31st October 2018 – Off to Uganda Tonight
The time has come round at last to leave for Uganda, not having been there for 18 months, the longest break for many years. Roz Pearse, who lives in Clacton-on-Sea and has been with me before as she used to be a sponsor and Trustee of Teso Educational Support Services (TESS) some years ago, is coming with me. We had hoped there would be other volunteers coming, but in the end, no one actually booked. This does, however, give us much more flexibility – we have already changed our itinerary as a result.
Robert Okiror will be collecting us at Entebbe and driving us for the month in one of Ben’s HOMESTEAD TOURS AND SAFARIS vehicles, which will be great as he is a close friend and a very experienced driver and guide.
Wednesday, 7th November – The journey to Teso
Having left home eight days ago, I have finally got internet access. We are now settling in to Edith’s Home Guest House in Ngora.
We were wakened early on our first morning (Thursday 1st Nov) in Entebbe by a terrific tropical thunder storm which lasted many hours! Instead of leaving at 7.30am to go out on Lake Victoria, we had to wait until midday. It took an hour by boat to reach Mabamba Swamp – and there was a Shoebill, patiently waiting for us! There were many other birds, including two new ones for me…….
Robert arrived to collect us on Friday, having already collected Sam and Margaret Opol and their five year old twins, Apio and Ocen, to travel with us. We arrived in the early afternoon at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary (Nakasongole) where a successful breeding programme is reintroducing white rhinos which became extinct in Uganda in 1983. We were taken on a guided walk through the bush to look for some of the 23 they now have roaming wild – and soon saw our first female and her 8 month old baby. It wasn’t long before we saw another two mothers and their young ones.
We drove north west on Saturday from Ziwa to Pakwach, a small town on the Nile just a mile from Murchison Falls National Park. Everyone was fascinated to watch an elderly male elephant pulling up grass with his trunk in a marshy area right by the road, washing the mud off the roots before shoving it into his mouth.
We set off in the rain on Sunday morning to go into the Park soon after 6.00 am, taking with us a picnic breakfast. Fortunately, the rain soon stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. Robert lifted up the roof and excitement mounted as everyone started spotting their first bushbuck and monkeys, then giraffes, hartebeest, oribi, Uganda Kob, waterbuck, warthogs – and elephants. We discovered that giraffes not only have long necks, but also very long, ‘prehensile’ tongues just right for picking those juicy leaves off thorny trees!
There were also many lovely birds, including Uganda’s national emblem, the Crowned Crane. We enjoyed breakfast by the “hippo pool”, an inlet off the Nile which flows out of Lake Albert soon after it flows into the lake!
Driving on through the Park towards the Nile at Paraa Lodge, we were treated to a rare sighting of a hyaena which was wandering along the road and before wallowing in a muddy pool right beside us, behaviour Robert has never seen before.
The highlight for Sam, Margaret, Roz and the twins was the 3 hour boat trip up the Nile towards Murchison Falls which gave them good views of elephants, hippos and crocodiles. Robert and I relaxed in Paraa Lodge and caught up on each other’s news.
Do I hear you ask: “I didn’t realise you were having a holiday touring Uganda”?! No, that isn’t the purpose of our visit! But I usually manage a visit to Murchison Falls as it is one way of travelling from Entebbe to Teso, albeit somewhat longer. And it was the only way to spend time with the Opol family. The fact that none of them had ever seen the wildlife in their own country was a bonus. And Robert is an extremely knowledgeable guide.
On Monday, we drove eastwards from Pakwach, through Lira, to Teso. We had hoped to visit Milfred Ajuo at her Nursing School in Apac on the way, but there wasn’t time.
We left Sam in Soroti to catch the overnight bus to Nairobi and briefly met Naphtali Opwata and Abraham Eruku outside the cathedral. We then continued to Serere where Sam and Margaret originate from and where they have set up a nursery and primary school (mixed boys and girls, day and boarding) on top of a rocky hill with wonderful views all around, including Lake Kyoga in the far distance. We were treated to some lovely dancing by the children, followed by tea before we went half way down the hill to the Opols’ home where we stayed two nights.
Sam and Margaret have a vision for a school that is different from the majority of schools here and are looking for volunteers to come and share ideas – anyone interested for June next year?! Over the past 10 years, Margaret has also developed a Homestay programme for American theology students who come for a semester of study at Mukono Christian University where Sam teaches. She is keen to help develop homestay opportunities for Ben’s Homestead Tours and Safaris.
Yesterday, Margaret took us to the Lake Kyoga and the hills of Bugondo where they have a bit of land for growing oranges. We went down to the landing stage where a small boat takes people (and cows, motorbikes etc) across to Kaberamaido. We visited some of Sam’s relatives where Margaret helped prepare lunch while one of them took us up the hill. However, it is a deceptively steep, high, rocky hill, so we only managed about a quarter of the way up in the equatorial midday sun!! But it was enough to get lovely views of Kaberamaido on the other side of Lake Kyoga. We had a lovely lunch of vegetables, including ebo (greens) in a groundnut sauce, sitting in a relatively cool (compared with walking up the hill!) grass-thatched ‘hut’. In preparation for our visit, the floor had been recently smeared with cow dung, the equivalent to us dusting and vacuuming the house before visitors come for lunch.
We picked bucketfuls of oranges, some of which Margaret gave us to bring with us. The children in the school will get the rest. Margaret cultivates (with help) a lot of land to give the school children fresh vegetables and eggs.
We left Margaret’s home mid-morning today (Wednesday) and drove east on murram roads to Ngora. We stopped on the way to visit the home where the five year old daughter of one of our old students, Ikwenyu Angela Rose, a teacher, lives with one of Ikwenyu’s uncles and family. Ikwenyu died after giving birth due to haemorrhaging (with no blood available for her). The little girl, Ilemu Angela, had gone to stay with an aunt, but we spent time with the family who have six children of their own. Ilemu is due to start in nursery school in February.
After lunch in the Guest House (cooked by Josephine who has looked after us on so many occasions in Ngora over the years), we went to Ngora Hospital and met Dr Amos Odit, the new Medical Superintendent, a paediatrician. He comes from Aciisa and was born in the hospital himself in 1959 and did some of his training there 30 years ago. He was so concerned about the state of the hospital that he agreed to come for two years to try and turn things around. When he retires, he will come back and help again. He showed us all round the hospital. He is very much looking forward to having three of Becky’s medical student friends in February who are coming for their final year elective and are going to do a project and provide training on the importance of taking regular vital readings. We gave him most of the baby clothes and blankets that various people have given and made for Roz and me to bring out. We will go back on Friday and see the babies and children who will have been given some of them. He will keep the rest for people who have little or nothing in the weeks ahead.
As we got back to the Guest House, John Omagor arrived just to say hallo to us, which was lovely.
Those of you who have enjoyed Josephine’s cooking before will not be surprised to know that Roz also appreciates the way she cooks “Irish” potatoes!
There is a boxing and kick boxing training course going on in the Guest House for young women and men run by Uganda’s international woman champion and an army officer. I wasn’t very happy when I heard a girl screaming and crying in great distress this evening, so went to investigate. I was told they were all “receiving treatment” – ie: massage with some sort of liniment. Since he also had a cane in his hand, I wondered what exactly had been going on, but I heard no more crying after that.
Now that I have a modem which is working, I hope to keep you updated a bit more frequently.
