Uganda 2012

On Friday 6th July, 27 girls accompanied by Mr Brown, Miss Godfroy and Mr Shah departed for a four week expedition to Uganda. During their time there they will work on various community projects, climb Mt Elgon, undertake project work in a rhinoceros sanctuary and work together with pupils from our sister school, St Katherine’s. Please revisit this page for regular updates.

NOTE FOR PARENTS: Mobile phone coverage and internet access can be very patchy in Africa so please do not rely on this page for information and always assume that no news is good news. If you need to contact us in an emergency please do this through the Camps International UK office whose numbers are included in your departure pack.  

Friday 3rd August - day twenty nine

So, the whole team arrived safely home, slightly earlier than scheduled this morning, with a clear run through immigration, and with all our luggage, after a mammoth journey involving two flights, long stints in the trucks, and an hour and a half at the roadside to repair a faulty clutch (again!). 

After some emotional family reunions the team has now gone their separate ways. I would just like to personally thank all the girls for making this such a successful expedition. Their good humour, hard work and pleasant company has made it a pleasure for the accompanying staff. They can all be proud of their personal development and of what they have achieved - to have been part of a team that completed a whole new school building in less than two weeks is absolutely amazing, and it will mean a huge amount for the education of children in an impoverished part of rural Uganda. I'm sure they will all have stories to tell for a long time to come, and for many it has been a genuinely life changing experience. I would also like to offer my personal thanks to the staff who accompanied me, it was a pleasure working with Ravi Shah and Michelle Godfroy and I have valued all their help and support throughout the expedition. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Meirion Tanner who has worked tirelessly to make sure that everything has run smoothly and to Steph, Tony and Ben on the trucks who were just brilliant throughout. It will probably take us all a while to settle back to normality after such an amazing adventure.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind all the girls to complete their course of anti-malarial tablets, and ladies, you can sunbathe as much as you like now without me nagging!

Enjoy the rest of your summer...

Jonathan Brown - August 2012

Thursday 2 August - day twenty eight                                                                                  

We arrived safely in Entebbe and are all checked in for our flight home. The flight is on time.    

Pick up is from Heathrow terminal 4. The flight number is KQ102 and the flight is due in at 06:45 on Friday 3rd August.                                                  

Wednesday 1 August - day twenty seven

So, we are all finally loaded up and ready for the long journey home after Emily D discovered that she had left her malerone in the tent after it was packed away.

Last night we had an african theme evening with presentations, awards and thank you speeches from girls and staff. In Lexi's own words, "It was emosh, dude".

Tuesday 31st July - day twenty six

Happy Birthday Gilly!

Another very early start with Mr Brown over enthusiastically waking not only the girls, but also the tent of a gruff German tourist parked on the same site - whoops! Once again it was worth it and after Steph Kageni had successfully blocked the minibuses trying to jump the queue onto our ferry, we had the trucks loaded for our journey to the north bank of the Nile and morning game drive.

The wildlife was amazing and we saw herds of elephant, giraffes, various deer and antelopes, as well as a group of hippos right next to the ferry departure area. The trucks proved to be the perfect safari vehicles with their high viewing positions. All too quickly it was over and we faced the long drive back to the park entrance with the threat of the spectacularly annoying Tse Tse flies whenever the vehicles slowed. Gilly and Grace proved to be the most effective assassins with the highest 'kill rate', and a variety of techniques were employed to remove them (the flies!) from the vehicles.

On the journey back to Ziwa Tony proved his excellence as a mechanic fixing a faulty clutch at the roadside.

On our return to Ziwa we were greeted with a prolonged thunder storm accompanied by torrential rain, and we had to wait for over an hour until we were able to put up the tents for the last time - much to some of our group's relief.

The evening involved a treat of burger and chips along with birthday cake, which to everyone's delight had been over ordered. Following renditions of Happy Birthday and one table's interesting experience with an annoying South African volunteer who liked the sound of his own voice almost as much as he liked the girls, we retired to bed with the prospect of a lie in and our last full day in Uganda before the long journey back home.

Looking back over almost four weeks, it is amazing to think of the adventures that we have had, and all that we have achieved.


Monday 30th July - day twenty five

Maddie and Pippa S write:

Even though Mr Brown's wake-up call at 0530hrs seemed horrific it was worth it. After four hours in the trucks we arrived at the park gates. After some haggling with the craft ladies we entered the park and started seeing clouds of butterfiles and baboons. We also spent time swatting away tsetse flies!

After three hours we reached the banks of the Nile for our river cruise to Murchison Falls. We saw hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, elephants and much more. The falls were spectacular and we were able to moor at a rock for a better view.


