It made me realise how much goodwill can be generated by such a small action
A special guest post from Jon Brookes, our hero who walked over 210 km to raise over £1000 to help us send our kids to school. My decision to try and raise some money for Awamu didn't necessarily start off as a big thing. In fact, I was quite self-conscious of asking people I knew for money as I'd never done anything like that before.
It started last year, when I decide to run a 10k race in Bristol and just asking friends and family for a few quid. It was as much about the personal challenge as it was the fundraising. The response though was overwhelming. Not only were people generous with their cash, but generous in their emotional support too.
It made me realise how much goodwill cab be generated by such a small action, so I thought I should try to multiply the effect exponentially by setting myself a real challenge! That's when I decided to walk the Camino Pilgrimage route in Spain and set myself an ambitious target for donations this time around.
210 km in 8 days was probably a bit silly in retrospect
It was tough! I certainly wasn't wrong about it being a challenge! 210 km in 8 days was probably a bit silly in retrospect, but I managed to do it and met a lot of amazing people long the way. Certainly didn't enjoy being attacked by a goat though...
I've always been quite cynical about the effect that charities can have, and the 'real' impact of their work on the lives of people. I wanted to challenge that idea by physically visiting the projects and seeing for myself what was happening...I also really wanted to visit Africa and had heard such amazing things.
I soon lost the preconceptions I had
Kampala - the capital - is still very underdeveloped, and it obviously took some time to get used to that, but everyone there was so incredibly friendly toward me and the country itself was so beautiful that I soon lost the preconceptions I had. The country is obviously very poor and lacking in infrastructure, but it has a firm basis and collective will to accept help and move in the right direction. It will take a while, but it is an ideal place to serve as an example to other African nations about how to rebuild after a dictatorship.
What surprised me more was the positivity and happiness of the people and children
The main reason for the trip was to visit Awamu projects in the slums, but it was also the thing I most nervous of. I guess I had a relatively clear idea of how bad life in the slums might be, from popular media and other initiatives, and the real life experience was every bit as bad. Cramped unsanitary conditions, lack of access to education and stigmatisation of people living with HIV. What surprised me more than the shocking nature of the living environment was the positivity and happiness of the people and children who live there. The work of Awamu wouldn't be possible without the engagement of the people themselves.
Their friendliness and kindness of spirit was literally overwhelming
In Makerere, I met Nulu and Peter who help coordinate the women's project there. I can honestly say I've never met more amazing people. Their friendliness and kindness of spirit was literally overwhelming. They work very hard in an underfunded and underappreciated role and maintain such a level of positivity that I felt totally humbled.
I also met Sarah, a wonderful lady who is living with HIV and somehow finds the strength to look after a family of ten, as well as acting as a guardian to many children many of whom are also live with HIV.
She showed me the cramped but beautifully well-kempt conditions in which she has to live without a regular income. I know that Awamu is looking at how it can create a more stable environment for people like Sarah, without whom many children would have nobody to rely on.
Another lady called Sarah gave me a demonstration of the amazing craft-work that they produce in order to generate other income by making beautiful clothing and jewellery...you need to get some!
Having been to visit Awamu's projects I appreciate now the day-to-day effect that small scale actions can have
I have always been quite cynical about the tangible effect that charities can have against what seems like insurmountable structural and political problems. I still think that in the long term, we need to influence the governments of places like Uganda to do more, but having been to visit Awamu's projects I appreciate now the day-to-day effect that small scale actions can have, and the huge inverse effect that a small donation can have as well!
The great thing about Awamu and smaller charities is that the whole of the money is spent on the project, rather than going toward admin fees or employees' salaries. That's not to say that big charities are in any way bad, but I just think I'm very lucky and privileged to be able to have seen the impact of these types of interventions... the blisters were definitely worth it, all I need now is a new challenge! Any ideas?
If you have any ideas for Jon’s next challenge or fancy doing a challenge yourself do get in touch.