Welcome to the ILO blog

Here you can read about the experiences of the ILO participants while on their placements in Lesotho and Mbale, Uganda.

Feel free to Blog in Welsh or English.

 

It never rains but it pours

The weather has finally broken, much to the relief of most Ugandans in the eastern region. The expected rains in November didn’t come so for many places there has been no rain since lst August. Add to this day-time temperatures of over 400C and you can imagine that the place has been pretty dry and barren.

Maize forms a big staple of the diet in Uganda and a failed maize crop has pushed market prices. The maize failure also removed a cash income from farmers who rely on sales of their excess maize harvest.  Pretty much every staple foodstuff has been in short supply so process across the board are up making life hard for the majority of the population.

But now it has started to rain. There has been intermittent rain showers off and on for the last few weeks but the heavy rain started three days ago on Friday. The rainfall was so intense it quickly flooded gutters and drains. After six months of baIMG_3192king in the sun the ground has become like concrete leading to rapid run-off across roads and through houses. Most farmers had prepared their field and broken up the surface so the rainfall has been quickly soaked up into the fields. Now everyone is busy hoeing and planting to get the crops in. You would have thought that the danger from famine must now be receding, but far from it. Most annual crops take two to three months to grow to a point where they are ready for harvest. This means that food supply won’t pick up until May, so the next few months are going to be lean.

One quick win has been the regrowth of grass. In my first blog post I put up a picture of Sironko, dry, dusty, empty, and empty of life. Here is a picture of the same place one month on.

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OK, so the place looks nicer but people don’t eat grass so what good is all of this new growth to the locals? Well, the cattle have been going crazy with all the fodder they can munch on. The beef cattle have become so thin and they are very very hungry. Soon milk yields will pick up for household consumption and sale, and the skinny cattle will soon be fat enough for sale at a good price.IMG_3187

The rains are also filling up water butts both large and small at schools, clinics and homes. Rainwater harvesting provides a free source of relatively safe drinking water and is being promoted hard by many different aid and development organisations.

So everything in the garden is looking rosey, right? Soon Uganda will be a lush paradise, rich in food where everyone will be able to fill their bellies and stock up for the next lean time. Well, not quite.

Firstly the rain is so intense it is painful to be out in it. And these down pours are squally accompanied with high winds and lightening. These natural forces are so intense that they destroy standing crops leading to loss of banana/matoke trees and damage to cassava, both of which are reliable food sources even in the most desperate of dry spells. This makes life even tougher for everyone, growers and consumers alike.

The heavy rains also lead to flash floods so everyone is watchful for outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases as water supplies get contaminated with surface run-off and shallow pit latrines flood and spill over. Every year there are cases of cholera so already water purification tablets for household treatment of water are being stockpiled and distributed to strategic stores. Community education and re-education is taking place on safe hygiene practices and Red Cross volunteers are having refresher training on cholera case management. So far so good, no cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhoea.

The floods, torrential downpours and high winds damage huts, schools and churces. Already several houses have lost their roofs leaving families living in the open. Personal possessions have been lost too, washed away in streams of mud and soil. With no insurance and little in the way of worldly goods, such losses are difficult to replace. And there have been deaths. Already two children have been killed as the roof and walls of their home collapsed in a rain storm.

So as the rains finally start to build up there will be both blessings and hardships over the next months.

Communicating in Uganda

Uganda is one of the friendliest countries I have ever been to. Whenever I tell anyone how many weeks I have left here, they insist I make plans to visit them before I leave, sometimes to villages around 80 kilometres away. It’s not like in the UK when people make plans, secretly hoping that they won’t actually have to go through with them. If I say ‘that sounds like a nice idea!’ it is taken as  confirmation that I will indeed pay them a visit and it is followed up on a remarkably regular basis. Currently, I am not actually sure how I am going to fit in all of the visits alongside the work that I want to do out here. I may have to return in the near future on a holiday.

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There are other stark contrasts between Uganda and the UK, it is not just the fact Ugandans will welcome a perfect stranger into their homes, but there are so many other social norms that I am beginning to learn. Everyone will ask you about your family. The first few times I talked about my parents and brother, not understanding why people were laughing. The manager at the clinic I am working at explained that they want to know about my ‘nuclear family’ my husband and children. Now when they discover my age AND the fact I am single I am given advice on how to find a husband, invited to meet relatives that I could marry, given warnings about a woman’s limited fertility but also congratulated on how young I still look (which is lucky as apparently all is not lost). This might be mortifying for some people, but I have genuinely enjoyed the frankness of the discussions; there is no embarrassment or feeling sorry, just lots of positive advice, back slapping and enjoyment at discovering more ‘alternative’ lifestyles from the UK and of course appreciation that if I had a family then maybe my path wouldn’t have brought me to Uganda.

But aside from what I have been learning personally through my day to day interactions about the Ugandan culture, I have been on an enormous professional learning curve. I studied communications at University and have gone on to spend the majority of my career working in communications roles, you might even go so far as to call me a communications expert. My expectations in coming to Uganda were to support NGOs to capacity build and develop skills in communications.

My first week was spent with University of South Wales students going on field trips to undertake research to rural villages, slums, self-help projects, community groups…At the time I was constantly aware of the fact I only had 8 weeks in Uganda, and wondering whether this was the best use of my time. Now I know it was essential. It gave me insight into the day to day lives of people, the challenges that they face: both social and those of infrastructure. It was a timely reminder that to be an effective communicator you need to understand as much about the organisation you are working for as the people you want to communicate with. If I had spent my first week in Mbale, only travelling to Bushikori Christian Centre for work each day, my understanding would have been limited to the people who lived in the immediate vicinity or my colleagues. How would I have been able to think critically about encouraging people living in other areas to take up the opportunities that the centre offers?

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The challenges have seemed overwhelming and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t caused me to lose all of my confidence in the first weeks, but I had expected to feel this way. It’s not an International Learning Opportunity if you don’t learn about what you are capable of as well as what you are not capable of. The skill set that I have developed over the last few years has been driven largely by technological advances, a democratisation of media through social platforms, communication becoming more about the visual and less about the written word and press sector that are being challenged with the demands of increasing workload. But, what I have quickly realised is that you can use ever more exciting channels, write intellectually stimulating blogs about burning political issues and get double page spreads in the weekend papers. But, if you are always thinking about what you want to say and not what people want to hear or indeed how they access it, then what is the point.

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Over the last two weeks, I have worked in an office with a pen and paper, no internet access and eight hours a day stretching ahead of me, completely different to my life at home, where I have two computer screens and spend my day with one eye on four social media channels and the other eye on the day to day work of being an External Affairs Manager. With the change in pace here, I have had a lot of time to think about the challenges of being a parent in Uganda, as one of the things that Bushikori have asked me to look at is increasing the pupil numbers at Joshua Primary School. As I pondered my strategy I thought about what I would do in the UK: a clever strategy that highlights the unique achievements of the school, time your publicity to coincide with the time of year parents make school choices, build a website and run a social media campaign, have an outreach programme and produce glossy brochures.

