What a great day! Just returned from a day at the National Campsite for Uganda Scouts, having spent it with the 4th Mercy Scouts who are there on a 4-day camp.
I arrived as they were learning more about both the national flag and the scouting flag, all of them proudly wearing their neckerchiefs and unofficial scout t-shirts (thanks to Marlwood School and 1st Thornbury cubs for the donations), and following that I got a quick tour of the site as well as lots of excited stories about which trees have the monkeys, where the snakes live and how amazing it was to see Lake Victoria.
The tents looked very tidy, despite the fact that twice as many children are squeezed into each tent compared to the tents back home – 3 tents for 22 youngsters, which we would probably say were 3 – 4 person tents at best. But the scouts all said how comfortable the tents are, and how they like sleeping in with their friends, and I guess when you are used to sleeping on the hard floor at home, alongside all the other siblings as well as any parents, then actually being on a mat on a soft grassy floor, with friends around you probably isn’t so bad.
The main activity of the morning was ‘Challenge Valley’ which was essentially their version of ‘Tough-Mudder’. They all took part and had to complete a Blindfold trail following a piece of rope, then sliding down a muddy chute, going commando-style up a very muddy slope, through a tunnel, and under a network of ropes, before clambering through 4 or 5 tyres suspended from a metal pole. Not surprisingly they all ended up completely caked in mud, but the sense of achievement emanating from them all was beautiful to behold. Each of them overcame some sort of ‘I can’t do it’ moment, and all experienced the joy of being able to look back and know that they had found inner strength that they hadn’t before known.
After lunch – well actually it was after some serious hand-washing and then lunch – we all went down to Lake Victoria where they had the best time splashing about, throwing water over themselves and each other, and coming out somewhat cleaner than they went in. This was a new experience again – just being on the edge of a large expanse of water is something most of these children don’t experience, and to be able to bathe without first having had to go and fetch the water in a leaking jerrican or bucket from a standpipe was a definite treat.
The afternoon activity was a session at the swimming pool – another first for most of them. None of them knew how to swim, but they loved being in the water, using the few available floats to bob around if they could, do swimming arms whilst keeping feet on the bottom, and just enjoying the sensation of being immersed in clean fresh water. I was kept busy acting as a ‘swim teacher’ and giving them the chance to pretend to swim whilst I held on to their waist to prevent them going under. When it was time to get out, one of the lads showed me with great pride how he could bob under and hold his breath for a count of ten before coming up for air. This was the same lad who had been too nervous to get in at the start of the session unless I was there to lower him in – so great to see his massive smile when he resurfaced after his self-imposed submerging!
This evening they are having songs round the campfire, but I wasn’t able to stay for that – suffice to say I know they will be having a great time and making another special memory to add to the list of memories they have made this camp.
These young people, for whom life is generally so lacking in much of what we take for granted, who have so few experiences to call their own, have this weekend gained their own stories. No more are they ‘just another kid from Acholi Quarters’, now they have special stories to tell when they get home. And of course, for the parents, life has suddenly got a bit wider than just Acholi Quarters – they now have children who have been camping, who have been in Lake Victoria, who have seen monkeys in the forest, who have got muddy, sat round a campfire, and eaten 3 meals a day for 4 days.
One of the lads told me that one of the things he loved about the camp was seeing Lake Victoria for himself – until then he’d just heard about it at school, now he had been in it.
Another said how he loved walking in the forest and seeing all the birds and plants and animals
One of the girls commented on the times spent singing songs together and hearing stories from scouts in other countries
Another just enjoyed being able to play with friends for the whole day and being able to run around in the fields and forest.
Today with the young scouts has been a very beautiful day – and a very humbling one too. Being part of their story-making experiences has been such an honour, and one I will never forget. Am forever grateful that this community are part of my story.