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From Helmsley to Uganda – how two schools formed a firm friendship thanks to one Helmsley businesswoman

A Helmsley schoolgirl moved by an image of Ugandan schoolchildren playing football with a stone, has raised money to buy balls, nets and pumps for their twinned school.

Helmsley Community Primary School has developed a special link with the Gisoro Primary school in Kisoro, Southern Uganda, thanks to Lynn Hempsall from Helmsley Traditional Sweetshop.

Lynn took her second trip to Uganda in January to volunteer at a school and Mountain Gorillas conservation project for three weeks. After a previous visit she had given a talk to the children at Helmsley Primary, who had eagerly taken the opportunity to write letters for their counterparts in Uganda for Lynn to take with her on her second trip.

Bringing letters back from the pupils in Uganda when she returned in February, Lynn gave another talk at the school, all about her visit. Thanks to money donated by friends, customers at Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop and contributions from Helmsley businesses, Lynn had accompanied the children from Gisoro school on their first ever school trip, to the Mgahinga National Park, where gorillas live. Two hundred trees were also purchased, with Gisoro school getting 40. The children will be allowed to pick the avocados and then sell them in the local market to pay for future school trips.

Rhianna, age 11 from Helmsley Primary School, was so moved by a video Lynn showed of two girls playing football with an avocado stone, she decided to hold a bake sale – raising £52 which has been sent to the school to buy two footballs, two volleyballs, nets and a pump.

Lynn explains: “I was really touched that Rhianna took it upon herself to raise the money, and having been there, I know the school children will be absolutely ecstatic to receive such a gift. I was able to send the money over and they were purchased in the local town, putting money into the local economy. The donations from the kind people and businesses of Helmsley make such a difference over there. After the school trip, the teacher hugged me and explained he could now teach about a national park from experience and not just a book. These children have nothing but are so positive and happy. I took out flip flops, pencils, crayons and paper – simple things which make a huge difference.

“But they give back to us as well. I planted a tree with one of the young boys and he said ‘I am thanking you for the gifts by planting a mahogany tree so that it will use carbon dioxide and help your country’. The Ugandan children do a lot of conservation and environmental work and are passionate about protecting the forests and the habitats of the Mountain Gorillas both from the point of view of nature, but also the local economy, as it brings tourists to the area. Many of the pupils are now being taught crafts and skills such as beekeeping, so they can sell things to visitors and create their own income.”

As well as speaking to Helmsley Primary School, Lynn has also given a talk to the local Young Farmers group, who raised money to purchase vegetable seeds that have been given to several schools in Uganda. The produce will be used to feed the children and to sell in the market to raise money for school trips. 

Lynn continued: “I try to keep doing more to raise awareness and money for them. I love doing talks to groups who often then feel inspired to get involved. So, if anyone would be interested in me speaking to them, or any schools in the Ryedale area would like to hear more about finding a partner school, I’d be delighted to do what I can. The children at both Gisoro and Helmsley were incredibly excited to receive the letters from their counterparts. It is a slow process as letters are sent here with any tourist from the UK who then kindly posts them to me when they get back. In fact, I have just met up with a lady who has brought some back for me. I then post the replies out to Uganda and we cross our fingers that they will get there! Visiting them is an experience which will stay with me forever, and I wish more people had the opportunity to do it.”

To get in touch with Lynn people can email Greatapesandme@gmail.com or call into Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop on Borogate to leave their details.