May I begin by firstly thanking St Peter’s staff, students, and the families and friends of St Peter’s for the encouraging emails and texts I received during my time in Africa, as well as the warm welcome I have received on my return.
As many of you would be aware I have spent the last six months working in the far north of Uganda, a stone’s throw from South Sudan. This region is referred to as “Acholiland” by the people who live there, and I have had the privilege of serving God and the Acholi people there many times over the past five years. My work there is in partnership with the Irene Gleeson Foundation (IGF), which was started over two decades ago by an Australian grandmother.
“Mama Irene”, as she would come to be called by the Acholi people, sold her home on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and travelled to war torn Northern Uganda to support and care for the countless children displaced by the war and forced to live in refugee camps. Countless thousands died in these camps from hunger and disease. Mama Irene literally parked her caravan in the middle of a war zone and used the money from the sale of her home to buy food and medicine for the children. Sadly, Mama Irene passed away in 2013 after a long battle with cancer, but the work that she started continues. Today the program includes 4 schools which feed and educate over 4000 children each school day. Many of the people who work and serve with IGF today are children saved by the work of Mama Irene over the past two decades.
My work there has grown over the past five years to include:
- Training a team of local leaders (including teachers and support staff) to better understand and respond to those suffering the effects of trauma.
- Proving psychological/counselling support to IGF staff, many of whom have lived through unimaginable pain and suffering.
- Teaching weekly bible studies at the church Mama Irene established there.
- Spending time each week in the local prison encouraging and supporting inmates, including working with a team who support inmates transition from prison life back into their communities.
- Teaching on various mental health issues each week on a live radio program. The radio station Mama Irene set up reaches around 1.5 million people across Acholiland each day.
- Conducting educational assessments of students in IGF’s schools and then advising teachers on potential strategies to improve the educational needs of these students.
- This trip I also had the privilege of visiting St Peter’s sponsor child. “Sindrella” attends an IGF school located less than 35 km from South Sudan. It was a privilege to pass on to her the gifts organised by our students and Junior school staff.
- Finally, I spent time each week in the classroom teaching Mathematics to 167 Year 1 students, as well as training/mentoring a number of IGF teaches on new ways to teach mathematics.
In closing, may I encourage you to visit the IGF website and consider supporting this amazing charity through child sponsorship or donating to one of their many projects. Their website address is irenegleesonfoundation.com