We’re in the final stages of preparing to leave for Uganda in the small hours of Thursday morning (6th April).
SO WHO ARE WE?
I’m the oldie of the group – by more than 50 years! Kate (one of my 8 grandchildren) is the youngest at 14. Then there’s Alice (16), Rose (17) and Bethan (20). None of them has ever been to Uganda, let alone Teso, before, so it will be exciting for us all.
Why are we going?
Well, I go at least once a year, to visit Iteso friends and help with various projects. I always like to take people with me, especially if they have never been before. For the two weeks that we are all together, we will be staying in Ngora, about half an hour’s drive from Kumi along a murram road off the main road between Mbale and Soroti.
Kate has grown up knowing about Teso and has for a while been saying that she wants to come with me. Her older cousins, Becky and Adam, have already been with me. Last summer, we got a text from her asking if I would take her during the Easter holidays. “Do your parents know you’ve asked me to take you?!” “Yes, we’ve discussed it and they’re happy about it.” Kate wants to be a Doctor, so is keen to spend some time in a hospital.
From that point on, the group grew and dates were fixed – only a short visit because they have only two weeks free during the Easter School Holidays.
Alice went to the Primary School where Tessa, our daughter, teaches and knew I take people to Teso and asked if she could come. She writes: I’m currently studying for my AS levels at de Lisle College in Loughborough. In Uganda, I will be shadowing the doctors in Ngora Hospital and helping out in whatever way I can. I would like to become a doctor in the future. I am really looking forward to meeting new people and seeing new things as well as seeing how the hospital is run and learning more about medicine. I am apprehensive about being in such a different culture to what I am used to.
Kate and Alice will spend their time in Freda Carr Hospital, Ngora (Ngora Hospital) while Bethan and Rose will be in Ngora High School (http://ngorahs.sc.ug/).
Rose and Bethan have been friends all their lives.
Hi I’m Rose, I’m 17 years old and I’m currently doing my A-Levels studying Maths, Geography and Product Design. I eventually hope to go to university to study either Law or Geography. In my spare time I enjoy going horse riding and cycling.This will be my first time travelling to Uganda, I’m really looking forward to it as I’ve always wanted to visit Africa! I can’t wait to help teach at Ngora High School as I think it’ll be an amazing experience and also I’m really looking forward to going on safari!
We’re all meeting at Birmingham Airport at 3.45am tonight/tomorrow and flying to Entebbe with Brussels Airlines, changing flights in Brussels. We are staying Thursday night at Sunset Hotel in Entebbe. Robert Okiror is coming to meet us and share the driving on Friday to Sipi in the foothills of Mt Elgon via Mbale where we will pick up TESS’s first sponsored student, Joseph Okorio, who is now working but was sponsored through school and university by Bethan’s school in Melton Mowbray (Long Field Academy). He will spend the night with us in Sipi at Moses Campsite.
On Saturday, the girls are all going abseiling 100m down a cliff face next to the lowest of Sipi’s three spectacular waterfalls before we continue the journey to Ngora via Kumi (where we are leaving Bethan for the night to stay with Gloria, one of Rev Jeremiah Acelun’s daughters). We are staying at the new Edith’s Home Guest House in Ngora Trading Centre where we’re looking forward to being looked after by Josephine once again.
We hope to keep in touch with you all while we are in Uganda, but it will depend on internet access and electricity!
DIARY 1: 6th APRIL 2017
We’ve all arrived safely, with only a couple of minor dramas during the journey.. our cases packed full of various supplies were overweight and so as punishment the airline just left them in Brussels! Fortunately we’ve planned to have them delivered to us in Ngora on Sunday. We’re settled in our lovely hotel in Entebbe unsuccessfully trying to acclimatise – hah! Tomorrow morning we’re heading to Sipi on the minibus and we’ll keep in touch from then.
– The Dream Team
There’s a lot to catch up on since we posted on arrival at the little guest house in Entebbe on Thursday evening! The two missing bags have still not turned up – we never believed that they would be delivered to us here in Ngora on Sunday evening as the airport hoped. We have no complaints about the way Entebbe Airport have dealt with the situation. The blame is entirely with Brussels Airlines who failed to transfer the bags at Brussels. Then they failed to put them on the Saturday flight as promised. Instead, they put one on an Emirates flight to Dubai where it is now sitting. We don’t know where the other one is.
Friday 7th April
Robert and Ben were delayed by nearly 2 hours reaching us at the guest house because there was serious flooding in Kampala following a very heavy thunderstorm during the night (which Bethan and Rose heard but the rest of us slept through!) and roads were blocked by water and stranded vehicles. So they had to find alternative routes with many traffic jams. While we waited for them, we walked down to Lake Victoria, to a little sandy beach with fishing boats on the shore. A woman was sorting out fish and two men set off in a little boat. A huge Marabou stork was hanging around hoping for fish scraps. By the time we got back, Ben and Robert had finished loading up the minibus. We left about 10.30.
After changing money in Entebbe and buying lots of drinking water, it took us hours to get to and around Kampala and on eastwards to Mukono – about 80km of congested urban roads. We stopped at a group of small craft stalls on the edge of Mukono where Rose in particular bought several small items.
We had hoped to reach Iganga for lunch, but it was getting so late that we stopped outside Jinja. From then onwards, the roads and traffic were much easier and we started to make real progress. However, the direct route from Iganga to Mbale via Tirinyi is being reconstructed, so Robert opted for the longer route via Tororo. We went through some rain which cleared the air giving us lovely views of the misty blue rocky hills around Tororo and Mbale and Mt Elgon beyond, the top of which was lost in clouds.
We picked up Joseph Okorio in Mbale and took him to Sipi with us. Joseph was the first ever sponsored student, in January 2004, and was sponsored by Bethan’s old school in Melton Mowbray.
We arrived at Moses Campsite at Sipi, in the foothills of Mt Elgon, just as it was getting dark. We stayed in 3 traditional round thatched houses. Because there is no long grass around, the roofs were thatched with the stripy dry leafy sheaths of banana tree ‘trunks’. The floor had been freshly smeared with cow dung which gives off a not unpleasant clean smell. I didn’t tell the girls until the next morning what it was as I thought it might freak them out on their first night! We had rice, beans, cabbage, matoke (cooked and mashed green bananas, like mashed potato) and stewed meat before settling for the night. Because of the rain and height, it was very chilly as we sat on half open decked area, so they brought us a charcoal burner which was lovely to sit around. The huts were snug, but I appreciated, filling a drinking bottle with hot water to warm up my feet in bed! Although there are no mosquitos so high up, the girls were still pleased to sleep under nets to protect them from a few ants and other little creatures!
We have been sharing “High/Lows” each evening. They are all very much the same so far. The high for them all was the walk to the edge of Lake Victoria, while for me, it was seeing Robert and Ben again and the drive up to Sipi.
Saturday 8th April
Scrambled egg, toast and African tea (tea bags boiled with half and half water and milk) for breakfast, after which Joseph and the girls were taken by Fred on a coffee tour. They visited a nearby homestead and were shown coffee bushes and how it is harvested and prepared before roasting and pounding it after which they were able to drink a freshly brewed mug of coffee.
They then went abseiling 100 m down a sheer cliff face beside the lowest of the 3 magnificent waterfalls at Sipi. There was very little water in the falls because the rains haven’t yet got started after an unusually long dry season. I watched them from Moses
Campsite about half a mile away – they looked minute against the massive cliff face and dwarfed by the waterfall. Once they were all down, they swam in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall before starting the long trek back up to the top. After a quick change of clothes and group photos, we left just before 2.00 to continue our journey to Teso, We took a murram road from Sironko to Bukedea where we dropped Joseph. At Kumi, we reached the home of Jeremiah Acelun’s family – Jeremiah died exactly a year ago. Bethan and Gloria (his second daughter) have been communicating on Facebook for some years now. We left Bethan there for the night, and dropped Robert in Kumi to get transport back to Soroti while we continued to Ngora. We are staying in the new guest house built by Edith’s Home on the edge of Ngora trading centre. We were met by one of my oldest friends, Canon John Omagor, and by Josephine who is looking after us during our stay here. Bethan and Rose are sharing a room while the rest of us have our own rooms off a large hexagonal living room which opens onto a verandah. There are some lovely large rocks in the compound.
We had thought of going to church on Palm Sunday, but then realised we all needed a long night and lazy morning to recover from all the travelling and prepare for the rest of the week!
Sunday 9th April
We had about 12 hours in bed – unlike Bethan who was up early with Gloria and the family to go to St Stephen’s Church in Kumi. She will tell you about her 24 hours with Gloria’s family, which she enjoyed but which was also quite a culture shock so soon after arriving in Uganda.