Thursday, 8th November: GRADUATION DAY at NYERO ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY TRAINING CENTRE – a great celebration of skills gained
We were warmly welcomed and shown round the Centre, which has developed a lot since I visited 18 months ago. It is amazing what is achieved by so many in such a small place, all of which has been built and furnished by the students themselves learning on the job, under the tuition of their teachers.
Everyone assembled in the marquees – students and staff, parents and guardians, local government officials and others. The programme was well organised and entertaining. After brief welcome speeches, the students danced and performed some drama – I don’t know how they managed to be so energetic in the blazing midday sun!
The drama was excellent, with an imaginative use of simple props. They portrayed two families. The first had a lazy husband who drank with friends, lived in a grass-thatched hut, denied his children an education and married them off young. The second family had a husband who did the heavy work when his wife was pregnant, chased away young men who came wooing his daughters and sent them to Nyero Training Centre where they gained various different skills. After graduation, they had a party, were able to build a brick house with an iron sheet roof and the girls married good husbands.
I was asked to speak, as well as the LC III Chairman and Parish Chairman, James Ikara and a representative of the parents, followed by the Chief Guest, Rev Martin Odi, the retired Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG). Roz and I shared the honour of giving out about 50 certificates. The students were divided into subject groups such as motor mechanics, building, hairdressing, catering, carpentry, tailoring – there was a quick change over of the 15 graduation outfits that had been hired for the occasion after photos had been taken with their families. Some gave their students gifts, including chickens to have a feast back at home.
The day ended with the special guests being given a delicious meal cooked by James’s wife Elizabeth, the catering students and others. There were eight different dishes, including finely chopped ebo (greens) cooked ‘dry’ with eggs – a new dish for everyone.
The guests were so impressed by all that they had seen and heard, and learnt much more from James over lunch. We were all especially touched by the story of a 13 year old ‘street boy’ from Soroti who is not from Teso and has never been to school – he has now learnt building skills. He insists he is coming back next term – James won’t turn him away and has become the father he has never had.
Whilst most graduating were in their late teens and 20s, some were in their 30s. All have had to drop out of school (or have never been to school) because of poverty. The Centre is meeting a huge need and is transforming individual lives, families and communities. The courses are only nine months long, but include learning so many other life skills, including simple alternative technologies and improved agriculture.
Over lunch, we also discussed the need for support and funding, both locally and from friends abroad. The LC III chairman promised to give some land to expand the buildings which are very cramped and restricting. I said how difficult I was finding it to get support in the UK. Are there any of you reading this account who might be able to help in any way? To find out more, please look at their GETTING INVOLVED page. Roz and I will be returning tomorrow to talk more to James about future plans.
Tuesday, 15th November – Mixed Experiences
I’m not sure how far I will get with this before being without internet access and power to charge my little laptop which is so old that the battery only holds its charge for about 20 minutes! I am also frustrated because my camera is no longer working properly, so the quality of photos is now very poor.
The last few days have been overshadowed by the tragic death of one of my friends, retired Archdeacon Yolam Nyangatum, in a road accident. Sadly, he wasn’t wearing a helmet and died on the spot when he collided with another motorcycle on Friday. John Omagor got the news half an hour after his death and soon after we arrived at my Teso home in Kobwin last Friday afternoon (9th Nov). Wherever we have been, everyone has been talking about it and in shock. Thousands attended the burial at his home in Mukongoro on Monday, as well as thousands more who attended services as his body was moved on Sunday from the mortuary in Mbale, first to St Stephen’s church in Kumi and then to Ngora Cathedral before being taken to his home. Yolam was much loved throughout Teso. He was a gentle, humble man of integrity with a great sense of fun and a gifted story-teller and preacher. Kokas Osekeny reminded me of a trip eight of us had made to Sipi Falls (in the foothills of Mt Elgon) many years ago after running a difficult conference in Ngora with Russ Parker. Yolam was the ring leader of the three “naughty boys” (including Abraham Eruku and John Omagor) who sat on the back row of the minibus – as naughty boys always do, recounting many stories with much loud laughter and noise! So few people wear helmets in Uganda. Yesterday, as we drove a long distance, including all around Soroti where there are hundreds of “boda-boda” motorcycle ‘taxis’, we counted 5 helmets – none of the passengers ever has a helmet to wear. Robert often travels back to his village as a passenger on a “boda-boda”, so I have said I will buy him a helmet to use every time…….
……… As I suspected, I didn’t get very far with writing this. It is now Friday (16th), so there’s even more to catch up on now!
Back to last Friday, the 9th. Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes! We returned to Nyero Training Centre where we also met one of my oldest Teso friends, Kokas Osekeny (retired Archdeacon of Kanyum). We discussed Kokas and Margaret making fresh juices in Nyero Trading Centre, together with James’ Catering students, using the blender and citrus juicer I brought for them.
James had set up the gravity light I had given him the previous day. He had already worked out the mechanism with a view to making some himself.
He also demonstrated his simple but very effective gadget made from scrap metal for stripping dried maize off the cob and an egg incubator for hatching chicks.
I showed the tailoring students how to make a rag rug (or cushion) using the peg loom Roger had made for me and strips of scrap material that Margaret Bates and her quilting friends in Loughborough had given me. The carpentry students will make more peg looms.
When we returned three days later, they had made three small rag ‘rugs’. Robert is now using one of them as a cushion for his driving seat instead of sitting on his fleece coat! Amongst the scraps I’d been given, I found two patchwork samples which they were very impressed with – we found them making some on Monday. They are now saving all their scraps of material!
On our way ‘home’, we visited Dr Amos Odit, a Paediatrician who is the new Medical Superintendent at Ngora Hospital. He took us around the wards and the maternity unit. After yet another troubled period, he is trying to turn the hospital around. We were disturbed to see a six year old girl, Gloria, distressed and in pain with multiple superficial injuries after being knocked down by a vehicle speeding to take PLE exam papers. There was a mother with a two year old who had come in at the point of death suffering from kwashiorkor (severe malnutrition). The toddler was so small but was now able to lift her head and watch us, but with a blank expression. The mother was very glamorous and articulate. She had left the baby with her mother whilst she had gone to Nairobi to find ‘work’ – we suspect prostitution. She was convinced the child was now recovered and didn’t listen to Dr Odit or myself trying to tell her there was still a very long way to go. Other babies and small children were on IV treatment for malaria.
We reached John and Harriet Omagor’s home in Kobwin soon after 5.00pm. We had to take a longer route because the usual murram road was too bad. Roz and I stayed in my grass-thatched hut, and were joined by a friend on Saturday night whom Robert collected from Soroti. It rained and was so much cooler than sleeping in a brick and iron-roofed building.
Unfortunately, we saw very little of John all weekend as he was caught up in making and participating in all the complex arrangements for Yolam’s funeral and burial. Harriet is at last taking more rest as their twins, who have two toddlers each, are running the home. We couldn’t keep track of all the little grandchildren living there, but learnt that they now have 47 – plus 3 great grandchildren! I thought we were doing well with eight – plus two foster grandchildren!
Roz and I scrambled up the rocky hill behind their home and spent the morning sitting in the shade of one of the huge boulders, looking out over Teso to Lake Kyoga and watching birds, lizards, dragonflies and butterflies. There were some young boys at the top washing their clothes in a pool of water.
We enjoyed sitting with the family and playing with the grandchildren at the back of the house, where they cook, as it rapidly became dark after sunset, although we soon smelt of smoke!
