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2018 Visit to Uzima Day Care Centre

As I sit in the airport lounge and reflect on washing the red mud off my feet on our return, I am thankful for many things.  'Uzima in Our Hands' is a small charity based on a small Island and is only just over 4 years old. I am returning from our yearly trip to Uzima with 7 supporters who travelled with me and gave of their time, money and most especially their hearts.  Each one has clearly been touched by their experience and now the charity is better off with their support.  Once you have been to Uzima, it is impossible to forget and many visitors have become active givers and fundraisers.  I personally was once again deeply affected by the plight of the many children supported by Uzima Orphan and Day Care Centre and their work in such tough conditions.

One big challenge for us this year is to get many more Child Sponsors who will contribute towards the running costs of Uzima. Always a challenge but we know that God loves these children even more than we do and will bless this work.The chaos of Nairobi’s terminal 1B spun us into transition.  Bags stuffed with shirts and medicines, toys and books, sanitary pads and underpants made their way very slowly through the scanner causing consternation for the locals queuing to catch the 6:30 Jambojet.

Jambojet, Jambojet, jambo Kisumu.

A Kisumu shopping trip completed our shipment of essentials for the Centre.  Tuk-tuks stuffed with tables, chairs, water barrels, beakers, bits and bobs, disgorged their cargo into our temporary warehouse in Joy and Michelle’s hotel room.  The next morning our consignment is packed with Kenyan Tetris dexterity into a couple of matatus for transfer to Uzima.  Past shanties and shambas, shops in containers, market stalls and goods on the ground, Kenyan optimism shines through as we speed past the dry dustbowl located ‘Lakeside Club’, the promising ‘In Hope of Glory’ beauty parlour and the cold reality of ‘Hangover Hotel’.

Back across the equator and further west, economic activity slows.  Communities become small collections of huts scattered across the countryside with tolerant roadside cattle searching for poor grazing in the dusty scrub. The Kenyan music giving the matatu a happy rhythmic swing – the piki-piki, matatu, tuk-tuk stomp.

We turn left at the borehole sending plumes of dust ballooning into the air as we massage our way along the dirt roads to our final destination, Uzima – not a place but a wonderful idea based on life and hope.

Monday morning and children arrive to take the first load of our cargo to the school.  Bales of sweatshirts balanced elegantly on heads are carried by chattering girls and boisterous boys along the path and up the hill to the school.  In the early morning shimmering heat, we follow behind.  Fascinated and fascinating faces grin at us through open windows.

 ‘Jambo.’‘Jambo.’ ‘Hi.’‘Good morning.’

With armfuls of brand new, bright red sweatshirts, we walk into classrooms.  Well drilled children stand chanting, ‘Good morning, how are you?’

‘We are really pleased to be here, how are you?’

‘We are fine thank you,’ and, at our signal, the children excitedly sit.

Sweatshirts are pulled over heads, arms tugged, neck adjusted and pleased children return to their desks.   

Eventually, the whole school is ready for our welcome assembly.  We sit in shorts and t-shirts, perspiring in the 35-degree heat.  The red sea of children act, sing and dance proudly in their new uniform.  

At playtime, John the boy with the club foot, draws a line in the dust as he drags his hobbled limb in his haste to find his mates.  In her smoke-filled kitchen Pascalia serves beakers brimming with uji.  For some, this will be their first food since school yesterday.  Here is ironic injustice.  The cook works in dire conditions to feed the school but does not always earn enough to be able to feed her own family in the evening.

Life-stories reveal the shy tragedy of impoverished rural life wracked by disease.  Families decimated by ailments old and new.  Children deprived of their parents are moved around tribal families sometimes being uprooted to different villages, towns or countries.  The children’s smiles are nearly successful at hiding the quiet acceptance of the fatalities that embrace their every day.  When you are poor you have no choice over where you live.

The afternoon’s breeze stirs the parched land to dust.  Goats and cows wander over the shambas eeking out a poor grazing from the remains of last year’s stunted harvest.  Women slowly turn the soil in hope of rain and the opportunity to plant.

