Uganda: Giving stuff

As I mentioned previously, we each brought about 30kg of luggage with us! Emirates is very generous in it’s baggage allowance, and so we all carried 10kg of personal luggage and 20kg of suitcases and stuff given by the people of Formby.

Donations from St Peter’s Church and pencil cases from Trinity St Peter’s School have been arriving by the bag load for months, and we’ve brought lots of stuff to give out and to help out. We planned the type of activities we wanted to do and heard what kind of stuff would be useful and packed accordingly. I wondered what my suitcase would look like going through a scanner as the whole of the bottom was covered with many plastic bags! They were filled with small coloured elastic bands called loom bands, and they can be weaved together to make bracelets. I think I took around 30000 in total!

So when we arrived we made full use of a large conference centre room to empty the suitcases and put the stuff into piles. There were clothes, books, sports equipment including quick cricket, parachutes & a rugby ball, craft stuff, a whole suitcase worth of wool, material, fabric, washbags, toiletries, projectors, a dvd player, DVDs, speakers, tools, 50 party bags full of sweets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, pens & pencils donated by a dentist, 150 filled pencil cases given by the children of TSP school and much much more. The piles mounted up and I found myself thinking what a huge difference it would make.

Ida, the leader of the women’s project, was bowled over by the sheer amount of stuff that had been donated to the people of her village. Some things comparatively cost a lot more here than they do at home. Although school fees are £8 per term, that is a huge amount of money for people to find. Similarly, clothes that we can pick up in the charity shop for a couple of pounds would take a lot more saving for over here, even when they are second hand. So things that can just be given away, or sold at a very small cost, really are a huge blessing.

Even the donated suitcases that the stuff came in will have an impact when they’re left. A suitcase gives a family more flexibility and security. So most of the suitcases that we brought will be left for the people here.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I taught many children how to make bracelets and necklaces out of the loom bands. They were very interested and many just wanted to have a handful of the bright, pretty bands without learning how to make the bracelet. Ella, one of the teachers, and I came up with a queuing system so that I wouldn’t be so swamped. Many of them picked it up very quickly, but some of the little ones needed more help. One little boy, no more than 4, waited so patiently for me to do each loom on his fingers, even though it might be 5 minutes between each one because I had so many other children to help as well.

At the end, all the bands that had dropped to the floor were picked up by excited children (quite the opposite to the hundreds that I swept up off the floor at the Nazareth Youth Camps at the end of a loom band session!). When we had finished on Sunday, we gave them small piles so the ones who hadn’t finished could go and do them outside. There was a little girl, probably about 7, who was searching the floor for more bands and I let the last few loom bands in a packet fall to the floor near her. She rushed forward and picked them up and tried to hand them back to me. I said ‘It’s ok, you keep them’ at which point she looked utterly delighted and knelt to the floor, saying, ‘Thank you’. There’s no need to curtsey, I thought, they’re just loom bands! £13 off Amazon got me 3600. It’s not much to me, but it meant a lot to her.

And then today, the last day, was pencil case day. The children at TSP have put together pencil cases for us to give to each child at the school here because there is a similar number of pupils. We gave them out class by class and some of the joy can be seen in the above picture! There was a beautiful 10 minutes while they explored the contents of their cases and compared with their friends. They jumped up and down and cheered! It was a delight to see, but it very much highlights how little they have when they’re so excited about a pencil case. And I’m such a huge stationary geek, and even I have never reacted like that to a pencil case! But it also helps that we have spent a week getting to know them, and these pencil cases were gifts from their new friends.

I think it’s true what JC said: it is better to give than to receive. It was such a lovely feeling as this stuff was given out over the course of the trip. But it’s important to remember that after generations of Europeans who rocked up and just gave stuff, there is an underlying expectation that we will sort out all problems and hand out money whenever someone asks. Giving stuff is an important part of this link, but so is friendship, support and an encouragement of independence. It isn’t all about the stuff!

That being said- if you do want to capture children’s attention, just produce a packet of loom bands!

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