All entries for September 2007
September 26, 2007
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
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