Monday, 5 July 2010


Running a charity is a bit like running into a burning building, seeing the devastation, the people who need help and realising your own weaknesses as an individual to help those people. The charity's power is in mobilising a whole group of people with various skills but a collective passion and directing them all towards enabling the most relevant help of people and situation.

I think this also throws some light on to the complexity of our charity, Chilli Children. Imagine that burning building is not in the UK, it's somewhere without TV cameras, without bloggers, without emergency medical facilities, and where the situation of thousands of disabled children has not arrived like the flash of fire but over such time as to make it seem a completely normal, unchangeable, sad state of life along with all the other normal, unchangeable, sad states of life that interweave with the normal, unchangeable joys which many are powerless to control apart from the prayers they send up hourly asking for enough but not too much rain and sun, for safety on the perilous roads, for enabling their children to do a full term at school, for keeping them alive through the next bout of malaria, for a good marriage, for enough digging work, and on and on.

I mention realising my own weaknesses as an individual and needing to mobilise others. However there is a lot of work I do need to do on my own. Every time I seem to sit down to tackle that work, like this morning, I just seem to come up to that wall of weakness and think things like "I'm not going to be able to get all this done", "should I be doing it this way?", "should I start with this email? or should I be following up that grant? or should I actually do some filing", "maybe if my office wasn't such a mess I would be much more effective but if I stop to do filing I'll be here all day and I only have today so I better just get on with the urgent and important things".

Anyway, oh the self flaggulation! I might not even post this it all just sounds so 'woe is me'. I'm fine. As a good Brit I'll just 'pull my socks up' and get on with it. Another cup of tea should do the trick. But I don't want to be typical Brit and ignore the problem, it's possible to be self-aware without being self-destructive. I think one aspect of breaking down this wall is sharing these feelings. Once they're out there and known, and it doesn't dissolve the state or end the universe, it's possible to gain perspective, move on.

I've been fortunate recently to have the opportunity to do some consultancy work for World Vision during their reorganisation around new strategic priorities. As well as my obviously dazzling (?!) strategy skills honed via Accenture and Chilli Children, the 'skill' to be able to give my time for free on short term basis was obviously a big draw. Nonetheless, they've not patronised me for having far less international development experience (and I'm not being modest here these people really really have seen and done a LOT in the field in emergency and long term situations). In fact they've let me in, given me a chance to listen, record and analyse their strategic intents. It's been fascinating.

I bring in this recent experience in order to, well in part, update you - I've not blogged since I was in Cafe Pap on my last day in Uganda in Feb. Where have I been for the last 5 months?! In brief, back with my sister finishing the Comic Relief proposal which was amazing but they didn't think so. I moved to Oxford, and the next day was back with my sister witnessing the beautiful birth of their wonderful 5th child. I've been job hunting and making friends and generally finding that there is a beautiful and peaceful place to live in England! Sorry East London, I'm only missing my friends (that includes ex-colleagues) and not much else!

I also mention this because through liftsharing between World Vision and Oxford, I have had the opportunity to share my charity woes with people who have experience of international development. I'm starting to see through their eyes how good Chilli Children is, how complex it is, how well we've done on the little we've had, how personal it is compared to larger charities and how enterprising I've become!

I feel opportunities rising in Oxford and this brings me squarely back to the first side of this writing. What I've been looking for is a mentor. Someone who could mentor me as a leader of a charity. What I've found is not just one person to mentor me but a whole city! (how dramatic...) I don't mean everyone from the bus driver to the vicar is telling me how to run my charity but I mean that there is an interest in many people in Oxford, however much field or fundraising experience they have had, in International Development/Peace/other Countries/ Charities/whatever you call 'it', the 'it' that I'm also passionate about. So I'm starting to share more, and listen more, whenever I can get to meet these people.

So what about the cunning plan. Last words go on this. I've been blessed by a multitude of circumstances to enable me to eek out my redundancy money all the way until now. Well up to about 2 weeks from now I think...! This has meant nearly a year and a half has been dedicated to Chilli Children with time inbetween to moving myself from place to place and a good lot of time with family and friends, especially being there for big life changes: deaths, births and now a string of marriages. It may not make economic sense to some people the way I've been living my life, but it's made life sense to me. I've not been able through some efforts, and not wanted to put more effort, into finding funding for myself to do Chilli Children full time.

My commitment to Chilli Children is unwavering but time dedicated to it will now reduce to weekends. I do of course have my next trip to the Children's Project planned... 2 weeks mid Sept with 6 others including 2 Trustees Sue and Susie. I can't wait!

