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Chris Read with friends at the Singing Gorilla Projects in Uganda

How I set up the Singing Gorilla Projects charity in Uganda

Our Gorilla Adventure in Uganda 2022 gives us the fantastic opportunity to help out with the Singing Gorilla Projects (SGP).

Nestled in the Kisoro District, close to the Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest, this special charity was set up by one of our very own Dream Challengers, Chris Read. He took on our Uganda trek in 2014 and was so moved by Nkuringo and the local community that he wanted to give something back.

Here, Chris tells us the inspiring story of SGP, from its beginnings as a music school, to its six projects supporting the community in almost all areas of life - and how we can get involved!

Entering Uganda

My wife originally signed up for the Gorilla Trek in 2014, in support of Women V Cancer, a collection of women’s cancer charities.

After paying the deposit, she noted that it involved camping and that hair dryers would be a problem. Deciding it was not for her, she asked if I would be interested in taking her place.

I had never really been interested in walking, let alone trekking, but what the heck! In ignorance, I said yes. I had never been to Uganda. Little did I know that this would be my first of many visits! 

I turned up to the airport for the flight to find that I was one of a small handful of men in a group predominantly made up of women.

Getting over my initial discomfort, I plugged in my headphones and cracked on with it.

Suffice to say, the trip was the hardest physical challenge I had ever done; from climbing the volcanoes to the trek to Nkuringo, not least the effort it took to find the mountain gorillas!

Falling in love with Nkuringo

There were things I saw on the trek in 2014 that have stayed with me since.

The sight of children by the road sides breaking stones for aggregate shocked me. The conditions in which people lived, a family of ten in a single mud-floored house. No running water or electricity. This, coupled with the happiness, kindness and dignity of the local people, all these things touched me.

The final few days and nights were spent in Nkuringo. Nkuringo is a small trading centre on the Nteko Ridge, separating the mighty Bwindi Forest, where the mountain gorillas live, with the rolling hills of the Virunga Volcanoes of the Albertine Rift.

A truly magical and beautiful landscape. It’s more Scottish Highlands than African Savanah, more Lord of the Rings than Born Free. Sitting at 2,200 metres above sea level, the air is clean and fresh.

I fell in love with the place and the people.

Setting up the Singing Gorilla Projects music school

The community was curious at us muzungus (white people) and I struck up friendly discussions in a local bar.

After a banana gin or two, I promised to return to Uganda later that year to set up a music school with them.

I chose a music school for the project, as it’s both creative and uses a common language that is familiar to all of us.

I set the project up to collect second-hand musical instruments from the UK and deliver them to Nkuringo.

With every instrument, there was a story. In the dim and distant past, the instrument had been played by a child in the UK, who was now probably all grown up. Today, the children in Nkuringo play with those same instruments.

Through this project, we’ve created a connection, an aural link, between peoples and between time.

Growing the charity

Following the start of the music school, one thing led to another.

I set up a charity in the UK and a not-for-profit legal entity in Uganda to fund not only the music school, but also school projects, water harvesting systems and then our largest investment: the health centre.

Since that first trek in 2014, I must have visited Uganda over twenty times.

In 2017, I decided to build a house in Nkuringo. The house is called the Volcano House, as it has the best views of the Virunga Volcanoes anywhere.

I see the Volcano House as my second home. I have local staff who work there, so we can provide more employment for the community.

The charity itself employs managers who are responsible for project work. We also employ all the staff in the Health Centre, as well as funding teachers in several schools.

Today, Singing Gorilla Projects invests over £200,000 per annum in infrastructure, educational and health projects throughout the Nkuringo and greater Kisoro District.

It’s an essential funding and projects partner in the area.

Our new bio-toilets

A very recent project, which I witnessed in February 2020, was the production of gas for cooking from a bio-toilet construction we have put into a secondary school.

The bio-toilet works by collecting faeces and storing them in large, underground chambers.

These mulch down and give off methane. The methane is captured, stored, and piped to the kitchen to power the stoves for cooking.

The effluent is then released as compost, which is used in the fields as fertiliser.

It’s a perfect system, which is very environmentally friendly and sustainable!

As gas is provided from the system, the stoves no longer need to be heated with firewood, thus saving environmental damage and carbon wasting.

Furthermore, the time that children used to spend collecting firewood can now be better spent in school!

Cooker using recycled methane from bio-toilets as fuel.

Cooker using recycled methane from bio-toilets as fuel.

Watch a recent SGP water tank installation

How we can get involved

We have the fab chance to help with the Singing Gorilla Projects at the end of our Gorilla Adventure. Visiting the charity in Nkuringo, we can get involved with a variety of projects:

1. Cooking – helping the chef at a local primary school prepare and serve lunch to the kids.

2. Teaching – working in classrooms in primary and secondary schools.

3. Music and dance – if there are any musicians, dancers, or actors, then the music school would love to have a masterclass!

4. Water tanks – installing a water tank that captures rainwater.

5. Classroom and latrine construction – helping the local builders construct buildings for schools.

6. Empower Her – working with the Empower Her women's group (a Singing Gorilla Projects initiative) to make baskets and jewellery.

Other ways you can help

You don’t have to wait for our trek in Uganda to help this incredible charity. Whether or not you’re joining us for our Gorilla Adventure, you can show your support for SGP by donating and/or fundraising for the charity. Every pound you donate will go a very long way to help the community.

Visit the Singing Gorilla Projects website to donate and/or find out more.

Join us for The Gorilla Adventure in Uganda 2022

Having experienced this challenge a number of extraordinary times from 2013 - 2018, our trek through Uganda is definitely one of our favourites and could be the most popular overseas adventure we've ever had!

We would love to have you join us for The Gorilla Adventure in Uganda 2022. It's a fantastic opportunity to get fit, raise funds for your favourite charity (including the Singing Gorillas Project!) and meet a bunch of amazing people - and gorillas!

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