I joined William Morris Sixth Form the year that the first trip to Uganda started, and still remember that assembly given by Liz talking with such passion about this exciting project. I definitely knew that this was something I’d be interested in doing; but unfortunately, I was unable to go during my time at WMSF.
Fast forward 6 years, I was in my final year at university and, along with my younger sister who was attending WMSF, I found my chance to go.
We went in April 2012 with a group of teachers, students and some former WMSF students. Having absolutely no idea of what was to come, we were excited and anxious at the same time. I think what I wanted to gain from that trip was a sense of giving back. What I ended up gaining was far more than just that.
We first arrived in Rwanda, and spent a few days there visiting the Genocide Museum as well as meeting many people, including our beloved Peter.
We then travelled to Uganda, which was a bumpy and enjoyable ride. By then, we had all bonded and started to form great friendships which are still going strong today. Arriving at Green Hills Hotel, we then started to plan the next few days.
As an ex-student, I was able to float around and join projects that I found interesting. We visited Kigezi High School, Wise Parents Nursery as well as Taufiq Islamic Primary School, but it wasn’t until Helen Mooney (who I still go on annual coffee dates with) asked me to join her at the Street Children Centre that I found a place that I truly fitted in with.
The first time we went, the children performed for us, and my emotions were all over the place; they found a place in my heart. I remember crying my eyes out and Raj saying it happened to us all the first time. I grew fond of those beautiful children, even just by observing Helen teaching them simple vocabulary. It never crossed me that I’d want to teach them. I was just happy being there.
Then at breakfast one morning, Helen sat with me and we planned activities for the children and suggested I teach something simple (I believe it was animal names). I was, at the time, studying for a degree in International Business with French and working in Harrods, so teaching was not something I was trained or fully prepared for.
Nonetheless, I gave it a go and found it the most rewarding and humbling experience. Before this trip, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated, but, by this point, I started to think about whether teaching could actually be an option for me.
Finishing this trip with a picnic for the children was absolutely heart-warming and such a lovely experience. I almost didn’t want to go back to working in Harrods as I felt my personality was more suited to helping others, rather than selling luxury handbags.
I returned to my life and finished my degree, and took a year out working in fashion only to decide once and for all to become a teacher.
It took a year of thinking and, finally, I handed in my resignation and started contacting local primary schools to gain some work experience in UK schools.
I found that my experience in Ugandan schools was a world away from the schools here in the UK, but that didn’t stop me. What my primary school experience did make me realise though was that I actually wanted to work in a secondary school.
I applied for my PGCE that summer through clearing, hoping for a place as I really didn’t want to wait another year. I was lucky to be offered a place at the Institute of Education and started my teacher training in September 2013.
I returned to Uganda in April 2014 (during my PGCE year) and found my experience a lot different. Firstly, I was training to be a teacher, so I had more experience in a classroom and secondly, I was beginning to see positive changes in a number of projects.
I enjoyed seeing some of my old friends and look forward to seeing them again this Easter.
As I write this, it is December 2015, and I have been working as a full time languages teacher in a North London secondary school since September.
Everything I am doing now, I owe to my experience in Uganda. In some ways, I wish I was able to go when I was a student at WMSF, maybe my grades would have been better or I would have chosen something different to study at university.
In other ways, I am grateful that I went with some more life experience, and with the maturity to truly appreciate what we had. I am grateful that I was able to share this experience with my sister, who became more confident and outspoken thanks to this trip.
I don’t think anyone leaves Uganda without gaining something positive. I have made some great friendships thanks to these trips and currently sponsor some children through All Our Children.
When I speak to people about All Our Children, I proudly say that I’m an unofficial Ambassador and will continue to work to try to create more links with schools and raise more money for the children.
Thank you to Liz, Raj, Thomas and Helen who were always supportive and there for me.