CRO Jinja

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(Posted by Jane)

I started working at Child Restoration Outreach (CRO) a month ago, and it’s taken that long to piece together all that CRO does, or seeks to do. The vision is vast; not in such a way that leaves CRO ineffective or thinly spread, but in a way that is responsive, holistic and realistic. CRO Jinja is a small indigenous charity that aims to resettle and educate street children in Jinja. It is one of many wonderful non-profits seeking to reach the most vulnerable children in our community, and shares a very similar model with some; a model that is innovative and has proven to be effective.

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An overview of CRO’s activities: those in grey are not currently possible due to lack of funding.

CRO has no residential program as it recognises that being on the street does not necessarily mean that children are totally without family or community. The solution it not giving them a home at CRO, but a safe place to come, to clean up, eat a good meal, talk with staff, and receive a basic education while social workers trace their extended families and work to bring reconciliation and ultimately resettle the children in their communities. Many of the children’s families cannot afford school fees, so CRO partners with them, not taking the responsibility away from the care-givers but empowering them to find ways of saving through small businesses, made possible by their community Self Help Groups (microfinance groups).

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The CRO centre in Jinja

The whole process starts with the child’s own will. They are invited to the CRO centre by social workers during their day and night walks around town, but the child must choose to turn up at the centre on a daily basis if they want their situation to change. I love this model that CRO and similar organisations in Jinja are seeking to implement; empowering children and families to seek and actualise a better future.

At present, CRO Jinja is being impressively resourceful with very little funding and income. Somehow they enable a little to go a long way, and even in a season when money is sparse they still manage to keep many of their programmes running; and yet the reality is that some of CRO’s projects have had to fall by the wayside. I am working alongside CRO staff to secure funding to get these projects, revised and with new energy, back up and running.

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Majengo: where it all began

The view from St John’s Church, Majengo, Nairobi (2007)

(Posted by Jane)

A month ago I was sitting on the steps of St John’s church in Majengo, Nairobi. Back, after ten years. This was my favourite spot; looking out over the corrugated roofs of Majengo, through the precariously balanced aerials, to the skyline of central Nairobi. It’s not much of a view, but it took my breath away, as it always did. Ten years ago I wrote, “I must capture these moments, sat on the steps of St. John’s church. My back against a pillar,  my knees drawn up to my chin, looking out over the slum roofs. I hold my breath – absorbing it… existing in the moment… my heart swelling at the gloriousness of it all.”

This is where it all began: my journey here, to Uganda, started on those steps. Perhaps ‘glorious’ is an unusual word to use when describing Majengo; rife with poverty, struggle, abuse and daily challenge… But then again perhaps the word is fitting. Majengo; rife with love, hospitality, potential, energy, colour, sacrifice, hope… like I’d never experienced before. In 2007 it was my first time out of Europe, aged nineteen, on a five month Tearfund Transform trip and I was naive and clueless as to what to expect. But my first response to Majengo  was (as I recorded ten years ago), “…strangely quiet. Not a rush of emotion, feeling, judgement, surprise or confusion… Just an odd quietness in my heart. My eyes, for the first time, naked to these scenes, but in my heart an unexpected familiarity; like coming home.”

I knew then that I would be back, though it took much longer than I expected and I doubted it in the meantime. I’d been fairly convinced that I would throw in the towel at university after one term and be back on those steps looking over Majengo by Christmas, but it’s alarming how quickly my passions are absorbed into the present, and in time my plans became more measured and calculated.  At University I began to wonder what my purpose would be in going back. Would I be all passion and no use? What did I have to give?

St John’s Church in 2009

I returned two years later, expecting (and hoping) for positive answers to those questions, but in reality I struggled. As my friend SJ and I travelled around the country my heart became heavy:  heavy with helplessness at the extent of poverty, disgust at the level of corruption, uncertainty in an unfamiliar country, and fear at the unpredictability of our experiences. Such a contrast to my heart swelling at the potential, hope, progress and loving dedication that I witnessed in Majengo at St John’s Community Centre. I concluded, reluctantly, that there was little I could do to effect change; the task too large, my skills too niche, my heart too fearful. Despite the joy of having seen old friends again, and the excitement of adventure with SJ, I felt relieved to arrive home at the end of it all; to the country I know, the language I speak, the culture I understand. So, I would love East Africa from afar…

In our early years of marriage Laurence and I began to dream about what next. The journey was a long one, and much of it unconscious perhaps as I can’t even remember it now. But we considered our combined gifts and skills, and our desire to use them for God’s kingdom, and became fixed on the idea of pursuing a combination of overseas development and mission work; the task was still large, my skills were still niche and my heart was still fearful, but now I was not alone. We were willing to go anywhere, wanting to share the vision of an organisation rather than feeling ‘called’ to a particular country or even continent.

