Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Past Week and Some

A few things to catch ya’ll up… And sorry, this will probably be longer than I first intend. We’ll start with last week.


I was in Rakai doing some things around the house and Red Cross office. I put up a rope and hook to install a solar shower in my bathing area, but, I thought, I usually bathe in the morning, so there’s not much point to this with so little time in the morning to allow a solar shower to actually warm up. Oh well, it’s there, I’ll use eventually. In the afternoon, I held a life skills activity on Monday at the Red Cross office for the youth on school break, which Joseph and I were suppose to do last Thursday or Friday…I can’t remember. Unfortunately, Joseph was also absent from the activity today…we said we’d start at 2, right? I felt like calling him and asking him where he was, but I thought, it’s probably better that I don’t, just go ahead with the plans…I didn’t like the feeling of having to rely on people all the time, or that I shouldn’t follow through on a commitment just because he wasn’t there. Plus, a lot of kids were already there and waiting! So, the crowd…most of these kids I already know from around Rakai, some I didn’t. We had 19 boys and 1 girl (!!), all between the ages of 8 and 14. Noelina was the one girl, she did a great job participating and was confident when she spoke, which made me feel good. For those of you who don’t know, Noelina is the housegirl adopted by Prima, my landlady, who does most of the cooking, cleaning, washing, weeding, and digging around our compound, as well as going to school. The life skills lesson also reminded me how important language was, and that if I could be more like Ashlee in Suriname (she’s amazing with her language) this session would be even more productive. Luckily, the kids wanted to use English, and knew it, which I asked when I knew Joseph wasn’t arriving. Basically, I gave the youth some info about Red Cross in Rakai, summarized to them what life skills were, and asked them if they had any questions about Red Cross, life skills, school in America, or anything about America??? There were, and always are, some interesting questions about the US and Americans. A lot of people think the US is completely packed with people, no room, no land, and that nobody actually can dig with their hands…among many others. We then went straight into some activities and games. I had the kids introduce themselves by asking them to write their names, what grade they were in, their favorite food, one thing they “like” about themselves, and one thing “funny” about themselves on one side of a sheet of paper. Since “like” and “want” are the same word in Luganda, we got some answers about the kids “want” for themselves in the future…such as, someone “wants” to be pilot. The idea was to get kids mentioning qualities they like about themselves or other people. Answers for the “funny” things about the kids were usually related to their parents (usually, Dad) dying from AIDS when they were younger…not really “funny” things we would think about. My funny thing was that I fell out of a parked boat into the river when I was visiting Ashlee in Suriname… and how funny Ashlee thought it was =]. Not quite the same. After all twenty kids presented, we did one more activity that would help reinforce positive values, and help these kids better express themselves. I asked each person to stop by my desk after presenting and to write their name at the top of the back, and blank, side of their paper. The blank side was then taped to their backs. When we finished presenting, I asked everyone to stand up, and write one things on other student’s papers, identifying something they had learned about that person, or something that they liked about that person. When we finished this madness of running around 10 minutes later, got everyone to sit down, I asked them to take off the paper from their back, and volunteer to read what others had written. I had emphasized that they should write “nice” things about their friends…which was nice to hear they actually did. Some of them were really proud to read what others wrote. They kept this sheet of paper, helped me clean up, and that was basically the end of day 1. Walking home, I forgot how crazy a group of kids could be walking through town, since most of them waited to walk back with me home. Definitely overlooked this.

Tuesday thru Thursday

Tuesday I was traveling to Steve Wright’s site, another Masters International student from Michigan Tech, to work with Jon and Steve Worrell on a site plan for a primary school, and possibly build some stoves. On my way out of Rakai on Tuesday, I saw a girl wearing a South Milwaukee Badgers T-shirt, which is probably a little league baseball team whose jersey ended up in Uganda. Then walking around Masaka with Jon getting lunch, we saw a guy with a Milwaukee Brewers baseball jersey. You can really find A LOT of second hand items here in Uganda… Seeing these things always brings a feeling of home, and makes me feel like I should share these stories with you. To get to Steve’s, Jon and I had to go Kampala first, which was longer, but it made for a nice travel break and meeting place to find Steve Worrell who was coming down from Gulu. The three of us had two beers in Kampala, picked up some awesome food from a Hare Krishna sandwich shop, some packets of Popov vodka, and then went back to Taxi Park to go to Steve’s. The next day and a half felt productive and was a lot of fun. I think one thing we all took from was that this group “engineering” project felt more approachable together, and that our minds were much more active when around one another. Discussing our concerns with work, cultural issues, issues at site, difficulty in starting work, our research, and intended community development, also felt good to share.


