Monthly Archives: June 2012

Settling into rural life

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I am now coming towards the end of my second week at Rural Health Care Foundation (RHCF), based in Mubende, Uganda. The Mubende district is one of the poorest in Uganda and outside of the town, only 35% of people have access to clean, safe water. On several occasions I have seen people collecting filthy water from stagnant ponds or puddles. RHCF educates the rural communities about clean water and sanitation, HIV/Aids and safe motherhood. It also builds wells with funding from donors in the UK and US and the staff work with an orphanage for children whose parents have died from Aids.

The staff here are absolutely wonderful and have made me feel so welcome. I am working primarily with Bob the accountant, Dr Dickson the Executive Director and Willie the Financial Controller but have also had several trips out into the field with the other staff. The whole team is extremely committed and juggle time in Mubende with their other employment which supplements the small wage (if any) they take from RHCF so that they can support their families.

On our first journey to Mubende we stopped at the Rural Mama Orphanage (about halfway from Kampala) to deliver some food and to erect a set of swings for this children to play on. The orphanage is home to 25 children ageing from 5 – 14, 12 of which are HIV positive. The children all share one bedroom which doesn’t have enough mattresses for them all, they have to share, and not enough mosquito nets to cover all the mattresses. At the time I was there, most of the children were at school but I played for a while with several of them pushing them on the new swings- they loved it!
The past couple of weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. This area of Uganda is the poorest area I have seen so far in Africa. The majority of children do not have shoes, walk around half-naked or in dirty clothes but have such beautiful, kind, happy smiles. I am stared at everywhere I go by adults and children alike. The kids run alongside the car shouting Mzungu! mzungu! (white person), and as soon as they see me they burst out laughing and waving.

We have visited several schools where RHCF have input pit latrines and wells to see how they are progressing. At both the schools all the pupils surrounded me staring but not daring to approach me or talk to me. Unfortunately I can’t speak much Luganda yet (apart from ‘how are you?’, ‘I’m fine’ which I keep forgetting anyway!) and most of the children in the community primary schools do not speak English. A couple eventually plucked up the courage to speak to me and tell me their names which was nice. At first it was strange being stared at all the time and I felt quite self-conscious, but now I am settling into being the only Mzungu in the village!

The majority of my time with Bob has been spent setting up the new accounting software. Before the previous volunteer arrived, RHCF were maintaining their accounts on paper so I think it will be a slow process making the move to software. We have been through the basic principles, familiarised ourselves with how to use it and set up the chart of accounts so hopefully over the next week or so we can start inputting in all of the previous data kept on paper. I have never used this particular software myself so I am learning too! We have also created a good budget vs actual statement which should help RHCF monitor their project expenditure and can be linked to the organisation strategy document that they are in the process of writing.

I had an extremely interesting afternoon in the field last week visiting two wells and helping to finish off their construction. At each of the wells the RHCF team sat down with village members and they self-elected a committee of 9 people to be responsible for the well. RHCF has already held a workshop on sanitation and trained two villagers on how to fit the well but the committee is for the people to take responsibility for its maintenance and care. It was interesting to learn how the committee members must be selected. There must be two children in the committee so that they can carry the skills on to the next generation and the treasurer must always be a woman because they are apparently better with money!

The second well drew a big crowd with even a local journalist taking photos and writing notes. Of course I had to pose in all the photos! Once the well had been contracted I had a go at pumping the water (harder than it looks) which caused much hilarity and applause – a Mzungu using a well!!

This weekend I hope to go on a trip west to the Kibale national park and have made it my mission to improve my Luganda– I will keep you updated with my progress!

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A catch up from Kenya

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Jambo sana!
It has been a while since my last blog entry and I feel it is time I filled you in on what I have been doing for the past three weeks.

My workshop at Siansowa school was a great success I think.About 30 people from the school committee and others from the village attended and were keen to learn about financial record keeping. We had devised a lesson plan with lots of interactive games where I asked volunteers to come up and pretend to be buying seeds and selling cabbages at the market. We even brought along props which I think helped to bring the workshop alive. I explained in detail what an expense is and what income is for the school and how to record these on separate sheets. I emphasised the importance of writing down details such as date, name of seller, no. items sold and price and linked this back to the community monitoring every detail of its spending and income so that it knows how much money can be reinvested to keep the school self-sufficient. The workshop lasted almost two hours even though there was minimal material because Stanley had to translate what I was saying into Tonga! I really enjoyed taking the workshop and hope that the committee and other interested parties will retain the knowledge and use the skills they learned to make sure the schools finances are transparent for the whole community.

