Charlie is in Uganda! Read All About it!

Click specific dates ~ January 2010 ~ February 1, 2010 ~ February 2, 2010 ~ February 4, 2010~ February 5, 2010 ~ February 7, 2010 ~ February 10, 2010 ~ February 11, 2010a ~ February 11, 2010b ~ February 13, 2010 ~ February 14, 2010 ~ February 17, 2010 ~ February 20, 2010 ~ February 22, 2010 ~ February 26, 2010

January 2010

He is making contacts with the children we are going to sponsor!!!!

First impressions:

I had promised to send emails out to all the friends of ChildrenUP who had asked to be placed on the mailing list.  

First Impression:   Heat!  I am here in the dry season.  

The flight to Uganda is a long one.  Seven to eight hours to Amsterdam and then the same to Entebbe.  But the wonderful hostel at which I’ve stayed before, was there  to pick me up. The next morning the owner drove me to Kampala to the City Square Hotel.  I then went and found the office for getting a ticket for tomorrow morning"s bus ride to Gulu in the north where I will be working with two university professors: Ambrose Okot and Stephen Odama ..  (as he says ..like your president but with a “d”).

 I will be visiting schools and selecting the children whom we will support in their 4 years of “O” levels of high school.  The hard fact will be that we cannot support more children.  But thanks to generous donors we can make a difference in the lives of a few.  I will need to research the exact costs of high schools so that we can determine how many children we can assist.  Having said that I want to assure our donors that none of my personal expenses  are being paid  with donations.  All of the money you have given us is going to the children. 

Those who are on facebook with me have already seen this:  A Ugandan woman who heard that we could only help a few students quoted  this  Ugandan proverb:   “A termite builds a mound one grain of sand at a time”    A lovely patient sentiment.

Since I had additional time today, I do have friends in Kampala at Gulu University.  I was able to have a delightful conversation with the dean of the history department, the dean of gender studies and the assistant dean of fine arts.   They are a wonderful, insightful  group of professionals.  And they were very interested with what ChildrenUP was doing to help to provide as education to orphans  and disadvantaged children who cannot afford  high school.

I had the cheerful duty of going to the local Catholic church to offer the two priest a chalice, alb, and cassock from an anonymous  donor.  I spent over an hour with the two Italian priests who have served in northern Uganda for 13 and 28 years respectively.   They are a wealth of information.  

The biggest surprise was walking through town and hearing “Charlie” called out.   It was Nancy Akumu who ChildrenUP supports at Makere University.  She has one more semester to go.  Her parents had died of AIDS.  She was raised by her grandmother who is now 96 years old.  She is back in Gulu to be with her grandmother.   We had a far ranging conversation about education and her plans for the future which includes a master"s degree in public  health.   Tomorrow I will be able to go and meet her grandmother as well as her 2 year old daughter.

In the evening I met with the two Ugandan men who originally had suggested that we support Nancy.  We had a pleasant chat talking about their work in northern Uganda.  

So far, I am still getting oriented to my surroundings, on Thursday starts the serious work of going to schools and meeting students and trying to arrange a new life for a few students.

More to come,  

Charlie

back to top

February 1, 2010

Dear Supporters,

This email will be a collection of random observations. I have not written for a while since electricity has been off for a couple of days. So no internet and no possibility of recharging my batteries for electronics. Plus, there is no cold water. You need to take a lot of deep breaths when traveling around Uganda.

My purpose of helping kids has gotten off to a slow start. The main person who is helping me has had a number of complications with health, luggage arrival at the airport, etc. We did have an organization meeting on Saturday. Two education professors from Gulu University are helping us lead this effort. They are Ambrose Okot and Stephen Odama. The two researchers who have helped are Allan who teaches geography in high school and Jennifer who teaches English at the Primary level. They are four very dedicated individuals. They are very professional and caring. I could not have hoped for a better team.

MY DAILY ROUTINES...