‘Calling’ is  a word Laurence and I have pondered a lot in recent years… were we eventually ‘called’ to EMI, ‘called’ to Uganda? Perhaps. But I find that term can be more confusing than clarifying, with each Christian using it in a slightly different way. For us, it was simply that we were available… and now here we are; after much prayer, lots of searching, common sense and practical planning. The beautiful thing is that this is very much a ‘calling’ for us as a team; and frequently we both say that neither of us would be here if it wasn’t for the other one. The love for East Africa sown in my heart ten years ago, combined with the useful, practical skills that God has given to Laurence, make us both passionate and useful: together.

So here we are, living and working in East Africa. A twelve hour coach journey from those church steps, but close enough. I didn’t have the same sense of homecoming as I did when I first walked the streets of Majengo, in fact I feel far more like an alien in a foreign land; learning it, embracing it, questioning it, and then living and loving as best I know how. But as time passes it feels more like home here, albeit a second one, and it helped to sit back on those steps looking out over Majengo last month, remembering where it all began. I know I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Laurence, and God’s collective ‘call’ upon our lives; but we wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for that Tearfund Transform trip to Kenya ten years ago, when God planted in me a restlessness for this part of the world.

Back on the church steps after ten years, with four of my fellow Tearfund volunteers (plus two husbands) and our Kenyan friends (2017)

D is for Discipleship

(Posted by Laurence)

Engineering Ministries International has three core values: design, discipleship and diversity (affectionately called ‘the 3 Ds’) and these interplay every day at EMI, both in the office in Kajjansi and on our construction sites.  Discipleship takes two forms within EMI: spiritual and professional.  Professional discipleship most often appears as informal training of casual labourers, spearheaded by EMI foremen but also enacted by experienced workers who pass on their skills.  At other times we might run more formal training (on site safety for example), or instill a certain ethos through our site policy and management style.  EMI doesn’t dictate this to me, and likewise when it comes to spiritual discipleship I am given a relatively free rein.

EMI site routine includes group prayer at the start of the day (led by the foreman) and a weekly ‘chapel’.  Involvement in both of these is optional for our workers – they can sit elsewhere on site if they please, and still be paid for their time – but generally all are present.

When I was thinking over our approach for chapel on this project, I was keen to involve the workers as much as possible, and avoid just a weekly sermon.  We aren’t a church; our workers come and go from projects, and although we can disciple them through our management of the crew I think that any lasting spiritual development will come from their own thought and initiative.  To that end, Yusuf and I are trying out Alpha, a course started in the UK but now used worldwide that explores the basics of the Christian faith through short talks and discussions.

I was dubious about how the discussion part would go down – based on my experience of awkward silences in groups of mature adults in the UK – but I was put to shame!  After my introductory talk last week (theme: truth) the discussion points, questions and counter-questions came thick and fast, and before we knew it we had filled forty-five minutes just discussing “Can more than one religion be true?” and “Is it OK to switch religions when it suits you better?”.  I was amazed by how engaged the crew seemed to be, and how thoughtful their responses.  Maybe I’m doing my countrymen a disservice, but I’m not sure British labourers would engage so quickly in theological discussion.  The reason for that, I think, is that the average person here is much more spiritually aware than in the UK; I haven’t questioned each worker but I know that we have a mixture of Christians and Muslims in our crew (and possibly other belief systems), who might have varying levels of adherence to their religion but at least have some awareness of a spiritual realm rather than the outright denial often found in the UK.

Finally, I was overawed to see how easily Christians and Muslims can not only work side by side but also discuss their religious beliefs.  I know that many Brits of both religions would do the same, but it just seemed to come so naturally to these men and women.  Jane and I were musing as to whether this good relationship between religious groups could also breed apathy to personal faith… I don’t want to make that claim, because I don’t know, but I do hope that our weekly discussions on site over the next two months will lead to people analysing their assumptions about faith and finding new personal beliefs that are based on clear thought and understanding, rather than just tradition and culture – regardless of what those beliefs turn out to be.

