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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Hardest Lesson in Success

I have been waiting to post this blog entry as I knew that a time for reflection would be of great benefit before writing it. I will start by telling you what has happened, before moving onto what God has done through it.

This season at Synergy has been immense. Brian, as manager, the players, and the spirit and belief of the team, combined this season to bring us an opportunity that few teams ever have: a playoff place to Uganda Premier League.

Synergy players before the play off final
A string of exceptional performances that saw us win all but one match between Christmas and the end of the season, ensured we finished second in the table propelling us into the playoffs. After winning the play off semi final 3-1, we headed into the final, where we were to meet Mbarara City, a team we had beaten just two weeks earlier, and who finished third behind us in Big League. The chances of promotion, and the fulfillment of the dream to play in Uganda’s top division, was now within touching distance.

Take a moment to reflect on the fact that Synergy remains a team of integrity and fair play in what is a very corrupt system, where bribing of referees and the football authorities is rife. When you take this into account, it is an amazing testament to what God has done through the work of Synergy, as well as the hard work of the staff and players, to have found ourselves just one win away from the elite level, only five and a half years after our genesis and entry at the very bottom of the league pyramid in the fifth division.

I wish I could give you a fairytale ending to this story, to say that we battled and won the playoff final, beating all the odds and silencing all the naysayers who said a team like Synergy could never make it. But real life is not a fairytale. There are not always the happy endings that we so long for.

From the moment the match began, we could tell it was going to be a difficult day. Nothing was going our way. The referee it seemed, had an agenda, and this agenda did not involve officiating professionally and impartially. Time after time our calls for free kicks were waved away, whilst the merest touch against our opposition would see the whistle blown. Our penalty appeals were turned down, nothing was given. Somehow, despite this we managed to enter the final minutes with the scores level at 1-1.

Picture this with me. As we enter the 90th minute, 5 minutes of stoppage time are displayed. Then a ball played into the Synergy box is cleared out by our keeper, Zake. As our back line moves up, a lone opposition striker is left in a clearly offside position. The ball comes back into him. Up go the hands accompanied by the shout, “Offside ref.” But no flag, no whistle, just dismay as the ball is slotted into the net.
“Come on lads, there’s still time!!” 
But no, the ref has blown his whistle for full time. 
“What about the 5 minutes stoppage time ref?” But he is not in a mood to discuss anything. 
As the Mbarara players celebrate, Synergy players are left speechless. There is discontent in the stands. Spectators are incensed at what they have seen. The Senior national coach of Uganda, watching from the sidelines, sheds tears at what he has witnessed this day.  

This is football in Uganda. This is what we have battled against for 6 years.
The referee waves our players away
All battles have casualties and this battle may well bear a great cost. As many of you know, it has been a struggle to finance the work of Synergy this season. With costs rising in Uganda, and with the wider work of River of Life Church continuing to be under serious financial strain, it is only due to the kindness and generosity of many of you, that Synergy F.C. have even made it to the end of the season. Promotion to Uganda Premier League would not only have gained us a platform on the national stage, but also financial stability as sponsorship deals to help finance the elite level clubs kick in. But instead we face an uncertain future, with the very real possibility that the senior club will now fold. Quite simply we don’t currently have the money to play Big League football next season.

As you read this, you may sense anger and sadness in my words, which is indeed the case. But that is not the end of the matter. In the weeks since that final, I have felt hope rising in my spirit. Why? Because when we launched Synergy five and a half years ago our primary aim was not to become a Premier League team, but to be a club that does things differently. Our vision was to launch a club with Christian Faith at its core, a club where investment in our players' wider lives would impact them beyond the pitch, and where we could be a shining light of integrity in the midst of the darkness of corruption.

In these things, we have achieved beyond our expectations. Our players are not commodities to be utilised and cashed in, they are individuals in whom we have invested untold time and mentoring, as well as training and education. The result of this is a group of young men who have attitudes, outlooks and opportunities they would never have had if they had been at other clubs.

