Evaluating The Zuri Allstars Sports Project

It’s been a few months since we last posted a blog, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy! Quite the opposite actually.

Last week saw the completion of the pilot phase of The Zuri Allstars sports project. In November and in collaboration with Opportunity Africa, we set up a youth football league in Kihembe, which brought together teams from 6 different villages, who played against each other during the school holidays. After each training session and match, the coaches delivered short workshops, educating the boys about things like the importance of hygiene, safe behaviours in relation to the transmission of HIV/AIDS, life skills and many other issues. It is our intention to run this project during each school holiday, and to increase the amount of teams involved each year.

After the final match last week, Herbert and I completed the first stage of our project evaluation. As an organisation, each project that we deliver is evaluated in relation to its impact on individual wellbeing, and we use NEF’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing as our method of measuring wellbeing. Simply, we believe that if we can co-design projects that support people to connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give, then we can incrementally support people to improve their wellbeing. In order to measure this, we have designed a simple questionnaire that asks five questions that relate to each area of NEF’s ways to wellbeing. We asked 40 boys from different teams to complete the questionnaire, and as a result of participating in The inaugural Zuri Allstars Project:

  1. 80% of the boys agreed or strongly agreed that they have connected with their friends, family and members of the local community
  2. 80% of the boys agreed or strongly agreed that they have been active and exercised regularly
  3. 84% of the boys agreed or strongly agreed that they have been more aware of their feelings and surroundings
  4. 80% of the boys agreed or strongly agreed that they have tried new things and learned new skills
  5. 82% of the boys agreed or strongly agreed that they gave given their time to help other people in their community

As this is our first project evaluation, we’re absolutely delighted with the impact that this project has had on the wellbeing of the boys, but we are still learning and will have to keep tweaking our processes. For the second part of our evaluation, I facilitated a Four Plus One evaluation, through which we brought together the key project stakeholders involved in the planning, delivery and monitoring of the project. The 4 + 1 tool is a very simple, empowering way of evaluating a project, ensuring that all people involved have the chance to offer their feedback across the following areas:

  • What have we tried?
  • What have we learned?
  • What are we pleased about?
  • What are we concerned about?
  • What actions will we take in the future?

There were 5 people present at the evaluation (the coach, the head teacher from the school where the project was based, the project manager, the director of the partner NGO and the project administrator) and the process was fantastic. We started with an opening round, before spending about an hour going through the process, with everyone having the opportunity to offer their opinions and thoughts about the project. There were no interruptions, and each person gave considered and extremely insightful feedback. After a closing round, everyone involved said they were delighted to have had the chance to offer their feedback, and they all felt empowered and in control of the project. We also got some tangible, positive actions that will inform the project brief for the next sports project, to be delivered later in the year.

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We are absolutely thrilled with the results from our first evaluation, and also with how well the process was received and how happy everyone was to participate. The project was by no means perfect, and there are many things that we need to improve on before delivering the next sports project in November, but that is why we conduct these evaluations, so we can learn from our mistakes and improve for next time. Over the next few months, I will be spending time in Kihembe, working with Opportunity Africa to evaluate the other pilot projects that we have supported over the past few months. We will be following the same two-part evaluation process, and will be supporting our partners to facilitate the evaluation process themselves. We see this as a vital step in living out our participatory values and ensuring that each project is successful.

Having recently celebrated our first birthday, we’re still a very young organisation and have lots to learn. We’re extremely passionate about what we do and we’re delighted that our projects are supporting people to improve their wellbeing, even in a small way as exemplified through this sports project. We’re always willing to try out new things and adapt our ideas, so please feel free to contribute any of your comments below.

Ross.

My time in Kihembe: OPADS, football & community led projects

In this blog, CharityWorks alumnus Hayley Gardiner talks about her experiences volunteering in Kihembe, SW Uganda, and talks about how many of the initiatives supported by The Zuri Project are starting to have a positive influence on the lives of local people. We’re so grateful to Hayley for all of her hard work, and can’t wait for her to return to Kihembe next week. Here’s what she had to say… 

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I had spent 2 months in Uganda before taking a trip to Kihembe and i’d already fallen in love with the country. I was accustomed to the natural beauty of the place and the welcoming attitude, enthusiasm and creativity of it’s people. However, Kihembe somehow managed to surpass my already high expectations. The warm welcome was continued in Kihembe, with Herbert and Sarah, teachers and other members of the community all showing me unbelievable kindness and generosity (one evening I ate 3 dinners on a walk through the village!). The recognisable lush green landscape was exploding out of the soil in the West and I had many opportunities to appreciate it: stunning bodaboda rides; the agricultural project at the school; and the majestic hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo ever present in the background. More than anything, what shone through during my time in the community was the creativity and imagination shown in the projects I was visiting. To name a few: the dances and songs the children performed at school; skits sharing the experiences of puberty and growing up; rousing football anthems; debates.. wow.

It is clear that Kihembe is a place with a lot of potential. I spent a week in the area, staying with Herbert and his family, visiting and reviewing the projects supported by The Zuri Project; most of which were only a month or two from conception. It was really exciting to see the projects so early on, growing quickly fuelled by the contagious enthusiasm of each local project manager.