Rain

(Posted by Laurence)

This was my view out of the kitchen window this morning, in the aftermath of a rainstorm. We are just starting to get into rainy season, and the rain often seems to come at night — I’m sure my father-in-law can explain why… cooler temperatures causing precipitation perhaps?

For us, the past few months of dry season have merely meant uncomfortable hot stuffy nights, but for many in the north-eastern regions of Uganda it has meant drought — food shortages and dry boreholes.

Breaking ground

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(Posted by Laurence)

Two weeks ago the first pickaxe bit into the soil on the site of the Amazima School chapel, and since then I have had a growing sense of satisfaction and contentment as construction has bounded ahead.  Prior to breaking ground Yusuf, the project foreman, had conducted two weeks of site preparation: erecting around 400 metres of timber and corrugated iron hoarding (no quick-assemble hoarding here); building a ‘temporary’ pit latrine to provide for up to 100 workers for the length of the project (no porta-loos here); and starting to induct new workers into ‘the EMI way’.

Forming an EMI construction crew

In the planning stages of this project I had asked one of our foremen how we would find workers at the start of the project, and he said “They will come!”.  I was slightly dubious – my approach to project planning would involve having a list of workers before the first day of construction – but I knew this was one of those areas where my western approach wouldn’t work, and lo and behold on the day Yusuf and I turned up at 7:30am to kick off the project we found 40-odd prospective labourers waiting outside the school gates.  The effectiveness of word-of-mouth advertising and the keenness of these men and women to take on relatively low-paid manual labour was impressive, but it also demonstrates the lack of employment opportunities in Uganda.  We only took on 25 workers that day, and told the rest to come back in a few weeks time as work starts to ramp up.

Below is a snapshot of the crew we have had on site over the last couple of weeks – it fluctuates depending on the work available, but the principals remain the same.  I think in organisational pyramids and line diagrams (due mainly to my military background), and so that is how I present the crew.

pmMy role as a project manager here feels very familiar, because as a Royal Engineers Troop Commander I had around 30 soldiers under my command, and I mixed planning and strategy with on-the-ground leadership.  So while I lack some of the mainstream construction experience that my peers have, such as managing multi-million dollar projects with large contractor firms, it’s great to see how God prepared me so well for this role even while I was working in the military, which is in many ways a polar opposite to the NGO sector.

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The typical make-up of an EMI-managed construction crew

foremanThe man who is really in the driving seat is Yusuf.  He has worked on EMI projects in some manner since 2008, starting as a casual labourer while studying for his diploma in construction and working his way up into the Foreman position.  One of EMI’s core values is Diversity, and it’s great seeing how Yusuf and I bring different skills and experience to the project from our differing professional and cultural backgrounds.

new-piktochart_20609067_f47a27886364660b0ea0315afe82661ec852f000Still to join my crew is Cossy, another EMI staff member, who’s role (Construction Management Administrator) encompasses project accounting and materials procurement.  This is an essential role, ensuring value for money and transparent accounting for our partner ministries, and I am feeling the extra workload in Cossy’s absence and looking forward to his arrival in a week or so.

emi-skilledYusuf’s right-hand man at the moment is Edison, an experienced mason who has been a casual labourer on EMI projects for some time, and just finished one of our projects over near Kampala.  Our remaining experienced workers are a mixture of people known from previous projects and others who are new to EMI projects and are undergoing a trial period while Yusuf confirms their ability – this week we had a self-proclaimed mason who didn’t know the difference between feet and inches.

emi-unskilledThe remainder of the crew are generally referred to as ‘unskilled’ or ‘helpers’, and have joined our crew from the local area.  This is where EMI strives to have an impact beyond the site boundaries: providing employment, skills training, and a gospel message.  And somewhere among these workers could be future EMI foremen!

