What can I say about Uganda? I spent the first week of November there, both in Kampala, the big capital city where I did not see one traffic light or stop sign, and in a very rural area in the central part of the country where we are building the school. “We” is the organization, A Bright Child-Uganda (ABC-Uganda), in partnership with my nonprofit organization, One Future at a Time.
Things have run an interesting course since we started this project almost three years ago. According to my Ugandan colleagues, Richard and Isaac, public school education in the district is so substandard that children who go on to secondary school are historically not equipped to pass their classes. The aim was to build a primary school that would give children in the village a quality education in a proper building – as opposed to sitting under a tree and scratching lessons in the dirt with a stick and being doomed to flunking out of school after 6th grade.
We got off to an enthusiastic start but there were various delays such as insufficient funding and both Richard and Isaac contracting bad cases of malaria at different times. The first building is now 95% complete. It still needs interior paint and a few other things. The floor inside was finished this week and the one window remaining without glass is going to be an experiment in re-purposing used plastic water bottles of which there are many because the water in Uganda is unfit for drinking unless it is boiled or bottled. We were able to hold a meeting inside the building with about 40 community members and lots of space to spare.
During the period of delay, another organization came in and built a small primary school in the village. Isaac had a meeting with relevant government officials who advised him to change gears and consider now switching our project to become a technical school for which there is funding, and a great need for bringing marketable skills and income generating capacity to the village and the neighboring four villages.
My concern was that the community had supported the establishment of our primary school and in switching gears, I didn’t want us to break their trust, so we called the community meeting to discuss this and see if they would support it. The answer was very much yes. We took their suggestions as to what courses they would like to have us offer and it looks like we will start with sewing, baking (in an outdoor brick oven), automobile and motorcycle mechanics, and welding. Some of the people even took the initiative to come up with materials lists to help Isaac put together a budget which we will need for funding proposals and grant applications. This level of community support bodes well for a successful outcome. We had similar meetings in the neighboring villages and the positive responses and class suggestions were the same.
I may have been the only Caucasian who ever set foot in these villages, and I was treated with such welcoming kindness. Most children wanted to shake hands and high five with me, but like in South Africa, about one toddler in twenty was terrified to come within 10 feet. I am amazed and frankly in awe of how these people manage to live and to find joy in life with so little. We’re talking small houses made of mud and sticks or if they’re more fortunate, homemade bricks, no power or water,
no Wi-Fi. OK, OK, you get me though.
Isaac’s aunt, whose house is on the same property as the school, prepared a couple of big meals for us. It’s hard to describe the “stove” so you can look at the photo. Food is either cooked in a pot on a wood fire or wrapped in wet banana leaves and baked directly in the fire. It’s a lot of hard work.
In the next photo, which looks very unappetizing, you are seeing a delicious sauce made of ground peanuts, cooked in banana leaves, and is ladled over “baked” yams, cassava, vegetables, and whatever else you want to put it on.
Another treat she served, fresh from the field, was sugar cane. You don’t actually eat it but you pare off the outside, hack up the inside, and suck the juice from the pieces.
Bathrooms and toilets in other parts of the world are always interesting and occasionally challenging. At the aunt’s house, I expected an outhouse, but when I asked if there was any toilet paper handy, she said, “We use leaves,” and then went on to talk about the ecological advantage of not using and wasting paper. The tree with a bountiful supply of said leaves was right next to the outhouse. That hole in the floor was mighty small and sorry to gross you out but you can see that aiming has been a common problem. Pity the individuals with bad knees.
The day we left the village to return to Kampala, Isaac was delayed in fetching me by the parade of people begging him to not let me leave before I saw Charles, whose desperately needs help. Charles is a 2½ year old boy with hydrocephalus and needs surgery to replace the blocked shunt that was put in when he was 3 months old. The little guy is blind and can hardly hold his head up. This affects his mobility, so from lack of use, his legs are too week to carry him. Thanks to generous donors, One Future at a Time will cover the cost of the surgery, transportation to the hospital, home medical equipment, and follow-up care.
In African countries I’ve visited, there is very little government subsidy for public education; hence there are school fees plus the expense of required uniforms. Fees must be paid in full before a student can take final exams, and if they don’t, the student cannot move to the next grade. This is why you might find kids a few years apart in the same grade. ABC-Uganda, thanks to Isaac, has managed to negotiate a 50% discount with a few secondary schools in the district as a scholarship of sorts and in this way has helped many students and their families. Even so, there are some families who cannot afford the balance. With $23, $20, and $11 respectively, One Future at a Time gave three very intelligent and grateful teenagers the means to further their education.
If you’re interested in helping support our health and education projects, you can now make tax-deductible donations directly from our Facebook page as well as on our website, www.onefutureatatime.com.