12316619_10156410301895724_7884108215931995265_n.jpgI spent the most time on the O-PADS project; here The Zuri Project is supporting a local social enterprise to provide reusable sanitary towels to all the girls in P4 and above at Kishunju School. All around the world, women and girls are struggling with the natural and universal process of menstruation, and in Uganda it is the most likely reason why young girls drop out of school. In Kanungu where 38% of the population earn less than $1.25 a day (World Bank 2012), you can see why sanitary pads (which cost around $1 for a pack of 10) may be seen as a luxury rather than an essential. To introduce the pads to Kishunju School, Pamela (the genius behind O-PADS) led sensitization workshops with all the girls. This involved sharing stories about menstruation, a brief lesson from the matron at a local boarding school about the experience of growing up, and lots AND LOTS of questions. It felt so valuable and necessary to create a safe, supportive space to discuss these experiences and learn together. The transformation from timid questions at the beginning of the session, to the confident and lively conversation towards the end reflected an increased confidence in growing up and the power of mutual support. The boys at Kishunju also had a chance to discuss experiences of growing up with the male teachers.

12294676_10156410301865724_5823411905784956683_n.jpgIt was great to see the agricultural project at Kishunju School also prospering. Here The Zuri Project have provided seeds and equipment required to transform previously unused land around the school into a bountiful garden in order to grow various fruit and vegetables. This has the aim of supporting school meals and eventually bringing income to the school from the surplus. The project manager Job Nahabwe, who is also a teacher at the school, was delighted to show me around the gardens and explain how he manages the land and the teams who work on it. The school is split up into 4 teams who compete to see who will yield the most. On Wednesdays the whole school leave their classrooms to help on the garden, engage with the project, and gain practical skills to go alongside their agriculture classes. In a country where 86% of the population are farmers these are important skills to learn. I also got the opportunity to get involved and struggle to keep up with the weeding with the powerful folk in team TIGER.

2015-11-08 18.45.13.jpgAnother project I got to experience was Zuri All-Stars. Agrey, another teacher at the school, who qualified as a football coach with support from The Zuri Project, teaches football around the local area, and now has 6 teams ready for a local league. I was lucky enough to watch a preparatory friendly between two of the teams. What I loved about this project was (again) the dedication shown by Agrey, but also the use of football to influence and enhance the community of Kihembe in creative and unique ways. He explained how football training teaches his pupils (who range from 12 – 35 years old) lots of important life skills, including discipline, team work and dedication. Also, it is possible to get school sponsorship if pupils have good football skills, something Agrey and his sister both benefitted from, so this training could have an impact on many elements of the players lives in future. I also had the opportunity to practice my skills in rousing-speech-making when I was asked to represent The Zuri Project at the end of the game. One of the highlights of my whole trip was the Zuri-All Stars anthem that was written during my time in Kihembe and performed on my last day. It blew me away and again showed the enthusiasm and dedication of those involved in these projects.

I hope it is clear how inspiring and educational this week was for me. It flew by, and I am pleased to say that I am going to go back to this wonderful community in about a month! It is a rare opportunity to be able to work with a charity which has laid such brilliant foundations for genuine community-led development, and which is so flexible and open to input from volunteers. I hope to do some more research on my return, have ideas about skills I may be able to share and contribute, and (of course) want to catch the Zuri All-Stars League! I want to thank everyone in Kihembe for making me feel so welcome and for sharing your stories and passions with me. I can’t wait to see you all again!

Hayley Gardiner

My first trip to the pearl of Africa

In this week’s blog post, Zuri Project Ambassador Danielle reflects on her first trip to Uganda, and tells us how getting involved in the projects was a truly unforgettable experience.

Landing in Uganda for the first time, I wasn’t really sure what to expect after hearing so much about this relatively small, landlocked country in East Africa. However, the excitement of grade five rafting at the source of the River Nile, experiencing an incredible three day safari in Queen Elizabeth NP and of course visiting the projects that the Zuri Project Uganda are currently supporting in Kihembe, pushed aside my fear of the unknown. safari_elephantAfter a near death experience on the Nile (maybe a slightly dramatic explanation) and an amazing safari experience we headed to Kanungu district where our scheduled meetings with community groups and development organisations would take place. So far, I was taken aback by the beauty of the country and I was looking forward to what the rest of the trip had in store.

Meeting Herbert Niwagaba, one of the key people involved in setting up The Zuri Project and being welcomed into his home, made my arrival into the village a wonderful experience. After visiting the first couple of projects, I was brought to tears by the community spirit, the positivity & happiness of the people, along with the fact they were absolutely delighted that we were there to meet them. Visiting the village and meeting the community made me realise many of the first world problems I face every day really aren’t problems at all. Kihembe_devIt changed my perspective for the better. After visiting more projects and community groups over the next few days, as well as playing games with the local children, I began to realise what a wonderful village Kihembe is. It was very clear from our meetings, that the local people have a great vision for their development, and we’re absolutely thrilled to be supporting them achieve this vision.

The village is incredibly rural, and is not far from the border of the DRC. Ross and a local government official took a dip into the Ishasha river that separates the DRC and Uganda, and we were assured that this is perfectly safe, from both rebel groups and crocodiles! herb_selfieAfter numerous boda boda rides, lots of interesting food and many life changing experiences, my trip had come to an end and I was travelling back on a 11 hour bus journey across Uganda, reflecting. What the Zuri Project has done in collaboration with the community so far is incredible, and seeing what potential projects can be supported going forward I felt delighted to be a part of it. The positivity of the community without the materialistic things many of us in the UK require to make us happy is humbling, and it really made me think differently about the things I take for granted and complain about!

The people of Kihembe are doing wonderful things to develop their community, and the Zuri Project are delighted to be supporting a number of different community led projects. As I boarded the plane in Entebbe airport to head for London, I was filled with excitement about returning next year and putting all my effort into working with the community and supporting the Zuri Project in its development.