Sunday 29th July - day twenty four

Holly writes:

Today was a sad day for us as we said goodbye to the girls from St Katherine's. In the morning Rev'd Max led a service with a thought-provoking sermon and much singing and dancing. There were speeches from members of both schools with an emphasis on our hopes of maintaining a strong link between the schools in the future. Ella said a formal goodbye and expressed gratitude on our behalf.

We then all enjoyed rounders and volleyball before the St Katherine's girls left after lunch. It was an emotional farewell.

In the afternoon we packed up camp in preparation for our trip to Murchison Falls.

Saturday 28th July - day twenty three

Ms Susan Akidi and Rev Max Ameri from St Katherine's School write:

Greetings to you all! On my own behalf and on behalf of Rev Max we would like to appreciate the organisers of this time. To us, the camp was full of humour and excitement. We enjoyed everything about the camp, the trip, the sanctuary the rhinos, girls from St Swithun's, their teachers and the meals. We wanted to stay even for more days.

Imagine being my first time seeing a Rhino! OL! I was forgetting one thing! The games and presentations. Really we are indeed glad we do hope for the same some other day, the lessons we have learnt from the camp will remain in us. Thanks.

Mr Brown, with help from Lizzie, write:

These were the words that were left with us by St Katherine's, and we thought it important that they were included in the blog.

Yesterday was our last full day with members from St Katherine's school, and we continued our rolling programme of activities in joint groups. Hetty, Lizzie, Laura, Rhiannon, Sophie and Lizzie from St Swithun's and Day, Annette and Rebecca (from Lira) were lucky enough to see six rhinos, while Mr Brown's group saw leopard prints, and evidence of a kill!

In the evening the St Katherine girls treated us to some traditional African dancing, and taught us some of the basic moves - suffice to say, the Africans were much more confident.

After a lovely bbq with chicken, steak and sausages, more compulsory fun was laid on in the form of a quiz. Questions were about rhinos, St Katherine's, St Swithun's and staff and pupils from both schools and the quiz was won by Lizzie, Lexi, Amy, Pippa S from St Swithun's and Jackie, Sharon and Lydia from St Katherine's. The lucky winners were treated to a soda at the bar with the exciting company of Mr Brown, while Mr Shah went to protect the rest of the group from the rhinos.


Friday 27th July - day twenty two

Alex Blanchard and Sophie Allison write:

We embarked on our rhino conservation careers today by launching ourselves wildly into many activities includings rhino tracking and monitoring, rhino education talks, animal and bird watching and fence maintenance. Three main life lessons were imparted to us by the aptly named Peace:

1. Campaign for peace at any opportunity as it is civil unrest that sparks the decline of beautiful animals such as the rhino through poaching.

2. Don't covert money - "God made man, man made money, money made me
mad and mad they are indeed"

3. See beyond ourselves to the beauty of the world around us (and don't litter!).

We certainly have been embracing the animals as Sophie and I (Alex) proved by our successful removal of a poisonous hairy caterpillar from the outside of our tent with a flip flop and toothpaste tube. Not only have we been interacting with wildlife but we have cemented our link with St Katherine's through a rowdy exchange of camp fire songs including the old classic 'I like the flowers'.

In the evening it was a joy to welcome Lizzie back to the camp on her birthday with a rousing rendition of the classic St Swithun's Happy Birthday. Having told her that everyone had gone to bed because they were tired we all emerged singing from behind the truck where we had been hiding and had chocolate cake as she opened her presents.

Thursday 26th July - day twenty one

Steph P and Rhiannon write:

This morning we were separated into 7 teams for a variety of activities which revolved around the work that the rhino sanctuary undertakes on a daily basis. These included Rhino monitoring, fence maintenance and a morning walk to identify local wildlife. 

One group managed to spot 4 rhinos and a baby cobra(!) while the others spotted footprints from a variety of animals including leopards and antelope. After lunch we were fortunate to welcome the 21 girls from our sister school, St Katherine's, following a shared link which has existed since 1995. They were accompanied by Miss Susan and their chaplain Rev Max who visited St Swithun's a couple of years ago.

As an ice breaker the sanctuary organised a sports day consisting of a traditional sack race, volleyball and a tug of war. There was also a football match in which Mr Brown became very competitive (surely some mistake ed.!)  giving headers against the sanctuary rangers. After a mad rush for the showers (50 girls now!) we were treated to a lovely dinner of fillet steak cooked by Steph Kageni - a major achievement - thank you.

In the evening, we the two school quickly formed freindships and students were chatting to each other until long after dark around the camp fire. A lovely sight.

