This project was set up in 1998 to support Fields of Life (FOL), which was a small church based charity building schools in poverty stricken areas of Uganda. After fund-raising efforts, St. Finnian’s sent out a team of men in 1999, who, along with Ballywalter and Kilkeel parishes, completed the building of a primary school. In the same year the church partially funded the building of another school.

Over the years, while continuing to build schools, FOL has also built four small hospitals / clinics in Uganda. In addition to volunteer workers and ongoing financial support, St Finnian’s has sent out four containers packed with supplies to equip both schools and hospitals.

FOL has now expanded its work into surrounding countries, including Burundi, Rwanda, D.R.Congo, Kenya and South Sudan.

In keeping with the original vision, the Parish continues to support FOL and this includes its wider work in East Africa. Consequently, in 2009, the Parish and the Bishop’s Appeal jointly funded the building of a school in Burundi, which was named ‘St. Finnian’s’.

The Parish continues to be involved in school building, school health, hospitals and child sponsorship projects. In 2015 we supported the ‘Crisis’ appeals in South Sudan and Burundi.  Towards the end of the year a donation was also sent to drill further wells in impoverished and volatile Northern Uganda.

Could you help?

There are many opportunities to help in this work, not least in prayer, supporting fund raising events or giving personal donations. Many have also arranged legacies, given donations in memory or celebration of loved ones, or in lieu of flowers.

New helpers are always welcome in St Finnian’s “Helping Hands” teams. These teams either serve or provide sandwiches and tray bakes at funeral teas held in the church hall. The income is given to the Project.

FOL welcomes volunteers to help on its projects in East Africa. In addition to having a resident building team in Uganda, each year FOL sends out a construction team of volunteers from Northern Ireland for a period of two weeks. A number of our parishioners, supported by the Parish, have gone out to Uganda with this team (Hope Builders). Building skills are not essential, although a fit and healthy disposition is required for this type of work.

Volunteers are also needed in FOL teaching, healthcare and care of orphans projects for periods of two weeks or longer. Would you consider going?

Fields of Life Update – May 2019

FOL currently has 120 schools across Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Uganda and South Sudan.

Three drilling rigs have completed more than 720 boreholes providing fresh clean water for more than 700,000 people.

The WASH programme, which stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, has been developed and incorporates Fields of Life water & health promotion projects through the provision of a safe water supply, adequate sanitation facilities and appropriate hygiene promotion practices to vulnerable communities.

In areas where boreholes aren’t an option, due to the geology, other options are being explored for supplying water, including the protection of natural springs, rainwater harvesting tanks, shallow wells and water filters.

The I AM GIRL programme continues to be rolled out across FOL schools. I AM GIRL is a health education initiative which seeks to improve the attendance of adolescent girls in school. It is FOL’s goal to educate boys, girls, teachers, parents and community members within their school network on issues such as gender equality, menstrual hygiene management, gender based violence and child protection. It aims to improve the personal hygiene and health of young girls through the provision of reliable water sources, better washing facilities and appropriate sanitary protection.

Through FOL there are more than 6,000 children being sponsored.

The Fields of Life Alumni also continues to grow since it was set up in 2015 by a group of Fields of Life formerly sponsored children. These inspirational young people want to actively contribute towards the Fields of Life vision by becoming committed ambassadors and giving back, as they once received. One of their first projects is to work together to raise money to build a primary school in Karamoja, Northern Uganda. Karamoja is one of the poorest regions in Uganda and the Alumni group aim to enable vulnerable and disadvantaged children in this area to attain a quality education in the same manner that they did.

Fields of Life update – December 2019

In deprived and impoverished areas of East Africa, the Fields of Life (FOL) built schools are educating over 50,000 children. These are sustained by the local churches (who normally take responsibility for the stewardship of the school), by Child Sponsorship and a strict inspection regime by FOL personnel.

You will appreciate that in remote areas a number of the teachers are not qualified but follow the National Curriculum under the guidance of senior staff. FOL has now set up a new project which entails bringing the school teachers and school management committees from 5 of these schools together at any one time. On these residential courses, teachers are instructed and supported in how to deliver high quality lessons and the management committees in how to promote good governance and leadership. There is also provision for improved teaching and infrastructure facilities where necessary. This will provide a positive impact on the education of thousands of children.

