Captain Julian Rowley with camp residents in front of the newly-built latrines
Children from Bala Camp enjoy the playground equipment at the new kindergarten. The equipment was bought using funds raised by Julian Rowley’s sons, Nathan and Justin
When not on secondment to International Emergency Services, Captain Julian Rowley is in charge of The Salvation Army’s work in Louth, UK
by Captain Julian Rowley
In June 2004 I went to a Salvation Army Emergency Services training course. Many of the delegates at the course I attended had ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ – literally, as International Emergency Service deployees get a polo shirt with the section’s logo on it! I had ample opportunity to question the people who had been deployed before and balance that against what was being taught.
To my surprise, a call soon came to ask if I would be willing to go to Uganda for two months. I had been on the list for just over a year but it’s one thing bearing this in the back of your mind and another thing entirely to suddenly, almost out of the blue, have to start to make preparations to go.
The first reality to hit was the task of telling my two boys, aged eight and 10. They were not happy, to say the least. My wife, Julie, was more pragmatic, knowing of my interest in this field of work for some time. Preparations had to be made with the corps (church) programme, in order to fit it around my wife and her need to still be a mum. Not an easy solution, but it was done.
It took three weeks to get my kit together, obtain a visa and finally travel down to London for the medical, vaccinations, briefing and departure.
At my briefing I was next to someone who was going to the Caribbean, where he would ensure aid supplies were correctly and effectively distributed following a devastating hurricane. His was a classic emergency situation. Mine was somewhat different – building schools and sanitation works, alongside a health component. I could immediately identify from my June course what my colleague was likely to be doing and how, but not my scenario.
On arrival in Lira, northern Uganda, where the Salvation Army relief project was based, it became clearer why education, sanitation and health had been picked as the appropriate emergency responses to the needs.
Our main focus was to be education – building a primary school and two kindergartens, improving a secondary school and building a vocational training centre. Education is hardly an emergency response, you might think, and it had not been mentioned in the training course. Nor was it listed as an appropriate response in the handbook I had dutifully packed. Nevertheless, when I saw the camps and the town we were living in, it was plain to see the need for educational resources. The entire region of northern Uganda was in danger of losing a whole generation to a severe lack of education.
Visiting the camps was my first step into another world, a world I had previously glimpsed only on TV. However well-trained a person may be, that first walk through the camps – hearing, smelling and seeing the environment of such a previously alien world – creates an indelible memory. It is shocking, eye-opening, educational, distressing, heart-wrenching and provoking. So much need is around that you feel a little like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. There is no training that can prepare you for that. We saw clips of videos and photos while in the classroom but this was reality and it bit until it hurt.
We knew that two or three months were not going to be enough for everything we set out to do, but we also knew that we had to show we were interested in the welfare of the people in the camps.
I cannot speak for my family’s reactions except to say that it has been an experience in which both highs and lows have been felt. The boys missed my presence at home but their initial misery was replaced by a sense of pride. They helped many children through the raising of £1,300, which went towards the establishment of one of the kindergartens. It was neither my nor my wife’s idea for them to do sponsored events in aid of the work in northern Uganda but it helped them feel they were doing something worthwhile for the children in the camps while also strengthening their own identification with what I was doing out there.
This deployment has been a humbling, soul-searching, educational, spiritually and mentally maturing experience. The effects will be felt in my life and ministry for some time to come.