The other three went shopping in the market with Josephine which was an interesting experience. I went and collected them in the minibus as it was so hot and the bags were heavy. We all appreciated a cold Coca Cola when we got back, followed by a simple lunch.
We left here at about 2.45 to set off for Nyero where there are a series of ancient rock paintings and where James Ikara has set up a vocational training school for young people who have not been able to continue in education because of poverty. James had assembled a few members of the Board, some of whom also teach. While the girls were taken up the rocks and around the paintings, I was taken round the school to see recent developments since I last visited. James has an amazing capacity for developing and implementing ideas and techniques, some of which he has got from documents I have sent him from Practical Action in the UK. He aims to teach youth skills as well as to get them making things which can be sold to help run the school. They are making furniture and doors, tailoring, exotic chickens, crafts, alternative technologies. They have made a magnificent and very realistic 7 foot tall giraffe from scrap wire and waste paper. The only cost was the paint. They are achieving so much with virtually no resources or fees. Like everywhere in Teso, they are badly affected by the drought and on-going failure of crops over the past 18 months, so students aren’t able to pay towards their tuition and materials – but the school keeps struggling on as James and those he has got involved are convinced that it is the way forward amongst so much poverty and hunger.
They had expected us to come on Monday (some misunderstandings somewhere!) and had a lot of activities planned.
They have never been able to afford school uniforms, so they were thrilled to receive the 161 shirts and blouses that one of the men on the fish stall in Loughborough Market gave me. How many students do they have enrolled? Believe it or not, there are 161!!! Everyone there was trying the shirts on – and photos were taken.
They also have a part-time ICT teacher – but no computers! So they were very excited to receive the 6 laptops donated by Felicity’s church, St Peter’s Gildersome (near Leeds). They were all immediately turned on – and more photos taken!
When the girls returned from the rocks, we were all given a Fruity Mirinda and a doughnut cooked by some of the students. They are experimenting with added ingredients, including fresh orange juice which they find keeps them fresher for longer. They make them every Friday and then take it in turns for one student each week to cycle around the villages selling them. They also sell refreshments to the few tourists who come to visit the rock paintings.
They were very disappointed to see us go so soon, so I said I would try and return one day, perhaps next week when the girls are settled. But they want warning so that they can prepare! Apparently, they are now also caring for 10 young boys who had become uncontrollable in the villages and were into petty crime and spurned by the local community. They have now turned their lives around and are learning various skills; they are now earning bits and pieces of money and feel valued. Apparently, these boys had heard about me and had gone and bought a goat to slaughter for a feast for me. So I shall have to return to meet them!
We continued to Kumi and spent about an hour with Jeremiah’s family. Just as we were leaving, Gill and Frances Fairhurst arrived after having got lost on the way up from Jinja. So we greeted them briefly before returning to Ngora with Bethan.
Monday 10th April
Not surprisingly, the girls were apprehensive about going to Ngora High School and Ngora Hospital for the first time, not knowing anyone and not knowing what to expect. I first took Bethan and Rose to NHS. Mr Martin Okiria, the HM, had just gone out to the Police Station, so Mr Robert Omadi, the Deputy HM took over and got a timetable and arranged with them which classes and subjects they would go to. I left them to it so that I could go back for Kate and Alice, having arranged to meet with John at the house. He came with us to introduce us to Dr Gorrett Ibilata, who has a very bubbly and pleasant personality. She has made quite a lot of changes in the hospital, including building a maternity unit in the hospital grounds near the theatre. This means women in labour who need Caesareans don’t have to be taken on trolleys across the bumpy, dusty road from the old unit across to the hospital, which was always hazardous. The girls were surprised how quiet and empty the hospital was. This is partly because many patients sit outside under trees during the day. But there is also not as much malaria because the rainy season has still not started properly. And people don’t have enough money to pay for treatment because of the drought and crop failures.
Dr Gorrett is a surgeon and has one other doctor, a general clinician. They also have three clinical officers (3 years of medical training). Dr Gorrett took us all round the hospital, showing us every room and department, clinic and lab. They have twice weekly HIV clinics – there are over 1000 HIV patients on their books. An immunisation clinic was in progress. We discussed what the girls could do, and what they had brought with them (a lot of which is in one of the missing cases, the other missing case containing most of the school resources which Bethan and Rose have collected). We left the girls in OP where they were shown how to do blood tests and check for malaria down the microscope. They have now diagnosed their first case of malaria and seen the patient treated.
They have brought with them a lot of questionnaires to find out more about the patients’ medical and social history which will help them interact and get more out of the experience. A young man called David is accompanying them to translate. They completed 6 questionnaires in the maternity ward.
John and I spent about an hour talking this morning catching up on news, which was good.
Robert bought three SIM cards for us in Soroti this afternoon which he has taken to Kapir. I am about to go there with Kate and Alice to collect them. Bethan and Rose won’t finish until about 5.30 – and their first lesson tomorrow is 7.30! I am hoping to add this to our Blog while we are in Kapir.
DIARY 3: 11th – 12th APRIL 2017
Wednesday – Bethan
We were in school for the first class of the day at 7:30 in an S2 maths class. The students were learning speed, distance and time graphs and we went around marking their books. They were so keen to have us mark their book rather than their normal teacher which was amusing as they would hide their books as she was passing and then push it to us instead! The teacher walked us home on Monday and so we were quite friendly with her, we had a free lesson before break so she took us up to the girl’s dorm. There are approximately 700 girls and all of them board. They sleep in 8 different dorms which are packed full of bunkbeds 2 or 3 high and basically touching. The girls don’t tend to get much sleep as they’re up at 4am to clean the rooms and they have prep before classes. They also have classes 7-10pm and so don’t get to sleep until very late. Surrounding the accommodation are huge rocks which are home to monkeys! The dorm doors and windows are needed to be kept shut to stop the monkeys getting in and messing things up.
At break time we had a staff meeting which was interesting to see how things in the school were generally dealt with. We went back to the guest house for lunch and then all 5 of us went back into Ngora HS for the whole school assembly. Several staff members spoke to the students about standards, the college calendar, and the timetable for the Easter weekend. We were surprised at what the teacher talking about standards was saying; that the boys wearing their trousers too low on their hips were displaying the behaviour of people with mental illnesses and that they would be thought to be homosexual. The school prefects then took a prayer, spoke about current affairs and then the premier league results which we found amusing as all of the students were cheering for Manchester City and Arsenal. We were then invited up to introduce ourselves which lead to the whole school laughing as usual – this is due to our accent! After the assembly we were asked to go into a classroom to answer some questions for the students. They wanted to know about our education system and if there is any chance of vising the UK which has been a question that we have repeatedly asked.
We had a later start in the hospital than Bethan and Rose did at the school – going in at about 9.00 am. We had been in late the previous evening as a woman was having a baby via c-section but very sadly her baby didn’t survive. When we got to the hospital we went to the lab and were extremely surprised when they asked us to take blood samples which we never imagined we’d ever be allowed to do! This involved a variety of different methods ranging from pin prick smears to collecting blood from veins using needles and syringes. As well as this we helped to write the patients records and test results up in the lab which was a lot more complicated than we thought it would be. At about mid day we were invited to observe a c-section surgery which we got to just as they had begun to close the woman up. Very sadly the baby was still born. Out of the three c-section surgeries that have taken place since we have been here, only one of the babies has survived. The resources and theatre were extremely basic and there is only one surgeon in the whole hospital – all the babies would have very likely survived if they had been born in the UK which seems incredibly unfair.
After we finished lunch and had relaxed at the house for a while, we drove to the bottom of a large rock beside the hospital and school. We took a while walking up the rock and the view was amazing once we got up there, we took lots of photos and then sat down overlooking Teso. We met a few young boys up there and spoke to them and took some photos with them, we listened to songs and danced which the boys found very funny and then we tried to watch the sunset but there were too many clouds in the way. We then started the walk back down before it got too dark which was slightly easier than the walk up.
Margaret – Thursday
Climbing the rock yesterday was a highlight for everyone. It wasn’t very easy scrambling up the very steep rock face with long skirts and shoes with no grip. I had to take my shoes off which was very uncomfortable as the rocks were so hot and also rough. But it was worth it, for the views and refreshing wind. It was like being in an aeroplane, looking down on all the schools and homes stretching far into the distance. The lakes (Bisina, Awoja and Kyoga) shone silver as they reflected the low sunlight. We could see showers in the distance – we thought they might reach us, but they didn’t. Soroti Rock was like a pimple on the horizon, with Kapir hill and Nyero rocks closer. We were able to see at least 20 miles all round. Instead of a few distant showers, there should have been thick black clouds deluging the whole landscape in several hours of heavy rain – and not just today, but every day. As I drove to Kapir today to meet Naphtali on the main Soroti road, it was even drier and deader than when we went just three days ago, on Monday. Many of the little plants in the fields were visibly wilting and dying. I have also noticed that many of the tiny groundnut (peanut) plants have now started flowering. However, they will never mature into groundnuts because the plants aren’t strong enough and the soil is too hard.
