Having my heart stolen in one of the poorest places on earth

by Monday, October 1, 2018

Guest Traveller Diane Squires is a writer, tour host with Australian solo travel company Two’s a Crowd, and travel blogger at www.allabroad.com.au. In 2016, Diane and her sister, Julie Lancaster, travelled to Uganda to do some volunteer work with Amari Community Development Organisation and their school – Amari-Gardiner Nursery and Primary School. Let’s follow their journey into Africa… 

Diane Squires and her sister, Julie Lancaster.

A very inspiring Australian woman, Marita Simpson, set up the Amari Community Development Organisation and the Amari-Gardiner Nursery and Primary School. The school is in Buliisa, a remote part of Uganda on the border of the DRC. It takes only the poorest students from the local region and most students are sponsored to study at the school.

For me, the best kind of travel is about learning – about yourself and the world around you. It’s about connecting with different communities and fostering understanding between cultures. This trip certainly did all of that. You can read more about Amari, donate or sponsor a student at https://amari.org.au/

The children at Amari stole our hearts. They ran into the school gates at 7am every day, so eager to learn.  At morning assembly they brought us to tears with their harmonies and during the day we sat with them while they ate morning tea and lunch, observed them play sport, and watched as they took their daily lessons. We were overwhelmed by their smiles and their desire to learn.

Florence.

This is Florence. We were lucky enough to get to capture a ‘Day in the life’ of Florence, which involved following her around for a day to see what her life was like.  We watched her make fire for the evening meal, we watched her wash dishes in a large plastic bucket, squatting on the dusty African ground. We watched her pull her dress out of a plastic shopping bag – her ‘wardrobe’ – to get ready for school. We got to see the rattan mat she slept on with her cousin and watched her play knuckles, elastics and hula-hoop. The elastic had been broken many times, the knuckle pieces were stones, and the hula-hoop was an insert from a tyre.

This is what it’s like to be a six-year-old in one of the poorest places on earth.

We spent a lot of time visiting the homes of the students, the teachers and staff at the school. Each time we were welcomed into the home, we were ushered onto small plastic seats while the family and neighbours sat on a rattan mat in front of us – all trying to get a look at the ‘mzungus’ – white people. They shared their stories with us and reminded us of the importance of family and friends over stuff. It’s heartening to see that sense of community and priority on people, not things.

The town centre in Buliisa was a dirt road, with a smattering of shops on either side. Chickens and goats roamed the streets and people often stopped to chat to us. The prison, which was just outside of town – on our way from Amari – was open air. The prisoners, dressed in bright yellow overalls, could roam freely through the town but stayed in the jail because it gave them a bed and food every day.

It wasn’t all work. We also managed to get out and see the gorillas at Bwindi – trekking for 13 kilometres to spend one magical hour with these beauties; and the wildlife at Murchison Falls – lions, elephants, and giraffes. There is nothing quite like that feeling when you first see a wild animal in its own habitat, it truly is an amazing experience.

Photos by Diane Squires and Julie Lancaster