Danielle

@daniellecawood

Our latest projects: October 2015

Since I came back from Uganda at the start of September, everyone involved with The Zuri Project has been incredibly busy co-designing and planning our next projects. During our month in Uganda, Danielle and I were delighted to meet with many different community based organisations and a diverse array of local people during our time in Kihembe, which has provided us with the foundations to plan our next projects. Over the past 6 weeks, our team in Uganda have done wonderful work gathering additional information and conducting research, our board of trustees have met a number of times to discuss the particulars of each project to ensure they meet our charitable objectives, and our ambassadors in the UK have offered insightful advice and guidance, which has challenged us to think about our work in many different ways. This collaborative effort is something we are immensely proud of, and together, we have decided to support the following six projects, each of which is designed to improve community wellbeing in a different way:

Agricultural and nutritional community outreach programme

We have partnered with Bwindi Community Hospital Gardens to deliver an agricultural outreach programme in Kanyantorogo, through which over 150 people each year will receive practical workshops to improve the quality of their agricultural practices. Agricultural officers from BCHG engage with community members and deliver 2 training sessions per month, educating people about methods of crop diversification, the importance of a balanced diet and information about the correct use of environmentally friendly fertilisers to facilitate crop rotations. The project supports people to diversify their personal crop yield and therefore increase their income. It also addresses malnutrition and provides families with important information about healthy and nutritious foods, as well as information about how to grow these crops

Educational incentive project

One of the greatest challenges facing families in Uganda in relation to education is the relatively high cost of school fees and scholastic materials. In rural areas in particular, families often regard sending their children to school as too expensive and prefer the children to stay at home and work. In recognition of the burdensome school fees that families have to pay for their children to attend school in Uganda, we have supported Kishunju Primary School to develop an educational incentive project, whereby when school fees are paid, children receive scholastic materials in the form of 2 pens, 2 pencils and 6 exercise books to last the school term, in order to reduce the overall cost of a child’s education to the parents. Over the last few years, the number of children enrolled at the rural Primary School has fluctuated between 165 and 292, with pupil ages ranging from 3 to 20 years old. We are exploring ways of expanding this project and working with other primary schools within the community in the near future, to explore whether this pilot project can be up scaled.

Primary school agricultural and nutritional project

At Kishunju Primary School, we have also piloted an agricultural and nutritional project, which has seen the school cultivate some of their unused land and turn it into vegetable gardens and crop fields. This project started informally in 2012, and prior to its’ inception, children had to walk long distances to cook at home or go all day without eating, meaning either missing lessons and/or pupils dramatically losing concentration resulting in a classroom environment unsuitable for learning. Presently, each child now receives breakfast in the morning, as a result of the crops that has been planted and grown on the school land. Working in collaboration with Bwindi Community Hospital Gardens, we are now increasing the scope of this project and have started to cultivate nursery beds at the school, where the gardener is growing a variety of vegetables including cabbage, eggplant, dodo, tomatoes, matooke and beans. After 2 seasons, it is our hope that the gardens will yield sufficient crops to provide each child with a nutritious meal at lunch time, in order to raise concentration levels of the children, and increase the value of education in the eyes of community members.

OPADS female sensitisation Programme

4Millions of girls throughout the developing world are disempowered by the simple biological process of menstruation. Hygienic and affordable sanitary protection is often not available to girls in many developing regions, and this is the case in Uganda. Instead, these young women commonly resort to the use of unsafe methods such as rags, grass, mud and soil. The risk of infection becomes incredibly high. In order to support young girls to have access to safe and affordable sanitary products, we have partnered with OPADS international, a social enterprise based in Kanungu district, which makes reusable cloth sanitary pads designed to offer effective and hygienic menstrual protection to young girls. The OPADS provide environmentally-friendly menstrual protection for up to 1 year at approximately 41% of the total cost of a one-year supply of commercial sanitary pads. Through our partnership with OPADS, we have designed and delivered a pilot project at Kishunju Primary School, where we have supported girls in P5, P6 & P7 to receive sensitisation workshops about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. Each girl also receives a pack of seven OPADS for use throughout the year. For more information about this project, visit: http://www.opads.info

The Zuri Allstars Sports Project

5In collaboration with Opportunity Africa, we are supporting the implementation of a mini football league within the community of Kihembe, where 70 young people will have the opportunity to participate in competitive sport on a weekly basis, whilst learning important educational messages. Children across Uganda love football, and the ability of football to bring people together to learn, share and compete is a powerful and simple way to deliver social change. We are supporting the provision of the necessary resources, structure and personnel to create the foundations of a mini league, where small sided teams will compete against each other in weekly matches. We are also co-designing an extra-curricular educational programme to run alongside the league, through which the players will learn key life skills through their football which they can apply to their own lives, ranging from safe sex behaviours in relation to HIV/AIDS, to the importance of basic health and hygiene.

School cultural exchange programme

6We have developed a partnership between St Joseph’s Primary School in Chorley and Kishunju Primary School in Kihembe, through which the pupils from each school exchange termly letters and photographs in order to share what information about what it’s like to attend school in the UK and Uganda respectively. We have also created a buddy programme for the teachers, where teachers from each school communicate via email and Skype in order to discuss any challenges that they may face and can problem solve together. In the UK, we will be arranging an African cultural workshop once a year and a fundraiser in collaboration with St Joseph’s, to raise awareness about Ugandan culture and share our experiences of what it’s like to live in a different country. We are currently exploring ways in which we can develop partnerships secondary schools in the UK and Uganda.

We will be posting regular updates from our new projects, so please follow our blog for more information. We are also planning a number of new projects that we hope will be implemented at the start of 2016, so please check back to hear about any new developments. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our funders and supporters; we’re incredibly grateful for your continued support and without you, none of these projects would have been possible

As always, feel free to let us know what you think, or get in touch if you have any questions. 