DIARY 4: 13th – 23rd APRIL 2017
The four girls are now all back home and I am in Kampala staying with a friend, Robinah, before returning to Soroti tomorrow. We have tried sending the Blog updates several times, but the network has been too weak to manage it. So the past 10 days will all come at once – if I can manage to send it from Kampala!
At Ngora High School, Rose and I had 2 classes before break time and one after lunch. We started the day off with velocity-time graphs with an S2 class which went well and then a class on the correlation coefficient and Spearman’s rank. This was interesting because the students in the S5 class were the same age if not older than Rose and the maths that they were studying was maths that Rose herself had just been taught at AS Level. The students were so happy to have us in their class that one of them spoke on behalf of the class to thank us which was lovely. We had two free periods before lunch which we spent visiting the S4 girls in the library which allowed us to get a better insight to the school and how the students enjoyed it. We also met with Margaret who had been on the phone to Brussels Airlines trying to decipher the whereabouts of our case; we were struggling to pass on the appropriate information to the airline as we had no access to wifi! We came to the conclusion that Dubai are saying that they sent the case on Saturday and Entebbe are saying that they never received it… Despite all of the confusion we decided to put it to the back of our mind as there was nothing that we could do over the Easter weekend due to the office closing. During lunchtime we visited the student dining hall which was hectic to say the least; we were also shocked at the quantity of food in the kitchen. There was a huge big container heaped full of posher and the same for the beans which the students have for both lunch and supper. Our final class of the day was an S1 class on locus and graphs. We decided that from now on, whilst marking the work, we would take with us pens, pencils and rubbers to hand out if needed.
Hospital – Alice
Thursday morning (13th) at the hospital started with going to observe a caesarean section which was successful – both mother and the baby boy are healthy. This was impressive to watch and we even got to wear our own grey’s anatomy style scrubs! We then headed to the immunisation clinic where we helped out with the vaccinations – they let us inject the children ourselves which we were definitely not expecting to be able to do. We gave them the BCG vaccine which went into their arm and then the DPT vaccine which went into their thigh. We also gave them oral vaccinations for polio and vitamin A supplements. Later in the day on Thursday we went to the general ward where we were taught how to treat malaria and then we administered the treatment for malaria ourselves via a cannula. We were also shown how to insert a cannula. We were also in the vaccination clinic for the morning on the Tuesday after Easter. On this Tuesday we also learnt how to take a patient’s details and then helped to collect patients’ details. We also had the chance to take patients’ blood samples again which was scary but surprisingly we did it successfully!
I went to collect Naphtali from the main Kumi-Soroti road on Thursday morning and brought him back to Ngora for 24 hours. It was great to spend time with him again. At 5.30, we all went to Kobwin for an early evening meal with John and Harriet. The girls had fun blowing soap bubbles and playing football with about 15 grandchildren and neighbours’ children – and got to hold several little babies who were being cared for by young girls less than 10 years old. Young children (usually, but not exclusively, girls) here are so careful and responsible when caring for babies. It was the first time John and Naphtali had seen each other for several years, so they had a lot of catching up to do! Travel is not easy or cheap to and from villages, so now that they are not working, they rarely get opportunities to meet friends from other parts of Teso.
We were only half an hour late leaving Ngora (8.30am) for our weekend away in Murchison Falls National Park! The quickest route, to Kapir, is still blocked because of roadworks, which meant we had to go a longer way round which added about half an hour to the journey. We dropped Naphtali in Soroti, bought lots more drinking water and went to Robert’s home to collect him for our safari. Robert did all the driving for us throughout the weekend, which was great, especially as he knows all the tracks in Murchison Falls National Park. We first went to his village home in Tubur in order to see his parents and have lunch – Robert had organised for a duck and a chicken to be killed for us. He had sent his two sons (Sam and Ronnie) to the village the evening before, as well as Milfred Aujo. Milfred is the girl Robert rescued 10 days ago when her father was seriously beating her because she was refusing to get married to a man he had chosen for her because he wanted a dowry. She is the eldest of 8 children and has had her education interrupted so many times.
Betty (his wife) was also there, with their baby (Arakit Margaret Ruth Stevens!). Arakit is now 11 months old. She wasn’t at all happy about coming to me or even being near me, which is typical of babies here – we must look frighteningly strange to them. We left their home at about 1.00, taking Sam and Ronnie with us, and continued the journey westwards to Pakwach. Much of the last 2 hours are through the northern edge of the park, but because of all the traffic, one doesn’t often see animals. However, we were luckier than usual. There is nothing quite like the excitement of seeing your first wild animals, however often you see them later on. We got our entry permits as we arrived so that we wouldn’t be delayed in the morning and then crossed the Nile and into Pakwach. We had 4 basic, but en-suite, rooms between the 8 of us. I think it was even hotter in Pakwach than Teso. Fortunately, the rooms had fans but since their generator goes off at 1.00am, the fans also stop working then! They don’t provide an evening meal, so we went to a nearby local café where we had beans, rice and chapattis.
Saturday 15th – Alice
Extremely excited and eager to get to the game park, we left the hotel at 6am. As we drove into the park we got to sit on the roof of the minibus which was a bumpy ride but absolutely amazing. We got to watch the sunrise over the park which was the most stunning view I have ever seen. The first animal that we saw was an elephant (we actually managed to see an elephant on the side of the road before getting to the park!). We were extremely lucky and managed to see so many animals over the two days including giraffes, hippos, buffalos, warthogs, monkeys, baboons (one broke into our minibus and stole Kate’s anti-malaria tablets, but Margaret managed to rescue them!), jackals, waterbucks and even one lion and a hyena (very rarely seen). The minibus has a lifting roof, so we saw all of these whilst perched on the roof rack on top of the minibus which was amazing. However, it seemed that one of Sam‘s (one of Robert’s children) favourite things to see were the Chinese tourists whom he was extremely amazed at seeing! Later that day we went on a boat trip up the Nile to go and see Murchison Falls. On the way we saw hippos and crocodiles up really close which was a truly surreal experience although slightly terrifying at some points (crashed into a crocodile’s nest at one point!). We then went for a late lunch and relaxed at one of the posh hotels on the Nile where we got to have some English food – pizza and chips for all – before returning to Pakwach.
Sunday 16th – Rose
After having an amazing day yesterday we were really looking forward to our second day on safari. We saw all of the same animals as the previous day (minus any lions) and we were also lucky enough to see a hyena – it was amazing! We then travelled further through the park and came across a group of giraffes, two of which were performing a courting dance. After that we reached the River Nile crossing where we were entertained by traditional African dancers and drummers while we were waiting for the ferry. Once we had crossed the Nile, we drove to the top of Murchison Falls. The waterfalls were spectacular and there was an unbelievable volume of water passing through the rocks, spraying us all as it passed through the falls. Hungry from all of the excitement, we returned to the same posh hotel as the day before and ate a very traditional African meal; chicken nuggets and chips. Bethan and Alice then went for an illegal swim in the hotel pool and were quickly told to get out by a guard telling them, “You see that river over there? You can’t swim in that. You see this pool here? You can’t swim in that either.” It was safe to say that they quickly got out. After drying off, we climbed back into the minibus, some of us sat on the roof, and drove back to Pakwach. Unfortunately my phone almost didn’t make the journey back as Bethan decided to throw it off the roof whilst moving 40mph, thankfully it somehow managed to remain intact!
