Organization: Byana Mary Hill B.P.S.
In May of 2014, 20 students departed for Uganda on ASB's 10th trip abroad. After landing in Entebbe, we were greeted by our in country representitives, Amelia and Phillip who were waiting for us at the arrivals gate. We were quickly ushered away to our hotel on the outskirts Kampala.
We spent the next few days exploring the capital; visiting the botanic gardens, trying grasshoppers (a Ugandan delecacy) and taking a short boat ride across the shallows of Lake Victoria. During our time in Kampala, the team was fortunate enough to pay a visit to The Butterfly Project. This is a non-profit organization which takes children off of the streets of Kampala and surrounding areas and provides them shelter and an education. The talented group of children perform impressive acrobatic, dance, circus and sketch comedy shows to raise money for the organization's efforts. The team was treated to one of their wildly entertaining performances that warranted a standing ovation.
The next day, we departed from Kampala to make our way to the little town of Villa Maria. The drive was long, and there was just enough room for all of us on the bus with all of our things, but the view was breathtaking. Half way there, we crossed the equator, and had a run in with an incredible roadside market where about 20 people thrust meat-sticks through the windows of the bus (much to the dismay of the vegetarians aboard).
At sunset, we arrived in Villa Maria and made our way to the Byana Mary Hill compound. We were immediately greeted by the village elders, who embraced each of us individually and offered warm greetings in Luganda, the local language. The children of Byana Mary Hill then put on a performace for us in which they performed traditional dances of Uganda, and we were introduced to some of the school staff. The children then insisted on helping us carry all of our things to the village, as the team filed one by one through the windy trail leading us to our "volunteer village." The view was absolutely breathtaking and the sounds of the birds, insects and other wildlife filled the air with a beautiful humming sound. We all got settled into three seperate huts of which we were the very first occupants. Depsite being confronted with the reality of squatting for the toilet for the next month, the team was delighted by the welcome and we prepared for a spectacular month.
Our project was quickly underway. The team's job was to assist in the construction of a medical facility on the Byana Mary Hill compound. There was somewhat of a structure standing when we arrived, but there was lots to be done. We began by cutting the grass at lightning speed, and then started the much longer task of filling in the floors with dirt and carrying trees and bricks from different areas of the village to the construction site. We became professionals at the brick tossing line. The medical clinic changed rapidly, but was paused on certain days because of an extended rainy season in east Africa that year. We didn't let the rain stop us! On some days, we would work through the rain, and other days we would search for additional ways to help out on the compound. In addition to the build, we would also assist with farming on the local grounds.
The team began helping in the kitchens on a daily basis. A few team members built amazing relationships with the nuns that were working in the kitchen and would assist with meal preparation. The food was absolutely unbelievable and everyone was excited for each and every meal- especially breakfast, where we would be served popcorn every day. We would also do our team's dishes and help clean the school buildings. There was lots to keep us busy with.
Outside of the build and other daily routines, we spent a lot of time bonding with the children and staff of Byana Mary Hill. The teaching staff at Byana were around the same age as our team members and the team became great friends with them. One of the teachers ran language lessons for us, as we were taught the basics of the Luganda language. They taught us a Ugandan card game, matatu, which all of us quickly became addicted to- especially on those rainy days. Our team's mutual affinity for dancing became clear as we danced in every setting possible; the build site, the bus, the volunteer village, the dining hall...everywhere. We played many soccer games against the locals where we lost quite badly, but that only made the few goals we made be that much more exciting! We also prepared a storytime for the children in which we acted out books found in their school library. We learned a lot about the rich religious history of Byana Mary Hill, and a few team members attended the local church services on Sundays. The nights were spent around the campfire, playing music, talking and doing the most spectacular star gazing of our lives.
On the weekends we visited Masaka, a town close by to us. We scoured the local markets and quickly began acquiring matching authentic african scarves and buying souvenirs for friends and family back home. The team also took a long bus ride to Queen Elizabeth National Park where we went on a weekend safari. We saw lions, hippos, antelopes, water buffalo and lots of elephants! We also went chimp tracking through the Kyamburo Gorge and got to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat.
In our last few days at Byana Mary Hill, two team members organized a soccer tournament with the local children in which the winning team was awarded a trophy! The team also collecitvely prepared a cultural exchange to perform for the students and staff where we taught them about the traditions of Canadian culture. We performed a song that one of our talented team members had written about the trip, and lots of small sketches and dances that had the staff and students laughing along with us. We concluded the night dancing to our team's favourite song with all the staff and students.
Our final day at Byana Mary Hill was filled with teary goodbyes to all of the locals that had made our experience as incredible as it was. We were told that the medical clinic would be named "Friends of Ryerson", a touching gesture for our team's hard work.
The team's time together at Byana Mary Hill proved to be very special for everyone. We came together to make wonderful, long lasting friendships with each other and with the local staff who many of us still keep in contact with. Byana Mary Hill is a beautiful and unique place where the team was able to grow together and take home invaluable lessons learned not only about others, but about ourselves.