My Time in Uganda...

By Brix Ottaway

I have been trying to find the right words to express my thoughts and feelings about Uganda and my experience there, but nothing seems to properly express the beauty of the country and the people in it. Having been dreaming of a trip like this since I was a kid, its hard to put into words, but it met, no it exceeded every expectation I could possibly have had.

Getting to work with people like Leslie who runs The Real Uganda, though she is from Canada, loves the country like those born to it, and Valance who runs Youth First Africa (YOFAFO) and hosted us in his home, was more than I could have asked. Not to mention Caitie and Alice who were behind us every step of the way, teaching and inspiring us ever second, and my amazing fellow Youth Ambassadors, who are truly some of the best people I have ever met, and are inspiring, beautiful change makers, and leaders. I was the eldest of the group, which at first worried me, and while I occasionally acted the mum, wanting to look after them all, they were all so mature and intelligent that I feel I wasted time when I was 16 like many of them. Then there were the beautiful women and children, who welcomed us into their homes, schools, and hearts with song, dance and a smile that would make my day. They taught me so much not only about themselves and their lives, but about myself, and it was a pleasure to work with and learn from them.

Simply landing in Uganda (after such a long journey I might add) was enough for me to fall in love with the country and want to return as soon as possible, knowing from that moment that one week would not be enough. Just watching people going about their everyday lives, threw the windows of our masterfully driven bus, was astounding, and I could have sat there for days just learning from observation.

For me, the true beauty of Uganda was found in working.

In feeling the mud between my fingers and toes as we helped to build a rabbit hut, and the slight ache in my back after spending the day digging, and carrying children or water. In seeing people step out of their comfort zones and taking a literal leap of faith from a zip lining tree, and hearing the touching stories of a man loving his forest and feeling the need to educate himself on its ecosystem, or the women who have 15 children, and the women who have lost children.

I will treasure that week for the rest of my life, and I will be working my way back until I am in the mud once more, in the presence of such happiness, pride and beauty.

One day I will return, and I can’t wait.

P.S. A special thank you to the GYA Program for giving me this chance, and such wonderful people to share it with, and Caitie and Alice who experienced it along side us. 

To support the Uganda Project please visit our fundraising page at http://www.gvnfundraising.org/gyapuganda16

Day 2- Our Journey Into Hopeland

Written by Fay Pretty

Hope. My experience of hope before today was the lack of need for it. I 'hope' you get that job. I 'hope' you get that present for Christmas. I 'hope' you pass that exam. There will always be another job, perhaps not as nice, but it will be there. Not getting that present won't physically harm you- however much you really wanted the High School Musical Collection in Blue-Ray, and finally you can always retake that exam or the year. Will it be harder and longer? Yes. But you can and you do have that option. As long as you have tried you best why do you need hope?

     Today I have found that without Hopeland Junior School, a place that generates hope and belief, the world would be a much poorer place. Valence, the founder and CEO of Youth Focus Africa Foundation and our lovely host, started Hopeland Junior School before adding a High School and Small Loans Program. This was possible through a lot of passion, hard work and sponsorship. Now 85 kids are sponsored in a school of 200.

     However it isn't just sponsorship that helps the pupils but the Small Loans Program allows Women to borrow money and give it back at the end of the week and use it on enterprises. This allows a whole family to be raised financially, which is more viable than each child in an average family of seven to be sponsored.

     Hopeland Junior School was amazing. Arriving we were tackled, rushed at and unconditionally loved. They stroke our blue veins under our white skin and marvel and play with our long hair. We are given a tour where we learn that the teachers live on school grounds because otherwise they wouldn't be able to get there on time. Their days are really long. Both teachers ad students are up before seven to collect water and do morning chores before the older children start school at seven-thirty and the younger kids start at eight (often walking up to five miles to school). They will then finish at five before going home to do more chores and to finish at nine when it's dark without electricity so they can't do their homework. Which is why many stay even later and finish their chores quite late.