For now Chilli Children will continue small although not unchanging. For me I'm about to discover a new job, potentially another new home but certainly at some point a new cunning plan.

If I haven't really shown it in these blog posts, I do want you to know that at this juncture in life I'm actually incredibly happy. Sometimes so much so that I feel drunk. I won't go into all the whys. If you knew me 10 years ago, you'll know what this means. Let me just use Florence's words and say "the dog days are over, the dog days are done, the horses are coming, so you better run."

If you have followed this blog thus far: Thank you. I hope it's been of interest. It's not a complete autobiography but hopefully an interesting opening of the curtains at the window of my mind and heart over the past year and a half.

I don't know if I'll continue this blog. I feel it may be time to stop.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Talking about flying by.... it's nearly time to fly again

It's the last two days of my 2 month trip to Uganda and time has totally flown. Sorry for no blogging hope this big 'un makes up for it!

The sadness to leave this beautiful place and people I really love is as present as a solid mass but one that is overwhelmed by the huge expansive lightness of the happy times I've shared in Rukungiri. For me this isn't just 'volunteering', it isn't 'lending a hand', it's become part of my life and a part that is so enriched for knowing these people and the beautiful country they live in. We share joys and we share pain. This week the Diocesan Secretary Rev John Muhamuza died suddenly after coming back from lunch break. As chief administrator of North Kigezi Diocese he was known throughout the district and was dearly loved especially by the Diocesan departments, of which our Project is one. His burial is today in his village Ruhindi a few miles from Rukungiri town.

Our Project, NKD Growers', Orphans' and Disabled Children's Project, is part of the Diocese's living ministry to help very disadvantaged children. And although part of the Anglican church their belief is to help all people whatever religious background. Life at the Diocese is very friendly, many people who work there also live on the Diocese hill so there is a real sense of community amongst people there including those who regularly come to the hill from the surrounding district and beyond. Morning chapel at 8.30am is a wonderful way to start the day with singing (boosted by the female students from the Mothers' Union Training Institute) and discussion of a passage which often tends to be comical, moving, contemplative or all 3! I was given the topic of 'prayer' for leading chapel and I decided to spice it up with a bit of Aretha Franklin from my iPod – because she's one of my spiritual influences. (My iPod is a major survival factor for my visits – being able to connect back to my UK identity with a bit of Amy Winehouse, Artic Monkeys or Stevie Wonder always cheers me up if I'm missing home.)

Right, anyway, what have I actually been doing here aside from educating girls in the smooth spiritual vocals of the First Lady of Soul?

This time I was focusing on helping the Project team with two main objectives: creating a budget for 2010 and putting together a HUGE plan for boosting the yield of all families in the chilli growing scheme. And I can say that the first is completed (and hopefully we can get it into a understandable format for our supporters soon) and the second is part way through but will require me to do a whole lot of writing up in the first 3 weeks of getting back to UK.

The idea of boosting the chilli yield is that we've found that the average each family produces is only 3.5kgs of chilli per year which brings in about £5. Now for many families in SW Uganda, especially those in the scheme who in general have orphans or disabled children (or both!), £5 is nothing to be sniffed at. It can mean a primary school child gets to school paying for uniform and exercise books which are fundamental when you see the state of the schools.

There are some of our families who are managing a lot more than that e.g. Isaac from the Chilli Children film (have you seen it yet? You Must - ) who produced 36kgs in one season (£54)! Last week I re-visited his home on the hill side in Kitojo, down a path that not even in Uganda could be described as a road! I saw the cow that he bought with this money and as he's just graduated from primary school, this cow and continued chilli income will be his means to a secondary education which starts from £50 per term at the most basic schools. So the HUGE plan is to get ALL 2000 farmers (plus maybe 1500 more) producing as much as Isaac to enable many more children to receive secondary education. This will require a big input of cash which we're applying for from a major UK charity. So please pray that we get this application done good! Any advice – especially professional – is highly valuable whether legal, managerial, accounting, project planning or slick wording! Deadline is 5th March for 1st round :S

So I've spent a lot of this visit doing essentially planning work in the office and I haven't got out to the field much but even at the office there is a steady stream of children arriving and general life going on. So summary of those events:

  • Nicholas Niwaabi who I mentioned in a blog last year as having completed a Diploma in Counselling and Guidance at Kabale University despite speech and movement difficulties now has a job in registration at a college in Kabale! Wow! Jobs for graduates are hard to come by in Uganda but even more so when people don't see beyond your disability. But Nicholas has three great attributes: real charm, the persistence of a fly at a window and the faith of a saint!