As I thought about the audience more I realised that the school do not need to create a desire for education or for this school in particular. Everyone here would willingly come to school if they could, the problem is how the school can help overcome the challenges in their lives that mean coming to school seems like an impossible dream. In addition, what happens when the parents you want to appeal to are illiterate, when technology isn’t prolific rendering social media obsolete, when the immediate challenges of poverty and hunger occupy people’s minds from the moment they wake up, when journalists won’t write about you unless you pay them to attend your events, when people live in isolated communities rarely making their way to built up areas where advertising becomes a useful investment? We can broadcast messages as much as we like, but if we don’t use the right channels or somehow address the challenges that people face everyday then we may as well be talking to ourselves.

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So, as for the plan to increase registration, I have yet to come up with it. In truth, my role is to offer the skeleton consisiting of skills that the staff here can flesh out with their knowledge. In eight weeks I will never be able to deliver solutions, but I can leave behind some of what I have learnt throughout my career, that will allow them to think about the solutions that are appropriate for Uganda. Bushikori already run some excellent schemes including a child sponsorship scheme where people from all over the world cover the fees of pupils who are most vulnerable. The problem with this is there are always more pupils wanting education than there are sponsors, many children wait on the list for many years, until eventually they are too old begin families of their own and start to think about how they are going to afford education for their children.

So as much as the role of someone on the International Learning Opportunity programme is to support the development of organisations in country, it is also to act as an ambassador and make sure the good work that is happening out here is communicated in the UK, because without organisations in Wales and the rest of the developed world partnering with organisations in Uganda, challenges of finance, resource and effectively communicating to the people that need them most will remain just that, challenges.

Week 2 – but really week 4

This week is week two of my time with Ugandan Red Cross in Mbale. I was fortunate enough to bring students from the University of South Wales out on January 8th and spent two weeks in the field looking at both rural and urban vulnerability and determinants of health. Now settling down to a new rhythm at the Red Cross.

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Very pleased to say that my predecessor ILO James was a bit of a star here. The Red Cross branch was so impressed with his work on community first-aid that they are planning on making a recommendation to head office in Kampala to adopt the every-day first-aid approach that James introduced as a national scheme for first-aid training.

As for myself I’m working with the district branch of the Ugandan Red Cross on their disaster risk reduction programme. This region of Uganda has many disaster risks; flash floods and landslips that wash away farmsteads and fields, major landslides that burry whole villages under meters of mud, and cholera outbreaks that breakout every few years or so are just three of the dangers communities face in and around Mbale region. These risks are superimposed on top of the everyday hardships of life; endemic malaria and HIV/AIDS, daily difficulties in accessing safe drinking water, widespread poverty and marginal livelihoods in both rural and urban communities. Add into the mix a missed rainy season in mid-2016 and extended drought and heatwave and things could look bleak, but … Life goes on here in a very vibrant and exciting way, there is no despair just a gritty determination to get on with the business of making a living and an optimism that things will get better.

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So far I’ve been concentrating on a review of a three-year Red Cross project on disaster risk reduction being run across six districts that cover the majority of Mount Elgon. This mountain is in fact an extinct volcano that stretches over a vast area of this part of Uganda and across the border into Kenya. For comparison, you could squeeze two and a half Brecon Beacons National Parks into the Mount Elgon area, and you would have to climb Pen y Fan three and 2/3rd times to get to the highest point of the volcano. The landscape is stunning but the steep sided slopes and deep valleys make for numerous landslides when it rains. The landslide risk is increasing as population pressures force more land to be deforested and turned over to agriculture. It’s so very easy to criticise such unsustainable development but the success of child primary healthcare programmes and general public health improvements has lead to population growth in rural communities and this population needs feeding.

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They key message is to integrate disaster risk reduction with sustainable development activities that make a positive impact on people’s livelihoods. Whether it can be achieved is an open ended question, but right now it is a wicked problem that is not complex, interconnected and possibly unresolvable. Health action improves survival to adulthood – that’s a good thing; this population needs feeding so more land is turned over to agriculture – that’s a bad thing; more land is recovered to tree planting – that’s a good thing; but the growing population rely on charcoal and firewood for cooking so trees are cut – so that’s a bad thing – and so it goes on.

That being said, it is not all doom and gloom. Positive steps are being made in terms of family planning and sustainable family size. Changes in agricultural practices are leading to better crop yields and improving land efficiency. Systematic tree planting is being used to stabilise slopes and reduce the risk of landslides, and diversification into goat and poultry rearing and bee keeping is providing families with cash incomes that does not rely on turning land over to banana and cassava.

It’s a tough challenge but I’m really enjoying lending a hand to the Red Cross branch here as they develop local disaster risk reduction strategies that support sustainable development.

Women in Uganda

DSC_0188I’ve been in Uganda for an amazing three weeks, the time has sailed by and I have yet to really miss home. That said, this last week has left me feeling slightly disconnected, as l watched various news channels and scanned social media (whenever the temperamental internet allows it) I saw hundreds of women marching across the world and the resulting news coverage. Forwarding of the rights’ of women is something I care deeply about. In the UK I am fortunate enough through my work to support young women to do exactly that.
The Women’s March has left me viewing Uganda through the lens of women’s rights. With families struggling to afford education; boys are often prioritised and sent to DSC_0008school, women perform gendered roles which leave them supporting large families with little or no independent income, legislation is interpreted so that the way women dress can lead to them being arrested, mortality in childbirth is high as are rates of domestic violence and HIV, female genital mutilation still exists in some traditional communities. Arriving in Mbale you are warned as a woman not to go out unless you have someone with you and to dress modestly. But, what has struck me the most is the many ways in which women challenge the culture, self organise  and empower themselves and others. I have met many men who are allies to women and celebrate their political power.

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When I first arrived in Mbale I visited Bungkho Rural Development Centre; an organisation that educates on sustainable farming techniques and equips people with skills that help them to develop an income. The work that they discussed and promoted when I visited along with students from the University of South Wales were the self-organised women’s support groups. The idea behind the projects is  for women in communities to come together and build incomes and become self sufficient as well as learning about things like family planning, HIV prevention and nutrition. The philosophy behind the project is, if you change the life of a woman, you change the life of a whole family. It is recognised that women spend  more of their time in their immediate surroundings, with poverty in rural areas it is often the men that leave for urban areas to try and generate income, so women are best place to affect change for the better, this is of course because in Uganda women still take on the domestic roles and with large families there aren’t options for employment. We were privileged to be some of the first muzungos to visit a village where some of these groups were active. The women really understood their political power. Over the years they had struggled with poor quality roads (and by road I mean dirt tracks washed away by flooding) They had spent time repairing the roads themselves and eventually had been so disappointed with the local politician’s commitment to improving the situation, they actually organised and had him voted out at the 2016 election, apparently losing your seat is almost unheard of here. As I listened to this story I found myself grinning at the understanding women had over their political power, it felt like a stark contrast when thinking about the low voter registration among young women in the UK, as they feel so disengaged by their politicians.

