Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Being careful

So I know many people are concerned about the attack here during the World Cup game.  The bombings killed at least 74 people in 2 different locations.
They were clearly aimed at Ugandan people, and leaders in El Shaabab, the Sudanese terrorist group had threatened retaliation against Uganda for its peace keeping force that is supporting the current Sudanese government.  Burundi is next. 

The headlines are a bit dramatic from what we can tell.  The mood here is mostly sad.  There is some increased security, but certainly nothing that seems extreme.  As the students from Simmons have joined us, Simmons is quite concerned about all of our safety, as are many of all of our families.  We have been assured by the US Embassy that we are safe in this hotel.  The current agreement between Simmons and Hugo is that we will not go out to other public places, other than the agencies that we are visiting.  Most particularly very near the hotel there is a very nice garden/park area with many nice cafes with different nationality foods.  We are staying put at the hotel.   

In the meantime we have visited a couple of very interesting places.  Yesterday we went to the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative http://fhri.or.ug/ , a Ugandan NGO, that is very active in a number of important areas.  The director, Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, gave us a wonderfully clear socio-economic-political context for all that we have been seeing.   Much of his focus is on the problems of having a president who, without constitutional term limits, has served for about 24 years. 

Elections have been highly influenced by Museveny's determination to have no parties, and also some rigging.  Corruption is rife.  He contends that there is plenty of money coming into Uganda to address the majority of its economic, social, health, and infrastructure problems, but is skimmed off by corrupt officials.  Corruption is an enormous problem.  There will be elections in February of 2011.  There finally are parties, and it is anticipated that it will be a very tense time here.  We go by the election commission almost every day and it is walled off and heavily gaurded. 

On a much more hopeful note today we visited a school called "Music for Life Primary School" http://africanchildrenschoir.com/home on their new campus on the outskirts (I think) of Entebbe overlooking Lake Victoria.  It is a gorgeous location and by Ugandan standards this is a very plush school. It actually has flush toilets which is very unusual. The children who attend here are orphans of one sort of another, although they almost always have an extended family caretaker (remember that it takes a village to raise a child).  Most of them have lost parents to HIV/AIDS but some have also lost parents to  violence in the northern part Uganda. 

This program provides a fairly rigorous education, but is far better know for the chorale groups that they send around the world.  This year one appeared on American Idol, singing with Josh Groban.  We went to their assembly which was a wonderfully spiritual "devotional" and then we had to sing a song for them.  This was a not so wonderful rendition of "This land is your land".  Pathetic might have been a better characterization. 

We were each assigned us a student to tour us around to the class rooms, the facility, and their dorms.  The dorms, one building for each gender, were arranged with bunk beds in a fairly small room sleeping at least 10 children each.  The beds were neatly made, draped in mosquito netting.  Hard cement, very clean floors.  The children each had a small round plastic sink under their beds.  Their clothes were hanging out to dry on the nearby chain link fence.  Each child has an uniform and one other change of clothes.  That is it.  We ate lunch with the children: posha and beans.  This is sort of like grits with baked beans (not as sweet) poured over them.  It wasn't bad, and had a few vegetables in it.  I could probably eat it once a week, but twice a day would be a bit much. 

The kids are incredibly polite and gracious, but all of them have trauma histories and go home for "vacation" to very rough circumstances.  The headmaster is a Canadian who came for two years 5 years ago.  Most funding comes from the US and Canada, but has dropped off significantly in the past few years. This explains the limited diet, as other diets are just too expensive for 150 kids and the staff. 

This is a tiny taste of what we have been up to, hopefully capturing some flavor of the experience.  We are about to have a debriefing meeting in which we will also learn of any changes of plan for our remaining time in Uganda.  Know that I will not do anything foreseeably stupid.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

a week in

What  a week.  Sorry to report that the internet has been down for a lot of it--something to do with the undersea cable.  Anyway it certainly has been eventful.

Unfortunately the business center manager has just told me that there are 5 minutes left before he closes early because there seems to be some football/soccer game that there is a lot of fuss over!  

First impressions?  smokey--they burn trash everywhere here so it is very smokey all the time, which also adds to the dust which is constant too.  There are many contrasts.  We are in a comfortable hotel.  People are very friendly, very poor. Scenes run from unbelievable despair to incredible inspiration.  There have got to be more NGOs per capita than any other place on the planet.   