Solomon, our team captain, has changed beyond recognition. Despite early struggles with drink, women and lack of focus, he has become a leader whom our younger players look up to. He has lived and shared his life with many of our players, eating, talking, praying and reading God’s word with them. He has gone from being a young man who was lost in many ways, to a man who has found purpose and identity. He has led by example, being voted Big League’s Most Valuable Player this season, and has recently been one of four Synergy players to break into the Senior National Squad, the Uganda Cranes.
Solomon with the MVP trophy for Big League 2016/17

Solomon and Nico (pictured) are just 2 of 4 Synergy players called up for the Uganda Cranes senior squad

The platform we have built has given us the type of exposure where being a team of integrity can make a real difference. Everywhere we go we are known as the team that doesn’t bribe, and can’t be bribed. At the end of season AGM, where all Big League teams gathered, representatives of every team stood up to commend Manager Brian and Synergy, for the way we play football and the way we run the club. Corruption, despite being rife, is now being challenged, both on the street and in the media. The referee who officiated our playoff final, a few days later went to officiate the equivalent of Uganda’s FA Cup final, involving 2 premiership teams. He was chased away by fans and players because of the way he officiated during our playoff final. They have had enough, and there is a fresh call to see the game cleaned up in Uganda.
Manager Brian, being interviewed by the media

This is not the end for Synergy, perhaps just the beginning of a new chapter. Even if the senior team folds, we will continue to use what little resources we have to build again from our academy. And even if we are unable to, we have not failed in our mission. Wherever our players go, they take with them valuable lessons and changed attitudes. God has used us as a catalyst to raise aspirations, to raise hope, to raise faith and to bring integrity to the game. I am proud of what we have achieved, and so grateful to all of you who have helped make it possible. Thank you!

Finally, before I sign off, I would like to give the briefest of plugs. As I have expressed I am so grateful for the generosity so many of you have shown to Synergy, and as I have asked so much of you recently please do not feel any obligation to give to what I am about to promote. As I write, out in Uganda, 20 of our players are doing an ultra marathon, running over 100km in 3 days from Masaka to Mbarara. Their aim is to raise money for school fees and requirements for around 65 Synergy players ranging from primary up to university level. If you feel you would like to give towards their efforts, you can go to the following web address to find out more and donate. 

Once again, please feel no obligation.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Upon Reflection...

Having been back in the UK for 10 months now we have been reflecting back on our time since we returned from Uganda. We are very grateful for the blessings we have received that have eased our transition back into the UK. A great house, jobs which allow us both to balance work and time with the kids, Noah and Emily both settling down and enjoying what Bristol has to offer, being much closer to family and being part of a great church in Woodlands are all things we greatly appreciate.

However we are also finding ourselves missing Uganda very much. One of our best friends out in Masaka, Sarah Beale, will be getting married in just a few weeks. We will be very sad not to be there for the celebrations. Also, it’s been a very exciting season for Synergy, with some astounding achievements and exciting prospects that require their very own blog entry which will be posted in the following week or so.

But more than that, there are every day things about Uganda that we miss. People, places, certain routines and ways of life and the weather are just a few of the obvious things. However, there are also things you’d never think you would miss but do. With that in mind here are 5 of our top 10 unexpected things that we miss from our days in Uganda:

(1) Our Noisy Neighbours

We never EVER thought we would say this but there are times we actually miss our neighbours' nightly prayer vigils lulling us to sleep! Okay, so perhaps not when they were at their raucous demon outcasting noisiest, or ear splitting tone deaf warblesome worst, but certainly when they were at their more tuneful and gentle best, backed up by the chorus of crickets, it was actually quite pleasant, and bedtimes are just not the same without them!

(2) Limited Electronic Connectivity

Dodgy internet connections and network problems often seemed like the bane of our lives in Uganda. But reflecting back now there were some great advantages. We miss the simpler way of life less dominated by social media and fancy phones where people spend more time looking and speaking to each other rather than staring at their phones. Sarah often mentions that after all these years of me being happy with a crappy £10 phone with only basic call and text functions, it frustrates her that I now have a smart phone where I spend all my time looking at the news or the latest football scores! And it’s true! Do these things really make our lives better??

(3) Crazy Drivers

If we had a Ugandan shilling every time we found ourselves berating Masaka’s drivers for death defying maneuvers, we would probably have had enough money to bribe our way to a serious campaign for the Ugandan presidency! We thought that coming back to the UK would bring with it the pleasure of sharing the streets with people who follow the rules of the road. However it turns out that there are stupid drivers here in the UK as well! At least in Uganda it was somewhat amusing to see a taxi made for 5 but carrying 12, with a shattered windscreen and door held on with a bit of wire, swerving towards you at breakneck speed in order to miss the 4 foot pot hole that the council filled with soil instead of tarmac the day before it was all washed away by the rain! It’s just not the same when some annoying businessman in his BMW rides up your backside before overtaking you like a pratt on Henleaze Rd!