Robert dropped us at Sam and Olivia Ediau’s home on Sunday afternoon to stay the night. Olivia had invited us to celebrate Faith’s birthday as I had ‘delivered’ her – but she had got the date wrong! Sam was at some function late in the evening seven years ago and phoned me to say Olivia was in labour, so I had taken her to Soroti Hospital and stayed with her. The care, as usual, was seriously lacking and she wasn’t checked regularly, but was told to walk around, in the dark, outside in the filthy, dusty compound right by the main road. She suddenly said she needed to push, so we helped her inside into the delivery room where she was told to get up on the bed. “I can’t get up, it’s coming. Put a mat under me.” “Get up on the bed”, the nurses repeated while they were fiddling around and putting gloves on. “I can’t, it’s coming.” So I lifted Olivia’s dress – and saw the baby’s head had already come out. I put out my hands just in time to catch Faith as she dropped out. A few months earlier, a baby had died in the same circumstances because it had dropped head first onto the concrete floor.
We spent a lovely afternoon and evening with their five children, aged between 4 and 12, little Samuel being the only boy. Margaret Grace (the second) is my God-daughter and Favour (the third, who is the spitting image of Sam) is Roz’s God-daughter. They spent an hour or more doing meticulous drawings for us – Margaret (11) drew a recognisable portrait of me. They also learnt how to use my binoculars and camera which they were thrilled with and spent a long time going through my bird book. I wasn’t able to identify some small birds (flycatchers or warblers), but had stunning views of Abyssinian Rollers. We joined in their family prayers and the younger two went to bed. Sam (who is now the Diocesan Secretary) didn’t get home until about 10.00pm. We slept in the same room as our two God-daughters who crept out of the room at 5.30am to get to school by 6.00am. Classes finish at 6.00pm! They showed us their exercise books which were impressive – but at what cost?
We went to Nyero again on Monday morning, where we found students busy on the verandah sanding tables they had made, making clothes and patchwork while the mechanics students were dismantling and reassembling an old motorcycle under a mango tree.
While I helped some of the staff setting up spreadsheets for their accounts, Robert and Roz explored the ancient rock paintings opposite. Not even Robert had known that one of the motifs is on the 20,000 UGX note! After lunch, we were treated to more drama and music by the students which was, again, very good.
We were up very early on Tuesday morning as we had been asked by Dr Odit to go to the Hospital morning prayers from 7.00-8.00am – and I was asked to preach. We then went round the maternity and paediatric wards with Dr Odit and a younger doctor and were able to give out some of the baby clothes and blankets Roz and I had both been given. We arrived just as a baby had ‘landed’ – the 11th child born to an ‘old’ mother. Neither Roz nor Robert had seen a baby only minutes after birth. We were all disturbed to learn that 6 year old Gloria (the RTA victim) was deteriorating with a fever of 40.5C, rapid laboured breathing, high heart rate and unable to keep fluids down. The doctors were very worried and changed her to a combination of three antibiotics IV. I was upset by how little care the nurse took when treating her and putting two suppositories in – she was in pain and so weak and frightened. I held her hand and tried to comfort her, along with her grandmother. I was thinking about her and praying for her all day.
We went back to Nyero where we finished off helping with various things. We were asked to join them for prayers, which included singing and dancing and a sermon from one of the students before we were given lunch – even though we were due for lunch with Kokas and Margaret! I was given a chicken by Julius, the carpentry teacher and book-keeper.
We talked under a huge mango tree in Kokas’s compound. He has developed his home a lot since I first stayed there in 1999 and drew a picture of it which is on my ABOUT page. Joseph, one of his sons, had come home to see me. He had invited me to come to the baptism of his baby in Mbale on Sunday, which isn’t possible, but we will visit him on our way when we leave Teso next week. They took us round their garden where Kokas is growing passion fruit, oranges and an extensive plot of a variety of water melons. He also has many turkeys and chickens. I was fascinated watching a dragonfly eating a large insect.
We visited Charles Ekadit, the Headmaster of Ngora Deaf School and just sat an chatted on the verandah while children wandered around silently, but communicating with Uganda Sign Language, which is based on BSL. The frangipani trees gave out such a strong sweet smell. It is such a happy, peaceful environment. TWAM (Tools With a Mission) have promised a donation of sewing machines and carpentry equipment, but Charles has to find the cost of shipping them out in the container due to be sent early next year. Would anyone be willing to contribute? He had hoped to raise the money by selling a lorry-full of oranges, but there is no market for oranges at the moment as the Government has still not opened the Juice Factory they promised Teso many years ago, encouraging everyone to plant oranges. I met Marvin, the son of one of the teachers who befriended Becky 7 years ago and used to take her up the rocks to watch the sun set. I gave him a copy of the Homestead Tours leaflet which has Becky’s stunning photo of Marvin jumping over the rocks. He is now at the end of taking his ‘O’ level exams.
We popped into the hospital to see how Gloria was – and were so pleased to find her sitting up and reasonably alert, with no fever. So we hope and trust she will now make a full recovery. Then back to Edith’s Home Guest House for our last night in Ngora (last Tuesday).
Wednesday, 14th November – Around Soroti
We left Ngora after breakfast to drive to Soroti. We stopped briefly in Kapir trading centre as Robert needed to see someone. Adipa Mike and Okello Charles were nearby and both recognised me and quickly came over to the car. It’s the first time I’ve seen them since I was excluded from TESS and the new trustees rejected the plans five years ago for building Shalom School in Kapir – I have always avoided Kapir because of a deep sense of embarrassment and failure . Even the first teaching block, which was completed five years ago, has never been used and the tailoring and carpentry equipment is still locked up in the container (I hope, although things tend to ‘disappear’). Of course they wanted to know what was going on and why nothing had happened – no-one has ever told them although, as community leaders, they were very much involved in the plans. By now the school should have been functioning and the first students taking national exams. Mike and Charles were two of the team I took on a fact-finding tour around Uganda years ago to learn from the few other innovative teaching institutions and educationalists that were pioneering change. So I told them the truth – and that I did not think Shalom School would ever be built now, at least not in Kapir…..
We did some bird-watching along the road crossing Awoja swamp, which is now very wet because of several months of rain. Robert was very excited to see a flock of White-faced Whistling-Ducks – he has never seen them there before in spite of travelling along that road twice a day every day for many years. It is one of my favourite places in Teso.
We turned off the road in Awoja trading centre and drove towards the lake to meet Joseph Asutai who is setting up a demonstration and training farm, Awoja Riverside Farm, along with guest accommodation and conference facilities. Although we spent nearly an hour with him, we agreed to meeting another time as he was very much taken up with planning the funeral of an aunt who had died a few hours before, as well as a meeting between community members and representatives from the Ministry of Water and Environment who are funding developments for a year. It is a beautiful location and Joseph, who has a wealth of experience of international NGOs and educational projects, has a big vision. It is possible he will pick up and develop the vision of Shalom School.
We went shopping in Soroti Market, which has been moved temporarily to the bus park area while they build a new storeyed market and shopping area. I’m not sure where the funds are coming from, but China is investing heavily in Uganda, bringing in their own engineers and developers and using Ugandan engineers as labourers, much to the consternation of many people – where will the involvement end? Although it means long-awaited development for Teso, many are very concerned about it. They are laying water pipes and pumps etc to take water from the lake at Agu to Kumi and surrounding areas. They are also building a tarmac road from Soroti to Moroto through Katakwi. A possible side effect of Chinese involvement, especially in the oil fields recently discovered around Murchison Falls National Park, is likely to be greatly increased poaching of elephants, which hasn’t been a significant problem in Uganda until now. China is successfully pushing out European and American involvement in Africa and taking over.
