Diary: This summer’s Cambridge RAG Uganda Gorilla Project

Information evenings for this year’s Challenges are at 6pm on the 27th & 29th of October in the Bateman room at Caius College.

Cambridge University charity RAG Uganda Project
It’s difficult to summarise in one short article just how much I loved Uganda, and how highly I recommend this trip.

Ultimately, you are there for East African Playgrounds – a small but extremely worthwhile charity, who promote the UN’s Children’s right to play, whilst creating employment opportunities and encouraging local development. You will see exactly where your fundraising money goes, as will your sponsors, and will also help EAP to expand into other countries, and to build playgrounds in refugee camps.

I encourage you to take on the challenges of this trip. Take it on for East African Playgrounds, whilst making some treasured memories and genuine friends along the way.

 

The best building team there is

 

Dear Diary…

22/08/15: Today I FINALLY set off to Uganda! It feels like yesterday when I was in the first information evening and felt inspired by the brilliant work that East African Playgrounds do. I’ve spent the last 10 months doing bucket collections, sponsored challenges and organising events, yet never imagined that I would actually exceed my fundraising target.

I am excited, nervous, terrified and seriously questioning whether or not I am physically capable of building a playground and then trekking and canoeing for five days in order to see the gorillas. Oh dear. Bring it on I guess?

24/08/15: We woke up this morning at ‘Nile River Explorers’ (NRE) in Jinja. After a lovely lie in and an introduction from Carla, one of the co-founders of EAP, we ventured up the very bumpy road in a matatu (mini bus) to the school we would be based at. We were greeted with huge hugs by the amazing Ugandan team of builders, who are some of friendliest people I have ever met, and Bolt, one of the builders, gave us a tour of the two (!) playgrounds we would be building for the schools – Swidiq and Ebenezer.

We had our first go at digging the foundations for the half tyre’s, which was much more difficult than I expected, before running our first ‘Arts and Play’ session with the children. It was hilarious – we taught them duck, duck goose and other playground games, before they taught us some themselves, and then we made skipping ropes out of plastic water bottles and spent literally hours skipping. Day one = complete. I am shattered.

Bloody cementing

27/08/15: Day 4 of building and I am exhausted. Muscles that I didn’t even know I had are aching. We get up a 6am every day, have some breakfast, and then spend the day working. We’ve done the large majority of the digging now, so have moved onto cementing, which is physically more challenging, but at least it’s slightly more interesting! We’ve also started bolting some tyres together and the playgrounds are starting to take shape. We had the afternoon off and it was Sarah’s birthday, so we all experienced our first boda-boda (a motorbike taxi) ride into town to do some shopping, before going out for a gorgeous meal. Afterwards the builders and our cook, Betty, met us in their favourite club and we had a brilliant time celebrating, sharing stories and dancing. Very excited to use the parachute tomorrow in Arts and Play!
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SO MUCH FUN!

 

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Spot the fish

 

31/08/15: REST DAY! We’re back at NRE today to chill out before our week of trekking. Some people chose to go quad biking, white water rafting or horse riding, whereas I went to watch Hannah bungee jump (I didn’t have the guts!). In the evening we all went kayaking to the source of the River Nile, and ended up slightly tipsy as our guide brought a bottle of gin and several bottles of ‘Nile Special’, before hitching a lift to NRE on the back of the kayak truck.

Looking very sober…

2/09/15: Our first day of trekking was relatively easy. We made a few stops, including at a traditional healers, and the views were absolutely stunning. Slightly apprehensive about the dreaded ‘Day 2’ tomorrow, especially as I’m experiencing some major stomach cramps, haven’t eaten in a couple of days, and people are starting to get pretty sick. Onwards and upwards!

3/09/15: Today was completely and utterly horrendous. It alternated from extreme heat to torrential rain, which made the narrow, steep paths extremely slippery and dangerous. There were tears and tantrums, but I cannot thank the group enough for keeping me motivated when I genuinely wanted to give up. I want to curl up in the tent and sleep forever, but I’m going to have a quick swim in the lake to freshen up.

Day 1 of the trek featuring a random dog. We named it Bernard. 

6/09/15: GORILLA DAY!!! Oh my gosh, today was incredible!! Firstly, it only took us 40 minutes to trek to the Gorillas, which is amazing, as it can take up to 6 hours. Then, we got to spend an hour with some of the last remaining gorillas in the world. I was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears as soon as I saw the first gorilla. Words seriously cannot describe how remarkable they are. 100% the best day of my entire life! Feeling extremely thankful.

gorilla

If this doesn’t persuade you to come to Uganda, I don’t know what will

10/09/15: We’ve spent the last 3 days on safari in Murchison Falls National Park, and it has been fabulous. We saw four out of the ‘Big Five’: buffalos, lions, elephants and rhinos. Plus, we climbed to the top of the waterfall, in what was a very sweaty, but breathtaking experience. So excited for the open day tomorrow, but heartbroken that our time in Uganda is coming to an end. Although, I must admit that I almost drooling at the prospect of being reunited with Dominos pizza.

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11/09/15: Today was our final day in Uganda, and without a doubt one of the best, as it was the open day at the schools. The schools presented an assembly to celebrate what we had all achieved; obviously not just the volunteers, but also the builders, children, school teachers and the local community. The children sang some songs, we were given certificates, and there were many, many speeches. One of the head teachers spoke of the impact that a playground can have, and said that the children had already started getting to school earlier as a result of it, and that attendance rates had risen. The concept of a playground is such a simple thing, but can have a huge impact on a child’s quality of life, and a long lasting effect for generations to come. I didn’t realise until today that one of the builders, Salem, attended one of the schools himself. The best part of the day was when the playgrounds were opened – I have never seen so many children on a climbing frame! It was fantastic to see how much they loved it, and I was honored to even play a small part in it. We spent a couple hours playing and saying our goodbyes, before we sadly had to return to NRE, where it all began, to pack our bags and go home.

open day 1

The best three weeks of my life, with the best people

 To get a better idea, watch this brilliant video by Tasha Smith!