2019 UGANDA - Week one

Habari? (How are you?) Mzuri! (Good!) We have had the first week in Rwamwanja Refugee settlement. What a week!


As a team we are overwhelmed by literally thousands of children and trying to adapt to a whole new environment. World at Play would not be World at Play if things were not unexpected. I would say that this first week in Uganda is a week full of surprises. Do you think dinner will come soon? Soon can be three hours later. Do you think, therefore, that it might take a week to get our programme ready? With lots of effort from our team leader Alanna and from Sarah it happened in one day! This meant we got started on the second day which is a great achievement in a place where people have time instead of a watch.


On weekdays we drive in the early morning for about an hour to Rwamwanja settlement. It is a beautiful trip over a bumpy, dusty road with lots to see on the way. Small villages, adults and children walking along the road, small shops next to the road selling bananas and tomatoes, a house with the phone number of God, and on Thursday you will find lots of cows with large horns accompanied by a farmer on their way to a market.


Rwamwanja is a large settlement and covers about 50 miles of land. Uganda is very welcoming to refugees and gives them the same rights as Ugandan inhabitants. To stimulate the integration, a settlement exists of 70 percent refugees and 30 percent local people, the one we work in is in an area called Rwamwanja. 

The majority of the people living in Rwamwanja are under 18, and we have experienced just how many there are! During the very first session, three of our team members were overwhelmed by 700 (!) children. It’s lovely to receive the smiles and attention, however it makes it difficult to play games. We have to guard the playing field in order to keep other children just watching so we can do a beneficial session. If not, everyone tries to join in. This shows the enthusiasm of the young people for playing games and the real need for games and sport in this place.


With help from teachers and our Finn Church Aid representatives, Patience and Gerald, we have a limited the number of children attending sessions which makes it possible to play some good games. During a session with secondary school youth we got the parachute out to play a game where you have to catch a ball with a parachute. From my perspective the parachute could be perceived as childish at that age, but if you have not played with a parachute before it is a wonderful thing. It was a big success. The colours and running from one side to the other underneath the parachute was good fun! This shows that it is important not to think from your own perspective, but to enter a session open minded.

Rice and beans courtesy of the reseteraunt in the settlement run by refugees from DRC

Rice and beans courtesy of the reseteraunt in the settlement run by refugees from DRC

Besides the challenges during sessions there are also challenges to face in other areas. Facilities that are basics at home are suddenly not that normal. To think of a toilet to sit on, clean drinking water, a washing machine, a fridge, or all day long electricity and wifi. I’m sure that after these six weeks we will be masters of the long drops! More important than these temporary challenging conditions for me or us as a team, is that this is reality for the people living in the settlement. It makes us realise how lucky we are to have ordinary things.The food has also been a challenge for me.

Our first week we have been eating our lunch in a small restaurant in the settlement. For a person who normally does not like beans at all, it is quite a challenge to eat them every day. Rice and beans is the main meal in this restaurant and the main and often only meal per day for people in the settlement.If you put it in perspective, it is amazing that there is a restaurant in the settlement set up and run by refugees. 

All in all it has been an exciting week. Being born in the Netherlands where everything is very organised and people are very strict to time, Uganda is a whole different place. I look forward to find out more about the culture and people living in Rwamwanja. And also to develop as a team in order to deliver the best sessions we can!

Written by Berber Koopmans