My trip to Uzima this year, was quite different to previous trips, because I was able to stay longer and understand better the needs of the children at Uzima and where we are going with supporting them. We have a fantastic team of Kenyans on the ground who understand the needs far better than any ‘mazungu’ (white person) but we work alongside them in discussion about how best to use the funds. Two groups of visitors from the UK came and went during my stay, each person has not only given of their time and expertise but has seen for themselves the many pressing needs in this rural and impoverished community.
Busia hospital is where I land up. Not for myself - but with 2 girls from Uzima who both suffer from serious epilepsy and have numerous and terrifying convulsions. We are hoping to get their medication checked and adjusted to prevent as many seizures as possible without dosing them up to the extent that they lose their joy of living. I’m not sure I have got anywhere today but there are days like this that I have had to learn to accept.
After waiting an hour and filling our time playing marbles to the delight of the whole waiting room we pay for their appointment at a kiosk and are called in to see the doctor. My hopes are raised when I see he is a ‘muzungu’ (white person) as I think I will be understood – he is the only white person I see all day. However, his English is poor and his Swahili non-existent and he has no interpreter. We do lots of signing (what is the sign for diarrhoea??) and he proceeds to send both girls for a malaria test. There is no scanning equipment at this hospital which means one of the girls cannot find out if she has a brain tumour – a possible cause of the sudden onset. I wonder about the wisdom of finding out…..as a charity we have to constantly make very difficult decisions about our spending. Do we help one child with expensive medical treatment or do we feed hundreds of hungry children for a month? Do we send a few children to Secondary school or do we pour all our efforts into building Vocational Classrooms that will help far more in the longer term?
The children of Uzima always stand out to me as being the most patient and uncomplaining kids you could meet. They suffer such hardships but still enjoy being children and having a party! There was a very happy moment for me this trip at CoRSU hospital when the doctor told me that Braven – a 6 years old who we funded to have surgery for club foot last year was doing really well and just needed one more check before being discharged. He now walks normally and his life has been changed forever all thanks to the kindness of Uzima supporters.
The girls at the hospital are both referred to another hospital for CT scans. Their medication is repeated – one of them has a massive convulsion at school the next day. She is taken to Buburi clinic by the Social worker, Barbara, for treatment on the back of a piki piki (motorbike) no one at the school owns a car. On the way she fits again and they have to stop. She missed the next 3 days of school.
For these children life can be cruel, but my abiding memories following my yearly visits are always of the amazing difference that loving care can make.
Mungu Akubariki- Joy
Sponsorship During our trip, we were busy getting to know some of the children better and are now in a position to receive further sponsors for individual children. If you would like to sponsor a child, making a suggested donation of £15 per month, contact Joy for more details orsign up on our website.
Every single penny of the money you donate goes toward the school and the support they provide the child and their families. It's an invaluable link with people in another country, who experience hardship far removed from our lives here in the UK. When the world seems to be increasingly polarised, it's so important that we build relationships with our brothers and sisters in Africa. Thoughts on my return to the UK
- Viv Collins
It's very difficult, if not impossible, to summarise a period of nearly 5 weeks immersed in another culture, so different from our own - and yet so similar too! So I will leave the differences to your imagination and focus mainly on the similarities. And they of course are above all - the people! Getting to really know Kenyans face to face I was able to share their joys, hopes, moments of fun, their compassion for others, their times of grief and sorrow, and know that we had related as equal brothers and sisters, linked by our common humanity and also, often, by our common walk, as Christian believers, with God.
It was with the children at Uzima Orphan Centre, however, that this reality came doubly alive. I was so impressed by their willingness to work hard, their dignity and quiet self assurance - despite often being dressed in virtual rags (which we tried our best to mend when we could), their cheerfulness, friendliness - once shyness had been overcome - and sheer ability! This latter encompassed their working knowledge of English as well as Swahili - they were taught in both languages (not to mention the local dialect with which they had grown up), the in-depth primary syllabus which they worked through - as well as their obvious physical ability in sport! However, these children were at the school because of their vulnerability and need: their lives were not remotely easy by any standard, yet I never heard them complaining or bemoaning their lot. Whilst they were grateful for our help they were still normal, at times rather cheeky, children crowding round you to have their photo taken! Special Needs
My role was mainly working with the children with special needs, termed by the teachers 'slow learners'. I was privileged to be able to win both their trust and commitment, and also that of their teacher's (who was in fact not a trained teacher but a charismatic, dedicated, aspiring teacher, very appreciative of any skills he was taught). Using a scheme based on mastering the most common 203 words in the English language, discovered by Joy in the resources kindly donated from the UK, I was able to assess the entry level for most of the children in this group and set up a programme to enable them to make structured progress. It was a delight to see all the children, who were 'behind'; generally because of serious physical disabilities which had kept them out of school, making progress at their own level - and beginning to enjoy their success. And I would add that all this was carried out in English - their 2nd or 3rd language!
