Day 24: Pictures of moments speak more than thousand words!

My final day at Child Africa, I can’t believe it’s finished, every time I think about it tears appear. In the afternoon the school organized a farewell ceremony. As always it was wonderful, although it’s been a long time since I cried so much! I don’t even feel like writing this blog after watching all the pictures of today…  450 pictures were taken this afternoon and every single one can make me cry over and over again! The lyrics of some songs the kids performed really broke my heart:

” Farewell teacher Larissa…”

” We will miss your smile every day…”

” Madam Larissa thanks for all your great support, we shall miss you…”

I received presents, letters from some children and many many hugs! Oh you can’t imagine how much I will miss these kids and everyone from school!

My attempt to say something quickly ended in tears…

So my final words were: come and give me all a hug!!! I nearly fell when they ran into me, so a “hug-queue” was organized… Too many tears, but I will never forget all those warm hugs…

The moment Catherine, Aria and Selinah were the next in line, I really couldn’t hold myself when I saw tears on their beautiful faces…

Many many thanks to all the Child Africa staff for taking so good care of me, I will never forget these weeks! Your presents and pictures deserve a special place in my room…

Unfortunately all good things come to an end… but I didn’t say goodbye forever I’m sure I will go back one day!

Much love to Child Africa Kabale, a piece of my heart stays here forever!!


Day 23: The “sunshines” who make my day!

Yesterday I forgot to mention the story of Moses. As I love drawing one of the teachers asked to make a portrait of him. As you can see, I gave it a shot (please use your imagination a bit, I’m not an artist ;)!) He’s so happy and personally came to thank me again yesterday by the house.

Today mid-terms, mid-terms, mid-terms… Luckily there was a great sunshine. After the first break many classes finished their exams for the day and had no lessons scheduled. The whole day I played, drew, chatted, answered millions of questions and had fun with the kids. My camera was all over the place as well, since my arrival I already snapped more than 1000 pictures!

Unfortunately the end of my Child Africa adventure is getting near, but I still had to complete a task for my father: “looking for a sponsor child”. My mom’s and Erik’s child, Catherine, was quickly decided from the start, but knowing there is just one of all these great kids to choose from is a very hard task. I wrote down a few names and verified with the office. One of them is not sponsored, Aria, coincidence or not, she’s the classmate and best friend of Catherine.

Both of them didn’t leave my side for the whole day. I’m sure they will make me cry tomorrow, today it was already hard to see their faces when I said I’m leaving on Friday.

I don’t know much about Aria’s background yet, but tomorrow I will raise all my questions to the office. I didn’t want to ask Aria too much, I find it sad when they tell me they don’t know their parents or one of them died. Until now, all I know is that she’s not at the boarding school, has 3 sisters, lives close to school and most importantly that she definitely can use a sponsor, as all of them, she also comes from a very poor family. I didn’t personally inform my father about Aria yet, he was too busy, but I’m sure he will trust me on making the perfect choice, right daddy 🙂 ?

In the afternoon the teachers attended a meeting so I needed to oversee all the kids. My attention was quickly lost when Aicha entered the school gate. She lives next door Child Africa, but whenever she and her friend get the chance they come and play with the kids. On the picture you can see Aicha, she has hydrocephalus (water on the brain). She’s such a cute little girl, all the children are always so sweet and helpful to her, it’s wonderful!

In the evening Mamma Saturday absolutely wanted to cook something for me and this time I wasn’t allowed to buy ingredients. I filled my plate until there was no space left, still Mamma Saturday looked as if it wasn’t enough. I forgot enough in Africa means when you have reached the top of a pyramid on your plate :)!

During dinner Mamma Saturday realized she also prepared a salad. Everything was so delicious that I wanted to show her my appreciation and went for a next round, which I regret now, I’m glad I don’t have to walk anymore tonight!

Day 22: A smile a day…

They say “A smile a day keeps the sadness away”, I couldn’t agree more with this very wise quote!

Yesterday evening when saying good night to my new “African family”, Saturday was cleaning the shoes of his boys, the twins. After having heard a lot of sad stories happening to children, it’s wonderful to see how responsible this father is. Many of the kids at Child Africa are being left behind by their families and dropped at their grandparents place. The twins don’t have a mother anymore (did she disappear or die? I don’t know) all I know is that they live with Mamma Saturday. Yet every morning at exactly 7am and evening at 8pm the father comes to take care of his sons. I wanted to give him a little gift and remembered a pair of men’s shoes in one of the boxes. They fit perfectly, he was so happy and immediately started to polish them. When Mamma Saturday saw the shoes she thanked me so much, hugged me and gave me a big kiss! That really almost made me cry. I’m starting to repeat myself… little things mean so much here, it still amazes me every day!