Monday 17th – Kate
We left Pakwach at around 8 after eating breakfast and packing up our stuff. After crossing the Nile, we saw two more elephants feeding right beside the road which was an exciting end to our trip to Murchision. On the way back we stopped by to visit the girl that my family sponsored through school at her family home where she was staying for the Easter weekend. It was lovely to be able to finally meet Celine after hearing about her so often when I was younger. We got to meet her three month old daughter, Aimee who was extremely cute, and we met her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother along with many of her sisters, cousins and their children. We took several photos together and spoke for a while. She then gave me several eggs and a chicken which was a slight shock, she also gave us many home-grown mangoes. We offered to drive her, her daughter and two of her cousins back to their house in Soroti so by this point with twelve people and a chicken, the minibus began to feel quite small. On the way to Soroti, Celine and I exchanged numbers and emails so we could easily talk to each other when I’m back in the UK, I also got her and her cousins to try some English sweets which they thought were strange but nice so I gave them several packets. When we arrived at her house she gave me a quick tour and then we said our goodbyes. We then drove to Robert’s house in Soroti where we left him, Sam and Ronny, I also decided to give him my chicken because I have no idea what to do with chickens and figured they could make better use of him. We then left again to meet with one of Gran’s old sponsored students (Amutos Irene) at a hotel restaurant elsewhere in Soroti, after this we finished the drive back to Ngora and had just finished moving our stuff back inside when the worst rain we’d ever seen started. We had tea and pottered around for a short while before going to bed ready for work experience again the next day.
The BEETLE!! (Margaret)
Josephine and James came running over at about 10.30pm when they heard unearthly screaming and saw the girls running around wildly – they thought there must be a snake in the house. But no – it was just a beetle which had flown into my room through the window which I always keep open. I had found it lying on its back on my floor struggling to turn over and called them in to look at it. Admittedly, it was no ordinary beetle. It was the sort which makes large holes in the ground and is about 2” long and 1” wide, with large jagged legs which it was waving in the air (the photos will prove its gigantic size). The girls were somewhat horrified by its size and the vicious looking legs, but were nevertheless fascinated. We turned it over onto its legs and it started moving around the room. There is a pile of light metal poles in my room which it got amongst and started moving them! Cameras were fetched and photos taken – until it got up and flew. That’s when all hell broke loose and the girls ran screaming out of my room. I was incapacitated by laughter. I caught it in a box to take it outside – its legs made me a bit wary of actually picking it up even though it was harmless. Josephine and James couldn’t stop laughing at the reaction it had caused – and pointed out that there were many more all around the house, which didn’t reassure the girls – the rain had brought them out of the ground. I was then required to do a thorough search of each of the bedrooms and bathrooms before the girls would go back in. They are so relieved that they sleep under mosquito nets!
The girls have left before writing about their day today! However, I collected them all in time for lunch after which I took them to the Deaf School for the afternoon. They took some of the resources they had brought for doing things with the younger children. Both the children and the girls (and, apparently, the teachers) had a wonderful afternoon.
Wednesday, 19th April – Margaret (writing on Saturday, 22nd, while the girls are zip-lining in Mabira Forest)
I took Bethan and Rose into school at 7.15 as usual, and then Alice, Kate and I collected Harriet Omagor from the hospital at 8.15. We loaded many packets of syringes into the minibus, along with flat-packed cardboard sharps disposal cartons and two cold boxes full of vaccines and oral Vitamin A. We first visited Onyede Primary School near Ngora town. Several hundred children were singing the Uganda National Anthem out in the open beside the red, yellow and black Ugandan flag, followed by the schools’ national anthem before running into their classrooms, speeded along by class monitors with sticks who were hitting the last children. Harriet explained we had come on the government programme to give Vit A drops (sealed in little individual blue capsules) and de-worming tablets to all the children in Primary 1 (75) and P2 (100). P2 quickly and quietly queued up in two lines, boys and girls separately. Alice and Harriet snipped off the ends of each capsule and squeezed the drops into each child’s mouth, after which Kate gave them a de-worming tablet which they crunched up as they ran back into class. Then P1 were called out and Kate and Alice swopped roles. There were some very little children who had no idea what was happening or what was expected of them as this is their first term in school. Then it was the turn of all the girls in P5 to line up for the HPV injection (against cervical cancer). The team had a very efficient system going – Harriet opened the syringes, attached the needles and filled each one with vaccine while Kate and Alice took it in turns to give the injections. My role, apart from being their driver, was to take photos and give each girl a Smarty (which I think they thought was another pill although I hope they found them much more pleasant to crunch up) and a sticker on their dresses! The girls gave 26 injections each. We then gave the P1 and P2 teachers bottles of bubbles for their classes which delighted the children who screamed and stretched out their hands trying to catch the bubbles.
We moved on to Osirai school which was about 10 miles away towards Kapir. We parked under another mango tree and set up ‘business’ again. This was a bigger school, with nearly 200 in P1 alone! No wonder teachers have to use the “learning by rote” method – how else can you teach 200 children? By now, the three of them had the system going really well and quickly finished treating all the children. Everything stopped during break time, when we were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of children who came running over to see who we were and what was going on. Normally, Harriet has to use a ‘border-border’ motorbike to visit the schools and does it on her own, which means she can be out for up to 12 hours! In the past, she had even had to cycle the 10 miles to this school, carrying everything herself. After break, it was the HPV injections. We didn’t understand why, but this time there were far more children being vaccinated from various classes, many of them as young as 9. Kate and Alice gave about 75 injections each. I had run out of Smarties, so gave them a few raisins while the girls gave them a felt-tip pen each which Bethan and Rose had brought. By now, news about the unusual sight of a minibus driven by an elderly white woman and two white girls helping Harriet give injections had spread around, so a crowd of men, as well as some women with toddlers and babies, grew around us all wanting treatment! So the girls continued giving injections to all the adults (a mixture of Tetanus and BCG) and drops and de-worming tablets to the pre-schoolers. I wondered when we would ever get away – but we did. Harriet was so grateful for the girls’ help as it would have taken her many hours to complete on her own instead of just over an hour.
We got almost back to Ngora when we found road workers had completely blocked the road with huge piles of murram, so I had to find another way round. At the hospital, Harriet found there were still many mothers and babies waiting for immunisations – apparently, they all prefer Harriet, so wait until she comes back!
We picked up Bethan and Rose from school and then had lunch before Omoding (I know him as Omoding Shoebill) came to the house at 2.00 to guide us to Akuja to go out on the lake to look for the rare and pre-historic-looking Shoebill. After driving along narrow dirt tracks, we parked by a homestead and then walked about half a mile across what should have been swamp by now to the water’s edge while guides brought the boat round. We still had to wade through some mud (they lent us boots) to get into the boat. A strong wind was blowing as we pushed out of the long swampy grass ont the open lake. Four people paddled. We passed so many beautiful water lilies and pushed through the tall swampy grass, much of which was actually floating. At one point, we got quite stuck, but with perseverance, they got us through. The Shoebill had been seen by fishermen in the morning, but not in the afternnon. After nearly two hours of paddling around the lake and swamps, the girls decided they had had enough, not helped by “numb bums”, so asked to give up the search. Last night, when we did “Highs and Lows” for the whole trip, this boat trip featured on amongst the “lows” for all of them although I really enjoyed the beauty of being on the water. The most exciting thing we saw was a huge Crested Eagle in the swamp trying to swallow whole a live Black Crake – at least, the guides and I thought it was exciting, but the girls weren’t really interested, not even Rose! Two Jacanas were getting very agitated beside it. Our presence made it fly off, with the tail and long legs of the Crake, no doubt suffocated by now, dangling out of its beak. Although we could see rain moving around us, it never rained on us, which was a relief. We got home just after dark.
The last day in Ngora – and in the school and hospital. I went to visit James Ikara’s Vocational School where I watched a group of boys and girls having their second lesson on the 6 computers which Felicity’s church had sent with me. Everyone was so thrilled. They were also all wearing the shirts which the man on the fish stall in Loughborough market had given me. We then took one of the computers into the tiny office and I went through with James and Patrick, Mary and Frances the budget they had drafted for their future developments. We discussed whom they might approach for help with tools and equipment etc. I was very impressed with them all – they are so committed and enthusiastic about helping the most deprived youth who have dropped out of education through poverty, most of them orphans and some from what are known as “child-headed families” (ie: orphaned families looking after themselves where the oldest child is still under 18). Most of them are unable to pay any fees, but they are still not “chased away” as they would be from any other school. James is even living in a little room in the premises because he has rented out his house for 5 years to the Koreans from the nearby Korean University (for a pittance) because he was so hard up. The other three are all teachers from Nyero Rock High School who have caught James’ vision and are teaching in James’ school whenever they are free, without taking any pay. They are all passionate about what they are trying to do. They told me how the previous day, a Catholic Youth Leader from Mukura had come to ask for help as about 100 students had been “chased” without any warning from the private vocational school they were attending which hadn’t been teaching them anyway because the teachers were hardly ever there. He was worried about what would happen to all these young people now. So the team agreed to take them this week!! They are going to squeeze as many as possible into their only large room (about 10m x10m, used as a classroom and hall etc) to sleep on the floor. They are trusting God to enable them to somehow feed them. They felt they couldn’t turn them away after what has just happened to them as they would then have no hope and no future. [If there’s anyone reading this Blog who would like to know more and perhaps explore ways of helping these people, please let me know.]
