Before arriving in Africa I’d hoped to do some volunteer work along the way. Travelling through Africa and talking to people it is clear how divisive the subject of aid work is here. Many orphanages I’d looked at involved a charge of £100 per week to volunteer. This suggested to me, any work being done by volunteers was more for their good rather than the orphans and the money was simply lining the pockets of those running the facility.
I’d discussed this dilemma with my friend James Lucas who recommended I go visit Isaac Nserenko and the Nserester Orphanage in Uganda. It was a charity he had visited and been supporting for a number of years. The philosophy and operation of the Nserester orphanage stood out from the other organisations I’d looked at. With their sponsorship money they have set up a farm to grow food for the orphans, selling their pigs to help pay for the wages of the teachers.
Isaac Nserenko is the director of the orphanage and his extra-ordinary story is best told in an email from Guy Lee who established the Scottish arm of the charity:-
“Isaac Nsereko was born to a polygamous marriage (his father had four wives) as was very common 50 years ago in Africa. His father died when he was born, his mother when he was 8 years old. He was left in the care of stepmothers who do not like looking after yet more children. Isaac was treated so badly that he ran away from home and for the next nine years (age 8-17) he lived as an urchin in a border town. There were a number of homeless children with him, they stole food, slept rough and had a desperate existence. In 1978 Idi Amin’s (he was a vile dictator of Uganda) troops were on their way to Tanzania to fight. They went through this border town, saw these urchins, herded them into a compound and threw grenades at them , supposedly to ‘put them out of their misery’. The majority were killed except Isaac who survived this carnage and running away from the terror was rescued by a Muslim cattle trader. He sent Isaac to hospital paid for his recovery(there is nothing free in Uganda). When he was better this man then paid for Isaac to go back to primary school (aged 17!) where he had left his education, then to secondary school and on to University. After his graduation Isaac wanted to go into the church; the Good Samaritan who had rescued him, although he was a Muslim, had never indoctrinated Isaac with his own faith and allowed him to remain a Christian. Just before Isaac was ordained this old man was on his death bed, Isaac went to see him and asked how he could repay him for saving his life. The old man said “ I have helped you. You must now go and help others”. Isaac was ordained, given a rural parish and started his ministry. He moved quickly through the ranks of the Church of Uganda and was on the staff of a cathedral near Kampala. He was asked to speak to a group about his suffering. One member of the audience was a man called John Taylor who had been the Bishop of Winchester in Hampshire. On retiring he went out to visit Uganda where he had been bought up. On hearing Isaac’s story he said what an amazing tale. Isaac said he was troubled by the wishes of his Good Samaritan and did not know how he should carry his command to help others. John Taylor said “The best place to start is to begin” and so Isaac found five children on the street and under the shade of a tree started to teach. John Taylor went back to Hampshire and raised funds through friends. With the money some land was bought, a building erected and so began the story of Nserester.”
Sadly, John Taylor passed away and no one took up his mantle in raising money for the charity. Un-beknown to Isaac who was dealing with one of the worst famines in Uganda at the time. Trying to pay for rising food prices as no money from the charity was coming in really highlighted to Isaac the need to be self-sustainable. A generous donation from a young doctor set the ball rolling for the farm, which has gone from strength to strength. It even has the support of a farmer union in the scottish borders.
The desire to become self-sustainable and the success of the orphanage in nurturing orphans through education to take on jobs and start their own businesses is the reason why I have chosen to raise awareness of this charity and raise sponsorship through this trip. When it comes to orphans in Africa, Nserester is a drop in the ocean but the work they are doing is clearly making a big difference in Uganda; best shown in the extensive support network of successful orphans that have graduated from Nsrester. If you too feel inspired by the work and story of Nserester please feel free to make your donations to:
Account Nserester. Sort code 83:26:34 Account no: 00150083 or
cheque to Nserester, Sandystones, Jedburgh,TD8 6UP.
Registered charity number is SC 037976.