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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Team Crow's Newest Addition!

This is a very brief post to introduce you all to Team Crow's newest addition - Josiah Kitiibwa Crow. He was born on 11th March at 9:48am at 7lbs 6oz and so far is a very chilled little fella! Whilst we would like to think this will continue, we have long appreciated the wisest advice we were given when we started this whole parenting lark: never get too happy, and never get too sad - things can change very quickly, and often do! Take the fact that Noah was a chilled little man when he was first born and that tells you all you need to know!!! Ha!

Noah and Emily have actually both been doing very well adapting to life with their little brother and are both very loving towards him (as photographic evidence shows!). Emily's first response was, 'Baby Josiah my dolly?!" 2 weeks down the line and we are still working on that one, although it's very sweet seeing her cuddle him at every given opportunity. Things did take a slightly strange twist when she ended up trying to breast feed him ("Josiah want my boobie?!!"), but to be fair such weird and wonderful moments are simply par for the course in the Crow household! So here's to baby Josiah and the mayhem that is to come!!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

We wanna wish you a Merry Christmas!!

It's that time of year where everyone is sending Christmas cards complete with all their news, and since we rarely update you all on the various happenings for us here in Bristol, and for the continuing work in Uganda we thought we would jump on the bandwagon and use this opportunity!

Uganda stuff first, starting with the Baby Unit: It has been quite a tumultuous time there in terms of leadership. Esther did a marvellous job as head nurse, taking over the role from Cathy (who had left a year ago for her maternity leave and then to move to Kampala with her husband), with continued support from a great team of nurses, as well as the paediatric doctors under the lead of Dr Ojambo.
However, when she left some months back (for personal reasons), her loss was felt. 

Nevertheless, Pastor David has been liaising with Kitovu to ensure that staffing is maintained, and leadership restored. The Unit continues to care for about 35-40 babies each month: a significant proportion of Kitovu’s newborns, which usually number at about 140 per month. We have been able to sustain babies due to YOUR generosity – including that of Dan and the team at ProClinical, who have tirelessly worked to help us fund essential things such as new oxygen cylinders, as well as facilitating other crucial aspects of ward hygiene and care. It’s due to you that we can send more babies home in good health with proud parents. 
Sometimes no words are better than those of a new mother herself, and here is what one young mother, Margaret, had to say: 

"I recently gave birth to a baby boy at Kitovu hospital. I took too long to deliver, so my baby got tired. I was scared because there was a possibility of losing him, but I thank God for the Baby Unit taking good care of my little one. I'm now in the Kangaroo room with him safe and sound, waiting to be discharged any time. I'm grateful for all the people who fund this unit.. you are a real blessing to us because the cost of treating my child was more than I could afford; but here at the Baby Unit the expenses are manageable. Thank you again for being so loving and caring."
Proud Margaret with her baby boy!
It has also been quite a rollercoaster ride for Synergy. 6 months ago I was writing with uncertainty about our future, in particular with regards to the senior team after corruption had stolen the chance of financial stability that would have come with promotion to Uganda Premier League. It took a leap of faith to even begin this season, as we had no idea how many games we would make it through with little income to sustain a league campaign. In fact, the only reason we decided to even try, was optimism over a potential link to a club in Dubai which Brian had been working on. He was due to fly out for discussions in October over a possible partnership.

As Brian boarded the plane to Dubai, he knew this was make or break with regards to the continuation of our senior team. Long story short: God was faithful! Brian came back with a 3-fold blessing: Firstly money to sustain the club through until Christmas, secondly the pledge to pay senior players’ wages (the first time any of these players have EVER received a proper, regular monthly wage) and thirdly, money to organise visas and tickets to fly all the senior squad out to Dubai in January to play in a number of friendlies in order for the team in Dubai to see our players and decide how best to develop the partnership further! This is a package of support we could only have dreamed about 6 months ago, and not only enables the immediate survival of the club, but also offers the potential for opportunities for our young players which they would never get in Uganda! A lot will now hinge on the trip to Dubai next month where the future of this partnership will be decided. With their talents on show, including the vocal gifts they have to share, as evidenced by their Christmas message below, we are confident! 

It’s been quite a ride for the lads, but with Brian at the helm some tricky times have been navigated well. Brian continues to grow in stature across Uganda where he is respected for his honesty and passion to see a better future for African football. When the senior national coach, Micho, moved onto pastures new in South Africa earlier in the year and was asked by the national media about who he felt should succeed him, Brian was one of only 3 names that he mentioned.  “You have those that are visible, but then there are also young coaches…they could go for example for one young boy who has been doing miracles in Big League with Synergy, Brian!”  
Wow! What an endorsement!

