Since our last update we have a lot to tell but as you can all imagine we rarely get internet connection and when we do we also have to use the few minutes we have to inform our families and friends that we’re doing fine.
We’ve been moving quite a lot since our last update, Masaka, Nakkusi, Entebbe, Kampala and Kasese (Queen Elizabeth National Park).
Boarding Schools: when we were in Kampala we went to visit one of the daughters of our host parents called Divina. She studies in Namugambo Senior Secondary School (which is considered one of the best schools in Uganda). We went on a Sunday without realizing that there were specific visiting hours. However we had travelled a long way to get there and after talking to various staff members we were able to enter the school to visit Divina. While taking to her she told us about her weekly routine and how they study 7 days a week, all students are in boarding school and the strict schedule they have. Some days they have to wake up at 5am to wash their cloths. The facilities they had where many (swimming pool, football fields, library, laboratory, staff offices, telephones etc.) One would think that is what a school should have but here in Uganda very few schools enjoy these facilities. The cost of having a student in an outstanding school is almost of 300 euros per term which only the wealthier families can afford. The previous week we attended the Silver Jubilee of a well reputed Catholic Senior Secondary School in Masaka where the vice-president of Uganda attended in representation of the Government of Uganda. The event lasted almost the entire day. Mass, speeches, dances, lunch and entertainment was part of the program. We mainly enjoyed the typical dances because the rest of the speeches where in Luganda.
Transport & Infrastructure: First of all I have to talk about transport in Uganda. As we’ve been moving around quite a lot. We have been able to live and see how the transport in Uganda works. Buses don’t have an established schedule and no bus is direct. The aim is to maximize their profit so you will rarely sit in an empty bus. If the capacity of the bus is 15 seats you may find 20 passengers squeezed in the bus apart from the luggage that passengers carry which can sometimes be an a hence or baby birds. Our bus ride from Kampala to Entebbe which is around 30-40km took us 1h20min because the bus would stop every 20 meters to pick up and drop off passengers. Roads are normally full of bumps and holes so very few smooth journeys can be guaranteed. In Nakkusi where roads are just paths in the middle of the valley and we move mainly by foot or boda-boda (motor-bike) where up to 4 passengers could fit. We laughed a lot with Sylvia because I told her I knew how to ride motor-bikes so she hired one but I didn’t expect to drive a motor-bike carrying 3 people and in Nakkusi with bumpy roads. Luckly we had a driver because if not we would have visited a hospital instead of 5 schools.
Polan Polan, African Time: after experiencing that nothing occurs at the time that it was planned we realized that here things work “Polan-Polan” (slowly). It’s something that also annoys local people but I guess they are more used to it. Most of the things normally occur 1h or even 3h after the planned time so you have to be equipped with patience to carry out each task or activity.
Kampala: The chaotic city where you can get a good shot of adrenaline. While crossing the city in Boda-boda (motor-bike) you can almost think that you’re going to have an accident. Never had we seen such concentration of vehicles and pedestrians in a road all moving in different directions. During our first night in Kampala we had some crazy motor-bike drivers who didn’t even stop at the few red lights that the city has.
“Ambiance” in Masaka: Africans are born with rhythm. Thanks to our Ugandan brother “Marvin” (who is now in Burkina Faso) we were able to see how Africans dance. Rhythm is in their body and singing is also a way of expressing their feelings. In every school that we have visited we have been welcomed with songs and dances. We also live with 4 little girls (Siena,Caroline, Shidu and Leticia) who show us their skills. Caroline with only 2 years old is almost a professional dancer and baby Siena (almost 1 year old) is now showing us her first moves.
Bananas Paradise: Ugandans have millions of ways of cooking green bananas. Just by looking at the landscape you can see the amount of banana trees making green bananas the main dish. Not surprisingly we have been able to eat bananas cooked in many different ways.
Uganda Wildlife: Uganda is extremely fortunate to have a wildlife that is extremely varied. Although we weren’t able to see the famous Gorillas we were lucky to see many others wild animals like Leopards, Lions, Buffalos, Elephants. The most amazing experience was to camp, in the middle of the park where we heard all types of animals. That night two staff members from the National Park kindly invited us for dinner and thanks to our long chat we were able to learn much more about all the animals in Uganda and other interesting facts that we hope to share in our report.
We are now heading to Nakusi to spend our last 12 days visiting more schools, planting trees in the new land that KYEMPAPU has bought, helping Sylvia to prepare an environmental training headed by CEOD and writing our report on the current situation in the district of Bukomansimbi (Kirinda).
Time goes by too quickly. On Friday we completed our first week in Uganda and I feel like I have so many stories to tell. Our host family is absolutely lovely. Laura and I had a very warm welcoming week. First of all I must introduce myself (Sofia) and Laura with our new Ugandan names. “Namuddu” Sofia and Laura “Nakkonde”. During our welcoming dinner on Sunday we were baptized with these new names.
In just one week we have visited 8 schools. The poverty here is a great shock and the conditions that some children have to live in our not decent.
– School conditions: The class “floors” are full of dust, some schools lack of grass and not all children have the money to pay for school food.
– Drinking water: obtaining drinkable water is one of the biggest challenges. Children and families waste too much time to get water (the wetlands are sometimes very far from schools and houses). During our visit to the wetlands we were able to see how dirty this water is. Animals and children swim in this water and they even use this water to wash motorcycles (boda-boda). During our long talks with Sylvia we discussed how this issue has a domino effect on other things like children health and the sustainability of this water. Some schools have water purifiers but only one or two for more than 400 children.
– Teacher absenteeism: in almost all the schools we visited there was always a teacher missing. In other cases we saw teachers with their babies in school (How can you concentrate on teaching with your baby in class?). In another school we saw one of the students taking care of the baby.
– Student absenteeism: Why do children miss school? Some families can’t afford school fees (which are normally for feeding purposes in public schools), others are sick, others have to work at home and others lack of motivation.
– Houses: most families make their own houses with mud or they make their own bricks with soil. The manual work is impressive and something to admire. However this week we went to were able to see the bedroom where the bed was a mat on the floor.
– Language: for us as volunteers it is one of the biggest challenges because very few people understand and talk English even though they study it at school. We are slowly learning a bit of Luganda but it is not sufficient to communicate with children. However we are very lucky to have Sylvia Namukasa who normally translates everything for us.
Culture: during our first week we attended different event which gave us an even better picture of how things are here.
1) Pre-wedding celebration: where we saw the typical “Gomes” that ladies wear (I hope to post some pictures next time). We also listened to the typical music and saw the customs and traditions that normally take place in this kind of celebrations.
2) 85 Baptism: On Sunday we went to church where 85 babies/children were baptized. This is a clear example of the high number of children that women tend to have a very high number of children at a very early age (14-15 years old). In the streets you see 2 years old walking alone or sometimes the older sister/brother (4-5 years old) talking care of their little sister/brother.
3) Funeral: a man of 31 years old died of HIV/AIDS. He had a little girl of around 7 years old and a boy of 11 years old. Their mother went missing after she found out that he was infected. Now these children had become orphans. But they are not the only ones in this community. They day we went to the wetland we found a 15 year old girl called Harriet who was taking care of around 20 cows. She had no mom or dad but lived with her grandparents who didn’t care much about her.
When you read this you might be imagining a dark picture but I wish I could describe the amazing natural environment they have and the great efforts KYEMPAPU is doing to conserve and improve it.
I have to leave now but I hope to have more time to talk about all the fields that KYEMPAPU is working on and how all these problems are slowly being addressed.