Someone had suggested that I stay at a hotel where I would be comfortable since it was up to Western standards.... It was along with the price. It was also a bit far from where I wanted to be in town. A friend then suggested another hotel for about a quarter of the price. It is quite fine and includes a breakfast of hard-boiled egg, toast, jam, OJ, banana and Tea. The room is on the fourth floor with no elevator.... but given the electricity problems I doubt I would use an elevator if there was one.

Speaking of food... in 2008 I had great difficulty with the diet. For some reason, I am doing much better this time, I have found places to eat that are closer to my palette. Lunch is the hardest since they generally do not go in for small meals, like a sandwich. I have found a couple of options. And my wife will not believe this but yesterday I actually did without lunch. For supper I have eaten fresh tilapia, which is locally caught and larger than the ones we see in the U.S. I had a wonderfully spicy chicken and rice dish. Fish and Chicken and Beef are all served in a broth that is like a soup. This is then put on the rice. This will satisfy my daughter who says my travel emails always include food!

This is the dry season. The red dirt is whipped up by the winds and is blown all around. At the end of the day when I return to my room, the floor of the shower is covered in red colored water.

THE TOWN

Gulu is the largest town in the northern part of Uganda and was the center of the war for about 22 years. Only recently has peace returned. But the effect of the war with the rebels is still here. The main part of town is about 4 blocks wide and 8 blocks long. Most of the structures are one or two stories. It is a cacophony of sounds, smells, with the chaos of pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles {known as Boda.bodas}, cars, truck and buses. This does not include the chickens, ducks and very large long horn cattle that roam the streets.

The basic mode of travel is walking. For somewhat long distances you have to take a boda.boda. In Gulu they are safe. In Kampala it is a very dangerous ride. The professors with whom I am working have a car, so that makes life very nice indeed. Outside of the center of town are a large assortment of mud hut area. They are not organized by roads or even what could be called lanes. I have not yet tried to negotiate these areas without a local.

One of the difficulties is language. The local language is Luo. Anyone who has been to primary school can speak English, the national language. I have tried to learn some basic expressions. When asked how to say ...Good morning... as an example, it is ICOO.... but I found that the person helping me only had an oral knowledge of his own language and could not figure out how to spell the sound.

More later,

Charlie

back to top

February 2, 2010

The Ugandan government has set up Laroo School for war affected children. These are children who were abducted as soldiers and sex slaves during a 22 year rebel insurgency that has only recently come to an end. Many of these children have not only seen people killed, but have been forced to kill people, even close relatives. The terror that has been left on the minds of these children is incredible.

Of the 30,000 children abducted some have been able to escape. Needless to say, there are enormous psychological scars. When they return, they may not be able to find any relatives that might care for them.

There had been a center set up in Gulu, CUSCO, to handle these children as they appeared in Gulu. Now that the war has slowed down in northern Uganda the center has been closed.

Laroo School helps children for three years before trying to relocate them in society. There are three learning tracts: 1) accelerated learning 2) vocational and 3) early childhood. When we visited the Primary Grade Leaving Exam results had just been published. None of the students had received a "1", the top score. But most did score a "2". This is an icredible achievement for children who have gone through so much. And it is sad to think that there is an early childhood section. Many of the girls who have been able to escape have done so with a child, as a result of "forced" marriages in the bush or simply rapes. The children have only known a difficult life.

There is a short book "Aboke Girls" which I read in the states. It is very short. Sad and heroic. It deals with a large abduction and the heroics of one woman who was able to make a difference.

Some side notes: I have visited Gulu Secondary School anad Sacred Heart Secondary School. We will be supporting children at both of these institutions. I have been able to get video footage of both places. I will write more at length about these schools as we set up programs with the children.

As one person wrote to me, please feel free to spread trhese stories around. Thank you for reading,

Charlie

back to top

February 4, 2010

When I was in Gulu in 2008, I went to a Rotary meeting and met a young man, David Martin Aliker. Then last year I had David and a young American, Kevin speak to Rotary and to a group of friends at the Knights of Columbus Hall. They spoke of BOSCO, an initiative by the Catholic Archdiocese in Uganda to bring internet and solar power to rural areas of northern Uganda.

