From Dart to NileNiall Walshe.
From the Dart to the Nile
In August 2006 the Police presence in Dartmouth was boosted by the arrival of two of the nation’s first ever Police Community Support Officers. Niall Walshe was one of those two PCSO’s. One of his first tasks was to explain to both public and police colleagues alike exactly what a PCSO was!
Niall took the role, planning to stay for a long time. ‘I planned many happy years working with the people of Townstal,’ he said.
Niall was the Police representative and one of the founding team of the Townstal Community Partnership – an organisation that has gone from strength to strength and is working hard to improve all aspects of life in Townstal.
But then Niall had an experience which was to change his life forever.
In 2008 Niall and a group of friends from his church, responded to an invitation to go to Uganda and briefly work with Ugandan Christians in an area called Kaliro – a rural area with a high level of poverty and about an hour north of the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria.
‘While we were there we were asked to support some of the local widows and orphans but, lacking the funds, were unable to respond to the need,’ he said. ‘During a subsequent visit in April of 2009, I discovered that the school at the centre of the community was surrounded by about 20 acres of unused Church of Uganda land.
‘I had the beginnings of an idea of how I could help and during a further trip in July 2009, I created a partnership between the school authorities in Kaliro and local officials of the Church of Uganda and, so, Operation Fullness of Life (OpFOL) came into being.’
The very simple concept behind OpFOL was that the Church of Uganda would provide the land for use, the school staff and pupils would cultivate the land and OpFOL would provide the necessary finances. The goals were that the crops grown would feed all the school’s 1,000 pupils, and the excess crops would be sold each season to provide cash to resource the school buildings and classrooms, and that within a couple of crops the school would achieve self-sufficiency – having enough money to fund further crops and thus ensure an indefinite supply of food for the pupils and financial income for the school. Later on it is planned that the school will grow mostly cash crops and use some of the money to buy their food requirement from the local community – thus providing the community with a guaranteed market for the crops and so allowing for regeneration in the wider community.
These developments led Niall to retire unexpectedly from his position as a PCSO as he relocated to Uganda to lead OpFOL in the early days of the project.
‘It was a time of very mixed emotions,’ Niall said, ‘excitement at what lay ahead, but a genuine sadness at leaving a great job, and leaving behind a lot of people, of all ages and positions, who had shown a great deal of friendship and support to me in my three years in Dartmouth. My time in Uganda has provided a whole range of experiences, including the highs and lows of the project – 1,000 children receiving a free school lunch, weighed against a subsequent crop failure and countless other ups and downs. The project is now owned by the local community and there is the possibility of a bright future.’
One of the things that made this possible has been the enduring support of the people of Dartmouth and Townstal.
A choir was formed to raise funds, local organisations have made significant donations, Dartmouth Academy pupils have raised £229, the Dartmouth Orchestral Society donated the proceeds from a concert and a Dartmouth company provides IT support for the project’s website for free – this and many other examples show how the people of Dartmouth have taken the project to their hearts.
It is planned that some of the recent money donated will be used to launch an OpFOL style project in a Nairobi slum. OpFOL has been working with a Kenyan who has moved into the slum, started a school for some of the slum children and started to teach computer skills to some of the adults to improve their employment prospects.
It is a real story of sacrifice and OpFOL plans to help this man start a small scale pig farming project that will allow for financial self-sufficiency and, therefore, a long term future for the work. Other money from what has been donated will be given to the school in Kaliro, Uganda, to help embed and ensure the progress that has been made by part-funding the next crop (due to be planted in February).
‘I’m under no illusions that these projects will make only the slightest difference to the tidal wave of poverty and injustice that unnecessarily afflicts Africa,’ said Niall. ‘Nevertheless I’m thankful for the lasting support from the wonderful people of Dartmouth and Townstal who, through their caring generosity, and personal friendship have changed the lives and future prospects for not only some of this generation of Ugandans and Kenyans but potentially for some generations to come.
‘From the mouth of the Dart to the source of the Nile, loving kindness has been extended and has made a difference. To quote from a headline on a story of OpFOL in the Chronicle some time ago – “Be proud TQ6 – you are making a difference!”’
First published March/April 2012 By the Dart