Today at Child Africa children were doing mid-terms. Instead of supervising, I went into the nursery section and made drawings to fancy up the classrooms. After lunch Catherine ran up to me and gave me a huge hug! That again touched my heart so much, I can’t tell how happy I am to see her with such a big smile. She really acts differently since the first time I saw her walking around at school. I’m sure my mom and Erik are contributing to this pretty smile on her face! Without me mentioning anything she wanted to have a picture with her sister, me and herself. When I get home, I will definitely frame it and search the best spot in my room!

Today I brought the last bag of clothes to school… Dividing among children is so much easier than among adults. It seems there was not enough for all of them, as some took more than 1 item. These kids know much better how to share! There was even one staff member who just took something and kind of ran away… Strange, very strange, but all the others made up for that. Look how proud showing off their new pants, shirts, sweaters and shoes! Don’t they look fabulous? 🙂

There was still a boys trousers left. I choose one of the deaf children to try it on. Although the pants was a bit too big, I just couldn’t take away his happiness when I saw that smile. Many thumbs up and a big smile can mean so much more than words!

 I’m glad to have seen all these happy faces today, I will definitely miss those! I also want to thank YOU for donating clothes! If you recognize some of your clothes on the pictures, many many many thanks to you!

Day 21: “Agandi” mid-term exams

The bad weather caught me yesterday, so this morning I didn’t have a lot of energy. Nevertheless I wanted to make it to school (at least for a while). A bodo-bodo brought me to Child Africa, with a huge bag full of clothes. Tomorrow I will take the last bag and then teachers and staff members can start selecting. They were very happy and most of them already personally came to thank me.

When I opened the school gate I saw many kids sitting outside and everyone looked serious and quiet.

I had no idea it’s a mid-term exam week… that’s Africa, they forgot to inform me. I wanted to join P4, P5, P6 and P7 classes this week, instead I will supervise the exams. When reading some answers I really felt like helping, unfortunately I am not allowed. However, when I saw Catherine’s exam, she left open 1 question: “You have 10 eggs, but someone takes away 2, how many eggs still remain?” I knew she was able to answer this, so secretly with my fingers I gave her a hint. Sorry teachers 😉

During the first break Elly immediately took my hand and wanted to show me his rabbit. I had to disappoint him when I said I cannot take my present home to Belgium. Then I found a solution, the bunny was officially renamed Larissa today and I made him promise not to eat Larissa and good care of her. He also asked me to write down all the names of my family, when Larissa will give birth the baby’s names will be: Catherine, Carl, Jari, Erik, Sophie, Veronika and Viktor.

After this, I informed little Catherine that my mom and Erik want to sponsor her, she said “Thank you” at least 10 times. Her smile got even bigger when she heard we will regularly sent her clothes and useful things. When I first met Catherine she was rather reserved and shy, they told me it’s because she’s having some troubles and concerns (and that on such a young age!). I’m so glad she is opening up a bit more, you should see her smiling and waving at me each time I pass.  She started talking about her activities over the weekend, she was in school and wore the skirt I gave her, then on Sunday she went to church and prayed for me. Although I don’t believe I still think it’s very very nice gesture!

The whole week there will be mid-terms, so today wasn’t all that exciting for me, until I met my friend, Engeneous. He is not taking part in any of the mid terms, he was just randomly running around and screaming sounds 🙂 !

I’ve spent 2 hours next to him trying to make him draw something else than just weird circles and lines. Unfortunately my mission failed. Time for Plan B, which was starting to talk “his language” Urgg Archh Urgg Urr. Mission failed again, but he was so proud showing off what we drew together and signing the kids that I was his friend.

During lunchtime I decided to go home, my eyes were itching and I had a stuffy nose. Now I’m doing better and totally ready for a new day tomorrow!

Day 19 and 20: Quality weekend

First of all CONGRATULATIONS to all European University graduates this weekend. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony. As a little gift to myself I booked a weekend at Bunyonyi Overland Resort.

Saturday morning the UK cyclists visited the Child Africa school, as usual a whole show was prepared. The kids sang, danced and performed wonderful as always. Mark has been a sponsor of one of the children, Brenda, for 8 years, she is in secondary school now. Mark had never seen his sponsor child, so the moment she walked into the gate was very exciting. There were no words needed, however Mark gave a short speech and expressed how touching it is to see that Brenda is doing well, when she finishes studying he wants to take care of another child. Isn’t that wonderful?!  I wished there were more people like him!