Whilst Brian isn’t managing the senior national team (yet!), he was voted to become the regional FUFA delegate for Masaka as well as being asked to sit on the FUFA competitions board for Big League. This unfolding testimony continues to be a ringing endorsement for the power of God given integrity and a calling to be salt and light to the world around us! 
Brian in full post-match interview mode!
And finally to the UK! We push on with life here in Bristol and continue to enjoy our different roles. Noah has had a great first term in reception, and Emily continues to dote on her big brother! And into the mix will soon come the latest addition to Team Crow due March 2018!! Watch this space!!.....

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Hardest Lesson in Success

I have been waiting to post this blog entry as I knew that a time for reflection would be of great benefit before writing it. I will start by telling you what has happened, before moving onto what God has done through it.

This season at Synergy has been immense. Brian, as manager, the players, and the spirit and belief of the team, combined this season to bring us an opportunity that few teams ever have: a playoff place to Uganda Premier League.

Synergy players before the play off final
A string of exceptional performances that saw us win all but one match between Christmas and the end of the season, ensured we finished second in the table propelling us into the playoffs. After winning the play off semi final 3-1, we headed into the final, where we were to meet Mbarara City, a team we had beaten just two weeks earlier, and who finished third behind us in Big League. The chances of promotion, and the fulfillment of the dream to play in Uganda’s top division, was now within touching distance.

Take a moment to reflect on the fact that Synergy remains a team of integrity and fair play in what is a very corrupt system, where bribing of referees and the football authorities is rife. When you take this into account, it is an amazing testament to what God has done through the work of Synergy, as well as the hard work of the staff and players, to have found ourselves just one win away from the elite level, only five and a half years after our genesis and entry at the very bottom of the league pyramid in the fifth division.

I wish I could give you a fairytale ending to this story, to say that we battled and won the playoff final, beating all the odds and silencing all the naysayers who said a team like Synergy could never make it. But real life is not a fairytale. There are not always the happy endings that we so long for.

From the moment the match began, we could tell it was going to be a difficult day. Nothing was going our way. The referee it seemed, had an agenda, and this agenda did not involve officiating professionally and impartially. Time after time our calls for free kicks were waved away, whilst the merest touch against our opposition would see the whistle blown. Our penalty appeals were turned down, nothing was given. Somehow, despite this we managed to enter the final minutes with the scores level at 1-1.

Picture this with me. As we enter the 90th minute, 5 minutes of stoppage time are displayed. Then a ball played into the Synergy box is cleared out by our keeper, Zake. As our back line moves up, a lone opposition striker is left in a clearly offside position. The ball comes back into him. Up go the hands accompanied by the shout, “Offside ref.” But no flag, no whistle, just dismay as the ball is slotted into the net.
“Come on lads, there’s still time!!” 
But no, the ref has blown his whistle for full time. 
“What about the 5 minutes stoppage time ref?” But he is not in a mood to discuss anything. 
As the Mbarara players celebrate, Synergy players are left speechless. There is discontent in the stands. Spectators are incensed at what they have seen. The Senior national coach of Uganda, watching from the sidelines, sheds tears at what he has witnessed this day.  

This is football in Uganda. This is what we have battled against for 6 years.
The referee waves our players away
All battles have casualties and this battle may well bear a great cost. As many of you know, it has been a struggle to finance the work of Synergy this season. With costs rising in Uganda, and with the wider work of River of Life Church continuing to be under serious financial strain, it is only due to the kindness and generosity of many of you, that Synergy F.C. have even made it to the end of the season. Promotion to Uganda Premier League would not only have gained us a platform on the national stage, but also financial stability as sponsorship deals to help finance the elite level clubs kick in. But instead we face an uncertain future, with the very real possibility that the senior club will now fold. Quite simply we don’t currently have the money to play Big League football next season.

As you read this, you may sense anger and sadness in my words, which is indeed the case. But that is not the end of the matter. In the weeks since that final, I have felt hope rising in my spirit. Why? Because when we launched Synergy five and a half years ago our primary aim was not to become a Premier League team, but to be a club that does things differently. Our vision was to launch a club with Christian Faith at its core, a club where investment in our players' wider lives would impact them beyond the pitch, and where we could be a shining light of integrity in the midst of the darkness of corruption.

In these things, we have achieved beyond our expectations. Our players are not commodities to be utilised and cashed in, they are individuals in whom we have invested untold time and mentoring, as well as training and education. The result of this is a group of young men who have attitudes, outlooks and opportunities they would never have had if they had been at other clubs.

