Playground project is a 'miracle' for Ugandan school
THE BMK Primary School is located in the small village of Budoma, near Iganga, in south east Uganda.
Created in 2003, it caters for about 820 children – more than 200 of whom are orphans – in a collection of old cow sheds that have been converted into classrooms and dormitories.
For the last month the school has been home to 15 British volunteers, most of them university students or recent graduates, who have been building a playground out of scrap metal.
It is a long and exhausting process of digging, cementing, sanding and painting in sweltering temperatures, but the rewards are instantly apparent as dozens of youngsters crowd around, wide-eyed with excitement at what is being created.
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East African Playgrounds (EAP) was set up by former Brockham resident Carla Powell five years ago, and now runs projects across Uganda.
Volunteer Niral Patel, 22, from London, got involved after seeing an advert at the University of Leeds. He says he was inspired by thinking about his own childhood.
"When you are a child in the West, playtime is something you really look forward to," he said. "It gives you purpose and enjoyment.
"This is a great cause and it has been an incredible experience so far. For the first two days you are just getting used to how they do things around here, but once you're focused on the work it's great.
"You realise how much this really means and how much the kids want to get involved in helping us.
"It's nothing short of a miracle. It's one thing seeing this kind of thing on TV, but it's a totally different experience when you're out here."
EAP employs a group of Ugandan tradesmen to run the projects, organising everything from which tools need to be used to which colours would look best on the slides and swings.
There are also group leaders on each project – most of them volunteers from previous years returning for another go.
Tom Unsworth, 22, from Warrington, was a volunteer in 2010 and is leading the BMK group this year.
He said: "The charity is always growing, and that is a testament to how much work Carla and Tom (co-founders) put into it. They are always working to improve the little things. They won't be satisfied with something unless they think it's running perfectly every time.
"Every project is special in its own way. It's scary at first but I always enjoy it massively and at the end we feel like we have achieved something."
The project at the BMK School has had to overcome all sorts of problems – illness, injury, shortage of equipment and bad weather have pushed the timetable to its limit – but the team is on track to unveil the playground at a special ceremony tomorrow (Friday).
And EAP's work is not the only link between Mole Valley and Uganda.
Well.Fare, a charity run by Ted and Jane Bellingham from the United Reformed Church in West Street, Dorking, has vastly improved the facilities at the BMK School in recent years.
In 2006 the charity donated a water pump so the school could have fresh running water for the first time, and it has also helped by providing solar power for lighting and resources such as books and classrooms.
There are signs dotted throughout the site thanking Mr and Mrs Bellingham, but founder Banerya Musa Kasoone – the "BMK" of the school's name – says conditions are still difficult and more help is needed.
"I can see a university here," he said. "I want to make the school into a university because that is the highest level of education.
"When you have reached that point you know you have done your level best.
"But we require better structures, better furniture.
"There is no funding coming from the Government, they don't even help with books or paying our teachers.
"So it's people like Ted and Jane and Tom and Carla who have come in to ensure that we have what we require to grow."
Musa and his wife, Nantale Madina, were both orphaned as children, and he wants to give young people the chance to succeed despite difficult circumstances.
"They lack uniforms, books and pencils," he said. "They are not eating a balanced diet at home.
"They are happy because they are used to the environment, but every time we put in something new they will grow stronger."
The Advertiser for Africa campaign has been run by this newspaper and supported by Mole Valley schools and sports clubs.
Every penny donated goes to EAP – to make a donation, visit www.justgiving.com/advertiserforafrica
To read more about the project, including a report of the unveiling of the playground, pick up a copy of next week's Advertiser.