Friday, 10 September 2010

Home time...Team 2 and reflections on two months away

So I am writing this from, what I hear is, an unusually sunny England after being back just over a week. It feels very strange so far and I’m sure it will take a while for me to settle back in fully but for now I just wanted to update you on the progress of our projects in Kumi, how Team 2 got on and what everything looks like now we have left.

Team 2 were a fantastic team! It was made up mostly of a youth group from a church in Kent with 7 13-16 year olds and their leaders as well as 4 other adults. It was a lovely mix and they were different to Team 1 which made it all the better I think! But they worked equally as hard and at the end of the trip overwhelmed me and Louise with their generosity towards all of our partners. It wasn’t without hiccups however as we suffered a few more problems with our transport; a broken alternator and three punctures! But hey, it wouldn’t be Africa without those things!!

Once we arrived in Kumi all the team were eager to start work and we got so much done over the two weeks. They followed the same programme as Team 1 but were mostly finishing off the work that we had started on our building at COHAD. We were so pleased of everything we achieved over both teams and I feel so privileged to have really blessed Kumi and the surrounding communities.

In terms of the building site we really did achieve so much as Team 2 constructed the concrete apron (look at me using all the technical construction terms!!), fitted the windows and put the finishing touches to both the inside and outside. We left the site with the house only needing one more coat of paint inside and the windows just needed one more coat of paint too. It was really special for me to see the building from beginning to end, especially as when we arrived our plot was literally a concrete slab and we left COHAD with another house practically ready for another set of orphans and house mother to move into!

Team 2 also gave us a chance to really get to know all the children at COHAD a little bit more as they were on school holidays and so were around site more. We also spent two afternoons running a ‘holiday club’ with them, doing crafts and games which was great fun, but meant that the goodbye on our last day was even more teary than it would have been! I think over the time that we spent at COHAD across our whole trip I had come to realise what a fantastic job these house mothers do...on top of being widows themselves they really love the 8 children they care for and really work hard for them. To hear the stories of where the children have come from and to see them happy, laughing and playing with one another is really a testament to the mothers’ work and to the huge benefit of a family environment.
With Team 2 we also spent time in the rural villages again, renovating mud houses and giving out food packages, but this time we visited a different village. We were all so incredibly overwhelmed by the amazing welcome we received from the ladies there; they were all dressed in their beautiful costume and shrieking and singing welcome songs. We were all so incredibly humbled by their hospitality and their eagerness to have us with them, when they really do have nothing. The team all had fantastic fun getting their hands dirty in the mud renovating houses! This time we were able to help two elderly men; one too frail to build himself a new house to replace his tiny and run down house and the other mentally ill. With some extra funds that we had we were also able to buy bedding for both the men who were completely overwhelmed by what they received. We had great fun returning to the village the next week to give out food to 36 families suffering with HIV/aids. Weighing out the food using a scale hung from a tree and just spending more time with these wonderful people was a real highlight for all of us. We were also able to ‘officially open’ our two houses which had been completed over the course of the week which was really special and just showed how much our help had meant to the community too!

On the Friday we were back at the Health Centre to complete our ‘changing rooms’ style mission with the second ward! It was, again, a really successful day...full of hard work for sure! This ward was a lot dirtier than the first ward with a lot of non-descript brown and reddish stains on the walls which proved to us that what we were doing really was a massive help for the clinic...and it made the transformation at the end of the day even more dramatic! We were also able to deliver Team 1’s consignment of mattresses and mosquito nets to the first ward which really was a special moment, not just for us but for the community. We received a formal thank you from members of the medical board and the town council which was just another fantastic demonstration of the Ugandans’ love of formality and ceremony! Team 2 also donated money in order to provide the second ward with mattresses and nets so now the health centre, I’m sure, looks like a completely different place which is a real heart warming thought!

Kumi, not just physically but through demonstrating how easy it is to show God’s love in a practical way I think will stay with the people of Kumi, especially the church, for a long time. Being there for so long meant that we made so many friends too and, for me, I think that really added an extra-special element to our trip. We couldn’t have done it without their help and their smiling faces to cheer us up when we were surviving on minimal sleep and having to sort out yet another problem with our bus!! I am certainly missing it all; the people, the way of life, the weather and the food (a bit!) but I know that we left a lasting impression and who knows...hopefully I will be back there before too long!