 Ross

@rossoross

Reciprocity: The key to a successful international relationship

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Zigong asked: “Is there any single word that could guide one’s entire life?” The master said: “Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

Analects of Confucius

Last year, when Martin and I began discussing our plans to set up The Zuri Project Uganda, I read an incredibly thought provoking article by Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American author who presents a scathing critique of what he has defined as ‘The White Saviour Industrialised Complex.’ Written in 2012 after Invisible Children’s world famous Kony 2012 campaign went viral, his article [http://bit.ly/1K0vdrq] questions the role of Westerners in the development of African nations, and implores people to consider their actions before delving into seemingly philanthropic ventures in developing countries. Rather scornfully, he writes: “A nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a Godlike saviour, or at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of ‘making a difference’”. 

Cole’s article is extremely contentious, and calls out the elephant in the room that has arguably been sitting on the sofa since the days of colonial pre-independence for many African nations. It raises many questions about Western interventionism in Africa, and requires people to appreciate and consider the vast cultural diversity of African nations. It is part of a wider comprehensive negative discourse within international development circles, that suggests that some initiatives can do more harm than good, particularly those that have been engineered in Western countries. Citing Band Aid 30 as an example, James Schnieder from New African magazine attests that, “those involved may well have had good intentions, but the whole initiative presented an offensive image of Africa and Africans […] It denied African agency by suggesting all the continent needed was for the West to save it.”

Whilst such a contestation is not necessarily an opinion shared by many people in the West, I understand the point that Schnieder is making and agree to a certain extent. Often, the media infantilise African people and portray Africans as hopeless chattels, reliant on the altruistic good grace and expertise of Western people to lift them out of endemic poverty. This simply isn’t the case. Whilst poverty and inequality are widespread across Africa, anyone who has visited any of the 54 countries of the continent is more likely to tell stories of the entrepreneurial ingenuity, the self-awareness and the hard working nature of many different African peoples. Generalisation and oversimplification of impoverishment is naïve and often downright offensive to the people who live in these communities. People, impoverished or otherwise, are mostly very capable of articulating their vision and goals for their own families and communities. Cole writes: “if we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.” Of fundamental importance to this ‘due diligence’, I would suggest, is to actually find out what people want and how they would like to achieve it. It’s such a simple notion, but every person should have the choice to make their own decisions about their own future.

Cole’s article can be perceived as a radical relative of much of the literature surrounding participatory approaches to international development, propagated and popularised in particular by Robert Chambers throughout the 1980s. Chambers has been influential in ensuring that development practitioners include the beneficiaries at the very centre of any project or policy that is engineered to support them, and his seminal work Rural Development: Putting the Last First, has been incredibly influential in shaping the philosophy of The Zuri Project as an organisation.

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It has helped us to realise that a development project is nothing without input from the people it is intended to support. And this input should not be tokenistic. We believe that local people should be involved in every stage of the project cycle, from the birth of a project idea, the project design & implementation, as well as the monitoring and the evaluation. Having spent the last month in Uganda, I have been incredibly fortunate to have met some wonderful community based organisations that educated me about what development projects they currently support, as well as ones that they are hoping to deliver in the future. I was also welcomed into people’s homes to discuss with them their aspirations for the future, as well as the challenges they face in their every day lives. As a result of this visit and our discussions with local people, and in conjunction with Opportunity Africa, our main partners based in the village of Kihembe in SW Uganda, we have been able to start co-designing some incredibly exciting projects, that are all engineered to support the improvement of community wellbeing in different ways.

Our model of operation is very simple, and more so than anything else, it is based on the concept of reciprocity. We form partnerships with local people and local organisations, and assimilate our skills & strengths to work towards social change. As an organisation, and as individuals, we thrive on the fusion of local knowledge, hard work and expertise, with the financial and resource support from international donors. Organisations based in western countries can access opportunities that for many reasons, may not be available to community based organisations in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet community based organisations in sub-Saharan Africa have a wealth of expertise and local knowledge that is unique to their community.

Jonathan Haidt, the author of a wonderful book called The Happiness Hypothesis, writes: “Reciprocity is a deep instinct; it is the basic currency of social life […] it is like a magic wand that can clear your way through the jungle of social life […] Used properly, it strengthens, lengthens and rejuvenates social ties.” This ‘currency of social life’ I would suggest, could be a panacea to Cole’s complex. Reciprocal, international partnerships are wonderful to be a part of. As a western based organisation working in Uganda, we cherish our working relationships with local NGOs and local people and have learned so much from them. It is only fair that we reciprocate, and find ways in which we can support them in a similar way.

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Ross – @rossoross

Sainsbury’s Everyday Fundraising & The Zuri Project Uganda

Do you shop at Sainsbury’s? If so, read on to see how your weekly grocery shop can transform lives in sub-Saharan Africa! 

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We’re absolutely delighted to announce that we have developed a partnership with Sainsbury’s to support our every day fundraising. Everyday Fundraising is an easy and straightforward way for you, our supporters, to raise money for The Zuri Project Uganda. Sainsbury’s have created an account for us and provided us with Everyday Shopping Cards that are then used in Sainsbury’s stores to purchase goods, much like you would use a gift card. Here’s the exciting bit – for every £1 that you spend in store on your card, Sainsbury’s will donate 4p straight to The Zuri Project Uganda! It takes 2minutes to register the card in your name and get you set up with an account. All you have to do is make sure your card is topped up before you go shopping, and then it can be used in Sainsbury’s stores across the UK to buy most items (exclusions do exist). You will still receive your nectar points, and it costs nothing to sign up, it’s completely free to yourself and the charity!

