This time two years ago, I was sitting in Entebbe airport, killing a lot of hours before a flight home to London. Thanks to Tearfund’s media team, a small group of Christian bloggers had the privilege of spending a week visiting initiatives supported by Tearfund via their Ugandan partner, PAG. Dave Walker, Bex Lewis and I, plus the fabulous Katie Harrison from Tearfund [follow her on Twitter for insights into the world of international development] travelled together, with the aim that the bloggers would tell the stories of their encounters, pretty much in real time. Evenings were spent writing blogposts, editing photos and generally trying to make sense of all we’d experienced.
I would have remembered the anniversary without the help of Timehop (memory of an Elephant…), but re-living tweets, blogposts and photos through the canny app has brought back some very specific memories. For example, that final day visiting a village that had participated in the PAG’s PEP initiative, supported by Tearfund, was a fascinating insight into the misunderstandings that can occur with NGO funding. But, while we waited for the misunderstanding to be resolved, we got to play with some very entertaining children…
The tweets and blogposts have reminded me of names I had forgotten. [If you ever go on a trip like this, write down the names of the people you meet and whose stories you hear, don’t let them become another nameless face.] That final day we met John Julius who had successfully funded his children’s higher education with his ground nut crops – two years on I’m wondering whether he ever did find the money to pay his youngest’s final semester’s fees.
In the last two years, I have had updates on some of the stories we heard. Just last month, Tearfund shared an update on the story of Lucy, a grandmother caring for her grandchildren. I’m Facebook friends with Odiira, our PAG guide who travelled with us and earlier this year, it turned out she was the guide on another Tearfund visit that a friend of mine was part of. Every so often, I get surprise glimpses of life in Ogongora and other communities around Soroti – like a video in a college seminar last year that may have moved me to tears.
It’s a place that feels very far away, on a sunny but chilly Tuesday in London. The red dust (which gets EVERYWHERE – I had to dye a white shirt blue on my return because it just wouldn’t come out), the dry, relentless heat and the sounds – children laughing; roosters crowing; churches singing – made it like another world.
Communities like those we visited around Soroti are very much in the public eye at the moment. Every episode of Comic Relief does Bake Off features a segment about projects the charity funds in Uganda. When I watch them, I think of the people I met, and the amazing transformations that have taken place. It shows these communities are by no means hopeless.
We live in a world that, despite modern technology, can be very insular and ignorant of all that takes place outside our own neighbourhood, city, or nation. Charities like Tearfund help provide a window on societies beyond our boundaries – that’s why our visit was part of the ‘See for yourself’ campaign. We’re part of a global church, but it’s very easy to forget that Sunday by Sunday, especially if you live in a community that’s not particularly diverse. Get informed and don’t make assumptions about what those elsewhere in the world might need, or how your occasional giving to a good cause should be spent.