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A volunteer recounts her first week’s experience in rural Uganda

“The green hills of Uganda are breathtaking, and since the villages largely still rely on agriculture and have no running water or electricity, the natural beauty is still very much intact.”

First week – this post is taken from Kim Browns’ blog posted Tuesday, May 26, 2009. Click on ‘first week’ to
Kim and kids at the orphanage

Kim and kids at the orphanage

read more about her experiences in Uganda.

Finally internet… it has been pretty frustrating trying to connect to family and friends so far, but I expected as much.
I arrived in Entebbe just outside Kampala Wednesday evening after about 20+ hours of flying. Flying in at night was gorgeous, so few lights and clear skies.

On the way to my hotel from the airport I just soaked in the feeling of being back in Africa as we passed UN trucks, boda-boda’s (motorcycle taxis) and crowded matatus (vans used as taxis usually full to the brim). Since I would be bathing for the rest of the month with a basin of rain water, I enjoyed my last shower until I travel later in the month.

Thursday, Adrian, a staff member from the Uganda Rural Fund picked me up at the hotel so we could make our way south to Kyeteme. Good luck trying to find it on a map, it is more of a trading post between small villages and the closest town I was able to find on the map is Mbrizi. And so I’m here in Kyeteme (pronounced che-tu-may) at the Uganda Rural Fund volunteer house where we live with the family. I share a room with another volunteer, Emma, from Spain, and its a pretty typical African home with a tin roof and open space above the 9 ft concrete walls (so very loud). The sound of cows, goats, pigs, chickens and ducks wakes me up in the morning… ahh welcome to Africa.

On the same property, just down the hill, is Hope Academy where roughly 120 students attend school and where we operate an after school program. The after school program offers various programs, including computer classes, math and english tutoring, as well as sports, music and debate programs.

The work we have been doing varies each day. Friday and Saturday I was really still getting an introduction to the projects that URF operates so I mostly absorbed knowledge from the other volunteers here (Ali, Scott and Emma). Friday we helped work on the library here at Hope Academy and since the school was on holiday until this Monday it was a slow day.

Saturday we finalized the library, which is sparsely populated with books, but will be a wonderful resource for the children since many of them have never owned a book and some even had to be shown how to turn the page. Early on Saturday, Fred, Emma and I took boda-boda rides to the various villages to see how projects were going. We visited a number of child headed households where we are helping build new and more adequate housing for them, as well as constructing vegetable gardens so that they can have affordable and easy access to food. In a few of the villages we met with women leaders who head up the various piggery and poultry projects (Muslim women raise chickens, Christian women raise pigs). Although most of these projects would seem so small to an American with so much at our fingertips, there has been a big impact in these small villages.

Although I have been to Africa before, I was in Kenya’s 4th largest town and by my standards, rural. Being in Kyetume blows that conception out of the water. The green hills of Uganda are breathtaking, and since the villages largely still rely on agriculture and have no running water or electricity, the natural beauty is still very much intact. I do remember the constant chant of “MZUNGU!” whenever Ugandan children see a white person, and that is surely the same here in Uganda.

Saturday we walked to town and enjoyed some Ugandan beers as the sun set over the hills. Truly phenomenal. The weather has been beautiful, quite warm. The sun fried my Irish skin within a few hours.

Sunday is a free day, so Emma and I went to Masaka, the nearest large town with shops, Mzungu food and a pool at the hotel to relax at. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to have bruschetta in my life. I definitely miss vegetables and fruits… The Ugandan meals are heavy with rice, beans, and matoke (tastes like a hybrid of plantain and potato). So… my “traveling” vegetarian diet has its limits. But the fruit we have had has been delicious, I enjoyed half a watermelon for lunch today!