Since I knew I would have a day without much to do, I contacted David about seeing one of the sights with him. What I did not realize that Pabbo village is an hour away by motorcycle over a wide dirt road whose surface could be described as a washboard... or mini speed bumps a foot apart.....for an hour! Add to that the fact that this is the dry season and the red clay dust is swirling all around. The worst case is when we were passed or approached by a bus or large truck. The dust raised was so thick that momentarily all vision was lost. A true Ugandan experience. I later found out that this dirt road starts in South Africa and travels up the continent!

When we did arrive at Pabbo there were about 10 students ranging in age from about 16 to 22 years old. They were there to take a 15 minute test on the computer. There is only one functional computer at the site so they individually take turns. One student gave me a tutorial on what they are doing. It is interesting that they are interested in social media....email, facebook, twitter, etc as well as searching google and wikipedia.

While David was giving individuals a test, the rest talked with me outside. Then two of the young men took me on a long walk through the Pabbo IDP camp. IDP stands for Internally Displaced Persons Camp. During the 22 year war, the Ugandan government took 1.8 million people and put them in these camps so that rebels could not abduct child soldiers. It did not work. It did have numerous ill effects of removing the people from their farms and sources of work and livelihoods. From reports I had heard I thought that the government had closed the IDP;s in the past year. There are still a lot of people in Pabbo.

As we walked through the camp the children came running to see this white man in their midst. I had a video camera. to the delight of the children they could see themselves when I replayed the images.

There were women sitting along the main path with small patches of cloth and small pile of various grains they were willing to sell. The area is know for rice growing and there are local rice and maize mills. We then approached a market area. The perimeter is surrounded by small shops, no more than 5 foot square. The doors are open and the businessmen sitting outside. Meanwhile in the large open square, women sit under large trees, selling all manner of food stuffs. Though I could identify, dried fish, okra, tomatoes and tamarind.... the other food stuffs were unknown to me. Though there is a green leafy vegetable that I have eaten.

But two main ideas struck me. The one lad who led me through the village is named Jems. Jems finished high school two years ago. He is charismatic, eloquent and a born leader. He just does not have the money to go to university and is not able to find work. The sadness is that here is a potentially strong personality, who could make a difference for northern Uganda, but that for the lack of finances will not be able to go forward as he would hope.

The other thing that struck me was the fact in that in the group of 10 students, two were girls. They had just finished high school. The thing that is remarkable about these young ladies, is that the role of women in village society is relegated to taking care of the home, the children and selling the produce they grow. For a girl, and her family, to be able to break the mould is impressive. But again... can it go beyond the simple knowledge of how to use the internet?

When we left I braced myself for another trip on the road...

Charlie

back to top

February 5, 2010

I met an interesting man yesterday. Arthur Serota. He and Ambrose and Stephen know each other. He was a lawyer interested in peace and reconciliation. He has spent years in Zimbabwe and South Africa but has been involved in northern Uganda for the past 6 years. He has offices in Washington D.C. as well as here. He spends 5 to 6 months a year here.

He was pleased to hear what we were doing and that we were doing it with Ambrose. His organization is at www.endchildsoldiering.org Originally he was interested in helping kids coming home from life with the rebels. Now he is interested in helping kids get a secondary education. He is sponsoring 111 in secondary school. But he says his organization started small. He has an office in a room at Cusco..an organization that has helped war affected children.

He has an interesting point of view on girl education. He says that girls who have a secondary education are much less likely to get HIV.AIDS. But foundations will not support education on this basis, because there has been no research done. The Gates foundation spends millions on AIDS in Africa, but yet will not work on the educational aspect.

He has partnered with Gulu University in trying to get research going and now they have partnered with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. So the research on the project is in its initial stages. It will take years for this to have any possible effect, but he takes the long view.