I left Lake Kariba two weeks ago after having a fantastic last night with a sunset cruise and a braai on Maaze island (fillet steak BBQd is amazing). I was really sad to leave everyone at The School Club. They were so good to me, so enthusiastic about my work with them and such fun people and I feel like I could go back tomorrow. I will miss the idyllic shores of Lake Kariba, especially all my close animal encounters! On one of my last nights on Maaze I awoke at 3am with the noise of animals chomping trees and bushes all around my tent. I was a bit nervous at first because hippos sometimes come all the way up to the tents and 3 elephants were spotted in camp just that morning. But as I laid in bed I could see the shadow of antelope. I got out of bed really slowly and inched my tent zip open so as not to make a noise. I managed to take two photos before the flash frightened them away! There were two huge female Kudu and right outside my tent – amazing!

There have also been plenty of close animal encounters over the past fortnight which I have spent with Mark in Kenya on the most incredible two week holiday.

We made the journey to the Maasai Mara via the Great Rift Valley which runs all the way from the red sea down to Mozambique. Unfortunately the weather was quite misty so we couldn’t see all the way to the other side but you could still get an indication of just how vast the rift is. On out first game drive in the Mara we saw cheetah, elephants, lions and lots of impala, topi and water buck. It was good to see the topi because I think that was a kind of antelope only found in Kenya.

The weather began to turn fierce at around 5.30pm. We had to close the lid of the vehicle and soon the winds were howling, lightning flashing and the rain was sheeting down. There was quite a scary moment when our vehicle got stuck in the mud in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The Maasai Mara is so vast and remote that you feel like you cannot be reached. We eventually got out and headed back to camp in the dwindling twilight.
The next three days in the Mara and Lake Nakuru we saw both black and white rhinos up close, it was amazing. They are such pre-historic beasts and actually smaller than I had imagined. We also saw hundreds of birds, storks, cormorants, flamingo etc., a majestic male lion very close to our vehicle and buffalo and giraffes. The highlight however was seeing a leopard sitting in a tree! I couldn’t believe that we were seeing such a rare animal that most people who go on numerous safaris are not lucky enough to see! It just sat there on the branch for the whole the whole time we watched and just moved its head from side to side occasionally. Its fur was so perfectly pattered with its spots and such vivid colours that it almost didn’t look real. I could really see the difference between the leopard and the cheetah whose fur is much rougher and duller, has a smaller body and a smaller head with larger ears.

After a few days on safari we spent the rest of our holiday relaxing by the coast, swimming in the crystal clear Indian Ocean and topping up our tans! We stayed for a few days at Mida Eco Camp which is a beautiful elevated camp made out of driftwood, old canoes and coconut trees. There is a roof top bar area where meals and drinks are served and three huts that guests can stay in. We had the Zanzibar hut which was on stilts and we had a bedroom area below and then a fantastic second floor living area with two beds and two sofas so we had the option to sleep up there if we wanted. It offered the most beautiful view of the forest around and the tribal village next door. The Eco-camp is run by members of the Giriama tribe and all profits go back into the community to help with schooling and medical supplies.

It felt like we were it total paradise sitting it the elevated viewing platform of our hut. The food was delicious, we ate fresh fish, coconut rice and spinach vegetable every night with a Tusker beer while the resident guard dog Blaize sat nearby. We made a trip to the Gede ruins by dugout canoe which was an amazing experience! I don’t think any of the other tourists in Watamu saw the ruins this way. The cook, Mateso and the manager of the camp, Eric took us on the canoe which rocked precariously on the waves of the creek, scaring me that we would topple over. But the canoe was actually very sturdy and we were quite safe. We drifted through the sprawling mangroves whose roots were home to many crabs and limpets over to the beautiful ancient Gede ruins.

So after two wonderful relaxing weeks I am looking forward to getting back to work and submerging myself into a new culture. From what I have heard, Uganda is a beautiful country full of friendly people so I can’t wait to meet everyone at Rural Health Care Foundation in Mubende.

I will keep you updated of my new home for the next seven weeks soon!
Love to all my family and friends, I miss you.
H xxxx