Flight of a lifetime in Uganda

Flight of a lifetime in Uganda

In 1967, a girl in her twenties arrived in Uganda with a vision for teaching and a heart for mission. She returned this year to the land she has prayed for and dreamed about for 50 years. Story by Liz Parker

For two years in the late 1960s, she lived and worked among the people of the Karamajong tribe in northern Uganda. 

Teaching at a school for Ugandan girls, she developed a love for the people of this region and a passion to see education transform the lives of her pupils. Education was the key to opening up new opportunities for the young girls she taught - girls from a tribe steeped in ancient traditions. Sharing her Christian faith with her students was a privilege and joy; she loved to see the freedom this brought into the girls' lives.

In 1969, this teacher had to leave Uganda and head back to England to marry. Her heart was heavy and her emotions raw as she said goodbye to her beloved Karamajong students. She thought she would never return to this land - and never see her beloved Kotido again.

In Uganda, rumblings of trouble and darkness were beginning to brew as the notorious Idi Amin began his quest for power. Progress halted as Amin's reign of terror took hold.

Reignited dreams

Fast forward 50yrs. Uganda is a different land. Uganda's capital city, Kampala, has seen great development. Education is more freely, although not universally, available.

The missionary teacher has followed Uganda's progress keenly from her home in England. She has been faithful in praying for this country. 

She was able to keep contact with some of her former students and was delighted to see some of them continue their education and move into professions they may never have dreamed of a generation before. One student even visited her in England! But still she never returned to Uganda...

 ...until now!  In October last year, when my Mum heard that her daughter, son-in-law (MAF pilot Andrew Parker) and three of her grand-children would be moving to Kampala, she allowed herself to dream of returning to Uganda.

Then earlier this year, my Mum's dream became a reality. Whilst visiting us here for a holiday, Andrew found space for Mum on a  flight up to Kotido - exactly the region where Mum had been based! 

This was super exciting for Mum, as she now had the opportunity to show her husband the place where she had invested two years of her life shortly before their marriage - and her daughter would see part of her history too.

A ticket to fly 

So it was a significant day, that Monday in August, as my Mum joined a MAF flight piloted by her very own son-in-law!

After so many years, it would be exciting to see what had changed, moved on and progressed and incredible to revisit a place that held such meaning.

We arrived at Kajansi Airfield as the mist was still lifting and dew was heavy on the grass around the MAF planes. Mum and Dad settled into their seats as our friendly pilot prepared for the journey ahead! They enjoyed the views over Lake Victoria as we took off into the African skies.

Enjoying the journey 

Andrew lent them his aerial maps of Uganda. Mum pointed out the places she had worked and travelled through in the 1960s, relating stories of terrible pot-holed roads and frightening bus journeys! This modern-day MAF flight was a breeze compared to her travels of yesteryear!

The plane lifted higher and the views were striking, as we sailed over villages set out in traditional style. One passenger alighted at Moroto so we took advantage of that to stretch our legs. Mum joined Andrew in the cock-pit, happy to be in a prime position for the next leg to Kotido.  Eventually, our plane swept low and came in to land at Kotido.

Landing at Kotido

We were greeted by the sight of a young herder, busy throwing rocks in the direction of the cattle to warn them off the airstrip.

Now it was time for Mum to climb down and stand upon the rocky soil of the land she once lived on. It was time for her to greet the curious children gathered around the plane - part of the people group she had lived among a few generations earlier.  Suddenly overwhelmed by emotion, it was hard for all of us to watch as Mum's eyes filled with involuntary tears: her love for the people she cared for welled over.

Trying out her little-remembered Karamajong language, Mum addressed the children on the airstrip- causing them to roar with laughter!  They erupted with even more hilarity when she attempted a song she had once known!

The other aid worker passengers on the flight were interested in my mother's history and gathered us together for some photos. 

All too soon, we had to board the plane and say farewell to the Kotido airstrip and the children who had congregated around us. 

My Mum sat by the window and prepared to wave goodbye for a second time to the place she has held in her heart for the past fifty years.

The pain of seeing poverty

It wasn't an easy time.. many tissues were needed on the following leg of the journey. Seeing my mother so moved meant she wasn't the only one needing those tissues either!

One of the aspects of the visit to Kotido which gave rise to emotion was the shock my Mum felt at seeing so many children existing in poverty, still herding animals and wearing basic cloths as coverings.

Where was the progress? Why weren't these children in school?  It was hard for my Mum to see so little change after such a long period of time and after all the aspirations she had for the children of this region as a teacher.

Sadly, the Karamoja region remains as one the most neglected areas of Uganda. It was tough to see this reality and not be in a position to bring any radical or lasting change for the better.

At Moyo, we made a brief stop and said goodbye to the last passenger of the day. An hour and a half later, we landed at MAF Uganda HQ in Kajansi:

It had been a wonderful, enlightening, poignant day. 

Mum has steeled her determination to continue to pray for the people of Karamoja and uphold their cause as best she can once she returns to England.

The journey doesn't end there...

MAF continues to serve in Uganda because, despite enormous progress in reducing poverty, there continues to be great need.   

Three generations of Liz's family are flying for life and praying for change for the people of the Karamajong! 

Will you join the Parkers support team as they continue serving with MAF in Uganda? 

Or consider serving yourself?

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