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Bushkori Christian Centre, where I am spending 4 days a week is led by a remarkable woman has worked tirelessly for 30 years. While the organisation is not a women specific organisation I have witnessed small acts that have made significant changes to women’s lives. While women are less likely to go to school in the first place, the ones that do make it to school are likely to be affected by things that women in the West would not even consider. Families struggle to meet the costs of food let alone sanitary products, which of course means women go without and for a few days a month do not attend school. As a result BCC taught older girls to make and care for reusable menstrual products (RUMPS) it has made huge changes to the attainment of girls in the school. On Thursday I went to a thanksgiving celebration at Joshua Primary School at BCC. Five pupils at the school had obtained top marks for their exams, of the five one of them was a girl. There was a prize of 100,000 shillings (around £25) which was supposed to be awarded to the top performer. With five potential recipients the school’s spiritual leader awarded it to the girl, acknowledging that in her lifetime she would experience much more hardship than the boys around her. It felt significant, Uganda is an incredibly religious country and the way spiritual leaders act informs everyone around them. To speak about the challenges that women face would have been hugely educational.

IMG_1420While visiting a large ‘slum’ in Mbale, we met community groups where women were leaders. It was striking to hear the debates about the most pressing issues in the community, while many people focused on the need for clean water and sanitation, it was often the women who talked about innovative ways to address the social problems within the communities, alcoholism, domestic abuse and prostitution. Before I arrived in Uganda I honestly didn’t think I would see in women enter into public debate about such challenging subjects, but they do, and they make an enormous impact on the communities they work with.

Uganda is at the beginning of a long journey. My expectations of gender differences in Uganda have been challenged in ways I never expected.

Last week in Mbale

The final week of the ILO experience has arrived, and what an experience it has been!

I have met many wonderful people and have had the privilege of working with the Ugandan Red Cross for almost 8 weeks now. I have taught many first aid sessions to various groups in communities in the Mbale district, and I have also had the opportunity to work with Mbale CAP to deliver first aid training to community health workers and also women from the livelihoods projects.

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I also got the opportunity to join the Uganda Red Cross Mbale branch youth team and climbed Mt. Wanale to donate essential supplies such as clothes, soap, school books and pencils to the communities who live up there – I can’t believe there is a whole community which lives on top of a mountain! It was a really tough climb, much steeper than anything that I’ve encountered back in Wales, and the sun was making the job a lot tougher. But it was all worth it once we got up to the top, it was a great experience and I felt proud to help those communities alongside my fellow Red Cross volunteers.

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I am going to miss the guys at Red Cross, and I’m also going to miss the guys at Mbale CAP, who are all so lovely and made me feel like part of the team, even though I wasn’t working there. I would especially like to thank Edith, who looked after us all and provided us with a hearty meal every lunchtime which was always top notch!

As well as work I have some other great memories from my trip. I really enjoyed visiting Mt Elgon hotel on weekends and going for a swim, it was a great way to relax and get some exercise. We ate out at various nice restaurants such as Nurali’s and Cosmos, and often went for a drink at Endiro’s, which is a great cafe. We had a fantastic day trip to Sipi falls with Martin and Nathan from Mbale CAP, and this weekend we are attending the wedding of Ruth, another Mbale CAP colleague, which I’m sure is going to be another amazing day!

It has been a great privilege to come to Uganda on the ILO programme, and I really appreciate all that I have learnt during my time here, as well as making some amazing memories!

Four men went up a mountain and…….

Community Based Bee Trainers / Bees For Development Scheme.

I spent a day with Rogers assessing the progress of the Community Based Bee Trainers (CBBT’s), this is part of “Bees for Development Scheme” program funded by the Welsh Government.  The role of the CBBT’s is to educate farmers on the financial and environment advantages of beekeeping and on how to assist them in building and setting up their beehives.  The first group of farmers we met were being ably assisted and mentored by Alex and they were all very keen to show off the beehives that they had made:

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Field Audit of 10 Million Trees Scheme / Financial audit of Salem & BRDC program activity for 2015/16.

I took part in the spot checking of the data reported to Mbale CAP by the partner organisations delivering the 10 Million Trees Scheme (10MT). I have conducted many stock checks before but this has to be in the one of the best locations!

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The recent low level of rainfall has seen a reduction in number of tree seedlings planted. To help compensate there has been an increase in visits from Mbale CAP staff to nurseries offering technical support to tree nursery bed operators on how to manage tree seedlings and on identifying extra space for sowing seeds.

Rogers is highlighting the problem by showing the height of the saplings which by now should have been planted but due to the arid conditions haven’t.

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Despite these challenging conditions the total number of tree seedlings planted under 10MT scheme had reached 4,807,988 by the end of November 2016.

I have also visited Salem, ( http://salem-mbale.com/ ), and Bungokho Rural Development Centre (BRDC) (http://bungokhoruraldevelopment.com/ ) to undertake financial audits for the 10MT’s program. I am glad to report all appeared to be in order.

Child of Hope Income Generation Activity (IGA) group

The Child of Hope Income Generation Activity group awards a business start up grant of 100,000 ugx (£25) to 40 families per annum (when I say families I mean, surprise surprise, MOTHERS). This is a financial inducement to attract children from the very challenging Namatala slumps to the school.  I made a presentation to the group on business start-ups, we then reviewed their process of identifying suitable candidates for loans and new ways of marketing the products made in the community. The conditions in Namatala have to be seen to be believed and the IGA team do an amazing job.  http://www.monitor.co.ug/artsculture/Reviews/Namatala-haven-poor/-/691232/2916856/-/lrjiwl/-/index.html

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Update on previous posts:

Last Friday Zebbie, from the Mbale CAP Livelihoods’ team, visited Makinda School. This is the school which I helped fund the completion of a toilet block and I am glad to say Zebbie reported that it was now working.

Four men went up a mountain and  …….. came down brothers.

To the east of Mbale Mount Wanale is a table top mountain which is the home to many thousands of people who live a very basic subsistence existence. With its lush and verdant landscape and the three river sources running through it, local legend has it that it was the Garden of Eden. Early last Saturday, along with three colleagues, I ventured up the slopes. I am a keen mountain walker but the combination of the gradient and heat made it was very challenging. There are a number of routes up but perhaps the most scary involves negotiating this makeshift 60 foot “ladder”, made of what appears to be haphazardly thrown together narrow tree trunks and branches.

Underneath that mound of hay is an Uganda woman who effortlessly followed us the ladder heavily laden.

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“Brothers”: Martin, Nathan, Ben & myself.

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It was a totally exhilarating experience and I developed a lifelong bond with my fellow climbers.

Iwan’s Guava Tree

I was deeply privileged to be asked by Jonathan from BRDC to plant a tree in acknowledgement of my time here. This is me with Jonathan after planting “Iwan’s Guava Tree” at the BRDC centre just outside of Mbale. Later that day I spent some time with Jonathan and his wonderful family; as I approached I was welcomed  as “Uncle Richard” to their home by Ehrian & Eden, it was so touching.