We continued through Soroti and out on the Arapai road to Robert’s village in Tubur, about an hour’s drive. He has developed his homestead, next to his parents’ home, since I was last there 18 months ago. He now has four grass-thatched houses – one for Betty and Arakit, one for himself, one for his boys (Sam helped build their hut) and one for cooking etc. He has also built a very nice shelter for Becky’s goats.
Becky (my eldest granddaughter) was with me in Soroti for her 20th birthday in 2015. She has always loved goats and wanted to keep them, so I asked Robert if he would keep a goat for her in the village if I gave her one for her birthday. Becky was thrilled with the lovely brown and black goat Robert bought for us. He also gave her a chicken – which was intended for cooking for her birthday dinner. But Becky asked him to keep it in the village as well. It turned out to be a very good layer and mother and has produced so many offspring, some of which Robert sold to buy her another goat. From her original birthday presents three and a half years ago, she now has 13 goats and more on the way! There should have been 14, but seven males, led by a white one he calls the “stubborn one” (the Ugandan word for naughty or bad) turned on the one he bought with the chickens, his favourite, soon after she had produced twins, and killed her. He is exchanging all these for other goats, apart from the “stubborn one” as it is such a big, sturdy billy goat.
As soon as we arrived, Robert was very busy sorting things out and even helping cook the evening meal. The compound was immaculate and the two newest houses had been beautifully prepared, with recently smeared cow dung floors which had hardened, almost like cement. I gave Arakit the model house made out of cardboard boxes which the students had made at Nyero as part of their building training. She was very shy and hesitant at first. I made a little person out of grass for which she enjoyed putting in and out of the house. She and her little friend also had fun playing with the balloons we had brought and she put on the pink dress I gave her.
We enjoyed sitting outside in the soft light of a half moon to eat our supper and, later, bathing in warm water in a small open enclosure while a hen was sitting in the corner with her chicks tweeting quietly under her puffed up feathers. I had the best night’s sleep since we arrived in Uganda. It rained in the night so we woke early to a lovely fresh, sunny morning. Robert took us on a walk around the family land and showed us the four acres his father has passed on to him and some of the 1,000 pine trees he planted a few years ago as an investment to pay for his children’s university education. Early morning is the best time to see birds – we were thrilled to see several beautiful green and yellow Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes, a first for all of us.
The goats were still resting in their overnight shelter when we got back and had breakfast in the boys’ house. Later, Robert and a friend milked his beautiful cow which had produced a bull calf less than a week ago. As the heat builds up towards midday, everything (except “mad dogs and Englishmen”) goes quiet as birds and animals look for shade and rest, the only sensible thing to do!
We left after lunch, taking Robert’s mother to join his father who is staying in Ben’s house in Soroti for a bit. We came to stay with Naphtali and Gaudesia on the edge of Soroti and spent the evening catching up on news and family life ……..
Thursday, 16th November – More Encounters and Going on Safari
I am very grateful to Roz for writing much of this Blog while I have been doing various things (including checking out some of my bird photos and making a list of all the new species I have seen!)……
On Thursday morning, we drove to Soroti Secondary School to meet with Simon Olaki, deputy head teacher. Simon, aged 42, was born totally blind and his mother was told by her family to throw him into the pit latrine but she refused. He attended Madera Primary and St Francis Junior Secondary Schools for the Blind where he learnt Braille. With no ‘A’ level facilities for the blind, he went to Teso College, achieving the highest combined ‘A’ level results in the school! He got a 2.1 degree in English and Education at Makerere University in Kampala. Having received unconditional offers from three universities in the UK to do a Masters, he is applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship through the Leonard Cheshire Foundation. Margaret arranged to meet again on Saturday to help complete the next application stage. A truly remarkable and inspirational man. Simon lives in a school house built by the World Bank in the late 1960s which is identical to the one Margaret and her family lived in in Kabale from 1970 – a strange reminder from the past!
We later visited Amercet N’ainapakin (Shelter of Peace) home in Soroti. This was started about 17 years ago and offers shelter for short or longer periods of time for babies and young children abandoned or unable to live within their family. It was founded by Els van Teijilingen, from the Netherlands, under the banner of Youth With a Mission. Els showed us around the complex and we saw many young babies being cared for by volunteers from abroad and staff. One of the saddest was a newborn baby born in the bush to an older primary school girl just outside the school compound and been thrown into the pit latrines. With help and support, the baby will soon go back to her mother and family. Amecet has cared for two of our “TESS babies” whose mothers (sponsored by TESS and qualified as a teacher and a midwife) who died after childbirth. Els explained that volunteers are always welcome, particularly those with some medical or nursing experience. The reception area’s walls were full of photographs of hundreds of babies and children that have passed through their hands. Roz left a donation that had been given to her for the purchase of mosquito nets, which will be made to fit the small cots, along with some baby clothes. (Perhaps you would like to follow their BLOG to get occasional moving stories of the joys and heartaches of some of the babies and children they care for.)
We went to the simple home in Soroti of Emmanuel Eyomu, brother of one of our former sponsored students, Adongo Jane. He is a very keen and gifted artist and showed us some of his work using different media and techniques. He told us how difficult it was to sell his art in Uganda. Margaret has arranged to take seven home to show at an exhibition taking place in Nottingham. (If anyone would like to borrow them to exhibit, perhaps in a church or hall or small gallery, please get in touch.)
We were later collected by Robert and stopped in Soroti to buy him a crash helmet. Although it is law in Uganda to wear a crash helmet, as are seat belts, very few motorcyclists do so – many lives would be saved if they adhered to this. Robert doesn’t have his own motorcycle, but frequently goes home to the village on the back of a “boda-boda” motorcycle. We later visited Reverend Abraham and Grace Eruku and some of their family at his home and shared supper before returning home.
Saturday, 17th November
Margaret went back to see Simon this morning to complete the second part of his application but owing to problems with her computer, she will finish it in the UK. Meanwhile, I went to see Olivia Ediau and their children at their home. Reverend Sam was away at a friend’s wedding. I saw the new baby girl born last Sunday to one of Olivia’s neighbours and who has been named after her. Olivia’s oldest girls, Blessing and Margaret, were both still at school (on Saturday afternoon) when I arrived but I was met by Favour, Faith and little Sam and spent time reading and playing with them. It was Faith’s 7th birthday and when all the children were present, she cut her cake and we sang happy birthday to her. Margaret arrived later and had brought some more balloons, which the children enjoyed very much. They also made paper aeroplanes and took them into the garden to see whose went furthest. All the children had been upset last Monday when they arrived home from school to find we had gone – and there were more tears today. We will see them again before we leave for the UK.
It was quite a noisy Saturday night as the music from the disco some way off could still be heard loud and clear, well into the next morning!
Sunday, 18th November
We both attended Soroti Cathedral (where Naphtali has recently been made the Vicar) this morning for the English-speaking service and were pleased to see it well-attended after declining so much over the last few years. We were both asked to introduce ourselves to the congregation and Margaret spoke of new beginnings since Bishop George Erwau retired in June, but that Naphtali would need the support of the congregation to take the church forward in its ministry. She spent the afternoon trying to catch up with the Blog on her lap top but unfortunately the modem finally expired and even Microsoft collapsed!
