TWO years in the planning, 33 pupils from West Hill School, Stalybridge, and three staff travelled to Uganda for a month of community and conservation work in the heart of Africa.
Pupils had been fundraising for more than 18 months, giving up their time to pack bags and wash cars, in order to pay for the experience of a lifetime.
They arrived at Ugandan capital Entebbe to be met by the in-country staff and jumped onto buses to start their adventure.
The first activity was a visit to Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary, viewing many of the animals that are being cared for before being released into the wild. They helped out with feeding time and spoke to the vets about their work.
The camp’s team then drove them to Hairy Lemon camp, an idyllic island in the Nile. This was the base for the first project at Kirindi Primary School. Each time they travelled between the island and the mainland, they had to be transported in longboats, as there was no other means of access. Certainly a memorable commute into work!
At the school, they laid the foundations for a new classroom, replacing the old wooden structure. A week of digging, cement mixing and brick making was tough going, but worth it to see the result at the end.
The second base was in the Sironko district of Uganda, in the far east of the country. They stayed at Mama Rose’s camp, named after the legendary local woman who ran it.
After a night in camp, the group then started the ascent to Mount Elgon, a 4,321m high peak. After two and a half days of hiking, battling the weather and altitude, they reached the summit. The expedition was the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis on three consecutive days, so was a huge achievement for everyone in the group.
Mama Rose’s was also the base for the second school project, at the local primary. They were given a wonderful welcome by staff and pupils, as they performed songs as they led the group up the road to their classrooms.
The time was spent putting the floor into a classroom, pointing the bricks to make them safe and laying a concrete walkway to replace the old mud path.
The performance given to the group at the end showed how much the work was appreciated with the whole school singing and dancing to show their thanks.
West Hill pupils’ renditions of Don’t Look Back in Anger and the Hokey-Cokey didn’t match the heights of the Ugandan displays, but entertained the local children nonetheless.
After leaving Rose’s, they spent four days at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where they observed the keepers going about their daily jobs, assisting them in the conservation of the animals and their habitat.
The huge, majestic rhinos were incredible to see and the group got within feet of them as they ate and slept.
The last few days were a chance to relax with the team going out on a safari and sailing up to the magnificent Murchison Falls, an impressive waterfall on the Albert Nile. A celebration evening on the last night, complete with pizza and songs, was the perfect way to end the trip.
The month in Uganda was an enlightening and humbling experience that opened eyes to cultures and people they never had the opportunity to see before.