The Trust was very pleased to be able to help students from Welling School particpate in a Tag Rugby Tour in Uganda, by awarding Individual Grants to those who live in our area of benefit. The tour was organised by the school, in partnership with the Tag Rugby Trust, and the students also renovated a school building.
Below is an report, with pictures, from staff and students from the school. Although they went to work with children and young people in Uganda who live in extreme poverty, it is abundantly clear that they gained as much as they gave. Please read on and enjoy a heartwarming account of their amazing trip…
Following the success of the Welling School Tag Rugby tour of Uganda in 2015, a second trip was planned to return to the ‘Pearl of Africa’ in 2017. In partnership with the Tag Rugby Trust, an established charity which uses the game of Tag Rugby as a vehicle to enrich the lives of underprivileged children and young adults, Welling School planned to return to the towns of Jinja and Entebbe to build upon the work carried out during the 2015 tour.
The students who were part of the Uganda 2017 applied to be part of the project. Their letter of application had to show what they felt they could benefit from being part of such a trip and how they intended to raise the individual total of £2000. Thirteen students were chosen from Key Stage 4 and 5 consisting of twelve females and one male. Four of the students had also attended the 2015 tour. Two young adult volunteers were also invited to participate and the Welling team would also be joined by a media team from the Ravensbourne University, who would be filming a promotional video of the tour for the charity.
The process of organisation and fundraising for Uganda 2017 took up to two years. This involved all the members, including the three members of Welling Staff, raising individual totals of £2000 to cover the cost of the trip and to purchase all equipment and resources. A local charity, the East Wickham and Welling War Memorial Trust, donated large sums to many of the students and also kindly purchased the trophies for the two tournaments that were going to be organised in Uganda. Donations of team kits were also made by local businesses; BexHeat, Boffins and also by Dartfordians Rugby Club. After applying for the relevant visas and ensuring that all vaccinations were up to date, the Welling Uganda 2017 team were ready to depart from Gatwick Airport on 1st July 2017 for the two week tour.
As well as carrying luggage containing personal items, each team member also took at least one extra bag containing equipment for coaching Tag Rugby, kit to donate to the schools involved and other items such as pens and pencils that were collected by the Welling Team. Checking in over 40 bags was a successful first challenge!
After a 7 hour flight to Dubai and a swift connection onto a 5 hour flight, the team landed in Entebbe to be greeted by the Ugandan Tag Rugby Trust representative and local children who had made welcoming posters for the Welling team.
Following an interesting and bumpy 4 hour bus journey, the team arrived at Jinja Backpackers on the banks of the river Nile, for their first week of the tour. The following day involved acclimatisation around the local area and then a team coaching session with the local volunteers who would be assisting with the Welling students.
The Welling Team were divided into 5 coaching groups, each led by a student who had attended the 2015 tour. After an evening of planning, the students departed their accommodation extremely early the next day to begin their first day of coaching. Each group arrived at their schools for the morning sessions. Some of the playing surfaces were literally wastelands or even fields where animals were grazing but the Welling team were never phased and coached the local children with energy and enthusiasm. Once the morning session was complete, the group would walk through the local community to the next school for their afternoon session. On the way, lunch was delivered to them. This normally took the form of a ‘Rolex’ a local snack which involved a Chapati containing fresh vegetables. After both sessions were completed, the group were picked up by the bus to arrive back at the accommodation by around 6pm. Occasional during the evenings, the group would walk into Jinja to experience the culture and meet the local people.
The days were intense and tiring and the evenings involved planning sessions for the following day yet the group’s enthusiasm never waned and they all looked forward to being with the children the following day.
The schools in Jinja where the Welling team coached were based in some of the most deprived areas around the town. One of the schools was for local deaf children and the Welling students continually learnt sign language to communicate with their groups. Two of the other schools were located on islands in Lake Victoria. This involved a 30 minute journey on a local fishing boat which did not cope well in poor weather! Some of the students on the islands had never set foot on the mainland and many of the islanders watched the sessions daily with bewilderment but were delighted to see the team whenever they came ashore.
The week culminated in a tournament which involved up to two teams of 10 students being chosen by the welling students to represent their schools. Some difficult decisions had to be made in the process as the Welling team had been coaching groups of up to 40 children. The Welling Team had organised the order of play, organised the equipment and allocated themselves to different roles from Team Managers to Referees.
On the day of the tournament, most schools were brought to the venue by team’s bus including the children from the island, some of whom had never been to the mainland!
Uganda was in the midst of an unusually dry period at the time but that day was an exception. The rain had poured down from the morning and did not stop until the end of the tournament. The pitches became mud baths and everybody present was completely drenched, but the tournament continued with cheers and singing from the spectators.