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If you happen to eat a guava with a hint of butter caramel in a few years time it may have come from this tree; it was planted with a “Werther’s Original” at it’s base, Iwan’s favourite sweet.

Finance Training Mbale CAP Staff & Partners’ Accounting Staff

In the last few weeks I have held a number of training sessions on financial management and budgetary control procedures for Mbale staff and the accounting staff of the partner organisations. On occasions it was heavy going but I think they got there in the end!

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Work continues to be very busy; I have been working on streamlining the data collection reporting for 10mt project with Rogers, and developing a  livelihoods monitoring tool with Zebbie. I have also been developing a financial management program to help Mbale CAP keep better control of their finances.

Last Post

Unquestionably Uganda faces many challenges; rarely a day goes by when the “New Vision” newspaper doesn’t report on a new case of suspected government fraud, (usually involving the Chinese….. the UK government and EDF take note); added to which there is a zero tolerance to any sign of civil protest, the catastrophic impact of  climate change with currently one of the most severe droughts for a number of years, high crime rates and a non-existent state welfare system. However I am optimistic for the country; the Ugandans I have been privileged to meet and work with are some of the most inspiring and dedicated people you could ever come across. Instead of envying what their neighbours have, they appreciate their own possessions with a deep sense of gratitude and always consider what they can do to help those in need around them.

Finally thanks to James for putting up with my moans and groans, a big thank you to Apollo, Eleanor, Zebbie, Loyce, Edith, Ruth, Nathan, Fred, Martin, Rogers, Paul, Richard,  Moses (Mbale CAP) & Jonathan (BRDC) for a wonderful 8 weeks. It has been a truly inspiring, humbling and uplifting journey; God willing I will return one day, but come what may Mbale CAP will always have a special place in my heart.

“Blessings”

 

 

 

Food Glorious Food

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Picnic on the mountain. Sharing my Chapati with friends.

When you go away on holiday particularly to an exotic destination the one question that demands most attention is, ’What is the food like’? Coming to Uganda predictably my friends have asked me this, not just out of cuisine curiosity but out of concern for my welfare.

Well I’m pleased to report that from my perspective as a vegetarian with the means to afford the wide ranging offer of fresh organically grown food I’m doing very well and enjoying my grub.

Lots of fresh fruit such as mangos, watermelons, pineapples, avocados – quite possibly the size of a small child’s head, passion fruits and the ever so succulently sweet tasting bananas, not anything like I’ve eaten back home, whose flavour has faded during the many carbon footprint miles of travel before reaching the shelves of Waitrose.
Vegetables are plentiful. A colour spectrum of beans, aubergines, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, sweet potatoes and the white potato known as the Irish. All very wonky and misshapen that would test the cosmetic approval of the UK consumer but leaves little doubt on tasting, that organic, locally produced food is superior.

For the meat eaters yes there is plenty; goat is very popular, chicken, beef and pork. Advertised in one the numerous small restaurants and cafes along the broken boulevards of Mbale, is a dish of ‘Chips and Goat Balls’, assuming that this delicacy is goat meat moulded into the shape of balls as the next item on the menu is ‘Chips and Chicken Balls’, an interesting amuse-bouche!

Dairy products are expensive and scarce, cheese, butter and fresh milk has been substituted with the Indian cheese – paneer, Blue Band margarine and UHT milk.
The bread tends to be sweet and is edible when toasted and covered with peanut butter and or honey. Cakes and biscuits are pricey with a hit and miss quality, often tasting stale. Although we have discovered ‘Fun 4 Cream’ biscuits which definitely entertain the tongue when sweet cravings demand satisfaction with an evening cuppa. The Ugandan coffee is to die for and I regularly delight in a cup of cappuccino at Endiros, a Ugandan shabby chic style warehouse cafe on Republic Street.
Despite General Idi Amin expelling the Asian population from Uganda there is still a strong Asian influence. Nuralis on Cathedral Road has a comprehensive menu of startlingly tasty curries with a whole page dedicated to vegetarian dishes. A meal washed down with a bottle of Nile Special Lager will come to just under a fiver.
We tend to eat out about twice a week but mostly shop at the local market place and cook for ourselves back at our bungalow.

So…all in all a very healthy diet one which the evangelical Slimming World leaders would applaud as free food generous and sin stingy. Have I lost weight? hummm I think so, it will be interesting to weigh myself when I get back home.

Ok, that’s me the musungo with money in her pocket. However, here in Uganda people are fighting hunger and malnutrition. Low incomes and high post-harvest food loss creates food insecurity and under nutrition, particularly amongst the small holder farming families I have met as part of my stay here. I have seen and heard stories of extreme poverty.

While many eat at least one meal a day it is carbohydrate heavy. A Ugandan degustation menu will typically consist of varied bleached white  starches on a plate. Rice, cassava, matooke, potato and posha all offering sensory dullness and zero nutritional value, but does however have the ‘fill you up’ ability. Posha is a finely ground, white maize corn flour mixed with boiling water having the resemblance of white play-doh and just as palatable. I do however like the matooke, a green starchy banana which is boiled and then mashed. If families are unable to afford this they have watered down posha rendering a hint to Victorian workhouse gruel.

In the more well to do families the three common starches posha, rice and matooke are covered with a soup, usually with meat or pinto beans and a ground peanut sauce. This addition certainly brings the food to life and adds deliciousness. Snax include a chapati or a mandazi a toothsome donut without the jam or the hole.

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Many mouths to feed. Hundreds of children waiting for their special Christmas meal.

When ever I have attended conferences or weddings I am in awe of how high people pile a mountain of food onto their plates, children just managing to see over the peak of their mound of plentiful. The reason for this stock piling is that many quite literally do not know where their next meal will come from. Many only eat once a day. Children fail to attend school because their parents can not afford to give them lunch to see them through a 10 hour day. I was told of two teenage girls who got pregnant by offering sex in return for food. One girl was paid two little triangular envelopes of meat and spices. Samosas for sex.

When waiting to be fed children are always at the back of the line. It is custom that special guests are first followed by the men, then the women and last the children. Different in the UK when we tend to put children, the most vulnerable first.

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After being fed the children looked happier and joined with me in a song.

Mbale CAP with support from Welsh Government and PONT are empowering rural communities to fight poverty and stave off starvation. They are not about reacting to a crises but committed to the long term aim of supporting sustainable outcomes for future generations. They want to enable communities to grow and afford food glorious food all year round.

 

An Audience with the Umukuuka

Nathan’s & Nancy’s Birthday Party.

I was very fortunate to be invited to Nathan’s mother house to celebrate Nathan’s and his daughter, Nancy’s, birthdays. It was very special to spend some time in a Ugandan family’s home. There was a lot of comings and goings with children, niece & nephews, and children from adjacent properties running through the house as if it were their everyday play ground. Nathan’s Mum appeared to be holding a different child on her hip every few minutes. The pictures are of Nathan and Nancy and her friends, and Nathan, myself and Martin, (who also works at Mable CAP). For the more observant Nathan’s first christian name is Darius.