(4) Posho and Beans

Even now it is a joy to go on our weekly shop to Aldi and see the plethora of delectable goods on offer for us to fill our faces! It is wonderful to have such variety! However, there are times when we just crave a good old plate of Mama Kat’s posho and beans! Tim spent his first year in Uganda eating it almost twice daily and swore then he'd never miss it. But he does, he really does!

(5) Poor literacy

Are you one of those people who gets annoyed when a shop sign has the apostrophe in the wrong place? ME TOO! I never thought poor literacy would be something we could miss, but the wonderful spelling mishaps of many of our Ugandan brothers and sisters brought such confusion, amusement and laughter to our lives. Whether it’s enjoying the fact that you’re reading a school report for literacy that says “Congranulatons” for your child passing, or spending hours trying to work out when and where you have bought a ‘weliballo’ (using the powers of deduction and the fact it was a hardware store receipt, we finally realised it was a wheelbarrow!) our lives are poorer for the lack of these literary lapses!  

Perhaps some more next time! But before we sign off for now it wouldn’t be a Team Crow blog without some sort of plug!! So here it is! This weekend we will be taking part in the Bristol 10k to raise money for the charity Love Running. All money will be split between Syrian refugee children, and projects working with vunerable people here in Bristol. We have a target of £500 so if you fancy sponsoring us for this great cause please head over to the link below! Thanks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A new season begins!

One of our final trips to Lake Nabugabo
before leaving Uganda
So this last 3 months has flown by and yet it now seems a long time ago that we were bidding Uganda a fond farewell.

Here in Bristol we have been blessed with a fantastic house, a nursery place for Noah (whose behaviour has shown a marked difference since starting), lovely weather to ease our transition, and the provision of jobs. Sarah is getting to grips again with the demands of being a part time GP (which entails a lot longer hours than we had expected thanks to the nature of our NHS and ridiculous workloads), and Tim has just started part time with an organisation called Urban Pursuits, delivering alterative education and mentoring to young people at risk of exclusion, or having been excluded from school. Then of course Noah and Emily take the rest of our time!

We certainly miss Uganda, and there are times when we feel very homesick for Masaka, all our friends there, the pace of life, and the ongoing work of Synergy and the Baby Unit.

Brian and Abbey have been doing a fantastic job of pushing on with the work of Synergy as a new season is now underway. Two particularly exciting developments have been the launch of a more intentional work with girls, which Abbey has taken on, and also setting up our first Synergy home group. Brain has located a house for rent which he is now sharing with a number of our Synergy players, and is using the garage as a space to hold regular bible studies and prayer meetings – something we talked about a lot after the success of the Talk faith course earlier in the year! If you are the praying sort, then please do pray that this would continue to develop and bare fruit!

And on the Baby Unit the team there continue to push forward with the important work of helping little newborns survive and thrive. Three particularly encouraging stories of late have been that of mothers Kamidah, Nakaweesi and Margaret.

A mum of five already (one of whom had already passed away), Kamidah was undoubtedly apprehensive when her sixth child arrived – a little girl, weighing just 800 grams. She delivered elsewhere, but knew her baby needed special care, so rushed her to Kitovu Baby Unit to seek help.
Her little one had a bit of a rocky road to recovery, and when she was finally discharged, she had to be re-admitted with anaemia and poor growth a few weeks later. A good dose of malaria subsequently landed her on the children’s ward. But since then, she's been going from strength to strength and is expected back for review soon.
Kamidah's Baby Girl
Nakaweesi landed up at the baby unit after her newborn had had convulsions on & off for two days. On being told that the baby would need to be admitted, she refused and said she wanted to go home. Unlike in the UK, in Uganda there’s nothing the police or social services would do about that.
But thankfully our nurses worked with her, and persuaded her to stay, and this gorgeous fella lives to fight another day! Not only that, but he’s breastfeeding well and behaving like a perfectly normal baby. Amazing!

Nakaweesi with her baby boy
And finally there’s the lovely Margaret with her beautiful daughter Maria, who was born way too early and way too little. An initial good recovery was encouraging. But then it all went wrong, when Maria suddenly deteriorated and stopped breathing. For 2 whole hours our head nurse at the time, Cathy (now on maternity leave with her own sweet baby Jemimah!) faithfully bagged the baby, pushing air into her little lungs to keep her going.
Against all odds, Maria started to improve. And within a couple of weeks, that little girl was fully recovered and ready to go home.
Margaret & Baby Maria

We feel so thankful that despite having left Uganda, all this work continues to be a blessing to so many. It's comforting to know that God is in control and that those we have entrusted to lead these ministries are faithfully taking it forward! Thanks to you all for being a part of it with us and for having supported, and continuing to support both Synergy and the Baby Unit!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

On the Home Stretch...

