January 21, 2008

HENE

Writing about web page http://www.freewebs.com/theneedy/aboutus.htm

HENE

As I spoke about during this blog I worked with HELP THE NEEDY whilst I was in Uganda. Since I left they have made amazing progress and have now launched their child sponsorship initiative. If you want to help children in Uganda in the most direct and cost effective way possible please visit the website: 

http://www.freewebs.com/theneedy/sponsorachild.htm

The money goes direct to the school and because all the admin fees are in country there are no extra hidden charges. The children have all been selected because they are in need of financial support for their eduction but because they are also likely to be able to help their community and families in the future by having an education. PLEASE HELP.


September 26, 2007

Millionaire's Misson

Since going to Uganda I've become pretty passionate about Uganda and the consequences of aid work. For those of you who have followed this blog you will know that have debated long and hard on the value of western volunteers and intervention in Uganda. By chance I have come home to find that Channel 4 are taking an interest in Africa in their new program 'Millionaire's Mission'. Now I haven't seen it, but I've read about it. And whilst the idea is so right, the way that they have done it is so wrong. Everyone goes to volunteer with the best intentions but I do feel that people rush in thinking they know what is best without any experience of the country or the people. Channel 4 is running a program on Channel 4 called 'Millionaire's Mission' and is doing what I believe Uganda needs. They have sent young entrepreneurs to Uganda so that a rural community can benefit from their skills and experience. The idea is fantastic but the problem is that it has turned the plight of Africa into a reality tv program. The entrepreneurs spent 3 weeks in Uganda. There is no way that they can claim that they understood the complexity of the cultural situation or that they had time to plan their ventures. It is the perfect example to highlight my fears of Western projects in Africa, that we think we know what is best. In the program they set up a school where international volunteers can go and teach for 4 weeks for only £900. The idea is good because it creates a steady income for the community and it will create awareness back home about the problems in Uganda. But to launch this as a school? Would any school in Britain operate where teachers changed every four weeks? Where teachers didn't speak the local language? Where teaching was part of a holiday experience? These children might be poor and there is a shortage of teachers, but it would be better for the community to train and employ local teachers. That is truly sustainable because what happens when Africa stops being a fashionable issue and the nice international teachers dry up?

These eight entrepreneurs went to Uganda for 3 weeks and with £120,000, damn right they should have made a difference. This is precisely how we shouldn't help Africa, throwing money around isn't going to solve problems. It might help but its only through education, awareness and training that a real lasting difference can be made. Entreprenurial ventures are fantastic and Ugandans do need help, but they need help expanding on what they have and what they know. They don't need to be told how to do things 'our way'. 


September 13, 2007

The final entry

This is my last entry as I am now back on British soil. I've been delayed in writing this last post as I felt that there was a certain standard to be maintained and I needed a bit more time to gather my thoughts. Its strange writing about my time away now that I am home, its not like I have forgotten, but it doesn't seem real in a way, a little like looking back on a film you saw a few weeks ago and trying to remember all the details. I think that perhaps this is part of the problem about helping abroad, on your return home it is all too easy to slip back into old habits like consumerism and bad tv. The life that I led seems so far away and I think that one of the reasons is that here, sat at a computer in Hartlepool, know one knows about it. It is important for me to remember everything that I have seen and experienced, and to also change the way that I live. It is all good and well saying that an experience has 'changed' you, but there needs to be some lifestyle change also. I am not sure what mine is yet as I had thought about buying less clothes and shoes and using the money to sponsor a child through school. I will sponsor a child, but I am just not ready to go without buying the things that I want.

Anyway back to the last week. I aimed to have all the work finished by the beginning of the week so that I could do things that would turn up unexpectedly. This happened so I was pleased to have had a few spare days. Firstly I was able to meet this gentleman from the Makindye government health department called Jonathan. He was a very interesting man to talk to as it emerged that the government does provide a completely free clinic and some free medication at KCC (I'd tell you what it stands for but I have no idea). However, presumably to keep numbers low, the government decided to build it 5km out of the town centre. It is excellent to provide free treatment, it is not so good that the people who need free treatment probably can't afford the transport to get to the clinic and back. When I talked with Jonathan we devised a way that the people in the Nsambya community could receive nearly free health care. Dave and myself would finance the transport to Hope Clinic who charge the small free of 1,000 shillings for a consultation. Then any treatment which isn't not provided by the KCC would be purchased, this would be an expensive to the client but most of the common treatments are provided by KCC and Hope Clinic provides medication at a reasonable cost. Then the remaining prescriptions would be taken to the Makindye Division where Jonathan would drive himself and the volunteer (who would have all the patient prescriptions) to the KCC clinic where they would collect the medication. This would be run on a fortnightly basis and if it proved successful would greatly improve the access and treatment of many people to basic health care. However, there are some problems! I only discovered this possibility at the end of my time so I cannot supervise it. This means finding someone else who is committed and has the time available. It also means co-ordinating the HENE staff and the Rainbow staff (I realise I haven't explained what Rainbow it is basically a youth centre for ALL young people in the Nsambya area) so that they distribute the prescriptions. They also need to co-ordinate so that the bus is full and that places aren't wasted. They also need to ensure that people turn up (I think this will take a while). All in all it requires some work from both organisation and needs one volunteer to coordinate it. As I have mentioned before it is extremely hard to judge enthusiasm in Uganda as every idea is 'very good'. I am not sure that these organisations have enough time to do this work, or if it is an area that they are interested in. They have both told me that they are very interested in setting this up and I have set up the meetings for them and given them the contact details. I would have liked to have set this up myself, but now that I am home I actually feel that it has been a part blessing that I had to leave. I have done everything possible in my power to organise this, it just takes the organisations to do the last push. And this is what I think that Africa needs, just help, but not someone to come in and tell them what is right. If they choose not to follow this up then that is their decision and I am sure that they will have their (correct) reasons for it. Everyone wants the glory and to be recognised as a saviour, but I think that this is ruining the good that could be done in Africa. They don't need people coming in to feel better about themselves, they don't need to be told what to do, they do need to be given skills and they do need to be given choices. I am very happy with the work that I have done since I arrived, I feel that I have given a few more people a few more choices and in a way I am happy that I have left Uganda knowing that no one will probably remember what I did!