Friday I was in Kampala (got in late Thursday night) and went to the Gender and Development (GAD) meeting at Peace Corps in the morning. I went to a buffet of local food for lunch near the PC office, and then went to Red Cross to meet with George and other office people. The main purpose of our visit was to meet with the Water and Sanitation engineer who supports Red Cross branch offices on related water projects. Overall, good meeting, made the connections I wanted to, but unfortunately, was informed that water/san projects were not something our Rakai Branch had been given money to do within current budget and 2006-2011 strategic plan. I know George has mentioned this in “minor” detail before, and we’ve talked about other ways of implementing and funding projects, but it was still a bit of a wakeup call for me. I would like it if Red Cross could provided the support it intends to within rural areas and the decentralized system they’ve created, especially since water/san is such a big issue in Rakai. We talked about how we could help assess the issues relating to water/san in the new strategic plan being written for 2011. The decentralized system Red Cross uses with field offices allows field workers and coordinators to get closer to their community to mobilize volunteers and their work. I now realize that doing something “big” will probably require me to go out and find external funding for Red Cross, or rather, the people we’re “helping” implement water/san projects. I know Joseph still wants that “big” project. I, however, think education and the importance of a community understanding their options and capability to implement better water/san/hygiene projects can be accomplished with VERY little money. But as Joseph would say, you still need money to move around for field work. I hope we can provide some of these messages on a larger scale in Rakai.

I still go back and forth about the role of a PC volunteer making a connection for communities (maybe abroad) and providing all the technical support for their work. For me, it’s not something I feel like we need to give them, because people have lived this way for a long time, but it’s something they rather want to learn to do and have the ability to do. There’s definitely room to do both. I realized with EWB in Guatemala, our work was centered around students raising money in the US to complete our designed project, while the beneficiaries provided some funds and lots of labor. In the US, it was our project and felt good working on and designing. When we arrived, most of us understood that this was something that community was already good at doing, our designs would be changed, and they could build it themselves…they didn’t need American students to physically build it for them. That’s also the last thing I think Ugandan’s need, and they still want the money. Not having local income (though other local resources) or financial support to complete projects, often makes these projects impossible to do. Note, there are A LOT of organizations in Uganda, A LOT of people “missed” groups, and it’s overbearing when your organization and local community first EXPECT you to find the connections to get someone to help “support” or pay for community needs. A lot of local NGOs in Uganda even have trouble with paying their “staff” or “volunteers”, and transporting community workers to assess needs. We use a lot of fuel in the US, and the money for the most part, is there. This dilemma all comes down to balance I suppose, and I imagine a lot of great people have great experiences, strategies and the “right” answer. All in balance and sustainability…


Saturday I went around Kampala and took photos with Steve Worrell, William (from my homestay), and Flat Stanley (thanks Titia). I’m glad I stayed in Kampala Saturday because it was the only time to see William, and I felt less rushed than if I were to have tried to go home…which is important to me when I’m in a place as hectic as Kampala. Saving sanity too, though I feel much more comfortable about my way around town now. The next school term is starting soon and William wanted to talk about some options about paying for school. A lot of kids have a real tough time paying school fees and for the other items which they need to bring to school. I am also approached by youth about this in Rakai. What do you tell a 12 year old kid who wants money to go to school because he parents can’t afford it all? Go find a job? Why do you wait until the last second? Could I have paid for my elementary, middle, and high school education under these circumstances? What’s it like not having a permanent place to live and only have 1 or no parents? You just need notebooks, pens, a metal school box, shoes, uniform, building fee, T.P, fees for your exams, and other small money for school fees? Is this something Peace Corps volunteers do? What could you help me do around here? So, Steve and I took William out to lunch, talked about how things were going at site, how he did in school last term, and made a few visits around Kampala. We’ve found that the sustainability of obtaining school fees is a bit harder to manage, but is something I feel we can help with.


