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A hope filled visit to Gulu

Visit to Gulu
Visit to Gulu

Tony Gaston, CEO, shares his reflections on his trip to Gulu, Northern Uganda, last month.

“I have just returned from Uganda and the highlight of my trip was spending time at the Vocational Training Institute in Gulu, meeting the students and staff, and walking around the new campus. It is truly remarkable what has been achieved here thanks to your incredible support. 

On the morning we arrived, students lined the entrance as we drove in, singing, clapping, and dancing. The first thing you notice is the bright colours of the students’ clothes and the broad smiles (of those without masks!). It felt like such a meaningful moment. The last time I drove in here was November 2019, when there were no students. Now the place looked full, vibrant, and alive. 

We were led to the main workshop for morning devotions, where over 150 students sat in the hall waiting for us.  

When the students started singing, I felt a lump in my throat. These young people showed such joy and passion. They sang with such emotion, and I could see their desire to be here at this college. I couldn’t help but think about all the dedication, sacrifice, and hard work that had been given by supporters to make this vision a reality, and I longed for many of them to be with me, experiencing this themselves. 

We all took opportunities to speak to the students, but Esther (Executive Director, Fields of Life East Africa) spoke about the importance of character and how a young person can stay on a path of purity. She challenged the young people to guard their hearts, take advantage of the opportunity they have been given, and treasure God’s word in their hearts. 

Many of these students have had upbringings that we can only imagine. One student lost his parents when he was 11 and worked evenings and weekends to pay his and his sibling’s school fees. Another student’s father was murdered, and her mother abandoned her at 5. Each student at this college has a story to tell and a reason for being here. 

Tears built up as I sat there listening to Esther and thinking about what each student had to go through to be here. I closed my eyes tightly and thanked God for what he was doing and the new hope he had given these young people. 

After the devotions, we walked around the new campus. The scale of the buildings is hard to show in pictures, but they are significant. This is not just a building but multiple buildings, workshops, dormitories, a café, an IT suite and more.  

The main thing that stood out to me was not the buildings but seeing the buildings occupied. This project has been over five years in the making, delayed significantly by the pandemic. To see students in classes, learning, hoping, and dreaming of what they can achieve – that is what makes this all worthwhile.  

There was a jam-packed tailoring course, a hairdressing course, an automotive mechanics course, a carpentry course, a building and construction course, and an IT suite, and all the buildings were being used.  

If I had more hair, maybe I could have stayed longer at the hairdressing course, and it felt wrong to take advantage of the massage bed, but I observed that all these tools and equipment were put to good use. This is only week 3 of a 2-year course, so I know every piece of equipment will make such a critical difference. 

The staff also really inspired me. James, the Principal shows such professionalism and dedication. He tragically lost his wife during the pandemic. She died suddenly with breathing difficulties, and it was a great to shock to everyone, leaving James to look after 3 young children alone.  

Despite all that he has been through, he works diligently and passionately. It is our desire to build James Principal’s accommodation on site that has enough space for his children as well if funding allows.

Other staff were also very inspiring, full of excitement to be able to teach again after such a long time. The long college closure due the pandemic was hard for the students, but it was also challenging for  the teachers. 

Overall, the feeling that both I and Esther felt was that of a “new thing” that was happening in Northern Uganda. The verse that keeps coming up is Isaiah 43, v19, “See I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 

To all our supporters, small and large, thank you for being part of this new thing that is happening in Northern Uganda. The difference that is being made to these young people is incredible. Thank you!”