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Inoculations.

Mbale CAP and its partners work with several hundred community health workers to provide primary care in the most remote areas where there is often no other medical services. Amongst other lifesaving duties, they are encouraging new mums to bring their babies for inoculations, albeit, as you can see, in extremely cramped conditions.  I think this poor lad below was terrified at the thought of a Muzingo, “white person”, about to give him a dose of Vitamin A.

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Visit to a community run orphanage.

When I arrived at the orphanage I was met with what can only be described as a stampede of children coming towards me…it was wonderful. The orphanage is run by a couple of matriarchs who have taken responsibility for quite a number of orphaned children; unquestionably very special women.

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They gave a tremendous welcome and sang several songs.  Since a number of their parents had died from AIDS they sang one very moving and powerful song of about the curse of AIDS pleading with mothers and fathers to abstain from sex (with multiple partners) and it went as follows;

“Our  fathers, Ours mothers and relatives leaving everyone behind……AIDS, AIDS, AIDS where did you come from? I wish I was God to cure everyone. But the power is in our hands, lets us come together, let us respect each other…ABSTAIN FROM SEX!”  These children were aged from a few months to 14!

The children are so thrilled to have visitors and as you can see they were very comfortable with a stranger in their midst. This was a very special moment; awash with children clambering all over me!

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Bungokho Rural Development Centre (BRDC)

Earlier that day I made a visit to Bungokho Rural Development Center. BRDC seeks to make rural life more sustainable to people by assisting the needy, young, orphans, school dropouts and women. Amongst other things this is achieved by providing practical training in tailoring, carpentry and masonry.

Rogers and myself are pictured with BRDC staff, including Jonathan and Emily who are involved in the 10 Million Tree project.

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SIPI FALLS

Last Sunday my International Learning colleagues together with Nathan & Martin from Mbale CAP ventured to the stunningly beautiful Sipi Falls. Although probable no more than 30 miles away from Mbale, because the roads are in such a poor condition, the journey took nearly 2 hours. The air was cool and refreshing, in stark contrast to the oppressive dusty, exhaust fumes infused streets of Mbale.  The Sipi Falls views were mesmerising; the horizon in the distance could easily of been mistaken for a glassy ocean and the beautifully lush greenery of exotic plants reminiscent of Kew.

Friends made on the way up to the falls:

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PONT VISIT

Mbale CAP received a delegation from PONT, headed by Dr Geoff Lloyd & Owen Smith, M. P. for Pontypridd, which is where unsurprisingly PONT are based. The picture below is of Mbale CAP’s board together with Dr Geoff, Owen Smith, Paul from PONT and yours truly.

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It was a true pleasure to meet the man who kicked off this whole project. During the Ethiopian famine in the early 80’s Dr. Geoff was the only doctor in an emergency camp for over 20,000 people.  This experience helped formed his ideas and, after exploring numerous possibilities in various parts of Africa, Mbale was selected for the base for his master plan. If ever there was an unsung hero then he is one; a true GIANT amongst men.

UMUKUUKA (King) Of Mbale

I had the good fortune to be part of a delegation to have an audience with the UMUKUUKA (King) Of Mbale.  Sir Bob, as he is affectionately known, is the cultural leader of 5 million people in a region that crosses the border into Kenya. He was a very gracious and humble man who, having spent a number of years working in Canada, had return to his home land and recently been appointed to the role. The UMUKUUKA is elected by all the tribal leaders and is for a term of 5 years; Sir Bob is standing next to Owen.

 

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WORK

Work has been particularly busy this week involving a number of budget issues and I made presentations to 150 community health workers over two days on the subject of business startups.

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I also had session with Apollo (II) and Janet (Foundation of Development of Needy) at the PONT workshop, and I was suitably aided by Andrew & Howard from PONT. The meeting was on price setting for the products they make & sell and the setting up of overhead recovery costing system for the workshop.

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Mulembe Papa

ust for a change I didn’t get to a wedding this weekend but instead to Ruth & Ronald’s “Introduction Ceremony” (Ruth is a finance assistant at Mbale CAP). The Introduction is a Ugandan tradition where families of the bride and groom have an opportunity to meet each other. It is also seen as an opportunity to check worthiness of the “opposing” family. Each “side” appoints an advocate who demonstrates the how noble their family is and questions the others. It was all done in a very jocular way by two of my colleagues, Martin and Fred, from Mbale CAP. (Maybe this could catch on in the UK……. might helpful reduce the divorce rate in the UK?)

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One of the drivers the groom’s party had forgotten his driver’s licence and proceedings were delayed by 2 hours due to the protracted haggling with traffic police over the size of the bribe necessary to allow them continue. (It also allowed some of rest the of us to listen to the Man Utd V Arsenal Game on the radio…..…every cloud has a silver lining!)  

 

Noah are Simon are two field officers involved in the tree planting process and together with Rogers they took me out to review their program: img_0835

Tree planting at Bunakanga school was quite an experience. The school is at approximately 2500m above sea level. The journey there was unforgettable and even the Top Gear Team would have been very impressed on how far up the mountain ours Toyota made it. The remainder of the journey was an arduous one on foot up the rest of the mountain accompanied by the menacing noise of chainsaws in the distance. The views were spectacular

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There is a tree nursery attached to the school and the focus of the visit was to give the children an understanding of the impact of deforestation and importance of planting to the environment and their futures. The children were all very enthusiastic with the project. Rogers held a meeting with the local group of planters. In addition to the ecological and environmental benefits he explained the long term benefit to them of how valuable the tree planting process would be to them personally and it will provide an income for their dependants. img_0830

On the decent from the School at the top of the Mountain I game across this drinking den, the picture shows them sharing the brew through the blue tubes. Bravely I asked if I could go in and see what was going on. I respectively declined sampling the concoction  and couldn’t help but notice that many of the men were very much the worse for wear,  despite it being only 2.30 on a Monday afternoon. It is difficult to judge them too critically as surely they are entitled to some relief to the harshness of their existence. The experience did however remind that women seem to adopt a more responsible and positive role for family welfare and indeed broader social care; they seem to be the bedrock of most of the initiatives that I have seen. img_0836

 

We then held a brief review meeting with a bee keepers group and I was greeted with “Mulebu papa” (hello father) and a hug from one of the delegates who attended the training I was involved with earlier in the month. We then went on to visit another school, Bukhaukha primary school, where we received a very warm welcome from the children and teachers alike. The teachers reinforced the importance of the tree planting program as they had a small plant nursery in their grounds. img_0856

This was followed by a visit to another tree nursery and this is me standing by the tree Carwyn Jones’ planted in 2014, you can see how quickly

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Talking of the First Minister I went to the Namatala slum  toilets and showers opened by him when he visited. The project has appeared to have stalled but a benefactor from Wales is trying to re-establish the facility. I attended a meeting of the management board with plumber engaged to “unplug” the problem (shame about the spelling!) img_0888 img_0887  

 

Yoga session

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I have putting my yoga skills to good use. I initially offered to teach Rogers yoga and as you can see the sessions have become very popular. We normally do it just before we start work; when my colleagues appear at my desk it’s not them being sociable but their wanting me to start the yoga class. They have all assured me that wouldn’t sue in the event of an accident! Work has involved year end preparation work, which given the end of the financial year was 31st March I find quite challenging. I have also been preparing training days for the Operational Health Workers on how to set up businesses and finance issues. The Operational Health Worker have made a significant impact of reducing deaths of mums and infants but their roles is voluntary and Mbale CAP are trying to help them sought out a living for themselves.                                                    

The last week and reflections

In the last week on placement there was a lot to do in completing the assignment and therefore blogging dropped down the ‘to do’ list.  So, to make amends I wanted to complete my blog log before signing off.