Monday, 19th November
This morning we left early for the long journey to the eye hospital in Tororo, run by the Catholic Church. We were initially taking Naphtali for a check up as he is awaiting a second cataract operation, but since arriving, we had found two more ‘patients’ in need of help, so took with us Robert’s father and Reverend Kokas. Robert even renamed our vehicle ‘the eye bus’! There were plenty of other people, young and old, waiting patiently to be seen, so Robert, Margaret and I went into town to see if Margaret could get her laptop repaired. A very nice young man from Kenya solved the problems. On our return to the eye hospital, Robert’s father had been dispensed reading glasses and Naphtali given a prescription for the most expensive ‘designer’ frames they had! We found something more appropriate and he seemed very pleased with the result. Reverend Kokas was diagnosed with Macula Disease in one eye was told to return the next day for a field vision test to check for possible glaucoma. We explained the procedure to him – explanations seem to be lacking when it comes to medical matters in Uganda.
On our return, Margaret spent the evening with (Retired) Bishop Charles Obaikol and Margaret, although Margaret Obaikol wasn’t very well and went to bed early. Robert Angiro (Archdeacon of Katakwi) dropped in – and also stayed for supper.
Tuesday, 20th November
We were all up early this morning, with Naphtali and his wife Gaudesia joining us for our trip to Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja (north-east Uganda), which borders Kenya and South Sudan. This trip would not have been possible some years back for security reasons during the periods of turmoil and lawlessness by the Karimojong. It was a very long, hot and dusty drive (8 hours, including brief stops for a picnic breakfast etc), travelling on murram roads some of which were in a terrible condition in places. But the stunning scenery and sense of experiencing perhaps a ‘real’ Africa seen in old books was all around us on the journey, from the breath-taking hills and mountains to the bleak existence lived by so many people who struggle to find water when all the rivers and streams we passed were virtually dry. They also have to cope with ferocious winds that whip up the dust and dry soil. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
We stayed in green-painted bandas – the inside walls were probably warm enough to fry an egg on! We were surrounded by waterbuck and jackals, all undisturbed by our presence, and went out for a short early evening drive around the park. We were so very fortunate to come across a large and handsome male lion, resting on top of a huge rock having a snooze in the setting sun, with a number of hyrax nearby for company. Further afield, we came across oribi, hartebeest, buffalo, warthogs and elephants. Another visitor told us over supper that very early in the morning that day there had been two lions present around the bandas roaring for about 2 hours – we hope they return tonight and will keep our windows open so we don’t miss them!
Wednesday, 21st November
Sadly, the lions did not reappear in the night although we heard three roars in the distance as were going to bed. We were up early to go on a morning’s game drive to the border with South Sudan, the best area in the park to go bird watching. Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, we discovered the vehicle had a flat tyre but with some help, it was soon changed. Margaret went off photographing birds.
We set off with Dennis, one of the wardens who guided us to make sure we wouldn’t stray too far into South Sudan by mistake! His bird knowledge was excellent and we saw several species Margaret and Robert had not seen before. Robert kept thinking about Roger and how he would have loved to see the birds – and even came up with a plan for Roger, which wouldn’t involve long road journeys, to come next time! We passed over some dried up river beds. Naphtali was very pleased to see a herd of zebra, one of the animals on his wish list, and although we didn’t see any giraffes, we also came across elephants, jackals, waterbuck, oribi, buffalo, baboons, hartebeest, a duiker and an ostrich. Near the border, there are guards and wardens present. We stopped at one of their camps for a picnic breakfast. There were two 8 month old ostriches, already taller than us, that had been rescued as chicks and now stay around the site. Indeed, if other ostriches appear, the two hurry back to the safety of the guards!
We stopped by a very small hot spring which was almost lost amongst the vegetation. We could just put our hands in it. It disperses into a lush marshy area, such a contrast with the dry, arid grassland, much of which has been burnt.
Margaret has been surprised at how many European birds we have been seeing which have migrated here for the winter. For example, there are hundreds of our Wheatears here.
We returned to our camp at lunchtime. Margaret and I spent several hours in the afternoon making up the photo greeting cards that Margaret has produced for Homestead Tours to promote tourism. We were not alone, however, and had the company of Patas Monkeys, who entertained us with their antics, as well as Waterbuck, Warthogs and Jackals.
Early evening was spent travelling around another part of the Park and Naphtali ticked off another animal on his wish-list, some giraffe albeit far away in the distance.
Thursday, 22nd November
Sadly, it was time to leave early this morning but on the way out, we were amazed to see groups of zebra, elephants, hartebeest, waterbucks, giraffes, jackals, oribi and warthogs, all grazing in the early morning sun, as well as an Augur Buzzard and a vulture. We even saw a mongoose outside the park, scurrying across the road in front of us.
Driving back through Karamoja, we again got the sense of isolation and wilderness experienced by the people living there and the hardships they must endure. We passed only one primary school in the northern half, and yet there were so many young children around. We saw many young girls carrying small jerry cans and huge bundles of chopped wood and grass for thatching, young boys herding cattle and goats, donkeys being used for carrying goods – all whilst walking through the incessant winds. By the time we reached Soroti, we were covered in reddish dust just from the journey, yet we could wash it off ourselves and our clothes – they cannot without water. It was lovely to be met by Susan and Irene (Naphtali and Gaudesia’s daughters) with fresh juice and a late lunch. We couldn’t wait to wash the murram dust off us, which ran down the drain in a thick, orange sludge!
At 5.00pm, we met with Joseph Asutai in the lovely gardens at Hursey Hotel to hear more about his plans for developing Awoja Riverside Farm. We were very impressed. He says that recent statistics show that poverty levels have actually risen in the eastern region (including Teso) to the highest ever, which is shocking considering progress in the rest of the country.
The sun set while an orange full moon rose. We took the opportunity to leave 50 cards for the hotel to sell, as well leaflets about Homestead Tours. Joseph dropped us back at Naphtali’s home.
Friday, 23rd November – Last Days in Uganda
We had a lazy morning doing odds and ends while Robert went to Mbale to collect Sam Opol who returned on the overnight bus after spending 3 weeks in Nairobi. He wasn’t at all well. Margaret Opol came from Serere. Margaret and I had lunch with Naphtali’s family (he has been out all day working at the Cathedral) and then Margaret took Sam and Margaret Opol to a back-street café for a late lunch. Then they went to sit in the shade of the Hursey Hotel gardens to catch up while I stayed and wrote this Blog update and finished making the remaining cards which we will leave with Robert and Ben to sell to the clients they take round on tours of Uganda. Robert is thrilled because he was recommended by some tourists he took on a tour for a very expensive, up-market tour company in September, as a result of which, they have asked him to take another group in December. Since getting back from Mbale, Robert has had a well-deserved restful day.
We were expecting Ben Ejadu (Robert’s older brother who runs Homestead Tours) to arrive in Soroti yesterday from Kampala, but he was ill with malaria and not well enough to travel. We hope to meet up with him at some point.
It has been lovely listening to half a dozen young children playing in the dark outside our room until 10.45pm with so much laughter and giggles – and no bickering.
