The below piece was written by Jesal Patel. Jesal visited the Shelo Community in Bududa for one week in July 2017 with Jessica Severe, one of the charities trustees. It is a wonderful read and very insightful to the work our volunteers do! Thank you Jesal and Jess for all your work!
In July 2017, Jessica and I visited the town of Bududa, nestled amongst the thick trees and rolling hills of West Uganda. The town is spread thinly across the areas of flat land and extends inconspicuously into the steep hillsides beyond. Buildings consist mainly of one room clay huts, aside from a few rows of brick terrace shopfronts in the town centre.
When we first arrived, it was truly dark. The sun setting was part of the problem; however, the government once again cutting off all electricity did not help matters. I would have been nervous arriving at this unfamiliar location in the pitch black if it wasn’t for the bright smiles and welcoming nature of the Bududa community. We were warmly greeted by the central members of the Shelo Foundation, Joshua and Brenda, with whom we shared a candlelight dinner and laughed together over the differences between British and Ugandan life. Exhausted from our long journey and with the candle near its bottom, it was time to rest in preparation for all the activities ahead.
We woke early on Saturday morning. There was no need for alarm clocks here as the rooster was set to 5AM, the dogs barking to 5:30, and the cows to 6. It was like a natural snooze function.
As a new volunteer at the Shelo Foundation, I was excited to be a guest at their weekly Centre Day. Children from all over the Bududa region travel to a small community hall to hear new announcements, receive some extra help with school subjects, and occasionally play some games. As we were soon to find out, the children had been working hard at previous Centre Days, preparing many welcome songs and even a drama production for our visit. Suffice to say, the Shelo children provided fantastic entertainment that left Jessica and I with broad smiles and warm hearts.
Thanks to our sponsors in the UK, we were then able to present a small gift for the children, some of whom struggle to get shoes, let alone toys. We had carried two extra suitcases with us that contained quick cricket sets, skipping ropes, ring toss, and over 30 footballs. What followed can only be described as manic play! The children spent over 2 hours running around the field taking part in games for the first time. Their screams and laughter were truly infectious. We once again thank all those who helped raise the funds to make this happen, you have brought a lot of joy to this small corner of the world.
In typical Ugandan fashion, the sudden downpour of rain signalled the end of the Centre Day. After some matoke (mushed plantain!), grown from the seeds provided by Shelo, all the children headed back home for some well-deserved rest.
The next day, it was back to business. A large meeting was held with all the Shelo community members to discuss plans going forward. A clear tone resonated – this year has been particularly difficult. Year on year, the generous Shelo volunteers and donors in the UK have been able to raise increased funds; however, this is still outstripped by the growing needs of the children and supporting families. Secondary education costs are high but need to be balanced against ensuring adequate food and provisions for the children. Compromising education for hunger is a novel concept for many of us, including myself. I felt especially humbled by the work of the Shelo community members who face these tough choices daily. Nonetheless, the meeting was fruitful and provided Jessica with some new ideas to take back to the UK team.
A long-term plan that aims to solve some of these funding constraints is to build a Shelo Foundation secondary school. In typical Joshua style, he announced to Jessica and me that we would go shopping for prospective land first thing Monday morning! Viewing and assessing land was new to us but we quickly learnt to nod in agreement at correct soil conditions and suitable trees for building material. The day did help us visualise the growing future of the Shelo Foundation and what it could provide for the community.
We also spent a day touring the local schools. Dark and humid classrooms were often filled with 70-100 children trying to find enough space to learn using textbooks from the 1970’s. Nevertheless, pupils showed the utmost respect for their environment and valued the little writing material they had, making notebooks last for months across a variety of subjects. Teachers explained to us the constant compromises being made due to lack of funding and their resilience against giving up on their children’s futures was once again humbling.
On our final day, we were taken to the local hospital to visit two Shelo children that had become ill. The wards consisted of large, open rooms that appeared more as holding areas than care settings. Due to the lack of space, one of the Shelo patients had a bed in a stock cupboard and was surrounded by the janitor’s cleaning equipment. We were shocked to hear that this 11-year-old girl had called this her room for the past month and that her only supply of food came from the goodwill of the Shelo community members. It was a far cry from the paediatric intensive care unit that this girl would have been suitable for if only she had been born in the UK. This provided a stark reminder of how fortunate we are to have an NHS service that is indiscriminate of a person’s situation or wealth. The fact that healthcare and education are far from universal weighed heavily on our minds as we slowly walked back to our accommodation.
The next morning, our time in Bududa had come to an end. It was with heavy hearts that we had to say goodbye to such warm and welcoming people who, in the space of a week, I now consider as close companions. I treasure our time spent living in this community and have come to appreciate how dedicated the Shelo team are towards building a better future for their children. We return to the UK to share our experience of how the Shelo Foundation changes the lives of the orphaned and vulnerable children of Bududa and hopefully recruit more people to join this worthy cause.
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