In my last day in Uganda I went to the ROYAL ASCOT GOAT RACES. Apparently this was the birth child of some expats and if this is true then it was an inspired decision. The goat races themselves are pure comedy. The goats are all lined up with numbers (no monkey jockeys though) and given a gentle push to start. They normally will run for a few yards before becoming distracted by grass, brightly coloured clothing or each other. At this point a man pushing a large mattress on wheel will come up behind them and push them along! This is a fantastic spectacle and I would full recommend it if you have the chance. There is also an award for best hat and best dressed, you will be sad to know that I didn't win either of these categories despite the fabulous owino market outfit I was wearing.

For my last week I had a holiday. I know it seems rather extravagant considering that I said I couldn't organise the KCC medical run. But I deserved a holiday as it was rare that I had a full weekend off! Anyway I left Uganda as this seemed the only way that I would stop working. We decided to go to Rwanda. This was for a number of reasons but the main one was so that I could practice my French. I know it seems a long way to go to practice 'une biere' but we had also been told that the country was incredibly beautiful. We were not disappointed by Rwanda which has quite aptly been named 'milles collines' (a thousand hills). This meant that Rwanda provided the most spectacular views. Rwanda does however have a dark shadow cast over its hills due to the events which unfolded 15 years ago. I would have liked to have been able to go into the country without knowing what had happened previously as I felt that my opinion and in turn my whole time there was dominated by the events. The first place we went to see was the memorial in Kigali, the last place we went to see was the 'milles collines' hotel and in-between we discussed if people could have been killed on that road, in this restaurant, in our hotel. It is awfully grim, and part of me thinks that it is just what travellers love to talk about. It makes us feel better about our lives and the state of our countries. Everyone loves to think that this is something that could only happen in Africa, that its Africans, and that what happened in Germany not so long ago was a one off, that it was because of the Nazi's, not because of the capabilities of our communities. It is unlikely that we will experience another genocide in Europe, I don't think however, that it is because we would all turn around and say 'no, not again, I can't do that'. I think that it is more likely because governments and businesses would not let it happen because of the severe economic consequences that they would face. It sounds sad and harsh to say that, but I do feel that we could be more sympathetic to what happened in Rwanda, it is not an African trait or problem, it is just something that can now only be allowed to happen in Africa. I wish that I could have spent more time in Rwanda. I think that one would need to be there for many years before they would be let into a community and trusted. I may be wrong. I wasn't there long enough than to gain a fleeting impression. This is why it is hard for me to write about Rwanda, because I wasn't there for long enough and I don't know enough about the country. I felt that people's attitudes were more reserved than in Uganda, I missed the question 'where you from?'. But is hardly surprising that people aren't so keen to talk to a muzungu. Why would they be after the entire (nearly) international community abandoned them when they needed them most. 

I also popped into DRC. I shouldn't have. I wasn't covered by my insurance policy and there was fighting only a few miles away. But we had been assured that the fighting was 20 miles from the town and that we would be fine. I thought we'd be fine, which is standard as no one really believes that anything bad will happen to them. We were fine and there was no fighting in the town (and we could have been back in Rwanda in 20 minutes!). The trip, albeit brief, was extremely insightful. Congo was different to Rwanda, it was visibly poorer, and there was the threat of fighting. But other than that I didn't really notice and huge differences. We went to this town called Goma which is an UN base. This means that there are flights coming in every 10-15 minutes. The planes are incredibly low as the landing strip is pretty much in the centre of town. Goma was also hit by a volcano explosion only 2 years ago which means that the outskirts of town are covered by dark hardened magma. This is an incredible sight to see. We visited the areas that had been squashed by magma and there was only one original building remaining - the church. It was pretty eerie as the magma had surrounded the outside structure but nothing had penetrated the interior (I am not suggesting that this is a sign of God's divine presence, they probably just had good doors) and there were two local drunks passed out in the interior (one of whom was on the alter looking very much like an alcoholic sacrifice). I would recommend this trip as long as Goma remains safe. 

That was the end of my time in Africa. I don't know why as human's the last few days of things, or 'the last day' is so important. It makes no sense to put pressure on those days, as though we only take the memories home from the end of our trip. My last day was a nightmare, we spent it in a bus travelling up to Kampala. In a way in was apt, he said it would take 5 hours, it took 10. He was right about how long the bus would take, he was just telling me in 'Uganda time'.  

My time in Uganda has been amazing. I have learnt more about the country, work and myself than I would have thought possible in three months. Whilst I am a little disappointed that I didn't get to go to Glastonbury but I have no regrets about my time away. I ended up in Uganda partially by chance, but I have no doubt about my conviction to return next summer. The country is lush, green and full of things to do. The people are amazing. I think that that is the point to end on, everyone that I met and spent time with made my time more memorable and more often than not more enjoyable. 

v

August 31, 2007

Variety Week

This past week has been pretty varied. We have moved out of the house and into a hostel. Bit of a shock if I’m honest. Not quite the same not having a tv, hot water or an electricity socket in the room. We are at Red Chilli and it is actually a pretty nice place and it even has tables and a garden outside! It is also outside of Kampala so there is the benefit of having a quiet nights sleep.

Cakes

On Monday I went to Rainbow with the ambitious task of making cakes. I actually didn’t realise how ambitious I was being until there were about twenty children in the very small kitchen all trying to ‘help’. Fortunately Dave was there to stop them all from flooding in. I immediately went into strict teacher mode; ‘no more than 5 children at a time’ ‘if I see you eating you are out’ ‘no fighting’ ‘don’t pick your nose then put your hands in the mixture’. The younger children ignored all that I had to say and in classic child behaviour they ate more than they made. The ‘babies’ were all making icing for the cakes and when asked if they had been eating it they all dutifully cried ‘noooo’. This would have been somewhat more believable had their tongues all not been dyed by the luminous icing! Once we had nailed the first lot of cakes I turned round to put the dirty dishes in the sink. There wasn’t a sink. There wasn’t hot water. But there were 30 eager children wanting to do the washing up. Dave went outside to help them, each child holding one precious item to wash after their cries of ‘give me, give me’ had been answered. The washing up was largely a disaster, it was basically a water fight with each child clutching a culinary implement. We eventually made 50 cupcakes and the moment to put them in the oven had finally arrived, unfortunately the oven didn’t work. And there was now the opportunity for Dave to jump in to the role of ‘man’ and stoke up the outside fire with wood and coal. It is amazing that cooking ‘is for girls’, yet the moment any amount of smoke is required or the chance of injury is heightened it instantaneously becomes very masculine activity. The cakes eventually came out of the oven 2 hours later, a little burnt on the outside and a little soft in the middle, but handmade beautiful cakes nevertheless. And no reported cases of salmonella.