     However they loved their studies Often maths or cultural studies being their favorite classes. These pupils are amazingly clever, knowing on average of three languages or more (Ugandan, English and often a local tribal one) and getting the top results for their end of school exams- being in the top 15% of the country. Which is very very unusual for the majority of the schools in the area. Although it really makes us question what you really need to learn well. Do you need comfortable chairs and tables? Do you need nets on hoops or football posts? Do you even need modern toilets? Or perhaps all you really need to learn is the right resources (teachers) and the will to learn.

     When I'm watching them welcome us through traditional stories, music, drama and dance whilst also tell us important messages about child abuse in Uganda and how they are campaigning for it to stop I realize how much hope they have in their country and each other. The teachers have so much hope and belief in the students, which gives them to ability to hope for themselves. To be able say when I ask- I want to be a nurse or doctor or surgeon or lawyer or teacher or any thing they could think of. Their hope fuels a school to be better today and a nation to be better tomorrow. 

To support the Uganda Project please visit our fundraising page at http://www.gvnfundraising.org/gyapuganda16

Prepping for Uganda

Written by Emma McElligott

After bidding a sad farewell to family, friends and the luxury of a hot shower the 16 Youth Ambassadors around the world set off on our journey to The Pearl of Africa, Uganda. Months of fundraising, excitement and a ridiculous amount of vaccinations had let up to this moment and needless to say we were all super pumped for the week ahead. While my excitement was at levels it had rarely been before, never having travelled in my life to Africa, it still didn't stop me packing within 2 hours before we had to leave, and being late to the airport. Meeting the girls I was traveling with at the airport gave a massive feeling of reassurance as I was as much nervous as I was excited however I knew that these girls would have my back. It's always going to be nerve-wracking traveling on your own for the first time but the support of all the girls and GYAP plus the excitement of going to Uganda trumped any feelings of hesitation as we all powered through the 20 hours of traveling to our destination. It's an amazing feeling to be surrounded by so many ambitious girls with such diverse and exciting backgrounds. Every single one of us have worked so hard to get here and are ready to take on the week ahead.

Bring on Uganda!

To support the Uganda Project please visit our fundraising page at http://www.gvnfundraising.org/gyapuganda16

Vietnam Day 7

This morning we went to a 5-star hotel call Sedona in Hanoi, everyone was overwhelmed by what they saw, we were expecting the hotel to be something similar to what we had for the first night, just something simple and cosy. Instead we were welcomed by huge buildings with balconies, a huge swimming pool, then greeted by people wanting to carry our bags for us. We felt very special, it was truly a treat, then after an amazing lunch we time we explore the place. Most people went to the spy walk around, for the other half were in bed resting due to sickness. During that time each room had their feedback section with Cat and Caitie, we had some good discussions on how to make the program better for future teams, also talked about the things we found enjoyable in our trip. Some of us took the break time to have a heart to heart in our rooms, I had the pleasure to befriends a few close friends that are similar age to me. A few of us shared our life story, listening to those stories brought me closer to them. Telling my story was more difficult than I thought but once I told my friends, I was relieved, they accepted my past and supported me. Those are the times that I am going to treasure for the rest of my life.

For dinner that night we went to the biggest buffet I have seen in my whole life, Tia loves her seafood, her plants were full of seafood. A few girls were sick so they didn’t try a lot, but I heard the pumpkin soup was good, because that’s all Holly had. Personally I loved the desserts, the coconut ice cream was amazing. Basically everything is good there, I was very thankful that the leaders took us there. We did some dancing outside where people were singing, that was the first time in the whole trip where I did a little dancing, I was too embarrassed earlier in the trip. It was fun. We ended the day with workshop 3, which was talking about future trips opportunities and being leaders etc. which got me both excited and sad that the trip is near the end. It was exciting seeing the girls excited talking about doing more trips and also fundraising for medical supplies for Ba Vi, seeing the changes this trip has made to everybody. At the end we played a game call poroporoaki, it's a Maori word, but basically you thank or say something nice about the group then the two people sitting next to you. I enjoyed that because thinking about it, I have a lot to be thankful about and something we are thankful but we just don’t say it, which doesn’t mean anything because the other person doesn’t know. Then we ended the night with a group hug :)