Elizabeth (James’ new wife) prepared a delicious meal for the four girls which they wanted me to take back to Ngora for them! So once my oldest friend in Teso, Kokas, arrived to take me home to his home for lunch, we first all piled into the minibus and I took them all to Ngora to deliver the lunch before we went to Kokas’s home where Margaret had prepared lunch. Kate had stayed in the hospital while the other three went back to the house on “border-borders” (small motorbike ‘taxi’s’ which give lifts), so she also came to Kokas’s home with us. Sharon, one of Kokas’s granddaughters who is an orphan and whom our extended family had sponsored through school, had come home to meet me. She is living with a man in Kachumbala who has taken Sharon as his second wife – she has a little boy and a girl.
After lunch, I took Kate back to the hospital as Martha Apolot (one of our old TESS sponsored students) had come on duty on the children’s ward at 2.00 and it was Kate’s last opportunity to spend time with her. We found Martha struggling to put a cannula into a baby of about 9 months who was so dehydrated that her veins had all collapsed. Not surprisingly, the baby was writhing and crying that the mother was struggling to hold her still while Martha tried one vein after another all over her little body. She had lost count of how many times she had put the cannula in. The poor mother was very distressed. So Kate and I helped. Martha just didn’t know what to do next. I suggested that the mother should give her as much bottled water as possible, so we fetched one from the car. We also found one of the young teachers from NHS had been admitted with her baby who had malaria.
Kate and I collected the other three (who had done most of their packing) to bring them back to climb the huge rock next to Ngora High School for the last time and to watch the sun set from the top. I met up with John Omagor for a last, hurried conversation and then met the girls just as it was getting dark. We all went into the hospital so that Rose and Bethan could visit the NHS teacher and her baby. We found that giving the other baby a bottle of water to drink had worked and Martha had at last been able to get a cannula in. She was sleeping so peacefully as fluid dripped into a vein on her scalp – and her mother was so relaxed and smiling after the earlier trauma. We gave a lift back to Ngora town to one of the relatives of a toddler who had been badly scalded with burning water.
Josephine had cooked everyone’s favourite foods for the last meal – fried potatoes, rice, spaghetti, groundnut sauce and chicken.
After final packing and clearing up, we were finally ready to leave at 9.30, only half an hour late. Josephine and James were thrilled with the gifts everyone gave them. John Omagor arrived to travel with us to Mbale so that I could meet my goddaughter, Maggie (his youngest child) who is training to be a nurse. On the way through Nyero, we visited James briefly and collected Sharon to drop her at Kachumbala where she had arranged for someone to bring her children to the roadside so that we could meet them. We met Maggie briefly at the hospital in Mbale and then left John to return home on public transport while we continued the long journey. John found out that the shorter Tirinyi route was still more or less blocked with roadworks, so we had to go via Tororo. We reached Iganga at 2.30 where we stopped for lunch, finally reaching Griffin Falls Camp in Mabira Forest, near Lugazi, at 4.30.
We arrived in time to go on a one and a half hour guided walk through the forest, including coming out into the open at Griffin Falls. One of the girls pointed out that we had visited a waterfall on each of the three weekends of the trip (Sipi, Murchison and this one)! The guide showed us a small dead tree stump with a hole in it about 5’ high which he said had a nest in it. It was too tall for me to see into, but I was able to take a photo which revealed one baby bird which had started to grow its feathers. He didn’t know what species it was. We also saw a huge male Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill – and heard many more screeching in the forest around us.
Mary had prepared a delicious meal of chips, rice, chicken and egg plant. Hussein, who runs Griffin Falls and whom I have got to know quite well, joined us after the meal and chatted. We had two simple en-suite bedrooms with solar power. As it became dark, the tree hyraxes started their eerie screeching as they moved rapidly through the trees. They came so close to our rooms in the night that I went out with my torch to try and spot them – but didn’t see them. The guide said he has never seen them.
We were awakened before dawn by a very heavy storm with non-stop thunder rolling all around us. The rain stopped at dawn and a troupe of Red-tailed Monkeys were chattering and leaping through all the trees around our rooms. I enjoyed watching them, but it was still too dark to take any good photos. After an early breakfast, the girls went off with the guides into the forest to go zip-lining between six huge trees. I started trying to catch up with our diary and also went into the clearing to try and take photos of birds as the light began to improve. There were so many Striped Swallows swooping low catching insects, as well as a beautiful Pygmy Kingfisher (which I have seen every time here). I also saw a Black-capped Waxbill, which is a new bird for me.
Robert very kindly came on a public minibus ‘taxi’, leaving Soroti at 4.00am in time to join us at 11.00 to drive us to the airport. I was concerned that I didn’t know the hundreds of alternative tracks and little back roads around Kampala should we find ourselves stuck. We left Griffin Falls at 11.30. The main road was very busy but reasonable up until Mukono, where we stopped for half an hour while the girls did their shopping in about 10 little craft shops selling a whole range of crafts and artefacts. From then on, the journey just got worse and worse as we got further into Kampala. After being stationary for some time, Robert turned round and went in the opposite direction, on the new partially completed by-pass which goes round the east, north and west of Kampala, many miles out of our way, but at least the traffic was moving – until we got back into the edge of Kampala to get onto the Entebbe Road. We eventually arrived in Entebbe in time to spend one and a half hours at the very posh Lake Victoria Hotel (where all the airline crews stay, as well as other wealthy people). The girls were thrilled to be able to get burgers and chips!
We left the hotel on the final stage of the drive to travel the last 2 miles to the airport, which we reached at 5.30. As I thought, there was no way they would allow me in to the airport to help the girls check in, but they kept me in touch with their progress through all the stages. I now know they have all safely reached the UK, but it was hard letting them go in on their own.
Robert and I returned to the Lake Vic as I had noticed that it was possible to get photocopying and printing done there. So we were able to finish getting his visa application ready for Monday, with a set of copies of everything, while Robert kept one eye on an international football match!
The traffic jam in Kampala, at 10.30-11.00pm on a Saturday night was unbelievable. We sat for about 20 minutes at one place with the engine turned off. Unfortunately, no-one else turned off their engines, so we felt choked by petrol fumes. We eventually reached his brother Ben’s home in Kireka at about 11.15 where we stayed the night.
We completed ordering and checking Robert’s UK visa application so that he can join us for our 50th wedding anniversary holiday with family and friends in July – there are so many documents needed to prove it is a genuine request and that we all have enough funds to support him! It has taken hours and hours over the past 2 months, both here and back at home, but it is still extremely unlikely he will be successful, but various people are praying. He has an appointment at 9.00 on Monday morning to submit the application and be interviewed by video link. Unfortunately, I will not be allowed to go in with him, even though I am his main ‘sponsor’.
Robert brought me to Robinah’s home in Bugolobi in time for lunch. He then went off to get the minibus serviced. He will come and collect me at 7.30 tomorrow morning – we don’t want to risk being caught in traffic jams as he won’t be able to submit his application if he is late. We shall then drive back to Soroti. Ben has very kindly allowed me to continue to use his minibus, which we have hired for the past two and a half weeks, without paying any hire charge, which will save me having to travel on buses and other public transport, which is a great relief and will make life so much easier, including when I am in Teso. Ben will come to Soroti on 1st May and then drive me back to Entebbe on the 3rd, ready to fly home on the 4th. There is a lot we need to discuss with various people on the 2nd about the new tour company he is setting up. I shall be staying with Naphtali in Soroti for the next (and last) 10 days.
Robinah has internet in her flat in Bugolobi where I am staying tonight, so I am hoping that I will be successful in sending this. I don’t know when I shall next be able to access the internet to send any further updates.
DIARY 5: 23rd – 28th APRIL 2017
Sunday, 23rd April
The girls all reached home safely on Sunday afternoon, stopping on the way to satisfy their increasingly strong desire over the last few days here of eating burgers!! Robinah and I enjoyed an evening of catching up. Michael (one of her sons), Sukey and their three young children were also there in the afternoon.
Monday, 24th April
I have come to Hursey Hotel, outside Soroti on the road to Arapai, today (Friday, 28th) to make the most of electricity and internet which are lacking elsewhere! Hursey Hotel has been built by Fr Pius Richard Okiria whom I first got to know in the UK in 1993. At present, he is priest in two parishes in the USA but will be returning to Teso sometime soon. This is much more than a very comfortable hotel overlooking a swampy area, which they have turned into a small farm, and the low hillside opposite; Fr Richard has a vision for developing the farm and gardens for the benefit of local people, especially those with disabilities.