Solomon, our team captain, has changed beyond recognition. Despite early struggles with drink, women and lack of focus, he has become a leader whom our younger players look up to. He has lived and shared his life with many of our players, eating, talking, praying and reading God’s word with them. He has gone from being a young man who was lost in many ways, to a man who has found purpose and identity. He has led by example, being voted Big League’s Most Valuable Player this season, and has recently been one of four Synergy players to break into the Senior National Squad, the Uganda Cranes.
Solomon with the MVP trophy for Big League 2016/17

Solomon and Nico (pictured) are just 2 of 4 Synergy players called up for the Uganda Cranes senior squad

The platform we have built has given us the type of exposure where being a team of integrity can make a real difference. Everywhere we go we are known as the team that doesn’t bribe, and can’t be bribed. At the end of season AGM, where all Big League teams gathered, representatives of every team stood up to commend Manager Brian and Synergy, for the way we play football and the way we run the club. Corruption, despite being rife, is now being challenged, both on the street and in the media. The referee who officiated our playoff final, a few days later went to officiate the equivalent of Uganda’s FA Cup final, involving 2 premiership teams. He was chased away by fans and players because of the way he officiated during our playoff final. They have had enough, and there is a fresh call to see the game cleaned up in Uganda.
Manager Brian, being interviewed by the media

This is not the end for Synergy, perhaps just the beginning of a new chapter. Even if the senior team folds, we will continue to use what little resources we have to build again from our academy. And even if we are unable to, we have not failed in our mission. Wherever our players go, they take with them valuable lessons and changed attitudes. God has used us as a catalyst to raise aspirations, to raise hope, to raise faith and to bring integrity to the game. I am proud of what we have achieved, and so grateful to all of you who have helped make it possible. Thank you!

Finally, before I sign off, I would like to give the briefest of plugs. As I have expressed I am so grateful for the generosity so many of you have shown to Synergy, and as I have asked so much of you recently please do not feel any obligation to give to what I am about to promote. As I write, out in Uganda, 20 of our players are doing an ultra marathon, running over 100km in 3 days from Masaka to Mbarara. Their aim is to raise money for school fees and requirements for around 65 Synergy players ranging from primary up to university level. If you feel you would like to give towards their efforts, you can go to the following web address to find out more and donate. 

Once again, please feel no obligation.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Upon Reflection...

Having been back in the UK for 10 months now we have been reflecting back on our time since we returned from Uganda. We are very grateful for the blessings we have received that have eased our transition back into the UK. A great house, jobs which allow us both to balance work and time with the kids, Noah and Emily both settling down and enjoying what Bristol has to offer, being much closer to family and being part of a great church in Woodlands are all things we greatly appreciate.

However we are also finding ourselves missing Uganda very much. One of our best friends out in Masaka, Sarah Beale, will be getting married in just a few weeks. We will be very sad not to be there for the celebrations. Also, it’s been a very exciting season for Synergy, with some astounding achievements and exciting prospects that require their very own blog entry which will be posted in the following week or so.

But more than that, there are every day things about Uganda that we miss. People, places, certain routines and ways of life and the weather are just a few of the obvious things. However, there are also things you’d never think you would miss but do. With that in mind here are 5 of our top 10 unexpected things that we miss from our days in Uganda:

(1) Our Noisy Neighbours

We never EVER thought we would say this but there are times we actually miss our neighbours' nightly prayer vigils lulling us to sleep! Okay, so perhaps not when they were at their raucous demon outcasting noisiest, or ear splitting tone deaf warblesome worst, but certainly when they were at their more tuneful and gentle best, backed up by the chorus of crickets, it was actually quite pleasant, and bedtimes are just not the same without them!

(2) Limited Electronic Connectivity

Dodgy internet connections and network problems often seemed like the bane of our lives in Uganda. But reflecting back now there were some great advantages. We miss the simpler way of life less dominated by social media and fancy phones where people spend more time looking and speaking to each other rather than staring at their phones. Sarah often mentions that after all these years of me being happy with a crappy £10 phone with only basic call and text functions, it frustrates her that I now have a smart phone where I spend all my time looking at the news or the latest football scores! And it’s true! Do these things really make our lives better??

(3) Crazy Drivers

If we had a Ugandan shilling every time we found ourselves berating Masaka’s drivers for death defying maneuvers, we would probably have had enough money to bribe our way to a serious campaign for the Ugandan presidency! We thought that coming back to the UK would bring with it the pleasure of sharing the streets with people who follow the rules of the road. However it turns out that there are stupid drivers here in the UK as well! At least in Uganda it was somewhat amusing to see a taxi made for 5 but carrying 12, with a shattered windscreen and door held on with a bit of wire, swerving towards you at breakneck speed in order to miss the 4 foot pot hole that the council filled with soil instead of tarmac the day before it was all washed away by the rain! It’s just not the same when some annoying businessman in his BMW rides up your backside before overtaking you like a pratt on Henleaze Rd!