The final was played between the deaf school and one of the island schools. It required 3 referees to ensure that the deaf students were clearly communicated to. After a well fought out match, the island school were victorious, but all the teams involved were extremely proud of their efforts. The sun then came out and after the presentation ceremony the dancing began amongst the children, spectators and the Welling team. Another amazing day! Some of the Welling students mustered up the energy to take part in some quad biking during the afternoon along the banks of the river Nile.
The following day involved no coaching but the challenge of rafting the historic Nile. After a thorough safety briefing, the team were divided into 4 boats according to confidence and drifted off into rapids that sometimes reached Grade 5! Even though some of the rafts overturned at times, the experience was incredible. Lunch involved eating fresh pineapple, drifting along the famous river surrounded by the most spectacular scenery.
Onward to Entebbe! The next day was the return 4 hour ‘bumpy’ journey to our second town. We arrived very late at night to Kids of Africa, the orphanage where the team would be based for the second week. After a quick meal, the Welling students were allocated to one of the 10 houses where the orphaned children lived with a staff member the called their ‘mothers’, and it would not be long before the welling students also became part of each of those families, playing with the children, reading with them and acting like their older siblings.
The next day again involved acclimatisation, a walk into the local village and preparation for another week of coaching. This time, the schools involved were more familiar with the game of tag Rugby so it was a case of preparing them for the tournament. But for this week, the afternoons were spent at the group’s community project, Bwerenga School. It was here that the 2015 tour built an extra classroom and redecorated many of the buildings, so welling had returned to continue their project. This time, it involved replacing the dilapidated roof which had allowed rain to pour on to children and staff throughout the year and also painting much of the exterior of the school. Again, the days were long and tiring but enthusiasm was high. Some evenings were spent walking to local villages, eating at local restaurants but mainly staying at Kids of Africa to play with the children.
Tournament day came again and the games were to be played within the orphanage compound. The welling team were now familiar with its demands and so organisation and preparation was quick and efficient. This time, the sun shone throughout and the games were played with determination and in good spirits. When the winning team lifted the trophy it was met by a chorus of cheers and chants which again spilled over into an afternoon of dance and celebrations. Some of the schools also demonstrated traditional Ugandan dances to an appreciative crowd. To celebrate the end of the most amazing of trips, the team were treated to a meal in a restaurant on the water’s edge of Lake Victoria. Local traditional dancers frequently hauled the students up to participate in the festivities and much fun was had by all.
The tour was at an end and it was time to say goodbye to the adopted families and staff at Kids of Africa. Tears were shed by all and many of the children chased the bus as it headed out of the compound towards the airport.
The tour affected each member of the team in a way that they never expected. The experience, the children, the local people, the depravity and yet the constant happiness had left its mark and the memories will be cherished forever.
Two years of fundraising and organisation and preparation had come to an end but all involved were extremely thankful that they took up an opportunity that would be part of them forever.
Theo Loizou, Sara Morrison & Alex McWhinnie (staff at Welling School)
Below are accounts from the students:
After two incredible trips to Uganda, two different experiences, four different schools and hundreds of children … one thing that remained the same was the generosity and kindness of the Uganda people! It is simply impossible to write down in words or try the make anyone understand the emotions and heart-warming scenes in Uganda, because it never does the experience justice. It is the one time in life you say, you have to see it to understand. Witnessing the poverty and despair the Uganda people have to endure each day is a part of the reason which makes them so special, because no matter the hardship they suffer, everyone has a smile on their face and goes the extra length to make you feel welcome. Olivia Marsh
Uganda to me was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so many emotions in 2 weeks as I did when I was there. It made me realise how lucky I am and how such a small act of kindness from us has a massive impact on the lives of people less fortunate then us. Going to Uganda has made me want to go out and do many more things like it because the feeling you get when you know that you are making such a difference by giving them something to them that we take for granted is so amazing. Not only have I made lifelong friends with the people I went with but I’ve made unforgettable memories that I will cherish forever and also I now feel like I am a better person due to my newly found confidence and the fears I overcame whilst out there. I would recommend it to anyone as it was the best moment of my life and would go back tomorrow if I could. Sophie Cooper
Uganda will be an experience that I will keep close to my heart throughout my life. Going into it I never imagined it to be as life changing as it was, seeing all the love and happiness the people hold there even with the bare minimum really opens your eyes to the world we live in. You’re able to go on the internet, wait a few seconds and view places such as Uganda but without actually seeing it through your own eyes and being there you can never truly understand what it’s like and how amazing the people are just to be going through life every day. Not only that but Uganda is such a beautiful place it has now become my number one favourite country in the world, the culture is so lively and I have now been able to meet some of the most incredible people in the world that I will take with me forever.