I have now been through all my emails for the first time for nearly four weeks. Many thanks to all of you who have been following our escapades on our Blog and for your comments, feedback and support. A lot has gone on in the UK and our families while we have been away. The four girls who came out with me have now been back at school for a week – and experiencing a very cold spell, in sharp contrast to the continuing heat here which is only relieved for a few hours by the occasional rainstorm. When it does rain, everyone gets so excited, saying that the rains have started at last. But the fact is that it is still very sporadic – only once in about five days and then only over a small area. We had an incredibly heavy storm yesterday afternoon in Soroti, which wasn’t widespread, but it lasted less than an hour. Today is as hot and dry as ever. So all the young and germinating crops are still under serious threat of dying – or producing virtually nothing. Meanwhile, the cost of food in the local markets is still soaring, leaving people with nothing to pay for medical treatment or school fees and other essentials. I am protected from the effects.
Robert collected me at 7.30 am. We reached the offices for submitting UK visa applications about an hour before the appointment time, which gave us time to go through all the papers once again. They wouldn’t allow me to go in with him even though we are his sponsors who have invited him for our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations and are paying for all his costs. He was interviewed, but they only went through the basic facts which were on his application – were they checking if he was the same person? There is nothing more that we can do, except wait for 3 weeks. But it is extremely unlikely that he will be given a visa because of his background and circumstances. He was finished by 9.30, so started the long journey back to Soroti, going via Ben’s house in Kireka to collect some of his things for taking back with us.
I was very pleased to spend an hour or more with Rev Sam Opol at UCU Mukono. I first got to know him in 1994, but we had lost contact over the last few years because we have both changed both email addresses and phone numbers! It was James Ikara who put us back in touch. An hour was not long enough to catch up – but a start!
We didn’t stop for lunch because it was getting late and we had to go the long way round, via Tororo. We did some food shopping on the way and eventually reached Naphtali’s home at about 9.30pm. I have been looking forward to being with Naphtali and his family so much as I didn’t have longer than an afternoon with them last year.
Can’t remember what I did today!!
Naphtali came with me to Ngora to go to Ngora Hospital to get Dr Gorett to sign Kate and Alice’s Work Experience forms as she had been in Kampala when we left last week. They all showed me the new printer/copier/scanner which Alice and Kate had raised money for which she had bought in Kampala. It is now installed in the office and they have learnt how to use it. They proudly showed me a letter with the heading all in colour. They are so excited and genuinely grateful. I took photos.
We then went on to Nyero to visit James Ikara to discuss their budget and proposals for tools, equipment and money. They first showed us some of the students making a solar oven and solar ‘dish’, as well as the groundnut manual shelling machine he has made. I asked if he had ever tried making the sugar cane pressing machine such as we saw in Costa Rica which most homes have to extract syrup for the cane. He told us he had made it when he was working in Jinja, but government officials came and destroyed it saying it was illegal – presumably because they saw it as a threat to the vast sugar factories??!!! As with everyone else who visits, Naphtali came away amazed and so impressed by James’s vision, passion and ability to get on and innovate and accomplish so many things with no money and little more than local and scrap materials. I will do a bit of work on their basic budget and proposals when I get home and see what support they can get.
On the return, we stopped to meet Josephine (who had cooked and looked after us so well in Ngora) as she lives right by the road near Ngora. The road from Ngora town to Kapir, which had been blocked all the time we were there, has now been finished. Although murram, it is now so smooth and flat that it was possible to drive at 80kph!
After a late lunch and a rest, I brought Naphtali to Hursey Resort Hotel. Christine, the Manager, took a photo to send to Fr Richard! We enjoyed a fresh fruit juice cocktail and Christine told us about an inspirational man called Joseph Asutai who is developing a large training farm by the lake at Awoja and who has helped them with their small farm in the swampy area at the hotel. So we contacted him to see if we could come and visit.
James (and Patrick) came from Nyero and met us in the little ‘trading centre’ at Awoja from where we drove south along tracks, picking up a boy on the way to show us the way. It was a few miles off the road, near the lake. Because of the long dry season, there was no swamp! We very much enjoyed talking to Maria (who feeds everyone) and John Patrick (a young agronomist) as well as Joseph himself – another inspirational person. For many years, he was Country Director for the charity ARK, but took early retirement so that he could return to Teso and do something useful for the community. He has ploughed all his savings into buying and developing a large farm using sustainable techniques and methods of improving what is very poor, dry soil. He pumps water from the lake into tanks for an irrigation system. He takes young people who have been forced to drop out of school and gives them apprenticeship training for 3 months, giving them two plots each which they are taught how to use (fertilise, irrigate, protect, transplanting from seed beds etc), no matter what the season. They sell all the produce they grow and take the money home to start up at home. They are also experimenting with techniques, and different varieties of seeds from the Kenya Seed Company who are supporting him. He has had so many serious setbacks, including having all his greenhouses and two water tanks destroyed 2 weeks ago in a freak storm, as well as being made to take down the completed restaurant building by NEMA (National Environment Management Agency). He is building tourist accommodation as well as a Teso ‘living’ museum to preserve traditional artefacts and way of life.
I spent the afternoon with Rev Sam Ediau (who used to run TESS), catching up on news, which was good.
I have had a relaxing day at Hursey catching up with emails and writing this. I had a delicious carrot and ginger soup and pancakes with toffee orange filling.
Tomorrow is the Reunion of TESS old students (Alumni) which they have organised completely by themselves on a very limited budget as TESS has never organised anything and they wanted to meet. Some of our students are abroad, including in Saudi Arabia and Kenya.
On Sunday, Naphtali, Gaudesia and I are going to their village in Amuria (near Asumuk) for two nights.
Tuesday will be spent with Ben Ejadu discussing Homestead Tours, and then on Wednesday, I return to Kampala with Ben ready to fly home.
DIARY 6: Last week in Teso – 29th April-5th May 2017
Monday 1st May: Sitting under a mango tree in Naphtali and Gaudesia’s village home in Amuria, with a cool breeze blowing, I’m trying to catch up for an hour or so, until my laptop battery runs out. Now that it is 4.00pm, and slightly cooler, Naphtali and Gaudesia are back at work clearing more ground of tree stumps and wood, ready for ploughing with oxen tomorrow. A swarm of bees has just passed over at high speed, making an amazing sound! A beautiful chameleon made its way across the earth towards the base of a tree. But as soon as it saw me approaching, it ran up the tree and kept going round and round, away from me as I tried to keep track of it to take a photo! I didn’t realise how fast they can move! It wasn’t until it was way out of my reach (and almost too far away to get a photo) that it slowed down to the more usual ponderous, hesitant way of moving. It’s now lost high up in the branches.
Saturday, 29th April
It rained heavily in the night from about 1.30am, with dramatic thunder and lightning, so much so that the electricity went off once again, having only been restored for a few hours after nearly a week without it. It then continued to rain steadily over much of Teso for several hours, until about 9.00am, giving hope that perhaps the rains really are starting at last. It was only very slight drizzle by the time I left Naphtali’s home at 8.40 to walk to the Girls’ Hostel for the Reunion of old TESS students. [The Girls’ Hostel is another of the institutions which the Bishop closed at the beginning of the year without any warning to the staff, who are now all unemployed.]
Irene Amutos and Joseph Okorio were already at the Hostel arranging the hall. As others arrived, they helped and I took individual photos of them. Rev Canon Francis Eburi (who has taken care of Joseph and who had first told me about him needing sponsorship) and Bishop Charles Obaikol (who first asked me in February 2004 to start a sponsorship programme for girls) both arrived at about 10.00, and Sam Ediau much later.
It was difficult for the organisers to get the day started because they were all so excited to see each other, many for the first time in several years (since they met on their last Retreat), that they were wanting to start catching up on news. There were 65 who came (out of about 280 who have completed sponsorship), some from far away and many of them bringing their young children and babies – about 20, plus one which is due any day now (Igitu Sarah Eunice). Those who attended have a total of about 45 children now.
I was thrilled to see Simon Peter Olaki arrive. He pre-dates TESS by a long way. Bishop Ilukor (Anglican Bishop of the whole of Teso in the 1980s and 1990s) had asked us in 1995 to support him through ‘A’ levels and university. He is totally blind but managed, with the braille machine and other things we were able to get for him (such as Talking Books), and help from friends he made at university, to get a degree at Makerere and train as a teacher. He is now Deputy Head of the very large government day school in Soroti (Soroti SS). Having lost contact with each other over the years, he decided he must come when he heard the announcement which Irene put on local radio which said that I would be attending the Reunion. He has no computer, which would obviously make a big difference to him, and asked if it was still possible to get literature on tapes etc as he has not had any since the last ones we gave him many years ago. (If anyone reading this has access to anything that would help him, please let me know. I know it is possible to get computers which ‘speak’ and presumably computers which have braille letters on the keys.) I felt sorry for him as he didn’t know anyone else there, not helped by not being able to see people, and so must have felt a bit isolated. There was a limit to how much time I could spend with him. But I now have his email address.
