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Work Party 2018 – Anna

Footsteps, birds chirping, roosters crowing all day, banging sounds from the workmen, laughter/giggling/singing/rustling in the bushes, dogs barking/howling/chatting, crackling of the fire as the cassava cooks.  These are the sounds of Amari.

At 6:45 I would sit outside with a cup of coffee and watch the first children arrive for the day.  Watching them walk/skip up the pathway.  Knowing that a lot of these children had already walked quite a few kilometres from their village to Amari and it was only 6:45.  Children from 5/6 years of age.

A different world.

I had a lot of fears going to Amari – heat/insects/spiders/snakes/cholera/ebola in the Congo nearby – a lot of buttons to be pushed.

All became minor within 24 hours of being in Amari.

I took over with me 50 recorders.  The plan was to teach the children basic elements of playing the recorder.

Worried about touching the children – teaching recorder moving their fingers, high fives, hugs, touch – easy transmitters of cholera.  You need to wash your hands carefully and regularly.  Teaching recorder was going to be a challenge health wise.  BUT.

Touch was so important – the right touch builds trust.  The right touch builds relationships.  These children are happy – beautiful smiling faces – look into their eyes and lurking is sadness, their past.

Touch was easy – necessary.  You wanted to touch them, to bond with them.  To love them.

I had an action plan and the songs that I was going to teach such as Four Fat Cows, aka Hot Cross Buns.  I had to get inventive as they don’t know what a hot cross bun is, so I renamed the song four fat cows and that worked perfectly!

The head teacher gave Linda and I a timetable for each day that started at 9:00 and finished at 3:30, with time in between to chop vegetables and help out in the kitchen!

Music transcends race, colour, country and language.   What started as an introduction and basic teaching of the recorder to children escalated to so much more.

The teachers wanted to be involved and learn, so a class was established after school for them to have their own session.  That generated a storm of interest and the workmen and others across the property also started attending.  Then that grew again into a jam session at the end of the teaching session because they didn’t want to stop and go home.  Then that grew again, African drums and instruments were brought along and the jam session became an incredible fusion of Western/African sound.  Drums being played as only the Africans can, a Ugandan bow harp called a ADUNGU and the piping of the recorder all a mesh of cultures but all playing together as one.  Then it changed again and some of the lady teachers got up to dance to this cacophony of musical sound – then it grew again as I started on the spur of the moment a conga line and that became a firm favourite every afternoon.  I can’t tell you how funny it was doing authentic African dancing in a conga line with the drums playing and the shrill shrieks of recorders just being blown with no thought to notes.  I loved it, they loved it.

Total unity through love of music.

Marita then closed the school early for a few days and asked me to teach the teachers how to read music – this will enable them to hopefully continue the teaching of the recorder.  They have incredible innate rhythm and will sing and move according to that rhythm but the rudiments of reading music / structured musical learning was not part of their knowledge.

Before we left at one of the team meetings for the work party, Graham asked us why we were going.  I said that I had seen pictures and I had heard Marita and others speak about Amari but I wanted to see it for myself.  I didn’t realise how true those words were.  Photos sanitise the reality.  A picture of the huts that we stayed in looks like one thing, but in reality there are holes in the walls, the thatched roof is old and home to many, many, many insects and spiders.  Inside there are geckos on the walls and bats flying in the thatch as there are no ceilings.  And yes, that means bat poo!  I gassed my husband every night as I would spray our rationed bottles of fly spray around the hut, fumigating it before I could get under the mosquito netting.

Cold showers as there is no running hot water.  I got into a habit of having a shower at 5:30 in the morning.  Once you had run the gauntlet of shining the torch to check for sakes and / or any other nasties en route from your hut to the showers, the serenity, the quiet of that open to the sky shower became something that I looked forward to.

The toilets were another matter however.  You would open the door, and if at night or early morning shine your torch around to make sure nothing is in there with you and then shut the door and do your business and get out of there as quickly as you could.

One of the many buttons I had pushed was accepting the poverty in which these children are living in.  It was unbelievably confronting.  I was in tears for a long time after the visits to their home in their village and seeing for myself the living conditions that they were in and the hardships of rural Ugandan life.  They have nothing.  Our sponsor child Blessia, lived with her grandmother and 6 other children in a small mud hut.  The children slept on mats on the earth floor and bundles of ragged clothes lay on the ground and very little else.  That was home.

Very confronting and it made me in a way fee angry.  Human beings should not have to live this way.  I couldn’t understand how the children could smile and be so happy.  I realised upon reflection that they were happy because they knew no different.  It was my western sensibilities that were affronted.  When I was able to see in that perspective, it became easier although it didn’t take away the sting that I felt about myself.  I felt selfish and greedy in the comparison of my life and theirs.  It is a very thing to manage and deal with in your mind.