Charlie

back to top

February 7, 2010

Two Stories…. Last evening I had supper with two young men. These are their stories. . .

Geoffrey"s Story.

When he was in 4th grade he slept in a mud hut with three younger siblings. One night he awoke to the sounds of the rebels attacking and that his mother’s hut was being burnt and that they had captured her. He was able to get his siblings out into the bush and they hid for two days. His mother was raped and the next day was forced to call for her children. He realized that this was a rebel trick and did not respond to his mother’s call. When they felt the rebels were gone they went back only to find that the rebels had killed their mother.

He was able to find his way to an IDP camp. This is a camp for internally displaced person. At one point he was with a number of boys his own age when the rebels attacked. He was one of the few to have escaped. Geoffrey has never been with the LRA rebels, but his life has definitely been affected by the war. Geoffrey is in his last semester at Gulu University and is getting a degree in Informational Technology.

Peter’s Story. . .

Peter was in school when he was 15 years old. The school was attacked by the LRA rebels. He was captured and tied onto a line of rope. The abductees were then marched in a line. If one person faltered, the entire line was beaten. After a year with the rebels he managed to escape. I feel that there is more to his story, but for now that is what he has shared. Not having funds for university, Peter now lives with his mother, He has become involved in politics and is working hard with some other young people in their twenties to try to encourage children in rural area to go to Primary school. It is difficult since most of the parents have not been to school and do not realize the worth of an education. Peter and his friends gather basic supplies for the children. They walk through the bush finding the families and children. Few of these young people have only their feet as a mode of transport. But they are trying to make a difference.

Charlie

back to top

February 10, 2010

HELPING KIDS GET INTO SECONDARY SCHOOL

A Few Basic Facts…

Ugandan Primary school, which is almost free, ends at grade 7. The students take a Leaving Exam which determines how well they have done and whether they will even be accepted into a secondary school. The students must list their first and second choices of school on the exam. When the results are published, the schools pick their choices according to the grades the students have received. If they did not make the school of their first choice, they then must apply to the school of their second choice. There is a basically 2 week period in which students and schools find out the grades. Then the scramble begins. Add to this fact that the secondary schools are expensive beyond the reach of most Ugandans.

ChildrenUP has decided to put its major effort in securing a secondary schooling for extremely poor students who are high performing in their Leaving Exams. We have been very ably assisted by Okot Ambrose, Odama Stephen from Gulu University’s department of Education and the researchers Alan and Jennifer. Though I have been here for two weeks, a number of health complications occurred with Ambrose and needed to be handled. The other delay has been the nature of the educational process. But yesterday I was able to go with Alan to very remote villages in northern Uganda and we found five of the students.

Pabbo Primary with Simon One and Consy

We hired a car and driver for the day and traveled over an hour to Pabbo Primary. Having arrived unannounced we let the head teacher know that we were there to talk to two students who had recently graduated from Pabbo. Siblings were sent home to fetch the students. When the finally arrived we sat under a tree with the head teacher, Simon and his dad, Consy was alone. Consy’s father was working his farm a long distance away and her mother had taken another daughter to the hospital. Simon is the eldest in a family of 5, two other brothers and 2 sisters. Both parents are peasants which means that they are subsistence farmers . The only way they can earn any money is to sell surplus crops at a trading center. Consy comes from a family of 8 she is the oldest. Both students have been accepted to good schools because they have scored very high on the national exam. As a side note, when I asked to take a video Simon’s father buttoned up his shirt to cover some rather major scars on his chest.

It should be noted what a huge change of life this will mean for these young people. They have lived their lives in family mud hut compounds. They have grown up knowing only their family and neighbors. Now they will be going near Gulu city to a boarding school. They will live in dormitories where the bunks are three levels and there will be hundreds of people they have never known. They will have shoes to wear for the first time in their lives. They will sleep on a mattress for the first time, instead of a straw mat on the ground. They will not be doing farm labor except on term holidays when they return home. Parents are allowed to visit only on one day a term. ChildrenUP will provide a mentor who will visit them once a month and more frequently the first month.

