Hello again from a hot and rather humid Uganda! I hope that all is well with you?
It really doesn’t seem possible that yet another year has nearly passed and that I am just a few short months away from completing five years in Uganda. For the local people, this last year has undoubtedly been the toughest of those five years and, for many of the very poorest, the Christmas celebrations will be a bit muted this year. Even if they can’t afford to eat meat during the rest of the year, most Ugandans like to have something at Christmas. However, for many this year, it will not be possible.
Although it is a bit depressing, a general increase in theft and corruption in Uganda is perhaps unsurprising in such tough economic times. However, in opposition to the general trend, I continue to be greatly encouraged by the commitment, resilience and sheer hard work of many of the ladies that I work with in the slum as they struggle daily for the survival of themselves and their families. That many of them are not just surviving but prospering is quite amazing.
In addition to continuing to try and stand alongside the fifty or so ladies with their businesses in the slum, this year has also seen me make some real progress in my attempts to get some slightly larger businesses going. The aim of these businesses is to generate some profits locally that can be used to support the charitable work that is going on amongst the very poorest in the Namatala slum, whilst also providing much needed employment opportunities to some local people at the same time.
On one piece of land, of around an acre and a half, I am growing several thousand trees, of an extremely fast growing variety, that can and are being regularly coppiced and which then rapidly regenerate from their stumps. Some of these trees are being left to grow very large so that they can be used to make timber, whilst others are being harvested and sold as poles for fencing or scaffolding or are being chopped into firewood, which is then being sold to local restaurants.
On another piece of land, I have established a brick making business. After being made from the local soil, the bricks are then fired to make them much longer lasting. Despite the economic situation, there is still a lot of building work going on in and around Mbale and bricks are in high demand. In addition, another piece of land, of about an acre, is being used to grow maize and beans. I am quite pleased with how these businesses are progressing and they are already generating some good money and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.
At the school in the Namatala slum, we have just finished the first academic year in the new school building. I am pleased to note that the building is still standing strong despite everything that the elements and the children have thrown at it! Of course, in view of the time and resources that went into its construction, that should not be at all surprising but it is still a little bit of a relief all the same. Hopefully, we can push on in the New Year and get the next floor completed.
The school itself seems to have gone very well this year and all the reports from the independent inspectors who regularly visit the school have all been very positive and encouraging. In fact, I think that the only negative comment that has been received was that we didn’t have a flagpole at the school. Hardly an essential requirement one would have thought but apparently it is.
The children are doing really well and growing very fast; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Absolutely everything in the slum is against these children doing well and the teaching staff together with the health and welfare teams certainly have a job on their hands. As an example; we recently discovered that one of the children, an eight year old girl called Mary, who was living with her father, was going home from school and, after cooking for the rest of the family, was then being tied up with rope so that she didn’t disturb the father who wanted to spend the evening with his friends. After going through all the proper channels, this girl has now been removed from the father and is living with one of the staff members, where she is now much happier.
I am continuing to minister in a good number of local churches and it is very interesting to me the way that things have developed over the last year. A year or two ago, I was visiting and ministering in different churches, conferences, schools and prisons all over eastern Uganda. A combination of factors then led me to focus much more locally on a small number of churches. This now seems to have focused in even more whereby I am now doing so much more amongst the current and emerging leaders of these local churches. I find it all very exciting.
The churches themselves are all very different and have their own unique challenges. There is quite a strong temptation to over focus in on the churches where things seem to be going really well and where there is a whole lot of growth and excitement. However, I know that I need to stay obedient and minister wholeheartedly and with full commitment in all those places to where I am called.
Over the last few years, I think that I have shared with you some of the stories of the various different creatures that seem determined to take up residence with me in my house. What with rats, snakes, bees, frogs and squirrels, and there was even the occasion when I came home and discovered a small puppy hiding under my bed. However, my very latest guests are bats! Although considerably quieter and less dangerous than some of the other guests, these are equally unwelcome and I hope to see them off as well. Whilst on the subject of animals, I am afraid that Billy the goat, who I had acquired a few years ago at a Christmas Day church service has also had to go as he was becoming increasingly aggressive and had taken to charging at people and trying to knock them over!
I am happy to let you know that my back problem has greatly improved, although it still needs careful management. I was recently able to get a proper professional diagnosis, which confirmed the original local diagnosis of a herniated disc, and some good treatment and the exercises that I am doing have definitely improved matters.
Finally, let me wish you all a very special and blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year. Thank you so much for all your interest, your support and your prayers this year. I am very grateful indeed.
God bless you,