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????