Vietnam Day 6, Part 2

The general feeling during the ride back to the centre after lunch was that of nerves, not because of the centre itself, but because all of us weren’t sure we were ready to leave. Like usual we were greeted warmly as we arrived, then told where we would be heading for the first part of the afternoon.After settling into our rooms, Tash and I were with the toddlers, we gathered all the kiddies and took them to the arts and music room for… A DANCE PARTY! The music was loud and everyone was excited. With all the excitement and dancing, for a moment I forgot that this was my last afternoon at the centre. Suddenly the chicken dance song came on and it was chaos. This was my jam. With a little one in my arm and a few kids at my side I chicken danced for a solid 6 minutes (the song was played two or three times, I’m sure). The atmosphere in the room was incredible, to see so many wide smiles, even just to see some of the kids out of their rooms, was incredible. I feel so blessed to have witnessed something so awesome. But it wasn’t over yet. I’m told that as a goodbye present we will be performing ‘Gangnam style’. Uh oh. Everyone piles onto the stage and lines up, tense with excitement and ready to jam out the routine. Karaoke had prepared us for this moment. As soon as the familiar song comes on we all start dancing, this continued for a while, once again the song was played two times. By the end of the second song I’m dripping with sweat and smiling from head to toe. Unfortunately this was the end of the party though. Soon enough we were leading all the kids back to their rooms for a final goodbye. I had been dreading this part of the trip all week. Before leaving we help the volunteers and workers for feeding time once more. When all the duties have been done I make my rounds around the room saying bye to every little boy and girl there. With tear filled eyes I head into the room and say goodbye to those already in their beds and cots. It’s hard knowing they don’t really understand where you are coming from, but give you all the love in the world regardless. I embrace each and every child in there, a few of them clinging to me and making it all that more hard to let go. I don’t want to leave. I set the little girl I’m hugging down and briskly walk away, wanting to avoid any crying I may hear. I head back to the bus, taking in the scenes of the centre one last time. Once again I am in tears, saying goodbye to all of the amazing boys and girls that we had formed such incredible connections with in such a short time. The bus ride felt long. I know that once day I will go back to the centre, but it doesn’t make leaving it this time any easier. This afternoon was truly bittersweet, filled with so much fun and joy but also sadness. We all decide to have a chilled night back at the hotel, prepping for our journey home. I feel honoured to have been a part of such a cool thing, even if it was for only just a short while. I went into this trip assuming I would be making a huge difference in these kid’s lives, and it’s possible that I did, but also a little naïve. I know now that it was without a doubt those kids that changed my life, every one of their smiles, every hand I held, all filled me with a passion to do so much more than I am now and with a passion to educate myself on topics I may not have considered necessary before this trip. For this I am forever grateful… to the kids, to Terry and Hoai, to VIVPS and to Cat, Caitie and GVN.