Although the event was entirely the initiative of Irene and Joseph, who have worked so hard at their own expense (with a little help from a few other Alumni), Sam Ediau and Bishop Charles have been very supportive, helping and encouraging them. At the last minute, on the previous day, they received an email from the UK TESS Trustees finally giving them their blessing; and two of the TESS staff (Christine and Scovia), who are TESS Alumni themselves, unexpectedly turned up. Wajega Pius was the MC throughout the day. Engwedu William, an electrician who has set up his own business in Soroti, including hiring out sound systems, provided the PA and music system for the day. Joseph and Irene had drawn up a programme for the day, which was more or less kept to, and included speeches from Bishop Charles, Sam and me, as well as ‘testimonies’ from any who wanted to tell us how they had come to be on the sponsorship programme, what they are now doing and how their lives have changed. These included:
Michael Euchu is teaching Chemistry and Biology in several schools and sponsors two children. He called on Alumni to sponsor children (many, like Scovia, are already paying fees for siblings).
Akol Annet Catherine said TESS is her family (there was certainly a strong sense of that, as there has been in the past). “Life moves on step by step. The next step is not the last.” She acknowledged that some are still struggling [there is high unemployment amongst young people, especially graduates and certain skills, which affects TESS students, many of whom are still unemployed], but encouraged them to keep fighting and trusting – “Your time will come”. Whilst a sponsored student, Catherine drew many of the pictures we used for making cards and cloth shopping bags. She still designs and makes jewellery. She got a degree and is now doing business.
Imuceri Debulah Grace works with an NGO in Katakwi amongst deprived and disabled children. She asked TESS Alumni to help other children. “Don’t wait for something big, start with whatever little you have. Don’t wait for a job, use your skills now.”
Engwedu William told us how, after getting a Certificate in Electrical Installation, he bought an old sound system for 90,000 (about £20), repaired it – and developed his own business in Soroti from that. He now has two sound systems which he hires out and a shop in Pamba. He is married, has children and has built his own house in Soroti.
Wajega Pius originally wanted to do Medicine, but changed his mind and got a 1st in Engineering. He is already earning big money as a consultant and designer and starting to travel abroad for work as well as working on various projects. He said he has learnt to be open-minded. He encouraged people to volunteer if they haven’t got jobs. “Everything happens for a reason – use hardships as a stepping stone, a channel to gain energy.”
Amajo Agnes: “God keeps taking me to another level.” Having got a Diploma in Fashion and Design, she now makes clothes and trains refugee women in Kampala to a very high standard. She has also started a training workshop back in her home village where she pays teachers to train girls to sew without charging fees. A Catholic Father had offered her sponsorship to do further training outside Uganda, but she asked that the money should be used instead to treat her mother and pay for her younger brother to complete his ‘A’ levels. (He has now got them, but has no money to continue to the next stage.) Because she has been helped in life, she wants to help others.
Okorio Joseph called for the Alumni to support 2 or 3 TESS students and also to support the families of the five TESS students who have died over the past few years. “Remember where we came from – and remember those who are still ‘down there’ and help them.” He recalled the annual TESS Retreats and said that the Alumni still need to come together like that. Referring to bitterness and divisions which exist between some people, he called on people to lay them aside and mobilise all Alumni.
Tino Esther, who had been appointed by Christine as the Alumni representative on the TESS Advisory Committee a while ago, was asked to address the meeting on behalf of the UK Trustees. [Sadly, she apparently felt it was necessary to be critical of the organisers of the Reunion because they had continued with their plans over the past three months despite the negative and unsupportive attitudes of the TESS trustees and Teso Management (until a few hours before the event started), even though they have never done anything themselves to organise such an event. I wondered if other people felt as uncomfortable as I did.]
The meeting then moved on to form a TESS Alumni Association by electing the Board. I hope the UK TESS Trustees are now going to recognise this, despite saying in advance that they wouldn’t because they hadn’t been involved in organising the Reunion. If they don’t, then they will ‘lose’ all these old students because they feel no allegiance to the current Trustees or Management, only to each other and their sponsors who enabled them to reach this point in their lives. I hope the fact that Bishop Charles (who started TESS with me in 2004 and is the Uganda Patron of TESS) was present throughout the day and commissioned the Board will persuade the Trustees to accept this as the one and only Alumni Association and they don’t try to form another association in the future! For the sake of those of you reading this who have been involved in TESS, the elected Officers are:
President: Joseph Okorio (unanimous, no other nominations)
Vice-President: Esther Tino
Mobiliser: William Engwedu
Treasurer: Emmanuel Alamu
Vice-Treasurer: Immaculate Amoding
Legal Adviser: Leah Akello
Secretary: Angella Rose Alupo
Co-ordinator for those within Teso: Henry Erayu
Co-ordinator for those outside Teso: Pius Wajega
Rev Sam Ediau (the original Sponsorship Manager for many years), Bishop Charles and myself were all asked to speak. I made reference to the serious problem of corruption throughout Uganda, at every level of society and in every institution, including the churches and NGOs like TESS – Uganda ranks 150th out of 175 countries in the world in the corruption tables. I reminded them of the sessions we had on the annual Retreats run by the Teso Anticorruption Coalition and the saying that “Corruption keeps people in poverty”. I pleaded that, as TESS Alumni, they should examine themselves and their circumstances, and eradicate corruption. However, people who stand up to corruption or report it run huge risks in Uganda.
Gifts were given from individuals to Sam, Charles and myself which included (for me) a watch, Karimojong blanket, bag, coffee set and personalised clock.
I took photos of everyone present (although three slipped through the net) and will set them side by side with the earliest photos I took of each of them many years ago.
Their qualifications include tertiary Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees in practical, vocational and academic subjects and their current jobs include: Cashier, selling timber, University teaching assistant, business, bursars, research and advocacy officer, boutique, teachers, tailoring instructor, Post Bank agricultural loans officer, midwives, NGO development project officer, medical lab technicians, accountants, plumbers, veterinary officer, tailors, National ID Authority officer, secretaries, police officers, nurses, clinical officer, running own drug shops, agricultural adviser, enrolment officer…..
I don’t know how they managed it on the little money they had, but they provided tea, bananas and bread for a break and then rice, goat stew and greens at the end of the day, at about 5.00pm. People were slow to drift away, still wanting to talk. It was dark by the time Irene and Joseph walked back with me to Naphtali’s home. I felt exhausted and drained, but it had been a wonderful day.
As I went across the compound to go to bed in my room, Irene and Susan were catching the flying “white ants” using torches to attract them. They are not actually ants, but are the reproductive termites which emerge in their thousands, even hundreds of thousands, at night from termite mounds just after the rains start (leaving behind the queen and her king, the workers and soldiers in the mound). The wings drop off. If a male and female mate, they can then bury into the soil and start a new colony, often destroying houses and fences etc in the process. Their bodies are about 2.5cm long with four wings about 4cm long. They are a delicacy, rich in protein and fat, that are only available a few days in the year.
One of the girls was cooking the flying termites collected the night before on an open fire. Joven (a young grandson) had a few bits of burning charcoal on the ground and an old piece of tin and was cooking his own termites, watched by his younger sister, Elsi.
Gaudesia left early for the village on a “boda-boda” motorbike. Naphtali and I went to the 9.00am service in the church at the Vision primary school built by a Korean. It was a Communion service, which is not very common in the Anglican or Pentecostal churches, partly because so many people are excluded from receiving communion. If they have been married according to traditional customs, but not yet in church (which happens later for the few who can afford two ceremonies), they are considered to be “living in sin” and therefore not allowed to take communion. This shows a serious lack of understanding of the Christian theology (and even practice) of marriage which causes so much sadness and pain.
Naphtali and I loaded the minibus with overnight things, including some extra bedding and food, and set off for their “village” home in Amuria, with me driving. It took about an hour. The murram road to Katakwi is very bad – and not likely to be worked on because they are going to build a tarmac road all the way from Soroti to Moroto. The roadside was covered with thousands (millions) of silvery wings discarded by the termites the previous night.