St Katherine's are with us for the next two days and mixed groups of students are now undertaking a rolling programme of different activities. Time seems to be passing so quickly now.


Wednesday 25th July - day twenty

We arrived safely at Ziwa after a long drive. Last night a group of girls went on anti-poaching training and, although we nicknamed ourselves Gandee's soldiers, we decided that anti-poaching is best left to the professionals.

We are really looking forward to meeting the girls from St Catherine's later today.


Tuesday 24th July - day nineteen 

Lexi, Amy and Laura write:

After two weeks of hard work some of us were not too pleased with this morning's early alarm call. However, much to our relief we had a day of R & R ahead.

We enjoyed some retail therapy in Jinja with the major purchases consisting of authentic african tailor-made trousers and dresses. We then embarked on a stunning cruise at the source of the Nile with some even risking the wrath of 'Brown Bear' and indulging in some cheeky sun bathing and as we drove back one truck was lucky enough to receive a send off from the local school children.

In the evening we said our goodbyes to Hairy Lemon with speeches from Ella and Alex. We were sad to say goodbye but are excited to be moving on to the next phase.

And finally, Mr Brown would like to wish a very happy anniversary to Mrs Brown. 20 happy years today - congratulations!


Monday 23rd July - day eighteen

Flora T, Tash, Lottie and Florrie write:

Today was our last day of project work making the finishing touches and handing over the school classroom to the Kirindi students and the headmaster, Patrick. Whilst the team was hard at work Mr Shah kicked off his mid-life crisis with an unsuccessful attempt to ride a motorbike borrowed from a local teenager, making Mr Brown cringe with fear.

After being recommended as an experienced calligrapher, Flora T was given the rather daunting task of engraving a plaque detailing the names of the schools and Camps International's involvement in the project, and all went to plan.

In a moving hand-over ceremony Grace and Hetty expressed all of our gratitude through a speech to the community. Patrick, the headmaster, rewarded us with the slightly bizarre gift of two live chickens which we appreciated very much and who we have named Joyce and Malcolm. We said an emotional goodbye to the local children leaving behind presents of atlases, pens, balls, football shirts and t-shirts. Florrie made the grave error of producing a bag of sweets and was subsequently swarmed by a sea of children and one eager old lady! Tired, but with a huge sense of fulfillment we made the walk back from the school to Hairy Lemon to be greeted with the glorious and much missed sight of chocolate brownies.

The evening ended with a competitive game of contract whist won by Pippa and Maddie - with Grace coming last, much to Mr Shah's delight, despite her attempts at cheating.


Sunday 22nd July - day seventeen

Joanne and Holly write:

We decided to give ourselves the morning off work today so that we could attend the local church service. Although it was conducted in Lugandan we were really interested to see how it differed from the anglican church services we are used to. There was a great deal of singing and dancing as well as some very passionate preaching.

In the afternoon and with work gloves, we began the last stage of building work at the school. With a great amount of enthusiasm and sweat and also the muscles of the local Jembe men we completed cementing the floor of the classroom.

After supper we concluded the day with some more 'compulsory fun' fuelled by the surprise pineapple crumble and custard served by the kitchen staff. The 'Miss Hairy Lemon 2012' pageant featured Alex, Laura, Holly, Hetty and Flora B who strutted their stuff down the catwalk accompanied by their compere describing their outfits and accessories with each team reminding the audience that no tan is a healthy tan! After a fun packed and amusing evening Alex B was crowned Miss Hairy Lemon 2012.


Saturday 21st July - day sixteen

Flora B writes:

With a later start this morning, due to Mr Shah forgetting to wake us up, we set off for another day of work on the school project.

With all hands on deck, we managed to lay the concrete, filling half of the classroom and making great progress, despite being surrounded by a swarm of interested children, many of whom have begun to learn our names.

Hetty and Grace showed off their muscles mixing concrete, while Maddie took the reigns on the concrete laying front. Alex also entertained many local children by making funny noises which they would imitate.

The classroom is really starting to take shape, which we are all getting very excited about.

(A note from Mr Shah - he believes the girls should take responsibility for waking themselves up!)


Friday 20th July - day fifteen

Nat and Laura write:

For the first time for a week we began another full day working at the local school.

We were grateful to the local man who managed to finish off the brickwork whilst we were gone, but nevertheless we found ourselves passing bricks in yet another human brick chain.  Those at the end of it (Holly and Meirian) managed to relieve some stress by throwing and smashing the bricks, to form the foundations of the floor. We then went to a supposedly dormant termite mound to shift more dirt, only to discover it wasn't quite as dormant as we thought!

A lucky few busied ourselves building a new path under Tash's watchful eye, which ended up looking fantastic.

