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'It's changed the way we see the world'

Grace Claydon gives an insight into life on a gap year programme in Kampala, Uganda with Smile International

What an experience it has been! We have met and made friends with people from all walks of life. We’ve been able to be involved in so many different projects which Smile International run, and the variety has been fantastic. From teaching to farming, and from children’s clubs to building work, we are getting used to turning our hand to anything and everything.

The community outreach that we do twice a week has allowed us to visit and pray with the sick in hospitals, meet women supported by Smile’s sponsored widow programme, and help with the immediate need of those living in the slums of Kampala.

The empowerment project is a wonderful outreach that Smile Charity Uganda does. The project includes helping some of the widows that we meet by enabling them to start up a small business. For example, one woman we work with received help to start up a business where she makes and sells bricks. Another woman who lives in the slums has been given a sewing machine so that she can make clothes and crafts to sell. This project has allowed these women to generate an income of their own. It is a great example of sustainable development and helps develop small scale businesses in the local community.

Another way in which the women we meet are helped is through a women’s club that happens once a week. This runs in tandem with the children’s clubs that are held in two local churches, one of which is in the slum community. During this time the women make jewellery which they can sell for a small profit. The women we tend to work with from the slums are known by some of the volunteers who live around that area.

Alternatively they are met for the first time by us on a Thursday on community outreach, which is where we go around the community and tell people about the kids and women’s clubs and also get the chance to play with them. A lot of the women struggle to find work to support their families and work that pays enough, especially if the father is absent. A few work at market stalls, make bricks and sell second hand clothing. A few of the ladies are widowed which makes it even more tough with a vast number of children. The women have few possessions and some have very complex pasts which aren’t discussed much.

We spend Thursdays and Fridays in the slums of Kampala. The conditions in the slums are basic. Smile1 300Most homes consist of only one or two rooms and everyone will sleep in the same room, with the children often sharing a mattress between a few of them. All cooking is done on charcoal stoves, usually outside the front door. The children wear the same clothes day in day out and they are often falling apart.

Some of the younger boys only wear a pair of shorts and only a minority of the children have shoes. However, what these children lack in material things, they make up for in their enthusiasm, their love, their laughter and their eagerness to learn and have fun.
The people in the slums are so welcoming and greet us as if we are long lost friends. On Thursdays we go for community outreach which involves praying and supporting the families who live there. We split into groups made up of a local volunteer and a few of us gappers (as well as a gaggle of children who swarm as soon as they hear us coming!)

We visit families and ask them how they’re doing, if they are struggling with anything and whether we can pray for them in any way. Often families are struggling with paying school fees, or with illness and hospital bills. This is a good opportunity for us to get to know the families of the children we work with on Fridays.

On Fridays we return to the slums for our children’s club at the church there. At the club we can have between 50-80 children on one afternoon. Here we teach children the wonderful good news about Jesus. We read them Bible stories, play games, sing songs, wash their hands and give out biscuits. The children’s clubs are great fun! The children are so full of love and joy and we enjoy our time there so much. Although the children speak very little English - and we speak even less Luganda - we can still have fun with them and show the love of Jesus to them through cuddles and smiles.

Through the clubs we’ve really been able to get to know the children on an individual level, which is a real honour. We also get to see them have the chance to just be children for a few hours, when often they have a lot of adult responsibilities at home. We will all miss them loads when we eventually have to leave!

Smile 3 300We have also been teaching in a local school, which we do twice a week. Although Smile gave us training before our trip, teaching in the schools has certainly been one of the more challenging projects that we are a part of, but we are realising how God qualifies the called, and He has given us the strength to teach classes a variety of lessons.

The age ranges vary because a lot of the children don’t have the money for school fees straight away. Plus the children in Uganda have to pass the year to proceed to the next. However, on average the children are at the school level you would expect them to be at in the UK. For example the majority of children you would find in a primary three class (year 3) are around the age of eight and nine, but you can have a child in their teens in that class as well.

Class sizes vary from school to school. In the village we taught in we had classes of over thirty children. By contrast, in the city the biggest class we teach has 27 students and the smallest has ten. We have been known to teach any lesson (including some ‘Ugandan culture’). However, we try and focus mainly on English and literacy.

When we have free range of the lesson we plan using the Ugandan curriculum, and our knowledge of what they have already studied. We try to make the lessons as interesting and as interactive as we can. It’s great to be able to use more interactive ways of teaching and seeing the kids enjoy learning in new ways. We have also planned some lessons hand in hand with the teachers, trying to get their creative side flowing. We have been so blessed by having an education in the UK, and so it’s wonderful to be able to bless others through that.

As you can see, we’ve had lots of new opportunities. Through these, we have all learnt and changed so much. Making poverty personal has opened our eyes to the reality of injustice and made us passionate to see change. It’s certainly changed the way we see the world and made us more grateful for what we have been blessed with. We now take things for granted a lot less than we did before our trip. We’ve also gained confidence, especially through teaching. Furthermore, we have made life-long friendships and had so much fun living out here and adapting to a new culture!

Thoughts and feelings from the gappers:

Grace: Just go for it! It’s scary and it’s challenging, but at the same time, it’s one of the most amazing and life changing things you’ll ever go through. Mukama Yebazebwe.  

Susie: This gap year has not been what I expected at all but has really been a priceless experience, I have made new friendships that I will have forever, and I now have a greater reliance on God and the amazing things he has done. We have been challenged in a lot of situations but I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment!

Anna: This gap year has honestly been one of the best experiences of my life. Being able to see justice in action through the work of Smile has been a privilege. Not only have I seen God doing amazing things in the lives of those we work with, he has been working in my life. I’ll never be the same after this experience and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about it.

Kathryn: This Gap year, for me has been awesome. God has challenged me in many ways but I have also learned to trust in him, lean on him and rely in him in many aspects of my life, and he’s still working on the others!

Jon: Although this gap year so far has been tough, it has also been immensely rewarding. To be able to not only see the lives of some people over here but to be directly involved in being able to change their lives can only really be described as the ultimate opportunity.  

Grace, Susie, Anna, Kathryn and Jon are serving God in Uganda for nine months as part of Smile International’s Gap Year programme, which aims to mobilise young people for mission and bring hope to needy people in some of the world’s poorest communities.

For more details about Smile International’s Gap Year programme visit www.smileinternational.org or contact gap@smileinternational.org or 01689 883322.

Baptist Times, 10/06/2014
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