My camera was stolen (but I will replace) so I don't have pictures to sheare right now.  They would be of smiling faces, welcoming dances, people every where.  Interesting animals- birds, monkeys, funny looking cows and really lush verdent landscapes as well as the head of the Nile rapids.  Maybe also some flowers.  Gotta go! 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

So today is the day and everything is packed and ready to go...I think.

Less than a third of this is coming home with me, and hopefully the big bags total less than 102 lbs.  

Several years ago, a group that went with Hugo were moved to start the Makula Fund for Children: http://www.makulafund.org/mission.html 
This is where we will be eating supper on Monday, and serving breakfast (at 6:30 AM) on the week days at the home of Mrs. Immaculate Kazibwe, Hugo's mother.  That is the wonderful part of Uganda, you can do something and really feel as though you are making a difference.  There is no red tape.  Of course the lack of regulation provides opportunity for corruption.

So I now need to set up the watering so that I don't come home to a bunch of dead plants.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Before the trip

"And what might you be doing in Uganda?" "Why?" "Is Uganda in Africa?" "Is it safe?" "Can you sail there?"

These are a few of the questions that come my way when I announce that I am going to Uganda this summer.  

Okay, nobody has really asked the last one, but I did look into sailing on Lake Victoria.  Turns out there is a yacht club with a small fleet of Lasers (small tippy fun) and that "Crocodiles are seldom seen in the area".  So much for sailing.  

Comments range from the very enthusiastic, you will be changed by the experience, that's awesome, to the some what cynical:  "Oh, you're off to save the world".  The implication being that this is a naive mission, that the problems are so great that no one person or small group can possibly have any meaningful impact.

About this time you are probably wondering about what starfish and an inland country in central Africa possibly have to do with each other.  There is an alegorical tale that I first heard from Hugo Kamya, who leads trips to Uganda from Simmons School of Social Work.  It seems that two men were walking along the beach after a storm had washed up thousands of starfish that were left high and dry when the tide went out.  As they walk, the first man stoops and picks up starfish and throws them back into the water.  The second man asks, "why are you bothering to do that. There are so many on the beach, you can't possibly make a difference."  the first man, tossing another into the water, says "it made a difference to that one."  

I have read the same story with clams be thrown. Perhaps for Uganda, oysters would be more appropriate since Uganda is dubbed the "Pearl of Africa". If you Google starfish and Uganda you will learn that I am not original.  Perehaps there are freshwater starfish?

So what is this trip?
The short story is that Hugo Kamya, MDiv, PhD a professor at Simmons School of Social Work has been leading trips for students and professionals to his home land for at least ten years.  Several years ago, a group from Simmons returned from their trip. The trip was a transformative experience for each of them.  They described children living in the most desparate conditions, such as child headed households located in Kampala's city dump.  But one word came up repeatedly: "hope". 

Hugo Kamya is a remarkable man who escaped the reign of Idi Amin and its brutal aftermath. A self-described optimist with more energy than a nuclear power plant, he is the consumate networker.  As a result he has working relationships with enormous numbers of human service providers and officials in Uganda and Massachusetts, among many  other people.  So our trip itinerary involves at least 18 meetings and visits to groups or agencies that in one way or another enable Ugandans to improve their conditions.  Then there will be the US Ambassador to Uganda, and a chief justice.   And there will be a safari, and a park to see monkeys and other sight seeing, and shopping.  Hugo's love of his country includes the natural as well as the social environment.

Hugo's infectious exuberance encourages those around him to push beyond their comfort zones, and this is probably the primary reason that I have joined the group of five professionals accompanying him on the trip.  Later we will be joined by 13 students and a few who have done the trip before.  Never fear we won't be pushed entirely out of our comfort zone.  We will be staying at the Hotel Africana in Kampala (think pool, internet, single rooms !).

Saturday afternoon Scott will take me to Logan, where I will join fellow travelers on the red eye to Amsterdam, followed by an equally long flight to Entebbe.  Yes we go north to go south.  I have never blogged before, and I know I will be busy but I hope to keep this up and least a bit.  With some photos too.