I stayed on for the 5 weeks (having originally only signed up for half this time) so that I could be sure that Silas, the aspiring teacher, was confident in using the materials, planning his lessons and recording the progress made by the children. When I left I felt he had reached this place, so I was very pleased. The children at Uzima have won a place in my heart. I won't forget them and will continue to do all I can, back here in the UK, to enable them to receive an education that has the power to help lift them out of the poverty and hopelessness, which sadly, is their current life expectation. Teacher Training
I understand now that, according to a new Government edict, from May this year only trained teachers will be allowed to work in schools, so unless Silas receives some funding to enable him to begin training alongside his usual work, he will have to leave the school! Having invested so much in him, seen his potential as a good teacher, and above all seen the raised self-esteem of the children as they started to make real progress, I obviously don't want to let this happen, so intend to make the cost of his training the main focus of my fund-raising here in the UK. I hope that you will be able to support me!
Therefore, I have decided as a matter of urgency to raise as much money as I can in the next few weeks to pay for training costs, in the first place for Silas, but, if possible, also for 3 other unqualified teachers to begin training. Will you sponsor me as I walk part way round the Isle of Wight (Freshwater to Seaview) at the beginning of April to raise funds for Silas and the other affected staff at Uzima?
Your help will mean so much. To find out more and request a sponsorship form, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Take two! My second trip to Uzima
- Clare Griffin
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Uzima twice now – once in 2017 and then again this year. There’s no doubt that the culture shock is much less second time around….and knowing what to expect with the living conditions makes it easier too (although the long drop remains as unpleasant as ever!). However, the most amazing thing is to see the difference that has been made by Uzima In Our Hands over those two years.
In 2017 they were in the middle of a drought which did mean things were even more challenging, and the children were only being fed once a day due to shortages of food. In 2019, the children looked so much healthier. Two years ago I remember them walking slowly from their classrooms to queue up for their first meal of the day when they’d already been on the go for a good 3 or 4 hours. They lacked energy, and I filmed them wiping their fingers round their cups of porridge, scraping every last morsel they could. For many that was the only meal they had in 24 hours. This year they received two meals every day at school – porridge in the morning and a good size plate of rice and beans at lunch time. In fact we shared their lunch one day and I could barely finish it (although of course, we would benefit from a third meal in the evening which they wouldn’t). In 2017 the school was surrounded by a barbed wire fence – where would you see barbed wire anywhere near children in this country? Regardless of the obvious dangers, the other issue with this was that the footballs we brought from the UK lasted approximately 10 seconds before they punctured on the barbs! In 2019, the whole school is now enclosed by a chain link fence – keeping the site and children (and footballs!) safe.
Two years ago the cook was working in a tin shack – with an open fire, and no ventilation. She cooked for the 300 children here and I remember trying to film her. I couldn’t even set foot inside because of the extreme heat and smoke. This year she still suffers with the smoke from open fires that she cooks over, but has the ‘luxury’ of a proper brick built kitchen. When the ovens are complete, she will hopefully be relieved of the constant smoke inhalation.
There are now gutters round the building which drain into a huge water tank. The rains were just starting when we were there so the tank was full and the children could go to the tank and get water whenever they wanted to. Two years ago water was carried in jerry cans from the nearest borehole. I still can’t work out how they carried enough water to the school for 300 children, plus staff and us each day… unbelievable!
I was sceptical of last years fund raising drive to provide school sweatshirts for all the children – perhaps because in 2017, they were so hungry and many were so unwell when I was there that it didn’t seem that crucial. However, in 2019 the difference was noticeable. Although many were showing the effects of a years wear, the school now has an identity. And the children who had joined since the uniform was issued weren’t satisfied unless we were able to give them the same red dress or shirt. You could see the disappointment on their face, if all we had was something in another colour. Sports
Sport is the most powerful force in bringing people together and raising self-esteem and the Uzima children are excellent sportsmen and women. In 2017 one of the girls was doing particularly well in football and progressed to regional trials but her progress had come to a halt because she had no boots and was unable to compete with those who did. This year, thanks to a generous donation from Vectis Youth FC, an IOW team, they have full kits….including socks and boots. The transformation was amazing – they looked like any bunch of young people anywhere in the world playing football. And to top it off we hear they have done so well in their regional sports competitions that a team of 50 football, netball and volleyball players has qualified to play at the nationals in Mombasa next month – what an amazing opportunity and achievement!
And the final and most incredible achievement of our charity over those two years is that when I left in 2017, the idea to build vocational classrooms was just that – an idea that Joy and I and the others visitors talked about when we were there. In 2019, the classrooms are built! What an achievement for our supporters and trustees! All that remains is to get them properly equipped so that the older children can benefit from them soon. If Joy will have me, I look forward to returning in another two years and being able to see even more progress and witness the life changing work of Uzima In Our Hands. As a supporter, you can be assured that your money is really making a difference and quite literally changing lives. Thank you!
Thank you for getting to the bottom of this very long newsletter! As you can see, there is still much to do, but so much has been achieved for the children of Uzima. We hope you are blessed, as we are, to have been a part of transforming their lives. We couldn't do it without you! And so this ends with a sincere thank you for all your ongoing generosity, encouragement and support.
Mungu Akubariki! Joy, Louise & Rachel
- Trustees, Uzima in Our Hands