I would also like to say thank you to all for reading my blog, for praying, and for being interested in what I’ve been getting up to this summer! It really does mean a lot and hopefully I will be seeing you soon to show you some pictures!! Thank you again!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Team One has been and gone!

Wow! What a two weeks!! So the first team have come and gone and it has been fantastic! We have got so much done and all the volunteers left feeling really tired but really pleased with all the work they achieved.

Our team 1 trip started a bit behind schedule as the volunteers were delayed at Entebbe airport due to heightened security....this has seemed to be the flavour of our stay here in Uganda this year but for a variety of different reasons; first for the bombs but then for the arrival of a large number of African presidents who were attending the African Union summit being held in Uganda. Anyway, we finally met the volunteers and took them straight to Jinja to see the Source of the Nile stopping there overnight before the second leg of our journey to Kumi. Our first day in Kumi got off to a fantastic start as we had a great morning on the building site laying the first few bricks of the 6th house at the COHAD orphanage, intertwined with playing with some of the children who were keen to see a bunch of white people try their hand at building!! In the afternoon, we went to a rural village near to Kumi Town called Aakum where we renovated a mud hut! It was interesting to be building with cement and breeze blocks in the morning and then using simply mud and reeds in the afternoon! We had a fab time finishing off the mud walls – with our bare hands - and then helping to tie the wooden framework of the roof. We had to leave the finishing touches to the local workers but we returned to Aakum a week later to distribute food to families with HIV and we were able to see the finished house virtually ready to move into. The lady who lived there was so pleased and it was just fantastic to see the immediate impact that our work had had. I think overall in that village, we had a real positive effect, providing a new house for one family and giving food to 25 others with HIV/aids. Although it undoubtedly made the villagers very happy, I think we received so much more from them, learning how lucky we are to have what we do as well as the incredible welcome we received from them with singing and dancing and, of course, lots of smiles!

Smiles and happiness seem to be the key to life in Africa and we have certainly been privileged to experience that everywhere we have been. As well as being on the building site each morning we have visited many other partners in the afternoons. As well as visiting Aakum, we spent time at both a primary and secondary school doing crafts and sports with the children there. School life in Uganda is so different to back in England and I think this really struck a chord with our team, the majority of whom were from a secondary school themselves. We did a quiz at the secondary school about life in England with various topics, like school, culture and sports. I think we were all shocked about how little they knew because, according to them, our capital city is New York and our parks have lions and elephants! We were also able to rectify England’s football faux-pas in the World Cup as the school football team challenged us to a game. They wore the new football kit that we had bought for them but that didn’t help them much because we won! The boys were chuffed and had the strong back 4 of females to thank too I think!!! Crafts and sports at the primary school were also a lot of fun but I was struck by the sheer unfamiliarity that the children had with doing fun things during the school day – I think it is just because schools here just don’t have the resources for interactive or creative learning.

A highlight of the team for me was definitely our visit to the local health centre that I mentioned before. I think all the volunteers were affected by the basic need and real hardship of this clinic and everyone pulled together to work really hard to clean and decorate the entire ward in one day – changing rooms eat your heart out!! We were there from 9am until it got dark at about 8pm but it was completely worth it because it looked great and all the staff were so pleased. An eye opening incident of the day though came when we tried to move some of the beds out of the ward in order to clean and we found mice nesting in one of the mattresses. I think this spurred the  volunteers on even more and they have provided donations to give that ward 8 new medical standard mattresses as well as mosquito nets so hopefully we are making a difference there a bit at a time! One of our volunteers was an artist, studying illustration at university, and he returned to the clinic a few days later to paint a mural on one of the walls. He painted a lovely tree with some scripture references which gave the ward a bit of colour and left our mark!!

By the end of the team, the building at COHAD has reached the roof level. All the brickwork is finished and on our last day we were helping to fill the top beam before the roof is fitted while we are away this week. Besides building, the volunteers really enjoyed spending time with the children on site...who are just adorable, harvesting maize and building a chicken coop for the birds they bought at the market!! Both Louise and I were bowled over by the enthusiasm and generosity of the team – especially as they went on to buy COHAD two bulls and a plough as well! I don’t want to fill up this space too much but hope you get an idea about what we got up and catch up chats to follow in September I’m sure!!

