Going to Uganda for the third time in seven years was another beautiful and memorable experience. My parents, sister and I went for the first time in 2011 as the year before my parents met Michael, the eldest son of a landowner near the town of Banda, Uganda, who told my parents all about his family’s land. Nichole who is Michael’s former wife came to Uganda for the first time in 2004 where she was warmly welcomed and inspired by the sense of community she experienced but also challenged to see the deep sense of poverty. Michael was committed into improving his village so Nichole and he decided together to put the welfare of children first and with the help of the local community, a primary school was built. After a couple of years, they saw the need for affordable health care services in the area. Mothers were dying giving birth, children and families were suffering from easily treatable diseases and in 2010 the Grace Family Health Centre was built.

 

After hearing the story behind Buiga Sunrise my parents knew they wanted to go and just 12 months later, my whole family went together for the first time to Africa. It was, of course, a shock for all of us how different it was from anything we had ever experienced before but in the best way possible. Everyone was so welcoming and open to show us their daily lives and struggles. One our first time there we wanted to explore and get a feeling for Uganda rather than having any sort of huge goal in mind to try and help the community. Saying that we still were able to get donations to harvest and plant around 500 different trees, mostly coffee and fruit trees that were to help benefit the community as they could use the products to sell and use for themselves. We also used the donations to build an extension to the health clinic and for health care supplies. We also brought loads of school supplies, shoes and clothes for the kids and their families. My mum was also asked to give a talk to some of the women living in Banda. When it was time for the talk we walked in to a classroom full of women and men and my mum started talking about herself being a woman being from Iceland, talking about the equality of living she experiences in her work and daily living, she discussed to them that there aren’t specific roles women and men do in Iceland as for example that my dad, her husband does the cooking in the family. The women cheered and many of the men were offended by this talk. We got many responses from the men that I didn’t agree on, some said they didn’t think it was right that the money they earn would go to their wife and children and wanted the wife to work and provide for himself and their children so he could use his own money on themselves, which really opened my eyes that not everyone thought the same as me and the people in my country. Cultures are different and I’m not saying the culture of Uganda is anyway wrong but being a woman from Europe I know my worth and I wouldn’t let anyone make me think anything else. We enjoyed every part of our first trip to Africa and went back to Iceland with a strong love for the Ugandan culture and excited to come again later.

 

Then in 2015 and we had gathered a big group of people to come to join us to experience Uganda as we did a couple of years prior. The whole trip was another exciting adventure and to be able to go through it again with so many more people was exhilarating. As a group, we were able to save a lot of donations that went into two extra classrooms in the Sunrise school, a playground for the kids, supplies for the health clinic and the school. It was so amazing to see how these little things made so many people really happy, the kids from the school had never seen a playground before and wanted to spend all their time playing. We were also able to build desks, shelves and chairs for the school and painted it all. We also donated around 500 kg worth of items for example shoes, clothes and toys. One person that was in our group was a filmmaker and had been filming our time in Uganda without really knowing at the time what would be done with the footage. In the past year, they have been working on making it into a documentary style movie and will be shown at the end of April. 

 

Fast forward again to earlier this year, there was another big group of us that were so excited to experience Uganda again, my family and I for the third time and others for the second or just their very first time. In both 2011 and 2015, we have had people of all ages, 5 years to 50 and everyone got something amazing out of the experience. This time we did the same thing as the past two times and tried to donate as much money to Buiga sunrise as possible. With the donations we were able to build a whole new maternity section to the health clinic as before the health clinic had to often share the same rooms with a sick patient and a woman giving birth, which can be extremely dangerous for the mother and the newborn baby and would not have any time to rest after the delivery and had to be sent home within a couple of hours. With our new clinic that got named the Aurora Birth Clinic, mothers will have a safe space to come to give birth, receive help and guidance throughout their pregnancies. Elfa one of the girls that were on the trip and only 15 years old raised and took from her own savings enough money to buy a motorcycle ambulance for the health clinic, which is highly beneficial as most people can’t afford to take a car to the clinic and are unable to walk or go on a normal motorcycle because of their illness or physical problems. We were also able to plant a maternity garden for expecting mothers that can walk around, help maintain or just sit and take in the beautiful flowers and plants which can all help them have a calmer and more relaxed birth. Through the donated items we all gathered for the trip we managed to make over 100 gift bags for new mothers. With clothes for their babies, toys and extra things they may find useful and the bags will be given to any new mother that gives birth in the Aurora clinic or is in need of clothes for their baby. Some other things we were also able to do was repaint the Grace Family health clinic, repaint the furniture for Sunrise primary school, build new desks for the students and teachers, give one pair of shoes to each kid at the school and a toothbrush and toothpaste to keep at school as if they would take it back home other members of their family would use it instead. We spent a lot of time with the students of Sunrise and the other kids of the community and seeing their perspective on going to school is inspirational, for a lot of the kids their life revolved around going to school and they understand that not all kids get the opportunity to attend school so they make a big effort to do well and get good grades. Many of the kids walk for a long time to get to school, for example, Michael a 7th-grade student at Sunrise walked for nearly two hours every day to get to school. Isaac and Pablo that were with me on the trip decided to put their money together and buy a bike for Michael so it would take much less time for him every day to go to school, often its just the little things that make the biggest difference. For the kids, they often don’t know if they can proceed in school the following year because of money reasons and often need to start working to help their families.

 

Another big issue in Uganda and other countries in Africa are social issues, mostly being issues at home. They can have a difficult home life as there isn’t as much respect for women and girls in their culture. Sadly it is very common that kids and women get abused and its most often always looked past it. Many young girls from the ages of 13 have kids and have no time for school as they need to provide for their babies. The reality is most often that men want to be with virgins and they leave them when they are pregnant. Nichole the co-founder of Buiga Sunrise always tries to support these women and girls as much as she can and she is starting a girl empowerment program within the Sunrise school. The program will start with trying to get the girls in supporting each other in different issues and controlling a stronger bond between them and hopefully in the future involve the boys of the school to understand the strong importance of equality.

 

There are so many important things that can be done when you go on a trip like this but what feels the most important is all the knowledge you gain from experiencing them. Every little thing you do matters and gaining inside on how other cultures live their lives is fascinating in every way. Buiga Sunrise is a community that wants to create a brighter future, educate people and mostly create positive change through strong community-led initiatives.

If you want to learn more about the Sunrise Centre you can keep up with them on http://www.buiga-sunrise.org/ or we have made an Icelandic Sunrise website https://www.buiga-sunrise-iceland.org/ to reach as many Icelanders as possible.