I left Siriba at the end of February and when I returned, David Steiner asked me to become project co-ordinator. This was an exciting step for me since having been to Siriba on three occasions, many of the local people had become good friends. Their world is so different to mine and with many things buzzing around in my mind I was keen to to do my best to help the Vocational Training Centre as much as possible in the months and hopefully years ahead.What I didn’t realise then was that as project co-ordinator, there was never going to be a dull moment! My priority is to keep in touch with the VTC at all times and so we have engaged Rita Epodoi from Uganda Development Services to monitor on a monthly basis in order to improve communication.When I was at Siriba I noted that many of the tools needed upgrading and so we have ordered refurbished ones from 'Tools with a Mission' costing in the order of £900 including shipping from the UK and transport in Uganda. Delivery is expected soon.Since I have been back home one of my highlights has been a visit from Hands around the World trustee, Wendy Sutton-Pryce. She has made an imaginative video of my stay in February which can be seen here. She took it to her church and raised over £2000 which we plan to use training the really underprivileged.April saw the biennial change in the Board of Govenors. We now have a very able Oskar Okumu as Chair, with the whole process supported and encouraged by Bishop George Kasangaki.A new mains water system has been provided in the surrounding district and once we have clearance we are hoping to connect to it and also provide water harvesting as a back up. I am planning to return in September, the main priority being to work through a plan of sustainability which we hope will climax in about three years’ time.
I have just returned from a two month visit to Zambia – most of which was spent at Monze. This gave me a good opportunity to meet Mrs. Sianga, the staff and students of PIZZ School and talk about the issues and progress made at the school.
It is always a delight to visit the school and see the bright happy and confident students. This year the children are looking healthier as a result of the food they are now receiving each day. The fact that the food makes such a difference, demonstrates the difficult lives these children live. I was able to talk to a number of students who are being sponsored through Hands Around the World – both current students and some who have moved on to local secondary schools. It is always interesting to hear about their ambitions – many want to be teachers, doctors and nurses, but Gideon is keen to become a pilot - flying all around the world! I love to think that, if I am still around in 20 years, he will fly me to Zambia or back home! It is in order to make such dreams come true that we are supporting this project.
Meeting the routine costs is a major issue for the school. There are never sufficient books and other teaching materials. The provision of food is clearly very important and currently the funds sent specifically for this purpose are insufficient.
It has been possible for the new site to be fenced, though metal posts are needed as the wooden ones are quickly eaten by termites! A strong room has been constructed at the school to enable exams to take place there – this will save the disruption and the extra costs involved in taken students to other schools to sit their exams. It is hoped that approval will be granted for next year.
It is clear that the school provides so much more than just a centre for learning. Voluntary care givers support the school staff to check on children facing particular difficulties, and additional help and counselling is provided. Without the school many of the children would have very little hope, but instead they know there is a chance to be someone – to be able to support themselves and provide a better life for their families. This gives them a sense of value and dignity, so important for all of us, which otherwise most would lack.
This project deserves all the support it can get. I know that every penny is being well spent and can vouch for the difference it is making to the lives of the young students. Thank you for your generosity.
Ophthalmologist Dr Mary Kelly has just returned from her first visit to Benin, and wonders what the long term benefits over there will be. She is sure however that she will never be quite the same again… Here she writes about her 4-week HATW adventure:
I tried to do what I could for the eye problems of the lovely people who live in Affame. The main problems I found were cataracts, presbyopia, and pterigia. There was only one schoolchild that I saw with congenital cataracts, but there were 17 adults with senile cataracts, all of whom have been referred for surgery to Parakou.
Five people with pterigium (an overgrowth of conjunctiva which spreads across the cornea, in response to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, combined with exposure to wind and dust) have been referred locally to Adjhoun for surgery to remove the growth. Several people have also been sent there for treatment with eye drops, which will at least make the eyes less painful, for as long as they can be prescribed.
I saw one child with an active corneal ulcer, in whom immediate treatment with antibiotics was begun, and was successful. There were several other children and adults who had lost the sight of an eye due to corneal ulcers which had not been treated. In one village there were 3 such cases. I expected to see many cases of trachoma but only saw one definite case, and 4 cases of conjunctivitis which might have been early stages of the disease.
Many people complained of their eyes burning, and I’m sure that if I had had the use of a slit-lamp I would have found significant problems with the lubrication of the front surface of the eyes secondary to exposure to the elements. Anyone who could supply the widespread need for lubricant drops, and protective eye-wear, at affordable cost could relieve much discomfort, and prevent the development of serious eye problems.
I took with me some eye drops and ointments, antibiotics and lubricants, but soon ran out of supplies; then was unable to get hold of more from the local dispensary.
I carried out many sight tests. Nearly all the people who came said that they couldn’t see properly, including many of the schoolchildren. Only a small minority had a refractive error, which I did my best to correct with the glasses I had with me.
Amongst the adults, presbyopia was the main cause of difficulty, though few complained that they found close work difficult.The low literacy rate is the reason for this. However, anyone owning a mobile phone complained of not being able to see the numbers!
In all, about 120 pairs of glasses were given which were as near as possible to the required strength, and they were received with much delight. The Methodist minister who was able to read his bible once again on the Sunday we attended his service was one!
For the children, better lighting in the class rooms, (and smaller class rooms) would make reading off the blackboard less difficult.
It was for me both a great experience and a huge learning curve!