Sunday, Jon and I left Kampala around 12pm and made it back to Rakai after stopping at the Rakai Health Sciences Project in Kalisizo to use the internet. Jon grabbed us some sub’s at the big supermarket in Kampala before leaving. These are made when you order, and are about $2.oo a piece…good deal for some filling and recognizable food. I left Kalisizo around 6:30pm and caught a taxi right away to Kyotera. Usually, they wait until these taxi’s are VERY full, but we actually left with just 3 passengers…which felt VERY strange. Getting to Kyotera around 7:00pm, I met with John the Carpenter, or “JohnCarp” as my phone says, and he showed me the furniture he’s completed for me. I’m also working with him on a report he wrote up for the support of orphans and youth affected by HIV/AIDS in Kyotera. His org didn’t really say how they intended to use the money, or account for it, though they said they could, and talked a lot about how important this was for people in their community. Hmmm. He also wants me to send this off to my “people” and connections I have in America. I told him that the best resources to use would be local ones, their government, or local organizations already working in the area. I don’t know? I also asked him about using the carpentry shop as a vocational program (they’ve done this some), and that maybe, people may be willing to help fund some equipment to train local youth. Hopefully, this in turn would provide youth with a skill and trade. Again, I don’t know everything about this, but I took some photos, asked him to write up some info about his carpentry program, how many carpenters they have, and some recent successes/goals/problems they have. He seems eager which is good and I feel something like this is something I can help with on a small scale. I waited in Kyotera for a bit before getting back home to Rakai. We would at least have to wait for 8 passengers to fill the 4-door corolla sedan. Good thing they usually let me get the front. Either way, I made it back home around 8pm, and thought, it feels good to be back home. I decided to make dinner, did so, started eating, and then Noelina came and brought me dinner she made. Awesome! I’m feeling very full. Tomorrow I’m going to pick up the furniture from JohnCarp in Kyotera and feel very happy about sitting down at my desk “working”

Monday thru Wednesday

Monday was a wash…though I did go and pick up the furniture and rearrange my house and throw away old paper until about 2am.

Tuesday was a day of interactions. After waking up a bit late, which is happening too often these days, I made breakfast and sat down to read on my couch. I got a call from Joseph saying he was at the Red Cross office with George (rare sighting in Rakai) and wanted to catch up and talk about some future programs. So, off I went. After about a 2 hour talk about work and our ideas, which was nice, the three of us went to get lunch at a local restaurant. A restaurant in Rakai is 1 room along a stretch of poorly built buildings that fits a large table and some chairs around it. No room for anything else, and the cooking is done directly outside of where we’re seated. Needless to say, the food is very abundant with the usual 4 carb dishes per meal, some meat with sauce, and cabbage. It’s a very normal meal for less than a dollar, with water included. After lunch, I went back up to the office to do another life skills day with the kids. Slightly less kids this time with 15, but Joseph was there, and we were able to make it “productive”. Last time the kids wanted more background about Red Cross, surprising, and Joseph was able to do this much better than I, and in the local language. I realize everyday that I need to commit myself to improving my language. I keep saying “in time”. After another fun day of like skills, which was helped facilitated by my Ugandan friends, and after I realized that I am not a great teacher, I went back home to get ready to meet with Father Joseph. What I thought would be just a talk getting ready for my Aunts visit, led to a trip to Kyotera with Father Joseph to meet with some of his co-workers at the Bikirra Parish and the school their building near Kyotera. Father Joseph is very busy, so talking in the car provides a good time to go over details. Every time I’m around him, he says something I wish every Ugandan would feel or understand, and that is someone I could really do some work with here. Obviously, it was a good night, and I’m glad I went. We sat around with 3 other people from the Church, I ate some pork and French fries, drank 2 bottles of Guinness, and talked. On our way back, we stopped at a hotel which was built to generate income for the school, so it would not have to rely on funds from Europe of the US, again, great to hear. They also have a few vehicles which they rent out (sometimes with drivers), and it comforted me knowing that if and when people come visit me, this is available.

Wednesday now, and I’m suppose to teach some kids how to play baseball. Off I go. It’s also market day, and the English mass with Father Joseph, so a lot to do. Till next time.



1 comment:

  1. Colin_
    I love reading of your adventures, and it sounds like you are thriving. In light of what happened this past week in Uganda, I hope you are ok. I know that PC says officially that all volunteers are ok, but I just wanted to check in with you and I hope you are well. Adam and I are rooting for ya!