  • Phionah graduated from Mengo Primary School for the Physically Handicapped with an upper 2nd pass grade in the primary leavers examination paper with NO adjustment of the mark for her physical disability! Alex also did well but I don't have his grade.

  • Replacing Phionah and Alex at Mengo are Amon and Abduh. Amon is very bright and around 14 but has never

    had schooling. His disabilities are similar to Nicholas but he hasn't learnt to walk. Abduh (see Newsletter 4 – p1) brain function seems more limited than Amon's but we hope that they will both gain a lot from being at such an excellent school. Abduh's uncle,

    a Muslim, is so grateful for the chance that Abduh, an orphan, has been given and has promised to visit him at the school every fortnight.

  • Term (and a new school year) started on 1st February so as we have a big programme for education, including the deaf boarding unit, it was an expensive week buying all the necessary supplies. There is no government funding except for teachers pay so all the living expenses of the children must be covered either within the school fee

    or within buying basic requirements: mattress, plastic cover, sheets, soap, brush, towel, etc. It was fun packing up all these items for 10 children (4 Mengo, 4 deaf secondary, 2 phys. handicapped in Kanungu district) but loading all the provisions and the children into the ambulance for the long drive to Kampala was a bit scary! Bless Warren for that drive, and thank God for no punctures!

So Saturday morning I'll arrive at Heathrow, and the next stage of my life begins. I want to add for any cynics out there that none of my trip is paid from Trust funds, I'm still managing to live off the redundancy money from 2008! But now that's coming to an end and it's time to get a job in UK. This of course won't be the last you'll hear from me, the Trust continues and I have of course more cunning plans up my sleeve...

Notes for photos
1. David and Zi in the office doing the chilli boosting planning
2. Volleyball at the Diocese with Mothers' Union students, Diocese staff and visiting Americans - it was my sort of leaving party
3. Zi and Evas promoting chilli! Imwe baana mwije tuhinge eshenda hamwe! means You kids, let's grow chilli (eschenda) together! It's for the assembly we were about to do at Rugarama Primary School
4. Isaac and his cow (nearly being flattened by it!)
5. From l to r, Amon's mum, Amon, Nicholas and David, Nicholas came to give some counselling and motivation to the new students (and parents) they couldn't believe he was a University graduate!
6. Piling the ambulance high with kids, mattresses, tin trunks and make-shift wheelchairs - will the rusty roof rack last the 8hrs with that load on the bumpy road????

Friday, 11 December 2009

Return to Uganda: week one

Do I mention that whilst its 3 degrees and fog in London it's only a mere 19 degrees here in Kampala and I'm a bit put out to be putting on a jumper...? Are you stopping reading out of utter disgust? It's a good job I don't have any photos of my tan yet...

Ok enough enough. Tis unfair on you poor Brits left back in grey Blighty. Be heartened that your streets are well tarred, your electricity is constant and you don't have questionable goings on in your lower gut region.

The unusual thing about this first week back for me is that I only recently left. In a way it was a four and a half month 'visit' to UK so getting back into sleeping under a mosquito net, boiling milk, putting on suncream and riding on the back of motorbikes through a dusty, warm city is just getting back to the routine.

The week or two running up to going was a bit manic with the added pressure of getting Christmas pressies sorted for leaving in UK and taking to Uganda but thanks to my friend Laura for wrapping them all! :) Although, in some ways it was easier this time because I've really brought much less stuff. I know I can survive on 3 skirts, 3 pairs of slips ons and flipflops (called slippers here), a small range of toiletries and a small supply of good reads (which became a big supply at Heathrow WHSmiths!).

I was helped out of London by my lovely cousin Helen (thanks to Rob and Lauren (and Pete) for putting me up in their flat for November) and we rode triumphiantly out of London on her galiant horse Ed (or maybe it was her LandRover - same valiance and odour)! My dear sister Cathy and her son Adam saw me off at Heathrow the next day at dawn. Big hugs over her now bigger bump. I'll not be back until she's at 31 weeks!

The flight was full of friendly Ugandans and even one rather familiar looking Ugandan who was going round greeting everyone... oh yes that'll be President Yoweri Museveni!!

I was met (eventually after thinking I'd lost my passport -eek) by my cousin Laura (here since Aug working at Rainbow Int'l Sch) and my good friend Gloria who lives in Kampala.

Sunday, Gloria took me to see her sister Doreen who was so big with pregnancy that I am not surprised she delivered a bit early last night - they have a baby girl! Congratulations to Doreen, Isaac and all the family!

Monday I rested because I was just in a real daze. Didn't really sleep well and felt jetlagged. Also recovering from previous fortnight!