The road was better when we turned off in Wera onto small tracks past people’s cultivated fields. Because of the heavy rain, I was often driving through huge “puddles”, although that doesn’t seem an adequate name for the small lakes! Everything looked so fresh, with signs of hope that perhaps some of the crops will produce some harvest after all – if the rains continue.
I am always happier being in the countryside than in towns, wherever I am in the world. Naphtali and Gaudesia have a compound with two round grass thatched houses, one of which I slept in, a small kitchen and a latrine. The compound is surrounded by their “gardens”. After a simple lunch, we all got on with garden work. I set to on weeding the groundnut (peanut) field (part of it!) – and was glad that the clouds protected me from the sun. I thought how, a week later, in very different circumstances, I would probably be weeding my own garden in Loughborough! I would always much prefer to be working in the garden than indoors. Some children watched me in amazement and were giggling and talking about me, so I told them to come and help with the weeding instead, which they did!
Naphtali got someone to come and repair the hole in the grass thatch of their house – just in time, as there was a very heavy storm just as it got dark and we went into their house for supper. We still had to dodge some leaks, but it felt cosy with the noise of the torrential rain and thunder outside. However, as it was clearly not going to stop before bedtime, I had to go out in the rain, running across the flooded compound to my little house. I found that the grass roof was also leaking and had actually made the bed quite wet. So I turned the mattress over, pushed the bed away from the leaks and snuggled down to sleep. Although the rain eased off, it rained most of the night.
Monday, 1st May
I woke to the sound of men calling out to their team of four oxen as they ploughed some of Naphtali’s land. They always start before 6.00am to avoid the heat later on. Soya beans had been scattered over part of the field so that they would be buried as the field was ploughed. Gaudesia, Naphtali and neighbours were already digging, weeding and planting, one of them with a baby strapped on her back, as I emerged into the bright sunshine. Accompanied by three little children from nearby, I explored around the fields, bushes and trees, looking for birds, insects and wild flowers to photograph.
After breakfast, I joined those who were planting more groundnuts. Everyone works in pairs – one with a hoe digging shallow holes at regular intervals and one (the easy job, which I did) dropping a groundnut into each hole. The next pair comes along and as the next row of holes is dug, the loose soil covers the groundnuts in the previous row of holes – and so on, row after row. It took us several hours to plant about half an acre. The soil was soft, dark and damp. We disturbed hundreds of insects that were basking on the soil, including butterflies and grasshoppers. Some grasshoppers stood out from a distance, being ornately-patterned with black and yellow spots and stripes whilst others were camouflaged by looking just like blades of grass. There were tiny frogs which resembled the soil and a grey spotted skink which we disturbed in the soil – it moved more like a snake than a lizard as it had almost non-existent front legs.
Everyone rested under trees in the middle of the day when it got very hot before returning to the garden work. As dusk approached, I walked around again to take photos of the beautiful clouds and sky – such an amazing range of shapes and colours from blue and white to gold and red, black and purple.
As there was no rain, we sat out in the compound talking as the quarter moon and stars came out in a clear sky. Occasional fireflies flitted around. And then the flying termites arrived again! This time, we used Robert’s idea – I moved the minibus, left the engine running and turned on the headlights as flying termites are attracted from long distances by lights. We laid down a sheet in front of the minibus, got out buckets, basins and a grass brush, and started to collect them. Gaudesia and I knelt on the sheet while Naphtali swept them towards us. We gathered the large fluttering insects in handfuls, dropping them into the buckets where they just lay without escaping. The frenzy was over in about twenty minutes. We had some prepared the previous day with a cup of tea before supper, but Naphtali would only let me have a few as he feared I might react to them (a few people are allergic to them) and we were far from any medical help! The biggest problem, when you haven’t grown up eating them from childhood, is thinking about what it is you are eating! They are tasty, but crunchy and a bit chewy. A second emergence happens after about midnight, which people often get up for although none of us did that night. I don’t think the four girls would have coped very well!
Everyone was up early again to work in the gardens and plough while it was still relatively cool. Naphtali and I returned to Soroti after breakfast. We got stuck in deep sticky mud, not helped by the fact that I could engage the 4WD on only one of the front wheels. However, there were several passers-by, including a man returning from ploughing with his team of oxen, who stopped and helped. There was a termite mound right by us, so they borrowed a hoe from a nearby home, dug out the thick mud in front of and behind the rear wheels and replaced it with the rock-hard termite soil (almost like concrete as the termites mix soil with their saliva). They also broke off some small branches and put them behind the wheels. Then by pushing and ‘rocking’ the minibus, we finally got it free – and continued on our way.
Naphtali and I had expected to meet with Ben in Soroti to discuss ideas about Homestead Tours, a tour company to bring cultural and volunteer tourism to Teso. Ben has started to get it going again after the UK TESS Trustees cut it off from TESS more than 3 years ago. But his plans had changed and his text message never got through to me in the village, so instead, we set off a day early for Kampala. It was actually 1.00pm before we had got everything sorted and finally left Soroti. We collected Robert at Kapir and he drove the rest of the way.
Someone told Naphtali that it was better to go on the murram road through Kanyum, Mukongora and Palissa to join the tarmac road at Tirinyi instead of having to go twice the distance via Mbale and Tororo. The first half of the road had recently been graded and was excellent. Then we reached the first swamp, and found that the river had burst its banks and was sweeping across the road in a torrent, fortunately only about 30cm deep, so it was just possible to drive through although you couldn’t see where the road was. There were two other places under water, but not quite so deep. The rest of the road after that was not as good, but it saved us perhaps about 2 hours. We reached Ben’s home in Kireka, on the outskirts of Kampala, just before dark. Naphtali stayed in a guest house nearby and I stayed with Ben while Robert went straight back on the bus, getting home at 2.00am and without anything to eat.
We spent the morning discussing Homestead Tours and were joined by Judith as well. Ben, with his training and practical experience of wildlife and tourism, Judith with her experience of tourism management and Naphtali with his experience of business management, planning and finance will make a strong team, especially as Naphtali lives permanently in Soroti and so can manage everything in Teso. Judith will do all the reservations in Kampala as well as some marketing and the website, while Ben will take tourists around Uganda. Although Ben knows the whole of Uganda so well, they will concentrate on promoting and selling tours around eastern and northern Uganda, with Teso and its unique opportunities for cultural tourism which is not offered by any other of the large number of burgeoning Ugandan companies. Naphtali got the bus home at lunchtime.
Sam and Margaret Opol came from Mukono in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours with me on their way to Kampala to meet their son returning from boarding school. We did some reminiscing as well as talking about the current situation in Teso.
Leticia, Ben’s four year old, talked non-stop (in English). She first called me “Muzungu” (the Swahili word for “white person”), but then called me Tata (Grandmother) Margaret when I told her my name. She wanted to spend all the time with me! I was teaching her the names of the birds around the house, writing them down and drawing pictures of them on her notepad which she then copied. She is very bright and has excellent handwriting already. Although Ben is a bird expert, it seems he thought she was still a bit too young to start on learning their names.
After re-packing, I edited my photos during the morning as there was uninterrupted electricity. Peter Atuba (who drove me, Adam and Issy last July for 10 days in western Uganda) joined us for a lunch of spaghetti and then drove us to Entebbe. Ben, Sheila (his wife) and Leticia all came to see me off. However, Leticia was very upset and wouldn’t say good-bye.
The journey home took 24 hours ‘door to door’. It was dark by the time we took off, so there was nothing to see out of the window. An elderly ‘white’ man was brought on from an ambulance at Entebbe and travelled throughout on a stretcher, hooked up to various things. It looked as though he had been involved in a serious accident. We first flew south to Kigali (Rwanda) where some people on the flight from Brussels got off and others joined us, so that meant a much longer flight time. The sun rose as we crossed Europe, but it was very cloudy. I had a few hours to wait in Brussels, so bought an adaptor plug and continued editing my photos.
Flying up to Birmingham over England was lovely because there were only a few white fluffy clouds. The green, yellow and brown fields, with trees and hedges in a variety of new, fresh greens, were brilliant in the bright sunshine. Roger was at the airport to meet me and bring me home, a month after leaving Birmingham with the four girls. The drive home was lovely – spring has sprung while I have been away. There is a lot of colour in the garden and I am in time to see our Wisteria which covers the whole of the front of the house and smells so sweet.
I returned home to find an email waiting to say that Robert’s UK Visa application (for coming to join us for our 50th Wedding Anniversary celebrations in July) has been processed and decided. But they don’t tell you the result! So he has to wait until he is given a day to go and collect his passport from Kampala, hopefully next week. Only when he opens the envelope will he know the outcome! So many of us will be disappointed if he is refused a Visa.
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