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!!!!