Saturday, 24th November – TESS Alumni Reunion
John Omagor came over from Kobwin to see me briefly as there were a couple of things he wanted to discuss. Then we went with Robert to the TESS Alumni Reunion. Robert was the Driver for TESS for nearly 7 years until he left a few months ago and is much loved by all the TESS students, both past and present, most of whom didn’t know he had left. So he was welcomed as warmly as we were. Joanne Carver, the UK TESS Manager, is in Soroti with her family for six months having arrived in September. She was already in the Centre as the start time was given as 9.00am, but only the three organisers, Okorio Joseph (the President of the TESS Alumni), Akullu Irene and Amajo Agnes were there. We didn’t arrive until 9.45 as we knew it wouldn’t start until much later. Joanne left soon after as she and Christine Ariokot (the Uganda Manager and herself a TESS Alumna) had planned to go out visiting some schools! We didn’t get to talk to Joanne although she spent a long time talking to Agnes and writing down notes about her. So there were no representatives from TESS and Bishop Charles was away at an event in Kampala. Sam Ediau (the original TESS Manager who is now Diocesan Secretary and is the Patron of the Alumni Association) was there.
Everyone was given “breakfast” (tea and bread) as they trickled in from about 10.00 onwards. The slow start gave me a good opportunity to meet everyone individually, catch up briefly and take their photos. A number of them brought their babies and toddlers and Alupo Loyce came with her new husband having got married only a few days before. There were about 45 who came, most of whom had not come to the original Reunion 18 months ago, which was really nice.
Amajo Agnes, wearing a glamorous dress she had designed and made herself, did an excellent job as the MC for the day, keeping things moving with humour and sensitivity. There was some worship, and everyone was asked to introduce themselves saying briefly what they are doing now. Joseph, Roz, Sam and I were all asked to say something more. But the most important part of the day, apart from all the informal reunions, was the opportunity they had to come forward and give their “testimonies” which were inspiring as they told how and why they had been taken on by TESS more than 10 years ago and what they are doing now – such a variety of jobs and roles which are not only giving them a future, but enabling them to change their families and wider communities. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well enough to make notes.
Just a few “before and after” photos of some of the TESS Alumni – some don’t seem to have changed very much
We remembered the TESS Alumni who have tragically died (Ikwenyu Angella Rose, Abeja Susan, Angoro Irene and Alupo Mary Scovia), as well as about seven others who died whilst still being sponsored and who should have been Alumni by now. Joseph suggested they should have a thanksgiving and memorial service for them, perhaps next year. Back at home, we don’t expect to hear about deaths amongst friends whom we went to school or trained with until we are so much older.
I wasn’t feeling well, so went straight to bed after returning to Naphtali and Gaudesia’s home at about 6.00pm, while Roz went to say good-bye to Sam and Olivia’s children. Naphtali was still out at the Cathedral, including a Baptism service in the morning for 21 babies (including one of his own grandchildren). So I didn’t see him to say good-bye to as he left home on Sunday at 6.20am in time for the first of the four services of the day which run, without a break, from 6.30am to about 1.15pm!!
Sunday, 25th and Monday 26th November
We had been so well cared for by Gaudesia and their two daughters, Susan and Irene. We left Soroti at 10.15, giving a lift to one of our old students, Amuge Sherry. We stopped in Mbale for lunch with Joseph Okwalinga (one of Kokas’s sons) and his wife and baby as we had been unable to go to the baby’s Baptism the previous Sunday. Ismael (Kokas’s youngest son), whom I have known since he was a baby, also lives in Mbale and so came for lunch, which was lovely after many years. When he was four years old, he had tripped over a fallen electricity cable in long grass and used his hands to try and take the wire off his feet, which resulted in serious burns to his hands. He had plastic surgery on one hand at Kumi Hospital by a visiting surgeon in about 1998, but it was so painful and not very successful in straightening his fingers that he refused an operation on the other hand and has learnt to cope. He is now a Medical Laboratory Technician and seems very happy and settled.
The Mbale-Tirinyi-Iganga road is still being renewed after more than two years, so parts of it were quite bad. The usual reason for delays is money being “eaten”. It was also very hot and the long journey to Mabira Forest (near Lugazi, on the Kampala side of Jinja) became something of a nightmare as I felt more and more grotty! We dropped Sherry in Lugazi and reached Griffin Falls Camp at about 5.00pm, just in time for me to collapse into the bathroom and then onto a very welcome bed! Robert agreed it would be sensible for me to use the Malaria test kit I had with me, so he efficiently pricked a finger and squeezed drops onto the special strip and added the phial of solvent. It takes at least 15-30 minutes to show a positive result – after about an hour, there was a definite positive result, so I started taking Coartem. I didn’t have a good night and stayed in bed virtually all Monday, but was able to get up in the evening for some home-made pumpkin soup and a tiny, sweet banana. It had poured with rain at sunrise, but Robert and Roz went for a walk later on through Mabira Forest. They enjoyed it very much and Robert managed to take some photos with my camera of Red-tailed Monkeys even though they move fast high in the trees; but they didn’t see many birds because the vegetation is thick and dark. They both spent a lazy afternoon relaxing.
As dusk falls in the Forest, the monkeys make a lot of noise as they argue over the best branches to sleep in at the top of the trees, but then it becomes peaceful with only insects making quiet and soothing noises. But later, the Tree Hyraxes start ‘whistling’ for about five minutes every half hour or so, making a very loud and somewhat eerie repetitive screech which they repeat about 20 times with increasing urgency before falling silent! I have never come across anyone who has ever seen them as they are very secretive and nocturnal.
Tuesday, 27th November
I was very grateful for a second night in Mabira Forest as I wouldn’t have coped with travelling to Entebbe on Monday. But by this morning, I was able to eat some breakfast, pack and face the day. It was lovely to get close views of Great Blue Turacos and Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills and, at the opposite extreme, a brilliant Pygmy Kingfisher. Although we were once again surrounded by Red-tailed Monkeys, it is so difficult to see them, let alone photograph them.
The urbanisation of Kampala now extends 20 miles out eastwards beyond even Mukono which now also suffers from permanent traffic jams. However, Robert knows various back routes, albeit on bad murram roads. We stopped at the Anglican Seminary at Namugongo which is built on one of the sites where many boys and young men, mostly from the Kabaka’s court (King of Buganda), were tortured and then burnt, both Anglican and Catholics together, for refusing to renounce their Christian Faith in 1885 and 1886. There has long been a simple shrine on the site, but this has been developed over the last few years. Although not yet fully finished, the story has been graphically re-created using life-sized figures both outdoors by the spring, where the executioners washed themselves and their implements of torture, and indoors. It isn’t officially open, but we were fortunate to ‘bump’ into the caretaker Bishop who called one of the students, originally a Sudanese refugee, to show us around. The experience was moving, but somewhat marred by a bus-full of very loud Kenyan tourists from some Kenyan Cathedral who didn’t show any respect or reverence but were climbing around and photographing each other amongst the figures. It was an important experience for Robert who had never been before and didn’t really know the full story.
We continued the slow and tortuous journey through the suburbs to Ben Ejadu’s home (Robert’s older brother with whom he now lives when not driving tourists) for lunch. Charles Etoru, (a much older brother who lives in Leicester) arrived from the UK last night and also had lunch. Ben’s wife, Sheila, had her second baby two months ago – a fact which Ben “forgot” to tell me, or even Charles, despite various communications! We were able to talk about the development of their tour company, HOMESTEAD TOURS AND SAFARIS.
We completed the journey to Entebbe using a newly opened stretch of Uganda’s first motorway which by-passes Kampala and the congested conurbation between Kampala and Entebbe. It passes some slums and filthy open drains as well as some lovely open landscapes.
We did some bird watching in the garden of Sunset hotel. Robert and I photographed a Woodpecker (probably Olive), a Double-toothed Barbet and a Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher. Robert stayed elsewhere. Roz enjoyed watching a re-play of the Manchester City v West Ham football match – as well as some BBC World News, so we started the process of re-entering British culture!