Keyo School with Simon Two and Vicky

We had sent word ahead for these young people to meet us and they were waiting with their fathers. In fact, Vicky’s father had ridden a bicycle into town and when he heard that we were coming quickly rode his bike back an hour and a half, to be with his daughter. Vicky is from a family of 8 and she is the second oldest. Simon Two was the highest performing student in this part of northern Uganda. The two fathers were incredibly proud of their children. They were beside themselves at their good fortune. They never dreamed that their child could ever get into a high school. But the children had studied hard and had done well. I wish that I had had my camera rolling at the very end, because Simon in his simple 7th grade manner gave a very sincere and very heartfelt thanks to us for the opportunity. It was quite moving.

Alan spoke the local language a good part of the time, since the parents do not know English. He did speak to the student in English. I had brought a Code of Conduct with us for the students. I had given it ahead of time to Alan. We did not give it to the kids. Alan was liked what we had written, but he put it Acholi terms. He was masterful and eloquent in telling the students to work hard and not to squander the opportunity. He also addressed the parents and told them what their responsibility should be to helping their students. He also told the students that they going to be models for the rest of their primary school. The fact that they could get a sponsor should make others strive for high achievement. Later Alan told me that for these village schools, word would spread like wild fire once we left.

I had also brought a form of information about the children. How do you write down an address, when they live three kilometers from a main road, turn at the dying mango tree and follow the path by the big rock. The only directions that are meaningful are their name, the primary school they went to and then you hope someone at the school knows them and can lead you to them.

Bucaro School and Francis

The first two schools were in the same direction out of Gulu. We returned for lunch and then headed an hour out of twon in the opposite direction to find Bucaro School. It was recess time and our car was immediately enveloped by children. The head teacher found two of Francis’ sisters and they got in the car with us. I cannot believe that they walk to school each day. The car headed back 2 or 3 kilometers down the road. The girls directed us down a very small side road. The road degenerated into a foot path that the car straddled. It was easily another 2 kilometers on the path.

When we arrived at the family compound, the family was astonished to see a car coming into their compound. At the time they were busy trimming cassava plants and getting them ready for storage. The father was not there as he was in a village trying to sell surplus farm products. Mother did most of the talking with Alan and his grandfather and other siblings were there as well.

Back in the states when ChildrenUP read about Francis, one thing had puzzled us. He had graduated from P7 a year earlier and yet he was on our list. We were wondering why Ambrose had included him. Since he did not have the funds to go to secondary school, he had repeated 7th grade to improve his learning. Having done very well on the exam this year, he went to the school of his choice to at least get the admission letter. But without the equivalent of five dollars, he could not even get the admission letter. I gave him the five dollars so that today he can go and get the letter.

Now what?

We will meet with two more students today. Friday we meet with all of them in town and we need to do a major shopping. Though ChildrenUP is supplying the funds for the students to get their necessities, I will not go shopping with them, but through our intermediaries. If they see an American shopping the prices will escalate quickly. Monday I have to go to the four high schools of their choice and talk with school administrators to make sure all is in order.

Charlie

back to top

February 11, 2010a

Two more 7th graders

Ronaldo

Ronaldo was displeased with his Leaving Exam grade, even though it was still very good. The head teacher sat with us and was very effusive about Ronaldo. He loves soccer and is pleased with his name association with the soccer world. Evidently the reason that he did not do as well as he did on the mock exam is that he had not been eating. As a complete orphan living on the generosity of others in the village, he had only been having one skimpy meal a day the week of the exam. I do not know how Ronaldo lost his parents. In Ugandan culture another relative usually takes in the child In this case a clan member watches over him even though he is not a blood relation. . His guardian was with him at the time we met. Ronaldo is very shy and the situation he just found himself made him uncomfortable. When I did get him on video, he was able to speak to the camera clearly. Ronaldo thinks that he would like to go into some field of medicine. The headmaster had asked another orphan who was very high scoring to come along. Alan, my translator handled the situation well, suggesting other avenues of support, explaining that we were rather limited in the number we could help.

