not the local language and I’d have to start all over.
We were rowed back to camp in dugout canoes and I reflected on the roll of aid in Africa and how this kind of grass-roots organisation that grows from within a community but looks to draw on knowledge and experience of outsiders, is probably one of the most sustainable and successful we’ve seen yet.