Currently, eleven people have signed up to use the Everyday Shopping Cards to support our work in Uganda, and we have already raised £50 to support our projects. Because we are a small charity, this income will go such a long way to supporting many of our on-goP1000421ing projects, as well as allowing us the opportunity to develop new partnerships with other local NGOs and deliver new projects, that will work towards improving the lives of people in impoverished rural communities. We will then be posting updates and blogs online so you can see directly how your shopping is making a direct difference to people’s lives! For example, at the end of this month, we will be supporting 30 local farmers to participate in an agricultural training workshop, which will be part funded by the money we have raised so far through Everyday Fundraising.

This really is a fantastic opportunity for you to make a huge contribution to the lives of people in Uganda, and it is completely free! You can check out our portal here:

http://zuriproject.mblsolutionsrewards.co.uk

If you are interested in signing up for a card, or would like some more information about how it works, or even how the money you raise will be spent, please send me an email – rossgreigyoung@gmail.com – and i’d be delighted to talk you through how it all works. We can also put you in touch with people who are currently using the cards, who would be happy to show you how easy it is to use.

Thanks again for your continued support, and I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Ross @rossoross

Walk for Wellbeing: Days 3, 4 & 5

We hope you enjoyed the first instalment, here are days 3, 4 & 5 as described by Dan, Jenna and Joe!

Day 3:  Tyndrum to Inversnaid 

By Dan Butler

Days one and two were starting to take a toll now. Nevertheless, spirits remained high. After we’d had our fill of bacon rolls and coffee, we performed some light stretching and we set off once again.

We took advantage of the early flat terrain. Soon enough though, we received a swift reminder that this wasn’t going to be getting easier as we encountered one of the most challenging uphill sections of the walk – not helped by the smiling, sweat-free faces of hikers breezing past us who opted to travel the “traditional” direction.

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About 3 miles short of our next stop, we had a slight hiccup as we’d taken a wrong turn. We tracked back but were still puzzled. Thankfully, a Geordie traveller came along and was similarly confused. We told him which way we thought it was so on he went without question. He didn’t return – our “canary down the mine”.

A mile to go before lunch, a suspicious looking Highland cow obstructed me. Jenna, having previously worked on a farm, assured me that the cow wouldn’t tackle me – not my most masculine moment.

At last we’d made it to Beinglas Farm. The umbrella donning the Tennent’s logo was a sight to behold. We’d heard rumours of how tricky the next few miles would be so Ross, regrettably, investigated on internet forums.

Fully replenished, we headed towards Loch Lomond which we’d heard offered arguably some of the best views in Scotland – it was absolutely stunning. We were discussing which Harry Potter characters we would be and somebody had nicknamed the biggest boulder on the next stretch “BOULDERMORT”. Given how easily amused we are, this title stuck immediately.

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Moments later, Kate came along with tears of laughter streaming down her face. She’d been submerged up to her knees in a muddy bog and broken her walking stick. A friendly German came over to assist her. Ross contemplated challenging him to a penalty shoot-out but wisely reconsidered given our nations differing fortunes when it comes to spot kicks.

Awkwardly, we clambered over a series of huge rocks. Pace-setting, Pom Bear-less Fin didn’t appreciate our words of encouragement (“OH COME ON!”). Joe and I were somehow off track, meaning we could turn back costing us 30 seconds. Instead, we scaled the side of a dangerous slope which would usually require rock-climbing equipment.

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Finally, we were in Inversnaid! Joe was fist pumping like crazy. Upon arrival at the hotel, I found out that I’d be bunking with an Ecuadorian couple who were on a romantic getaway. It was hotter than the annual Quito chilli festival in there. I’m sure the last thing they wanted was a sweaty stranger killing the mood.

Upstairs they had a cool lounge with a hippie vibe to it. One chap was playing the guitar… that sort of place. The staff were tremendous and even offered us a free round of beer!

Day 4: Inversnaid to Drymen 

By Jenna Draper

Friday morning saw the return of the infamous wet and wild Scottish weather, and over a very rushed breakfast it was decided that we would enter round 2 of battle against bouldemort as a united front, and more importantly as miles of jagged rocks and tree stumps become even more dangerous in wet weather. I treasure the fact that between the six of us, we can all be as puerile as laughing hysterically at the idea of “Bouldemort” and which Harry Potter character we would liken each other too, yet be sensible enough to understand the importance of looking after each others safety.

Walking together allowed for some very interesting conversational topics such as the classic who we would take on a desert island, which historical moment would we travel back to and, rather worryingly, what criminal act we would commit should there be no consequences. Perhaps the less said about these talks the better, and I shall leave the answers up to the reader’s speculation.   Ross

After a defiant win against Bouldemort, we passed by Ben Lomond and continued to walk along the rest of Loch Lomond, meandering through forests and stumbling across intermittent clearings in the foliage where low lying fog and estranged fishing boats made a rather eerie and almost haunting atmosphere. To say the Loch was impressive is an understatement; it is so vast and mysterious, so majestic and powerful, and as you read and hear about but don’t quite appreciate until you have walked the full length of it; so bloody big.LL

Day 4 saw two pit stops; the first in Rowardennan and then an early afternoon rest at The Little Oak in Balmaha. I can’t quite describe the sense of pure joy seeing a pub at the end of a road after such long stretches of seemingly neverending paths, and the amusing sight of the lads punching the air and shouting “cider!” at first sights of watering holes. It was at said pub that we denied Fin what must’ve been his fifth attempt at bribery to get himself out of the walk, his threats of jumping on the next bus, and thoroughly crushing his dreams of a gentle stroll along the B road that would take us straight to Drymen. Ross also had to endure some questionable advice from a local who suggested it was in fact walking boots that were causing his pain, and that had he attempted it in normal shoes he would be in a much better state. I have to admire the way he managed to remain calm and polite in the face of such utter garbage coming out of this lady’s mouth, whilst the rest of us were just thinking ‘give it a bloody rest, woman’.

