IT COMES as a bit of a surprise to think that it has been over a year since we were chosen by our school and Missio Scotland to take part in a missionary trip to Uganda.
Understandably, it was a trip that required a great deal of fundraising and preparation. With regard to the former, we received overwhelming support from our parishes and schools via coffee mornings, bag-packing, fundraising nights, bingo evenings and so much more. The fundraising events were held not merely to fund our trip, but also to ensure that that we would be in a position to give donations to the projects and schools that we would visit while in Uganda. That wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of our parishes, schools, families and friends. As well as events with a fundraising focus, Holy Cross High School also ran a stationary and clothes appeal and St John Ogilvie High School donated stationary towards our trip. These generous donations were packed into 15 large holdalls and distributed to the various schools and projects we went to. We hope that these materials will have helped to contribute, in some way, to the education the people in Uganda.
Prior to embarking on the trip, it was made clear to us that this was going to be a mutually beneficial experience. I’m sure that many of you will have heard of people visiting African nations and maybe seen photos or videos of people physically handing over donations and cheques. We didn’t do this. We gave each project our donations discretely and respectfully, making no great shows of it because we are all equal and we were grateful to them for opening their homes and schools to us.
Before we left for Uganda, none of us really knew what to expect—we were all anxious, excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. From the moment we arrived at the airport, the contrast between the developed and developing worlds was very evident. We travelled an hour from the airport on dirt tracks to where we were staying that night and it was a big shock at how different people’s lives were there. Many people were selling crops at the side of the road to earn a living. Children had to walk a total distance of around six miles to and from school in their bare feet. However, in spite of what we would perceive as their daily hardships, everywhere we went people seemed happy and motivated. We were always welcomed with open arms and people gave us so much even though they had so little. The trip has made all of us appreciate our lives here in Scotland even more than we did and not to take them for granted.
Our missionary experience provided us with an insight into the lives of others—they are so different to our lives here in Scotland. During our trip we visited various parishes within Uganda and were able to see at first hand the values and complexities of this African nation, which is rich in tradition and faith. We were guided through long term projects designed to improve the health and education of the people in Uganda.
Our first night in Uganda was spent at St Augustine’s Institute in Kampala. The following morning we travelled 410 miles to a village in the south of Uganda called Kabale, which took us six hours by bus. We stayed for six nights. Each day we visited primary and secondary schools and different projects within this small village.
Our visits to schools in Uganda—of which there were four in total—were really eye opening to all of us, as it was such a different environment and atmosphere to our schools in Scotland. The poverty within the schools was evident. That being said, every child I had the privilege to meet and play with was filled with joy and happiness, despite the challenges they clearly faced.
The highlight of the trip for me was the Mulago School for the Deaf. This school is home to 198 pupils who, prior to its existence, would have received no education as children with disabilities in Uganda—as in many African countries—are often seen as a burden and kept hidden from view. It was heart-warming to see that the pupils were so happy and confidently using signs to communicate. A moment that will stay with me forever occurred when we walked in the school gates. A little girl ran up to me, wrapped her arms around me and didn’t leave my side for the duration of our visit. She was so full of joy and laughter as she took me round the school. Credit has to go to the Spiritan Fathers, who established the school, continue to run it and have helped bring this joy to life.
I cannot stress just how much this trip was a life-changing experience that will stay with me forever. During my time in Uganda, I was afforded the opportunity to experience a different culture, a different way of life and the chance to meet so many humble and inspirational people. This is what made the experience unforgettable. This mission trip allowed me to see my faith in action in a different environment, where the Catholic communities play a major role in young people’s lives and education. It is clear that the Catholic Church is a source for good and I was able to witness how faith in action can change lives.
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