Volume 13 Number 6
First Water, Then Goats and Computers An English Parish's Links With Uganda
01 December 2000
When an English church looked for a clean-water project to support in 1983, no one knew how far it would lead, writes Ann Rignall.
The speaker held up two glasses of water--one clear and sparkling, the other cloudy. He asked his audience whether they would like a drink. When they replied in the affirmative, he hid the one filled with clear water and offered them the other. 'In many places in Africa this is all that is available for the people to drink.' He was speaking on behalf of the Busoga Trust, a small charity set up in response to the Bishop of Busoga's passionate desire to see the two million people in his Ugandan diocese have clean drinking water.
The speaker was at St Peter's Church in Hale, an affluent commuter suburb of Manchester. Most of its inhabitants are professional or business people. In 1983 they were looking for a project in support of the United Nations' call for the 1980s to be 'the decade for clean water'. They selected the Busoga Trust and for six years raised money for it, through garden parties, ploughman's lunches, coffee mornings, talks and generous personal giving.
The coordinator of the Trust suggested that St Peter's be twinned with a rural parish in Busoga Diocese to establish a more personal relationship. They began to establish a link with the village of Nawaikoke some 70 miles from Jinja, Busoga's main town. Nawaikoke is rural with no electricity or running water. Cooking is done over open fires. It took time for the link to be set up owing to the political situation in Uganda. 'But a flame had been lit,' says Keith Neal, the secretary of St Peter's Committee for Mission, 'and we sensed that God did not mean it to be extinguished.'
This was the attitude of all those involved in the project. They met difficulties and setbacks, but were not put off. In 1992 the curate of St Peter's, Clenyg Squire, spent six weeks in Uganda. On his return, 100 people came to a public meeting at the church. Nawaikoke began to live for them. He had discussed with the villagers four possible income-generating projects for consideration by St Peter's. After much enthusiastic discussion the congregation settled on providing a milling facility for maize, millet and cassava.
In due course another member of St Peter's Committee for Mission, Anthony Holmes, went to Nawaikoke to install the flour milling machinery. He tells of the difficulties of concocting a mounting system for the mill. 'I was taken to the depths of an open market in Kampala where we bartered for rubber cut from old tyres and for nuts and bolts rescued from goodness knows where, probably old locomotives. Timber we bought from the roadside.... I recall the difficulty with cutting holes in the timber. No one in Nawaikoke could find a drill, so a luckless fellow was assigned to cut the holes, through three-inch hardwood planks, using a rough and blunt chisel.'
Transporting the mill itself was another adventure. 'By the time a puncture had been repaired and my driver had concluded an important meeting with the local clergyman, two hours had been lost. We were scheduled to collect the Archdeacon en route and we lost more time having tea with him and his wife. Still our late arrival in Nawaikoke didn't seem to matter.'
As the years went by more initiatives followed, such as a nutrition project to improve the health of women and children in particular. Out of this grew a goat-breeding project. In all, some 20 members of St Peter's visited Uganda to see the situation for themselves and to help install equipment and machinery. Most paid their own fares and at times they went against their own inclination.
In spite of the difficulties, those who took part had a sense of God leading them to people who could help, in both Uganda and the UK. The goat-breeding project was an example. Caroline Holmes, Anthony's wife and a lay reader at St Peter's, visited Nawaikoke to talk and work with the women. She realized that the women in rural Busoga had no access to milk and, because of their poor diet, their breast milk was like water and lasted only about three months. Their goats only yielded about half a cup of milk a day, and needed to be bred with good dairy goats.
'I never cease to be amazed how one thing can lead to another,' wrote Caroline. 'No sooner had I started enquiring about the possibility of using dairy goats to make milk available to the poorest women, than we came across Gideon Nadiope.' Part of Gideon's passion and vision was dairy goats. 'He had spent a whole month's wages obtaining a catalogue from America about some dual-purpose (milk/meat) dairy goats which were being bred in Kenya with American money and know-how.'
It was a long struggle to get the goats from Kenya to Uganda. A vital link was an honest customs man who let them over the border without demanding bribes or requisitioning the animals. The goats were eventually given to four people in 1999. It is a four-year programme and Gideon monitors it constantly. Finance came from sources other than St Peter's and US Aid is hoping to set up more such schemes in Uganda.
Over a period of 15 years St Peter's Church has raised £26,644, but many in the church feel they have also received a great deal. Nick Bent, who visited Busoga in 1990 during his gap-year between school and university, wrote, 'Those six months were among the most formative of my life and I remain profoundly grateful for them. I learned a huge amount about God, his people and his world; I received far more than I gave, comparatively rich westerner though I was. I made many friends both black and white.' Many of those who visited were overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of people who had so little.