The children will grab hold of your hearts, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so attached to someone in my life but having to say goodbye to those children was such an emotional moment it took me a good 20 minutes until I stopped crying I didn’t want to go! I will forever be so grateful to of had been able to spend even just 2 weeks with those kids the love they have brings a warm feeling you can’t get anywhere else. I recommend Uganda to everyone it is an unreal experience, you can’t really believe it until it’s all over because you’re just so in the moment with how amazing everything is and I cannot wait to hopefully go back in the future. Michelle Harrington.
Returning to Uganda with the Tag Rugby Trust this year was a truly amazing experience. It was so humbling to revisit and find out the impact I had left behind from my 2015 tour. It never fails to fascinate me how a simple game such as Tag Rugby can bring so many different people together and give such a positive contribution to the community. In my first week, I was teaching on an island in Lake Victoria, where the children didn’t speak a lot of English. Our tournament brought them in touch with mainland Uganda and other people, including from their neighbouring island that they hadn’t had much communication with. My experience as a whole was so rewarding and satisfying. I have fallen in love with Uganda as a country and miss everything from just driving over huge, bus-shaking pot holes in the road to interacting with the children. It’s heart-breaking to leave all the people behind, but some of my best memories is seeing their faces as they take part in something they enjoy. One of the main things that stood out for me was when the pupils at the Bwerenga Junior Academy, where we set our community project, told us the ways in which our work had benefitted them. Everyone we worked with was so grateful to us for being there and didn’t seem to understand how grateful we all were to just be a small part of their world for two weeks. I hope that the children we have taught will find enjoyment in the skills they have learnt and by training the teachers and the students they will be able to continue playing Tag Rugby as supported by the resources we have left behind. Amy Baldwin
It’s me Sophie Thompson, the best White Water Rafter ever. I am here to write about my experience of Uganda so you can share to the others for the next trip and also let them know what they’re getting themselves into as they’re spending 2 weeks with YOU.
My experience in Uganda was definitely life changing and now I see my own life in a different light. I am more grateful and fortunate for everything I have because the people in Uganda have nothing but they are the happiest and most humble people I have ever met.
When you meet the children, they just make you so so happy and the way treat you is overwhelming because you are always welcome to them. As you train, you build massive bonds with them and it is more than heart breaking when you have to say your final goodbyes and that moment you will cherish for the rest of your life. I hope one day that I can go back, so please keep my email. When you return to the U.K. All you want to do is just go back to Uganda just for another week and see all ‘ your ‘ children again. I myself am an amazing dancer, when I danced with the kids ( who showed me up, I will not lie ) I had the best time of my life. I guarantee that anyone who loves to dance will not only be shown how it’s done but you will feel so alive with the children because you’re both having so much fun.
When you have this type of opportunity please, please, please take it. Trust me, you will absolutely love it. You’ll be dying to get back, home that is because Mr Loizou drives you insane after the first day. Life just feels so much better when you come home because you know that you have helped the less fortunate and created bonds with children you will not see again but will however, remain in your heart and mind.
Please take me back!! Sophie Thompson
When I signed up to go to Uganda I never quite believed I was actually going until I landed in Entebbe and looked out the plane window, I remember being so shocked and overwhelmed by everything that was happening, walking out of the airport and finding young children holding up welcome signs for us was just so special. Living in Uganda and experiencing the culture was just so incredibly eye opening, before I came I could never possibly imagine what it would be like to live in a country like it and now I have experienced it first-hand. Going to Uganda is the most humbling and epic journeys I have ever been and ever will go on. Building friendships with the children that I taught and then seeing them play their way to the tournament final is something I will cherish forever. I don’t think I have ever been so proud of a group of people in my entire life.
Uganda was phenomenal and this trip would never have been the same without everyone who went through it with me. Starting as a group of acquaintances and developing into life-long friends I can proudly call my family. I feel so blessed to of had this opportunity to work with so many outstanding individuals in such a beautiful country. Fiona Kenn
As a group we taught a number of different schools, and students how to play Tag Rugby to tournament standard which was the foundation of the tour but realistically we achieved so much more. I personally had to learn sign language to aid me in teaching a dead team, this gained respect from the children and also helped us to build a bond with them – making our time much more meaningful. We were able to teach the children other things, such as sign language and nursery rhymes but also to help build their community by decorating a school.
