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International volunteers at the Centre – Linda Hopper

When the celebrations to mark 20 years of Kitega Community Centre were launched on the last day of March, it was a great privilege for me to represent 200 volunteers, who have either travelled from many countries from five different continents to the Centre, or have been virtual volunteers online. It was not only a privilege, but a great joy, as Kitega is very close to my heart.

This is my fourth visit to Kitega as a volunteer. Why do I come back from Scotland to Kitega? Because I love what you have here. You have Community. 20 years ago, the work began because one family recognised the need for community to recognise every person – to love and value each one. People, who previously had been marginalised from village life because they were different, were now on the agenda.
So 20 years ago two brothers had concerns about a niece who had learning difficulties. They had an idea of doing something about the general feeling that such children should be kept at home, unseen their community. So, enlisting their sister’s help to find more children who were being kept away, they began to meet outside St. Andrews Church of Uganda, under the mango tree, which still stands. A small group of children and young people came together to learn, to build on their strengths and to be given additional help to make their lives meaningful.
Some potential recruits have been unable to travel to the Centre; for them, there is an outreach programme of home visits, to include meeting their needs. To truly be community, each individual in that community needs to have a sense of belonging. Belonging is part of our relational growth. When I visit Kitega, I feel I belong here – I thank you for that; I just love it when I come and someone greets me with “Welcome Home”.
I meet such inspirational people here. VICOBA – Village Community Bank was an idea that came into being through the Word of God challenging an elderly lady in a Ugandan village. She told me that she and her neighbour used to sit and cry together, because they could see no hope for the future. They had nothing and could not see anything changing. But then she went to a Bible Study. It was a study on 2 Kings chapter 4 verses 1-7. A widow in a desperate situation called to the prophet Elisha to help her. Creditors were coming to take away her two sons and use them as slaves. Elisha asked how he could help her. Then he posed this question: ‘What do you have in your house?’ She replied ‘Nothing at all’ and then as an afterthought ‘except a little oil’. So Elisha told her to collect from her neighbours al the empty jars they could find. When they had all the jars they could find, they went into the house, shut the door, as told and poured oil into each jar. The oil kept flowing until the last jar was full. Then Elisha told the widow to go and sell the oil, pay off her debts and live on the rest of her profits.
The Ugandan lady went home; she had been challenged by the Word of God. She called her neighbours and she searched her house. What did she have? What did her neighbours have? A few pots and pans that they rarely used. So they began to share what they did have, so they acted in community. The church in her village had begun a literacy programme and the lay reader who was organising it felt that there could be something more. David Clemy was brought in to talk with the ladies. He took back to the Centre the idea of groups working together. From there VICOBA was born. There are now 16 groups in this area and five other countries have taken up this way of working. A young man said of VICOBA ‘they think together’ – that is true community.
But VICOBA is not the only thing that came from that lady’s believing the Word of God. Her whole village is transformed. It is a village of which I would truly love to be a villager.
But in another village an elderly lady tells me proudly ‘Now I can write my name’. What an achievement. With no opportunity for schooling , this lady now has access to many things, because she can write her name.
In 2013 the Umoja company was formed. On Sunday afternoon, the Umoja House project was launched, with 32 of the 38 foundation pillars being bought. This means that the foundation of the much needed building can begin. It will house a community space, a bakery, a tailoring room and facilities for teaching deaf people.
The Churches’ Mobilisation for Holistic Development was started in 2017 and in 2018 the Prison Ministry was introduced by the Centre to help churches minister the love of Jesus to those in prison – they too are people in our community.
Are you a part of the Kitega Community. Wherever you are in the world, there is something you could give to help this wonderful work. Are you a volunteer? You might not be able to travel to East Africa, but you could be a virtual volunteer. God has gifted you with something which you could use for Him through Kitega’s work.
Local volunteers are so valuable. We have a grandfather of one of the children at the Centre who is a tailor. He comes to share his skills, which will enable some children to earn a living later in life. We have a refugee from South Sudan who helps with the tailoring too. We have a retired teacher who uses her skills in the schoolroom. We have young people who help with maintenance, logistics and accounts. There is something you can offer so that you show to those at the Centre that you care about them and appreciate them.
Whatever you offer to those at the Centre, I tell you that you will always receive more than you can ever give.
Never despise a small idea- you do not know when God has His big plan for it to grow. Jesus used seeds and how they produce crops in His teaching. The seeds of the Centre were the ideas of one family; the seeds of VICOBA were a widow and her neighbour. They planned and they prayed and they gave to God what they had. God has made those seeds to grow. Whole villages have been changed in a very positive way.
Each time I come, I go home with stories that touch the hearts of those who listen. The sense of joy of those whose lives have become full of hope for the future, whereas previously they had no hope. The joy of the people who tell me that they can now have sugar in their tea – so appreciative of something so small.
When I first met David Clemy, he told me the Kitega Community Centre was Kingdom work. It is a shining example of the Kingdom of God reaching out to everyone. When the love of Jesus, His care and compassion reach out to all, the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour comes closer.
I love to tell the stories that are made in Kitega. May the next 20 years be full of hope and transformation. A lady said to me “What has happened in Kitega is a miracle”. That is so true. Jesus said that miracles were not only to help people with their different needs, but signs so that people might know Him – that He was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world and the Coming King.

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