The visits were not all one-way. Ernest Ereeyme, formerly headmaster of Nawaikoke College, spent three weeks in Britain. He visited St Peter's Church on Trinity Sunday. As well as speaking to the congregation, he had taught the choir a hymn he had written.
Kathleen Baker, the Chair of the Committee for Mission during much of this time, says, 'It was a great opportunity for socializing through all our money-raising events. It broadened our horizons. We learnt to face disappointment and failure, but at the same time had great hope and the right things have happened. We found a way to handle setbacks. The whole project tapped into people's altruism and we got a terrific amount of satisfaction.'
The little acorn which had been planted was growing into a tree. Flowers had developed, seeds had matured and dispersed. Some seeds fell onto suitable ground and germinated.
One such place was Manchester Grammar School (MGS), where Keith Neal was the Head of Biology until July 1999. It began when he suggested to the MGS Charities' Committee that they might support the Busoga Trust. They were inspired by the idea that the efforts of individual boys could directly affect the lives of men, women and children in Ugandan villages--for every pound sterling donated, one person can have clean drinking water for life. Since 1987 the school has sent regular donations totalling £23,000.
The Bishop of Busoga, Cyprian Bamwoze, on a visit to St Peter's parish in 1987, suggested that a link should be established between MGS and Busoga College, Mwiri, a school founded by the Church Missionary Society in 1912. Since 1990, when former MGS pupil Nick Bent went to Uganda, 12 other former pupils have spent time in Mwiri, participating in teaching, sport and other extra-curricular activities. 'Their first-hand accounts have made an enormous impact,' said Neal. The school was also able to send textbooks and science equipment no longer required by MGS.
In 1992 Neal himself visited Mwiri for the first time and met the headmaster, George Kayondo, who he felt was a man of vision. The previous year the President of Uganda had laid the foundation stone for a new computer centre at Mwiri. Sadly, Kayondo died when the project was in its infancy, but through the parent/teacher association and former pupils and friends of the school, sufficient money was raised to complete the building in 1996.
Later that year the Bishop of Busoga visited MGS again. Neal recalls, 'He asked if the MGS community could help complete the project by providing 100 second-hand computers for the centre. We gasped at the audacity of such a request, made before 1,000 boys and staff at morning assembly.'
Individuals made generous gifts of computers in response to a letter from the High Master (principal). The word also filtered through to parents working in large companies. Within six months, 87 computers were received, the bulk of them from British Gas and United Utilities (which supplies water and electricity to the north-west of England).
Another company agreed to warehouse, package and deliver them free of charge to any airport in the UK. British Airways flew the whole consignment of two and a half tonnes, free of charge, to Entebbe airport in Uganda. The computers all arrived safely and were finally installed by a computer company managed by a Mwiri parent.
In April 1999 Professor Apollo Nsibambi, the Uganda Minister of Education and Sports, opened the computer centre (named after the late headmaster) at Mwiri. He read out a message from President Museveni hailing this project and thanking all concerned. Keith Neal, with the MGS head of physics, Roger Hand, and three former MGS pupils were present at this occasion.
'It was a day none of us will ever forget,' said Neal. 'Inside the centre Mwiri boys demonstrated their computer skills with enthusiasm. The World Bank has selected Mwiri as one of 20 or so Ugandan schools to participate in a computer education project, including access to worldwide communication through the Internet. MGS and Mwiri can look forward to direct communication, adding a new dimension to the partnership.... The education spin-off for everyone could be immense.'
Links have also been formed between Mwiri and Nawaikoke College, a church secondary school. A new building for the school has been completed through the generosity of St Peter's and others. Individual members of St Peter's have also helped with the setting up of Busoga University, where the first students began their studies in February 1999. By July 1999 there were 40, doing teacher training and business administration, and a further 200 entered in October 2000, when the commerce, agriculture and computing courses opened.
The church's experiences have been put into a book* to encourage other groups who are thinking of doing something similar. They have had responses from many readers.
'We had no idea when we started with the exchange of occasional letters how much would happen, how many friendships would be formed, or what a fund of good will we would tap into,' said Kathleen Baker. 'We have been afraid, we have been overwhelmed but we have also had lots of fun. It still amazes me that it all happened, but it did because we were a group of people who worked together. You can't do something like this alone. It is important to catch people's imagination. You won't get everyone aboard, but work with those who will.
'It was also important to take time to get to know the people with whom we were working in Uganda. Trust had to be built and that took time. So it is difficult to make a success of any project that lasts only a year. Yet in a way all this is so easy. Everyone just has to do their own bit and the world can be transformed--but you have to do your bit, that is the crunch.'
*'Little Acorns', £4 (including UK postage), available from The Secretary, Committee for Mission, St Peter's Church, 273 Ashley Rd, Hale, Altrincham, Cheshire WA15 9SS, UK. Cheques payable to St Peter's Church Mission account.
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