We ended the day with a game of Articulate, with a shockingly late bedtime of 10pm


Thursday 19th July - day fourteen

Ella S and Emma J write:

A much needed day of R & R back at Hairy Lemon Island (which we all now see as home) and long lie in following our successful conquest of the mountain.

Emma G and Holly W visited the school with the staff to see how the building project is going and were impressed to see that we will be able to complete the school building within the next few days.

Despite occasional showers, we all had an enjoyable day reading and playing cards. Hetty could not hide her joy at beating the teachers at contract whist, and the staff are also no match for the girls at 'slam'.

In the afternoon we had a mini Olympics. The games, which included events such as three legged and wheel barrow races, were won by the Elgon Elites who were followed closely by the Golden Oldies. 

In the evening Mr Shah's poker school was a great success and Lexie and Laura scooped the pot with a risky and aggressive betting strategy (no real money involved!). After showering for the first time in six days we are now ready to start work again tomorrow.


Tuesday 17th July - day twelve

After a long drive we arrived tired but happy back at Hairy Lemon which feels like home.

Sunday & Monday 15th & 16th July - day ten & eleven

Birthday girl Emily Sambrook Smith writes:

Weary-eyed, everyone was woken at 5.15am to start the final leg to the summit at 4321m. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) we walked up and up until finally, after five hours and a false summit we made it to the top.

The views were incredible and we spent time taking photos of excited faces and singing Happy Birthday to Emily Sambrook Smith who celebrated her 16th birthday on the summit of Mount Elgon.


The following day we succesfully completed the slippery descent with everyone negotiating the famous Wall of Death for a second time.

Everyone is looking forward to getting back to Hairy Lemon campsite so that we can wash for the first time in four days.


Saturday 14th July - day nine

Started mountain trek with enthusiasm and gusto. The first 3kms were pacy and energetic but very hot. We climbed 1600m and conquered the Wall of Death! Everyone made it to the first camp at Sasa River tired but happy. All refuelled and ready for an early night in preparation for an easier day tomorrow. This is the first time in four expeditions that the whole team has completed the first day - a fantastic acheivement and we are very proud of them all.


Friday 13th July - day eight

Arrived safely and tents are up at Mount Elgon base camp after a long but fascinating drive. We are well fed and looking forward to the climb.


Thursday 12th July - day seven

Claudia and Lizzie write:

A slight blow to the team's morale this morning as a few took the morning off to recuperate from the previous days' labour. The rest of us continued to build up the walls which have now reached waist height. The afternoon was spent relaxing on the island and preparing for the mountain trek.

A delicious dinner lifted the teams' spirits and all now set for the 7 hour journey to Mount Elgon.

Wednesday 11th July - day six 

Emma G and Pippa N write: 

'30 sets of hands to build a house, 30 hearts to build a school.' Sadly Meirion was unable to join us today, and in this vaccum of creativity thanks go to Alex for this quotation.

Having been told that today would be the hottest so far, the daily walks to and from the school seemed less than inviting; however the thought of starting work on the walls gave us some extra motivation. With the group again split into 'teachers' and 'workers', most of the team began transporting, laying and mortaring the bricks for the walls, while others headed off to assist in the temporary school. Although this was fun, it proved also to be embarrassing as we realised that we were little qualified to teach the primary 5 maths class, making some 'deliberate' mistakes while marking their work.

When we rejoined after an incredible lunch (pizza), our aim was to make as much progress as possible on the walls, so that we can leave it at a good stage before the Mount Elgon trek. By the end of a tiring day we were pleased with our efforts but ready for the camp and showers. Pippa Stubbs' shower was more eventful than expected, however. as she was rudely interrupted by four of the resident monkeys.

After supper, 'compulsory fun' organised by the staff consisted of a quiz, reliving some of the more memorable moments of the trip and testing our knowledge of the staff, sport and Uganda. Our team, 'Four Muzungus and an Asian', cruised to victory and the celebration prize of chocolate. It was another fun and rewarding day, and we are all excited about the last day of project work tomorrow.

(Note: 'Muzungu' is the local word for foreigner, usually white people.)


Tuesday 10th July - day five

Maddie Steer and Pippa Stubbs write:

Even though a few of us had slept for less than the usual 10 hours due to a raucous game of cards with 'The Ravsta' (Mr Shah) and 'Brown Bear' (Mr Brown) the night before (won by Grace Long and Lizzie Farrington with the 'Brown Bear' nowhere to be seen), we were up bright and early to start day three of our project work.

Spurred on by another delicious breakfast we marched up to the school ready to start work. We split into 3 groups; two groups stayed on site and started to mix mortar, transport bricks from one place to another and cement the bricks in place.

