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22 November 2011

Education transcends culture to bring hope to young people

Education transcends culture to bring hope to young people

The Lighthouse Group (TLG) is a national Christian charity that works with young people who have been excluded from school, seeking to re-engage them with mainstream education and address any behavioural difficulties and social issues that have put them in crisis. This is usually all done at TLG education centres, but, at the end of October, pupils and staff from Bradford and Reading travelled to southern Uganda to serve communities there.

The 360 Trust helped to organise the trip, which started with the Acholi community. Faced with exceedingly difficult living conditions - open drains run outside the simple huts - five out of eight children die before the age of 14 on account of diseases such as malaria. Student Isaac was shocked by the working conditions many endure at the local quarry, where workers are paid just over £1 for a day's work breaking up stones. "It all felt unfair and it shouldn't be happening like that," he said.

Through spending time in the community and helping out with the local bead-making industry, the team were moved by the friendliness and joy that people shared with them. They have said they will "forever remember the beauty of smiles in the midst of the darkness of poverty".

A visit to the Maya primary school was a particular highlight. The young people were keen to use skills learned at TLG to help teach others, and their creativity came to the fore as the classroom began to buzz with calendar making, balloon games and duck-duck-goose, all to a soundtrack of infectious laughter.

Tim Morfin, TLG CEO, was touched by the experience. He said: "Seeing TLG young people leading all sorts of games with a huge crowd of African children gathered around them was amazing - young people who've had to overcome so much, stepping up to make a difference to others so far out of their comfort zone."

Retrak provides respite, care and education for street children. The team got involved and were able to play sport with the kids and build friendships. Leah expressed the pain of the situation on the streets, where children beg for water and sleep on rubbish, explaining: "It was really awful, seeing how the kids live…it isn't life at all." Retrak's director, Dina, spoke of the importance of her faith to the project. "You have to have a reason to hope beyond the situation you see in front of you," she said. "That's what God brings for the staff and into the lives of the kids we're working with."

Dina's recognition that the issues Retrak address are a product of family breakdown resonated with Tim. Having engaged with many young people in the UK, he is familiar with the myriad implications of a difficult, or absent, home life. By the same token, however, both Retrak and TLG have seen how the provision of individualised, relational education can bring transformation in young peoples' lives.

It's truly incredible to see how God can turn around the lives of the most vulnerable young people in the UK, and through those same lives minister to vulnerable children in Uganda.

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