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!).

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Hearts, eggs and smiles....

Can't believe that another whole month has slipped by since last writing this blog. Thankfully Sue, one of my legendary fellow trustees, is writing updates on the Chilli Children blog so that one is more populated:

Some of the highlights of the last month include:
  • End of March - working with the District Education Officer to reinvigorate the shared commitment between our project and the school towards 50 of deaf children who are learning and boarding (the boarding part through our contributions of staff, food, etc. by us)
  • 1st April - consultation clinic in Mbarara for 10 kids with either hydrocephalus or spina bifida to be seen by surgeons with a view to operations later in the year. This was held at 'OURS' project - a similar project to ours (?!) for disabled children but covering Mbarara and Bushenyi districts which are adjacent to our districts. Really interesting to see what facilities they have - particularly as they have big funding! Something to aim for perhaps?!
  • 5/6/7th April - trip to Kampala with 8 heart patients to be see cardiologist, pressed him to help us find funding for the boy, Kato Agrey, 14, who can't be operated on in Uganda so needs to find $14,900 to get operated on in India. Surprisingly enough, his father who's a village pastor (their wage is whatever comes from the Sunday collection) doesn't have $14,900 under his foam mattress. The cardiologist eventually got us a letter written requesting the funding from donors but they were unwilling to do anything with the letter. So it's up to us to find some big funder who can match this. Else the boy will probably die within 2 years. So that was fun... I've since emailed a couple of organisations that fund these ops but no response. Please pray/meditate/act on this one!

I actually did have a break over Easter and went with my friend Gloria to her friend Norma's sister's place. If that makes sense. In a village close to a town called Iganga (east of Kampala) where I think I was the first ever mzungu - the kids just stood around me and stared! Until I went 'wooooarrh' and they ran away scared. But they just kept coming back so I would do it again. I think they thought I was joking...

I introduced Norma's brothers to dippy eggs with soldiers on Easter day (a favourite back in my Hackney house :) ). They were a bit bemused that I wanted to boil the egg for less than their nuclear-blasting-equivalent of 10mins. But I really insisted and at least I enjoyed it - my substitute for not having ANY chocolate let alone chocolate eggs. We later drove back via the source of the THE Nile and had a swim in a very nice hotel's pool. So no complaints really!

I returned to Rukungiri on Wednesday to lots of people welcoming me back. It's amazing how quickly it has become home, returning felt good. I arrived back with a visitor, Louise, who was surely sent by the randomness of the universe/the grace of God/obvious logic - which ever you believe in! Louise sat down in their church in Dunstable on Easter Sunday next to my cousin Helen, not knowing her very well but deciding to share with Helen her dilemma: "I'm flying to Kenya tomorrow but the programme I'm volunteering for has been cancelled". Three days later she's on a bus with me down to Rukungiri!

I've been really busy experiencing and getting involved in the project that I've had little time to write up the copious notes I'm making or to really reflect back all this experience to the UK. So Louise's coming is actually great timing as she's been able to take on making a film of the surgical camp which I just wouldn't have had time to do. So look out for this coming soon - internet connection willing!

We're in Kisiizi hospital now and this weekend the children with their mum/dad/guardian have shown up ready for operations in this coming week. Mostly burns cases and cleft lips as this is a plastic surgery camp. Really not the 'plastic surgery' that most people think of in the Western world. These kids are not here for face lifts or breast implants!

I stood up and told them that there may have been some people who do not think their children are important, some who have said bad things in the street about their child's disfigurement (yes, they agreed to this) but I also said that there are a lot of other people out there who think their children ARE important. In fact that they are beautiful. I said I was here to pass on funds from people in the UK and Ireland who think this.

I felt really privileged to be able to say this to them. But it needs to be said. There can be some really awful attitudes to disability and disfigurement in Uganda, as there can in UK too.

They are always so unbelievably grateful for the funding that I really can't always find words to explain why people give donations or what we are getting back from them. I managed at least to think of this. I said, "you know you really don't know what you have to give." (pause while Evas translates into Rukiga) "People here smile a lot more than they do in the UK. You might think that people smile there all the time because of what they have. But they don't. They really don't. So I'm taking back your smiles" (pause again for translation) Then HUGE SMILES!!!

So here are some smiles that I'm sending back to anyone reading this. Thanks for everyone's continued support. Sorry I've been a bit cut off from emails etc. But I'm feeling your thoughts and prayers as I hope you're feeling mine.

