Guest blog written by Charlotte Pascall. Photo credit Michael Weatherall.

It’s the end of the summer holidays. Teachers, like me, around the country are commiserating with each other as we face another long autumn term ahead. Parents are desperately trying to affix name labels to every item of their children’s clothing as possible, and celebrating the chance to hand them back over to teachers for a few hours each day. Naming clothes, by the way, is the best gift you can ever give a primary school teacher (ok, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates goes a long way, too!). Reuniting 30 identical jumpers to children who don’t even remember whether or not they have a jumper is quite the task!!

The thing about this time of year for so many up and down the UK is that it brings with it a time of change – a new beginning (or multiple!). Children start their new year group at school, maybe even starting a school for the first time; teachers face new classes with new names to learn; students head off to university, some as freshers and recent graduates head into the world of work. The academic year starts again and here we go…

I never normally know where the summer holidays go – they seem to be the quickest few weeks of the year – but this summer, I know exactly where they went. I had the joy of spending the first three weeks of the holidays in the beautiful Pearl of Africa – Uganda. It’s a country I love, and I have, over the years, made several trips, each one simultaneously filling my heart with joy and challenging me in equal measure. This time, I took an excellent bunch of university students with me, and I loved watching them experience the beauty of the people and the place for the first time.

One of the highlights for many of the group was spending some time at the local girls’ secondary school – we sang and we danced, and I somehow found myself in the middle of a conga line with a cardboard box over my head…I honestly had no idea what was going on! But it was full of so much joy.

Peace, the headteacher of this school is a formidable woman – she loves and cares for these 500 girls as if every one of them was her daughter. In fact, the girls even called her ‘Blessed Mum’! Where many headteachers would chase children out of school when they can’t pay their school fees or don’t have the books or pens needed, Peace goes out of her way to keep the girls in school; she cares deeply about their education, which she knows is life-changing. Many of these girls experience a new beginning, a fresh start, because of this incredible woman, and I am always inspired by the way that she loves and cares with such passion.

In March 2020, Uganda, like most of the world, closed its school doors. And they kept them shut for 22 months. I can only begin to imagine the impact that this had on a nation where education is a right enjoyed by so few. UNICEF reports that around 59% of girls and 68% of boys in Uganda have experienced physical violence in childhood, with around 35% of girls and 17% of boys experiencing sexual violence and gender-based violence. It can be difficult, can’t it, to know what to do when we see the numerous injustices in our world. I often feel totally at a loss and completely overwhelmed, not really knowing where to start. I’m afraid that I don’t have the answer, but I do have an encouragement…

A friend of mine, Racheal, grew up in one of the slums of Kampala. If you ever have the good fortune of meeting her, your life will be changed forever more! Racheal is one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to talking justice – and she doesn’t just talk it, she lives it too. With a particular passion for keeping girls safe, she has been involved in running several projects over the years – from setting up dance clubs, to teaching girls how to make sanitary pads – and most things you can think of in between (I’d be here a long time if I listed them all!)! Racheal is the lady that people call when they’re in need. She’s the lady that works out how to pay someone’s hospital bill because they are in desperate need of medical help and they can’t afford to pay it themselves. She’s the lady who hands over the very pair of shoes on her feet to someone who has none. She’s the lady that shouts, loudly, about the injustices she sees and experiences in her community. At the moment, she and her husband have 11 foster girls, all of whom needed to be removed from situations of violence and exploitation. 11! These girls have been offered a beautiful and safe new beginning in Racheal and Calvin’s home.

Racheal teaches me a lot about love in action and about humble generosity. And she both encourages and challenges me, and hopefully you, that it is possible to do something. You see, Racheal takes the little that she has and she uses it, trusting that the little will mean a lot to the person on the receiving end. So where do I start when I see the overwhelming injustices in the world around me? I can start as Racheal does – with whatever is in my hand (or on my feet!).

So whatever September looks like for you, whatever new beginnings and fresh starts you have, thank you for choosing to support Blue Bear. Your support is helping young girls in the Dominican Republic to have a new beginning of their own.