Our Uganda Committee recently sent a donation of £6000 to FOL to help fund this project currently operating in Rwanda. This has been made possible through the hard work of our volunteers and supporters in Helping Hands for Uganda. We are very appreciative for your commitment over the years and also the generosity of all who have given donations.

You may have heard on the news recently how poverty and malnourishment not only affect the physical wellbeing of children but also reduce the power of the brain to develop properly. This has an adverse effect on the child’s ability to learn. FOL has been aware of this for many years and supply at least one cooked meal to pupils each day. Many children arrive at school without having eaten food since the previous day.

With its significant experience in primary and secondary education, FOL along with the Diocese of Northern Uganda, has embarked on an ambitious project at Gulu in Northern Uganda. Over a 5 year period it is developing a large Vocational Training Institute covering several acres which will provide business, technical, agri and skills training for school leavers in an area that has been traumatised by conflict. The college will have boarding facilities and can cater for students from different areas of East Africa. Our universities and colleges in Ireland are involved in this project, in addition to funding and support from America.

When we think of Africa, we often envisage violence, war, corruption, poverty, disease and famine. However there is another emerging story to tell, a new Africa full of the immense vibrancy of young people, of hope, joy and educational opportunities taking place. God has led FOL to be part of that story and we in St. Finnian’s are privileged to be part of the FOL family.

Update January 2021

Rev. Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields of Life has written a book entitled ‘FROM KILLING FIELDS to FIELDS OF LIFE’. The book details his experiences as a curate in Magheralin Parish. Whilst on a pastoral visit to Uganda, he felt compelled by God to do something about the poverty and suffering he found there. It covers the 3 years Trevor and his wife Ruth spent in Uganda and the subsequent development and expansion of FOL in East Africa. It is a frank and sincere story of hardship and despair, success and joy, written frankly and honestly.

The cost of the book is £10.00. All proceeds go to Fields of Life funds. Anyone interested in purchasing the book can contact me with their details and I will deliver. John Downey Tel. 028 90448757, Mob. 07817465234.

A true story of hope from Fields of Life in Northern Uganda.

There is a lady called Atek, a grandmother living near Gulu. One morning she awoke to discover that her 12 year old son Hillary had been abducted as a child soldier by ‘The Lord’s Resistance Army’ (the terrorist leader Joseph Kony). Only two years later, her husband was killed, leaving her alone and in extreme poverty.

Atek spent many years hoping and crying out to God that she one day would see her son again. 10 years later, a woman arrived at her door with a 5 year old child. This woman told her that she had also been abducted as a child soldier, and that during her many years living in the camp she married Atek’s son, Hillary. To her astonishment, Atek was not only being introduced to her daughter-in-law, but also her grandson Denis. Tragically, Atek was told that her son had been killed in a fight, freeing his wife to leave. Atek held Denis in her arms, weeping at the loss of her son, but also praising God that she had been granted the opportunity to embrace her grandson. At that moment, Atek knew that her newfound purpose was to look after her grandchild, and bring him up to have a future that her own son never had. Atek took Denis to Abura Primary school, where he is one of the Fields of Life’s sponsored children. He wants to be a teacher and dreams of being able to look after his grandmother one day.

Atek’s story is one that exemplifies true hope. Atek never stopped hoping. Thanks to her resilience and strength, Denis has hope for his future.

Update – April 2022

Tony Gaston, CEO of Fields of Life (FOL) has recently returned from Uganda. The highlight of his trip was spending some time at the new FOL VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTRE at Gulu in Northern Uganda.
This large scale project has been over 5 years in the making, made possible by a strong vision and a lot of faith. The Covid pandemic has significantly delayed the build and classes commenced just 3 weeks prior to Tony’s arrival. The campus covers several acres with multiple buildings, incorporating workshops, dormitories, a café, an IT suite and more. This Centre offers young adults a chance to be trained in a trade or skill, enabling them to earn a living or even start their own business. The skills being taught include the following: Automotive Mechanics, Building and Construction,
Electrical, Plumbing, Carpentry, Tailoring, Dressmaking and Fashion, Hairdressing, Internet Technology, Management (including Entrepreneurship), etc.
The day starts with the students attending assembly for morning devotions in one of the large workshops. The whole ethos of the college is based on Christian teaching and students are tutored accordingly. Tony states it was
humbling to see all the students in the classes enthusiastically learning many ‘hands on’ skills, hoping and dreaming of what they could achieve. The teachers are equally enthusiastic and joyful to be back in the classroom after the pandemic shutdown.