(I've just spent ages trying and failing to upload a photo of smiles here - please instead click on this link:)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Royally Rubbish Rebecca Reporting Right from Rukungiri Town Centre

Ok so I've been Royally Rubbish at updating my blog whilst in Rukungiri over the last 3 weeks. But the internet access here in not all that easy - there's 2 internet cafes and the first one I went to today had failed to pay their subscription so there was no network!
Oh well I'm here and have a few mins while I ignore the long list of emails I've received and not replied to. Many apols to all who've I've ignore so far. Hopefully all responses will come in the next couple of weeks - I'm now completely on African time!
One of the most interesting things is the proliferation of mobile phones. A technology that has raced past the flush toilet, the fridge and the traffic light to be in the hand of nearly every earning Ugandan.

So this is one way for me to communicate with you! Through the sheer joy of Twitter, I can text in an update while I'm out in the field - view my latest efforts here:

Apart from earthquakes, rats in the living room and thunderstorms, there's also lots of work going on: meetings, camps, chilli visits and accounts work. Even the effort of hand washing clothes takes up a day - but it's my equivalent of yoga on my leg muscles so I consider it my fitness training! Photo above is of Isaac an 18 yr old boy(/man?!) who has been part of the Project for a long time: cleft palate op at age 4 and chilli farming since age 10. He's now got 200 bushes and brings in about 10kgs per season which gets him 45,000shillings (about 18quid) with which he's bought recently - a bike and a goat! It's a big help when there's very little employment around and he's still at school. It was great fun visiting him and building a chilli dryer - I even tested it out my getting inside and lying on the top shelf! So it's strong enough to carry me and with all this starchy foods - that's strong! (Photos to follow)

Right I better get back to those emails. Thanks for all the birthday texts/calls and even I received one card! So the post totally works - just takes about 20days.
My address is: Becky Thorn, North Kigezi Diocese Orphan and Disabled Children's Project, PO Box 23, Rukungiri, UGANDA, East Africa.

I hear the UK is cold again but some are planting spuds already - so hope you're still enjoying the outside. It's my total joy to nip outside just after and before bed to look out over the valley, see the mist, hear the animals and children singing and smell the wood smoke! I aint in Hackney anymore!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Friday 5pm Garden City Mall Internet Cafe

The internet has come back up and I only have a few mins to write this so please excuse spelling mistakes!

Nearing the end of my week in Kampala and my first days in Uganda looking out across this 5 month trip. It's a busy week but near the end most jobs were done and I was able to slow down and move at Ugandan speed. But actually what is Ugandan speed? It's more Ugandan flow. One minute it's fast fast on the straight jam-free roads then slow slow in the middle of a city jam. When it comes to arranging a day, there are few fixed times but somehow everything is fitted in and goes smoothly without much stress. Like the traffic, everyone glides in and out of their schedules and makes enough room for others without slowing themselves down. Very few are really pushing solely their own agenda but all are moving forward in a good speed (most of the time). It's an amazingly self-organising co-operative yet fast mode of operation. Maybe these Game Theorists should forget some of their old Western assumptions and come model Kampala traffic.

Enough of the maths, the basics of the week have been: heat, reunions, shopping and transport.

  • Heat - 28/29 degrees Centigrade average over the last week, some rain but it's refreshing!
  • Reunions - staying with Gloria and her lovely sisters has been great including meeting Gloria's colleagues at the HIV/AIDs treatment clinic at Mulago Hospital and also last night I stayed with Patrick (Tall Controller from Newsletter 4 - see and his wife Eva. It's great to be able to say hello without having to say goodbye straightaway. There is already talks of what to do in Easter and of helping out visitors who need picking from the airport etc.
  • Shopping - all cash, no cards - I'm really having to watch what I spend. But I've managed to get some supplies like hair conditioner to give me some 'luxuries' when I get down to Rukungiri. Also, for those who took part in the 'Hunt the Colostomy Bag Game' that I was playing before i left - the good news is I found them here eventually! They were 40p each! So much for Boots of Hitchin who wanted to charge me 40quid but then wouldn't let me have anything without a prescription. There are two children under 4 who are going to be a bit more comfortable now!
  • Transport - I've been catching a ride with Gloria from Ntinda suburb into her work and then 40p boddaboddas (motorbikes with back seats but no helmets!) or 20p matatus (minibus taxis) or just plain walking. I got a map but this is very strange for the locals - they just 'know' where things are.

One of the best things that works really well and is actually cheaper than UK is mobile phones. So my Uganda number is now: 00 256 783 101 586 (this includes UK int. dialing (00) and Uganda no. 256) If you want to call then please do it would be nice to hear from you! Please remember that I'm GMT+3hrs and UK is GMT until end of March then GMT+1. International phone cards from PO are v good at approx 10p per min.