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Yusuf (EMI Foreman) checking foundation levels

Early days… challenges and successes

The most unique, or new, management situation I have encountered in these early stages is the nature of employment for our casual workers.  First of all there is the sheer volume of people looking for work, and then there is the fact that if we shut down site for a day because I misjudged the scheduling of tasks and there is no work while the concrete cures… then 30 people don’t get paid that day [this happened on Monday].  I’m sure similar employment situations exist in the west and I just haven’t encountered it – but the scale of it here is different.

Other than that, the main issues so far are site safety, security, and weather – this could be the UK!  But so far Yusuf and I are keeping on top of these areas: we have provided each worker with helmet, overalls and gumboots, and so far they are being worn consistently; our site fencing gives us good separation from the staff and children on the operational area of the school site; and although we have had several night-time storms, we are currently steaming ahead with concrete footings before rainy seasons sets in for real… although it is always a matter for debate as to when rainy season really starts!

More insights on these topics in the future: especially site safety, as that is something that I am very conscious of and opinionated about.

A little update…

(Posted by Laurence)

If you’ve been following our news you will know that our plan for the next year was to spend six months in Jinja working on the Amazima School before moving to Rakai District to launch the building of the Cherish High School.  We are now in Jinja, and I am making a start on the next phase of the Amazima School in the next few weeks, but sadly the fundraising for the Cherish High School hasn’t gone as well as Cherish Uganda had hoped, and so EMI has had to postpone that project for the time being.

We don’t yet know where we’ll be going instead, although the EMI Uganda leadership should make a decision within the next few weeks.  There are some good reasons not to stay in Jinja – another project manager is already lined up to take over from me in May, and although EMI’s involvement in the Amazima School is increasing we feel it would be an ineffective use of resources (our project managers and foremen) for me to remain involved – even though, arguably, the scale of the project could justify two project managers.

Meanwhile we stepped into a parallel universe today, away from NGOs and missionaries, and enjoyed watching some highly proficient kayakers throw themselves down grade 8 rapids at Itanda Falls during the Nile River Festival… incredible!

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The Amazima School video tour

(Posted by Laurence)

Just released by Amazima Ministries, this video gives a great perspective of the school site near Jinja that I will be starting work on shortly.

Everything you see in the video was built over the past 17 months during Phase 1 of the project, with EMI acting as an owner’s rep giving oversight to a general contractor.

For Phase 2, starting soon, I will be the Project Manager with an EMI foreman running a crew of local labourers and tradesmen, with the occasional sub-contractor.  This is a fundamentally different approach to using a general contractor, as it allows us to manage a crew directly and instil the work ethos and quality standards that we desire. We will be building the school chapel and two classroom blocks: if you pause the video at 48 seconds in, you can see a bare piece of ground to the right of the Administration Block where the chapel will be built; the two classroom blocks will be on the hill behind the Administration Block.

A new year, a new chapter

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Jinja market – the calmest and most organised in Uganda?

(Posted by Laurence)

The first week of 2017 saw us loading our belongings into a truck and moving our home to Jinja, a substantial town overlooking the Nile River as it flows out of Lake Victoria.  We are here so that I can start Phase 2 of the Amazima School, comprising a chapel and two classrooms, which I will be managing until May 2017 at which point I will hand it over to one of my colleagues and move on to another project.

We have found a lovely house within Jinja town, and it is a dream to be able to park our car up and get to the market and friends’ houses on foot and bicycle.  I am yet to recce the route to site, but I have plans to cycle across an old railway bridge over the Nile and find a back road from there.

This house (a ground floor apartment, really, with the second storey not yet built) is very nice, but it lacks any built-in furniture.  We have brought the basics from our last place,  but we are currently in the middle of knocking together some extra bits and pieces such as a kitchen counter and a coffee table (formerly a vegetable crate from Ggaba market in Kampala!).

We already have some friends in the area, through EMI, and we met at their house for church on Sunday.  It was beautiful: a group of Ugandans and foreigners gathered in a garden, worshiping God and studying the Bible together; the essential components of fellowship.

We’re only expecting to be in Jinja for five or six months, and there’s currently some uncertainty over where we’ll be asked to go next, but we’re looking forward to this short chapter of life, and we’re keen to make the most of being in a bustling but much more manageable urban centre.

Mpaayo Baibuli

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(Posted by Jane)

I’m learning that Ugandan communication is fairly indirect. Skirting round the edge of an issue is more common than jumping to the point. Sometimes this can lead to miscommunication and frustration, but that aside, I have generally come to appreciate this gentle and subtle approach to conversation being the norm. Perhaps that’s why the unabashed demand, ‘Give me a bible’, took me by surprise.