Vocational schools at BRDC

Vocational schools at BRDC

p1000870-3The last week at BRDC in Uganda was the time to unveil the completed strategic planning that I had put together with staff individually and collectively over the eight weeks of my secondment.  The meeting was scheduled – then there was a power cut, which lasted almost 36 hours, which was unusual, although power cuts are not. This session had to be rescheduled. In the event 18 managers and staff came to go through the plan.  The plan was well received with the key five year objectives and strategies examined during the session and the operational objectives to be achieved in 2017.

As BRDC vocational students completed their courses and will be finding their way in the world of work in early November. I was asked if I would give a talk to 70 vocational students in bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, hairdressing and tailoring on ‘selling themselves’.  This gave me the opportunity to put some material together on self-promotion, opportunities, the interview process, body language, entrepreneurship and working in teams to present to the students.  This worked well with a couple of exercises for students to get involved in. I was also accompanied by Maisie the dog during the presentation delivery giving me some great moral support!

BRDC vocational students during the session on job hunting...

BRDC vocational students during the session on job hunting…

Note: Must sharpen up on presentation skills to keep the dog awake!

Note: Must sharpen up on presentation skills to keep the dog awake!

One of the highlights for me was working with the onsite school at BRDC, meeting first thing in the morning the teachers, kids and parents and over a period of a couple of weeks. This was a great introduction to the school system in Uganda and understanding the issues that private schools face in trying to offer good education to poor families to give them the best start in life. Visits to other schools, slums and regional development initiatives also had a long-lasting impression.

Kids at the nursery school in BRDC

Kids at the nursery school at BRDC

In many ways, I will miss Uganda but have made many friends and have so many great memories. I was really touched, on my last working day when I was asked to plant a mango tree, not far from where I had spent the last eight weeks in the guest bungalow, accompanied by some of the kids from the school.  So, to all the people that made my time in Uganda such an amazing experience a big thank you and to borrow a phrase from the film the Terminator, I’ll be back.

A mango tree: tree planting at its best!

A mango tree: tree planting at its best!

 

I think I’ve become a Tree Hugger

One of the projects that I’m involved with is the Wales for Africa, 10 million tree initiative. Communities are encouraged and supported to plant trees not only to mitigate the impact of climate change but to also improve livelihoods and help alleviate poverty.

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Sarah inspecting her field, failing crops this year due to lack of rain

Sure! I’m aware that around the globe we have a part to play in the fight against climate change. But being here and witnessing the tangible consequences of it has made it more real and more urgent. I have visited communities and seen crops failing and people going hungry because their seasons are no longer predictable. While I am here it is meant to be the rainy season, I’ve not witnessed much rain and drought is a huge problem.

While writing this blog the United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Marrakech. More than 10,000 people from around the globe (including Paul from Mbale CAP) are gathered to explore ways of saving future generations from the dangers of climate change. Recognising that time is indeed of the essence the official @COP22 tweet account blazes #ActionTime. The ministers and government officials from almost 200 countries are awaiting a decision by the newly elected President Trump on whether or not he’ll pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.

While the news highlights what is happening on the global stage here in Mbale unsung heroes are also doing their bit to make a difference.

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Brenda and Consolet teaching the new girl!

I visited Salem Central Nursery, one of the many successful plant nurseries set up by Mbale CAP in partnership with other NGOs. Brenda and Consolet an all Women team shared with me their years of experience and University knowledge, taking me through a whistle-stop introductory course in horticulture. They were patient teachers because they clearly identified me as an enthusiastic student if not somewhat clueless.

I learnt that fruit trees are planted in poor rural communities as a form of food and source of income. Larger trees grown for shade, protection and soil stability. Eucalyptus trees otherwise known by me as the ‘evil trees’ are discouraged. Whilst they grow quickly and can be sold for their wood, this quick fix income generator can leave long term damage to the soil, sapping it of it’s nutrients and leaving it desolate. Many trees have medicinal properties such as the Neem tree. The leaf of which when turned into an ointment is reported to be a ‘wonder drug’ and can help ease the symptoms of malaria, syphilis! and skin conditions such as eczema. Banana trees are planted to shade coffee bean bushes. I was told that coffee is of better quality when grown under shade rather than direct sunlight, thus bringing a better price for the farmer.

Sustainability….sustainability….sustainability
is the mantra
Planting a tree is literally sowing a seed for a better future.

I spoke to Isaac who works for ECOTRUST and he explained that he plants a tree for every birthday of each of his 4 children. ‘These trees will pay for their future’ he explains. ‘’Once they are 18 they will be able to sell the wood to pay for a university eduction and invest in a career. But I will ensure that for every tree they cut down they will replace is with three’.

Unfortunately a tree’s financial worth is a large reason for deforestation. They are valued commodities, a source of income to pay for food and rent. Fuel to cook food and boil water to make safe to drink. Land to grow crops is also in great demand and areas are cleared of trees to grow income generating, soil eroding crops such as potatoes and onions. A local councillor explained to me, ‘poor people are desperate people’.’ It is so difficult to explain or expect them to understand the importance of protecting the forests for their future when they are living a day to day, hand to mouth existence’.

Last week I attended the ‘Africa Tree Finder’ app training session in Mbale, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) This is an app to help record forest restoration and devastation in order to measure improvements and target areas for planting.

On one of the days we went out in the field to test the app. Sarah (yes another Sarah it does seem to be a popular name)who also works for ECOTRUST gave a heavy sigh when explaining to me that, ‘this time last year this area was thicker, more dense with vegetation. ‘I suspect’ she continued ‘that this time next year we will see the landscape looking even more sparse’.
As she was telling me this two boda bodas drove by, heavily laden with forestry booty, freshly cut logs.

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Despite the uphill struggle in stopping deforestation Sarah keeps smiling.

