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A determination to reflect kindness shown

AS A sixth-year student at St John Ogilvie High School I was presented with the unique opportunity to take part in a Missio Scotland-led mission experience to Uganda. However, I was completely unaware of the profound impact that it would have on me. Unbeknown to me, I was on a collision course with a new perspective that it would give me to inform and guide my faith. The cliché of trips such as this being ‘life-changing’ that was often parroted to me in the build-up to this journey is something I had no way of knowing would be undeniably true.

A large part of this journey—for the nine other pupils and I—was the fundraising we undertook in order to raise money for the costs of travel, vaccinations and supporting the various projects we would be visiting. This gave us the opportunity to experience the kind of work done by many of the people we would go on to meet as we practised charity and self-sacrifice on a small scale. In doing this, we also became closer as a group, which would prove to be a very important support network for one another as we faced some challenging realities on our mission.

Culture shock

After our near 7000 mile journey, the immediate culture shock in Uganda was startling. The chaotic roads bustled with motorcyclists, livestock and marketplaces unlike anything any of us had ever experienced. We were promptly introduced to various Ugandan cuisines such as matooke—a dish made with mashed banana—that certain members of our group grew very attached to. That said, there were some cravings for food from home, despite our balanced diet of toast, instant noodles, and one highly rationed tin of Kenco coffee.

After a night in the capital, we drove through the stunning Ugandan scenery to Kisiizi, the home village of one of the nuns who was accompanying, Sister Stella Niwagira. It was here that we would be spending the majority of our trip. The relative luxury of our stay in Kampala became very apparent to us as we travelled along the dirt roads through villages of makeshift huts and shacks. The local council buildings grounds being occupied by a tribe of goats summed up what we were seeing. Yet despite the obvious poverty around us, we were greeted by those on the roads with wide smiles and waves—an attitude that would become common throughout our trip but always inspiring.

Role of faith

The key role that faith plays in daily life there became readily apparent, particularly within the village and its schools. The level to which the local clergy were immersed in the education of all the children was a constant reminder of this. The three priests we met—that are responsible for an area as large as the Motherwell Diocese—were extremely welcoming and an inspiration in how much they do for their community.

Our time in the schools emphasised to us the stark difference between our lives and the lives of those we met. The children’s unfortunately necessary education on subjects such as drug addiction and trafficking from a young age was a particularly difficult reality to face. However, these worries were quickly superseded by a deep appreciation for the work being done in these schools by the teachers, pupils and the Church. The high value placed on education had clearly instilled a determination in these children who see it as a way out of the brutal conditions that many of them face.

One experience in particular—which occurred towards the start of our trip—stands out as a distilled representation of the strong faith we witnessed in Africa. Late one day, we had decided at the last minute to pay a visit to a local lake known for its beautiful scenery. We passed a small tin-roof church with a few huts surrounded by people working on farmland on our way down to the lake from the bus. On our return, we began to hear the drumming and thumping of people dancing as a group of the workers in the nearby fields and the surrounding inhabitants had congregated to welcome us and invited us into their church. They performed traditional tribal dances and, in return, we sang Caledonia before we were presented with gifts of pineapple and crates of bottled water as a show of friendship. This overwhelming kindness shown to us by strangers with a complete lack of prior knowledge of our arrival or even a shared language, will stick with me forever as a representation of strong faith and generosity in even the harshest conditions.

Changing lives

One of the projects we visited during our stay was the Peer Link organisation, a charity focused on helping the most vulnerable in Ugandan society such as single mothers and those effects by HIV/AIDS. The charity endeavours to imbue them with skills they can use to provide for themselves. This was an amazing example of the work being done by those of faith outwith the education system in providing sustainable help to those who need it the most and making permanent changes to their quality of life. We engaged in some of the training in fields such as cookery, jewellery making and sewing were some of us had the opportunity to make pencil cases such as this masterpiece (above).

Overall, my experience in Uganda exposed me to a culture where the Church is at the centre of everyday life, not only as a result of being the source of education and engaging in vital charity work, but also through the amazing acts of compassion we were consistently shown. The level to which these people lived their lives guided by faith is something that will be live within me forever and encourage me to reflect the kindness I was shown in the way I live my own life.

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