Cherish: a year in photos

Cherish CLC South Elevation

(Posted by Laurence)

A year ago the EMI construction team stepped onto site at Cherish Uganda, construction plans in hand, ready to build a new Community Learning Centre. Within a few months walls were springing up, and by May the main building was ready to receive a roof.

The basic structure of the building is a reinforced concrete frame, and for the first half of the project the crew were continually installing and stripping timber formwork, bracing it here-there-and-everywhere with eucalyptus poles, pouring the concrete, and then spraying it with water to help the curing process.

On my walks around site, inspecting progress, I love spotting glimpses of the final buildings: a view of the new kitchen from a window; the scale of the vaulted roof in the assembly hall; the new buildings appearing around a corner as they will when pupils and staff walk through the school.

I’ve relied on numerous people throughout this project – primarily Richard and Andrew, the foreman and assistant foreman, who are on site all day and every day. The vision for the buildings was of course created by the EMI design team, and they continued to be on hand to resolve design issues and answer questions.  But the act of physically turning the designs into reality was down to the construction crew – men and women who work hard for minimal pay, and gather once a week to pray and worship in our site canteen-cum-chapel.

So here we are, the painters are in and the site is being gradually tidied up… still lots of work to do, but the end is in sight!



Cherish Uganda… looking good!

Cherish CLC (Phyllis)

We will be sending out an email newsletter in the next day or two, but in the meantime we just had to share this awesome photo that one of Laurence’s colleagues took of the Community Learning Centre this week…

Pictured are John (EMI Uganda Director), Larissa (Cherish Uganda Director), and Laurence… and an EMI crew member – probably Tom, but hard to tell from the photo!

Rebar at night — engineer’s delight


(Posted by Laurence)

Everywhere you look in Kampala there are unfinished buildings with concrete columns and reinforcing bars protruding; some of these are under construction, some awaiting for the next injection of funds in a year or two’s time, and some are seemingly abandoned. Normally I find these half-built buildings ugly and untidy, but the other night (walking up the road to buy chicken and chips from a local food stand), these columns and rebar had a kind of twilight elegance about them.

The state of steel


(Posted by Laurence) – One for the engineering-minded perhaps… but also some insights into Ugandan economy!

It’s an exciting time on site at Cherish Uganda right now, as the roof is being installed on the Community Learning Centre. Aesthetically this is giving the building it’s final shape, and is a great morale boost; practically it will allow us to work on the interior even when it pours with rain… also a morale boost!


The steel trusses are being fabricated and installed by a contractor: one of three steel contractors who dominate the Uganda construction industry, and who are generally the only firms that EMI invites bids from for this scale of work. Small scale metalworkers can be found on the side of the road, virtually every few hundred yards, but for large-span structural steel trusses we need assurance of quality workmanship.

On site last week I was chatting with our foreman and the contractor’s foreman about these ‘big three’ firms. They are all owned by Kenyans or Indians (the latter being either Kenyan or Ugandan citizens) – none are owned by native Ugandans. This is due, they said, to the need for start-up capital for this kind of business, which most Ugandans can’t find easily.

But I wonder if the state of the steel industry here might also point to something else: that there isn’t enough major steel construction in Uganda to encourage the growth of other contractors, which says something about the level of development of infrastructure here. You might be fooled by the cluster of high-rise buildings in downtown Kampala, but within a kilometre of the city centre the tallest buildings are only four or five storeys; and outside the capital (and perhaps one or two other major towns) the predominant structures are still single-storey brick houses and shops.

No money for startup, but also not enough work to make the investment worthwhile. Perhaps. This is mainly just speculation!


Central Kampala: note the small cluster of high-rise buildings quickly giving way to smaller buildings.

Chapel time


Impromptu praise and worship on site at the Amazima School project last year

(Posted by Laurence)

It’s been fascinating to see how ‘chapel’ on site has evolved in the two years I have been here with EMI. When I arrived, chapel at one of the ongoing projects consisted of a half-hour talk from one the site management, followed sometimes by questions from workers; last year at the Amazima School, a small group of workers started leading impromptu praise and worship songs before each chapel session; somewhere along the way this developed into an expected part of ‘chapel time’, with traditional drums making a regular appearance; also at Amazima we trialed the Alpha course with positive results, and Richard (the EMI foreman working with me) has been keen to use it again at Cherish Uganda.

So now ‘chapel’ on my current project site starts with praise and worship led by our cooks, followed by a short talk from the Alpha programme, then discussion groups. Here’s a clip of the praise and worship…



Sunrise at Kajjansi


(Posted by Laurence)

I often like getting into work early (mainly so I can leave early!), and one of the benefits is catching mornings like this… the sun rising over the marshy inlet of Lake Victoria that backs onto Kajjansi Airfield, with Mission Aviation Fellowship’s planes parked up waiting for their morning runs to Northern Uganda, DRC, and South Sudan.

