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Constructive Charity

Simon Baker reflects on his time spent in Uganda, Africa with the charity 'The Child of Hope'. The purpose of the visit was to meet the children being sponsored by Highfield School; to teach in the school; to offer practical support; and to learn from each other.

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"Emotional" – I was surprised by how difficult it was to articulate how I felt about my experience of meeting ninety happy school children in Bombo, Uganda.

My daughter reflected: "considering they have so little it's amazing that they have such huge smiles". Happiness seemed to fill the air and all the space around us. These feelings were genuine; everyone seemed cheerful, enjoying being at school. The children wanted to be there; a place where others had their health, their education, their future, and the potential for generational change in mind.

School was quite different from home, a subsistence existence; fifteen people sharing a three room house with mud floors, a leaking tin roof and bricked up windows.

Many of the families had been abandoned by men. Many of the children were the result of abuse.

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The children appeared oblivious to the hardship, content to play and learn. Happy to play with our children, to sing, dance and skip. It was the mothers and grandmothers who knew what this meant.

At school the children were learning - gaining an education which could provide the possibility of a future where they could change this fragile cycle of survival. They were being given an opportunity to grow strong and to gain some security for their family's future.

'Child of Hope' is a Christian charity which is enabling this. Their work is having a huge social impact on the children and their families in Bombo. They provide free education, healthcare and welfare. The charity's aim is to improve lives and communities.

My daughter and I were part of a group of six parents with their children accompanied by two teachers from Highfield Junior School, Harrogate, who visited Bombo School in February. The purpose of our visit was to meet the children being sponsored by Highfield School; to teach in the school; to offer practical support; and to learn from each other.

After a couple of days in the village, I no longer needed to see impoverished homes barely coping to survive. I wanted to do something; however small, I wanted to feel that I had made a difference. I acknowledged this selfish necessity to feel useful. I needed to do something to feel a tiny bit worthy of the affection and warmth with which we were all greeted.

Two of us, me and another parent, worked with Mary and her daughter to turn her field, ready for planting beans. "When will you plant the beans?", "When the rain comes?" Incredibly the rains came that night! They will be the best blisters I've ever had and I hope to never lose that bitter sweet feeling.

I recognize now; the difficulty I had processing my emotion, was associated with the amount of unpacking needed to remove the pre-conceived sensibility derived from a quarter of a century's presentation of aid in Africa. Our experience was real. Our children were far better equipped, to see things at face value and play with happy children, sharing moments of fun and creating memories.

I hope that this experience has given my daughter a reference point of her own which will influence her view of the world, and give her an understanding of what it means 'to be in need', and what she can do to help.

The Child of Hope charity is making a huge difference to the children and their families in Bombo.

I am in discussion with the charity about how we can work together to make use of my skills and the skills of group ginger architects to contribute to the huge differences that the charity is making for these children and their community.