Tuesday I headed off into the unknown to visit my friend Rick up in Luwero district (north of Kampala). But as always in Uganda, you are never alone! On both the matatu (minibus taxi) journeys, one into Kampala and one out up to Luwero, I met a lovely person who I chatted with the whole way and they ended up paying my fare!! The first person was called Willy from Baziga where I'm staying with Laura, he has four children and his father recently passed away so he was on leave from work. He was worried that I would not find my way from the Old Taxi Park to the New one so he directed me all the way through the craziness of morning market streets.

On the 2nd bus I met Eric who works in Bombo, he is a trained nurse then retrained in IT and works on medical databases but in his spare time he has set up a counselling group for people with AIDS. He gets them to talk to each other and even supports them with phone calls during the day.

I hardly noticed I was arriving at the unmarked Kyasanku stage (busstop) with no shops only known after the local witchdoctor. But I merrily got off and with other people around I was able to establish that this dirt track was in fact the exact dirt track that Rick had described which leads to Bajjo village. And there he was wondering up the road with elderly villager Nathan who studied at Guildford University! I explained to him about the pilgrimage we used to do on Easter Mondays up to Guildford Cathedral and saw that this was something they could really understand.

In a pretty symmetry Rick was able to introduce me (to most of the village!) as someone from his village since indeed we are both from (mighty mighty) West End.
Also introducing me as someone from his 'tribe' was stretching it a little ... but quite amusing.

Rick and his friends Karl and Anna were back in Bajjo on a 2 week visit following up from their 6 month stay in 2008. You can read more about their programme at

I arrived on Community Party day in Bajjo organised by their Project Staff. There were 5-a-side football, netball and volleyball tournaments and as 'honoured visitor' I handed out trophies and certificates. There are lots of children in Bajjo which is a fairly cut off village, despite it's proximity to Kampala (40mins) and smaller towns. But it's a village typical of many in Uganda with little money invested from outside for infrastructure such as a school, clinic or church. The first two of those they now have and the church at least has foundations and nearly walls. But this is all due to the hardwork and fundraising of the local community. The support given by the Wanna Be Amazin idea is not just new games pitches, pig farming and library but also a real sense that they are supported as a community and are interesting to the outside world.

There are of course also some disabled children who are not getting diagnosed and refered unless someone e.g. Anna (a physiotherapist) has intervened. It makes me realise again how special our programme is at Chilli Children and how it is really needed all around the country. Because while there are facilities for treating and supporting disabled children, it's going out and finding them that is needed, as we do in Rukungiri and Kanungu. People in villages in Uganda don't go, oh look we've now got a disabled child let's google to find out what we should do. It's the local health centres that should know but with such a massive range of disabilities and poor training they are just not aware. Anyway, that's my usual rant. On a positive note, just before I left UK I met up with Accomplish Trust who are setting up/joining up similar clinic/operation facitilies for disabled children in Kasese district just north of our areas. We want to work together in the future and hope for a connected network of community disability organisations in Uganda. Please pray/hope/meditate/remember this idea!

What was unusual about Tuesday for me was just being in one village for a whole day (instead of rushing in and out - and whilst there working!). It was lovely playing with all the children and watching them play all day. As sun was fading quickly at 6.30 we were over by the big football pitch (ex-bog that they managed to drain a bit) watching the final match of the day, Wanna Be Amazin staff (Brits&Ugandans) versus Rest of Bajjo.

As the game went on, the hundred or so children who were the main spectators ran around the side of the pitch and carried on their games of what in my playground language we called 'it', 'ring a roses' and that running train game where everyone holds hands in a line and the one at the front runs, the others follow but somehow the speed increases down the line so the ones at the back are practically flying off the end! They were so free. A big group of kids all playing together, looking after each other. It reminded me of growing up in West End and playing on the Rec or out in the fields behind Kings Road until we got really hungry and the sun was fading. Bliss.

As most of the population of Uganda heads back to their home villages for Christmas (like a fair bit of the UK) I just hope that we can all reflect on how precious village life is: community, friendship, all ages mixing and caring for each other, freedom to run around, green space, football pitches, nattering. It's not just some ideal. It's actually there, all over the place.


Coming up: next week holiday in Kenya, Tiwi beach, then Christmas in Rukungiri staying with David and Lyn. Pat (Project founder) returns to Rukungiri after 4 years away. January working with the project team on future plans including potential grant proposal for chilli. February returning to UK to look for some income! Gis a job, guv...


Merry Christmas to all in case I don't get to blog before then. If you are looking on here to find out where to send me a Christmas card - I hope you've figured out by now that there's no point sending one! I am not sending any either.