‘This is what we don’t want to see’ she declared. Sarah wasn’t defeated and with a positive attitude marched by my side and said, ’this is a battle but not a loosing one, we just need to keep moving forward, keep planting, keep educating’

This message was echoed when I visited Bunakanga Primary School with Rogers, Nuwa and fellow ILO colleague Richard. The visit was organised to talk with the children and their parents about climate change and the need to plant trees for their future.
Talk about hard to reach communities?!…literally…not only a one hour rally car ride over some pretty rough terrain (top gear, worst roads in Mbale, take one!) but a further one hour hike through dense forest up a steep winding ridge. When we reached the school I felt that I had just climbed to the top of the world. As I looked around me, Pete Townshend and The Who’s biggest hit played in my head…’I can see for miles and miles…..’ It was not breath taking but breath giving, a valley of space and wonder where it’s earths edge touched the sky.
Rogers with his trained eye pointed out the results of deforestation, scars in the land left by landslides which had taken with them 300 lives in the past few years. Bald patches of landscape created by land clearance to grow crops.
It was so peaceful with only the sounds of birds and the mere whisper of wind through the leaves. But from time to time the idyllic silence was disturbed by the hauntings of the chain saw down below creating havoc and destruction to the land.

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On top of the world!

It is in every ones interest to tackle global poverty. It is a problem that has an impact on all of us.
Struggling people will cut down trees to survive and deforestation is a contributing factor to climate change. Rogers reminded me that ‘Forests are the lungs of our world and we are all responsible for looking after them’.

 

 

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Wales for Africa

The 10 million tree project through education and support is making a difference. I was reassured by my visit to the primary school and seeing how excited the children and parents were in taking their saplings home to plant. The head of the school, Joshua together with Rogers and Nuwa believe that change will come if they can get the children to think differently, to think about their futures.

 

 

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Proudly taking her saplings back home to plant

 

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Their smiles say all

Joshua said, ‘It’s not just about planting trees it’s about planting a better future’.

A Humbling Week

Last Tuesday I spent the afternoon at the Child of Hope, http://www.childofhopeuganda.org/. The place is an inspiration, a true example of triumph over adversity and it was a real privilege to walk around the school with Bex who co-founded it 12 years ago with her husband Moses. The school offers free education to nearly 500 children in one of poorest slum areas of Mbale. The school visit was followed with a walk around the community with some of the Income Generation Officers, who offer help to the community in business start-ups, and Social Workers employed by the school who take care family welfare issues and the orphanage.

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It was deeply humbling to witness their work and the people they serve. One such recipient was this pig farmer and you can see on her face the pride she has in her achievement:
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I am scheduled to give some training and advice to the Child of Hope Income Generation Officers and their users which I really looking forward to. If you are looking to make a charitable donation this Christmas then I would urge you to consider making a gift to Child of Hope, their website is compelling.

On Friday Zebbie and Loyce, Mbale Cap’s Livelihood Program Coordinators, took me to see the program in action. “Livelihoods” is funded by Pont in conjunction with “Share an opportunity Uganda” (SAO). Initially we went to see some of the recipients of the goat’s scheme. Mbale Cap supports 32 groups with each group having up to 13 members. The goats scheme targets needy families and provides them with one female goat. Within each community there is one  male goat who fathers the “kids”. The first female goat born is passed back to the program so another family can be helped; subsequent goats can be kept within the family so that they can provide an indefinite “livelihood”. This is a picture of Jackson, the local program coordinator and pastor, Scovia & family, Zebbie and the family goat.

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 Afterwards I visited Makinda School and chatted to the pupils in every class. The school was in a very remote location with 460 children, 12 members of staff,  3 of whom had been on long term sick leave (one with HIV).

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 I met with Robert, the acting Head Teacher, and to say he had work place challenges is an understatement. Apart from the teacher pupil ratio, this year’s poor raining season had left parents with little or no money to pay the school fees of £4 per term. The poor crops also meant that children were going without food and Robert relayed a very poignant story of two 14 year old girls who had been persuaded to have sex in exchange for samosas; the girls became pregnant and had recently left the school. As a parent of a teenage daughter I sat there listening with tears in my eyes. On a more upbeat note this picture is of Robert and myself; he is smiling because I had just given him some money to enable him to complete the building of the girl’s toilet.

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If that wasn’t enough to stir my emotions for the day I went on to meet with several women’s self help groups who come together under an umbrella called Lubaale Women’s group, with over fifty members in total. On my arrival I was met with such warmth as many of them danced, sang and hugged me. I did feel somewhat of a fraud as the plaudits really belonged to Zebbie, Loyce, Mbale Cap, PONT, SAO and other the  NGO’s   for all the work they had done in setting up and supporting the self help group schemes. These individual groups meet every Friday for an hour and act as a cooperative for the pooling of resources to help members fund their start-up businesses, school fees and family crisis. The women were for the most part single parents offering mutual support and companionship. They talked of how the self help program had transformed their lives and gave them hope for a better future. I was asked to speak to the group so I told them how grateful I was to meet them and how I could empathise a little with them; I relayed my upbringing in a single parent home and spoke of the sacrifices my mother had made for myself and my siblings.

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What a momentous day in my life that was!
On Saturday I attended wedding number 3, Pius and Ruth’s. Pius was one of the Child of Hope Social Workers who showed me around the slum area earlier in the week. We were told to expect the unexpected on this trip and totally out of the blue during the wedding celebrations I was asked to make a speech about my impressions of Pius. Thankfully I was genuinely so impressed by Pius when he escorted me around the slum that it was very easy to give a positive account of a caring and compassionate young man. I was introduced as “Uncle Richard” and the least said about my dancing the better!

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It may be difficult to believe but amongst all this I have been very busy at work:
I have been trying to resolve banking issues for Mbale Cap. Apollo, Nathan, Ruth and myself met (again) with the local Barclays branch official, Raychel Niga. We have made some headway but progress has been slow and I let my frustration be known to Raychel. However she made me feel a complete oaf as at the conclusion of the meeting she invited me to her wedding in December! Apologies to Raychel; wedding invite number 5, tea towels running very low!

Nathan, Zebbie and myself held a Skype meeting with Geoff Medlow from Pont. Pont supports several NGO’s under the Livelihoods work (see above). Geoff had requested that we review the spreadsheet which he had given Zebbie to complete for the NGO’s that support the Livelihood projects.

Nathan & I worked on a Risk Register and a Partnership Agreement schedule. I under took a review of IT security and found that none of the laptops/ desktops were seen to have any security software. One laptop was found to be infected Xmediaserve.com and “Contents Push” viruses. After careful consideration it was deemed to be appropriate to purchase Norton anti-virus software for all PC’s and laptops across the organisation.

I held a meeting with Mrs Soobi Annet Florence, The Country Director of Share an Opportunity Uganda, http://www.saouganda.org/ a Partner of Mbale Cap. Florence is also on the board of Mbale Cap and came across as a woman with great passion and drive for the work of SAO. We discussed the finance systems SAO are using and the option of a visit to their head office in Kampala.

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Teaching has started!