Monday and Tuesday we worked at the Nazareth orphanage in Nyeiendo, which is like a suburb to Masaka. There are 27 children at the orphanage, most of which are under the age of 5. I can’t even articulate my emotions from my two days there. The children are so desperate for human touch that you have between 5-7 climbing all over you as soon as you arrive. We played with them, helped basin wash their clothes and I attempted to teach the alphabet and numbers to the older of the small children not yet in primary school. There is one baby, Ivan, under 9 months old that stole my heart this week. He is extremely malnourished and the staff at the orphanage said he hadn’t been eating and they were worried about him dying. Emma saw last week that he struggled to drink from a cup like the older kids (no bottles), so she purchased a sippy cup from town. After I was able to rub some porridge on his gums he finally started to drink from the cup and finished two whole cups in one afternoon. When I saw him again on Tuesday he looked much stronger and was sitting up, he even smiled when you played with him. After I showed the staff how to feed him, I hope that his condition will get better. These children are truly beautiful, so full of life and happiness despite having endured such hardship.

My favorite adventure so far was yesterday, when Emma and I were on our way to Masaka the matatu pulled over because of an accident ahead and we were told we would have to take a boda (motorcycle) into town. This would be no problem since we ride them often now, but they failed to mention we’d have to go through the swamp which included two huge ponds of water. Instead of getting out and walking through the water or to the side, the driver told us to sit and he drove through the ponds, with the water coming up to our waist on the motorcycle, drenching us. I couldn’t stop laughing and all the Ugandans around were laughing at us and talking in Luganda, but you know they’re talking about you when they include Mzungu… TIA (This Is Africa) as Moreen would say. Moreen is one of the staff members here at URF that runs the women’s empowerment program and helps with a number of its other initiatives.

Today we helped plant seeds in a garden for one of the child headed family’s and this afternoon I’ll be speaking with the older students about implementing a leadership and service program. Hopefully this program will teach them the importance of leadership and we hope to establish ongoing service projects for the students to coordinate (i.e. library staff, helping repair thatch roofs for elderly in villages).

Tomorrow over 90 women will be coming to URF for they run a village bank (similar idea to the Grameen bank, but very localized). It will be great to see the progress the women have made with particular projects and to see which new projects will be approved for this coming period.

I have to run to teach class soon, but I wanted to give everyone back home an update while the internet was actually working.
I am doing well, very happy but miss you all dearly.

An update will hopefully follow next week. Hopefully I’ll get pictures uploaded to snapfish but that might be pushing it until I get to Kampala in June.

Much love,

Kim

Ramblings through the heat…

It is so hot today…
Just finished taking some re-hydration salts, seriously tastes terrible but so necessary since I’ve been feeling ill the past few days.
Yesterday we had roughly 80 women come to facilitate the community bank. Although my involvement was pretty limited because it was conducted in Luganda, so I mostly served as an eager observer (okay sometimes a really bored observer…). The process took all day and according to Maureen, the women have been saving much more than in the past (a good thing in the credit crunch…).

This morning we walked about a mile to one of the villages where we constructed from scratch a vegetable garden for a child headed household. I’ll say it, I felt pretty bad ass swinging a machete for two hours chopping wood. I’ve even got the blisters on my hands to prove it. The garden, once complete will have a rock quarry in the center which will help filter wash water to the plots of vegetables. We used banana stalks to pad the inside walls after we’d driven wooden stakes we’d chopped into the ground.

Afterward we took a boda boda back to the house for lunch. On the way we thankfully got to stop for a Pepsi, some reminder of home… although I’d prefer Diet Coke… no such luck in Africa… It’s amazing how Coke and Pepsi have infiltrated the country (Kenya too) so thoroughly while they struggle to get basic necessities to the areas. One can’t forget the mobile phone companies in Africa. They’re everywhere… almost everyone has a cell phone, sometimes two or three… even in the fields. A phone costs less than 20 dollars and a sim card for a particular network is less than 5 dollars and you can keep adding usage as you need it. No contracts, no hefty bills… what’s wrong with our system?