Interview with Nestar from Uganda, an amazing mother of 4 precious biological children and 285 precious not-biological children, policy analyst and founder of an incredible UKEF foundation.
All the way from Kitgum, Northern Uganda
My name is Nestar. I was born and raised in Kitgum, Northern Uganda. While in Uganda, I worked for international humanitarian organisations, AVSI and Christian Renew.
I left my beloved country a little over 10 years ago. I first came to Limburg, The Netherlands to pursue my Masters Degree at Maastricht University. I studied Masters in Public Policy and Human Development. My intention then was to return to my home country to continue with work in the humanitarian field and eventually move to work as a policy analyst in government. Needless to say these stayed dreams and intentions.
Here I am, over 10 years later in the magnificent small town of Vaals – Limburg. The place where 3 countries (Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands) meet at the highest point of this country. Who would have thought that! All the way from Kitgum, Northern Uganda and now settled in Vaals :).
Uganda vs the Netherlands
Before I came to the Netherlands, I lived and worked for a year in Canada. My trip to Canada was the first time I travelled out of my country. I kind of expected the same experience I had in Canada here in the Netherlands. Freezing cold winter, a very big country, large farms, warm people…to mention but a few. Limburg, however, was different. The winter is quite milder, a small country where you drive from one end to the other within half a day, smaller farming communities and (let me blame this to language barrier); I found Dutch people fairly ‘cold’.
In the community where I grew up, people are warm and spontaneous whereas the most people here in Limburg are quite up tight, they ‘live’ on schedules and agenda. Ooh yeah, when one intend to do something and like to invite people here, you need to inform people days, weeks or even months in advance whilst no one is able to attend. There is almost no room for spontaneity in this society. As a child growing up, we almost greeted whoever we met on the streets including ‘strangers’. Over here, people barely greet or smile at ‘strangers’. That to me was really strange. Since I moved from Maastricht to Vaals, a much smaller community, I slowly get to know the ‘whole’ village. When I walk on the streets, I kind of begin to meet the same people. The mother whose child goes to the same school as your child is the pharmacist in town, the woman with whom you sport is the same lady at the check out of the grocery store or the gentleman whose son swims with your child is your family doctor.This is how small our community – Vaals is and it gives me a home feeling.
As a mother raising 4 wonderful children, I can’t ignore the substantial difference in the way children are raised here and the way people in my country raise children. Children in my birth community are raised by the ‘village’. The community is interested in their children and take part in instilling discipline in them; no matter if they were their own child or the neighbours’ child. And when I say community, that includes also teachers and the church. Here, children are raised strictly by the parents. When your child does something wrong, nobody seems to correct them. I still have to get used to this kind of living. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not interested advocating for people meddling into other people’s parenting choices but may be I would have liked when in an appropriate scenario someone tells my child ‘hey that is not how you talk or treat each other’. I seldom experience this kind of ‘village’ raising here.
Four seasons versus two seasons
Do I need to mention the weather differences as well! Uganda has two seasons, rainy season and dry season as opposed to the four seasons here in the Netherlands. There is almost always a period of extreme weather conditions in my country, either too much rain (and I mean tropical rain not the drizzle we have here in the Limburg) or a really harsh dry season or both. Except for the cold winter (I love, love snow if only it could fall without the cold), I prefer the Dutch weather to that in my home country. The changing seasons with the variations they bring. My favourite of all is spring when new life seems to spring out of every living creature; plants sprouting, flowers blossoming and people ‘unshelling’ out of heavy winter clothings into colourful summer clothes. While I prefer rainy season in my home country to dry season, the poor infrastructure especially up north where I come from, makes it a nightmare to sometimes travel easily. An 8 hour travel could easily turn into a 2 day business during the raining season. When we visited Uganda 2 years ago for example, the heavy rain washed away a bridge on Gulu Kitgum Road. A supposedly 15 minutes driving distances turned out to be a 4 hour detour. In the over 10 years I have lived in this country, there was only one time when electricity was shutdown for about half-hour due to some technical challenge. Back in Kitgum, even for the few people that had electricity; there was sometimes no electricity for a week or two. And this does not happen just like once a year. Sometimes it happened on a monthly basis.
