Letter from the Chairman, Ted Fawcett (27th September 2015)
I have been asked by St Joseph’s and Our Lady’s parish to outline to you the kind of environment in which the charity EVC Uganda operates.
Our work is based near the city of Masaka, 140km south of Kampala. This town was ravaged during the regimes of past Presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote and is the area in which the AIDS epidemic began. From here, one hour’s driving deep into the Ugandan countryside brings you to the Project where Father Boniface works. Here one is facing an environment threatening to life, far removed from life as we know it in Bedford. There is no electricity or running water, the area has been decimated by the AIDS epidemic, malaria is still a major killer, many children suffer from malnutrition and many are also orphans. Added to this are the numerous refugees from the genocide in Rwanda. There is a great deal of poverty and suffering.
Where homes exist they are very poor, a mixture of mud, brick and straw and in many cases dangerous. They could collapse on their inhabitants at any time. Most homes resemble what we in the UK know as a ramshackle shed or a coal bunker. Many children sleep under filthy sheets on the dirt floor and are constantly the prey of the malaria mosquito. My wife Judi and I have been in many of these homes and can bear witness to the heartbreaking poverty of these peoples’ lives. Many children are in rags and often go hungry.
Some children live at home with mum and dad who eke out a meagre existence on the land. These families often have less than a dollar a week in cash, so finding money for school fees is impossible. Many other children are orphaned or abandoned. They are often looked after, in a small hut, by an elderly grandparent or a member of their extended family. Others in the same position have no one to care for them and some make their way to Masaka where they are exploited as street children. Many children suffer from malnutrition, some so badly that it has retarded their ability to learn, as their brains have not developed properly. Some are disabled and, because of this, are hidden away from sight.
In Father Boniface’s parish there are no roads as we know them. They are red dirt tracks which can become unusable in wet weather. Travelling to meet the children and their families is very difficult, as most live deep in the countryside and, using a car which is not fit for purpose, can be very challenging. One constantly worries whether the impact of the terrain will wreck the car or cause it to topple over.
As there is no electricity, when darkness falls there is total blackness. There are no lights from street lamps or houses and you would struggle to see your hand in front of your face. This is extremely disconcerting if you have never experienced it before and greatly detracts from the quality of the life of the people, who describe the darkness as ‘the great evil’. Darkness falls at 7pm so children do not have much time to complete any homework.
Another great challenge is the fine dust which quickly gets into your clothing, nose mouth and eyes. On my first trip to the Project, after 5 days, I had very badly swollen eyes and had to have treatment at the local hospital. I have now learned to wear special wrap-around sunglasses which are a great help.
Witchcraft, known as the ‘old religion’ is widely practised in the area. Sometimes at 3am one is woken by the drums and songs of those practising these rites and it is sobering to hear this sound echoing around the countryside quite near to where we stay.
Life for these people is a hard daily struggle to survive and few live much longer than 40 years. Experiencing the great needs of these communities can, on a personal level, be shattering and one can feel very overwhelmed by it all. Some people, on seeing this, are overcome and have been known to catch the next flight home! Without seeing it for oneself it’s hard to understand how bad things are. We are probably working with some of the poorest people in the world.
Judi and I have spent much time at the Project with Father Boniface. He usually starts work at 7am and most days works through until 10 o’clock at night, often falling asleep over his evening meal. He tirelessly works terrific hours in order to meet the needs of the children and their communities, always putting the needs of others before his own. Despite the punishing schedule we are always treated with great warmth and love by all.
In addition to individual child sponsorship for education I would ask the parish community to please work to raise money for a water bore hole at the primary school, St Matia Mulumba, where many of our sponsored children are educated. This is vital in order to provide clean water for, not only the children, but also for the local community. This would cost around £6 – £9 K.
Thank you for reading this. I hope it has helped give you a better understanding of the environment in which EVC works.
Tel: 01234 865051
Suite 232, St Loyes House, 20 St Loyes Street, Bedford, MK40 1ZL
EVC Uganda, Registered Charity Number 1158189