(4) Posho and Beans

Even now it is a joy to go on our weekly shop to Aldi and see the plethora of delectable goods on offer for us to fill our faces! It is wonderful to have such variety! However, there are times when we just crave a good old plate of Mama Kat’s posho and beans! Tim spent his first year in Uganda eating it almost twice daily and swore then he'd never miss it. But he does, he really does!

(5) Poor literacy

Are you one of those people who gets annoyed when a shop sign has the apostrophe in the wrong place? ME TOO! I never thought poor literacy would be something we could miss, but the wonderful spelling mishaps of many of our Ugandan brothers and sisters brought such confusion, amusement and laughter to our lives. Whether it’s enjoying the fact that you’re reading a school report for literacy that says “Congranulatons” for your child passing, or spending hours trying to work out when and where you have bought a ‘weliballo’ (using the powers of deduction and the fact it was a hardware store receipt, we finally realised it was a wheelbarrow!) our lives are poorer for the lack of these literary lapses!  

Perhaps some more next time! But before we sign off for now it wouldn’t be a Team Crow blog without some sort of plug!! So here it is! This weekend we will be taking part in the Bristol 10k to raise money for the charity Love Running. All money will be split between Syrian refugee children, and projects working with vunerable people here in Bristol. We have a target of £500 so if you fancy sponsoring us for this great cause please head over to the link below! Thanks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A new season begins!

One of our final trips to Lake Nabugabo
before leaving Uganda
So this last 3 months has flown by and yet it now seems a long time ago that we were bidding Uganda a fond farewell.

Here in Bristol we have been blessed with a fantastic house, a nursery place for Noah (whose behaviour has shown a marked difference since starting), lovely weather to ease our transition, and the provision of jobs. Sarah is getting to grips again with the demands of being a part time GP (which entails a lot longer hours than we had expected thanks to the nature of our NHS and ridiculous workloads), and Tim has just started part time with an organisation called Urban Pursuits, delivering alterative education and mentoring to young people at risk of exclusion, or having been excluded from school. Then of course Noah and Emily take the rest of our time!

We certainly miss Uganda, and there are times when we feel very homesick for Masaka, all our friends there, the pace of life, and the ongoing work of Synergy and the Baby Unit.

Brian and Abbey have been doing a fantastic job of pushing on with the work of Synergy as a new season is now underway. Two particularly exciting developments have been the launch of a more intentional work with girls, which Abbey has taken on, and also setting up our first Synergy home group. Brain has located a house for rent which he is now sharing with a number of our Synergy players, and is using the garage as a space to hold regular bible studies and prayer meetings – something we talked about a lot after the success of the Talk faith course earlier in the year! If you are the praying sort, then please do pray that this would continue to develop and bare fruit!

And on the Baby Unit the team there continue to push forward with the important work of helping little newborns survive and thrive. Three particularly encouraging stories of late have been that of mothers Kamidah, Nakaweesi and Margaret.

A mum of five already (one of whom had already passed away), Kamidah was undoubtedly apprehensive when her sixth child arrived – a little girl, weighing just 800 grams. She delivered elsewhere, but knew her baby needed special care, so rushed her to Kitovu Baby Unit to seek help.
Her little one had a bit of a rocky road to recovery, and when she was finally discharged, she had to be re-admitted with anaemia and poor growth a few weeks later. A good dose of malaria subsequently landed her on the children’s ward. But since then, she's been going from strength to strength and is expected back for review soon.
Kamidah's Baby Girl
Nakaweesi landed up at the baby unit after her newborn had had convulsions on & off for two days. On being told that the baby would need to be admitted, she refused and said she wanted to go home. Unlike in the UK, in Uganda there’s nothing the police or social services would do about that.
But thankfully our nurses worked with her, and persuaded her to stay, and this gorgeous fella lives to fight another day! Not only that, but he’s breastfeeding well and behaving like a perfectly normal baby. Amazing!

Nakaweesi with her baby boy
And finally there’s the lovely Margaret with her beautiful daughter Maria, who was born way too early and way too little. An initial good recovery was encouraging. But then it all went wrong, when Maria suddenly deteriorated and stopped breathing. For 2 whole hours our head nurse at the time, Cathy (now on maternity leave with her own sweet baby Jemimah!) faithfully bagged the baby, pushing air into her little lungs to keep her going.
Against all odds, Maria started to improve. And within a couple of weeks, that little girl was fully recovered and ready to go home.
Margaret & Baby Maria

We feel so thankful that despite having left Uganda, all this work continues to be a blessing to so many. It's comforting to know that God is in control and that those we have entrusted to lead these ministries are faithfully taking it forward! Thanks to you all for being a part of it with us and for having supported, and continuing to support both Synergy and the Baby Unit!