What makes a 50 something, director of a busy company, uproot for two weeks to Rukungiri in southern Uganda? This is exactly what Steve Gaskin, from Taverham, did for a second year running.
Steve has been on “mission” for the past eight years initially in Eastern Europe and latterly Uganda.
In an earlier part of his life, Steve was a senior police officer in London. After retirement he re-trained as a secondary school mathematics teacher. In addition, Steve has been a student at the Black Belt Academy, in Norwich for the past eight years, achieving black belt 4 years ago.
These were just the right skills needed for a primary and disabled school. Steve taught mathematics, taekwondo and was involved in a building project. To that end he filled a suitcase full of mathematical instruments and text books to help with the teaching in Africa. Steve says it was like handing over the crown jewels, the children were delighted with such a small token.
The primary classes are arranged in groups of 40-70 students. The only teaching facility is an aged blackboard and chalk. There is no electricity or windows in the classrooms.
Children absolutely value education and hence there is no disruption, misbehaviour or absence. Steve reports the mathematical ability of most children commensurate to our Year 7 is much higher. Sadly, after 13 years of age (the end of their primary phase) secondary education is normally ear marked for boys (if they can afford it). Normally, girls revert to a life of digging and planting land.
Most adults are on a wage of about £20 per week Steve says the Ugandan people are nevertheless very happy and content with life. Most of their food is grown themselves and this is a major priority for most Ugandans. Their staples are starchy foods, including Matoke, which is a banana derivative.
Steve travelled with 19 other volunteers from all over the UK. The trip was organised by Mission Direct, a charity formed several years ago. Initially, Steve harboured a sense that a British input into building and education seemed patronising. He says, however, the partnership is a terrific marriage. He has become personal friends with Henry the Head teacher of the school. Quite often the best teaching strategy was “team teaching”, a local teacher and a Brit.
Some companies have a corporate social responsibility (CSR). This sort of work transcends CSR and gives personal time to children, some of whom and parents have AIDS.
Steve says many people contributed towards the resources taken to Uganda. Almost £1000 was handed over to a wonderful charity called Chilli Children. This charity champions the “normalisation” of disabled children; often stigmatised or concealed from the world. The charity arranges operations for hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy and other life-saving surgery. The local Occupational Therapist on the ground, Evas, has dedicated her life to this work. She works very long hours for a very modest salary.
His highlight of the trip was running an Olympic games for 200 children. He took 200 “gold” medals, an Olympic flag and some reward stickers. The rest was designed once he was there. Steve says “the delight and enthusiasm of the children was amazing”. Further, he says, we are one of the richest nations in the world. His mission, is a small distribution of our wealth, time and love for this beautiful country and people.
Steve says his return and exit to Uganda is highly emotional. He says he has Africa engrained in his soul and intends to return as soon as work permits.