Owen Smith has written about the life-changing things he saw when visiting Uganda with a charity from Pontypridd

One of the greatest privileges of being our MP is that I regularly get to see the incredible generosity and compassion shown by so many Pontypridd people to their friends and neighbours, especially those who are less fortunate than themselves. At foodbanks and in community centres, in our churches and on our high streets, I am consistently impressed by how ready and willing people are to give their time and their money to support good causes and those most in need. In stark contrast to the cliché that we have become a less giving and charitable society, here in Pontypridd those values are still widely shared.

Never has that seemed more true to me than on a recent trip I took to Uganda, with a group of Ponty people who have devoted over a decade of their lives to supporting the community of Mbale, 4000 miles from South Wales. You’ll probably have read about the PONT charity in these pages over the last eleven years. It was set up in 2005 to twin our town with Mbale in Eastern Uganda, and has built into an incredible network of relationships between our schools, our GPs, university, colleges, hospitals and churches and their counterparts in this impoverished part of central Africa.

I certainly felt I knew a lot about it having spoken to many of the 1000 local volunteers who have visited Mbale in that time, helping do everything from train community health workers to install clean water systems or solar electricity in village schools, to providing aid and assets raising people out of poverty. However, nothing can prepare you for the reality, both of the poverty experienced by people in our twinned community and for the extraordinary efforts made by PONT to improve their lives.
In less than a week, I met literally hundreds of healthworkerstrained from scratch by PONT doctors and heard how they – and the motorcycle ambulance fleet PONT has deployed – are saving thousands of lives of mothers and their babies. This, in a country where maternal mortality still sits at 467 in every 100,000 births, compared to 6 or 7 in our community. I saw schools, where one teacher serves 150 pupils, able to teach for the first time on dark winter afternoons because PONT engineers installed electricity.

And I heard, first hand, from mothers and grandmothers caring for their children in the smoky gloom of a wattle and daub hut that the goats PONT has given them have transformed their fortunes – providing food for their children and an asset for the family to build on. My own Grandmother, who grew up in the Cynon Valley during the Depression was fond of meeting any of my childhood complaints with the phrase, ‘You don’t know you’re born’. Her words echoed in my mind when I met those women in Mbale.

So here in Ponty we should be hugely proud that our community has created PONT, a project so powerful that the Welsh Government continues to highlight its success and which its founders now hope will prove a model for other welsh communities’ twinning with different areas of Africa. If you have a chance to get involved, grab it with both hands. Visit their website at www.pont-mbale.org.uk and know that this Christmas the spirit of charity and hope is alive and well here in our community.