Just a last word to say thank you to all who've helped me this year. It's still an unusual thing to do to not have a job and work in UK and Uganda for a charity but time will tell if it has been worthwhile. I really feel it has for the charity. Graham has certainly seen a good increase on income but I would be really chuffed with a few more regular givers. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more...

For me personally this year has also been brilliant. I feel like I've got over a lot of insecurities about needing a fixed place to live and just going with the flow more. It's been greatly aided by good health and understanding friends and family. I've had masses of experience - particularly in managing myself, my time and mutually-useful relationships.

The thing is that the more you let go of holding on to things you think you 'need' in life, the more opportunities arise to do other things. And that's about as deep as I'm going to get on here. There's a lot more I could say about my new philosophy on life. But I won't bore you. And the thing is that you probably are too busy! I am amazed if you've read this far! So I just wish you well for Christmas and wish you will also find space to play with children!!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A night in Kihiihi

As I prepare to go out to Uganda again on 5th December, I'm just remembering a night I spent over in Kihiihi in May this year. It's in Kanungu district, a 3 hour drive on awful rocky roads from Rukungiri. Electricity arrived in the district only last year! And then it's only along the 'main' roads. There's a wonderful bridge when you cross over to 'Kanungu side' as it's called. You have to wind around the side of these huge hills covered in very steep terraced farm plots mostly covered with banana plantations which show signs of erosion. This whole area used to be protected forest until Idi Amin's days when laws of all kinds were forgotten. In those days some of the towns on 'Kanungu side' prospered quite well from increased trading along it's western boarder which meets Congo on the banks of another river. The river that separates Rukungiri and Kanungu, as I was saying is reached by delving down into the valley and as I used to get to the bridge (I think I went that way at least 5 times during my 2009 visit) I always had a sense of Vietnam. The bridge is one of those army style constructions - a flat panelled iron floor with flip up sides - and as you look down on the gushing brown river below it's surrounded by the green leaves of yet more banana plants.

Another two hours of bumpy roads back up the valley into the Kinkizi hills, and not that far from the edge of the Western Rift Valley, you get to Kihiihi. The town has grown since the days our team was first going there to register orphaned and disabled children. There's now a bigger choice of guest houses. I stayed in one of the bigger guest houses with over 10 rooms run by a very kind Muslim man who I talked to with great mutual appreciation. I was there in May and not more than 2 months previously the guest house had been very busy with the daily comings and goings of Medicine sans Frontiers who, along with several other agencies, had used Kihiihi as their base camp whilst working at Matanda Refugee Camp close by. The camp is closed at the moment by between November 2008 and February 2009 was home to some 4,000 Congolese who had fled not just from their homes but also from the refugee camps in Congo due to the ransacking and raping in camps over there.

Earlier that day, before arriving at the hostel we were surveying children at Kihiihi Church of Uganda (Anglican) church. This was one day in a month of survey in which the Project team went all round Kanungu district even deep into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where the gorillas live and all round Rukungiri district. Radio annoucements would tell of their coming and if David, Zaire or Warren had petrol enough then they would also round up support from local health centres and Local Councillors (LCs) to make sure of a good attendence on arrival. The purpose of surveys is to review children who are already registered with us and to find new cases of disabilities or injuries. Those who are operable are given a date of a surgical camp. Those who could receive our club foot treatment (without surgery) are given clinic dates and those who are brain damaged have an explanation of what brain damage means and are given Life Skills clinic dates. It's always difficult to explain brain damage to people in a language where people don't traditionally talk about neural pathways. Some mums get upset and demand for an operation like the child with the deformed foot is getting. 'There's no operation', Evas tries to explain in Runyankore, 'your child cannot just be fixed over night but there is some really effective exercises that can really help your child to develop.'

So we are registering and one of the team introduces me to a lady who has a baby on her back. The baby has cerebal palsy and will need to learn exercises from Evas. She looks at me as they all do and hope that I'm a doctor who can cure their baby. How do I explain that in one way I am a doctor because I have a PhD in Maths but I'm not a doctor anything that can usefully help her daughter? I don't bother to try to explain it's pointless and pathetic. I'm here to help with fundraising, telling stories, management support. But I can give encouragement. That connection between one person and another. I try not to be the patronising westerner but I must tell her that her child is beautiful and her work is difficult but so important. I try to remember her name so I can pray for her. Then I find out the child isn't even hers. The baby is orphaned. I don't know if anyone knows how the child came to be orphaned or if may be she just been abandoned. There was a time when the team would go out and investigate these things and potentially help the situation. But there's not always time. What's important is making sure this woman will come back, give up her day in the field and bring the baby for exercises at Evas' Life Skills clinic.