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The afternoon cleared up and we journeyed on up through miles of beautiful farmland in the sunshine, before reaching the peak of the climb and catching first sightings of the final destination. At this point I heard Joe stating the infamous “Mile and a half, all downhill from here” – a phrase coined from day 1, which by now you will have gathered that that was far from the truth, yet still provided comical value.

ClackWe eventually made it to Drymen, where we were greeted at arguably the nicest accommodation of the trip with tea and scones, and a very warm welcome from lovely hosts. (It was called ‘Kip in the Kirk’ should anyone ever find themselves in that part of the country – I highly recommend it) Safe in the knowledge that the next day would be the final day of the walk, we shared a wonderful evening of dinner, drinks, cards, and laughter about the day’s events (mainly at Fin’s misery, as usual).

Day 5: Drymen to Milngavie (pronounced Mulgay, for those of you, like Joe, who were unaware of this before arriving in Glasgow)

By Joe Matthews
It was a great feeling waking up on day 5 knowing that all we had was a paltry 12 mile walk to complete. Although spirits were fairly high as we ate our breakfast, they were not quite high enough to exchange pleasantries with a Frenchman (a fellow inhabitant of the Kip in the Kirk B&B), so we were all in agreement that it was a good job Ross was there to act as the spokesman for the group. Main topics of discussion included the meaning of ‘Chateau Neuf Du Pap’, the impossibility of completing the West Highland Way in 14 and a half hours (the record), and just how ‘homemade’ the ‘homemade marmalade’ actually was.
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Not only was this the shortest day of the walk, but it also proved to be by far the easiest with minimal inclines and a very welcome road for most of the way. This of course did not negate the beautiful scenery and countryside that was previously experienced. It also made a nice change that we all walked together for the first half of the journey. When I say ‘all’, I mean everyone except the excruciatingly slow Fin who lagged behind the group from mile one.

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We had our eyes on a whiskey distillery for our first and only stop of the day, however this proved about 300 yards too far away as there was a conveniently placed pub directly in our path in a small town. After some light refreshments and a bacon sandwich, we quickly rambled on with our target of reaching Glasgow within a reasonable hour to give ourselves plenty of time for a few beers and a celebratory curry. After a mile or so I realised I had left Ross’ umbrella in the pub. I’d be damned if I was to carry an umbrella 93 miles for no reason whatsoever, only to leave it in a pub 7 miles short of our destination, so I walked back to retrieve it as the others carried on. It wasn’t long after restarting that I caught the sight of the snail-paced Fin with his fluorescent orange shell of a bag in the near distance.

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The final stretch of the West Highland Way was a time for contemplation and summary of the walk as a whole. Although there were mixed reviews concerning the enjoyment level of our short 4 and a half days, we were all in agreement about the stunning scenery and unique character of the Scottish Highlands.This was personified through our final steps of the walk when a bagpiper appropriately began playing almost as soon as we touched the obelisk marking the end of the way. After 40 minutes or so, Fin managed to find his way to the end where we had a cider waiting for him, although his mood didn’t lighten at all.

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Needless to say, once we had finished, it wasn’t long before we were in a pub in Glasgow enjoying a few drinks, whilst chatting relentlessly about the many stories and highlights of a memorable week in the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

As the guys have mentioned throughout these blogs, we had an absolutely incredible experience in the Scottish Highlands and we are delighted that we have been able to raise just short of £3000 to support locally led development projects in Uganda. Thanks so much for all of your support and sponsorships, it really means a lot to us.

If you are interested in arranging a Walk for Wellbeing with your friends and family, or would like to find out how to get involved in a fundraising event that we have planned, then please get in touch as we would love to hear from you!
Thanks again Kate, Fin, Dan, Jen & Joe – here’s to next year! 

 

Walk for Wellbeing: Days 1 & 2

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So here it is. The long awaited blog from our first ever Walk for Wellbeing. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has donated and wished us well. As a result of your generosity, we have raised just short of £3000 for our projects in Uganda, a figure that we couldn’t have envisaged in our wildest dreams.

To give you the most accurate representation of what you actually sponsored us for, it was decided that Kate, Fin, Dan, Jenna and Joe would take responsibility for blogging about a day each. Below are the first two days, in all their glorious detail. Days 3,4 & 5 will be published at the start of next week, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Thanks again for your support, and we hope you enjoy the blog!

Day One: Fort William to Glencoe

By Kate Purchase

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After a handful of ‘practice walks’ (mainly consisting of canals, pies and beer), the six of us set off at the crack of dawn from Fort William armed with Pom Bears and pork pies in order to break the back of the 25 miles that lay ahead of us. Despite the rain we set off with eagerness and excitement, blissfully ignorant to what lay ahead of us. With the first suitable rest stop (a pub) being 15 miles away, we conquered paths that took us 900 feet high through wind, rain and mud finishing with a steep, slippery descent into Kinlochleven (stopping only for an obligatory Pom Bear break courtesy of Fin). Spirits were somewhat dwindling at this point as Fin proclaimed ‘We’ve bitten off more than we can chew here!’ However after a couple of pints we were ready to take on the last 10 miles of the day to Glencoe. Little did we know what lay ahead of us … another whopping 1850ft climb!