On a few nights the thunder rumbles and the sky is electric blue.  Some rain falls and briefly turns the paths to mud but it makes little impression on the thirsty land.  More, much more, is needed.

On other nights the dark dome of stars echoes to the howling of dogs, the mewl of a cat reassuring her yowling kittens and the rhythms of funeral wakes.  Mornings are punctuated by the cocky crow of the rooster and insistent yell of a baby.  For another day, life and hope has succeeded over death.

Children, no longer ragged in ancient hand-me-down uniform or working on the floor, sit proudly at their new desks and busy themselves with their lessons.  Barbara, the school’s social worker, identifies for us those in need of clothes or family support.  A tablet from the Centre’s precious stock of paracetamol, that we have just replenished, is given to a little uncomplaining mite with malaria. Four piki-pikis are ordered and precariously loaded with 15 children who are taken to Burburi for medical attention.  With Lou acting as Mum, medicines are sorted, packaged and paid for and then the piki-piki party balance their way back to Uzima.

With John and Bravel and their fathers, Dave and Norma set off by bus on the demanding journey to the hospital outside Kampala in Uganda.  Both boys have club foot and will have to spend several months there in preparation for and after surgery.  Without the financial and social support offered by the charity their condition would go untreated.

Michael, the gentle stockman, prods his cows into the shade, collects his bike, loads it with yellow drums and pedals off to collect our daily supply of water from the borehole.  We sit on the veranda drinking in the slow rhythm of the late afternoon – maji, kikombi, majani; chai - and plan home visits.

Home visits are full of hope and despair.  Proud families welcome us into their simple hutted homes.  Carefully swept mud floors and chairs set neatly round a low table have been readied for our visit.  We hear how families have been kept together and been able to take in other orphaned children thanks to the support from Uzima.  We discover those who still struggle to provide even a simple evening meal for the children and the parents who go without so that their children can eat.

We also meet Valery who graduated from Uzima top of her class but now does domestic jobs at home because her family can’t afford to send her to secondary school.   This reinforces just how important the proposed Vocational Centre is to support children in the future.  On another visit the hopeful sight of a smiling child preparing maize for supper is turned to disbelief as Joy steps through the doorway to find her mother lying on a rug, wracked by an advanced stage of cancer.  Without pain relief or even a simple blanket to cover her, the fortitude of parent and child are truly humbling.   

School Sports and Michelle is the centre of activity dominating the playground with her boundless enthusiasm, organising Frisbee competitions.  Bare footed nursery children playing ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ out run Lou. The chance to play badminton for the first time creates consternation and amusement over the flighty shuttlecock as it pirouettes in the morning breeze.  Max masterminds a football competition in which the unshod older girls show that they can make a serious centre-back clearance with a classic Liverpool up-field ‘ale-house ball’.  Phil films on. The smiles on the children’s faces radiate back their thanks for people who care enough about them to come and play with them.

Already we are guest at the final assembly.  Drums beat, pupils dance and Dave responds with an entertaining display of Grandad dancing that has the whole school smiling.  As I look around and reflect upon what has been achieved by the visit any concerns that what is so generously given by the many Island and UK donors might be mis-spent are completely dispelled.  Children have been fed and clothed, some of their health needs have been addressed, and their educational opportunities improved.  It is inconceivable to think about where they might be without the Centre and the generosity of so many Islanders.

People of Uzima,’Kwaheri, and for all that you have taught me asanti sana.  Mungu akabariki.’  

Jambojet – an airline

Kikombi – cup

Kisumu – Kenya’s third largest city

Kweheri - thanks

Majani – tea leaves

Maji - water

Matatu – taxi or minibus

Mungu akabariki – God bless you

Piki-piki – a motorbike taxi

Shamba – a patch of agricultural land

Tuk-tuk – a three wheeled taxi

Uji – a thin porridge usually made with millet

Uzima – an Orphan and Day Care Centre and School funded mainly by donations from the Isle of Wight