A life changing experience

Posted on: 7th July, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

As part of his prize for winning the SelfHelp Africa Science for Development Award at the National BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2013, Fergus Jayes, (17), a sixth year in Clonakilty Community College, travelled to Uganda in conjunction with a school study with SelfHelp Africa in February 2014.

Fergus’ goal was to field test a solar powered fridge, which he invented with two other students, and outline its efficiency in a real life scenario, possibly seriously enhancing the consumption of safe stored food and storage of medicinal supplies. Fergus speaks about his experience in Africa and how the trip affected his outlook on life.

IMAGE ABOVE: Fergus Jayes (wearing sunglasses) pictured in Uganda.

The first thing you experience once the plane doors open might not be the most expected occurrence; the overwhelming stench of years and years of burned fabric, dead wood and all manners of items. You can only wonder what you’ve got yourself into, as the first step into the unknown is always the hardest. Africa’s beauty is matched only by it’s danger, was our coordinators message.

As we hurtled towards our first hotel in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, we must have locked eyes with over a thousand school children stumbling on the side of the road. I wish we could describe the looks we shared. Their eyes shimmered with desire. They desired to see from our eyes, learn about our world, experience just a taste of it. I had won this trip for my invention of a solar powered fridge along with two others who were unfortunately unable to attend. We amassed our idea through our one goal: If we can’t give them our world, then we must strive to make theirs more similar. I was truly hell bent on succeeding by field testing our fridge, and making a difference like SelfHelp Africa has done on so many occasions in previous years.

At the SelfHelp Africa office in Kampala, I was delighted to learn the fridge worked perfectly when I tested it. I had proven the simplest ideas could make the biggest differences.

It was shortly after we left the city, that we encountered the first sign of poverty. As traffic had begun to halt, I looked over to a ravaged sidewalk. Lying there was a girl possibly my own age, yet the way her limbs moved so feebly suggested a life span beyond what I imagined. In her arms were folds of mud-stricken blankets from which the cries of an infant could be heard. She shifted unsteadily, and then ambled towards our jeep. Hand outstretched, mumbling incoherent words, she pleaded with us indignantly. She looked me in the eye for a brief second, and I recoiled as if stung. The driver who was clearly acquainted with this scenario, calmly put up the window and drove off. The jeep was eerily quiet, I hadn’t moved a muscle. No amount of preparation can prepare you for what you see in Africa. I will never forget the pleading look she gave me, where every day you never know when death can wait around the corner. It is not a life I would wish on my worst enemy.

Outside Kampala, we began to enter more rugged terrain, as we glided through fields of golden corn, which lit up amongst the smoke rising in the distance. A village came into sight, several hastily constructed mud shacks. As we emerged from our jeeps, the children gazed at us like we were aliens. The girls in our group fawned over the babies, and quickly became impossible to separate. I was too busy overcome with the sheer complexity of the landscape that had unfolded before me. Halfway across the world yet it seemed as if it was an alternate world altogether. As if the world had taken everything I had previously known, and perspectively outlined the creases that were invisible to the naked eye. The villages we saw were in a dire state. Children ran half naked ignoring the half-hearted attempts to calm down by their skeletal parents.

Over the following days, we visited pre-orated cave paintings, which told stories from centuries past. We trekked long and hard through the intense and unyielding sun, which delivered rays of up to 40 degrees Celsius and beyond. At the end, three others and myself decided to partake in a mini soccer match with a group of local boys. Despite us being twice their size and age, we were left in awe of their skill. All they had was a circular tuft of cotten hastily wrapped in rope.

We finally visited a local school in Kumi, which allowed us a break from the constant supply of lizards invading our bedrooms. I have never met a more polite and disciplined group of children. English being one of their primary languages, we were able to engage in lengthy conversations with them. They were delighted to learn we had brought many gifts for them. I gifted my favourite Cork jersey to one, who was perplexed by it’s meaning. We also engaged them in a hurling game, which they were naturals at. During their goodbyes, many stood up without hesitation and publicly thanked us for our generosity, bringing a tear to many of our eyes. I decided then to leave my working model of the solar fridge for them, to keep and use. I have never regretted that decision.

The people of Uganda are the most sincere and welcoming people I have ever met. I saw things I’ve never imagined of and it’s only strengthened my resolve to improve their lives. It was my privilege and honour to meet such a fantastic people and I would recommend any individual to try this life-changing experience.

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