It was hard to leave Amari.  I wanted to get home and see my daughter Sam, but at the same time it hurt to leave.  The children had been asking for a few days for us to stay and did we have to go, will you come back?  They get under your skin and work their way in without having to do anything, just being them.

Would I go back to Amari?

A resounding YES.

Work Party 2018 – Rob & Jenny

 

Greetings on our return from the sights and sounds of Buliisa District, Uganda, East Africa and the areas surrounding our 6-8 hour drive to and from Kampala. The main aim of our trip was to join with and assist in a work party of 18 members of Life Ministry Centre, Chirnside Park to complete half a dozen projects at “Amari”, meet our host children and their families and get to know and experience the life of Amari. Our work party group ages ranged from 22-78, Jen and I being in the upper section of the age range.

 

Amari Community Development Organisation was established by Marita Simpson in 2008, who felt called as a young girl by God, to mission work in Africa, principally Uganda. Marita’s faith, determination, teacher training and love for the Ugandan children and their families has seen this school develop from her and three children meeting under a tree to now become a school of 250 vulnerable but happy, loved, and safe children, 47 support staff (teachers and workers), 18-20 assorted buildings erected using local labour and self-made mud bricks and thatching off the property, a solar farm and water bore providing piped water and electricity to many of the buildings.

 

Hence the need for our work party which was one of 10 or so that have gone over each year to assist with the development of the school in extending the facilities, maintenance, other forms of practical assistance and spending valuable time with the children, families and staff.

 

We experienced more than we could have dreamed.  A very special bond was formed within the members of the work party and between the work party and the students, teachers and workers.  Special Times included:

  • The teaching and supply of the recorders (musical instruments) to the school was very special and infectious as Anna and Linda taught the students and the teachers (who wanted to learn also) how to play songs. A lot of laughing, dancing and joining in by workers after school with their local instruments.
  • 1st Class entertainment at the concert they put on for us (dancing and clapping with them and joining the congo-line to the beat of drums and local base-like instruments was fun and joy for all).
  • Meeting and getting to know the children and staff which was a joy and a blessing. With the children the shyness was gradually replaced with trust, acceptance and joy.
  • Issuing gifts to each of the children as they all lined up and seeing their joy as they threw their frisbees.
  • Personally meeting our host child Anon and seeing his joy as we gave gifts.
  • Jen working with children one-on-one bringing smiles to both Jen and child.
  • Visiting our host children and their families was very special. Materially they have very little but in hospitality and welcome they overflow.

 

We finished our trip off with a 3hr Nile River Cruise up to Murchison Falls complete with Crocodiles, Elephants and Hippo’s and a 4hr safari at Murchison Falls National Park joining in with Elephants, Giraffe, Buffalo, Antelope and Baboons (sadly no big cats in site). A long drive to Kampala and a very, very long flight home.

KevinKevin had an operation in 2016 for retinoblastoma (a cancer of the eye). Unfortunately his parents were not able to afford the required followup treatment of chemo and radiotherapy, and the tumour returned this year. A neighbour of Kevin’s knew about Amari, and the work we do with helping children in our area access more specialized medical care than what is available here in Buliisa. We were put in contact with a hospital specializing in this type of cancer down in southern Uganda. However, after sending Kevin for assessment, they told us he was too weak to undergo any surgery, and sent him away. We did, however, decided to get a second opinion from the Cancer Institute in Kampala. And they have determined they will consider him for an operation, but he has to build up his immune system and strengthen body first, as he was also rather malnourished.

Currently Kevin is staying in Kampala,  and receiving ongoing medical care as his nutrition and other issues are being addressed. When he is stronger, he will be considered for the operation and followup treatment.

If you would like to assist with the costs associated with keeping Kevin in Kampala and under medical treatment, and his ongoing needs, could you can contact us, or donate directly through this link.

 

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Yesterday we tragically lost our beautiful little boy. Today, at the request of his mother, he was buried on our property. Below is the address that was read to attenders on my behalf.
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Baby James came to live with us on Oct 4. He was placed in our care at the request of the police, and the family his mother Aisha was living with.
He was dedicated in church on Oct 30, and about two weeks ago, we invited his mother, Aisha, to come up onsite and live with us so that she could be involved in raising Baby James.
Last week, on November 23 Baby James was admitted to Kigoya Hospital, Buliisa, with pneumonia. He was discharged on the 27th, but readmitted the same day and diagnosed with malaria. He developed a breathing problem and was placed on oxygen yesterday afternoon, and last night hospital staff referred him to Hoima. But as there were no portable oxygen bottles filled and ready, and he could not travel without oxygen, we were waiting until this morning to get a bottle delivered from Hoima, and to keep him on oxygen here in Buliisa Hospital in the meantime. However, he passed away about 3am last night.