Elly was playing in the brass band, although he needed to concentrate on his instrument he was looking at me and smiling the whole time! So proud with his new shoes. During the performances he came up to me and said: “Larissa I really want to thank you for what you have done for me, I appreciate it so much. So please let me do something in return.” As a gift he wanted to show me his rabbit, he took a bodo bodo-bike and went home to his grandfather’s place. Unfortunately he wasn’t back before I left, I should have known 30min in Africa means 1h30min. I hope the other kids will deliver him my message!

Around 11 am Barbra and her friend dropped me at Bunyonyi Overland resort.  Last week I made a reservation, tent nr. 8 it was.

 Reading, relaxing, tanning, eating, walking, “people-spotting” and sleeping… Just two things bothered me: First of all the waiters (can I have your facebook? email? I shortly and rather rude answered “I don’t give it to strangers” otherwise they would have kept on asking). Secondly the receptionist, he was really unfriendly to be honest and so slow! For the rest it was perfect, I really needed some time for myself, not that I don’t love to be around all these wonderful kids and teachers.  Paddie and Isaac visited me in the afternoon, too bad they don’t know how to swim. I didn’t want to swim alone (for those who don’t know: I fear fish 😉 )  plus the lake is the second deepest in Africa, it reached 900 meters, you never know what’s down there 😉 !

During the night there was heavy rain.  Some annoying crows and other birds woke  me up early in the morning, but my bad mood quickly disappeared when seeing the view right from my bed over the lake, it was magical, although still some raindrops were falling out the sky. This wasn’t how I imagined my Sunday to be.  I was hoping that after my English breakfast the sun would beat the clouds, unfortunately this didn’t happen. As I didn’t bring warm clothes with me, I found my way back to Kabale center earlier than planned.

In Kabale I went to the market with Paddie and helped Mamma Saturday cooking. Cooking the African way 🙂 in an African environment, as a tiny little mouse passed by!

Again it was a great weekend, although I would have loved to see more sunshine.

Day 18: A day of giving and receiving

Wonderful smiles, happy faces and grateful people. When I came to Uganda, I travelled with 3 bags full of clothes, shoes, games and balls. Until now everything was stored in my room, but today I felt it was a perfect day for sharing!

The Child Africa football team gathered and I gave them brand new footballs! You should have seen their happiness. Many thanks to the sponsor of these brand new balls, the kids and sport teachers loved it!

Some other clothes I divided among students. A skirt and pants to Catherine and her older sister, a short to a teacher, some cloves (Kabale is cold in the morning so don’t think this gift is useless 🙂 ) to two kids and finally a short to Brenda. But there is still a lot of stuff left in my room! It was difficult to give the presents to the kids, everywhere someone else is around. But the good thing is that there is no jealousy, they are all happy for each other!

After lunch we went with P5 and P6 to the city to welcome the Danish sponsor, Mark. He arrived with 15 other people by bike. With this initiative they are raising a lot of money for charity. They were all touched to see our students with placards, singing, clapping and dancing. Oh yes there were tears, even I still find it very touchy every single time!

On our way back to school, I walked besides Elly. He is a P6 student, he is a bit reserved, although he always comes up to me to ask about my country, football and my family! Today it was the first time I noticed his leg and his old shoes. I didn’t want to ask too much about his leg, but he told me that he had an infection, so he needed to be operated. He is not able to wear closed shoes, his leg and foot often swells. Then I started to ask him about his family, he still has both parents although they live outside the city, it’s too expensive for them to travel to town, so Elly never sees them. He always stays at school, except holidays which he spends with his grandfather, who is old and has very little money. I felt so bad and I couldn’t stand seeing him with these sandals, they were almost two sizes too small and totally broken.

After school I went with him to a market, we took a bodo-bodo together (moto-taxi) it was the first time Elly drove one. We stopped on our way to buy a soda and a banana, that already would have made his day, such a smile! But the story continues… at the market we found the perfect shoes. Elly wasn’t able to express his happiness, but his smile just said a thousand words!

After this wonderful day I am in need of a good meal. I decided to go to the “White Horse Inn” hotel. On my search for a bodo-bodo, a man came up to me on the street, he is a teacher in one the primary schools in Kabale. He saw me on the “Day of the African Child”event and told me how much he appreciates what I am doing! What a great compliment!

