Designing a Future

‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song!’ – Pope John Paul II

It’s been a very busy two weeks here, following Easter, and I’m excited to share what’s been going on!

I had a beautiful and joyous Easter weekend, celebrating with friends and venturing out to two new churches to celebrate over the Triduum. I loved one of them so much that I decided to attend their Sunday services from now on in Entebbe. When I walked in for Holy Thursday Mass, even though the service wasn’t in a language I knew, I felt so welcomed by the people there, which hadn’t really happened yet at the village church I’d been attending. The same feeling I had for the first time in little Santa Anna parish in Consuelo, Dominican Republic, settled over me. I was home. For the first time since landing on Ugandan soil, I truly felt like I belonged. It was difficult to keep a smile off my face for the remainder of the Mass.

After a Friday packed with activity, including Good Friday service in downtown Kampala (navigating Kampala on my own for the first time was definitely an adventure!), I spent a relaxing Saturday at home, preparing for our Easter feast the next day, organized by Jaja Maggie, then headed back to Entebbe to spend the night with my surrogate family, the Vanderfords, and celebrate Easter Sunday Mass back at Bugonga the following morning. I had really been looking forward to attending an Easter Vigil Mass this year, but was dismayed to find out that the English celebration at Christ the King in Kampala didn’t start until 10:30pm, finishing later then it’s really safe to travel here at night, so I had to give up that idea. However, after the beautiful and exultant celebration I got to take part in on Sunday morning, I can’t really complain. Bugonga was completely decked out in decorations, with flowers all over, and colourful fabric draped across the cathedral ceiling, its many statues uncovered and the artwork now visible on the walls. I made a new friend during the service as well. Before mass started, a little girl came to six next to me, nestling up against my arm. Even though it was quickly becoming hot and sticky in the church, I didn’t move away. She was so sweet, I just smiled down at her, which she returned shyly. I have no idea where her family was sitting, or if she’d come with family. It seems to be common here for children to spread out all over the place at church, but I was happy to be next to my small companion. I ended the day of celebration with a feast of roast goat (slaughtered on our compound by two of our guards, Jackson and Ali, the previous day… glad I didn’t witness that), fresh grilled vegetables, chapati (East African tortilla), mashed potatoes, watermelon, pie, and chocolate cake, shared with a great group of people at the intern compound.

There wasn’t much of a break after that busy weekend. Our visiting team of architects (Tony and Nick) arrived on Tuesday from Australia, and we began a series of meetings in preparation for our trip down to the Cherish school project site in Rakai that Friday. Stan, a visiting American landscape architect, who has a long history with Engineering Ministries International (eMi) and can recognize practically every Ugandan plant by sight in both English and Luganda (it’s quite impressive), was also part of our project team. We headed out very early on Friday morning for the 4hr trip to Rakai, near the southern Ugandan border with Tanzania. There were six team members from eMi, plus Stan, Tony, Nick, Larissa from Cherish Uganda, and our two drivers, Paul and Douglas. With all the luggage and equipment, our two vans were packed full.

Our first day was filled with several adventures, including being led deep into the village by a boda guy we asked for directions to the brick factory we were trying to find. He ended up taking us to a small rural brick factory run by one us his family members… not precisely what we were looking for. Only one of our cars made it all the way there with him. Rose (one of our civil engineers), made us turn our car around once we’d spent 10 minutes trekking down the back roads of a village, in the middle of nowhere, having no clue where we were going. We never did end up finding the factory we were looking for, even after driving up and down the main road several times, and calling their office for directions, but we got an amusing story out of it, so no complaints. We checked into our hotel, which far exceeded my expected standards of accommodation in rural Rakai, before heading to our site. We had our own beds, private bathrooms, and very puffy comforters. There was even a restaurant on-site. Except for the fact that the power was out during our stay, which caused the water to shut off, it was really quite lovely. Later that afternoon, the architecture team visited two recently completed buildings in the area designed by an international and national team of architects and engineers, to use as potential precedents for our project, getting temporarily stuck on a rough, narrow dirt road on the side of a very large hill in the process (at least the view was amazing). The remainder of our time in Rakai was spent exploring the 40 acre site for Cherish Uganda’s new secondary school, having many productive and interesting conversations about design concepts and the vision for the school, and getting very excited for the futures of the children we were designing for.

I loved being able to play a real role in the design of the campus, participating in discussions with Larissa (our client) and contributing design ideas over the course of the week. I hardly felt like an intern at all. Making each member of a team feel useful and important is a skill of eMi and of Cherish. The value of the individual is never forgotten. I am so thrilled to have been put on this project, and grateful for the opportunity to work with such a fantastic organization as Cherish Uganda. It made the long hours and late nights at the office this past week feel much less like work, and motivated me to keep working late into the night as I sat in our office trying to help make the school we’ve designed come alive.

Cherish is an organization living out the Gospel message in real and amazing ways, changing the stories of children in Uganda with HIV. Because of the stigma attached to this illness, many of their children come from extremely difficult backgrounds of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Once children who are HIV positive have completed their primary schooling, in Uganda (and many other countries in Africa), it is often considered a waste to educate them further. Cherish is changing that way of thinking. They are demonstrating by their actions the belief that every child is worth the same, that they are equally valued, equally loved by our awesome God, and every one of them contains potential.

This school is meant to be a place for the children of Cherish, along with other children from the local area and beyond (particularly those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to attend secondary school), to learn and grow, continuing their education through the secondary level and beyond, with a high quality of education and opportunity for specialization in specific areas, like music, art, science, technology and vocational training. It will be a place of beauty, comfort, and safety. A home for all who attend. The natural beauty of the site lends itself well to a beautifully designed campus, filled with lush vegetation, vibrant colour, and endless spaces for community building and relationship growth.

We were able to present our conceptual design to the Cherish committee this past Friday morning, before Tony and Nick flew back home. It went very well. The Cherish staff are so excited about this project, just as we are, and were very happy with the work done so far. It was great to be able to show them so many images from the 3D site model Nick worked hard to build, and to have some photoshopped renders, making it even more real to them. It is so rewarding to see such excitement and delight in a project we’re working so hard on, and trying so hard to capture not only our client’s vision but also God’s vision for this place.

It is an honour and a privilege to serve alongside these servants of Christ, playing a small role in changing the stories of these vulnerable, yet strong, children. I pray that in years to come I will be able to come back to see the completed campus, when it’s populated with students and staff. Though there is a great deal of work still left to do on this project before the end of my internship, and in the future for those who follow us at eMi (after many members of our team leave), I am very much looking forward to it! Please pray for the development of Cherish Secondary School and all those involved in making it a reality. Also, if anyone feels inclined to contribute financially to their fundraising efforts for the school, I hope to follow up with information soon about how you can do that.

Thank you again to all those who have supported me thus far. All financial support I have received is helping to make projects like this possible. You are playing a crucial role in changing the stories of those in need and I am so grateful!

Quick support update… I have almost met my goal of $11 400 CAD (after factoring in the exchange rate to USD). Only $1 000 CAD more to go! God has provided in incredible ways so far through the generosity of many. If you haven’t contributed yet, I would love to invite you to become a part of the work eMi is doing. Thank you!

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