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!