Beersch

I also treated myself to a small trip after the cake making episode. One of my Ugandan colleagues offered to take me to the brewery on Port Bell. He had a friend who worked in production and could show us round. I was completely surprised at the brewery. Firstly it stank, that was the main surprise. How can something so tasty smell quite so bad in the production process? Secondly, inside the factory there were so few workers and so many machines. In a country with such a large active population I would have thought that there would have been many more employees. I think that in the production line there were only about 12 people working. Finally I was amazed at the speed at which the bottles were churned out. They had to produce a minimum of 1,000 cases an hour (and I think its 24 bottles a case), this was no mean feat. I also loved the fact that we were able to walk about the factory freely. My guide rightly said ‘it is best to do this in a developing country as there are so few rules’. We did have to wear eye protection though which was mildly comforting. I didn’t get any factory issue ones as it seemed that my sunglasses were sufficient! I also learnt, for the East African beer buff, that they produce Senator, which is a beer largely unavailable inside Kampala city. They keep it for the villages as it’s a cheaper beer, it also happens to be the strongest that they produce at a whopping 6%. After visiting the factory we went to a local bar to have a beer and I was amazed when the guy who showed us around the factory paid for them. His reasoning was that it was his country so he should be making me feel welcome which made me feel pretty humble. He said that I could buy him one back if he ever came to England which hardly seemed a fair deal. Honestly; a beer only costs 50p here and I’d have to shell out over £2 if he ever came to England.

Clinic Day Trip

We also organised a clinic visit for some of the Nsambya children this week. We have recently discovered Hope Clinic and it meant that we could take the kids on a nice fun trip to the general clinic! Most of the kids had worms and some had the added bonus of having ringworm as well. We also took a child for a HIV test which was pretty nerve racking as we waited for the results. She was negative which was fantastic. We are hoping to set up a fortnightly bus so that people from the community can go to the clinic for free. We are mainly doing this to encourage people to go for HIV testing as if they come out positive they can receive completely free treatment. We will also leave a few spots for parents who want to take their children to the general clinic. It is such a shame that there are all these organisations desperate to hand out free ARV’s and people are still too ashamed to go for the test. There is still huge stigma attached to being HIV+ and many parents are afraid to take their children for tests because they worry that they won’t be able to care for them and that the child will become excluded from society. This is something that many organisations are fighting to change but I do think that it is something that has to come from within the community. The message needs to be spread regularly and I think that it will be rather a snowball effect once people begin to get tested. Once the awareness is increased that treatment and other supporting services are available I think that people will be a little less reluctant. There is still one problem that remains however, and that it transport. Although these organisations offer free ARV’s for the very poor families the cost of transport still remains an issue. I think that this is something that the larger organisations need to address as it does reduce the number of people who access their services.

Rainbow 

Now that I have finished my work at Hospice I have had more free time to go to Rainbow. Although I haven’t been able to be present as much as I would have liked, it has given me the opportunity to do some activities with the kids. The main problem at Rainbow is just how many children there are. You start painting, for example, with a nice group of 8 children, and all of a sudden there are twenty all squashed onto the 6 free chairs all fighting for a chance to get involved. The popularity of Rainbow serves to highlight the need that there still is for organisations like this. Rainbow is popular as it lets anyone attend and this is both its blessing and its curse. The children are free to attend when they want, but there can be so many of them that it can often become difficult to satisfy all the different age groups. Rainbow does however, do something else. It gives the children an area to play in, its not a grand area, in fact its rather an accident trap as there is rather a lot of loose gravel, but its lets them meet with their friends something which is important whatever country you live in.

Help the Needy

I have also nearly, oh so nearly, finished the website that I’ve been working on for Help the Needy. We are just finalising the figures before we ‘go live’ with our child sponsorship program. I am really proud of the work that the organisation has done and I do believe that their organisation is the way that Ugandan will begin to succeed. Its community based and whilst it seeks funds from abroad it is a Ugandan organisation born in the community it wants to serve. I think that this organisation is more aware of the needs of the community and how to serve them than a Western organisation even if they don’t have the means in which to do it! The kids that have been selected are ones that would have been missed by a larger organisation as they are not at the bottom of the poverty line but they struggle to provide funds for education. They are also the ones who have a chance at success and as many of them are orphans they will have to provide for themselves in the near future. Writing up the child profiles for the children seeking sponsorship was utterly depressing, child after child was an orphan and many of them had lost a parent to aids. The list does seem never ending but that is why these HIV/AIDS awareness programs are so important. These issues that affect communities cannot be handled in isolation and this is the real problem here. For many organisations they tackle one stand of the problem, which is fine and it enables them to hone their skills and provide a consistent service, but if they are to do this then they need to work with the organisations that are providing the other strands, so that the ‘client’ receives a holistic package. I don’t have enough time left to really get involved in this task but it is something that enough people are starting to become aware of. Hopefully in the future people will stop trying to ‘solve Africa’ alone and will start working as a team with common goals.


August 19, 2007

The power of advertising

As I cycled back from work today I saw a huge crowd in the distance. Usually crowds gather in Uganda for a number of reasons; preachers, gamblers or advertisers. This time it was the latter. A ‘Yo Jus’ campaign has drawn a few hundred people and had children scrabbling for free samples, you don’t exactly see the same furore outside a UK Tesco when Pot Noodle pays a visit. Getting ‘something for nothing’ means more here, people don’t really care about what the brand is, just that they are putting on a good show. You’ll often have trucks with massive speakers in the back and the occasional dancing girl to promote anything from a music event to micro finance.

