Some additional insights about the work done

african child

A couple of relaxing afternoon hours. Good to chill out once in a while.
Even better with the fantastic view of the source of the Nile and the sound of insects, monkeys and birds.
The variety of species living here is really incredible, so many colored birds, stunning eagles and the monkeys constantly jumping from one tree to the other make you feeling you are in a totally different dimension.
Something it really is.

I’ve been with no coffee for a week. My personal record so far.
Coffee is one of Uganda’s major cash crop, but you are lucky to meet a Ugandan who knows how to brew a decent cup: be prepared to insipid and watery brown beverage. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Italian!

Here you feel tired much more often than back home, it might be due to the fact it gets dark earlier, being involved in so many different things and the climate. At 9pm sometimes we look at each other and start laughing for the tired faces around.
It’s great to get used to enjoy any moment, taking some time to relax after dinner, listening to the sounds of nature, having very limited technology around. It’s even better when the power goes off (and there are days when it happens often) during dinner: delicious food, a cricket concert, candle light and a roof of stars, what do you want more?
No power now since 20h and counting.

Great days spent on different projects. I gave up on the school decoration paintings. Better focusing on the rest I’m way more capable doing. :)
Computer classes, like schools, are re-starting in these days. The holiday period is over also if here everything is quite relaxed and flexible, so the majority of the children won’t show up until next week.

The Special Needs is very busy particularly on Friday.
I helped out the physiotherapist last time. A lot of children needs rehabilitation for many different reasons. I’ll post different profiles and photos of them, so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
The session with Stephen has been extremely touching. He cannot walk for problems with legs joints. While walking extremely slowly using a walker, he fell back and I was not able to catch him promptly. For a few moments he didn’t say a word and we were a bit scared.
He started crying a bit, silently almost if he did not want to bother us, while we helped him to stand again and checked how he was feeling.
I asked if he wanted to stop and rest. He said no, he wanted to finish the exercise, alone. Reassuring and encouraging him, slowly he continued walking while some tiers were still coming down. What an example of strength, determination and unwillingness to give up.

Some carpentry work is needed as well. We are making a special chair for a physically and mentally disabled child, Amina. She cannot move at all and with this chair she would at least be able to seat down and have a different position rather than always lying down.

I’ve been a few days in the office in town, for additional suggestions on marketing, advertising, online products, website optimization, documents standardization.
Lucky enough, a couple of days ago I took part of the management meeting (it happens every 1.5-2 months) so I could officially present what I’ve been working on, tips and several benefits they could get in joining Google for nonprofit and different network/infrastructure than what they’ve been using so far.
We spent pretty much all day discussing about many different topics. Very long but very productive meeting.
You can find a list below of the main points discussed and in bold are those where I gave inputs or I’ve been the main source of information.

Social media updates and scheduling
Photos of department/group members (I’m going to leave an SD card to Aggrey, the volunteer coordination in Bujagali, so he can use any tourist/volunteer camera to promptly get photos to share)
Headed papers / fonts / standard of different documents
– Newsletter and email signature
– Phone charges
– Salary, bonuses, awards, review periods, targets, contract update (inflation can be 27% y/y)
– Employee survey (I’m helping out in visiting different schools and get data collected and usable)
– Donated laptops assignments for senior staff members.
Google for nonprofit: Google Apps for Education, Google Grants, YouTube for nonprofit
My fundraising update and Google matching. I might reach 9000 USD!!! Thank you all and Google :)
– Vehicles maintenance
Internal communication (very tricky with 26 schools and the most of people not being able to access the internet)
– Projects updates.

For a change, I got also the chance to taste the Indian food I heard so much about. Delicious!

Here is a map of the main area where we are operating.

bujagali map

A different Saturday

Yesterday it’s been a very intense and emotional Saturday after a full week spent with Soft Power.
I went back to the Budondo Health Clinic with Rachael for the initiative we started last week with doctor Ben’s help.
After meeting him at the beginning of the week, we were scouting the place and getting as many information and help as possible to have all the video and photographic material we could get.
The work is going to be finalized during the next couple of months with the creation of a website and the videos and photos post production.
I was taking care of photos and portraits, logistic, groups/families organization while Rachael filmed the interviews and asked some of the questions.
Ben has been great in being a kind of moderator asking questions in the local language in order to have all patients feeling as much comfortable as possible. They know him very well.