I am forever indebted
The reason I initially decided to stay longer in Limburg, The Netherlands after completing my studies was due to my oldest son’s health condition. My now 9 year old son was born with congenital heart defect. He was fortunate to have the privilege to get an open heart surgery here. Something that would not have been possible in my home country. And I am forever indebted. In short, there is reliable services and infrastructure here, something I wish and hope for my birth country – Uganda and all the other developing countries.
My favourite places in Limburg
My favourite part of Limburg is the Heuveland areas of the Province which includes Vaals my current beautiful home town. Walking through the hilly country-side in and around Vaals; going up to the 3 Countries Point (Drielandenpunt) and walking a bit to the German and Belgian countrysides. What a deep breath of fresh air! The American Cemetery in Margraten is one of my favourite places in Limburg. We try to visit each year around spring time. It is also one of our to-go places when we receive international guests. The place is not only my favourite because of the history it carries but also an admirable place because of the way the place is maintained which gives one a feeling of how important the people who lost their lives in arms-way to fight for our freedom are. Dead people in my culture are treated with so much dignity as well.
Vaals is my new home and Uganda flows in my blood
Vaals is now my new home. My daily life happens here in Limburg, we are raising our children here, we do our groceries here and know the faces of most the shopkeepers, we are members of sports and social clubs and participate in community events here. This makes Limburg my new home. But Uganda is my roots and flows in my blood. While Limburg is my home away from home, Uganda will always be the home that groomed me to be the woman I now am.
285 precious children and UKEF foundation
And this brings me to my other precious ’children’ beside my 4 biological children. These are the 285 children that go to our school – Laker Memorial School in Kitgum District, Northern Uganda. These children, like my own, are the centre of my world.
In February 2013, my husband Ed Grassere and I opened a school ‘door’ to children in my birth town of Kitgum. We began the school with 15 children in a rental warehouse that we changed into a school. In the meantime, the school has 285 children, 12 teachers, 2 cooks and one janitor. On addition to providing formal education, the school also runs a daily school feeding programme (breakfast and lunch) for the children and staffs, provides two a pairs of school uniforms per child and gives opportunity for children to learn other activities such as music, dance and drama. The school and its program is for the big part financed through the Netherlands-based foundation, UKEF and partially through contribution from the parents. The name UKEF means Uganda Kitgum Education Foundation. For more information about UKEF, what we do, our mission, future plans and to have a glimpse of our school and the fantastic team in Uganda, I kindly invite you to visit our website www.ukef.nl and
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/UgandaKitgumEducationFoundation/
Need for a bigger building
As the school grows each year with about 35 children, our current rental premise is reaching its full capacity. There is need for a bigger building that can accommodate our growing school population. For this crucial upcoming project, we have bought a piece of land where we hope to start building in the next year or two. However, this intended project is unrealisable without the support of our esteemed sponsors and the much more needed resources for which we continue to seek. We continue to search for more sponsors; individuals, organisations, schools, foundations, churches etc who would like to partner with UKEF, with Laker Memorial School and help push us towards our mission.
Do not miss Annual Fundraising BBQ: September 29th
UKEF’’s biggest activity of the year is its Annual Fundraising BBQ held on the last Saturday of the year. This year’s BBQ is on the 29th of September, 2018 at the Wine Fields in Wahlwiller, The Netherlands. More information about this event is also on our website and facebook page. Feel free to contact us at email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
I finally would like to introduce you to UKEF’s recent international interns, four young Dutch students from SintermeertenCollege in Heerlen and Vera, a passionate Dutch primary school teacher from Den Bosch who recently visited our school in Kitgum. You can read more about the experience of these students at: https://www.ugandakitgumschoolfoundation.com/en/stories/324-social-internship-gwen-joline-anne-floor
while Vera also wrote about her trip here: https://ugandakitgumschoolfoundation.com/nl/ervaringen/320-vera-effe-weg
Thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed this piece of reading. Who knows, may be I meet some of you readers at UKEF’s Annual Fundraising BBQ in September this year in Wahlwiller, Limburg. Most of all, my sincere gratitude to Mrs. Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska of The International Journalism Platform: Communications-Unlimited for the interview.
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