As we're packing up and putting the files back in the ambulance, I'm totally exhausted after 3 registration clinics in one day all I can think of is having a shower, a cup of tea, and some food. A little girl comes running over to me clutching a crochetted doily bulging with mangoes. I look up and see the woman with the orpaned cerebal palsy baby on her back smiling. The mangoes are for me! She's thanking me?! I pop the mangoes into a plastic bag and not knowing how else to thank the little girl I put the doily on her head and she runs off laughing.

Back at the hostel I've been given a nicer room away from Jones, Warren and Nelson who are in the cheaper bit. There's two gates between me and the road, I'm in a mini courtyard with 3 other empty rooms. I try the shower and realise I don't have any soap with me. At least I have water. Using the penknife on my torch I sit on the step to devour one of the juicy mangoes, looking up at the blue sky above I'm really content.

Within 30 minutes, the sun sets like a light switch and the sky is black. I can't get hold of any of the team, their mobile phones have probably all run out of batteries or they're also washing. Power goes down so there's no light - luckily I brought my torch. But I'm hungry so I decide to brave the dark town streets on my own. I vaguely know where I'm going as I wonder towards the centre passed shops open late with kerosene lamps burning inside. A bar with music and some drunks outside (home from home). A few goats wondering around, some erant drivers and the delapidated bus filling up for the late night drive to Kampala some 10 hours away. I find the cafe where we had lunch and the woman owner greets me and brings me a soda. None of the team are there but I sit and talk to the owner's son. What appears to be a young boy joins us but he has some medical condition and is actually 32. He insisted he is older than me - I'm confused - is this Kihiihi humour? Warren arrives and a feel of security and warmth surrounds me. We sit my candlelight, eat dinner and he tells me the beautiful story about how he fell in love with his wife Adrene and they lived in a mud hut together always dreaming of building the house they now live in. He's so happy. So am I.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Cunning plan continues...

... but sometimes 'plan' isn't quite the right word. Sometimes a plan is just too restrictive and an idea is a better thing to have, if it's a good idea then the plan just comes together as you go.

And so it's been since I got back from Uganda, I had an idea to spend time with family when I got back after 5.5 months away and so I did. I was very blessed to be able to even get home in time to see my Uncle Martin again who had been very sick for a long time and had deteriorated significantly since May. I was back in time to be with him and my cousin Helen (both in photo) during his last days. The funeral was, as always, a brilliant family affair involving lots of tears, hugs, memories and the mandatory garden cricket - more than one '6 and out' scored by the ball flying over the house. Finished off by one of the most amazing sunsets of my life as we sat on Dunstable Downs and then there was not much else to say but, "let's not have any more funerals for a while, let's have a wedding instead." Thanks to Rob and Lauren for obliging us on that one!

As my ex-housemate Laura moved out of our old flat I also had a few days with her before her departure back to Portugal. Whilst back in London I purchased my first ever vehicle: a Ford Transit LWB Hi-Roof Conversion Camper Van. Tested out down in Devon with Jenny before putting it to work on the emerging UK Tour! See me deftly manoevering the truck outside Jen's flat in this silly little video:

Pre-tour preparations involved driving back down to Devon mid-August to put together a film. I took lots of bits of footage in Uganda with the idea in mind to return and edit into a short film. It's really the next best medium to what I'd really love, which is people visiting Uganda. Big big thanks to the Holland family for: getting me to pull my head out of the details of Project work and into Storyteller mode; making tea and counselling me; recording the commentary and not laughing as my accent changed from East End to Surrey via Australia (I do have a weird accent!); helping with the technical stuff; and for the 20 hours it took to edit from my 'content instructions'! I promised that when we do it again we'll use the money from the awards (?!) to buy a proper editing suite. But it has all been totally worth it as the reaction has been astounding.

From Devon back to Hitchin which has become my base - sleeping on a very comfy matress on my brother's livingroom floor, woken at 6.30am by Lily saying: 'Where's my Becky?' How can I resist her snuggling up under my duvet for a story when cuteness has just been redefined to include that moment?

By the end of August I was all set and headed off to begin the UK tour. The idea being that, fresh back from Uganda I could really tell supporters what the situation is in South West Uganda, where their donations are going and why on-going support is still essential. The film being the ultimate prop for these meetings - although at the time of heading off it still wasn't completed yet so was looking for a wifi connection at all available opportunities!

