Almost 50 members gathered in St Peter’s Church Londonderry for the annual Overseas meeting, where the guest speaker was Revd Carmen Hayes. Following the bible reading by Jennifer Given, Mark Ch 14 v1-9 and the intersessions led by President Jacqui, Revd Carmen shared with everyone stories of transformation that have taken place in Madi West Nile Diocese since her last visit five years ago.

Speaking with passion and humour Revd Carmen informed members that although quite a challenging trip in respect of the travel, limited and different food, the fact that there was no electricity or hot water in their guest house and the abundance of mosquitos,  her META Team all agreed God had a hand in bringing them together to minister to, help and encourage everyone they met.

In Uganda a lack of education is a huge problem, as 70% of the population are uneducated. 84% are Christian and 14% have an Islamic background and it is estimated that 25% of girls give birth in their teens. Uganda has a constant influx of refugees coming across their borders from war torn Republic of Congo and South Sudan, one and a half million to date.

Revd Carmen explained that Mothers’ Union in the area are a mighty force, having an influential roll in local politics and a huge influence on both health and social issues.

Since her first visit there has been a marked improvement in health care. Kuluva Hospital has been upgraded with a new reception area and triage. The maternity unit is under repair and although the incubators are old fashioned, they still work! Young girls giving birth are taken to a catchment facility, but discharged home the following day with their babies. The team met Heather Sharland a midwife from Draperstown who works with these young girls, supporting and caring for them as much as possible, but the baby mortality rate among them is high.

Revd Carmen was delighted to meet up with Revd Alice, the former Mothers’ Union representative and now a parish priest. She was introduced to Vicky the new representative whom she described as a wonderful girl. Vicky had arranged to take her and the team to the prison, explaining that they pay for and take 2 kilos of brown sugar with them each week to sweeten the porridge given to the ladies each morning. These ladies are given 2 yellow dresses to wear while in custody and if their babies have been imprisoned with them, leave at the age of 3 years.

Arrangements were made for the team to visit a reception area where the refugees from Congo arrive. Here their details including tribe are taken, food and healthcare administered if needed, showers made available and within one week all are transported to appropriate camps. Everything is organised with military precision and Revd Carmen and the team were filled with hope for their futures.

Moving on to visit three of these camps the team were amazed at the work being done to help the refugees help themselves. In one soap making was being taught and these bars were sold in the local marketplace. In another delicious biscuits were made for sale, if there were any left over the children were indulged! In another a Barber shop had been set up and many taught to use the hair clippers powered by solar panels. Emphasis is on building their capabilities to enable them to identify their needs and act to reduce poverty and hunger and promote good health. The whole team were filled with optimism and confidence that good things were happening for the future of these displaced people.

Attending the Clergy Conference, the team met with Bishop Collins Andaku and his wife Plane, a very hands on Mothers’ Union member. The Cathedral has been refurbished and can be used as a youth centre, a much needed facility, considering the number of children. A new church has been built holding 400 people and three services are held each Sunday where they sing, dance and pray. There are 1700 children attached to the Sunday School. With practical support and the truth of the Gospel there is much fellowship and community spirit among the people.

A rural development programme has been set up where families can borrow money from a central source, much like the Credit Union. This money can be used to fund their projects and repaid when in profit. Families have been taught crafts, which can be sold or exchanged, the rudiments of farming, such as the type of crops to grow and how to look after animals and this is making a huge difference in the amount of money they can earn.

 Progress is being made and lives are being changed, and even though much remains to be done in Madi West Nile Revd Carmen and her team were encouraged and uplifted by the changes and transformations that have taken place.

Revd Carmen concluded her talk by encouraging members not to isolate people like the Ugandan Loser buffalo, or judge people on their outward appearance, but embrace them into the church family, supporting and encouraging them to the glory of God.

At the end of the meeting thanks were extended to Revd Carmen by Anne Smith and President Jacqui and Overseas certificates were presented to each branch.