Follow the wheelbarrow…


(Posted by Laurence)

This last week we’ve been pouring concrete for the columns and beams of the Community Learning Centre at Cherish Uganda. In my continued effort to give you some insight into what our construction site is like, here is some poor-quality camerawork following a worker from the mixer to where the pour is happening. I say ‘pour’, but as you can see the concrete is first shoveled into a wheelbarrow, then carted to the right place, where it is scooped into half-jerrycans and passed up to other workers be troweled into place,  before finally being settled with a poker vibrator which you can see being prepared towards the end of the video.

Click on the image below to play the video…

D is for Diversity



Some of our diverse, multi-cultural team of staff and associates on site at Cherish Uganda.

(Posted by Laurence)

A year ago I wrote about EMI’s core value of discipleship; recently I’ve been reflecting on how another of our core values plays out…

One thing I particularly like about EMI’s vision is the goal, and core value, of diversity. Many westerners working overseas for international development NGOs talk about “working themselves out of a job,” and this makes sense — if an NGO needs to exist, it is much better to employ local nationals than ex-pats — but at EMI, this runs contrary to our vision: to connect “…people of diverse backgrounds, abilities and ethnicities to demonstrate our love for God, our love for the nations and the unity we share in Christ.”

Here at EMI Uganda we currently have 28 design and construction staff, of which 50% are international staff (from the USA, Canada, and the UK), and 50% are Ugandan or East African (there’s one person from DRC). We definitely want to see an increase in the proportion of local national staff, especially in management roles, but that doesn’t mean we’re aiming for a 100% Ugandan team. The EMI ethos is one of sharing experience, professional skills, and approaches to problem solving across national and cultural boundaries. We want to see people of all backgrounds and nationalities working together for God’s kingdom, pursuing design and construction excellence within the local context.

Just this week, at our routine site meeting for the Cherish Uganda Community Learning Centre, there were present six design and construction professionals representing four nationalities, three ethnicities, and a variety of professional experience from Uganda, the UK, Canada, and the USA. We don’t want a homogeneous team of any one nationality or profession, we want this melting pot of ideas and approaches that might sometimes give rise to challenges, but ultimately leads to fresh ideas and success.

The latest EMI online newsletter profiled an EMI India staff architect who is being seconded to EMI Senegal — perhaps the perfect example of how our core value of diversity should be fulfilled. We are neither filling a quota of ethnic minorities, nor hoarding jobs for westerners, but encouraging a flow of professional skills and cultural approaches from country to country.


The walls are up!


(Posted by Laurence)

It’s been longer than usual since our last blog post, and as most readers will know that’s because we were back in the UK for a couple of months over Christmas to have our first baby. We are now back in Kampala, (three of us!), and I am back to work on the construction project at Cherish Uganda. I handed over temporary control of the project to a colleague while I was away, and since I mused about the uncertainty of the project three months ago there has been huge progress…

Progress: foundations to walls

When I left in December we had tentatively started digging foundations while waiting for a construction permit, and on my return I found full-height walls in most places!


November 2017: scraping away topsoil to set a foundation on the underlying bedrock.


March 2018: walls almost ready for concrete columns to be poured.

This is particularly satisfying for me, as last year I oversaw the building of the foundations and walls for three buildings at the Amazima School, but left the project before completion; here at Cherish Uganda I will be seeing the second half of this project through to the final coat of paint… I hope!

Cherish Uganda: changing the story of HIV/AIDS

Cherish Uganda are a long-time partner of EMI, and EMI has previously designed and built homes for their boarding pupils and a medical clinic. We are working on the same site now (between Kampala and Entebbe), where Cherish Uganda run a primary school that focuses on creating a future for HIV positive children through education, medical treatment and awareness campaigns. Coming from the UK it’s easy to think that thse days HIV is a manageable condition that doesn’t necessarily have to limit a person’s future, and in fact the NHS says that “If you manage your condition properly by taking your medication correctly and avoiding illness, you should be able to live a near-normal life.” In Uganda this is not the case, and not just because of access to treatment: there is still a huge stigma against HIV positive individuals, and this means their opportunities in life are often severely limited. For a quick insight into the work of Cherish you really must watch this ten minute video, and if you want to know more you can also explore their website.

The Community Learning Centre

Cherish CLC South Elevation.jpg

The Community Learning Centre, containing (L-R) offices, classrooms and assembly hall.

Our current project is to build a Community Learning Centre (CLC), which will contain staff offices, classrooms and an assembly hall. The vision is for the building to be used not only by the school children but also by the community surrounding the site for adult education. Alongside the CLC we are building a new kitchen that will serve the primary school, and in total the two buildings cover about 900 square metres; this feels very manageable after managing three decent sized buildings at the Amazima School.

The long term vision for Cherish Uganda

Meanwhile the EMI Uganda design team is busy developing a new masterplan for Cherish Uganda. The secondary school that had been planned for construction in Rakai (south-west Uganda) will now be built here between Kampala and Entebbe, and a recently announced government road-widening project will require a number of buildings to be demolished and replaced or rebuilt; sadly this includes the medical clinic built by EMI just a few years ago, and so our design team are coming up with imaginative ways to demolish and rebuild half the clinic with minimal disruption to the essential services it provides.