Wednesday, 28th November
After breakfast, Robert took us to Entebbe Botanical Gardens for the morning. It is a huge park on the shores of Lake Victoria with bits of forest, shrubs and trees, mostly growing naturally. It is rich with birds as well as some animals such as squirrels and monkeys (Black-and-white Colobus) – we even had close glimpses of otters. We watched Pied Kingfishers behaving strangely on the sand (were they sunbathing?!) as well as Egyptian Geese fighting and possibly mating in the water. Black Kites came to the water’s edge to drink. There was a large flock of Great Blue Turacos, more than I have seen in all previous visits combined, and two different kinds of Bee-eaters. (Some of these photos have been taken by Robert.)
We spent the afternoon re-packing, Robert bought me some passion fruit to bring home and I spent time showing him how to edit photos on my little laptop which I am leaving with him. Having travelled all over the world with me for more than ten years, it has almost come to the end of its life, but Robert may be able to get a bit of use out of it before it finally dies! Robert left us at about 6.00pm. After spending all day every day with him for the past four weeks, it felt very sad saying good-bye. The hotel arranged transport for us to the airport at 8.00pm, ready for our KLM flight home at 11.30pm.
I was very disturbed to see more than 200 young Ugandans, mostly girls, queuing with the rest of us to pass through security into the departure lounges, apparently all heading to Middle Eastern countries. They were in groups, each group identified by different T-shirts or outfits with the names and logos of various “recruitment agencies” on them. Some of them were so young, perhaps only mid-teens. They looked confused and even scared. I really fear for them as they will almost certainly find themselves isolated, trapped and abused as modern day slaves instead of starting the bright new future they have almost certainly been tricked into thinking they are setting off for.
Thursday and Friday, 29th/30th November
Roger met us at Birmingham Airport at 9.00am – and Frank came up to Loughborough to collect Roz. Although one of my cases arrived, most baggage had been left in Amsterdam, causing chaos and delays as we all had to complete forms.
I had been looking forward to relaxing in my own armchair – and in my bath! But I realised that I probably used as much water in my bath as I had in the four weeks of “bathing” in plastic bowls using water poured from large yellow jerrycans. It felt strange to be covered with lots of bedding and not have a mosquito net!
Although I am feeling much better than a few days ago, I have been to the doctor who has sent off blood samples etc to check that I don’t have anything lingering in my system!
My missing case arrived at 4.00pm this afternoon. The passion fruit have suffered somewhat from the delay. But Emmanuel Eyomu’s paintings travelled well.
I have a lot to catch up on and follow up arising from our trip.
Some random reflections started in Entebbe at 2.30am on Wednesday, 28th November and completed at home on Sunday 2nd December!
We’ve been in bed exactly five hours now – and I still haven’t managed to go to sleep in spite of being tired! I just can’t stop my mind going over and over all that we have experienced during the past four weeks, from the highs to the lows. So I am hoping that by getting up and writing some of these thoughts down, it might help me get to sleep as well as summarise for you all something of the turmoil and conflicts I have experienced.
We have been very privileged in so many ways. We’ve travelled in a comfortable vehicle driven safely throughout by Robert for 2,000 miles on good, bad and terrible roads and tracks in a country which has one of the highest road death rates in the world. One friend has been killed and another has been injured just while we have been here; and we have had near misses because of recklessness. We witnessed a motorcyclist and passenger coming off as they skidded in rain on a roundabout. And Robert stopped a man driving a car the wrong way round a roundabout! People don’t seem to care, not taking even basic steps to protect themselves and others. Both sons of one of my friends have motorcycles (Abraham actually uses his as a “boda-boda taxi” all day every day). Both have helmets – but they NEVER wear them. I had a real go at them about it, especially as they both knew Yolam Nyangatum who was killed because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Bishop Charles told me about his cousin who was killed in Soroti three years ago when he skidded, came off his motorcycle and hit his head on the road – there were no external injuries, but he died on the spot. Did they really want to risk leaving widows to bring up orphans – in Abraham’s case, they would be “total” orphans as his first wife was killed in Soroti about three years ago when she was a passenger on the back of a bicycle “boda-boda”. They both said they would wear their helmets – but they haven’t, not even once. I have maintained that outsiders shouldn’t try and change the culture in a country they are visiting – but I break that rule when it comes to road safety. We have been so grateful to Robert for his careful and attentive driving skills.
TESS (Teso Educational Support Services), the sponsorship programme I set up in 2004 and was involved in running until new UK Trustees took over in January 2014, has been struggling financially for various reasons, not least due to a lack of experience and knowledge of Teso and the issues in Uganda concerning education and employment. Uganda has the highest percentage of people under 30 in the world – over 78%!! In a largely subsistence economy, and one where corruption is rife, this has a dramatic effect on employment opportunities, especially for those who can’t or won’t pay a bribe or don’t have a relative already employed somewhere to get them into a job. Students who leave school after completing S4 (‘O’ levels/GCSEs) or S6 (‘A’ levels) don’t stand a chance of ever being employed.
Sadly, TESS made the decision early in 2017 to take on more new students from primary school whilst dropping all those who had just got their ‘A’ level results and already had places to go to for professional training, the only hope they have of any sort of employment in the future. They are now TESS Alumni – before their time. Some of them came to the Reunion – and three of them came to talk to me to ask me to help them, assuming I still have some sort of involvement in TESS. Two of them had places to do Diplomas in Comprehensive Nursing at good training schools. After missing a semester or two, they have now taken up their places by going to their Village Credit Schemes and getting loans. But as each semester passes, they are getting deeper into debt and have no idea how they will ever pay back the loans – salaries (even if paid regularly) aren’t high enough to pay back so much money. This will cause them serious difficulties in their villages. The third girl had a place to train as a Clinical Medical Officer (a three year course instead of five years to train as a full doctor), but has not been able to take up the place. Uganda is desperately in need of medical staff as the ratio of population to doctors and nurses is so poor, especially in Teso. So not only is Teso missing out, but so are these girls, who will never be able to get any job without some professional training.
There are statistics about maternal and infant deaths in Africa as related to the number of years girls spend in education. These apparently show that for each year a girl is at school, so the risks are very slightly reduced. But having already lost three of our Alumni, all with professional training and jobs, due to complications after childbirth, I find such statistics very hollow, offering little hope to the three girls I talked to (and the others) who have been dropped from the TESS sponsorship programme just when they were on the threshold of productive careers. It is a tragedy.
Is it preferable to educate more girls and boys to a limited level which won’t actually enable them to ever get a job – or to sponsor fewer students to complete basic professional or vocational training which will then enable them to make a difference to their families, communities and country? In discussion with leaders, educationalists and others in Teso, we always used to opt for the latter.
We’ve had some wonderful wildlife and nature experiences, both around us in the villages and gardens where we have stayed, but also on our visits to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Murchison Falls and Kidepo National Parks and Mabira Forest. I always try to take Ugandans with me on such trips as it is their country and heritage which so few ever get the opportunity to see for themselves, especially those in Teso. It is refreshing and exciting to see everything through their eyes. The scenery, landscapes and environments have been so varied and very beautiful. It is a pleasure to travel with Robert who is passionate about nature and shares the same joy, wonder and excitement, especially when we see a new bird that neither of us has ever seen before. I have to admit that there is some rivalry between us when he borrows my camera and takes good photos of birds!