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138

Vietnam Day 6, Part 1

Wednesday night was crazy; I was so tired from the orphanage that I completely crashed at the hotel. I was so tired that I fell asleep fully dressed in my day clothes, with my backpack and satchel beside my face and blanket folded neatly at the foot of the bed. My two other roommates, Tamara and Tash were completely surprised to see that I was in the exact same state that they had left me in a couple of hours earlier. Tamara so kindly draped the blanket on me and removed my bags from the bed after I apparently grumbled at her, this night led to our final day at the orphanage.The last day at the Centre felt like any other day, I woke early, at about 6:30 am and took a shower feeling relieved to feel the hot water. At about 7:30 am, my roommates and I made our way to breakfast where we chowed down some pancakes. We had the choice of a Vietnamese bun, egg and coriander or pancakes which were both equally as delicious but we ultimately decided on the pancakes. After breakfast, we made the trip back to the Orphanage on the bus. We were a bit upset to think that this trip on the bus would be our second last trip to the Orphanage! We still had the trip after lunch but still, it was upsetting to think about. On this day, we were assigned rooms, like any other day but today I was assigned room 7. As I walked in that morning, I had gotten the opportunity to see my students who I had previously taught math and English to on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was so fulfilling and beautiful to hear them greet me by name. I walked in and heard some of the kids say “Emma,” as they gathered around to see who else was joining them that day, it was the sweetest thing. On this day, I got to see a beautiful little girl who is blind. For a couple of days, I had grown close to this child and I would hum continuously to her and this day was no exception. I played with her and with so many of the other children as well. We did puzzles, I helped feed them and I also watched a part of Frozen with the children and as I saw my little girl, I could have sworn that she said “let it go.” I was over the moon to hear her say that but now I don’t even know if it was a hallucination or if she truly said it since her words only lasted a split second, but that split second made me so happy. We stayed at the Orphanage for as long as we could until we had to leave the centre so that the kids could sleep, but before I left she grabbed onto me and it was so hard to turn away from her. I knew when I would come back that afternoon, that it would be harder for me to turn away. At least before leaving that morning, I knew that I could still see her after lunch but after that, I knew I would not be able to see her or the other children again - at least for a little while. This was the beginning of an emotional end!

XOXO Smirks

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138

Vietnam Day 5, Part 2

20/04/2016

After another eventful morning at the centre, as the afternoon began rolling in, instead of heading back to the hotel for lunch, everyone including the VIVPS volunteers together headed to a nearby pagoda in a beautiful hilly and peaceful area some 10-15 minutes from the centre. We also reunited with our 3 fellow comrades who had been toiling away all morning helping with the preparations of lunch and cleaning. We walked up the long twirling brick stairs up to the beautiful pagoda to see our 3 comrades laboriously sweeping away at the floor. You could just feel the power from their sweeps ripple through the air and hit you in the face like a huge wave of…power…just kidding, they were just sweeping, not battling demonic monsters. We were all welcomed to the pagoda with a divine banquet for lunch led by the female monk living there who we addressed as sý cô,which translates to female monk. Following lunch we all gathered around for our second workshop which was about the culture and role of women and girls where we got to listen to some incredible stories some of the Vietnamese female volunteers had bravely and kindly chosen to share with us. Some of their stories were of breaking social barriers and some were of immense emotional, physical and mental suffering. There was no doubt about it, the stories touched everyone, even I couldn’t hold back my tears. Hearing the stories really opened our eyes to the reality of women living not only in Vietnam but in many developing countries, and it also proved one other thing, that women have the strongest of wills and the toughest of hearts. It was one of the most inspirational and pride-filled moments that I’d ever experienced not only because despite some of the most toughest situations a woman can face, these women had ploughed through it and were sitting in front of us with smiles on their faces telling us how happy they are now, but also because a lot of their stories hit really close to home for me with my culture. I also think at that moment, our appreciation and respect for Terry multiplied tenfold because for many of the women there, he and his organisation were the reason for their road to happiness. After the Vietnamese women’s stories, we all had an opportunity to talk about some of our own experiences, and found quite a few similarities in the views of the status of women and girls in cultures from developing countries and areas. But I think, what we all took away from the sharing of stories was a heavy heart full of pain for their sufferings, admiration for their strength, and pride for where they stand now. Never before had I ever been in a room full of such incredible women. Thinking about it now, I think it’s safe to say…who runs the world?... GIRLS!