Advertising is everywhere here. Most primary schools are sponsored by Coke and MTN (a mobile phone network) sponsors a large part of the Makarere University Campus. You don’t see the flash billboards here as instead there are the rather more impressive painted adverts. ‘Live on the Coke side of life’ adverts lovingly painted onto the side of buildings with meticulous detail. I would love to know how Coke manages to get all the shops to paint exactly the same advert. Do they send out stencils? Do they have a special Coke painter? How on earth do they manage to all have the same colours? I have obviously spent far too long dwelling on these miraculous painted commercial displays.

I don’t have a camera so I’ll have to describe the government advert which is in the city centre to promote family planning. It is what can only be described as a stroke of genius. It encourages to “plan your family so that all of you can fit in a taxi”. Now this would seem a sensible suggestion, however, a Ugandan taxi holds 15 people. I’m not convinced that this is the correct message to be sending out to the ever expanding Ugandan population.

The Kampalan Reality

I have started some more ‘field work’ which sounds rather dramatic and suggests that I may been off to war torn Gulu to help in some under resourced hospital, but no. I have actually been into the Nsyamba community taking pictures for Help the Needy. I have been helping them with their child sponsorship program for school fees and scholastic aid. At the moment we are taking pictures for the website to show the children who need sponsorship and we are creating small profiles for them so people can see why they in particular are in need of sponsorship. The people I have been working with and have completely changed my mind about Ugandans and their work ethic. Each time we meet we set project goals and each time I arrive at work they have done exactly what we had set out to do. They are organised and seem to be really in touch with the needs of their community. This is the kind of organisation that Kampala needs as it is community based and was born out of a genuine need to have a community focused organisation. They never ask me for money and are interested in my opinion but not dependent on it. They are also not a charity which I like. They charge the members to attend the vocational training courses and ask the parents to commit a small monetary value when they provide school aid. This means that both the organisation and the person being helped are committed to the same goal.

I have mentioned before about my shock at the facilities this organisation has and its low operating budget. I was completely bowled over today when we went out in to the community. I have had it so easy here since I arrived and although I have been working at Hospice and Mulago I think that I’ve forgotten about the conditions that people live in. Today I went into Nsyamba West and it was both fantastic and horrendous. The banks and the paths were 80% plastic bags, 10% mud and 10% undisclosed waste. It had been raining so there were green pools lining the paths which were nicely set up for the anopheles mosquitoes. The paths were narrow with washing hanging between and corrugated iron panels sneaking out to get you if you weren’t paying attention. There were children everywhere; happy, smiling, poor, tatty looking children. And I have never felt some welcome. Everyone had a smile on their faces. Each corner that I turned I glimpsed a new section of the community living happily. At the minute I am on the tourist tour; ‘oh they are poor, but aren’t they happy!’ but I’m sure that the longer that you spend in the areas the more that the daily hardships become exposed. Everyone in the yards has a smile, but it’s the people who stay indoors who have the biggest problems.

I have to admit that I lied a little earlier. I said that everyone had a smile on their face. Everyone did, expect for the crazy local man. I am sure that I am breaking every pc rule by calling him crazy, but he was and for the sake of political correctness there is little point in beating about the bush. When I first saw local crazy man I thought that he was part of some local tradition. He looked very much like Sasha Baron Cohen’s characterisation of a Jew (for those of you who have seen the film). He had painted his face green with what looked like industrial paint, he had woollen chunks in his hair and he was wearing an eclectic mix of fluorescent clothing, he also had about 60 children all running and screaming behind him. It wasn’t until he diverted his attention to me that I realised that this wasn’t some kind of fun Ugandan fairy tale character as he became quite aggressive and demanded that I give him money. There was no danger of me doing that as I didn’t have any. I was however, a little worried about either being violently attacked or getting paint on my clothes, it is rather worrying that I was a tad more concerned about the latter. More to the point the children weren’t scared and instead local scary crazy man seemed to be the best form of entertainment that they had seen for months!


August 13, 2007

Sesse Islands and the Dutch solution

I have just got back from my weekend trip to the Sesse Islands. As I've said before it does wonders to your mood just to get out of Kampala and breathe some fresh fresh air. The islands, even thought we only saw one, were beautiful. Sesse is a pretty special place in that there is a junglely forest just a few metres behind the pure white sands. The area is also dense with wildlife and the perfect place for the avid bird watcher. We camped at Hornbill which was a standard campsite teeming with weaver birds (Google it). After travelling on Saturday we spent Sunday walking and then reading (and mostly sleeping if I’m honest) in the hammocks.

The real reason that I am writing this is not to gloat about my relaxing weekend, well a little... but to tell you about the interesting Dutch owner of our campsite. Luke used to be an aid worker but he gave it all up 6 years ago and moved to Sesse. And somewhere along the line his whole attitude about how Uganda needs to be helped has changed. Luke believes that all the aid in Africa should be pulled out, that it should be left to fall into civil and inter country war and that millions should be left to suffer painful and inhuman deaths. His reasoning behind this is that Africa will never help itself when there is so much aid flooding in from the west. He also thinks that this is the only way that the population can be reduced, as the promotion of condoms and abstinence clearly aren't working. He believes that all religious input is negative and is destroying Africa by promoting large families. By letting Africa fall into complete chaos he believes that for the first time it will, in the aftermath, have a chance to rebuild itself without the bullying aid of the West (which has never been designed for the true aid of Africa but merely to keep Africa under Western influence). He also believes that in the state of war only the strongest Africans will survive, which will give the building blocks for the future of a strong Africa. Survival of the fittest if you will. 

Luke may have some points that deserve listening to. But I personally cannot see a grand difference between killing off what Luke seems to think are the 'chaff' - the Aids victims, the diseased, the unfortunate, the old, the villagers and the honest (as the corrupt will surely survive) and pulling out aid so that they die. I mean why not save 50 years by just exterminating them?! Perhaps these people are supposed to die, and that by keeping them alive 'artificially' we are weakening the chances of Africa's economic survival. But don't we do the same in the West by keeping our pensioners alive and kicking when cancer and other illnesses would have killed most of them off years ago? I cannot believe that the solution is to let people die on a mass scale. I think that a prolonged period in Africa has made Luke a pessimist and it is perhaps true that I have not yet spent a long enough time here to fully understand the difficulties. But he thinks that Africans aren't willing to learn and just seek aid from Westerns, this is in part true, but there are many who are desperate for the opportunity to be independent and have no desire to be reliant on the donations of the West. 