The other group went to teach the children at Chirindi school. As we arrived we were swarmed by about 300 children who were all ecstatic to see us - I don't think any of us had anticipated quite such a warm welcome! It was breaktime when we arrived, so we kept the children happy with various games although stuck in the mud didn't work quite as well due to a bit of a language barrier. The highlight for us was doing the hokey cokey with 300 children which was something none of us will forget.

"There is no creativity in a vacuum" was one of three inspirational quotes that were chosen from Meirion's creativity book at lunchtime, so with this in mind we returned to continue our work on the building site. Thankfully, it was slightly cooler in the afternoon; nevertheless a few of us were slighlty worried as with a grey sky looming above and claps of thunder booming in the distance, we feared for our washing which was still hung up outside. Luckily we were assured by a local that it wouldn't rain, and apart from a short shower he was proved right.

By the end of the afternoon we had almost finished all of the foundations, and also witnessed one of the biggest highlights of the day - watching Mr Shah sitting on and breaking one of the only benches in the school.

Coming a close second was the evening entertainment which consisted of the cardboard box game and another tense round of Irish snap and spoon (which Mr Brown lost again). At present we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, although we are counting down the days until the mountain trek begins...!


Monday 9th July - day four

Emily D, Hetty and Grace write:

"It starts with inspiration and ends in sweat" - Alex Blanchard. With this work ethic being employed by every member of the group a great deal of progress was made today. The day was spent for the most part making concrete. Although this process was arduous causing several blisters we were successful enough to begin laying the bricks which will eventually become a school. The children of the community continued to be enthusiastic and welcoming. We taught them to play duck-duck-goose and also serenaded them with varying versions of chart toppers and popular songs (Valerie and American Pie proving most popular).

Lunch was particularly eventful with Ella having an encounter with a rat in the loo which prompted a round of screaming from most girls in the group.

A highlight of the day, along with seeing the progress we made, was removing the multiple layers of dirt and dust which we accumumlated from both the work and the 8km walk to and from the camp. Despite being exhausted we are all thoroughly looking forward to continuing the project and developing our bond with the local children of the community.


Sunday 8th July - day three

Today we were introduced to Patrick, the headmaster and chairman of Chirindi village. The girls started on the project of building a new classroom.

Two groups dug the foundations and the others entertained groups of local children (a special mention here to Tash, Lexi and Laura for their performances of the hokey cokey and an S Club 7 number). The girls finished the foundation work thanks to continued encouragement by Holly, Alex and Ella. Happy birthday to Alice Buer - 18 today!


Saturday 7th July - day two

Arrived on time in Entebbe last night and now en route to Hairy Lemon campsite. Our senses are being bombarded with sights, sounds and smells and all in good spirits.


Friday 6th July - day one

All arrived safely in Nairobi and checked through to Entebbe. Amazing views of the Alps, Mt Etna and the Sahara during the flight. All well.

Arrived at Heathrow safely and all checked in by 0750hrs. Sleepy but excited.

Wednesday 4th July

Remember to take an anti malaria tablet tomorrow morning (Thursday). Essential items to take include: walking boots, sleeping bag and mat, full waterproofs, a warm hat, gloves and a head torch. We will be checking on Friday morning!  Enjoy a good night's sleep tonight...

Tuesday 3rd July

Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting today.

On Friday please meet at the swimming pool car park by 0400, but not before 0345. Please include in your hand luggage your passport, yellow fever certificate, $50 in cash for the visa at Entebbe, pens and any personal medication including your anti-malarial tablets. You will need to bring money for the airport to buy breakfast, or bring some food. Remember that you are not allowed to carry more than 100ml of individual liquids and that these must be placed in a clear plastic bag as we go through security. In the politest possible way can we ask that parents say their goodbyes as quickly as possible at school so that we can get to the airport quickly!

According to your doctor's advice you will either need to take your first anti-malarial tablet on Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Please come and see us if you have any questions at all before departure, however trivial they may seem. Only two and a half sleeps to go!

Wednesday 27th June

With just over a week to go before departure it's getting very exciting and on Tuesday next week we will have a brief but important pre departure meeting at school for the girls. Hopefully you have started to organise your packing in conjunction with the kit list. Please note that everything on the list is there for a reason and it is very important that you go through this very carefully and not at the last minute. We will talk about what you need in your hand luggage next week.

Some of the the sixth form were able to meet our expedition leader Meirion Tanner (pronounced Myreon) on Monday and it was a pleasure to welcome him to the expedition. He will be meeting us at school on the Friday of departure and travel with us throughout the expedition. Only 8 and a half sleeps to go!

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