During our time in Bwindi National Park in Southwest Uganda my wife Andrea and I made the decision to visit two community orphanages/ primary schools in an attempt to gain an insight into the conditions the local children have to endure; we were not prepared for what lay before us. There were two unrelated facilities catering for up to 500 children between the ages of one and fourteen. Most children were parentless, some abandoned, and some lucky enough to live with guardians in nearby villages. The children were so excited to have a couple of white visitors they could barely wait to perform in front of us. Taking us by the hand they took us on a small tour of their home and classrooms. From the moment we made our way along the muddy trails and into the courtyards we were blown away by the happiness and smiles beaming from such disadvantaged children.

Excitedly performing for us during our visit

Ruhija Little Angels Orphanage & Primary School
Whilst I was taking a leisurely walk through the small town of Ruhija on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park a young boy by the name of Nicholas latched onto me and asked where I was going, to which I replied that I had no idea – he decided to walk with me to nowhere in particular. Walking along the dirt road the 13 year old explained that he was an orphan whose parents had both died of AIDS and having no other family to care for him had fallen under the care of Ruhija’s Little Angels Orphanage. He aimed to be a Doctor someday but for now he attended a secondary boarding school a couple of hours away. However he was now back at the orphanage over school break and also had to return during the times no funds were available to continue to pay his school fees. At 700,000 Ugandan Shillings ($189) per 3 month term the shortfall happened more often than not which is why he would find himself back at the orphanage.

Ruhija Little Angels mission statement

Nicholas at the orphanage entrance

More than anything he wanted to show off his home; the classrooms, the dorms, kitchen, and the improvements that were very slowly being made. Andrea and I walked through the rotting gate and down an uneven dirt path to be greeted by young boys and girls smiling from ear to ear and excitedly clutching at Andrea’s hand. First of all we were guided to the dorms; the boys sharing 3 single bunk beds to sleep 3 per bed in a space not much bigger than an office cubicle in the US. The dingy room was dark, the bunk mattresses well past their sell by date with next to no bedding. A few personal belongings littered the beds and floor with the girls dorm being no better!

Girls showing off their dormitory

We moved on to the kitchen where very basic meals were prepared and we found this overwhelming. It was a very small room with nothing more than a half dozen rocks and some warm left over ashes in the centre of the floor. Nicholas mentioned that they sometimes get to eat rice to make up what he called a ‘balanced diet’ and that at Christmas a chicken or two may be thrown in. Unbelievable!

Kitchen where meals are prepared and cooked

…and this is one of the newer classrooms!

Lastly and feeling very sad, we took a walk across the dirt courtyard to where the children eagerly learn English, mathematics and science, amongst other subjects. Other than a few rooms that had at some point been updated (see below) the conditions were dire, with walls made of mud and tree branches, no lighting and six foot benches that sat 10 students each. The only plus was the level of curriculum on the blackboards. It was amazing to grasp how anyone can learn anything in such conditions.

Tiny classroom catering for 41 young children

Our sadness, disappointment and amazement at what these poor children have to endure was very quickly replaced, as with joy and smiles the children gathered in the courtyard to put on a little show for us. They sang songs that thanked their guests from the UK and US for visiting, and performed traditional dances at the end of which there was a surprise guest appearance of a local mountain gorilla which completed the magical show. Needless to say, we vowed to help wherever we could!

Children performing a song and dance for us

Before leaving we got the chance to chat with the director about what is most needed. She told us they desperately need new mattresses and blankets, exercise books and pens, food, and money that would allow the older children to complete entire terms in secondary school instead of them having to return to the orphanage when funding ran out. For one year (3 terms) it costs approximately $570 USD to send Nicholas to boarding school where he will gain the necessary knowledge to move up to the next stage of the educational ladder. For less than $27 USD they can buy a 25kg bag of rice to supplement their diet of maize and beans.

Ruhija Community Orphans & Needy
Nursery and Primary School

Wishing us happy travels and hoping we come back to visit

Also located in the town of Ruhija but a little further from the centre, we came across our second school for orphans and the needy. A few of the girls who saw us out walking pleaded with us to come visit them. How could we resist! Once again we walked along a muddy trail that took us into a courtyard surrounded by mud and brick buildings. The director met us and with the help of the children took us on a tour of the facilities, and whilst slightly better than the previous orphanage it still had a long way to go to be anywhere close to liveable. We could tell it was almost embarrassing for the director to be showing us around, especially when we moved on to the dorms, a place where the children who call this home should be entitled to live with clean, comfortable bedding and blankets.

Still managing a smile despite the conditions

Tiny dorm certainly not fit for humans

Whilst other charitable donations had facilitated replacement of some of the worst classrooms there was still an entire block that was in a dismal state. For 6,000,000 Ugandan Shillings, approx $1600 USD the mud and stick building can be replaced in around a week with sturdy brick, metal roof, doors and newly constructed benches.

Classrooms desperately in need of replacement

Classroom about ready to fall apart

The director here faced the same problems, mainly having to somehow obtain 300,000 Ugandan Shillings ($81 USD) in school fees to send his older children off to mid-level secondary schools. On top of the school fees there are additional costs for food and educational materials. Once again we told him that we would do whatever we could to assist with the replacement of the classrooms and financial support for at least a student or two.

Farewell from the director and a few of the smiling children

To thank us for our visit we were once again invited to watch and participate in a short song and dance, clearly this was the highlight of the children’s Sunday afternoon. Our dance moves definitely provided them with something to laugh about and remember us by.

Hopefully our account of how these Ugandan children, most without either parent, strive to overcome severe resource shortages and obstacles to achieve an education. It opened our eyes and is making us act, and we really hope with your support we can give them a better life. We plan to raise in excess of $2000 for replacement classrooms, mattresses and blankets, notebooks and pens, and funding to keep Nicholas at secondary school.

May 4th – May 6th 2018


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