This disarming directness seems out of character with what I’m learning about Ugandan culture, but I’m discovering that it’s not all that uncommon. It seems that some subtleties of language, and what I may consider to be mere polite sensitivities, are lost in translation. ‘Mpaayo’ is a quick but polite way of asking for something in Luganda, but directly translates as ‘give me’, which seems a little demanding and brash to me! But on this particular occasion, when I was stopped in the compound at Rahab and told, ‘Give me a Bible’, I found it refreshing, liberating and strangely appropriate.

This was the first of a torrent of requests for bibles after our discipleship classes; not all so direct but with equal eagerness, unveiling a humbling hunger for this book… a book that in some parts of the world people are willing to die to get their hands on. I remember the first time I realised the lengths that some people would go to get, or give, a Bible: I was 7 or 8, listening to my friend’s mum, Nina, tell stories of how she and her husband used to help smuggle Bibles into countries where they were banned, sometimes at great risk. At first it surprised me that people would go to such lengths for a book; until I myself discovered that it is so much more than a book… the Bible; the most involving, disarming, revealing, liberating, challenging, surprising, enlightening, compelling experience of a read. Never before, never again, will I read something and realise that my story is woven in to this story, and that this story is the story… His unfolding story, that leads me, guides me, unravels me, empowers me and involves me.

Why did this girl at Rahab ask for a bible? Had she already begun to taste and see the wonders of this book? Did she simply like the stories we told? Was it curiosity? Or simply the desire to own one for herself? Whatever the reason, she now has one in her hands, and she can make of it what she wills, discover and be discovered for herself, draw or be drawn to her own conclusions.

Next week I will publish a page on this blog which will explain a bit more about Rahab Uganda, and how you can give a Bible to a girl there – perhaps the greatest gift you can give. Watch this space…

Advent: longing for light

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(Posted by Laurence)

Every Friday morning at the EMI office we gather for sung worship – usually a mixture of traditional western hymns, contemporary worship and a few songs in Luganda.  Yesterday, Advent having just started, we sang O Come O Come Emmanuel, one of my favourite Christmas songs.

It made me immediately nostalgic for candlelit carol services, the smell of pine leaves, and mulled wine, but singing this song and approaching Christmas without the familiar seasonal markers makes it easier to reflect on the true meaning of this time of year in Christian tradition.

Advent can be many things but for me, this year, it brings a sense of longing: longing for change in the world, longing for justice, longing for hope.  These things can be brought about many ways, through the dedicated work of NGOs and activists, and through philosophies and religions.  For me and Jane, however, true and lasting change is underpinned by God, and by Jesus, with us as his servants.

That is why I am working with EMI; that is why Jane has been teaching women suffering from sexual exploitation about Jesus.  I don’t think that giving a sermon to construction workers will remove them from poverty; Jane doesn’t believe that just reading the Bible will enable these women to step out of a cycle of abuse.  But we do believe that human strategies and programmes alone are not enough, and lasting change will only happen when people put their faith in God.

Missionaries: what’s in a name?

A year or two ago I would never have dreamed that I would be labelled as a missionary, and during our preparation to join EMI I was often careful to avoid using the words mission and missionary when describing our work, because they are such loaded words, layered with hundreds of years of stereotypes, misconceptions, misunderstandings and mistakes.

When faced with a label you don’t like, you can either reject it or redefine it.  I currently do a bit of both, and if you are wary, sceptical or downright hostile towards the idea of mission and missionaries I would challenge you to reconsider what those words can really mean.

Have a look at Inside EMI (new issue coming soon) and see if you don’t think EMI is bringing lasting change; come back to this blog in a few weeks to hear more about how Jane has been bringing hope to women at Rahab Uganda.

If I’m going to believe in God, then I must also believe he can bring change in this world.  For us, following Jesus isn’t about an agenda, and being a missionary (if people wish to use that label) isn’t about ‘converting’ people to our set of beliefs or practices.  It’s about sharing hope, truth and, most importantly, love with those around us.

“Christ is the morning star who, when the night of this world is past, brings to [us] the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.”

Bede (673–735 AD)

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