Lillian

I had to tell Lillian that that was my granddaughter’s name. Of all the students with whom we spoke, Lillian was the most capable of speaking to every point on her own. She is the most self confident of the students we met and the highest scoring female student in the district. The head teacher said that of all the girls that she had taught over the years she was the most committed to her studies. She lives with her mother. The father has never been in the picture. She is the second oldest of 6 children. She thinks that she would like to go into medicine and perhaps teach at a university.

Others:

Originally ChildrenUP thought that we could only promise a sponsorship for two students. Thanks to the generosity of donors we were able to get the number up to 6 before I left. Since I have been here we realized that another 7th could be squeezed in. We had a list of 14 economically stressed and very capable students. We just cannot do it all. But it hurts at times. I know especially of one case where an orphan lives with a grandmother who is always drunk and I believe abusive. Yet grade-wise he would have been the next one on the list because his grades were so high. The needs are so very great. Resources will never be enough.

Charlie

back to top

February 11, 2010b

Good News,

Thanks to the generosity of a donor and the ease of communicating on the internet, we are able to send Patrick to Secondary school next year and we are able to get him out of a bad home situation. While we were interviewing him we asked what he hoped that this good luck would do for him. His answer is that eventually he would be able to help his younger brother and sister.

Since he did not have an admission paper, we drove him back into Gulu. But the school refused to give him the papers because there were other papers he needed to present to get the admission. Luckily we found out that he had left them with a relative in Gulu. Alan went around town with him to get it all straightened out.

Tomorrow it will be wonderful to get all 8 students in one room with some of their parents. They will probably all either walk here or use a bicycle. It is hard for me to imagine how this works since some of the places are an hour away by car. I am sure that shopping day will bring more stories.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:

Heat... I thought it was unbearably hot when I arrived...and today has them all beat. I knew we were in trouble at 8 a.m. when I stepped outside.

Family Compounds... There are usually at least three mud huts. The first is for the parents and any children still being nursed. A second is for the children. A third is the kitchen. Then there are some storage grainaries and perhaps a pen for a larger animal. Chickens, ducks and even a pig wander about.

A restaurant experience... Last night I went into a small restaurant and asked for fresh fish. The waitress said it came with posho, a bland starch made from maize. It was a good thing that’s what I wanted, it was the only thing they had that night.

Walking.. One of the nasty things the British gave this country was driving on the wrong side of the road. That I understand. What has been occurring to me is that also affects their walking patterns. When you pass someone you are also walking on the left side. I've caused quite a bit of confusion. I think I have it down now.

Streets... Actually, sidewalks are almost non-existent. You walk in the street most of the time. That means negotiating other pedestrians, bicycles, the speeding motorcycles, cars buses and large lorries. And just try to negotiate walking through a traffic circle, with everything moving in the wrong direction!

Burning Scrub lands... In this area of Uganda, there is a lot of land that just can be described as scrub. They are constantly burning patches of it. Smoke is everywhere. When I asked for the answer, it is not unlike our prairie burns in the Midwest. They burn the scrub in order to let fresh plants come up and that in turn is fodder for chickens, pigs and goats..... Lots of goats.

Charlie

back to top

February 13, 2010

Getting Ugandan Children Into Secondary School

A Few Basic Facts About Ugandan Education

Primary School goes until grade seven which they call P7. It is free education, though there are some small costs associated with it. The small costs are enough to prevent students from going to school. There are a small number of private primary schools.

At the end of P7, students take a Leaving Exam. The scores on these Leaving Exams determine if they are eligible for a secondary school. When the students take the exam, they must list their first and second choices for secondary school. If a child has done well, he/she is very anxious to learn if they made the cut off list for the school of their first choice. If they have not, then they must see if they made their second choice. If accepted the student then goes to the school with his official Primary school papers to get an admissions letter to the secondary school. Getting this admission letter can cost between 5 to 10 dollars, money that many students do not have.