But in our travels, we have also witnessed, as a spectators, so much poverty, hardship and suffering whilst enjoying driving through spectacular countryside. How can I justify being a ‘tourist’ in such circumstances? Saying that it brings some income into the area isn’t really an adequate answer. Should I indulge in my passion for wildlife and nature and travel when in Uganda?
Corruption is everywhere, even at the heart of many Dioceses in the Anglican Church, perhaps especially over the past nine years in Soroti Diocese. Is it right to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) ever trust any Ugandan? It certainly often feels like that. But I do still trust some of my friends – and will continue to do so until I have evidence to the contrary, which has sadly been the case with some of them.
As the Teso Anti-Corruption Coalition say: “Corruption keeps people in poverty”. Of course, not everyone is kept in poverty! The most corrupt become incredibly rich – while the majority suffer directly and indirectly, such as when external donors withdraw all support. Whenever you see a large “posh” house in Teso, you can be certain that the owner has got extra money through corruption. Unfortunately, outsiders don’t recognise the signs and so continue putting their money into projects and their trust in local administrators.
Joseph Asutai told me that recent statistics show that the Eastern Region of Uganda (which includes Teso) is the only region in Uganda where poverty levels have risen in recent years. Superficially, Teso appears to be becoming more affluent than it has been over the past 27 years, since I first started coming here. There are so many more “permanent” homes, shops and trading centres (brick built with iron roofs) springing up throughout the countryside which didn’t exist even 15 years ago. There is, perhaps for the first time, a significant and growing gap between the rich and poor in Teso. But how have the rich people got their money? Of course they haven’t all got all of it through corruption alone – but so many have. Money is regularly “eaten” in a variety of ingenious as well as simple and obvious ways.
So should we stop supporting any individuals or projects in countries and regions like Uganda and Teso? What effect would that have on the poorest people? It’s not simple, but I don’t think the answer is to withdraw support. However, donor organisations need to be a lot more careful about monitoring and looking out for the signs as well as actively training people to resist corruption and put checks in place. Don’t necessarily trust a UK charity to channel your personal donations safely, assuming they have the experience and mechanisms in place to prevent all corruption – many are run by people who are naïve and inexperienced in monitoring rural development and educational projects in Africa from a distance, putting too much trust in people they rarely, if ever, meet on the ground. But to help the poorest, who are innocent, helpless and defenceless, I think we need to continue to take risks for their sake.
Whilst condemning those who are corrupt on a bigger scale and become wealthy at the expense of others, I have to admit that, if I were very poor and unable to provide for my children, I would probably succumb to petty corruption if it were the only way I could feed or get medical treatment for my children or send them to school. Thankfully, in our society, I have never been faced with such impossible choices.
Violence is still a problem in Teso (and Uganda generally) – gender-based violence and violence towards children and students at school, a battle I fought for years with schools where we had sponsored children. Violence breeds violence.
As we travelled, we twice witnessed people being beaten while others stood and watched. Physical punishment has been illegal in Uganda for many years but still goes on in almost all schools. Simon’s daughter told me how she had been beaten this term at Jeressar School in Soroti for failing a test – apparently, not much has changed since we sent sponsored students there.
One of our old TESS students, who also went to Jeressar, has become very violent – as a result of four and a half years with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). When I first met him, living with a married sister in an IDP (refugee) camp, and we took him onto the sponsorship programme, he was a delightful boy of 16 who was bright, worked hard and always had a smile. He never told any of us that he had been abducted at the age of 12 – and made to kill hundreds of people – until he spoke about it for the first time to camera when Sarah made a film for TESS about sponsorship. This took the lid off all the horrors he had buried deep inside himself and he became very disturbed. He started getting into trouble at school and underachieving, but refused to go and get help from the Mental Health Unit. He made one of our sponsored girls pregnant and was suspended. Things have now gone from bad to worse. I heard that he is now taking drugs, which are readily available in Soroti, and is often violent, getting into trouble with the police and being imprisoned. He so desperately needs to be in a secure mental health unit getting appropriate treatment and support for PTSD before he kills someone – but that isn’t available and won’t happen. It’s not his fault that he was so deeply damaged as a young teenager. But who is there to help him now, when he isn’t seeking help for himself? Sadly, he isn’t the only one.
There is still a need for the vision we had more than 10 years ago for building Shalom School for Life-Long Learning, a radically different, model school that would help transform not just Teso, but education in Uganda generally. Unfortunately, the TESS Trustees who took over in 2014 never explained to anyone, including the people of Kapir and Teso generally, why they scrapped all the plans. Five years on, the Kapir community leaders are still expecting to see building work resume – and the first teaching block which was completed exactly five years ago to be used for some purpose instead of being left empty. It is confusing and distressing for everyone concerned. I feel the people of Kapir have been badly let down by TESS in so many ways over the past five years, so it is not surprising that there is now deep resentment and antagonism after the years I had spent building up a good relationship and partnership with them.
Since the Shalom Vision and plans don’t belong to TESS and have been rejected by them, there is nothing to stop someone else picking them up and implementing the Vision. This now seems a distinct possibility, although obviously not in Kapir itself.
Having a sense of home and family and belonging in two very different cultures separated by time and distance once again causes tensions and difficulties for me. There were occasional times when I wondered why I was there in Uganda, and struggled to cope with certain aspects. For the first time, I think I am beginning to “feel my age” (now 74), especially in terms of adaptability and making adjustments. I found I was much more tired and lacking in energy – and was so grateful that Robert did all the driving this time, as well as sorting things out and doing various errands for me. I am usually so independent, but I really appreciated being looked after much more, just as my ‘children’ in the UK would look after me! I take longer to catch up on the effects of flying, especially when it’s overnight.
It is actually easier saying good bye and leaving home than it is leaving Teso. Leaving the UK is for a shorter period and I know exactly when I am returning home. But there isn’t the same certainty when leaving my friends in Uganda, and it’s for so much longer. Having spent all day every day for a month with Robert (who is like another son in many ways and knows half our family well), it was hard saying good bye to him without knowing how long it will be before I will see him again! It is also hard that Robert has never been able to visit the UK and stay with us, to share in our life here. The UK turned down the Visa application for him to join us in 2017 for our Golden Wedding Anniversary celebrations, so he is the only one of our close Teso friends who has never been to stay with us. We have had many of our Iteso friends come to stay, including Kokas Osekeny, John Omagor, Charles and Margaret Obaikol, Sam Opol, Sam and Olivia Ediau, Edward Etanu, Sam Eibu, Naphtali Opwata, Jeremiah Acelun and Freda Ocen – even +George and Florence Erwau.
I have always found the ‘culture shock’ of arriving back in the UK more difficult to cope with than arriving in Uganda, especially at Christmas time, which is excessively materialistic and extravagant here in the UK. The climate is very different – it’s grey, wet and cold. And the days are ‘short’ (it’s only light from about 8.00am to 4.00pm). But it is nice not to feel so hot and sticky all the time, although I would prefer to sleep with only a sheet instead of the heavy winter bedding! Life is so much easier back in the UK, with endless hot and cold running water, flush toilets in the house, electricity, a good health service one can trust, no corruption on a day to day basis, and a sense of fairness and predictability. Driving is more comfortable and so much safer. The list could go on. Perhaps I want too much – the best of all worlds, but none of the disadvantages and problems. Doesn’t everyone want that? “East, West, Home is Best”. Robert told us he loves Uganda and thinks it is perfect – at least in terms of natural beauty, environment and resources.
Despite the disadvantages, I am privileged to have a foot in both camps, a home in both worlds. I wouldn’t have it any other way.