Whilst I agree that the African population is growing too quickly, this is ultimately a decision that rests with the African people. No one is telling the West to have more children, no one should be telling Africa to have less. If children were all you had, if there were an income, if there were each a 'blessing from God' wouldn't you want more?! As Africa becomes more economically developed I have no doubt that the birth rate will start falling. As the promotion of family planning becomes more prevalent the birth rate will begin to decline. When the transmission of HIV is more fully understood, then I am sure that, again, the birth rate will fall. I think that this is a more organic way of controlling the population that the Dutch solution.

It saddened me to think that Luke, after working in a humanitarian organisation, seemed to think that Africa was a lost cause, that the only solution was to start again, perhaps this is an easy way for a pessimist to justify giving up.

It is common to become frustrated here, and it is something that I have experienced first hand. But I sincerely hope that I don't give up and believe that it is pointless trying to help. I don't think that aid from the West is keeping Uganda poor. I believe that it is the government keeping Uganda poor. Museveni has enough personal wealth to resolve all of the problems with Ugandan's infrastructure. Instead the government has chosen to provide its people with a botched job for CHOGM. There are areas of Kampala that are going to be sprayed to become ‘malaria free’. Is this for the benefit of the poor in the slums who cannot afford preventative measures? Don’t be silly, it is for the rich potential investors who will visit for CHOGM. Luke is right about Western aid not being able to solve Uganda's problems but he is most definitely wrong about the solution. 


August 10, 2007

Difference of Opinion

Writing about web page http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR590032005 http://www.afrol.com/html/Categories/Gay/backgr_legalstatus.htm

Yesterday evening we were out at a bar with a Ugandan friend and his old school friends. His school friends were from a certain demographic and most had ties with Western countries. It was a fairly standard evening, some light RnB and some Waragi, until we happened to stumble on the issue of homosexuality. At this point the table exploded and my friends and I suddenly became gay rights activists. The difference in opinion was astounding and there appeared to be a severe misunderstanding about what it meant to be gay. I don’t profess to be an expert on being gay, as I am not gay, but I imagine that it is just like being straight except that you happen to fancy someone of the same sex. I also don’t think that you can choose who you are sexually attracted to as attraction is one of the most complex human sensations as it taps both your psychological and physical desire. I’d like to give you a taster of some of the opinions that were heard yesterday evening;

‘it is just something that has happened to them during them in their adolescnce which makes them want the male instead of the female’

‘it is like saying that if you are born a thief, then its ok, you can go around and steal everything and it doesn’t matter if you hurt everybody’

‘I mean being gay isn’t about sex, if it was they could just go with a woman and have anal sex with them’

‘it is a crime’

It is important to remember that the conversation was not held under the most sober of conditions and that perhaps opinions were exaggerated more than normal. But there was a general consensus that homosexuality destroys Ugandan culture and that it is wrong. They also truly didn’t seem to understand why we would defend the right to be gay when we weren’t gay ourselves. Although Britain is far from being a haven for the gay community I do think that we have come along way in terms of our understanding and acceptance. I cannot see Uganda changing anytime soon, part of this is to do with the political opposition to homosexuality and part to do with the fact that religion is so heavily integrated in Ugandan culture.

The gentlemen who I was sat next to was extremely well spoken and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. Although he was trying to understand what I was saying he just couldn’t believe that a man couldn’t find a woman attractive. How could breasts not be viewed as beautiful objects by a man, it was impossible! At the end of the conversation he leaned in and told me that he had a secret to tell me. It turned out that his brother was gay and that the rest of his family had disowned him. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be to be gay living in Uganda, let alone how much courage it must take to come out knowing that your family may well never speak to you again. Being gay, or having gay relatives shouldn’t be a secret, but I don’t see things changing anytime soon.


August 08, 2007

The two faces of Africa

The two faces of Africa

I am sat at home feeling pretty pathetic. This is for two different reasons. Firstly I feel pretty ill and am swaying between the diagnosis of either food poisoning or malaria. Needless to say that for once I’m rooting for food poisoning. Secondly, when I was sending a message into work telling them that I wouldn’t be able to attend I received a message from the head of the organisation telling me that it was best for me not to attend as their had been an assault which had thrown everything up in the air. So not only do I feel sick, but I feel pretty ashamed of my wallowing state when there are much more serious things going on. Nearly everyone here has a story, they have been touched by death, disease or a war and yet when you tell them you have a headache they say ‘I’m sorry’ as though in some way they are personally responsible for your mild pain and as though it in some way compares to the troubles in their lives. There really are two sides to this country. Uganda is so beautiful and the people are so kind, friendly and welcoming yet, when you begin to scratch the surface the problems begin to spill out, I have a few stories which can perhaps serve to highlight the range of problems.

Whilst I was working on my project for Hospice I had a few translators with whom I worked and at the end of the project I had asked that one of them come in for a review of the work. I received a note from her which explained that her uncle had passed and that it would be unable for her to attend for the next week. Also last week we had a staff meal for the Children’s Palliative Care team and one of the nurses was unable to attend because that evening he had found out that his son had got malaria. A friend here saw his father killed because of mistaken identity during a political dispute. A guard we know was kidnapped at 9 and made to become a child soldier, he was brave to run away at 12 and has been rebuilding his life since. He is also one of the friendliest people I have met and you would have no clue that this was part of his history.

Although I don’t believe that you can summarise a countries problems and complexities in a blog, I will try for the sake of readership. As I have already mentioned there are numerous NGO organisations in Kampala and one can’t help but feel that everyone in Kampala should be being helped by someone. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are still slums in Kampala, there are still orphans who can’t get to school, malaria although reduced still kills and Mulago Hospital can’t afford to fund its cancer ward. This is mainly because there is only so much that foreign aid can do. I think that there are some clear reasons why Kampala hasn’t developed as much as it could and as efficiently, but please bear in mind that these are just my opinions and I am in no way qualified enough to be able to profess that they are correct. I think perhaps it is best to start with light hearted tale which highlights one problem:

Two of my friends went on a trip with some affluent young Ugandan males, the sons of businessmen and government officials. During their trip they purchased some pineapple, fairly standard for a long journey, which they dumped in the boot. The pineapple lay forgotten until they were on their way home. The big problem which arose was what they should now do with this fruit that they no longer had a need for. Fortunately some helpful suggestions were offered. One suggested putting it in a bin. I liked this suggestion, it was nice, logical and tidy, however, there aren’t many bins floating around in Uganda. A quick thinking young thing suggested throwing it under the car as ‘no one will notice’, this was true, but I’m sure that as the car pulled away people would spot the plastic bags full of pineapple. Short of burning the stuff there just didn’t seem many options left. Just to add a little context to this situation I should really add that they were in quite a poor village at this point with many children hanging around the car. But what to do? After much deliberation, and some helpful hints from the visiting Americans, the future of Uganda decided to give it to the hungry looking mites. Good call.

