- “Before we went to Uganda, my daughters had been complaining ‘Oh, we’re so poor’ because they’d seen friends get holidays to Disney World or getting Xboxes for their birthdays and stuff like that..."
A MUM from the Highlands in the UK was fed up with her young children complaining they were poor – so took them on a “life-changing” trip to Uganda to show them the real meaning of poverty.
Aid worker Ziz York believes the two-week trip to the African nation has made daughters Nia (9) and eight-year-old Robyn realise how fortunate they are to have been born in the UK.
The 35-year-old mum hopes her children will think twice about moaning about not getting everything that they want, after seeing first-hand the difficulties faced by kids growing up in the developing world.
Inverness-born Ziz works as overseas project coordinator for Welsh humanitarian charity Teams4U which was given a £36,000 UK Government grant to support its educational work on menstrual and sexual health in Uganda.
She explained: “Before we went to Uganda, my daughters had been complaining ‘Oh, we’re so poor’ because they’d seen friends get holidays to Disney World or getting Xboxes for their birthdays and stuff like that.
“I turned round and said, ‘You have a roof over your head, we have loose change in our pockets, we can buy pretty much what we want in a supermarket, you have freedom of movement, we are in the top five per cent richest in the world.’
“Nia said, ‘No, we’re not. We don’t have a mansion or servants.’ But after taking them to Uganda and going ‘this is the reality for most of the world’ it made her think.
“It made things a lot easier for Christmas because for the first time they were not asking for ridiculous things. They have an understanding now that they are lucky to have much more than most kids do.”
Wrexham-based charity Teams4U received a £36,000 grant in 2018 through the UK Government’s Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF), a scheme run by the Department for International Development (DFID).
The funding is supporting Teams4U’s work helping improve menstrual and sexual health education in Uganda.
Ziz, who now lives in Wrexham, paid for her children to accompany her on a visit to the project last year.
She said: “We do live in a suburban bubble, so Uganda was mind-blowing for them.
“I think the biggest eye-opener for them was just the lack of clothing. They were seeing children that were a quarter dressed because their clothes were that ragged.
“They saw the lack of basic supplies we take for granted. The Ugandan kids didn’t have pens, paper, underwear… a lot of them didn’t have shoes. There were no toys.
“My youngest was seven at the time but took to it like a duck to water and made friends instantly. My eldest is more introverted and felt very overwhelmed at times.
“She was crowded all the time simply because the local kids were fascinated with these mzungu children – stroking their hair and asking them all sorts of questions.
“My kids weren’t fully exposed to the most dramatic things, like children dying from malaria or suffering from serious malnutrition because of the lack of medical supplies and food. But they got enough of an idea about why we need to help.
“I wish more British people could get that perspective.”
The birth rate in poverty-stricken Uganda is 5.6 children per woman – more than double the global average of 2.4.
Last year it was reported that a Ugandan mum, Mariam Babatanzi, had given birth to 44 children. The 39-year-old had married aged 12 but had been abandoned by her husband, forcing her to support their surviving 38 children alone.
Ziz said: “There is so much fragility in the country because of overpopulation. One of the biggest killers in the area is land disputes because they are fighting to the death over it.
“One that got me was this guy I met in hospital, who literally had had his legs macheted off and his land taken from him. But he was smiling, and that really broke me.
“When you see kids dying because families have no money for food or medicine, you appreciate that there is a systemic problem with them having too many kids.”
Teams4U’s project is working with more than 1000 community leaders to tackle the overpopulation issue as part of DFID’s bid to support 360,000 women and girls with modern methods of family planning, as well as helping 200,000 females into education.
Ziz said: “Our SCCF grant is funding a ‘train the trainers’ programme to transform attitudes to sexual and menstrual health education.
“When we first started this project in September 2018, people viewed sex education as encouraging children, as they phrase it, to ‘play sex’.
“There were so many ‘oh really?’ stories on sexual health that cause all sorts of problems. Condoms cause cancer is a good one. Contraception will cause permanent infertility. If you douche in Coca-Cola you won’t get pregnant.
“When it comes to menstruation, girls are just never told that their period pain is normal. There’s even a story put about that sex cures period pain, so they are told to get a man.
“There’s quite a few unusual theories and beliefs around menstrual care. One teacher told a girl that menstrual blood is a vagina crying because she had done something wrong.
“Girls are told if they are on their periods, they can’t hold siblings because they’ll be barren, or that they can’t go the same route to school because they will curse the crops. There’s one that if you step on menstrual blood, you’ll get cracks in your legs.
“These beliefs may seem weird to us, but a lot of it stems from a lack of any formal sex education.”
Ziz added: “On my last trip in October, we dealt with 375 community leaders – priests, nurses, doctors, teachers, head teachers.
“We found lots of statistics, even from their own government, that they just hadn’t had access to. We were able to change opinions.
“The feedback that we got was, ‘Yes, this is what we need to do. This is necessary’.
“When you get head teachers writing on their evaluation form, ‘the biggest thing I learned today is that menstruation is normal and not a disease’, it makes you realise the scale of the problem.
“One of the most powerful moments so far was when a priest said to me, ‘I genuinely thought that family planning was there to kill us and now I know it is for our own development.’ For me, that was a eureka moment because that’s why we’re there.”
DFID is encouraging more small charities doing vital work around the world to apply for SCCF funding before the April 30 deadline.
International development minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “The UK Government’s Small Charities Challenge Fund was set up to make it easier for smaller UK organisations, which do vital work around the world, to access the crucial support they need to help end poverty.
“UK aid has helped Welsh charity Teams4U expand their work to improve sexual and menstrual health awareness among girls in Uganda so they can thrive at school and reach their full potential.
“We want more small charities, doing important, life-changing and live-saving work in developing countries, to apply for a grant, so they can grow, and support jobs in the UK, while making even more of a difference globally.”