Our July 2019 trip - through the eyes of Alexis van Maanen.
Updated: Jan 17
To my generous and ever-appreciated donors and all those considering work with Followings Foundation in the future,
I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for your support of Followings Foundation and the community of Busubi, Uganda.
I spent 10 days at Busubi Empowered Communities (BEC) learning centre, working and teaching alongside my fellow volunteers from Followings and our Ugandan counterparts. John and Prossy are the people who keep BEC running and thriving and it was an absolute privilege to learn from them.
Followings Foundation has the over-arching goal to empower the local community through leadership development and training. Since Followings’ inception in early 2017, volunteers alongside community leaders have built, staffed and resourced a learning and community centre, which we now call BEC. It has also constructed a 30,000L rain water tank and overseen the introduction of computer training, tailoring and agricultural classes. A recent achievement, greatly facilitated by your donations, has been the introduction of hydro-powered electricity to over 35 homes in Busubi.
Each volunteer commences this trip with their own goal they wish to achieve in the 10 days spent at BEC. My personal goal was to start a youth choir. Having only two scheduled sessions with the youth of Busubi, who attend BEC on weekends, this goal was a challenge. A lot of the children and teens that attended my workshops had not previously taken part in organised group singing. Coming from a background filled with music and choral singing, this kind of training is second nature to me. For the majority of the students, sheet music was a very new thing.
We begun with music theory lessons, from ‘do re mi’ to reading music. I quickly began to realise that many of the young women were extremely quiet, as they may not have previously been given a space to use their voices. This was something I hoped to shift through music and singing. Gradually over the eight hours we spent together these young women found freedom in their voices and allowed themselves to make as much sound as they wanted. It was incredible to witness this change and see them become more comfortable with their own sound.
During these singing workshops Followings’ founder, Lauren Exton, ran discussion forums with the boys and girls. These discussions centred on the challenges faced by the youth in Uganda. Many confronting and upsetting issues arose from these talks in particular the misconceptions, stigmas and shame surrounding female menstruation and young men being preyed on by what they called ‘Sugar Mummies’ (through these talks we found out that many young men and boys in rural villages are approached and preyed upon by older, in most cases, HIV positive women, luring them with money or forcing them into sex).
After a long weekend of singing, chatting and getting to know one another, the young women and men were tasked with writing an open letter to their peers about the issues they face. Creating the env ironment for discussion allowed all of us to promise to support one another in the future. This was one of the most incredible and impactful moments of our trip.
Attached is a video recording of the choir’s live performance of ‘Lean On Me’ from our final day celebrations. I am extremely proud of every single person in this choir and so grateful for all that I learnt from these young people, most of who were around my age.
Fellow volunteer Mick came into the trip with the goal of constructing a library in the learning centre, with a functioning library borrowing system. We sawed, hammered, sanded, drilled and had many of the kids and teachers from the centre helping out in any way they could. In just under seven days of hard work, this goal was achieved and the library was filled with books of all genres. The completed library allows all students to come to read or borrow books for free … again your donations making a difference!
Your support has not only enabled the continuous construction and improvement of facilities at this free of charge learning centre, but you have helped further the long term goal of allowing BEC to become a self-sustaining business that creates jobs and education opportunity for all in the community.
In closing, I would like to share a story with you, to bring home how much you have impacted the lives of those in Busubi; Miriam is BEC’s oldest student. At 80 years old she attends three tailoring classes every week. When I met Miriam she simply took my hand, hugged me and kept saying, ‘thank you’. I have never seen such genuine gratitude. I have since found out that Miriam never had the opportunity to attend school as a child or teen. Now after having children and being a grandmother to many she is able to go to free classes and learn how to make her own clothing, something she takes great pride in.
By supporting the Followings Foundation you have enriched the lives of both young and old through education, leadership and community. For that, I thank you and, so too, do all our friends in Busubi.
Alexis van Maanen.