This project made a difference to those who we supported by bringing the schools together and hopefully forming a new community where they will hold Tag Rugby tournaments. We aided the young children in building confidence, as well as beginning to form new friendships and providing them with a hobby they can feel passionate about. I feel that we gave happiness and hope to those who we met, and gave them memories they shall never forget – just as they did for us.
From this experience I have learnt a lot which has helped shape me into a better person. I have gained confidence, determination, drive and more ambition than before I went to Uganda. The people I met out there showed me to live my life with happiness and positivity, and they inspired me to show kindness regardless of the situations I have to face. This experience has taught me that volunteering is something I would love to continue doing, and ultimately I have learnt that it truly is the little things in life that count the most. The gratitude I saw from the people of Uganda, even though they had so little, has encouraged me to express my gratitude so much more, as well as the want to be more generous and giving to those around me. Elise Godsall
I struggled at the start but I am glad to say I became stronger
Uganda, well what an amazing excitable experience! Making new friends and becoming one big family, going to Uganda to see how children live and to see how they cope with near enough to nothing and to see how privileged we are!
Tag rugby, as much as I have never been a person to even look in to playing tag rugby, but when playing it seeing how much enjoyment you are giving these children even just in a few hours and how hard they work to win! It has made me realise that I should carry on to teach children tag rugby and give more children opportunities within tag rugby.
Growing close to children that have no parent’s just orphans but still smiling and laughing each day to say that these children have made me realise that things in life can be conquered whatever situation you are in, you can overcome.
I am very proud to say that Uganda has made me understand that we cannot all be as lucky as what some people are.
I really hope I can return to Uganda to see and experience this trip again; blood, sweat and tears = a good result!! Abbi Etherington
Before travelling to Uganda I had no idea how incredible the experience would truly be. Having not much interest before the trip in tag rugby, I was worried that I wouldn’t get the most out of it, but I could not have been more wrong. Learning to love the sport became a small part of my time in comparison to the amazing people that we met and the adoration of underprivileged children that we accumulated through teaching tag rugby. Meeting children who had been orphaned at such a young age, having no idea how old they were, or even what it meant to have a family was a real eye opener, especially when looking at the happiness on their faces as we danced to a popular Ugandan song by the Docks. Seeing smiles everywhere we went uplifted the whole atmosphere of our tour group and the never ending laughs from local children and volunteers only enthused the idea that we were truly making the lives of these inspiring people better. The support of the Tag Rugby Trust ensured that we each had a home away from home with an amazing family dynamic. The local volunteers especially managed to deepen our love of Uganda as we opened our hearts to them, listening to their stories and learning how they lived their everyday lives in Uganda. Visiting the local schools was an unreal experience, having children run up to you in excitement, to watching them play tag rugby with such vigour, and finally being able to enjoy performances they had created for us in appreciation of our hard work. I will never forget this truly amazing experience and all of the incredible people I have forged lifelong friendships with along the way, I know that I am a better person for it and that my hard work will improve the lives of many in such a beautiful place as Uganda. Rosie Glibbery
What an emotional but incredible experience I had. I’m going to try my best to put into words how amazing the trip was, but it truly was indescribable.
After finding myself struggling for the first few days in Jinja I then found myself getting stuck into coaching and beginning to feel like I was a part of the community.
Before going to Uganda I wasn’t a very thoughtful person, I expected everyone to do stuff for me and I expected everything to be handed to me on a plate. Uganda has changed me as a person! Since being home from Uganda I am an independent person and a lot more of a thoughtful person!
Uganda taught me a lot of things, and one of the biggest things it taught me is to never take anything for granted. Living in such a poor country you realise money doesn’t buy you happiness. Children out there have absolutely nothing but they always seem to be smiling and having fun with their friends. They are the loveliest, most welcoming people, I just wish everyone in the world was like them!
Having been given the opportunity I feel so lucky, I feel so lucky to have been able to experience what is an amazing (which is an understatement) opportunity, an amazing country full of genuine people.
I truly would love to go back to Uganda and impact more on the Children’s lives because they deserve everything and more. When I grow up my goal is to be a professional dancer and dance teacher, when I achieve my goal I wish to travel back to Uganda and other parts of Africa to teach dance and give the Children opportunities to dance, which any other child would take for granted.
I am walking away from this with Ugandan friends, Ugandan brothers and sisters and even a Ugandan Mother!
