In October 2016, Chris (UK Director) and Mark (Co-Founder) went to visit Francis (Uganda Director) & Joshua (Co-Founder) in Uganda and had many conversations, looking at ways to improve and refine the HFLKatanga programs. The conversations they were having together, and with friends, were so interesting, they started to record them.
Instead of posting the entire transcript, or dodgy audio recording, we have broken the conversation up. Below is Grace's contribution to one of those conversations. This conversation began as the team wanted to learn from the experience that others had of being a sponsored child.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your sponsorship background?
My name is Grace, I was sponsored into school by a charity from P.3 (Primary, year three) up to university. I'm now 27 years old. I joined the class run by this charity when I was four. Later on, there was an opportunity of recruiting new sponsored children to attend a school. One of my teachers registered my young sister and myself. We both went through the sponsorship. When I was in primary, the charity paid all my school fees. I was living in the village so the school fees were not a lot. Then, when I reached secondary, because the cost had gone up, they were giving UGX 75,000 (£20) per term, and the parents would be responsible for topping up the balance. So my dad would top up the balance, and then after S.1 (Secondary, year one) he could not top up, so I requested for an opportunity to be helped to top up my school fees. Because I was an active child, involved in the project activities, and also because my grades were really good, I was considered eligible to apply for the top up program.
My school fees were topped up. The charity took me to a boarding school, where they paid all my school fees, as well as paying for some small shopping for me. Unfortunately, when I was in S.5, the money that was given out for top up could not come anymore, so my parents had to look for a way to continue with my education, with only the UGX 75,000 (£20) per term that is given to every child at secondary school fees. I then had to look for a school that wasn’t as good as the one I had been attending, which my parents could afford. Fortunate enough, I managed to get into a good school, where they would take me on at sponsorship level because my grades were really good. So I studied my advanced level (years 12 and 13) under the school sponsorship program, whilst this charity was paying the sponsorship amount it gives to all the other kids. I then after, applied to join university, where I went through all their screening process and all that was required for me to join university. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to join university under their sponsorship. I studied IT.
I really think, if there was an opportunity there for every child to be given all the school fees, it would be really nice. I had friends that couldn't continue with school because their parents didn't have the surplus to top up for them to continue with school. So if there was an opportunity of increasing the amount they give to all children then I feel it would be fair. I'm grateful though, to be among the people that got the opportunity of the top up, to enable me to go through school. I'm sure I wouldn't have made it if there wasn’t that opportunity for me.
What was your experience of your sponsor?
I had two sponsors in primary and secondary, then in university I got another sponsor. When I was in primary and secondary, my sponsors rarely sent me letters but my sister’s sponsor was really very frequent. She was always excited to get her letter and then get back to her sponsor. I think because of logistics and the distance, sometimes two letters would come at once, one that was written in January and then one written in May. For the children who were able to read and respond, it was easy for them to respond back to the sponsor. The children in primary are helped. They are sometimes helped by older children in high school, or staff workers, to write back to their sponsors.
So for my case when I was at university, I had a very close relationship with my sponsor, she wrote me a letter every month, so I kept up to date with what is going on in her life and her family. I really felt like she was more close to me than even my parents because she asked me a lot of personal questions that I had to really think about and respond. I was at university at the time, I knew what to answer, I knew what to tell her, it was enjoyable. She was so encouraging. So I really appreciate that part in university but in primary and high school, it wasn't fun because I always longed to know what my sponsor looked like but I never did, yet other children would get letters and I never did, so that was sad for me as a child.
Did any of the sponsors come out to meet you or your friends?
My sister's sponsor came to Uganda to visit when she was finishing university. She had the same sponsor from primary to university. I think that was one of the best moments of her life. I dreamt of meeting my sponsor; to think that someone out there does not know you but they love you like their own. Its like every child’s dream to meet the person who sends the money.
You and your sister had different experiences when receiving letters from your sponsors. What about gifts?
Normally, every child received a Christmas gift. At my project, some children would receive more money but generally most received the same. Some of us would also receive birthday gifts. That was one of the most exciting moments of that particular child. But it is the most sad moment for us who did not receive. I received a birthday gift a few times in secondary school, whereas my sister would receive a gift each year, sometimes some good money like UGX 200,000-300,000 (£50-£75)
The gift was usually money. Of course for young children, you would receive it with your parents and then they would ask you for accountability (acknowledgement of receipt), especially in the letter you would have to write to your sponsor, explaining that I received this money and would like to do this, and this, and this. Normally they would encourage the parents to spend it on birthdays and then if it is some more money then they would advise the parents to buy something constructive for the child. For the older children, for those in high school, they would give you the money and then ask you for accountability. In my case, I would usually use that money to add on my school requirements; maybe I need a text book, maybe I need a calculator, maybe I want a new pair of shoes for my school. So most of the time I would use that money to help me with other school necessities.
At Christmas they would gift us an equal amount. Normally that gift would be used to buy dresses and shoes. Christmas parties were always big feasts for us, we would look forward to that day. We would buy very nice dresses, which our families would never used to buy.
How has receiving sponsorship helped you?
I'm not working currently, taking care of my son at home, but I was working with a project that changes the lives of vulnerable girls that have been out of school. I would also do school motivation talks, going to schools and motivating students, letting them know they can make it if they are determined.
This program made me who I am. If it wasn’t for this sponsorship program, I would be a local woman, married to some funny guy in the village. I wouldn't really of had the opportunity to be in school. In my family, my sister and I, we are the only ones that have a degree. My other siblings have been on and off through school because my parents couldn't afford. Luckily enough they have got a diploma but for all of them it was because of government sponsorship, not because of payments from our parents. All of my siblings were at school one year, then had a year off, before going back to school, whilst our parents raised the money. Yet me and my sister studied all through without sitting out, and we managed to get our degrees.
This is part 1 of 3 (or 4) blogs that has come from the discussions Mark, Chris, Joshua & Francis had with friends in Uganda. Grace's experience was fairly positive. Next week Michael's experience.