I’M A Sixth Year student at Holy Cross High School in Hamilton and, in October 2019, I was privileged enough to go on a mission experience to Uganda as a part of Missio Scotland’s ‘Get Involved Globally’ programme with nine other pupils and three teachers—Peter Galloway from John Ogilvie High School, Ann Therese Galloway, a former primary school teacher, and Roisin Rea from Holy Cross High School (also Hamilton). We were also joined by Martin Mann from Missio Scotland and Sister Stacey Cameron from the Sisters of St Peter Claver.
When I was presented with the opportunity to take part in this experience, I put my name down for it, in part to challenge what I thought about the Catholic Church at the time. I thought that it was only relevant to me, one hour a week, on a Sunday, within a church setting. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through this experience, the biggest thing I learned is that faith lives not only in a church or a classroom, but also in community and everything we do. It also underlined the fact that we are all one as children of God.
In preparing for the trip, we had to raise money for the trip to cover vaccinations, travel and visa costs and raise some more for the projects we were visiting. We also embarked upon a weekend retreat where we received an education about the trip itself. Missio Scotland’s work doesn’t involve fixing everything and showcasing good deeds to everyone, but rather assisting in making projects sustainable in collaboration with people all over the world. That’s exactly what this trip was about—bolstering the fact that we are all part of a universal community of faith.
Impressions of Uganda
When we arrived in Uganda, what struck me most is how similar, yet different, it is to Scotland. Landing in Kampala airport you could’ve sworn the hills and fields were the Scottish countryside, but you couldn’t ignore the shantytowns that we flew over or some of the poverty we saw as we drove through the city. Kampala was beautiful though, a bustling city full of life and culture. Everywhere you looked there was something new to see and learn about.
After spending a night in the city, we headed out on the road. As soon as we left Kampala, we could see why it is known as the pearl of Africa as rural Uganda was stretched out in front of us—rolling hills and abundant greenery as far as the eye could see.
About six hours into our journey, we turned onto the dirt tracks that would take us to Kisiizi. Some 7000 miles away from Scotland, this small village is very different from what we’re used to back home, with amenities like hot water available, but limited, and food limited to bread, fresh bananas, and jam for breakfast; matooke (an African dish made from mashed up bananas) and ground nut (g-nut) sauce for lunch; and noodles and toast for dinner. The village was beautiful, with a magnificent waterfall outside of our accommodation and boasting an amazing view to compliment the amazing people and close-knit community of Nyarushanje parish.
While we were in the parish, we were able to see, first hand, the role that faith plays in everyone's life there. From the moment we awoke to when we went to bed, we were reminded that God was with us. Whether it was the priest playing football with us at St Peter’s Secondary School or Sister Stella Niwagira showing us her primary school in Nyarushanje, there was a constant reminder that faith is alive and well through community, not just within the church building itself, but as a living presence among us everywhere we go.
One thing that will always stick out for me, however, is when we visited a small lakeside village a bit further out from the centre. There, they had a church and a schoolhouse as the centrepiece of their community. We had come to visit the lake and see the natural beauty of the area, but after we came back from the lakeside we could hear the beating of drums (above), which I came to learn in the duration of my trip, usually means there’ll be people dancing nearby. There, in front of the church, the people had gathered to dance and we joined in—or at the very least tried. After the dance, we were led into the church, where they explained that they were happy we had come to visit and wanted to give us a warm welcome. They didn’t need to drop everything and welcome us, because they work so hard on a daily basis, yet they still found time to show their appreciation for us being there. That will live with me forever.
Universality of faith
Hamilton is long way away from Uganda, but upon my return, I found that when it comes to faith communities, there isn't much in the way of difference between these two places. That's because faith is universal, no matter what language you speak or where you come from—we are united in God’s love. In everything we did in preparation and everything we did while we were out in Uganda, the common thread was love. It was love that drove people to donate to our cause, it was love that we witnessed in Uganda, and in sharing my experience through presentations at schools and at churches, I’ve come to learn that love is what makes faith a living and vital part of our lives. It’s so important that we share that love around the world.
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