James, the Principal, tragically lost his wife to Covid, leaving him to look after 3 children alone. If funds allow, FOL would like to build onsite accommodation for James and his family. The dormitories will also need to be extended in the near future, as students are enrolled from a wide area and the dormitories are now full. This area has been badly affected by rebel activity in the past. Some of the children’s parents were killed and young girls were abducted and forced to marry rebel soldiers. Many of the boys were coerced into becoming rebel ‘soldiers’ or shot if they refused. These children are now young adults and the girls have children of their own, resulting from the marriages. Many of the young adults are uneducated and traumatised due to past activities in their young lives.
The opportunity offered by the Institution of Learning is like a miracle for the young people in this area.
Tony says it brought Isaiah 43, v19 to mind:

See I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

This year, 2023, Fields of Life celebrate 30 years of work in East Africa

Seeds of Hope were first sown on a small farm on the outskirts of Kampala and now the charity continues to serve the young people of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. Jesus spoke about the miracle of the mustard seed – although it is the smallest of seeds, it can become one of the largest trees. Over the years, the seeds planted by Fields of Life (FOL) have grown into trees of joy, empowerment, transformation and opportunity.
150,000+ pupils have been educated in FOL partner schools 105,600 households have clean and safe water
26,704 adolescent girls and boys have been trained in the I AM GIRL programme for health management, child protection and gender equality.
These initiatives change lives, transform communities and build hope for people like:

Rebecca, from Opilitok in Eastern Uganda, who was able to borrow money to start her own snacks business. The Village Savings and Loans Association was formed by the members of the village following training from FOL. Rebecca can now afford medical care, foodstuff, weekly savings and school fees for her children.

Magellan was just a boy when his father was abducted and killed by the LRA rebel group in Northern Uganda. This tragedy marked the beginning of a long journey of hardship and struggle. Magellan was forced to drop out of school and made clay bricks to support his mother and siblings. During this time he got involved in his local church and became a Christian. He soon became a talented youth leader and brought his youth group to a FOL Christian Camp. There, he met Bernard Masaba, the FOL Outreach Coordinator, who supported him to complete secondary school. Magellan is now enrolled in the new FOL Vocational Training Institute in Gulu as a Building and Construction student. His dream is to start his own construction business.

Esther is elderly and could not walk the 2km distance to access water. Her community was forced to share water with animals, which caused infections like typhoid, diarrhoea, dysentery and skin diseases. The FOL Drilling Team has provided over 900 communities in East Africa with boreholes. For women like Esther, who have spent a lifetime without access to a clean water source, this is truly life-changing.

Ruth completed primary, secondary and further education through the FOL Sponsorship Programme. She has now attained a certificate in Mental Health Nursing and is currently working at Kisiizi Hospital in the Mental Health Unit. She can now afford to pay the school fees for her younger sister.
The latest seed is a brand new FOL Charity Shop which is now open in busy Ballyhackamore, on Newtownards Road, Belfast. (transferred from Newtownards). Please stop by and support the shop as a customer or volunteer.

They are accepting donations of good condition, clean clothing, shoes, accessories including bags, hats, scarves, gloves and jewellery, books and homeware (chinaware, kitchenware, ornaments, pictures etc).
Unfortunately they cannot accept electrical goods.

In St. Finnian’s we are forever grateful to all who sponsor children and give donations. We are especially thankful to the dedicated team in our Catering Group who provide teas for families and friends at funerals for a very reasonable cost. All the funds raised go to support our St. Finnian’s Church Fields of Life Project.
We have, this month sent a further £5,000 to FOL to help with the Thrive Programme in South Sudan. The region has virtually no infrastructure and FOL, with the help of the local Anglican Clergy, have been organising education and health programmes for the children and the impoverished villagers in the area.

Thank you for your support!