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As I’m sure the others will agree, this afternoon was by far the most physically and mentally challenging, especially after the long 15 miles we had already completed. After every corner turned we were faced with another hill climb to get the top of the mountain. As swarms of spritely Germans glided past us downhill and we pushed ourselves upwards, it became apparent we were the only sods heading in this direction. At this point I’d like to make a special shout out to Ross who came back down hill to find me struggling and motivated me by saying I was almost at the top (although this was factually incorrect I would still be probably be there now if it wasn’t for that!)

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We all made it to the top eventually and at this point we could see our accommodation which gave us a slight lift (Joe insisted that it was only a mile and a half away however this turned out to be four…) However this meant the start of our descent down the famous ‘Devil’s Staircase’. Luckily it was dry at this point as if it was still raining it would have made it even more dangerous underfoot. Once we past this last hurdle it was a relatively easy walk to reach the pub ‘near’ to our accommodation. However the balls of my feet were burning at this point and as Jen put it was like ‘walking on hot coals’. As we all arrived at the Kings House pub in dribs and drabs Ross, Jen, Joe, Dan and myself were feeling an immense sense of pride of what we has just accomplished. Fin however was on the verge of a meltdown and left shortly after eating to complete the extra mile to our Hobbit Houses at the base of Glencoe Mountain. Despite being clean and warm at first these were not ideal to sleep in after the day we had as the beds were too short and not wide enough to rest our aching bones. A quick story about the Glencoe Massacre from Ross however took our mind off the pain and we eventually got some shut eye!

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Day two: Glencoe Mountain to Tyndrum 

By Adam Finlay

Awaking on the second day of our quest through the Scottish Highlands, I attempted to digest the state of affairs I had found myself in whilst staring glumly around the cosy coffin we had resided in – marketed as a ‘Hobbit House’ (see below).

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Groggily contemplating the previous day, a day that will forever hold high rank in the ‘worst day of my life’ standings, I heard a muttering from somewhere down near my right foot where a stirring Joe muttered that this is probably how it feels to emerge from a coma. It was difficult not to agree with his assessment.

Hoping that the last twenty-four hours had all been a dream the blistered feet, swollen ankles, sore knees, aching back, strained shoulders, and painful chaffing in unimaginable places all confirmed that it had indeed been a reality… four days remained. Three synonyms of ‘reluctance’ are unwillingness, lack of enthusiasm, and dragging your feet. All three could not be more apt if they tried.

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Following the soon to be habitual routine of repacking my enormous rucksack, mummifying my damaged feet in bandages, and smothering areas – that for the sake of decorum – shall remain nameless in vast quantities of Vaseline I was grudgingly ready.

Setting off from the spectacular Glencoe Mountain in the early morning mist we watched as a helicopter ferried ski-lift parts from the bottom to the top of the still snow-capped peak, its downdraft blowing away the remaining cobwebs.

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Promptly finding our way back onto the West Highland Way trail we headed south across Rannoch Moor, one of Britain’s largest and wildest – consequently it was also extremely exposed to the elements as we soon discovered. The ten-mile slog across rock-strewn and tricky terrain towards Inveroran was briefly broken up at Ba Bridge where we all watched with hopeful anticipation as Ross clambered down the treacherous riverbank to fill his water bottle. Disappointingly for all concerned he failed to fall into the crystal clear waters below.

Inevitably I soon found myself facing another of the hills that I perpetually seemed to be walking up. However during our occasional rest stops at their summits I soon discovered the joys of lying down on rocks to rest my weary legs. It might have been my exhausted and delusional state but they felt as comfortable at that moment in time as to how I imagine the mattress in The Royal Suite at The Ritz feels.

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Trudging into the remote hamlet of Inveroran, feet throbbing from what felt like miles of fire walking, we found the local Inn. After a replenishing pint of ale, a hearty bowl of soup, and some photos of the local deer defecating we left raring to go… until being immediately faced by yet another mountain.

Descending into the picturesque Bridge of Orchy we found ourselves at another pub. As I sat and sipped my pint of cider outside of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, staring longingly at the railway station across the road, I was quick to learn of one of the consequences of applying such a liberal amount of Vaseline to my commando’d crotch – I left a slug like trail in every place I sat down. I left hastily.

Trekking down an old disused military track we meandered through the valleys of the hills before reaching a railway bridge we had to pass under. Taking the ‘Hobbit House’ approach a little too literally the bridge mustn’t have been more than 5 feet off the ground. I have since learnt that this was actually a ‘sheep creep’ – a means by which livestock can pass from one field to another.

Unfortunately for my oversized rucksack and me once we reemerged from the dark cramped tunnel we very quickly discovered that sheep possess a strength I do not… they could negotiate the very steep and uneven cliff face staring back at me. The air turned blue momentarily but nonetheless we clambered over the rocks and up the abrupt slope before I was yet again reassured that it was all downhill from here.

Thankfully this time the last few miles were relatively flat and we had our sights set on Tyndrum, which was only briefly interrupted by two locals offering me painkillers that would “get me ta tha end nee bortha” – it was like a scene out of Trainspotting.

Finally dragging my shredded feet into Tyndrum, and slightly reinvigorated by my magical painkillers, we all reconvened at a pub (during which a fellow avid walker cheered me up no end by offering that it was much more difficult the way were doing it…), before finding the next hut where I would have to spend another uncomfortable and tender night drinking a warm can of Fosters.

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The evening’s entertainment consisted of an intervention where the contents of my bag were laid out of a picnic table and everyone got to pick something to throw away in an attempt to lighten my load. Seeing as I had been carrying half of Boots’ toiletry section this didn’t turn out to be too difficult. Hair gel down, I retired to bed.

So that was the end of day 2.

Thanks for reading, to be continued…

An evening at The Charity Awards 2015!

