Memories of a summer in Kitgum, Northern Uganda

I have recently returned from a month’s teaching in Kitgum, Northern Uganda and experienced, first hand, the results of a 20 year rebel war. I met, face to face, and spoke to young men who had been abducted as boys by the rebel army, which rampaged through every village in the area until two years ago.

The rebels asked no questions. They just brutally herded young boys into lines, tied them to each other with rope and marched them to Sudan to fight against their own people. They were made carry heavy equipment, including aircraft guns weighing 50 pounds and tons of ammunition.

The stories I heard were harrowing but the young men who told them were alive, safe and happy. Most of the young men I spoke to are now trained teachers and trying to educate a new generation who for the most part have only been in school for two years, having spent a dangerous childhood hiding in the bush - no songs, no dancing, no drums.

But now, times are changing and joy and laughter are visible once more. I spent most of my time teaching English to children and teachers in a district called Padibe and pronounced “Paddy-Bay” - easy to remember.

The staff of 20, teaching 1,200 children in classes of 100, all of whom sat on a concrete floor with no chairs or tables, were among the most dedicated I have ever met. Between them, the teachers produced eight assorted tatty but cherished wall charts, donated three years ago by some visitors who came as volunteers to help the founder, Irene Gleeson, as she tried to set up a third school in a still dangerous area.

They had 12 text books for these children and a few boxes of poor quality chalk. I raised, with the help of the understanding people in the Balla and Breaffy areas, €3,000 which paid for two lifesaving water harvesting tanks and a further €700 which paid for 20 new wall charts, 200 copy books, and 200 treasured school books relevant to their curriculum. It also paid for cooking pots, washing up bowls, clothing and soap for orphaned families, cared for by the eldest, maybe a 12-year-old. I bought all these items in Kitgum, thus giving a source of income to the local traders. Money, if you have it, goes a long way in Kitgum. The head teacher, John Calvin, and staff have asked me to convey their heartfelt thanks to the people of Ireland. John is an example to all. He cares so deeply for the children in his school, his own family, and his relatives because he is the only one with an income. John earns about €150 per month, all of which he spends on others. There is so much to do in Africa. One problem uncovers another. As a priest once said before he left: “I wish I had a hundred hats for Africa.”

I shall return next year as promised and continue to help these wonderful people. My experiences would probably fill this whole newspaper but if you would like to help please contact me on 087 682 6954. I can assure you every euro reaches the people it is intended for. I will personally account for everything. I hope soon to be able to organise a container, to take school chairs, tables, footballs, clothing, household items etc, to Kitgum via Mombasa, but transport will cost about €2,000. I will report on this later. In the meantime cash works wonders. Please contact me and give generously. I am appealing to schools especially, to think of Africa and the children of Padibe when fundraising.

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