Random people I've met this week: someone who works with the Minister for Gender, a couple of US volunteers working with one of the main newspapers Daily Monitor, lovely people from Africare (another community development NGO) and whilst helping out Ellie from Community Links I've met her friends who actually used to teach with my uncle in Kettering - it's a small small world!

Words learnt: (all Lugandan this week) Kale (karley) = OK; Ggabale (jaybarlay) = Hello; and if some one is looking good then you say they are 'sharp, sharp'.

The week coming: Travel to Rukungiri tomorrow in the Project's ambulance with Warren (although he's still on his way to Kampala and fixing a tyre). It's a 7hr journey in heat but let's hope we see some zebras!

Hope you're all well - I hear the snow is still coming down! I recommend going to a sauna! Warming up is good for the soul. Or just keep each other warm!!

So in general all is well and I am just feeling like I am in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

And she's off...

Just checked in online. Wow. And I'm ready to swop snow for red dust and chocolate for pineapples. Must dash but keep watching for the first Uganda instalment. Thanks everyone who's been driving me round this week and to all who helped me move out of London and into my brother's shed. And thanks to Lily for making me feel at home with 'B, puzzle, B? puzzle. B? B!!! puzzle!!!' 'yes Lily anything you say, gorgeous!'

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Less than two weeks before I fly...

I haven't blogged for a bit because I've been pretty busy zooming to Exeter, Bristol, Scotland and on my last days in London! Moving out of my flat and into my brother's damp shed (that's my things, not me...) on Saturday. Farewell London after 7 years.

Thanks to those London-ites, mostly the Bethnal Green Maths-sive (inc. those who've flown that nest), who came to my Farewell Tea Party last Sunday. We raised £127.40 in the end from a raffle and cake sales. Thanks to all who helped. That money is now in the Chilli Trust bank account and will be sent off in March to cover expenditure May to July. Watch this space! (Sorry if you weren't invited - it means I've lost your email address so please be in touch!)

I'm all set to fly off on 7th Feb. I'm being 'picked' (as they say in Uganda) from the airport by my friend Gloria who lives in Kampala. Gloria is one of the first people who was helped by the 'Bisley & West End World Affairs Group' when it was started by my parents and their friends 20 years ago. Her school fees were sponsored (there wasn't a state school system in the 80s/early 90s) through this group by a Scot and she went on to become a doctor. While she was in the UK doing her medical degree she spent a Christmas and an Easter with our family and we became firm friends.

I'm so looking forward to seeing her and my other friends in Uganda again! But it's been VERY hard to say goodbye to my UK friends. Tears before bedtime, there've been a few.

The solution, therefore, is for you UK guys to come out and visit me in Uganda! There you go! Two at least are definites and others have given good intentions. So I'll be considering a 'visitors blog' to put all the info you need on there. If you're even mildly considering tropical travel, start your jabs now! (The first time I went in '97, it was a last minute decision and had 10+ needles in 2 weeks)... oh dear, jabs and pain association too soon, I've never been good at selling.

Something more exciting - lions and tigers and bears, oh my! (well 1 out of 3...)

Suggested itinery for a 12 day visit:
Day 1: Arrive Entebbe airport and get taxi to Kampala (30mins - soak up the woodsmoke smell on this drive - it's magic! you've arrived! welcome to Africa!)
Day 2: Acclimatise in Kampala - with a friend of mine or a recommended hotel - and get currency, books, swim in a pool and check emails (?) (recommend Blue Mango)
Day 3: Travel to Rukungiri (we'll figure this one out - hopefully I or a friend can come and pick you otherwise you can get the Post Bus - safest but slowest - from outside Kampala Post Office)
Days 4-7: Visiting the Children's Project in action around Rukungiri with food at my place and a we'll find you a good bed.
Days 8-10: Safari up at Queen Elizabeth National park (lions, elephants, hippos, baboons, etc.)
Day 11: Travel back to Kampala, swim in the pool and visit theatre/craft market or rest
Day 12: Fly back to Blighty

I recommend getting the Brandt travel guide - most comprehensive.
If you can stay longer then there is MUCH more we can do and more you can help with, on a level and subject that suits you.

If you visit, the main help you can give is bringing things over that we can't get in Uganda. For example, I think one of the old laptops is dying that has ALL the accounts and stats on it. If anyone can source us a secondhand laptop then we would be very grateful! You'll be glad to know that you can get a good cup of tea in Uganda, unlike some other destinations, how would I be even attempting a 5 month stay without my daily cuppas?

Ok, I must finish reports, letters and start packing!