How Scotty’s Changed My Life: Fighting Child Poverty in Uganda
In 2021, Scarlett Carrell’s life changed forever when her beloved dad, Colonel Nick Carrell, died from brain cancer. She is now a member of Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity for bereaved military children and young people, and through the charity, she’s had the chance to take on an unforgettable and deeply personal adventure on the other side of the world. Here, Scarlett shares her story...
Honouring my dad
In July, with the help of Scotty’s £1000 Super Grant, I had the most incredible experience of my life. I travelled 4000 miles across the globe from my college in Winchester to Uganda, where I spent two weeks volunteering and immersing myself in a culture totally unlike anything I’ve ever known.
There are lots of reasons I wanted to go on this adventure, but at the front of my mind was honouring my dad, Colonel Nick Carrell – the bravest, most well-travelled person I’ve ever known. I think he would be so proud of me for taking this opportunity and prouder still seeing the person I’ve become because of it. He served in the Armed Forces for 23 years and spent much of my childhood on operational tours in Afghanistan, with the goal of making the world a safer place.
With Scotty’s Little Soldiers’ support, I hope I’ve been able to do the same.
Taking the Leap
It all started in November 2022, when I received an email from my college offering places to go on a once-in-a-lifetime volunteering trip to Uganda. I’ve always wanted to go to Africa thanks to my love of the children's book ‘The White Giraffe’ by Lauren St John, and I immediately sent the email to my mum. She was anxious about me travelling across the world, especially so soon after my dad died, and worried about how much it would cost.
We’d heard of Scotty’s Super Grant, which is a £1000 grant for members of the charity and is there to offer members the chance to go on once-in-a-lifetime experiences, improving our confidence, resilience, and helping us feel closer to our parent. I had to apply to Scotty’s for the grant, explaining where I was planning to go, why it was important to me and what I felt I’d gain from it. Eventually I received an email back with a yes! I remember dancing with happiness with my Mum and my sister in the kitchen.
A few months later, on the 8th of July, I walked out the front door with a huge grin on my face and my bags packed to perfection. The day had arrived. Mum was totally supportive and gave me a massive hug, although I know she secretly cried when I wasn’t looking.
I had no idea how much my life was about to change.
Seeing the World Differently
After months of waiting, I finally arrived in Uganda. This was my first proper trip away from my mum and my sister since my dad’s death. It was intimidating, but I also felt excited about what lay ahead. I needed to do this in honour of my dad, and for all the sacrifices Mum had made for my sister and I since he died. I knew she would be there once I got back and would be cheering me on from home!
Our first stop was Kampala, the capital of Uganda. We travelled to the slums to gain an understanding of the poverty the country faces and met with a group who help build brighter futures for the children who live there. That’s when it really hit me – how far away I was from everything I knew. Houses were cobbled together from mud and scrap metal. Goats, cows and dogs wandered freely around the city. Green, polluted water and sewage ran right outside people’s houses. Children played with no shoes on their feet.
Embracing a New Culture
We then visited a school for children whose families couldn’t afford a normal education. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. As soon as we arrived, the children came flooding out of their classrooms, and we held hands, danced and sang. These children lived in the worst conditions I could imagine, yet they were so happy to see us. Our common language became the Hokey Cokey, and their smiles are something I will never forget.
After a short stay in a hotel that night and a trip to the Equator, we arrived at the village of Kanjobie. We were welcomed with a parade of villagers singing and playing drums. I have honestly never experienced anything like it!
It was that very same day, while getting ready for bed that I saw the toilets for the first time; huge holes in the ground where you can hear your business hit the bottom. It still haunts my dreams.
Work began the next morning, and over the following few days, I helped build the boys’ latrines – carrying hundreds of rocks, sacks of gravel and bags of sand up a hill. Afterwards, we enjoyed an amazing three-hour farewell ceremony, where we were all given handmade pots made from woven grass.
The next day we returned to the primary school and painted t-shirts with the children. Our goal was to provide every child with a clean shirt they could wear with pride, as many children only owned their school uniform. We then visited the local market, which was incredible, but I couldn’t get over how hot it was! That night, after cooling down, we laid back and listened to the wild dogs howling at the moon.
Making Unforgettable Memories
On Sunday, we joined a church service where me and my group sang a song from the film Pitch Perfect. I led this as music is my ‘secret talent.’ I was nervous, but it was loads of fun and I’m so glad I did it. From there, we travelled to Lake Bunyonyi and camped out in a tent overlooking the water. After some more singing around the campfire, I had the greatest sleep of my life.
In the morning, we went on not one but two safaris! On the walking safari, we saw giraffes, warthogs, water buffalo, zebra and countless baboons. On the boat safari, we saw crocodiles and hippos. I loved them both, but the walking safari was my favourite as, at one point, we were only five metres from a group of baby giraffes. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love giraffes, so for me, this was a dream come true!
Then the journey back to Kampala began. We stopped at the Equator for lunch and ate rolex (a traditional Ugandan dish of chapati, omelette and a meat filling) and the next day was filled with craft markets and swimming in the pool. It was lovely to have a day just to relax and unwind in the local culture. On the final day, we visited a chimp sanctuary, enjoyed a lovely candlelit dinner with all the friends we’d made and began the long trip home.
It was, without a doubt, an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A New Perspective
Uganda has changed me.
Without Scotty’s Little Soldiers, I wouldn’t have been able to even consider going on this trip, as the Super Grant went a long way to funding the expedition. I would never have experienced any of these incredible things or have the mindset I do today.
Many of the young girls I met in Uganda had also been bereaved, just like me, but due to their life circumstances had to rely on things like prostitution to support their families. This trip has really helped me see my own experiences in a different context and taught me the importance of using my privilege to improve the lives of others, which I promise to always do.
Because of my bereavement, I can now see that I have the strength to endure difficult situations and help other people in need. It’s my superpower, and without Scotty’s support I may not have realised it. I’ve absolutely loved this trip and everything it has given me.
I may be a bereaved military child, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do amazing things.
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