The journey began on Friday 28th August with the delivery of a piano to my cousin in Hull, sadly there was no-one playing it Monty Python style in the back as I drove! However, I did pass my brother-in-law on the M1 and I wonder what the odds on that are? Saturday I was at the wedding of Chig, an old Accenture colleague, and thoroughly enjoyed dancing away with my former senior management to Mr Brightside among other classics. Passed Brough castle on the actually stunning Yorkshire Dales before heading up the M6/M74 passed 2 nasty accidents to Scotland and the beginning of the tour proper.

And since then the tour has been this:
  • Sun 30 Aug - Kirkmuirhill, Lanarkshire, Scotland - 5min intro at church, staying/ debriefing with Pat Gilmer, former Project Manager, now retired and living back in UK (although will be returning to Uganda soon for a few months)
  • Tue 1 Sep - Larne, Northern Ireland - visiting Emily, a fundraiser who visited me in Uganda in July
  • Thu 2 Sep - Belfast - meeting the CMS Ireland team who have been supporters for a while and intend to continue - hurrah!
  • Sun 6 Sep - Kirkmuirhill again - FILM PREMIERE! An emotional response.
  • Mon 7 Sep - Southport Prayer meeting for Africa - one time main supporters of Chilli Children and still supporting in smaller yet significant ways
  • Fri 11 Sep - Leek for a Week visiting Trustee Sue and family
  • Sat 12 Sep - Chilli Meal for 120! At St Paul's church - showed film, raised over £1,000
  • Mon 14 Sep - Springfield Special School - talk about disabled children in Uganda
  • Tue 15 Sep - Leek Day Centre for the Elderly - showed film, £50 raffle,
  • Sun 20 Sep - Holy Trinity Church, West End, Surrey (my home church) - not just about Chilli Children but also all the other people who I met in Uganda who had a link to the West End & Bisley World Affairs Group (WAGs) - followed by Q&A on Chilli Children with film
  • Mon 21 Sep - Holy Trinity Primary School (my old school!) assembly followed by meeting at Bisley Primary School about future assembly and fundraising
It's been totally worthwhile linking up with supporters new and old, seeing that Chilli Children is just a chain of hope from people giving in the UK to children and families in need of that support in Uganda to the huge gratefulness of those helped (shown a little at the end of the film) back to those in the UK who receive, and often need to receive, that lift which comes through seeing hope realised, hope that life can be better.

Future places in the tour include: Cheltenham (this Saturday), Stoke Gifford, Godmanchester, Leek again (for Trustee meeting), Cambridge and Kensworth, Bedfordshire. I would also like to organise a showing of the film in London - but am at a loss for venue and who might be interested? Ideas please.

So the cunning plan has evolved into a 'boosting' year for Chilli Children, not just initially boosting the Project in Uganda but also using that energy to boost the UK Trust and supporters. I'm very grateful for those who've organised events and those who've had me to stay.

I think if I had planned this current life I might not have really gone ahead with it, for example, I've not slept in the same bed for more than 3 nights in a row since leaving Rukungiri on 19th July, I had quite accute toothache for much of August and have endured 6 visits to 3 different dentists. But somehow I've survived knowing this is temporary, somehow I'm actually getting to know my family better than I've been able to for several years, somehow I don't need a wardrobe or draws or a bedroom, somehow I find my own space when I need it, somehow Facebook is a vital social link, somehow people are not yet bored of me (ok you might be 'cos of this long blog), because somehow I just know that this IS ALL WORTH IT!!!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Last day in Uganda...

Hello my friends!

This is a short note to say that I'm sadly on my last 24hrs in Uganda. I fly 9am tomorrow to UK. Yesterday morning I left Rukungiri surrounded by many hugs from friends who I am already missing so much - especially the team: Evas, Warren, Nelson, Zi, Generous, Jones and David Kastar. We had a great time together, doing so much work and so much laughing!

But it's not goodbye, just 'see you soon', because I really hope to be back next year. There's more to do and I feel that I have more to give.

For now though I need a break - summer calls back in UK, family and friends need to remember my face and it'll be time to prepare for the next idea: UK tour!

See: for a recent update of Project happenings and more about the tour.

Thanks for your interest in following my journey. It's been more amazing than I can actually put into words here. I just hope that I've been able to show you some small part of it - but to really see it you need to visit yourself and look into the eyes of even one child who is managing to be totally happy despite disability and you'll know what I mean.

