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Guest post from 67 year old Grandmother of 4 Ann McCarthy- she recalls her first trip to SW Uganda and where she is right now

Ann McCarthy-2nd from left

How did I get started

Many people ask me how I got started on setting up a charity project and helping a rural village community in SW Uganda to meet some of their daily challenges.While I was travelling in Uganda about 6 years ago I was invited by a local man to go to his village and meet some of his friends and family. He was one of the better off people in the village as he had a job, and he wanted to start some income-generating activities for others in his village as there was almost no employment in the area.

One of the ideas he had was to open up a Guest House or at least a Coffee Shop, and when he realised that I ran a B&B here in UK he asked if I would teach him how it was done. I agreed as his compound was in an ideal location – directly on the main road from Kampala to Kabale – and all who went to visit the mountain gorillas, tree climbing lions and other tourist attractions, passed by the gate. I could see this was a good idea, and was already making plans!

Once I got involved other community challenges became apparent; there was no education for any children under seven and even after that it was mornings only for a couple of years and it was not totally free. There was a lack of access to clean water in the village, no mosquito nets had been distributed leading to a high incidence of malaria, and there was little opportunity for villagers to earn any extra cash unless their small vegetable plots produced an excess of food to the family needs.

When I returned to the UK I started mobilising my friends and family to get involved. Denis had already half built the main house from bricks he employed local men to make when I met him and each year we have been able to upgrade and add a couple more rooms or another Banda. Now we can sleep more than 20 visitors at any one time. Each room has its own comfortable bed with an attached shower and an electricity socket.

Hills flank each side of the road both in front and behind us, and provide some fantastic walking opportunities. Visitors are warmly welcomed and invited in when they pass village homes and despite having so few possessions they are always ready to share what little they have. This is one of the things that attracted me to the area so much when I first went there.

After discussions with village women we agreed to start a Nursery School and now 3 years later we have almost completed building 7 classrooms – taking in children from aged three years up to P2 level. Our numbers grew very slowly as first and we found some parents and guardians were offering fruit vegetables and even work in return for schooling their children. Denis and I hated to send the children away and then early last year one young volunteer had a bright idea.

Through a low-cost sponsorship scheme we are now educating approx. 200 young children for free. We are employing 7 qualified local teachers, a headmaster and a matron to help with the babies. We provide each child a daily mug of porridge. Volunteers have bought exercise books, pens, crayons and picture books. Uniforms have been donated from a variety of UK schools, but we always need more – especially blue grey or black. I also need more sponsors and we have a website

Aside from things for our own school 250 households have received free mosquito nets through our fundraising with

Ann- distributing Mosquito nets

Against Malaria.

We have donated football boots and kits to three local football teams. At various times local government schools have received gifts of chemistry equipment, hand-washing facilities, a TV & DVD players, a generator, recording equipment , mosquito nets, books and various sports equipment such as racquets, balls and ropes.

We have created a small library at Uganda Lodge where all local people can access books, computers and other educational materials. Eventually the community would like to have a building at the school for vocational training, starting the children on learning a trade at an early age, and also offering courses to older villagers.
We have run two Business Training workshops and had the course material translated into local language for future use. We already have many tools and are just waiting for a building!

We recently started work on our biggest project to date – putting in a gravity fed clean water supply that will enable each of 3 villages to have several taps – and will also give our volunteers and our own school pure clean water. This is estimated to cost £15,000 when completed. We have had a couple of good donations that are enabling us to secure the catchment area and the first holding tank.

Men in the community digging for water

A friend has organised a large sponsored walk around Virginia Water Lake on Sunday 17th April and is hoping to attract over 100 people each walking for our water. I have sponsor form here if anyone would like to join us – or sponsor me if I can make it 

The 3 local chairmen from the villages around Uganda Lodge have formed and registered a CBO (Community Based Organisation) to support us and we are still working on setting up a local women’s group. Here in the UK the projects are supported by the registered charity LTHT and we are considering helping Denis and the CBO committee to set up a Ugandan NGO

How can you help or get involved?

You can come out to Uganda and work directly at the project and I guarantee that this will be the most memorable holiday you have ever had. Aside from working with our delightful young children you will have the opportunity to explore the local area, experience life in a typical African village and experience nearby tourist attractions such as Lake Bunyonyi or Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Our charity status enables our volunteers to take advantage of special discounted flights, so a visit to Uganda can cost far less than you would expect . All ages and skills are welcomed as with everyone pulling together we can do so much more for this community.

If you can’t get out there at this time to visit the project you can still help by sponsoring one or more of our children at just £3.50p a month and if you have some spare time I need someone to help me run this scheme. On a larger scale, I need to get together a small group of people to help with organising and managing the whole project and planning our way forward, assisting with admin, updating the websites, helping with accounts, filling in grant applications, and perhaps becoming one of our charity trustees.

Over the past year the project has grown so much, and we are helping so many more people, but unfortunately I am yet another year older, so I am very aware that I should not be the only one who is co-ordinating everything.

I had an unexpected couple of days in hospital last year and that really brought this all home to me. From hospital I was calling my son to check arrival times of three different planes and names of three volunteers we were picking up at Entebbe airport. Then I had to call Uganda to pass on the information all on my mobile … how I could do with some more voluntary support here in UK!

Most of these village people in rural Uganda have such a very small income that they really do need outside help to bring some of their income-generating ideas to life. This will enable them to work their way out of poverty, and then as our charity says we will “Let them help themselves out of Poverty”

On my visits to Uganda I am always looking for ways to enable these rural farmers make a better income, and I also feel that eventually we should have something that actually supports the school so it could eventually become self-funding, even if our supply of sponsors dried up, or no-one was prepared to take over all the admin.

Ideas that could be talked about, and shown examples of to anyone that came out there would be Mushroom growing, fruit drying, brick-making, pottery making, basket and mat weaving, and all variety of small animal production – goats rabbits chickens ducks pigs bee-keeping, and introducing modern strains of fruit and vegetables.

Ann McCarthy

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