Now I in no way am suggesting that this is typical, but it does serve to emphasise an important issue. With no social welfare system there needs to be another way of distributing wealth, the rich of Uganda need to be as aware of the issues of poverty as the incoming volunteers. Uganda is a country that now boasts a $9000 a night hotel room and still can’t provide electricity or clean drinking water in its capital. There is a need for change, and it is not a job that can fall solely on the shoulders of the West. I am in no way saying that rich Ugandan’s don’t care about their own people, because there are many Ugandan run CBO’s and NGO’s here in Kampala, but there seems to be a lack of consensus between the rich and the influential.

This next paragraph will seem littered with juxtapositions and an irrational cold logic, so I ask you to give me a chance to try and explain. I am a business person, I think in business and I do believe, although many will disagree, that business is a way of making life better for a lot of people if ran responsibly. Uganda needs business. One of the greatest needs in this country is proper business teaching. The people here are kind, they are not shrewd. They are not greedy either as they will pass on work to a friend if they are not willing to go for your price. And above all at the grass roots level they are honest. I have had shop keepers chase me to give me 200 change (about 7p) when I’ve got the price wrong and I’ve had boda (motorbike taxi) driver’s tell me when I’ve given them a 10,000 bill instead of a 1,000. None of this is making anyone rich anytime soon. It is the average man who needs help. You can spot a Western run organisation a mile off, they know how to exploit you, and they know how to do it in a way that will mean that you will come back for more. The good restaurants add VAT to their prices, they teach their staff about service so that you are more likely to tip and they charge higher drinks prices. Having travelled a reasonable amount I would say that the Ugandan’s have a much less keen business sense that in Asia or even in Morocco. Considering the amount of foreign workers here in Kampala little has been done to take advantage of their wealth. There is one Irish bar, which is heaving at the weekends because it is the only one of its kind. There is one café with wireless internet, again always filled with do-gooders and their Macs. There is a craft market with goods tailored to the foreign market, they are on the right lines but it is still not quite right. It’s the value added activities which are missing here, something that we have ample experience in and something that I think would help the Ugandan economy. This is not a solution that will fix, but it is one that will serve to make the country’s economy stronger.

The ‘problem’ with the Ugandan honesty is that it doesn’t seem to be retained when the affluence and power of the individual grows. It is a well known fact that the corruption levels in most African countries are significantly higher than those in the West and unfortunately Uganda is no exception. Business here is often slowed due to the levels of corruption, there have been cases of top businessmen skimming as much as 25% from company profits (not even being deterred if they work for a multinational corporation). If I were a psychologist a fascinating experiment would be to try and gage where the honesty of the population ended and the corruption began. Like any country Uganda is split between the rich and the poor and like most countries it seems that the rich are only too willing to exploit the poor to make themselves richer.

New Job

I have started work at a new organisation called Help the Needy. I decided to take on a new job as my work at Hospice had pretty much come to an end and I wanted something that I could get a little more involved in. I was involved at Hospice, but because I was a neutral observer I couldn’t suggest anything and had to try and not get involved. Not an easy task. Anyway, this new job is the exact opposite, there is loads for me to do and they are in serious need of some help. Working in this new organisation has made me realise just how well run and well resourced Hospice is. This place has nothing. It operates on an income of around £80 a month which is used for rent and some staff salaries. The office is one of the most bare I have ever visited, there is one old school pc and a desk, that’s it. I hope that I can be some help to this organisation as I really like what they are trying to achieve and they are a group hard working, passionate individuals (who all have full time jobs) who deserve a bit of a leg up in the CBO world.

Small travelling nugget

I also have managed to squeeze in a small trip. I thought that I’d have travelled much more since I arrived but as the distances to cover are vast nice little weekend trips are kind of out of the question. However, for my trip I treated myself to an additional two days off so that I could go and visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. This was to be my first safari and I was expecting the whole shebang; lions, antelopes and warthog fights. Alas we weren’t so lucky, we did see elephants though and my new favourite the warthogs who bounded happily though the grasses. We also did a water safari which had a much higher animal yield, there were loads of different birds (and their accompanying birdwatchers), monkeys, crocodiles, big lizards and hippos. I’d like to include pictures, but I’m still without camera on this trip. The excursion included a mammoth amount of travelling for a 2 night trip and on the way home we got a flat tyre which was all kinds of fun as the owner of the vehicle had had a slight oversight in not including a spanner for the tire change. The highlight of the trip was an unexpected visit to a bat cave, I know, it doesn’t sound particularly enthralling in comparison to a safari, but it was incredible. The cave wasn’t particularly vast, it had about three shelves, but upon every square inch was a small fruit bat. The smell was pungent but the sight was breathtaking, the bats flew around in a small area, and when they landed in the busy crowd they were immediately accommodated. There were thousands of these bats, all just hanging around getting on with their daily business of washing, chatting and sleeping. I have never seen so many of one species (humans being exempt at this point) together at one time.