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138

Vietnam Day 5, Part 1

This morning I had the opportunity to do something a little different as Kathy, Tamara and I had offered to go and help prepare lunch at the Buddhist pagoda about 10 minutes away from the centre in Ba Vi. We were escorted there by Hoai and introduced to a couple of the beautiful VIVPS ladies and Su Co who is the residing monk. Our attempt to help out with the cooking was somewhat comedic as none of us possessed the skills or knowledge to properly create the delicious meals and so we were assigned with sorting and picking the herbs and then undergoing the lengthy process of washing them by the bucket load. We did attempt the chopping of some vegetables but we quickly had the knives taken off us (with a friendly smile of course)- the ones we did get to were definitely recognisable in the salads, looking quite out of shape in comparison. The VIVPS ladies were extremely friendly and we chatted to them as we organised the food and attempted to learn a little more of their language. The three of us did get an opportunity and some free time to explore the rest of the pagoda, which was a seriously picturesque structure and we were overly excited to find the resident kitten, puppy and a heap of tiny frogs. Surprisingly, we even grew to like the song that played repeatedly over the speakers for the four hours we were there. :)Our final task that we were assigned with was to wash the floor outside, which involved pouring large volumes of water onto the tiles and sweeping it with bamboo brooms until it poured off the side of the deck. It was really lovely to spend time with the volunteers and the monk before the rest of the group arrived, as it made the stories that they shared with us even more touching and I truly gained a sense and appreciation of just how strong and brave these women are.

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138

Vietnam Day 4

After an early breakfast at 7:30 of pancakes or Vietnamese style sandwiches, we hopped on the bus as 8:15, ready for a big day. On arrival at the centre, once again we were greeted with huge smiles and hugs from the residents. A little man came up to us to hug us and tell us he loved us and another man asked, once again, for a photo of the GVN crew to put on his wall.

My assigned rooms for the morning were rooms 1 and 2 - the little kids! It started with Emma and I taking turns with one entertaining and playing with the kids outside and one taking the kids who were in wheelchairs for a stimulating walk around the block. At 9:30 it was time for lunch, and the kids' all too familiar bowl of rice was brought out, which Emma and I fed to Mai and Zoy.

After lunch, the three of us played some ball games. Zoy, who had difficulty using his hands, would pick up the ball with his feet, lie on his back and catapult the ball at me do I could catch it. We did this for a while, I was so inspired how even though he had these disabilities he was still motivated to throw a ball like a child without disability! After, Mai joined in and we did an adorable pass to pass. Then I got the chance to hand out some lollies and biscuits to the kids, and seeing their faces light up was amazing!

Eventually, it was time for nap time and we carried the kids one by one into their beds, changing their nappies for what would probably be the first time all day and put them down to rest.

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138

Vietnam Day 3

This morning was our last morning in Hanoi. After a quick breakfast we rushed back to our rooms and did the final pack of all our stuff. Several elevator trips later everyone was in the lobby of our hotel with multiple bags full of all the stuff that we had bought the day before. Backpacks ontop backpacks we crossed the busy streets of Hanoi for the last time of our trip heading towards Sword Lake where our bus would pick us up and drive us to Ba Vi where we would finally get to go to the orphanage. As our excessive amount of bags were loaded into the back of the bus and the back seats we piled onto the bus, put in our headphones and prepared ourselves for the hour or so trip ahead of us.

The scenery outside changed from the busy streets of Hanoi to the greenery of farms and crops. About an hour into the trip the bus suddenly comes to a halt stopping next to a pile of shoes and Catie and Cat run out of the bus and across the street to a small fruit stand. A few long minutes later of waiting for them to come back, we are greeted with a large back of Jackfruit. Soon enough the whole bus smelt like bitter mango amoung everyone voicing there opinions on whether they liked it or hated it.

Not long later, excitement filled the air as we pulled into our hotel in Ba Vi. Handing over our passports and collecting our keys we prepared ourselves for the first afternoon at the orphanage and disability center.

To donate and help us continue to support our partner in Vietnam, visit this link: 

https://www.gvnfundraising.org/fundraise?fcid=667138