As mentioned earlier, awareness about illness like HIV and founds to have projects and clinics like that running are really big issues.
Having people so passionate, kid, helpful and open like doctor Ben can be a lifesaving and it’s by far the most important ingredient.

We were not expecting so many people. The queue outside the center was incredible.
We’ve been introduced to the patients and their families before starting. The large majority of them are HIV positive, aging from 4 to 75 years old.
Ben reinforced the message of the reason why we where there and the counselor Nakato was extremely helpful as well in coordinating all families and providing us the list of their names and some other details. She is 49, HIV positive, in a family of 10 members. Nakato is volunteering there, she really knows what it means going though that and since many years she is making aware and helping out individuals and families HIV affected.

The response has been much higher than expected, so we started as soon as we can around 10am to finish at 5.30pm, non stop. We could not keep so many people, mainly children under the sun for too long. Not sure how many dozens of bottles of water I’ve been distributing during all day.
It’s been exhausting and very touching.

All of them were so patient and open. So keen in sharing their thought, difficulties and challenges. I was really impressed.
We got different combinations: couples HIV positive, grandmothers who were left alone in taking care of their sons’ children because they died (mainly because the HIV); the most frequent case was a single mother left alone to look after her children.
All of them with an average of 3-4 children, up to 8.

Pretty much all parents/grandparents were HIV positive. It was great to see the majority of the children was not. This is a great example on how prevention, awareness and constant therapies can have a incredibly positive impact on the affected families.
However I think those were not a statistically relevant number: who was there yesterday, knew a lot about the problem, goes to the clinic much more often than the average so are the ones getting the treatment. All the people who don’t go there, are left apart, with extremely limited resources and help.

There are different reasons why people don’t go at all to the clinic, don’t follow the right treatment or it has a very limited effect. Extremely common issues are:
– Financial issues. By far the most recurring issue that is causing indirectly the majority of the following ones.
– Patients cannot afford going to the clinic, the limited transportation can be too expensive for them.
– Limited food supply and its lack of nutrients. HIV drugs can be very debilitating and they should be taken with an appropriate diet. It’s pretty much never the case here.
– Awareness, again. If parents don’t take necessary precautions and treatment in time, the risk of having HIV positive children is extremely high.
– Limited drugs supply.
– Often they live in very poor conditions, not being able to pay school fees, clothes and hoping it does not rain otherwise it would be leaking everywhere in their houses. Several children are always walking barefoot: they cannot afford buying shoes.

At the end of the working day Rachael and I looked at each other extremely tired, but happy for the unique experience, the people we had just met and the amount of testimonials and material we have been able to collect.
I cannot wait to share their detailed stories: they always looked so humble, strong, and displaying great dignity. They were smiling, crying, talkative and full of hope for more help and support in their lives.

We spent a couple of hours to recover and get something to eat in the late afternoon, in order to get ready for a child’s birthday we got invited to.
Do you remember about Junior? It just turned 6 yesterday. No signs about the malaria and he’s up running and smiling more than before.
We bought a cake from town and several chapati with nutella.
His house is small and simple like all the ones around here. Not leaving in one made out of mud is already a luxury.
We had to wait a bit, he went to the church for a sort of birthday blessing. His big brother was so happy and thankful for what we were doing, also if it could look like so small and insignificant to the majority of the people of the world we are familiar with.

You should have seen the truly happiness in the children’s eyes starring at the cake and tasting the chapati.
The astonishment of Junior once he arrived arrived home was even bigger and, for us mzungu, amazing: he could not stop to star at the cake.
I wonder if any of them attending the improvised party have ever got one. It did not look like.

The night ended with a superhero party at the campsite full of mzungu. At the same time a weird and nice break after a such intense day and week full of unique feelings.

In the meantime, here I’m spending very lazy Sunday afternoon (not sure when it was last time I had one) writing a couple of notes down and enjoying, not necessarily in a specific order:
– the smell of the rain;
– two yellow butterflies against the blue sky, chasing each other in an apparently never ending love dance;
– a large group of small monkeys jumping from one tree to the other looking for a shelter for the shower;
– the peaceful view of the Nile;
– the feeling of the sun under the skin;
– the feeling of being in a totally different dimension.

PS: Congrats to my cousin Tommaso for his wedding yesterday. I missed it to be here.

A Day in the Life of a Pre School Pupil

kcc pupi
My name is Barbella and I am five years old. I live with my aunt and cousins. I sleep on a mat in a room with everyone else. I get dressed in the dark.

Every morning I leave with my two cousins to collect water from a stream quite a way away. My other cousins collect the wood. The walk is nice, it is cool at that time of the day and we play chasing games. At the stream there might be a line of children trying to catch the water in jerry cans and plastic bottles. Men kneel trying to clean their bikes and old women bend to wash.

We balance the full jerry cans on our heads and step slowly up the hill, trying not to spill any. Other children are walking with their goats and cows. At home we sit on the floor and share a jackfruit or a potato.

I walk to school on my own. It is always dusty and the matatus and trucks make the dust fall onto my hair and into my eyes. Sometimes I borrow my cousin’s shoes, as her feet are too big and her shoes too small. They nearly fit me.

My pre-school is called Buwenda and it is very nice and my teacher is kind. Her name is Florence and she wears pretty dresses. At school we play games, sing songs, sit on swings, learn new words and numbers and write with chalk. I love my school, it is a happy place – it is red, blue, yellow, green, white. There are posters on the walls and paintings of the alphabet and little children. We take lunch to school and I have a small blue plastic box with fruit or a biscuit in it. We always have to wash our hands because we get them dirty from playing games in the dirt.

After school I walk home with my friends. I have to go straight home because I must collect water again. It is always very hot in the afternoon and the dust sticks and turns our skin orange. At night time we sit together and eat posho and beans. It makes my tummy full. We eat it with our fingers. My aunt will wash our faces and puts our clothes in a neat small pile in the corner of the room where we all sleep.

I don’t know where my daddy is, but my mummy was poorly and died. They said she was sick. She became thin and weak. Her sister looks after me now. My cousins make me sleep on the end of the mat, but I don’t mind, I am warm and it is dark outside.

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From a SoftPower experience.

Football and malaria

We got invited to support 2 football teams of children, so what a better way to start the weekend. And before that breakfast with chapati, pineapple and tea of course. 😉
So I went to the Kyabirwa primary school with the other 4 volunteers staying at Mama Flo’s. Surprisingly we arrived just on time, but no sign of the match even after 40 mins.

Well, let’s try to show off our skills then, we got involved in a no-rules no-goals match, where everybody was trying to run after the ball and get it. The oldest child was not more than 8.
One of the youngest was really unbelievable, it might have been 5 years old but he was playing incredibly well and -no surprise- he was way more fit then me!

We were having a lot of fun, but particularly here things can suddenly change.

At a certain point we spotted Junior who suddenly looked like very week and serious feeling like to sleep. Initially we thought he was just tired, but he didn’t really interact all. Something very unusual for children here.
We decided to walk him to the closest clinic, the one next the Soft Power Center. Stopping at his house first, we let his mum known about him. She seemed not worried at all and it’s been necessary to insist to get him to the health clinic.
-As already experienced in the Budondo clinic a couple of days ago, awareness and knowledge of any health related problem is a big issue here.-
Got at the clinic. I hope we didn’t skip the queue because we were mzungu, but for the malaria symptoms Juniors had.

The small clinic looked much better than the one in Budondo due probably to its size and the link to Soft Power. There is a consultation room, a visiting room, a lab and a pharmacy. Everything in about 50 sqm.
One of the 2 doctors, James, checked his temperature and started the test to detect malaria. It’s very easy to check it out and the result were ready in matter of minutes.
Junior is malaria positive.
One of the most common strain here in Africa and luckily not the worst one. Malaria can kill; if diagnosed early can be relatively easy to cure: an initial injection was needed and then 2 pills twice a day, every 12h for 3 days in a row.

James was great in explaining and answering the million questions I had.
Supplies for the clinic are relatively good, antimalarial arrives directly from the US as well. Normally they buy drugs from India or Germany. The first is cheap but drugs are sometimes infected, the latter is more expensive and safe. Depending on the funds available they choose the one or the other.

I’ll be back in the clinic to meet James again, it would be great to get more insights on how things go and, why not, have a small photo project about the health clinic as well.
We are also going to check how Junior feels in the next couple of days. After the injection he looked much better already.

It was so cool to see him awake and smiling again.

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Visiting the Jinja office

The first week has flown by and I tried to experience and to get an overview of as many projects as I could. I wrote a couple of days ago a quick overview about those. Then I wanted to visit the office in Jinja: checking stuff and proposals with the management it can be more effective. 😉

Meeting the staff. There are about 6 people in the office taking care of the planning, project management, accounting, marketing and a webmaster. Everything is pretty much done locally. The structure and the area where they are based is quite nice compared to what I’ve been experiencing so far.

Marketing product. They asked me to help out with their marketing activities, there is the entire off-line and on-line promotion to re-do.

I’m going to meet another member of the staff for an additional photo-project.

Last but not least, it’ not clear yet if they are using Google Grants and Youtube for non-profit, I did not get a chance to check it yet. I don’t think so. This would e a HUGE opportunities for them. Google Grants would give them 10000 USD per month to spend for free on-line advertising.
I’m planning to give them an overview next week about that, so this Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll meet also Sharon, the on-site director.

Budondo Health Center

After the computer class today, I went with the other Australian volunteer Rachael to the Budondo Health Clinic.
It’s about 10 minutes by boda boda from Bujagali, where we are staying.
They take care of the most of urgencies, HIV and malaria mainly, and pregnancies.

The situation of course is not what you would expect to find in a western hospital.
There was a huge queue of patients queuing: there is a small lab that does basic blood tests. They are diagnosting HIV.

At the certain point we met a mother with 2 children. Both affected by HIV. The entire 4 members of the family is. She just found out the 2 children are HIV positive. She was so nice and talkative, apparently not having a real idea what the doctor Ben just told her.

Ben is a very nice guy, he welcomed us with a huge smile and explained us different things about the status of the clinic while still visiting his patients. After that he introduced us to the most of the staff and we went for a quick tour around the different blocks of the small clinic.

I got goose bumps going around.
It’s amazing how these people are so smiling, open and welcoming considering the status there are in.

Considering the state of the clinic, it’s good to see there were some new incubators and new beds just donated by a charity.

We’ll be back there next Saturday. We agreed with Ben to get some HIV patients and families to come over to the clinic and share their experience. Rachael will be filming while I’ll be taking some photos.
The purpose of it is to create some awareness around the problem. Locally, to have people coming to the clinic and do the necessary treatments. Internationally, to have additional funds for the clinic.

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On the field

african children

Many activities to do, very overwhelming and difficult to realize where I might be more useful, so why not trying a bit of everything?

– The School Refurbishment Project.
There is a lot of need in painting and decorating schools.
Uganda introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997 and since then primary schools have been overwhelmed by huge numbers of children. Many buildings were in very poor conditions and SoftPower has been working to improve existing schools, renovating them and building new ones.
We left the center with a truck to get to the Budondo primary school, about 20 minutes from here.
It’s incredible to see all the people, mainly children greeting you and being so excited just because we (mzungu) where passing by. It’s a constant here, so cool!
My drawing skills are a bit less exciting instead and I hope children won’t be to confused about the section of an egg I painted on one of the classroom walls.
A lot of fun and a bit embarassing asking a child to guess what I’ve been drawing so far: no answer. But he could easily identify the fish Julienne painted on the other side of the classroom.
OK. Good try, let’s focus on something else as well 😛

– Computer classes (Part of the Community Projects).
Teacher assistant for the IT classes, I took part of several of them already. They are part of the Community Projects run at the Amagezi Education Center (AEC).
Classes so far are about the very basics of Microsoft Word. I might remember something :)
There are people from 15 to 30 years old. Very different levels, you realize straight away who needs more help and is slower than the others, lack of self-confidence is also a big issue for some of them. Having at least 1 person more in the class on top of the teacher can really make a difference.
Classes go a bit slow, mainly due to the lack of practice: students can use computers very little on top of the 2h class. And of course they don’t have one at home.
Internet is not yet available in the center in Bujagali.

Other classes are available about agriculture, science, drama, art and there is a library and a health clinic as well.
Very common subject focuses on important life skills: malaria awareness, family planning, nutrition, health and sanitation and sustainable organic farming.

– Special Needs Project.
We work with children aged 0-18 years old with a variety of disabilities offering education, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. There is a partnership with other NGOs and organizations to offer a fully comprehensive health and education based service within the Jinja District.
It’s very touchy working with these children. There are several of them with serious mental and physical problems and at the beginning you might feel a bit shocked.
Adam for example has mental disabilities which affected also his physical growth. He’s 16 but he does not look more than 6-7 and he can barely walk. He has a great laugh and he’s able to spread so much energy and positive feeling just looking at his eyes.

– Photography material for website/marketing/fundraising.
I’m getting several cool shoots, I’ll work on this material as soon as I’m back. So be patient :)
There is need of replacing their online and offline content being outdated. A fresh look of the website will be beneficial.

It’s a great country for people photography, they are so open and friendly and children sometimes are asking you to take pictures.. what do you want more?
The equipment I got with me has been so far a great compromise of quality, versatility and space/weight. Nothing could have keep my DSLR at home, on the other side the “not so compact” G1X is great when you don’t want to be to intrusive and to get shots otherwise would be impossible to do with the DSLR.

What a better day to finish a weekday than a Nile boat tour with one of those small fishermen boat. Perfect timing for doing that: nice weather and wonderful sunset. A must to do again.

The first weekend

children laughing

And back, after several days of silent.
The flights went pretty smoothly, Turkish Airlines confirms to be very good. A very quick stopover in Istanbul and a second one in Kigali (Rwanda).
Landing at 3am is always a bit funny :) I normally prefer arriving in a new place with daylight to realize where I’m. Well, in this case is in the middle of the night and I’m very tired!

It’s extremely easy to get the Visa once landed. If you did not to forget $50 note, no ATM machine before passing the custom.
Stix, my driver, was patiently waiting for me outside, very nice guy who is bringing me to Bujagali.
It’s a long ride through the main southern road passing by Kampala. A great thing of arriving so early in the morning is that you get very little traffic where normally is mental.

Once arrived to Mama Flo I was amazed by the place. The most of people I know would have been shocked and run away.
A very simple small house (there are a lot around built using mud, I’m lucky enough to have one with bricks) in the middle of banana trees. and more still undefined ones.
Toilet is far back the house, no running water but there is electricity. Shower? Get some buckets of water and a soap bar and everything is going to be fine. There might be a campsite relatively close where to have a proper shower when missing one.

So tired but still not in the mood of lying on the bed, let’s snap some first photos at dusk, the sun will rise soon and the mixture of light and fog is very inspiring.

2.5h sleep and when I woke up I met other volunteers staying here: last thing I was expecting it was to find a small Italian community in the middle of nowhere in Uganda. Apparently also known as the Italian village.. OMG! %-O
Time for a cup of tea and some chapati and back to Kampala: got invited to a wedding there after just some hours I’ve been here.

It is a high class wedding, if someone was expecting a typical village wedding will be disappointed.
Christian ceremony in luganda (the main local language) followed by a reception in one hotel where we had chance to try a lot of traditional food. There will be a separate post just about this topic soon :)
You cannot imagine how we were dressed comparing with all the others. And we were the only mzungu.
Bride and groom entered the room dancing like crazy with the rest of the bridal party. It looked a really exciting and fun begins.
What a pity for the speeches: the lasted way more than 1h and after the buffet meal they had even more of them!
At that point even the bride had such a bored face. They were really focused on work, companies both of them they are working for. The top was when 1) the groom’s boss took the mic: he was referring to the bride saying how hard the groom had to work and not to worry if he was going to spend in the office 2-3 days&nights in a row and when 2) a bride’s friend was suggesting her how she should now be submissive to the groom 😯

We then spent 2 nights at the Red Chilly, a very quiet and peaceful place in the middle of the mental craziness of Kampala.

Going around Kampala, as expected, is an experience itself. Even if I come from Napoli I was really astonished by the chaos and the traffic.
The view from the second big mosque of Africa is great. It’s been a real surprise to realize that I thought were white tents of a market, in reality were the typical minibuses (matatus): thousands of them, all stuck in a HUGE car park / bus stop. All the roads around it were of course completely stuck.
If you’d like to go around Kampala you have just one option: boda boda.

We checked also a couple of markets and spent 2 nice evenings at the Red Chilly, a lot of locals and mzungu to talk and have a beer with. Will, an Ugandan leaving in UK was really hilarious. Thanks to his car we drove back to Bujagali after a crazy 3h trip.
At ever stop on the main road you car get assaulted by people trying to sell you everything, especially chicken and (cooked or not) bananas.

When it rains here, it really rains a lot. And the condition of the roads are very poor. So as result of this, we got stuck when we almost reach our new home village, Bujagali.
A big track out of the road on the left side and the rescue truck fell down on the right side, no space to go through them, just people and boda boda could. However in about 40 mins they managed to create some space in between, still in time for food!
After the dinner at Mama Flo’s we had a crazy night at the Sombrero in Jinja.

A totally unplanned and unexpected weekend to start the trip.

People here are extremely open, always with a smile and have an amazing hospitality.
Think about this, people, when complaining about the weather, your office canteen or your 5 month old phone that you consider so outdated.

On my way to Africa

african child

A light breakfast at the Dublin airport costs as much as 3 days of accommodation + 2 meals a day where I’m staying, outside Jinjia. So with that amount of money a local will live decently for at least a week.

So in case you feel like you can survive with a pizza less this week, feel free to donate the equivalent import at http://www.justgiving.com/tominuganda
I’m pretty sure you can. 😉
By the way, not sure if I have mentioned it already: Google is going to match the entire amount doubling it!

Got at the airport 3h in advance, enjoying the waiting and seriously starting realize something. Not fully defined what it is yet.
Got last minute Spotify upgrade last night (why sleeping?), some music on phone/tablet would be good. If you have any playlist to share you are more than welcome (username: travelyourlife), artists/albums suggestions also accepted :)

I’ve spotted a “team” with red t-shirts with something written about Uganda at the Dublin airport, it looks like I’m going to have company during the flighs. They might be doing some volunteering as well. Awesome.

Nearly to Kigali after nearly 10h, quick stopover and then Entebbe airport after 1 more hour flying.
Used to fly generally to east or to west, I’ve to say it’s a bit weird flying north-south for so long. Almost same timezone, almost same tiredness of flying to US or Asia!
Got exit seats on both flight! (First one was to Istanbul. Alex the weather and the view of the city from above was amazing!)
Anyway, next time I’ll be smart enough to ask if you can recline those seats or not. :-/

Yes, that group with the red t-shirts is a catholic association from Northern Ireland (originally from US) operating mainly in Kenya and Uganda. They are sitting right next to me and it’s good to get some info.

Going through the Bradt Guide about Uganda, it’ extremely good (the newest 2013 edition in being printed right now).
Uganda is apparently one of the safest country in Africa, nothing comparable to Kenia. Things you should be careful about are malaria and road accidents. Cool, let’s start with a night/early morning 2-2.5h drive to the north of Jinjia.
Wildlife looks amazing, so much variety in a relatively small country.
No idea yet how much free time I’m going to have and where/if I’ll be able to move around. The thing I know for sure is that I’m definitely not try to rush and squize everything in these weeks. Let’s settle down first to realize what would be convenient doing.

Expect delay with email/facebook/whatsapp. At the end I’m not going to Africa to stay all the time connected to the Internet.
I’m happy doing it less and less already home, but here it’s going to be even more extreme. 😎
Chiara, a friend of mine who was suggesting not to use phone/tablet even for the blog. Paper and a pen (uhm, do we still remember what they are?) would be even a better way to disconnect. True, let’s see if it’s going to work.
At the end you might be curious how the money you donated are going to be invested. And there is always mum asking if I’m still alive or not. :)