We also enjoyed some really good rest time at the game parks at the end, and although the trip was dotted with stresses when our van broke down twice and had to be fixed at the mechanic (!!), we had a fantastic time and even now in our rest week are missing the vibrant spirit of the team. That said, we are now spending a few days in Jinja at a lovely retreat centre on the banks of the Nile – a good opportunity to recharge physically and spiritually. We are really looking forward to going back ‘home’ to Kumi though and bringing some new visitors with Team 2!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Preparations - done! 11th - 24th July

I can’t believe we are now pushing the three mark, although it does feel like we have been here quite a long time as we begin to settle in even more!

It’s been a strange mixture of time the last few days with finalising our visits and witnessing some real hardships in the area around Kumi, where we are living, followed by taking in some of the sights of Uganda in one of the National Parks and on a short break from work! But whilst we were still in Kumi we confirmed two of our projects with a small development organisation linked with our partner church. We are going to be visiting a small rural village with each team where we will renovate a typical house made from grass thatch and mud and, on a separate visit; we shall be distributing food to needy families suffering from HIV/aids. As a staff team we went to visit both these villages to form the links before we take the teams, accompanied by a Ugandan man named Patrick who is quickly becoming another one of Uganda friends, we felt like we were truly in the middle of nowhere and witnessing some real suffering.  As we distributed food to 3 families in the village we heard some difficult stories. One that will forever stay with me was from a family who lived together in a cluster of about 5 mud huts, all suffering from HIV. They showed us to the area where they buried their families, amongst which was a fresh grave. I was talking to a girl who can’t have been much older than me and she told me that the grave belonged to her 6 month old baby that they had buried just the day before. She had contracted aids and not survived. It was here I think that the hardships of this area really hit me but at the same time, the family were so welcoming to us and I was humbled by their love for God and trust in Him, even though they had nothing.

Our final visit of the week was to the health centre in the village which provides medical care for about 54,000 people in the surrounding district. It only receives funding from the government and some of the staff working there have not been paid for 6 months. The clinic has no electricity and no running water and uses a dug out pit just outside for the burning of its medical waste. Out of the 24 beds in the hospital, 3 of them have mattresses. If you are admitted to the ward, most patients are asked to bring their own mattress. The health centre cares mostly for those suffering with malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and other common illnesses in Africa. Patients receive free diagnostic treatment, but if the hospital is running low on their drug provision from the government, patients must buy their own medicines and many just can’t afford it. Being in a place with such desperate need and with no medical knowledge whatsoever made me feel a bit helpless but we are planning to clean and decorate the two existing wards which will hopefully go some way in helping! I’m trying to get some artistic inspiration to put some colour on the walls too while we are such luck yet but watch this space!!! (Any ideas?!)

After saying goodbye to Kumi for a few days we began our ‘toruisty’ bit of the trip, heading up to Murchison National Park, where we will be taking the volunteers for their well earned ‘R & R’ at the end of the two weeks. We saw a lot of animals on both the morning game drive and afternoon boat cruise. It was really special to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat on the African Plain! We managed to see lions, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippo, crocodiles, lots of antelopes and lots of birds too! We also had the chance to take in the waterfalls that Murchison Park is so famous for which were truly breathtaking! Murchison Falls is a point in the Nile where 50 metres of water is squeezed through just 6 metres...white water bursts through the rocks making lots of spray and rainbows! Beautiful!

From our trip to Murchison we started our journey back to a hopefully bomb-free Kampala where we have been doing our final preparations for our first team of volunteers who arrive tomorrow! Louise and I have also been able to squeeze in a couple of days chill out time after our whirlwind two weeks on the Ssese Islands; a group of islands in the middle of Lake Victoria. We took a ferry to Kalanagala, one of the islands, and spent a nice day on the beach. Although there was unfortunately no swimming as Lake Victoria has bilharzias!! Nonetheless we returned to Kampala sufficiently relaxed and hopefully a bit more tanned ready for the next couple of weeks!

