Between July and August, a group of 6 boys visited the school with a big project in mind - to build a dormitory for the boys living in the school. Successful with their venture, two of the volunteers, George and Tobias, have written a thorough recap of their time at the school. There are many challenges to be faced in a venture such as this, and we commend them for their generosity towards the people of St Michaels School!
We are a group of 6 friends, 4 of whom went to St Michaels Girls School for the first time in 2014 and 2 of whom went for the first time in July 2016. For one of our group it was his first time in a plane!
We spent 5 weeks at the school this summer. Here is a picture of us outside the new boys dorm at the opening ceremony with Father Joseph, local priest. One of us cut the white ribbon in front of us.
St Michaels is a predominantly girls school with 200 boarders and 600 day pupils and about 20 boys who are a mixture of teachers’ sons, orphans and special allowances at the school. In our trip in 2014 we thought the boys were overlooked. For example the room where they slept had rats, was at constant risk of flooding and often had to sleep two to a bed. We saw a need for a proper place to sleep and when we were back home we decided to fundraise for a new boys house. This was to cost up to £8k which we raised over lots of fundraisers and individual donations. Most notably a film night, a barn dance and a swish (ladies clothing swapping event). To get out to Africa and stay there we had to save up and earn £1500.
We arrived in hot and humid Kampala and travelled east for 6 hours, after waiting for our driver! (He arrived 5 hours late - we would get used to Africa time!). We caught the setting of the sun just as we arrived at the school. The sun seemed huge, a lot larger and more orange than we were used to. From twilight to absolute darkness is 15 mins unless there was a full moon.
We arrive to a cacophony of screams and chanting from boys and girls. We were also welcomed by the sisters and teachers and told supper was at 8pm. The school is a collection of 14 large single storey buildings - a mixture of classrooms, a medical centre, teachers rooms, boarding houses and a convent where the nuns live. Also there are lots of smaller buildings which are washrooms and latrines. There are a several large trees inhabited by many weaver birds and the soil is very red. (You’d think you were getting a good tan until you washed your legs and realised it was red dust!).
The first thing we did was go and check on the boys dormitory - the boys house as it was called at the school. This is what we had spent the last 2 years fundraising £8k for with your help. We were amazed by how large it was and the quality of the work, and even more pleased to see that 2 extra rooms were attached to the main house: 1 for a teacher and 1 for the senior boys to revise and sleep in when their exams are on. We were equally impressed by how quickly it had been constructed (6 weeks). Tom the contractor was there to show us around which was nice.
The usual meal for us at the school would be full of carbs. We’d go up to the convent for lunch and supper. We’d wash our hands out of a jerry can, take off our shoes and enter. Usually 5 or 6 covered silver dishes, we’d open them in trepidation hoping for our favourites: pancakes, chips, chapatis and chicken or even mince meat if we were very lucky. The worst was over boiled rice and pasta! In between good and bad was ‘posho’, a ground kasava root powder, boiled kasava, eggplant, matoke, plantaine and beans. We bought out lots of condiments from the UK to make the food more palatable. The sisters ate with us and enjoyed the ‘Maggi’ sauce we’d brought. Sister Christine also particularly liked Reggae Reggae sauce. After every meal we would be treated to either watermelon, pineapple or mangos, all of which were as fresh as could be. We’d have breakfast in our volunteer compound, usually pot noodles from England and Ugandan bread with Nutella, golden syrup or local honey.
We’d wake up around 8.30am and plan the day which would range from painting the dorm, planning its mural, visiting local projects and schools and occasional touristy trips. The rest of the day was spent fulfilling these tasks. We also interacted with the girls and boys, playing games with them and answering their numerous questions concerning our lives in England: “What crops do you grow? What food do you eat? Do you wash your clothes by hand at home?”.
Most days at 5pm we’d go to St Malumbas, a local primary school, to play football in a team with the St Michaels boys against the local men. We usually won until our star player, Dylan, returned to England a few weeks before the rest of us. Our last 3 matches were 3 consecutive defeats. We often played with or against the same men so by the end of our trip we were dreaming up tactics about how to break through their defence.
We collected our water daily from the local bore hole and would empty it into a water butt in the garden of our compound. We’d need water for washing ourselves, our clothes and flushing the toilet. Whenever we started doing the water run the boys and girls would insist on helping us and putting our jerry cans at the front of the queue. When it rained we’d put out all our plastic basins under the drip line of the building. They’d be full in 10 minutes.
Our main focus was painting the boys dorm. 3 base coats inside and out and then two top coats plus skirting. Lots of attaching sticks to rollers to reach unreachable places. There were wonky ladders made from 2 sticks and halved planks lashed together.
To do the mural one of us had the idea of using the projector at night to project up our plan on to the wall. We got attacked by mosquitos due to the bright light and had to keep the kids at bay. In the day they’d come and shake our ladders, and sometimes we’d get a volley ball in our backs! We learnt the hard way that we couldn’t leave the paint cans out as they would get kicked over by mistake. We designed a mural of the Union Jack and Ugandan flags, outlines of the 2 countries next to each other and below key facts about the countries like population, land area, national animal (lion and the bird, the Crested Crane).
Boys inside and outside the dorm. We also had the bunk beds repaired, and now there was one to a bed as some had left the school.
Once we’d finished decorating, the bulk beds had been repaired and everyone had a mosquito net, the local priest, father Joseph, came and led a service in which he blessed the new dorm and sprinkled holy water over the rooms. The girls did a performance and the boys slept their first night.
On the last night, the students put on a show for us. It was what they had been practicing for a local singing and dancing competition. All the performances had a different meaning but all of them to do with empowering women and stopping domestic abuse. It gave us an insight into what problems the community faces and how they deal with it in Uganda.
There is lots of work that still could be done, if not at the school then in the wider community. This trip has helped us establish links elsewhere, particularly at a secondary school called Bishop Willigers where the pupils need basic science equipment to sit their GCSE equivalent exams. As a group we cannot take up this project but hope to set up a group from a secondary school in Bath. Hopefully we can use our experience to make their trip as successful as ours. Please encourage any young people to get in touch.
We’d like to thank the charity and our family and friends for their support as the boys dorm would have been impossible to complete without their help.
George and Tobias Leigh-Wood
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