"What an amazing day!" The Paterson family meets their sponsored child

When we realised that we were going to be spending the summer in Uganda, it made sense to organise a trip to visit the child we sponsor there (through the charity World Vision).  We sponsor a child for each of our children and this one is C2's special buddy.  We were hoping that this visit would inspire some more dedicated letter writing and appreciation of what we were actually achieving in sending the sponsorship money each month.  The day did not disappoint!

We were picked up early and drove about 2 1/2 hours to the local World Vision office to gather a few more local staff. We then picked up our sponsored child David (not his real name) from his primary school.  We were treated like celebrity visitors when we arrived at the school. First, we had to fill in the visitors' book (there's ALWAYS a visitors' book) and have a formal chat with the head teacher before we could find David and get on with the day. Our C2 had been initially excited about this trip, but then very nervous the night before. David seemed equally shy, if not a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience of being lifted from his class by an entourage of people including a whole family of mzungus (white people).

We visited a couple of World Vision’s projects in the area. A Health Post which now has solar electricity to allow babies to be delivered at night (handy since babies like to come at night as far as I can tell) and some new toilets as well as a marquee/tent thing which hosts a youth club where local young people can come to hang out as well as to learn about sexual health (a big topic here).

We also visited a mothers' planting group where a group of mums and their babies and toddlers sit round in a brick hut learning about how to best feed their children.  There has been a big problem here with malnutrition - especially in children.  The local diet is very carb-heavy and although fruit and veg grow well in this climate, they are not widely eaten, or understood for their nutritional value.  This group has a facilitator who teaches about the importance of diet from pregnancy through to breast-feeding and then how to best wean a child.  The women also have planted a kitchen garden next to this hut where they can grow these life-giving fruit and veg.  When they have a surplus, they can sell them, thus giving them an income they would not otherwise have.  They have a saving scheme together and were saving next for a cow so they could have a reliable source of milk.  I'd have loved to have bought them one.

It struck me how similar this group is to the church toddler group I relied on when our children were tiny. So different in so many ways, yet in essence, a group of women trying to do the best they can for their children and supporting each other in it. It was lovely.

Finally we visited David's family and were treated to a feast the like of which we had never seen before. Every food we had been treated to in various meals in Uganda up to this point was there and in large quantities. Beef stew, chicken, avocado, bananas, pineapple, jack fruit (which appeared when C3 said it was his favourite), rice, beans, matoke, cabbage, greens, sweet potatoes, irish potatoes (great hilarity when I explained that I came from the same place as the potatoes!), pumpkin. It was a truly humbling experience. We asked when the last time was they would have prepared such a feast and they couldn't remember. Not even Christmas.

The culture is fairly formal - everyone does introductions, the women kneeling as a sign of respect to us. Handwashing and then questions and answers. C1 was (unsurprisingly) holding the floor and answering David's father's questions about burial spaces and how land is passed on in our country!

We finished the day with a game of football - an amazing leveller. Children v Adults so no 'sponsor' or 'sponsoree', just friends playing a game together. It was great fun and there were some lovely moments - C2 high fiving with David after scoring a goal together.

The final thing was to make speeches and then give gifts. The vice-chairman of the village was there so he spoke, then some of the World Vision staff and then the 2 fathers. D did very well, using translation time to think what he would say next! We gave the gifts we'd brought, and received many more in return including a beautiful floormat, some woven baskets, 3 HUGE pineapples and a banana leaf football which is the type David would normally play with. C2 will treasure that for a long time to come. We were glad to have brought him a couple of 'normal' footballs so hopefully they will last. There was such a sense of gratitude towards us and the other sponsors we represent.  We really were treated like royalty. So good to see how the little we share each month makes a real and significant difference in building and improving people's lives. What an amazing day!

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