My first week working with the Red Cross was spent preparing resources for teaching, which involved buying household items (which can be used in the absence of a first aid kit), and plenty of colour printing and laminating. Last week I finally got to put those resources to good use and started teaching!

My first session was refresher training for Red Cross Mbale Branch staff and volunteers. The session started around an hour late (which is to be expected – timekeeping is not such a big deal over here as it is in the UK, and it helps to just accept that early on rather than spending time getting frustrated by it) but once it got underway it was a great success. All staff and volunteers got involved and although some started out pretty shy and quiet, by the end of the session everyone was happy and more confident to contribute.

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My second session of last week was an incredible experience, as I got to teach a group of street children some basic first aid. Ironically the street children are the most punctual people I have met so far! And they were so enthusiastic and engaged in the session, a real pleasure to teach. My colleague from the Red Cross was translating, as sadly most of the children, some who looked no more than 8 years old, had had little or no education and therefore had not learnt any English. I was really impressed with the children’s eagerness to learn and get involved with practical side of the training, and as a show of thanks for being such good students I decided to buy them all a soda and some sweets afterwards. Such a simple act was met with so much happiness and excitement, it was really humbling (although as expected the handing out of the sweets did create something of a scrum!)

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Looking forward to working more within the communities in and around Mbale. I can’t believe I am entering my fourth week here, I feel very settled in my home and at work, but time is moving too fast!!!

A week full of wonderful memories

A week full of memories

 

I am beginning to see Uganda as a country of extreme contrasts, here are two examples;

50 meters from where I am living the Cure Hospital (https://cure.org/uganda/) is undertaking some of the most advanced neuro surgery in the world, yet 5 miles away children are dying of malaria because they don’t have mosquito nets.

I have come across the greatest generosity of human spirit; men and women whose only motivation is to help others, living self-less lives, risking their own to benefit those worst off than them. Yet I have also been to orphanages where the fathers, and indeed in some case the mothers, just simply walk away and abandon their own children.

It is at night Mbale really comes alive as a cacophony of humanity. Walking down the pavements, navigating your way through the limited spaces between the street sellers and their offerings, is very much like a tight rope act, particularly when you are heavy laden with provisions. The roads and the traffic are equally chaotic; mini buses designed for 15 people carrying twice that number squeezed in like sardines; the larger buses, affording similar levels of passenger comfort, look like vehicles from a Mad Max sci-fi film. People all fighting to get back to the safety of their homes before the town becomes a place for only for the marginalised, brave or foolhardy. I love it.

I visited Salem-Mbale, (http://salem-mbale.com/) .Salem is a fairly large organisation which does wonderful work in a number areas; a hospital & vaccination centre, midwifery training centre, orphanage, medical officers in the field, school and tree planting. Salem partners Mbale CAP in a number of these areas but the purpose of the visit was to review their contribution to the 10 Million Tree Project. This is a Welsh Government flagship project in Mbale. We specially went to look at the tree planting nurseries and were initially met with Brenda & Consolate, the two field officers, who explained their role and the nature of their work. The nursery grows saplings for local farmers who are part of the 10 Million Tree Project. We were later introduced to Peter the assistant director and Dennis the director. Dennis is also on the board of Mbale Cap.

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I also attended The Ten Million Tree Planting Project Monthly Partner Review Meeting, a meeting with partners from Share an Opportunity Uganda (SOU), Gumutindo, BRDC Salem Brotherhood and Mbale CAP. We reviewed each partners activity in the month of October.

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I was a part of a team providing training Community Based Bee Trainers and NGO staff. My focus was on explaining to them firstly the important relationship between costs of producing and selling price of their products and secondly how to best to understand some of the concepts of marketing.

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Nathan & I have been looking at the range of issues including procurement processes and polices and reviewing the formal binding agreements that exist between Mbale CAP and its partners.

I also attended another wedding which was in a remote village and a truly unique experience.

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A long journey from one way of life to another. First impressions of Mbale

I left Heathrow airport at 10.15 Monday evening and following an overnight stay in Jinja, arrived at my temporary new home in Mbale at 2.00 Wednesday afternoon. A long old journey from one way of life to another.

Before coming out to Mbale I looked it up in the travel guides and there is very little to read about. In-fact one guide said that unless you were heading out to Sipy Falls there is very little reason to go through this town…bit harsh I thought.

It is so difficult to put into words just how different Mbale is but I’m going to try. So here goes…..my first impressions.

On my first walk into town I momentarily hovered on its edge looking into what appeared to be a scene of chaos and confusion. So much going on that I couldn’t isolate the different parts which made up this canvas of Mbale life. The cacophony of hoots, whistles and wails as the traffic competed with the voices of shoppers and sellers that swelled the streets, spilling out onto the road. The vibrant colours of partially painted and constructed buildings made brighter in the heat of the sun, clashed with a festival of busy people dressed in fuchsia pinks, golden oranges, sunlight yellows, lime greens, magenta purples, chilly pepper reds…I think I have exhausted my metaphor colour wheel!…but you get the picture? Each hot exciting colour demanding your attention. Pungent aromas of sweet and sour and spice infused the air along with the burnt ochre dust spinning from the wheels of the hundreds of motor bikes affectionately known as boda bodas.

From a position of observer the site appeared to vibrate and for a brief moment I felt dizzy with anticipation as if on the starter line ready for the race to begin.
But as soon as I took my first step to walk through this scene I began to notice the details and feel the warm welcome of Mbale people.
The weaving boda bodas were precariously balancing three, four sometimes five if a family, passengers with the addition of large sacks of maize and or a goat with perhaps some chickens for good measure or even a bed mattress. Women skilfully and gracefully sat side saddle clutching their bags of shopping.
Crowds of children in their school uniform heading home after a 10 hour day. Armed guards on duty outside shops casually holding their rifles and with a big grin warmly greeting me with a hello and a wave.
An old woman who has travelled from her local village to sell her produce crouches down on the pavement by her avocados and mangos. Next to her a young man selling piles of padded bras! Further down a jumble of used shoes for sale, that interested buyers sort through in search of a pair before negotiating a ‘good price’. Perched on the edge of the road a small gang of entrepreneurs aged around nine set up their stall of oranges or greenages as we call them because the fruit skins are green! They artistically pile them one on top of another like pebbles stacked to form a trail marker or tiny cairn.
Small groups gather outside shops and bars chatting, laughing and drinking coffee.
Friendly yells of ‘Muzungo’ meaning white person used as a statement of fact rather than a derogatory comment. People are warm and welcoming and I felt very safe. Of course you have to keep your wits about you, like everywhere else in the world there are always some dodgy characters that you need to be aware of. Also you need to be vigilant as to where you walk to avoid standing on small children! or DVDs on sale or falling down the large and disturbingly deep holes and gutters in the road.

But now I feel quite at home walking through Mbale buying my fruit and veg to take home to cook my evening meal. Or visit the many coffee shops that sell Ugandan coffee which is a delight in itself.

Standing on the streets of Mbale

 

Welcome to my new home for the next 2 months

Welcome to my new home for the next 2 months