So, as you can see, the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a rollercoaster and some of me is still trying to process everything we have seen and the fact that we are actually in Africa!! But we are now just excited for the volunteers to come and experience these incredible things and hopefully be changed! Here’s hoping!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

We have arrived! 3rd-10th July

Saturday 10th July

Nearing the end of our first week in Uganda we have arrived at what is to be our home for the next two months in Kumi Town and are beginning to slowly unpack and adjust to lots of really big insects, permanently dusty feet and the heat but hey....this is Africa and I am loving it! Over the past week we have certainly not been idol as from the moment we arrived at Entebbe airport (without any bags!!) our ‘set up’ trip began. In the first two weeks of our trip we are charged with ‘sus-ing everything out so we have spent the first few nights in Kampala, the capital. It can truly be called an ‘African city’ with bustling streets and crazy drivers! The boda-bodas, which are like motorbike taxis, are lethal and it can take a rather long time to cross the road in safety!! We bought a few necessary things in town and prepared for our journey up to the North. On Tuesday we spent the night in Jinja, which is Uganda’s second largest city outside Kampala and one of the more touristy spots as it is home to the source of the Nile and some amazing rapids called ‘Bujagali Falls’. By the side of the Nile at Tuesday lunch time we were able to sample fresh fish straight out of the river but it had a typically African feel as the fish was whole - with the head and everything! I guess it was what you could describe as fish and chips....Uganda style!! But whatever, it was pretty tasty!

We arrived in Kumi town on Wednesday night and spent Thursday meeting our main partners at the building project for COHAD (Children of Hope and Dignity). Our ‘main man’ here in Kumi is Henry, who is quickly becoming our third team member, teaching us a bit of the local language and helping us to set up our various visits to schools, hospitals and prisons around. We went up to the site where we will be building the homes for orphans to meet the builder and the families who are living in the existing houses. Being there we felt such an atmosphere of excitement and can’t wait to get the building started but to also see that work through to completion! The guys there also said that they are planning to move another set of orphans along with their house mother into one of the houses on site soon so we are excited to maybe witness that! I wrote this on Friday evening but, as the internet here is quite temperamental I have managed to post a day later than planned! So, by the end of this week we have also been able to visit the hospital and the prison as potential visits so we are making our way to consolidating our programme and making friends here in Kumi!

Today (Saturday) we have just been up to Mount Elgon, a couple of hours drive from Kumi, and had a bit more of a ‘touristy’ day. We hiked this morning past three magnificent waterfalls called Sipi Falls and had a lovely lunch overlooking the foothills and the Kumi Plain. We could see for miles! Slowly, we are getting to see more of the North of Uganda and getting to know this country and its people better!

There are already many more stories of our trip so far but I don’t want to take up anymore of your time!!!! Really now we are still in the planning stages of our time in Uganda so we have been doing lots of initial paper work to prepare for the arrival of the volunteers. But as the programme gets in to action, we build more relationships and take the teams through various activities I will have much more to tell you!! I hope you are all well too....and don’t forget to keep in touch!!!!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Preparations....1 week to go!

Writing this on my final evening at my house in Leamington Spa, before I go back to Harpenden tomorrow to get things ready is really exciting as I feel like I have been building up and looking forward to this coming week all through my exams! This excitement is coupled with me realising that I've come to the end of second year at university and also the fact that this time next week I will be back in Uganda!!!

But despite the busy-ness of the end of term and end of exams, I am still reflecting on how my preparations have gone so far and how it will be to be back in a country that has grown to hold a special place with me! First of all I have been overwhelmed by the generous support from everyone who has contributed to our fundraising for our projects so if you are one of those people then thank you very much! I'm also beginning to realise that two months is a long time to be away but I am definitely up for the challenge! It is also good to think about how much work we can get done in that time and the impact we can make on, not only the Ugandans, but also the English volunteers who are coming out and will be experiencing Africa for the first time.

In terms of other preparations, this week sees the final getting things together and packing up as well as trying to see a few people before we jet off early on saturday morning. So if I see you in the next week I am sure I will be running around getting a few last minute things but if I don't see you feel free to send me emails or get in touch over facebook this summer...I will be sure to keep you guys updated but I would always love to hear what you are doing too :)
But for this space!