The moment I came up with the idea for Lilipad, over a coffee in Bangalore, seems far away now. At that time I just knew a few things: I wanted to volunteer with children in the street or children’s education, I wanted to know where my donations would go (if I managed any), I wanted to be assured that any work I did was actually of value to the community, and I definitely didn’t want to take away jobs from locals simply to make myself feel good about having volunteered.
Lilipad solved all those issues for me, and now having returned from Uganda, I’m more sure than ever that this was the correct way to go. For me personally, of course, working at the Kybirwa Primary School was an incredible and rewarding experience. I also truly believe that thanks to the decision to start Lilipad rather than simply volunteer, we (the whole Lilipad family) were able to contribute something of lasting value to the school itself, too.
Uganda is a beautiful, diverse country that confounded and exceeded all my expectations. The people are funny, polite and extremely warm – meeting the locals both at the school and around the country made the trip unforgettable. Best of all, of course, was spending time with the children, who are filled daily with such boundless energy it’s pretty much impossible to keep up.
Break time, my favorite time of the day while at the school
As well as the incredible hospitality we received, we were treated to stunning treks around the country, which allowed us to see the awesome and diverse landscapes that make up the Ugandan countryside.
Of course, the main reason to go was not to soak in the country’s many qualities, but to put in some hard work and build a library for the kids!
I started work 4 days later than I had intended owing to delays at Berlin airport, but thanks to help from the incredible headmaster, Moses, and Cody (an American volunteer and teacher apprentice), I was able to get much more work done in the space of time I had left than I expected.
First look at the storage room with Cody (before picture of the reading room)
Reading room in process
We spent the first few days cleaning out two rooms at the school that were not being used and then painting them in order to make sure the kids not only had a library, but also a nice space in which they could enjoy their books. In this time we also went to buy the text books and more reading books from a book seller in the local village, Jinja. I was very pleased to find that the seller was open to bargaining, and I was able to get the books cheaper than I had expected!
The bookshop in Jinja where all 872 books came from
This deal had the unexpected benefit of allowing us to buy some playground equipment for the pre-schoolers, who otherwise have almost nothing to play with. The swings we bought will hopefully encourage the kids not only to come to school every day, but also to enjoy their time there. Moses was the one who came up with the idea of the swings. We found ourselves with over 1,000 books provided already and about 200 euros left. I remember him saying that more than just to learn, most of these kids were going to school to enjoy simple social interaction with other kids. Also, most of them never owned any toys so those swings would make them really happy – no need to say that I was more than convinced about the idea.
Finally, towards the end of the Lilipad time in Kyabirwa, we opened the library and reading room, and had the most amazing day with the kids while spontaneously organizing some reading activities. We divided the children into different groups (from Primary 1 to 7) and read a story to them, while trying to involve one or two kids who would be acting “on stage”.
It is hard to find the words to express how honored I feel to have been part of such a wonderful school and community. I am already looking forward to going back to Kyabirwa to see how the library is progressing, and how the kids are enjoying the books that have been generously donated by so many of you. In the meantime, I remain in touch with Moses, without whom Lilipad wouldn’t have even started.
Thanks once again to everyone who donated and helped in anyway, it means more than you could know!
LILIPAD IN A FEW (CHEEKY) PICTURES