Love and peace, Becky x x x

(more will come later including video links on youtube once I've got to better internet connection in Uk - oh and also after that break!!)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Highs, lows and Bananagrams

These are hot dry days in Rukungiri. The rains left us nearly a month ago. My tank had a leak so empty but Edward has been picking jerrycans of water for me. Still I've cut down to washing hair and body is half a bowl of water and to flushing once per day! Electricity is also intermittent but thankfully has been mostly on this week - only stopping to disturb the breadmaker.

It's nearly 4 weeks until I come home so four and a half months have passed since I arrived. I've not blogged for a long time - forgive me!

Since I last blogged we've had a month of chilli buying, punctuated by a trip to Kampala to pick up my cousin Helen, a short survey in Kanungu district for the May orthopaedic camp, an exhausting quick trip to Kampala with Warren and Nelson to take up the chilli harvest (photo above) and then at the beginning of June we started a month of wide surveys getting to all deep into all rural areas in Kanungu and Rukungiri to register new and reassess known disabled children.

The trip in Kampala at the end of May to pick up my cousin was a particularly difficult time. On the journey up on the Monday morning I learnt that her dad, who has had cancer of the blood for many years, had really taken a turn for the worse and was in hospital. She cancelled her flight and was initially thinking of rebooking for a weekend flight but as the days went on his situation was still that she could not leave him. I was nearly ready to just get on a flight back home to be with her - having luckily my passport with me for extending my visa and a few clothes - but in the end people rallied round and she was well supported. That week, I truly felt the wonderful friendship of Gloria who I stay with in Kampala, she really was there during this time and we even made the most of the extra time together by going to the beach at Entebbe on the shore of Lake Victoria. With Gloria's sisters and friend Norma we ate fish, danced to the beach music and swam towards (but not quite reaching!) Tanzania.

Coming back to Rukungiri after that week was unsettling and even just the 7 hour dusty journey back wiped me out. But a few days later I was back into Rukungiri life and feeling again at home. 'Home' life generally consists of cooking and playing games with my Peace Corps neighbour Asher and now his sister Naomi, wondering up the hill to see my friends Lyn and David for some home-made biscuits and of course the warm greetings of many friends who work at the Diocese in the various departments (Water, Mosaic orphans, finance, cathedral, etc.).

Without a TV I have got through many books. Highlights have been:

* Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana - a Ugandan writer - book given to me by Ellie who visited me on my birthday - thanks Ellie it was great!
* Season of Blood - a Rwandan Journey by BBC's Feargal Keane - brilliant insight into the Rwandan genocide in a really down-to-earth, no frills, 'just sort of wondered out of the pub and into a genocide shock'-style of narration
* Festo Kivengere, biography by Anne Combes - story of an international evangelist who started life attending a school just metres from where I'm staying - really has given me an insight into the history of Uganda from 1920s to 1980s including how so many people became Christians - and this wasn't just through missionaries - it was really a realisation by the people from the people: witch doctors confessed their tricks, people paid back money they had taken from another, it was a revolution that lasted for decades, and such a different (especially shorter) history of Christianity to ours in the UK of centuries of wars, burning Catholics and recently of disillusionment.

There is tonnes I could write about the work we've been doing and especially I have taken many pictures and lots of video footage which I hope to turn into some short films. But I'll write more on the charity's blog:

Yesterday we had a great day that I must mention as we received items from the UK sent over by friends and family hearing my pleas. We've got 4 new phones for the team who've been surviving on recharging batteries every few hours, also 3 secondhand phones, a 2ndhand laptop for Nelson who is amazed that it doesn't switch off when the electricity goes off, and a box of 141 glasses frames from Eye Emporium in Bethnal Green - my lovely opticians - who saved them up including some with prescription lenses and via Libby, Adam, Martin, Helen, Tim and finally Ruth they arrived with us here! There was much fun trying them on! (See Generous and I on the right - well how else are we going to keep amused when the others are out for the day on survey?) Seriously we're only thinking of the needy children.

My thoughts are now turning to returning and my plans are as follows:
  • End of July - time with family and friends, source a campervan/motorhome to live in when not visiting (anyone know of anyone selling?)
  • August - two weeks of switching off from this work in SW England, then preparing for the tour
  • September - a tour of UK and Ireland of all the churches and groups who have been supporting this project - want me to visit you? let me know, get the kettle on!
  • October - search for temporary job to cover rest of year - might be getting too cold to live in van!
  • 2010 - (probably) go back to visit the Project again for a month at the beginning of the year to follow up on plans laid now - cunning plan continues! - and then after that hopefully settle down in UK again for a bit with a proper job and home

Thanks for your continued support and love! I'm dreaming of you all eating strawberries and watching Federer vs Nadal but I'll content myself with pineapple and Bananagrams (a seriously addictive game like scrabble but a race!).