Former pupils of schools built in Africa by a charity that is based in Northern Ireland have visited the Province.
The group of successful young Ugandans were seeking to say thank you to donors to the Fields of Life charity, and to raise awareness of its schools.
Fields of Life (FOL) was founded by the Reverend Trevor Stevenson, a Church of Ireland minister who is now pastor of Crinken Church in Bray, Co Wicklow.
The charity, which has a head office in Portadown, began work in 1995 in an agricultural project in Kasangati, near Uganda’s capital Kampala. Trevor and his wife Ruth saw that many children had no school to attend, so the first Fields of Life partner school was built on the farm in 1997.
Now there are 91 Fields of Life partner schools in Uganda, and more in other countries in east Africa.
The schools, which were built in some very poor communities, have a Christian ethos and seek to improve the opportunities of the often destitute children living there.
This is has been the experience of the NI visitors, which included singers and lawyers. They have founded a group called Fields of Life Alumni, and want to “give back” in thanks for their help by building a school in Karamoja, a deprived part of Uganda.
Among those who visited Northern Ireland was Trinity Nsabaanye, 25, who grew up in the slums of Kampala.
He never met his father, and his mother sold coal to make ends meet, but she was keen for him to get to school.
On his first day at a school, all that he had was stolen (“down to the shoes on my feet”). His mum moved him to a Fields of Life school, where his “transformation” began.
“We had good Christian education, the environment was good,” Trinity says.
He is now a self-employed graphic designer.
Keith Mutabazi, 39, FOL partnership coordinator, also came to Northern Ireland with the group, who left on Sunday.
His parents had left Rwanda in 1959, and he grew up in a refugee camp. Keith was drawn to work with FOL “to help children who were in the position I was in when I was growing up”.
Trinity, who was sponsored by people in Northern Ireland, says: “I am so grateful for the generosity of this country towards Africa.”
One of the visit organisers was Rev Willie Nixon, whose Drumbeg Anglican church is helping build an FOL school. He said: “Through the gift of education, by FOL schools, these young people have managed to go on to university and into the professional worlds.”
• More information www.fieldsoflife.org or 028 3839 0395