This year, 18 students from Aston University participated in ‘Project Uganda’, a development programme under UK Charity- Soft Power Education. The students, who come from various backgrounds and study in vastly different degree programmes worked together to complete two large painting projects in the Jinja District of Uganda. The experience was funded through personal contribution for flights and accommodation, as well as, an individual £600 fundraising donation which most students exceeded.
Soft Power Education is a UK registered Charity which sets out to improve the life of Ugandans by working with communities to improve education and related facilities. In order to make this vision reality, the charity assists in projects throughout the country- from projects which links tourism and development in Murchison Falls, to Special Needs projects and finally, school refurbishment projects which Aston Students assisted with this summer. The volunteer programme with Soft Power Education and Aston University has been running for 4 years consecutively and this year was highly successful, not least because Aston Students raised almost £12000 which is a massive contribution considering the small group which participated. Interestingly, as opposed to many other related development programmes, students can know that all money raised goes straight back into the costs of building and painting materials, as well as local worker wages.
Each school had been recently refurbished using proceeds from Soft Power Education, as such, the task of painting was left to the students including project management and design. All painting materials and equipment and experienced painting Formans meant that students could concentrate on the job and enjoy the daily life in the surrounding villages. Given the temperatures during the day, students tended to work from about 9am each morning and take lunch in the middle of the day, then go on to work until 6 pm or later depending on the daily tasks. Each meal was provided, whereby the Soft Power cook provided breakfast and dinner and the schools provided the lunch. The menus were very different to the food most students eat in the UK, with bread or ‘chapatis’ (a sort of pancake) for breakfast and for lunch, usually rice and beans, then for dinner, cabbage (and other local vegetables) with rice or noodles. In addition, there were always plenty of local fruits to snack on during the day, such as local mango, bananas and passion fruit. The diet was extremely vegetarian in nature so meat eaters in the groups were forced to take matters into their own hands and buy live chickens which were slaughtered and cooked! In addition to work, students helped in daily activities of the school such as collecting water and playing with the children on breaks, even participating in teaching some classes. These sorts of things, helped to build relationships and friendships which will never be forgotten. Through the work completed and the activities which were organised, the students had an experience which was fun, exciting and worthwhile.
The task of the students this year was to paint two schools in Jinja. Firstly, Lubani, a muslim primary school which had about 400 students and Mawoito which had well over 800 students in attendance. The projects were run simultaneously, with two teams of 9 students plus a local cook and painting Forman and ran from mid July to August. The students worked long days during the week and came back to the picturesque ‘Nile River Camp’ on weekends to relax and participate in activities such as quad biking, white water rafting and also a 4 day safari adventure in Bujagali Falls National Park. The ‘work and rest’ balance meant that students were enthusiastic to return to site each week to complete the project on time.
Aston University Students can be proud of the work they have done for the staff and students at both locations. The successful completion of both painting projects has provided a learning environment for underprivileged children, as well as, an opportunity for students to interact with cultures and people from vastly different backgrounds. Without the support and work of Soft Power Education and the hard work and dedication of Aston Students, it is very likely the schools would continue to be neglected by the Uganda Government; instead the students now have two well built and painted schools which the local community are very thankful for.
By: Joshua Ellins (MSc Supply Chain Management)