16 April 2008

Pupils forge links with children in Uganda

Apr 10 2008 by Moira Sharkey, Western Mail

CHILDREN 4,000 miles apart have forged a life-changing friendship.

Having seen pictures and heard about the lives of youngsters at Springs Alive School in Uganda, pupils from Roath Park Primary, in Cardiff, made it their mission to help.

In one week of fundraising they had £3,000 in their appeal fund – a lottery windfall for the 100 pupils in the village of Seebi in East Africa. Many of the pupils on the school register are orphans having lost their parents and grandparents in the civil war or from HIV/Aids. All are taught in just two classrooms. There is no electricity, no running water and children have to walk more than five miles from their homes to attend lessons each day. But they make that journey as they know that education will give them a way out of poverty.

With the cash from Wales, a new school block can be built and the classrooms refurbished. Roath teachers Simon Ellery and Julian Husband travelled to Uganda to deliver some supplies before helping the staff plan for a new classroom block and a refurbishment of the current building.

They arrived with rugby balls and shirts, pencils, sharpeners and bought books and equipment locally.

Describing the moment the pupils saw the new school supplies Francis Omia, a member of staff at the school and one of the organisers of the Springs Alive educational scheme said: “When the pupils were shown scholastic materials such as sharpeners, pencils, rubbers and books they were thrown into a frenzy shouting at the top of their voices ‘twafunye obusongola ekaalamu, twawonye gilita’ literally meaning we have now got sharpeners, we are saved from razor blades.”

He added: “For us in Africa it’s unbelievable to be given anything in such a manner even the used clothes and shoes sent to Africa find their way to shops where they are sold at exorbitant prices. Thanks to the fundraising efforts at Roath Park, the pupils of Springs Alive are able to build a classroom block and repair the old classroom block. Since the visitors left, we have been overwhelmed by inquires from children wanting to join the school.”

For the children in Roath their fundraising week has been an experience they will not forget and the beginning of a lesson on how children are living in other parts of the world.

Uganda is now a more prosperous and peaceful country than it was a generation ago. It has been ravaged by civil unrest. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a cult group, has been responsible for massacres in the north for almost 20 years. It believes that the country should be ruled by a strict code based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

It is estimated that the violence displaced more than 1.6 million people and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or kidnapped. It ended in 2006 when LRA and the government signed a truce.

Headteacher of Roath Park Primary Colin Skinner said: “When we launched the fundraising week we had no idea how much we would raise. The children had been told about the school and saw pictures. They really wanted to help. They raised £3,000. That is life-changing money for these children in Uganda. It will make a real difference. The experience was also really worthwhile for our pupils as it gave them an understanding of the lives of children in other parts of the world and gave them an opportunity to do something to help those who are not as lucky as they are.”

Mr Husband said: “On arriving at the school it was obvious it was just worlds apart from anything we are used to in Wales. The classrooms are so dark and there is nothing on the walls. There is no electricity or running water. There are no school dinners and children make do with what is growing around them. The idea of a free lunch here is eating sugar cane and lots of fruit which is growing on the site. Uganda is a luscious green land. It is a beautiful place.”

Mr Ellery added: “They have so little, but they are so happy. These children were all smiles. They were so grateful to receive anything. A local branch of the organisation Teddies for Tragedy, which sends knitted teddies to children in third world countries gave us dozens of teddies to take with us. We did not have one for every child but each teddy came in a bag. The children who received a bag were as delighted as those who got a teddy. It was quite incredible. These children know how important an education is. They know that it is a way out of the poverty.”

It is hoped that the educational links can be developed in the coming years. If Springs Alive gets electricity it can be connected to the internet and pupils and teachers can email each other. Questions pupils have about Wales or Africa can be sent directly and exchange visits for staff are being considered.

No comments: