Friday, May 31, 2013

Days Eight-Eleven: Lingira Island

5/28/13, 9:30pm
We arrived to Lingira Island last night by private boat from Ripon port. The island is beautiful and so different from the mainland. There is much less tourist influence and is less developed for various reasons including lack of access to resources and stigma due to the nature of the island community's roots. We were introduced to many people on the island who remembered Eric and Claudia from last year's Edge visit and got a feel for the area. We all had dinner at SHIM with some of the community members and everyone went around and introduced themselves and welcomed us.
This morning after breakfast we visited the clinic for Youth with a Mission (YWAM) and the school in Lingira. They have to build more dormitories there because so many children from the mainland come because the students there have been scoring very well on national exams.
Then after lunch Eric began his research by surveying the area and I joined so I could do more exploring. We wandered through Katonga Village and were called over by some of the members sitting outside. They didn't speak much English and we don't speak much Lugandan so conversation was limited but still partially feasible. Many of the young children in the village had never seen a white person and were scared or enthralled (like most Ugandan children, who have one of those two reactions). Two of the women then cleared off a bench for us and asked us to sit. They were taking about us as we could discern the word "mzungu" and word seemed to spread through the village. They moved our bench then to the shade and people started bringing their children up to us to say hi or so they could see mzungu. 
The women then sent a boy to bring two sodas and two packs of glucose biscuits for us. Then a young girl, no more than five years old, brought us a container of lake water, soap, and a basin for washing our hands. Knowing that the water from the lake, especially there at the edge, contains millions of parasites and diseases including E. coli, malaria, and many types of parasitic worms, it wasn't the best option before eating but we wanted to avoid being rude in this unnavigable situation. Eric did wash his hands in the water and I then pretended to when no one was directly looking. That left me to eat all the glucose biscuits along with my sugary Coke while we sat on our own the bench and the village members engaged in their separate business. We didn't know what the gesture was for or when we could politely leave so we stayed on that bench for about an hour deciding how to best handle this engulfing wave of culture. Eventually we explained we had to go watch a soccer match, thanked them and left.
Later we asked Ruthie, a woman from America who works at SHIM, if she could help us understand the situation. She explained that it was merely a hospitable gesture to guests and, as it was obvious that we were not from there, they invited us in. While these people have so little, the culture is strong in hospitality and on welcoming others. 

On Wednesday we were invited to Teacher Zack's physics class at Lingira Living Hope school. Students from all around Uganda, and even one from Sudan, come to study here as it has such a fabulous reputation. Two of its students were even recently in the newspaper for having such high scores on the national exams. He was a very good teacher though I was easily lost having not taken physics since my freshman year of high school. During class, a chicken walked in the room and none of the students reacted, as it was entirely normal. After class, we brought some National Geographics inso another class, passed them out, and allowed the children to ask us questions about the articles there or America or anything else. I really connected with one student who had so many questions and kept asking me to come back and sit with her. Her heart is set on becoming a business woman and she lit up when she began talking about her favorite courses in school.  
After leaving school, we climbed up the mountain on Lingira to watch the sunset over Lake Victoria, which was stunning. Now I am just looking forward to the even more beautiful sunrise from there.

On Thursday we were all invited to Pastor Waboka's (sp?) home for something to drink and something to eat. He brought us all pineapple Novidas (my new favorite, and sadly non-American soda) and his wife cooked us a wonderful meal of rice, chicken and soup. Another case in which a family with so little was so incredibly hospitable to guests.
After leaving there, Teacher Fred invited us to speak with some recipients of micro financing loans given through BISCO to individuals in Lingira Village. The successes were enormous, with one couple, who has received and successfully paid back 8 loans so far, allowing them to begin a restaurant, store, and health clinic. Each of these businesses were able to not only enable the family to provide food and health care for themselves, but also provide these services and employment for community members. This is one of many examples of successful micro loan services that have been started internally, by Ugandans who already are part of a community, and are far more successful than external or foreign aid and development projects, no matter how well informed or well meaning they may be.

This morning we are leaving the island by public boat to Jinja. We will be attending a networking conference for NGOs that focus on children with disabilities in the Kampala area. Tessa was invited by a couple who runs Spring of Hope, an NGO based in Jinja. They offered us a ride as well, which was so wonderful of them. Networking, networking, networking.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Days Two-Eight: Jinja

5/23/13, 8:30am
We spent yesterday making our way to Jinja for most of the morning. In the afternoon we finally had the chance to meet Rose and the rest of the staff at the Women's Rights Initiative (WORI), a long term partner of Tawi, to tell us more about their goals to help empower women and youth. Community Based Participatory Research is not a new concept to them; they do needs-based assessments of communities with expressed needs before creating any curriculum or plans and serve as a catalyst to incent individuals to be the sources of change. WORI, as well as Tawi, focuses on sustainable change by not only teaching women to sew, for example, but also how to fix a faulty machine.
Being as my project focuses on poverty, I have been attempting to observe and ask about that as well.  I am not planning to disperse many of those findings or my own insights on that here until possibly after I have had time to digest them through working on my project and conducting more interviews with social protection agencies to avoid any premature assumptions.

So far our time in Jinja has been exciting and interesting, most of all speaking with WORI. I look forward to meeting with additional NGOs and to continue learning.

5/24/13, 5:00pm
Yesterday Tessa and I joined Rose and Stuart for a visit to a rural village called Mifubira to accept or deny requests for revolving loans. The individuals who receive loans use them to start a business. The interest rates then provide money for WORI to provide loans to more individuals. It was interesting watching this process as the entire meeting was in Lugandan, so I only picked out a few words. They had an innovative way of having most of the women sign the contract by coloring their thumb and stamping a print on the form if they were illiterate.
This morning I worked on contacting more NGOs and have set up meetings with several of them. Hopefully they will be able to provide insight on poverty in Uganda as well as their specific agency's approach and methods for approaching poverty alleviation with various services.
We went back to WORI this afternoon to talk about other NGOs they would be able to put us in touch with. A couple of children saw us inside and soon an entire group showed up. They were fascinated by Andrew's video camera and were recording us and each other. We learned some more Lugandan phrases from some of the WORI staff while we were there so we don't look like such silly mzungus.

5/27/13, 10:30am
We have ended up staying in Jinja longer than we had expected, but we are heading to Lingira Island today, which is part of the Buvuma Island chain in Uganda. While we are there we will be staying with some longtime partners of EDGE, Andy and Keeky Smith of Shepherd's Heart International Ministry. This area is much different than the more urban touristy Jinja so it will be interesting to see the differences, especially regarding access to resources. 
We had to relocate from the hostel we were originally staying at after Eric contracted a combination of  tropical diseases, one being ringworm, likely from the sheets or towels there. He is feeling fine and appears to be clearing up, but he will be going to an Australian doctor today to try to identify whatever is going on on his back. Andy and Keeky recommended that we stay at their friends' bed and breakfast in Jinja, run by Hackers for Charity. The husband has always had jobs working with electronics and found his niche here by offering reliable and affordable computer services to individuals and NGOs. They have been incredibly hospitable in sharing meals and their beautiful home for the past two nights.
On the research end, I have so far met with four NGOs including WORI, one of which we came across coincidentally. On Saturday I met with an LGBT organization; the only one in Jinja. They have to keep the organization confidential because of the Kill Bill recently passed in Uganda which not only prohibits homosexuality but marks it as punishable by death. The laws are so heavily enforced that they have a separate police force to do so and require that doctors, parents, and others serve as mandated reporters of homosexuality or may be subject to up to three years in jail.
The following day Tessa and I met with Benjamin, an administrator at Agapewo Ministries Uganda in Jinja. Their programs focus on education, HIV/AIDs, and agriculture. While they incorporate God they are not affiliated with any particular religion. Their main struggles are transportation, lack of funding and resources, and high expectations from the program recipients. Benjamin noted that when they offer services to a community they expect to be alleviated of all their problems when really the organization can only do so much.
A woman sitting near us at the cafe overheard Tessa's introduction at the beginning of the interview and was interested when she heard her mention "disability." Julie works for Africa Inland Mission with a focus on services for individuals with disabilities. Tessa was able to conduct an interview with her as well and was invited to a conference for NGOs with a concentration on disability services in Kampala onJune 1st, so she and I will be traveling there in a few days. I think the networking opportunity will be fantastic so that she can get a better idea of how certain NGOs come to be and find their niche in Uganda, and also that Tawi will be again well received as it too tries to foster relationships between NGOs. 
After spending hours at Space Cafe, the main Internet cafe in Jinja (or the magnet for all muzungus), we were getting a bit stir crazy so Eric and I went exploring around town. We wandered into a Hindu temple and met the main priest there. There is a prominent Indian population in Jinja, so he found work as the priest there in 1996. He invited us to come back the following morning for prayer, so Claudia, Eric, and I did.
While Eric remembered where the temple was located and could accurately guide his boda boda driver there, my sense of direction is rather shakey so Claudia and I tried to navigate our way from Soace Cafe with no luck. However, while walking to the bank from the cafe I spotted the Jay Vishwa Karma temple again and we were able to learn from the priest. Mainly the temple is for individual prayers but the priest comes to open the curtain and wake God up in the morning and to close the curtain in the evening while he sleeps. He showed us the morning prayer, answered more questions, and blessed each of us by giving us bracelets and blessing them. 

Before heading to Lingira,we joined Keeky to take a boy from the island to a school near Jinja that offers courses for students with disabilities. Right away he was welcomed by the other students and it looks as though he will do well there. After, we visited a facility for individuals with disabilities called Ekisa, also located in Jinja. Ekisa was beautiful and had enough space for each child to have their own bed and to spend time playing outside. It also included a sensory room so that the children could still have environmental stimulation even if their disability may have otherwise limited that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day One: Travel

Today's the day!

Thank you to my wonderful friends for the journal, booklight, and first aid kit for my trip.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. And many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime" -Mark Twain.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Very Beginning


There isn't a country I would not like to visit.  There are indeed countries I should not or cannot visit, but none that I would not like to visit.  This curiosity is what drew me to my upcoming travels to Uganda.
Earlier this year, I was introduced to Tawi , a new student lead organization on campus focusing on professional and international development as an option to grow beyond the classroom (you can find more information about Tawi here).  While I was originally drawn in by the free ice cream at the info session, its mission began to speak to me.  Tawi stresses sustainable change similar to what I have learned through my social welfare studies.  Instead of showing up as an outsider asserting our expertise, we need to go in to ask questions, learn, and listen.
I am not going to Uganda because I aim to elicit change.  I am not going to Uganda because I aim to provide aid.  I am not going to Uganda because I think I am a greater expert than Ugandans.  I am not going to Uganda because my culture and experience have lead me to understand the right way.
I am going to Uganda so that I can begin to understand aspects of another country.  I am going to Uganda to explore the picture of poverty in a country other than my own.  I am going to Uganda because I hope to gain experience and perspective on how individuals who are part of another culture are different yet very much the same.  I am going to Uganda to ask questions, to learn, and to listen.
Hopefully I will find time to keep up with this blog, but it will be a bit of an experiment.  I may post daily, weekly, sporadically, or not at all but I hope to write at least enough as to not forget the good and the bad and the in-between.