This whole day makes me feel so happy. As my title says “giving and receiving” I gave things but received so much more!!! When I’m looking back at the pictures of today tears are running down my cheeks ( which shouldn’t be happening cause I’m at the restaurant). Such a lovely day I will never forget, let’s hope my meal will be as good! Just ordered: “Tilapia Veronique”: poached fish fillet in rich creamy sauce, served with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables”.

Great day to start off my weekend!

Day 17: Another day at Child Africa

It was a lovely sunny and rather relaxing day. The whole morning I made placards  to welcome the sponsor in the most enjoyable way! The kids from P3, knew that I would be coming to their class so they constantly came to ask whether I was ready. After lunch I entered their class, they were having Local Language and Literacy which wasn’t so interesting for me, instead I had some fun outside with others and went back for their last hour of arts.

I laughed so much with one of the deaf students. This little guy is the funniest guy I know. He always walks around school with a happy face and screaming out some random sounds. He also likes to hit other students, but nobody cares. Today he walked around with a stick ready to attack everyone who came his direction. I was sitting on the bench and enjoying the whole show. He is deaf -mute as well as mentally retarded, nevertheless he is always happy and smiling, it’s lovely to see! When I explained him (in my best sign language) that I wanted a picture of him, he scared  away all the students and was ready to pose!  Isn’t he lovely?! I tell other kids not to walk around with a stick or hit fellow students, this kid just cannot do anything wrong in my eyes 🙂 !

Today I also wanted a picture of Catherine, so my mom and erik could have a look at their “sponsor child”. When I called her, she came up to me and kneeled down, I really find it horrible when these kids do that, but that’s the way they are taught to behave. It makes me very uncomfortable! Erik and Mom say hello to your new daughter: Catherine 😉 !

When sitting outside, a teacher came up to me with THE question of today. Please read carefully it was so funny! “Larissa, did you ever act in a movie?” My answer was a short no. “Are you sure? Because once I saw a movie called Titanic and one of the actresses Rose (Kate Winslet) looked just like you. Are you sure it’s not you, because I think in movies the actors get different names”. I had to explain him that sure it’s not me and that names are changed, on top of that he still doesn’t believe that it’s a true story 🙂 !

As you can see every day there are funny stories to tell, I’m laughing so much here!

Day 16: A day at Primary 2

Getting used to the African habits, Julie, Amy and Lilly didn’t leave to Kampala yesterday, instead this morning at 6 am. Normally that’s the time I wake up, however from now on I can start school at 9 am. I didn’t ask for this change, but I guess when they saw me in the evenings I always looked exhausted. Such long days at school every minute surrounded by the kids is really tiring, although I’m still enjoying all the attention!

At 9 am I entered the P2 class. The teacher was just about to leave, so I corrected the exercises of the 30 kids! There was one boy, Bright, who was continuously disturbing others including me. I got very annoyed, after my final warning I told him to sit somewhere else. That’s the moment I realized that boy didn’t have legs. For a second I was in shock and felt really bad, when I saw that kid climbing with his arms in between the benches. It was the first time I saw this boy, but I had heard many stories about him. He used to come to school more often, until the father realized he could “use” the boy’s accident to make money. He refused his son to go to school and sent him on the streets for begging. From that moment on Bright lost all control and started to behave badly and aggressive. After the father received several warnings from Child Africa he probably got scared and sent his son back to school today. I honestly was a bit scared of this boy at certain times, when I was sitting one row behind him, he wasn’t copying the chalkboard rather turned around looking very seriously into my eyes. I feel bad for this boy, it seems he used to be a nice student, unfortunately the terrible influence of his father totally changed him!

Luckily this day also has many happy stories. Catherine was among the P2 students, when I entered she was sitting on the bench with the new schoolbag I gave her, she didn’t remove it one second, even when we went for lunch. It is wonderful to see how these kids appreciate such small gifts, thinking about it still touches a little part of my heart.

Another happy story was when Catherine had to stand in front of class and give some news (her name? age? what she ate yesterday? and who her friends are?) This last answer really made me wanna cry, the first name she said was “Larissa”. I think we found our “sponsor child”, my mother and Erik want to sponsor one of the Child Africa children. The best part is that my mom’s name is Catherine as well! I hope we can help this lovely girl towards a great and bright future!

Today we did arts and crafts and made a paper hat which they had to shade. I got all of them as a little gift, aren’t they lovely?!

I also received many letters from the P2 class, these texts made me smile the whole day! Don’t those little mistakes make it all even better 🙂 ?!

The whole day was quite packed: I played volleyball with the older kids, went to a meeting (Friday a sponsor parent will visit the school so we need to make sure he receives an unforgettable welcome) and in the evening I went with Paddie “shopping” for cloth, I really want someone to make me a perfectly fitted African dress. So far no material which really grabbed my attention, but this story will be continued 😉 !