I am so grateful for being able to have been part of an amazing tour. Ria Bailey
I’d been once before but it didn’t change a thing, I was still amazed and bewildered by the things I saw; the people I met and the friends I made. Uganda isn’t just another country on the map or piece of land, It’s an adventure and a chance to see a part of the world with your own eyes, not through a TV screen or a news update on your phone but to experience the culture and to interact with the people was one of the greatest honours I feel I will ever have as a young person. I can never explain how it felt to be there nor can I do it now all I can say is this, don’t watch it on the telly, don’t just listen to those who have seen and done it, do it yourself, see for yourself a part of the world which is far different to ours but has so much more to offer, all you have to do is look..
P.S: Thank you for another amazing trip to Uganda sir, it was an honour and a privilege.Robert Conner
Returning to Uganda was something I knew I wanted to do from the minute I touched down back in London from Entebbe two years ago. My first time on tour with the TRT was incredible and I was keen to get involved with them again in the future. Two years on, the offer to join the Welling team on their 2019 tour was a no-brainer. It would be a very different experience. I would join the team as an experienced leader who had more of a responsibility with the young Welling volunteers which was a daunting task but the team made it very easy to settle in and become part of their family for the two weeks we would be there. It was interesting to see the volunteers adapting to what was their first time in Uganda, and from an outside point of view, it was amazing to see how much you can grow as an individual from day 1 to day 14. Some of my closest friends on the tour were those who I met for the first time at Gatwick airport on departure day who in the outside world, I would have never seen myself building connections with. The younger female volunteers who are 5-6 years younger than myself became my little sisters, the Ugandan volunteers become your older brothers who really take you under their wing making sure you have the most incredible experience and lastly, the amazing TRT staff are all amazing and make the whole trip run so smoothly and successfully.
I went once, I went again and I know for sure I will definitely be joining the TRT for another incredible tour as we help build futures through Rugby for so many unprivileged children around the world. If you get the opportunity, grab it with both hands and let it take you on a unique journey of emotion and pride which is sure to play a massive part in your life. Christian O’Brien
When you apply to go to Uganda, you try to imagine what the trip will be like as it’s almost impossible as we have never experienced anything like this. I honestly could never have written the magic that the experience of Uganda created and surreal feeling you got in so many moments. We met first as a whole group at the airport and began as an excited group of acquaintances and by the time we returned to Gatwick we had become a family full of love for not only the children and country we had visited but each other as well. The emotions of the children in Uganda were the most amazing thing I had ever experienced, the excitement for learning and gratefulness and respect we received was a humbling experience. One unexpected occurrence that changed me was the relationship we formed with the local volunteers. Their passion for coaching was unbelievable and our friendships blossomed so much goodbyes were filled with tears. Coming home from this trip, I have realised I may never feel such happiness, love, excitement and pride ever again in my life. This is the stuff of dreams. I made countless friends and memories I hope to carry with me through my life. Thanks to all who made this happen. Megan Newman
The Tag Rugby Tour in Uganda was an experience that I still can’t sum up into a few words. It’s almost like it was so special that there are no words to explain how it’s changed me. Travelling on this tour was my very first time and yes it is nerve wracking! I tried to picture what it would be like before going and imagine how the adventure would pan out. But what you expect or imagine is something completely different when it comes to that first day of training! The children in Uganda are extraordinary, happy and full of joy. That’s what made me get up during the early mornings, knowing that I’d be going to teach and train a group of children that had no care in the world of materialistic things, they just were so grateful that we were there helping them. You almost feel famous for 2 weeks, the children playing with your hair, stroking your skin, and touching your nails, they just could not leave you alone. At times the language barrier was difficult, although the connection and relationships you form with limited conversations are incredible and fascinating. Therefore saying goodbye to the children you have built a relationship with is very hard and the only thing I hated on the trip. Knowing that I may never see these amazing children again killed me. That’s why more and more Tag Rugby Tours need to come together with Welling School and makes this happen again and again. I would love to have the opportunity I was given again in the future because Uganda 2017 was something that has given me so many special memories and I want to give so many more to the children of Jinga & Entebbe. Amelia Dimond-Varley
Uganda was the most amazing experience and has taught me so much. I struggle to put into words how much it has impacted my life and how much it has changed me and my values. I feel as though I grew up a lot in those two weeks and I now understand how lucky I am to have the little things that I used to take for granted and have realised what’s really important in life. The people I met in Uganda never failed to amaze me with their kindness and willingness to learn. I was humbled by how welcoming they were and their excitement to participate, not only the children but the young leaders too. It was also crazy to me how attached you can grow to a person you’ve only known for a week and how sad we all were to say goodbye. I think about the memories I’ve made and the people I met in Uganda every day and wonder what they’re doing and how they are. I’m so grateful for this trip, the people I experienced it with and the bond we now have. I know that I’ll carry this experience with me for life and hope to return to Uganda in the future. Lauren Simms