Conclusion

I cannot believe that I only have a month left here. I am starting to get the fear that I won’t have enough time to complete the tasks that I set for myself. I think that part of the reason is that jobs here are never ending, there is always something else to do or someone else who could use your help. At one point here I began to question how helpful volunteers can be, but I have begun to re-asses my original comments. I think, like in any situation, it depends on the individual. You have to be pretty self aware here when you are working in an organisation as those that you work with will tend to commend your work if it is good for their organisation or not, just because they are grateful for the time that you have invested. It is also about bringing in skills that are needed. Much of what I have talked about is about business but that is only because that is where my skill set lies. There is a great need for good volunteers. By this I mean people who are creative and can work with limited resources and above all have endless bounds of energy. There are many volunteers here, but I am not sure how many of them are ‘good’. There is also a need for teachers, teachers who have had TEFL experience and can again adapt to working in a resource poor environment. The English teaching here can be pretty appalling and it is not unusual for teachers to set exam questions which are incomprehensible to a native English speaker. As a final point I will include an exam question that Dave was given to mark by one of his students:

‘Moses went to the desert and experienced many situation and things, describe in situation and analysis difficulties with problems and solution’


July 18, 2007

new stuff

Update

It has been a substantial amount of time since I updated the blog. There are numerous reasons for this, the main one being that I have been pretty busy at work. The other being that when I have had free time there has either been no power or no internet. The combination of these factors has meant that e-mails, facebooks and blogs alike have all been pushed to the wayside. But I have power at home, which is a true rarity and I have taken this moment of relative tranquillity to update all those avid readers out there!

My work is going well. Its moving at Uganda time, which means that I have achieved here in 6 weeks what I could have achieved in 2 at home, but I have, finally, come to terms with the fact that things here just move ‘slowly slowly’. It doesn’t matter that every single person I met told me that this would happen. I still thought that things would be different and that people just weren’t trying hard enough. Oh how foolish I was! I have decided to stop doing the interviews this week. This is for a number of reasons, the first being that I could continue forever, so it was best to just set myself a deadline and achieve something concrete rather than ending up with nothing. The second is that I am using volunteers to help me, and I don’t feel that I can ask them to continue working for me for anymore than three weeks. Thirdly, Jerry who is helping me is going back to the US, and it would be good if he could give me input for the analysis, as it is far less likely to be biased if we work on it together. He has also put in a lot of work so deserves to be part of the end of the project. Finally, this gives me ample time to produce a solid write up and to start getting involved in some other projects. After spending time here I am starting to understand many of the other projects which are set up here and perhaps how I could be involved with them in the future. I have met this pretty amazing Ugandan guy called Charlie who I think will be a good point of reference for finding some work for the next few months.

Many of the people who I have met here are going home in the next few weeks, which is pretty sad to be honest. But it is to be expected when everyone is here for such a short time. It has also made me realise how lucky I am to be here for another couple of months, there is no way that I would feel satisfied if I was leaving in the next few weeks. It is always difficult to decide how long to stay abroad for, and I do think that if I wasn’t working that I’d be now ready to come home. But there still remains so much for me to see and do here.

Volunteering

This is really the place to come to if you don’t want to feel special about giving up your holiday to volunteer, as everyone is doing it. I still am not sure, 100% convinced that we are all doing it for the right reasons, myself included. When I came here I told myself that I was going to have a nice sensible altruistic time, but the truth is, with people working hard, and some in emotionally stressful situations, the downtime becomes even more important. Volunteering is a complex affair, something that I didn’t appreciate before I got here. Not everyone wants you, which is strange, I thought that people would be desperate for help, but the fact of the matter is that they have local volunteers who are sustainable and aren’t just going to flit back off 2 weeks after they arrived. We, as Western volunteers, hold the unjustified opinion that we are great and that we can help, but most of the organisations that we join were running just fine without us. Now I am not saying that help isn’t needed, not at all, its just that giving help is just a little more complicated than I first thought. We don’t have the same practices, we don’t come from the same school of thought, and for most people its perhaps pretty hard to admit that we don’t exactly know what people want if they refuse what we have. I am not bitter about being here, not in the least, I hope that I have been fortunate enough to have been of use to the organisation that I have joined, but I do perhaps think that I am not that much use. The work that I am doing is interesting, and it may show the service providers some improvements which they haven’t thought about. But, mainly due to financial limitations, there just isn’t that much that can change. For an organisation to improve many of the same things are needed here as they are in the West. More training is needed, more staff members are required and patients could use more time with the health care providers but there are no quick fixes for these problems, and even if there was an unlimited amount of money available things need to be implemented correctly and they need to be sustainable.

When I came here I wanted to help find jobs that students could fill next summer, ways that clever people could be used in more productive ways than stacking shelves in a supermarket. Ways that would benefit not only the organisations in which they worked, but also so that students would gain a taste of how another part of the world lives and works. Yale University, as it turns out, had exactly the same idea. They run a program called Bulldogs which is basically loads of unpaid internships all over the world. It’s a pretty good idea, and this year they launched in Kampala. It has been interesting seeing the problems that they have encountered, and more interestingly how they plan to improve the internships for the following years. The internship which has been most ‘successful’ is the one at Mulago, which is also the only one which has had a Western contact. I think that part of this is because when you are working with someone who is also volunteering from the West, they are acutely aware of what you are trying to achieve, but when you are working within a local Ugandan organisation there is perhaps a cultural gap. I think that part of it is simply that Ugandans don’t understand what we want, and why should they? I don’t think that we really take time out to find out what they want. How would they know that we only have 12 weeks in which to save Africa?! So, I have realised, as expected, that perhaps I was being a little over ambitious about what I could achieve in 3 months. Although I do still think that setting up permanent summer jobs here would be valuable, I think that it would take a few years before the jobs would become as valuable to the organisations as to the volunteers. Uganda is a country which needs commitment, and 3 months of valuable work is brilliant, but what happens in the other 9? Perhaps a more interesting avenue to explore would be to set up a Warwick year placement, so that the jobs would be permanently filled. There are many young graduates, who at 21, are not quite ready to hit the job market, who would be of good use, even more so as they would be qualified, in a number of organisations. Volunteering should be about balance, when you work your exchange for your labour is money, and when you volunteer it is experience, but the balance is only maintained when your labour if of value to the receiving organisation.

More fun things

Despite how things may sound, I have been able to squeeze in a little fun since I arrived. My favourite thing here, apart from the local gin, is the place called the Music Club. I apologise to those who have already had listen to be harping on about it. This is a meeting point for local musicians who convene every Monday inside the National Theatre. It’s a free night and has some of the highest quality music that I have ever heard. This Monday they held it outside, this is something that they do once a month, so it had a much cooler and more spacious vibe that its usual cramped conditions. As usually the music was incredible, despite a dodgy ‘Hero’ cover, but what really blowed me away were the breakdancers. Now breakdancing is cool at the best of times, and these guys had some serious talent, but what really made my jaw hit the floor was the fact that neither of them had any use of their legs! They both had legs, and I am sure that anyone medical will shudder at my description, but they were like stuffed trouser legs. Yet, one of the guys held his feet with his arms, pulled himself up, and walked, danced and breaked using only his arm strength. It is kind of the same awe that you have when you see disabled athletes competing.