Day 15: Day of the African Child

This day raises awareness for the situation of children in Africa, the theme for this year’s event is “The Rights of Children with Disabilities”. Generally, children with disabilities are hidden in Africa, but today it was THEIR day.

Early in the morning the Child Africa Brass Band and all the kids nicely dressed in uniform were ready for the parade. All the teachers and staff members ordered a white polo shirt, with the Child Africa logo on the front and “We make a difference” slogan on the back.  Almost all junior schools and child focused organizations of Kabale joined the parade at the station. Everyone received paper hats “Celebrating the day of the African Child 2012”.

Our school’s brass band was the leader of the parade, we marched around the city and ended at the football stadium where a ceremony took place. There was a lot of talking and speeches in the local language, luckily the sun was shining so I could “daydream” a bit. More interesting were the shows, each school performed a dance or read a poem, which highlighted the disabled children. Blind, deaf, deaf-mute children performed as well, it was very touching to see and hear the words they spoke.

At a certain point a street boy suddenly took over the microphone and started talking in the local language. People explained me that he said that he’s disabled too, he doesn’t have any shoes and he can’t afford to pay school fees. When Julie heard what the boy’s story, she ran up to him and promised him to buy a pair of shoes, if I understood everything correctly she even invited him to join the Child Africa school. Isn’t that wonderful?!

Today I also did a (little) good cause: yesterday I saw that one of the children, Catherine, was having troubles with her schoolbag. I tried to repair it, but the zipper was broken, her schoolbooks fell out each time. I promised her to buy a new backpack, which I did today. You should have seen her happiness when I gave the present, she was even going to sit on her knees in front of me, of course I quickly lifted her up again. That would only have made me burst out in tears 😉 .

Tomorrow I will be in her class P2, let’s see whether those kids listen to “teacher Larissa” :)!

Day 13: A magical day at Lake Bunyonyi

Wow  wow, Lake Bunyonyi exceeded all my expectations. In the morning when we drove up the lake we stopped by a little house, Julie wanted to greed a woman whose grandchildren went and some still go to Child Africa. It was so so sad to see this woman, she is very old, not capable of taking care of herself and nobody feels responsible for her. She looked terrible, but mostly very miserable. A few years ago her children left her with many grandchildren, she took them all into the house until they were able to look after themselves. Right now nobody (nor her children or grandchildren) takes care of this old woman, she is incredibly poor and barely has any food or water. On the picture you can see tobacco, which she grows and sells in exchange for some food. The little bucket had just a few centimeters of water, which she will use to clean herself.

No water, no drinks, no food, no nothing, she desperately prays for rain which will fill up her little bucket. I felt so bad, how can her family treat her like this, after everything she has done for them!

After this sadness, the day could only get better. And it definitely did! We drove up the hills and went to a beautiful hotel with the most amazing view: Arcadia cottages Lake Bunyonyi.

After some relaxing time we drove down, to another hotel/restaurant which was even more beautiful. Bunyonyi Overland Resort, located right next to the lake. From there we took a little motorboat to one of the islands. First we passed a little island, just a few metres wide with one tree in the middle. This island is called Punishment Island, in earlier days unmarried pregnant girls were dropped here and left to die of hunger. Now you are probably wondering why they didn’t swim to another island? Well, the fathers weren’t that stupid they tight up the daughters who were able to swim. Many girls drowned, however others were saved by fisherman or poor man, who wanted a wife but couldn’t afford to pay the bridewealth.

Most of the other islands you can see on the picture have a hotel. We went to Bushara Island Camp, they showed us the cottages and tents, all with stunning views over the lake.

Next it was time for lunch, we went back to Bunyonyi Overland Resort, where a delicious meal was waiting for me: grayfish (fished from the Lake) in a vegetable sauce with potatoes. Because the hotel is so beautiful, relaxing and has a lot of facilities I decided to go back next weekend. We went to have a look at the cottages and tents, I fell in love with tent number 8. All tents are positioned on high poles and offer a great view.  But number 8, oh boy, the view from that room is the most amazing, so we went to the reception and reserved for Saturday night. Although it’s a twin room they will charge me a single price, let’s hope it all works out! I’m already looking forward to some relaxing weekend by myself, even though the hotel always has tourists and especially pack backers.

I assure you, if you ever get the change to visit Uganda, do not fail to pass Lake Bunyonyi. It’s definitely in my list of “most beautiful places ever been”.