First things first, as some of you may have seen on Facebook, Sarah did indeed complete the Masaka Marathon of Madness. Not only did she complete it, but despite not particularly pushing herself she managed to finished as fourth fastest woman! BOOM! Whilst there was no bare breasted celebratory activities as promised (more's the pity!), below is a family friendly photo of Sarah and Noah crossing the finish line! We are extremely grateful to all who donated allowing us to surpass our target of £3000, and in fact, with Gift Aid added, push beyond £4000!! 

Since the marathon, time has flown by, including a wonderful 12 day visit from Tim's parents and the completion of the Synergy Talk Faith course with the Academy players. With such speed have things been moving that we find ourselves now with only 8 days until we bid a fond farewell to this place we have called home for the last 5 years of our lives (in fact 8 in total for Tim). 

As this day approaches we have many mixed feelings: sadness due to the wonderful people, the challenging work, beautiful country and vibrant culture that we will be leaving behind; pride in those who are already stepping up to fill our shoes; joy at the prospect of being back with friends and family in the UK; and relief to finally have consistent power and water!

For me (Tim) it is going to be particularly hard, as in many ways I have felt more at home here in Uganda than anywhere else in my adult life. Thankfully there is always a reminder just around the corner about the problems we will no longer have to endure, to lessen the blow for me! This week that thing was spending the best part of 2 days working on getting a new log-book for our car in order for us to transfer it to the person who is going to buy it. A simple job that would involve filling out a form in 5 minutes in the UK, has been made impossibly difficult by some complete numpty who felt that in a country with insufferably slow internet and a population not especially adept with technology, the best solution would be to shift the whole process on-line! 
Added to this is the classic Ugandan customer care experience: I laughed to myself standing at the Uganda Revenue Authority whilst noticing, in the midst of trying to sooth a very tired and disgruntled Emily, who of course was vocalizing what all us waiting punters were feeling, the sign that said “our goal is customer satisfaction” (HA!! Customer satisfaction my arse!). Anyway add that together and you get a very powerful tonic to sooth those leaving blues!

Whilst Sarah doesn't need so much convincing that moving back to the UK is a good idea, she also appreciates the odd incident to help remind her of the things  that won't be missed. Step up Mr. Cockroach who felt that a good place to rest from his generally filthy activities, was on Sarah's head whilst she lay half-dead on the sofa after a rather sleepless night thanks to Emily's incessant need to feed! Needless to say she was roused as quickly as if a hot poker had been shoved somewhere rather delicate. Despicable creatures! 

Such frustrations and horrors aside, We have both spent much of our final months here handing over our responsibilities. Brian will be taking over the future direction and day-to-day running of Synergy and I have been so blessed to see how focused he is on the task in hand. After initially living in denial about our leaving, which involved Brian locking himself in a room and beseeching God to make us change our minds, he soon came to terms with the changes ahead and since then has been planning, networking, praying and already implementing new strategies and ideas for the future! This brings me great joy, confidence and peace!
On Sarah's side, there’s so much to say about the Baby Unit that we have to pick just a few stories.  On the logistics side, we’ve teamed up with the Children’s Ward to offer an adapted ETAT (emergency triage, assessment and treatment) course for staff on the Emergency Department and Children’s Ward, and have run two courses over the past month.

We have finally (after much debate, sweat, tears etc) been granted permission to use a small bit of maternity as a small extension for the Baby Unit – not much: just space for 2 cots, but it will help us a lot when things are as busy as they are right now.

We’ve also recently treated our 1000th baby since the Unit opened about 3 ½ years ago, and how fitting it was that the mum was actually from Nyendo (where River of Life Church is located!). 

Then finally, how about a couple of before & after photos….
You may well remember Asiimwe’s baby – a tiny tot of 760g on admission (and 27 weeks gestation) who went home near the end of last year.  Well this beautiful little girl popped in to see us the other day!

Then look at Kamusiime’s baby – who we only met on day 5, then 920g in weight at an estimated gestation of 26 weeks, with an arrival temperature of only 32.3 degrees Celsius!  There were ups and downs, for sure, but look how proud her mummy is now!

As we leave Uganda, all this work will continue, and as such, this blog will also continue in order to tell the stories of how things are going. But as this particular season draws to a close, all that is left for us to say for now is a massive thank you to all those who have supported us and our work, be it through finances, donations of equipment, advice, prayer, encouragement and/or banter! We are sad to say goodbye, but it also brings a new beginning!