Update on the Vocational Training Institute – June 2024

The horrors and atrocities that took place in Northern Uganda
between 1986 and 2009 are difficult to fathom. Children were
abducted and forced to carry out unthinkable acts. Some
children were even forced to kill their own parents. Girls were
taken captive as sex slaves, millions of people were displaced
and more than a hundred thousand people lost their lives. It is
hard to comprehend what this does to a community and the
generations that come after. Surely only God can bring
healing to a community like this. Through Fields of Life, we
have seen hope rise from the ashes and on Friday 26th
April, I had the opportunity to witness some of what God has
been doing through Fields of Life over the last decade.

I attended the graduation of the first cohort of students at the
Archbishop Janan Luwum Vocational Training Institute
(AJLVTI), constructed by Fields of Life and the occasion will
stay in my memory forever. We witnessed 439 young people
graduate with skills in automotive mechanics, fashion and
design, building construction, welding and metal fabrication,
cosmetology and beautification, hotel and institutional catering
and agriculture. It was incredible to meet these young people
who were filled with hope about their futures. What I loved
about it most was how there was no talk about their past…I’ve
read their stories about how many have been abused, how
many have been orphaned, how many have struggled through
extreme poverty…but instead of focusing on the past, this
event was about their future, which was now full of hope!

These young people were smartly dressed, hair done, smiling
with their proud family members and teachers.
78 of these students were the first cohort to graduate with
National Certificates, an in-depth 2-year course, which will
change the trajectory of their lives. Out of these, 25 received
1st Class Certificates, the highest grade someone can
achieve. Each of these students received a toolkit upon
graduation to thank them for their hard work and allow them
the opportunity to go on and use their skills for their futures.

As I walked around the campus, I congratulated dozens of
young people. Everyone I met said that the time at this
college was transformational for them. Not just in terms of
skills that they had developed, but the friendships they have
made, the devotional times together, and the holistic
environment they had been embedded in, teaching them
Christian values, entrepreneurship, leadership, agriculture
and mental health and wellbeing.

I couldn’t help feeling that these young people were being
released to change their communities and nation.
Bishop Godfrey Loum of the Diocese of Northern Uganda put
it this way: “we believe (this institution) will rewrite and change the
story of many young people in this region.”
Fields of Life has been investing deeply in the region of
Northern Uganda for some time, building 4 schools,
3 nurseries and a vocational college as well as many quality
education interventions, well drilling and so much more. It is
both humbling and sobering to play a small part in the healing
process of this region and see young people who will rise up
and build a better future.

When I first visited the Archbishop Janan Luwum Vocational
Training Institute (AJLVTI) in 2019, it was still a dream and
only a construction site. Fields of Life had been gifted land
from the Church of Uganda and granted more than $2million
in donations to construct a first-class vocational institute which
would upskill thousands of young people of this region and
give them tangible and real hope. At the time, it was a high-
risk project. Injecting this much money into a poverty-stricken
region would take determination, focus and grit. We have so
often heard the risks of constructing “white elephants” across
Africa; empty buildings, constructed by well-meaning charities
who hadn’t considered the sustainability of what they were
trying to achieve. When the vocational institute construction
was finally complete, the reality set in that the project was
only beginning. We needed a Board of Governors, staff,
financial due diligence, safeguarding, budgets, curriculum,
sustainability plans, marketing, recruitment of students and so
much more.

There were many challenges we faced and at times we felt it
was perhaps too difficult, relationships too strained or
sustainability too ambitious. One of the worst points was
during the Covid-19 pandemic when we were finished the
construction but were unable to open. All travel had been
halted through lockdown, making relationships more strained
with our partners and schools and colleges were forced to
close for almost two years.

Trying to start a vocational institution would be difficult in
normal times but in this environment, it felt almost impossible.
Yet, thanks to the tireless work of many people, not only has
the college opened, but it is a thriving institution upskilling
hundreds of young people and providing education, values
and life skills.

To have our first graduation at the AJLVTI was a special
moment for everyone who has been involved, from vision to
execution, over the last 5-10 years. I am confident it will be
the first of many graduations and I am excited by the prospect
of the thousands of young people who will walk through this
campus and have their lives transformed.

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in this
project, from those who sponsor students to study and
provided the infrastructure, to the staff and volunteers
who work tirelessly to make this dream possible.

To God be all the Glory.

Tony Gaston
Fields of Life

Uganda Project Committee Members:

Main Contact: John Downey (Coordinator) Tel: 028 9044 8757

Hon. Treasurer: Stephen Geoghegan

Committee Members: Barbara Carlisle and Geoff Harman