Every night of this trip the whole group has sat together and chatted. As part of this conversation we have all nominated our top three moments of the day. Today, I will find it impossible to nominate just three. There were so many amazing moments that made this the perfect day in Uganda.
The Conversation Cup is a competition between all 10 schools in the QE Parks Project on the playing fields at Kyambura School. Ten children from each school participate in Tag Rugby and Football and also deliver a presentation with a conservation message.
Of course I was cheering for Rihamu. The children had only received their tag rugby kit a week ago, but have been training hard since. Many of the schools have been playing for years and Rihamu improved every game. I was delighted that by their final game, the children put up a stiff challenge and managed a 1-1 draw.
At break I handed the children some biscuits I’d purchased at a shop in Kampala on day 1. One little girl reached into the jar and pulled out a ginger nut. “Don’t eat yours yet!” called another child. “I’m not going to eat it,” she replied. “I’m only looking; it’s from the expensive super market.”
Rihamu’s football team are very skilful and performed brilliantly. I was on the side-lines cheering every kick. I must admit that the ecstatic cheer that I let out when their first goal was scored rang very loudly around the playing field. Rihamu went on to win that game and the next! The team qualified easily from their group and progressed as far as the semi-finals. The semi-final was a very tense affair with New Life School. Two very evenly matched teams. At the full-time whistle the scores were still 0-0 and extra time beckoned. Memories of Italia 90 and Euro 96 resurfaced as Rihamu let in the first goal in with literally the last kick of extra-time. This was the first time the children have taken part in a competition and to progress so far is a stunning achievement.
That left the conservation presentation. Rihamu performed a poem written by the Headteacher Shakilah, last weekend. The children had it memorised by lunchtime on Monday and spent the week perfecting their performance. I blogged earlier in the week that I thought they stood a great chance, but this performance brought things to the next level. They took to the stage in costume, having used a nearby tree to manufacture ‘branch’ headdresses. The performance was loud, slick and synchronised and brought huge cheers at the end. For me the result was never in doubt and as expected Rihamu were crowed Conservation Champions, winning a valuable prize of a boat safari in the Queen Elizabeth National Park!
Shakilah and her team are amazing. They achieve so much with so little, making a daily difference to children with extremely meagre resources. In Uganda it doesn’t matter what clothes you wear or what car you drive. Everyone is together and they look out for each other, nobody is judging. It is inspiring.
Huge congratulations to CM Sports for organising an excellent tournament. The sight of the post-presentation celebrations, hundreds of children dancing on the field, brought home to me the difference that a simple sports tournament had made. Then it was time for emotional goodbyes.
I return to the UK with pen-pal letters for the children and staff of Hambledon. Also with a snazzy hat and a plaque for my office. But more than that, I return to England having fallen in love with Rihamu School and the many friends I have made there.
As I went for tea at Tembo there was time for yet another Ugandan surprise. We have to drive everywhere in the park in the evening and night. This is because of the risk from wild animals. As I walked into the garden of Hippo House to board the bus I froze. Literally no more than 10 metres in-front of me, walking through our garden was a herd of elephants! I stood agog as 30 Elephants walked through past us, occasionally stopping to rip some leaves from the trees to eat. Perhaps I got too confident, but to get a better shot on my mobile phone I stepped towards a giant elephant. He decided to remind me who was in charge! Letting out a loud trumpet, he turned and started to run towards our group. Obviously I panicked and hid safely behind the bus. An exhilarating finish to a heart-pounding day.