We are, of course, deeply saddened by our loss. He was very loved and very well cared for by our Amari staff and children. Katulinde Oliver and Mama Edin cared for him and loved him as they would their own children. Jaz, my own son, adored him, and called him ‘our brother’, and our other Amari children also loved him. All of our staff have put time and love into him.

We are very thankful that his mother, Aisha, has been with us and him these last two weeks, and also taken a very active role in his care.
We will miss him very, very much, but know that he is now safe in the arms of Jesus, that he is no longer suffering from pain or breathing difficulties, and that he is in a better place. We are incredibly thankful, blessed and privileged that we have had these two wonderful and fun months with him, and we are all the richer for it. My staff have been wonderful with Baby James and his mother Aisha, and I believe that God chose to use Amari staff to help give Baby James a better quality of life and lots of love, even it was only for a short time.
Please continue to pray for his mother, Aisha, and for Oliver, who were the two women taking the primary care of him.
Thank you for your support today, and for taking the time to help us with his burial.n our property.
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Baby James and Jaz So, 9.15am last Tuesday, I was headed down to our District Headquarters for  the opening of a new building for the Education Department. By 12pm I was back onsite, with a 3-week-old baby in tow! Yep, I’m totally familiar and experienced with newborns!! (Not!) Jaz came along at around 2 years of age, and that was where my first-hand ‘raise a child’  experience started. (Nephews, nieces and others don’t count, as there was always ‘a more appropriate or experienced adult’ hovering in the background!)

The day unfolded something like this ….. after visiting the Education office, (and ascertaining there was actually only two people already present for the meeting, and hence I could come back home and do a few hours work first!), I was making my way out only to be accosted by the policewoman on gate duty, and whisked away to visit a three-week-old baby who was perceived to be in danger. Then followed a meeting with the village chairman to make sure he was aware of the situation, a meeting at police headquarters, and a meeting with the government probation office.  The outcome being that Amari has temporary custody of Baby James while authorities work on locating other relatives and resolving the home situation.

So there I was, 11.30am in the morning, with a three-week-old in my arms, baby formula an 8 hour round trip away, and not a clue about what I was supposed to do with him once he started crying! But my staff immediately took over, found a few baby clothes I’d forgotten we still had around, fed him on powdered milk, rugged him up and put him to sleep.  Fortunately it was the monthly auction day, so we could buy a bottle and a few blankets and sheets at the market, and got the formula put on a taxi in Hoima and delivered up here.

Baby James and Oliver

Onsite here, Baby James is primarily looked after by Oliver (my househelp), who showers him with love and attention. Other staff chip in, I take him for a few shifts (even braved a couple of nights!), and Jaz, Gerry and other children love holding him and feeding him.

The mother of Baby James has been to visit him a couple of times. Please pray for her as she is grieving not having him around, and pray that the best solution for all concerned will be found.

If you would like to specifically help support Baby James and his mother could you please contact us or donate here. We will be continuing to help with him, whether he remains here onsite, or whether he is resettled with his mother. We would also like to ‘stock up’ on a few items in case we get further cases of children needing emergency care.

And me, well – two weeks ago a very swift and fleeting ‘I’m a bit bored’ flitted across my mind. (And quickly disappeared, given the 3-desks-worth of admin I’m still trying to plow my way through!) But obviously God thought otherwise! (And adding to the irony, we are trying to promote the girl-child, and all I seem to do is collect little boys!)

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Up here in Buliisa, it’s often ‘feast or famine’ ……… at the moment we are enjoying a period of ‘feast’. This is the first crop of pumpkin harvested from our gardens.  Enough to keep Jaz, Gerry and I in pumpkin soup for a bit, and to also supplement our staff and students lunch (at least for one meal!)  David is one of our groundstaff, who has worked hard to get us to this point!

IMG_5534-001And as it was also market week (Market Day happens once a month),  we were also able to top up on bananas, cabbage and dodo (a spinach-like green). The bananas we freeze, and they make great snacks for the boys. (Yay for our solar freezer!)

We are also enjoying groundnuts (g’nuts – like peanuts). The staff are looking forward to having them crushed and mixed with their beans. I’m just enjoying them freshly fried and salted, straight off the frying pan! (They are also rather yummy mixed with rice and cabbage – makes a nice break from the beans!! 🙂  )

 

Grass Ladies

The rains have come, and our grass is grown again. As in past years, members of our community have requested they be allowed to come and pick the grass to take home, dry and use as thatch on their rooves. (I know, I know, ‘roofs’ is the more up-to-date spelling, but I can’t quite bring myself to use it!)

Land used to be communal, and grass was freely available. Nowadays with the introduction of land titling and individual land ownership, grass is not so easy to obtain.

Amari requests whoever wants to take grass pay a token amount, then they are free to come and take what they please. (We do also get them to sign a waiver that they are aware of our rather plentiful population of snakes, and will take care when moving on our land!)