Sitting at my laptop last Tuesday morning, I was both perplexed and delighted when I received a surprise invitation to the prestigious Charity Awards in London, an evening hosted by Civil Society Media to celebrate some of the remarkable successes achieved by a vast array of wonderful charities and causes from the last 12 months. The evening was attended by a host of glittering celebrities (Larry Lamb being the most recognisable to me, or as I exclaimed when I saw him, Gav’s Dad from Gavin and Stacey!) and a number of luminaries from across the third sector.

I unashamedly had to borrow my Dad’s tux for the black tie event – a perfect fit, which is a particular cause for concern for my midsummer training regime, and I made my way to London on a Pendelino train that considered air conditioning a superfluous luxury to its sweltering custodians. I was a little nervous and slightly apprehensive on the journey down after taking a look at some of the attendees – The Celtic Foundation, Parkinsons UK, Lumos and The Disabilities Trust – just a few of the household names nominated for awards throughout the evening. I suppose the apprehension was born out of my insistence that I was mistakenly invited, and that on arrival I would be refused entry in my borrowed tux, and i’d be heading back home with my tail tucked firmly between my legs.

Fortunately, my apprehension was quickly replaced by a degree of self-assurdness, partly induced by a glass of bubbly that I enjoyed on my arrival, and I started talking to some really interesting people about all sorts of things, from football (naturally) to African politics. ‘Networking’ as people like to define it these days, can be quite unorthodox and can feel forced, but I thought of the event as more of an opportunity for me to appreciate what great things people have achieved in the third sector, and to find a degree of inspiration from people who live and breathe the cause for which they work.

As you can imagine, this wasn’t difficult; the ceremony was teeming with people who had achieved so much, and I found myself feeling a sense of excitement that usually manifests itself within me during the first week of the World Cup (for the non-football fans out there,  that ‘kid in a sweetshop’ metaphor is likely to hold more resonance). I was enthralled in the remarkable stories of achievement delivered by the self-deprecating and affable compere, Will Greenwood, and I found myself to be genuinely delighted for the well deserved recipients of the 10 different awards presented on the night.

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(Ex-England, Rugby World Cup Winner Will Greenwood was excellent as compere)

The winners of the overall award were Lumos, an incredible charity that have been working towards ending the plight of institutionalised children in Moldova. Thanks to their work, by the end of 2012 the number of institutionalised children in Moldova had reduced by 62%. The government has now drafted a new action plan for deinstitutionalisation for the period of up to 2020 – a remarkable achievement for all those involved.

The point i’m trying to convey is quite a simple one. In current times, there seems to exists a pervasive negative discourse that is relentlessly conveyed by parts of the national media, and it’s easy for us, as a populace, to get caught up in the bad news that we’re fed on a daily basis. But my night in London last week was refreshing, it reminded me that there are thousands of inspirational charities doing their own bit to improve the lives of someone, somewhere, in someway. Whilst we’re at the very start of our journey at The Zuri Project, it’s great to take inspiration from charities that have achieved so much, and we can aspire to emulate some of their remarkable achievements.

Ross @rossoross

Walk for (five ways to) Wellbeing!

By sheer coincidence, our first two fundraising events of 2015 are both endurance events, and they’re both in Scotland. At the end of May, Martin and Chris ran the Edinburgh marathon in ridiculously quick times, 3.24 and 3.40 respectively. I joked with Martin that I couldn’t watch a marathon in that space of time, and those that know me will appreciate that it’s not so far from the truth. The very thought of running 26 miles makes me shudder.

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(Martin & Chris after completing the Edinburgh Marathon)

Having said that, i’ve decided along with my good friends Dan, Fin, Jenna, Joe and Kate to walk the length of the West Highland Way in just five days in July. That’s 96miles for those of you that are interested. If you would like to sponsor us in our attempt to battle the infamous Scottish summer weather, whilst trying to protect ourselves from the swarms of hungry midsummer midges, then you can visit our fundraising page here:

http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/walk-for-wellbeing/354401

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(The 96mile route that takes us across ‘Yon bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’)

We hope that this ‘Walk for Wellbeing’ in Scotland will be the first of many that we can arrange over the next few years, in order to be one of the many ways that we raise funds for the work that we support in Uganda. Fundamentally, the idea for the ‘Walk for Wellbeing’ came from our research into how we could measure our impact as an organisation. We’ve decided that we want to support projects in Uganda that support people across the five ways to wellbeing, and this philosophy is true of our work in the UK as well. According to the New Economics Foundation, the five ways to wellbeing are:

Connect

Be active

Give 

Take Notice 

Keep Learning 

We believe that something as simple as organising and participating in a charitable walk can encompass all five of these ways to wellbeing and these are very simple things that you can incorporate into your every day life to improve your own wellbeing. As a test, I will write a blog after our walk in July, discussing, amongst other things, how the walk made me feel in relation to my own wellbeing.

You can find out more about the five ways to wellbeing here: http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/entry/five-ways-to-well-being

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(Practice makes perfect; our very first practice walk!)

We’d be absolutely delighted to hear from you if you’re interested in either participating in a future walk, or whether you are interested in arranging a walk for you and your friends or work colleagues. It certainly doesn’t have to be 96miles, and it doesn’t have to be in Scotland! We have a dedicated team of volunteers who can offer you support to organise your event, and we will provide you with a fundraising kit and t-shirt for each participant. If you would like to talk to us about a walk, then drop us an email to info@zuriprojectuganda.org or send us a message on Facebook and we will get back to you.

We’re all very excited about our challenge, and some of the guys will be blogging about their experience! If you’re interested in how we get on, we’ll be posting daily photos to our Twitter & Facebook feeds, as well as the odd rambling from the team. Wish us luck!

Ross. @rossoross