This weekend was pretty good, even though I didn’t leave Kampala. I went to the 2nd Eastern Africa Children’s Cultural Festival on Saturday. One of the Yale students is doing a music internship and had to record all the music so I went along. It was a very long day, we got there just after 8 and didn’t leave until 7. It was meant to start at 9, but as we are on Uganda time I think it finally started about 10.30, which is mostly why it finished at 7 instead of at 5! The kids were mostly from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and all of the schools that were present were those that had won their national competitions. The standard were incredible. Each school had to produce a poem, a choir song and then a national dance. The national dances, were in my opinion far superior to the choir performances, but I would think that as I have never seen African tribal dances before so they look fresh and ‘native’. The poems, however, were incredibly insightful and interesting. They were more like national propaganda messages than poems which were performed as short theatrical pieces. My favourite was one called ‘African Women’ which was all about the strength and resilience of the African women and the troubles that she faced. The children seemed completely unfazed about speaking about rape, beatings, paedophilia and female circumcision. They seemed to have a strong, clear awareness of the problems that their country and people were facing. I would love to tell you who won the competition, but I have no idea, I was there for the presentation, but I still have no idea.

On I went to the Bahai temple. This is the only one of its kind and I don’t believe that there is one in the UK yet. It’s a relatively new religion which accepts all other religions. It is like an amalgamation of the top 8 religions and their prophets plus the Bahai prophet, which means that Jesus and Mohammed are part of the same religion. The temple itself is very plain inside whilst the gardens around it are perfectly kept and amazingly beautiful. Its well worth a visit as it’s a tranquil spot in the hard of Kampala, a true rarity.


July 05, 2007

Babies

The week is nearly at an end again. Incredibly I have been here for nearly a month. Honestly the time has gone by so quickly, and I am happy that I have another 2 months ahead of me and I have no doubt that I am going to be very said to leave at the end of my time. The work is still going slowly, but I have come to accept that this is just the pace, so I just have to be patient, and be around so that when people decide that they are ready for their interview I will be there!

I have also taken on another small volunteering role. I can only really get to the Hospital on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and as there is day-care on a Tuesday I only have Thursday to give. I am going to start working at a children's orphanage next week. I am not sure how long I will work there for. I went this week but they had loads of volunteers and I will only stay as long as I am some use! It was very interesting to see how the children cared for each other, this was when they weren't fighting and biting each other for toys of course, the girls especially took care of the boys. I am actually quite surprised at this, as initially I thought it was simply because the oldest child is female and that it was more to do with her being the oldest rather than her sex. But I saw another small girl going around the other children and she was making sure that they were all dressed properly, this is because they like to take off their trousers! It did make me question how young females develop a care role, and if perhaps it really is a combination of natural instinct as well as social 'grooming', or even just pure instinct. The children did seem to have developed a support network around themselves. It was also amazing to see how well there all were considering that they were constantly putting toys in their mouths that were covered with each others urine! It does make you realised how unnecessarily germ obsessed we have become at home. There was many a fall as the wet patches on the tiled floor created rather a slippy environment. The children obviously knew that the white volunteers were a soft touch, they took floor advantage of our newness to the situation to clamber for hugs, kisses and to give us the occasional bite. The 'mama's' who work there full time obviously have other thing to worry about, like getting clothes ready for a mass of small children who are constantly wetting themselves (there are no nappies if you are wondering why quite so much wee is flying about the place) and preparing meals and trying to potty train them! All in all its a well run organisation with the kids following a well established routine. They are all pretty obedient too, obviously not for us as we don't speak Luganda and they know we are too soft, but for the mama's they do what they are told.

There are a mass of volunteers at the minute, July is peak season, the town is flooded with 'people who care'. This is very nice to see, but does remind me that once September arrives and everyone goes home there will be a lot of empty spaces. It really is amazing that people volunteer and give up their time to give something back, but we could all do to remember that when we leave the people are still there, and the problems don't just go away.

I hope that I will have some time to get involved with other projects here. In terms of planning this should be in month three. I have next month to finish collecting data and start on the analysis. Jerry and I have been pretty efficient (if I do say so myself) in typing up the transcripts as soon as we are done interviewing. The volunteers are also working out well, its been interesting trying to coordinate things, making sure that both languages are typed and backed up before the next set of interviews are taken. This won't sound like a challenge, but with limited resources it is! I am pretty happy with the way that things are shaping up, even though I had originally anticipated to have finished all of the interviews by now!

I have been fortunate, in one respect, to have not been too involved with the children and the service, as I need to remain neutral for an effective analysis, and this has meant that I have not become as emotionally involved as the other members of staff. I think that sometimes it is easy to forget that this is a Hospice service, and especially as I have mentioned before, that because often the children are in such good spirits that it is easy to forget that many of them are very sick. A death of a child is always sad, but it is more upsetting when it happens on a ward and the carer is pestered about the body being taken away. When children die here the bodies are often transported back home on the public bus. I have complete respect for all of the staff here and the job that they are doing, everyone would like to save lives, but this is a very unique and difficult situation where the rewards of the job are very different but just as valuable as those that 'save'.

It is always nice to finish these blogs with a nice comical story, something lighthearted and fun. I am not sure as of yet where my inspiration will come from as I haven't been getting myself into as much trouble as usual, I blame having a real job. I did rather enjoy the staff party that we had last friday, it was a goat bbq (the goat skin was kindly left out on the lawn for all to view and smell when the arrived to work on monday morning!) and there was the promise of dancing. This promise was firmly kept and they rigged up rather an impressive soundsystem. I must say that it was a rather unusual experience to dance in the daylight and without the confidence boosting aid that is alcohol, but it was rather liberating. All that was needed was to accept that fact that I was going to look horrendous dancing to traditional music, and as there was nothing much I could do about it, it was just best to forget about it and shake like I had the natural rhythm of a Ugandan women! Oh and as an aside we were sure that we saw the male nurse muching on the goat’s genitalia (for those that are immature enough this should have raised a smile).


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