Secondary Schools are generally boarding schools. The costs are absolutely beyond what most Ugandans can afford. In round numbers, we are talking about one thousand dollars per year.

Selecting Students to Enter Secondary School

ChildrenUP selected 8 students to sponsor for Secondary School. They are all from peasant families of subsistence farmers, or children destitute for one reason or another. They are also children who have done extremely well on the P7 Leaving Exam. The method that we used to choose these students relied on the extremely professional work of Okot Ambrose the Dean of Humanities and Education at Gulu University and his incredible team of educators. Before the Leaving exams they interviewed 14 needy students who showed promise. Since we were not able to fund all 14, we had to have a cut off which was done strictly by the grades they received on the exams.

With Allan, a secondary teacher, I was able to go to the primary schools where the 8 students were located. Since they had all finished school, younger siblings and neighbors of the children were sent to fetch the children to come to school. In the process we met some of the parents and we visited some of the home sites. Many lived an hour or more away from the town of Gulu. After the initial interview, they were told to report to a hotel lobby in Gulu on Friday at 9 a.m.

Meeting in the Hotel Lobby The first student arrived at 8 a.m. with her mother and infant brother. The first arrivals were given a sheet of paper and some markers and asked if they could draw a picture that expressed something in their lives that they could share with people in the U.S. The last arrivals came in around 11 a.m. They arrived on bicycles, walking and on the top of trucks loaded down with produce and people. But they all made it. Allan asked two of the fathers to go with him in the market and they would buy the larger more expensive supplies that the students would need. Each of the 4 secondary schools has a list of supplies that the students need. Things that would never cross our minds in the United States: Mattresses, large metal boxes to hold their personal belongings, bags of cement, Machetes on a long arm to cut grasses, straw brooms, bedding, uniforms, sanitary pads, shoes, irons, toilet paper, etc. The fathers brought in the first three items. Then each parent was given an allowance to buy all the smaller items and they were told to bring back the receipts, which they all did. One child had no parent or guardian; the other parents took him under their wing, even though they did not know the child. This is the child with the alcoholic grandmother as his sole guardian.

I think that the strangest item were the bags of cement…. This goes under the guise of …school development… literally. The bags are used to build new classrooms.

While the parents were busy buying the odds and ends, our team went to two banks where we had to pay for the school fees for the first term. After all the paper work had been filled out we returned to the hotel to await the parents. The students must present the bank slip in order to be allowed into the school on the first day.

The Hotel Shop

The owner of the hotel was incredibly gracious as we turned his hotel lobby in what looked like a shop, piled with mattresses, metal boxes, cement, etc. We had to check that everyone had everything they needed to be successful on the first day of school…… But I was baffled as to how these children and parents could possibly take all these items back home. Some had friends of family in town. But some had to bring everything back to the villages. Those with bicycles, tied on the cement etc. piled high on the bicycles… others on motorcycles. The most intense was the girl and her mother who had arrived early in the day. They used two motorcycles. She is the only one going to the one secondary school, which is demanding more than the other schools. It was incredible to see the mother and child with the bag of cement and the mattress on the one motorcycle, and the girl on the other with the box and all sort of sundry items.

The first day of school is Monday then 15th. But they do not really expect to start teaching and learning until March 1! The same applies to universities. They announce an opening day, and there is almost no one around for a week or two. Our students were told to make sure that they are on the 16th. Our staff, Allan and Jennifer will go check on Wednesday to make sure they are there!

A Long Fulfilling Day

We started at 8 and we did not finish until 5. At one point in the day, we had some extra time and made a video of each child talking about himself. Then each of the parents or guardians got up and said a few words. Ambrose explained that it was good to have this documentation, as there had been abuses of children getting sponsorships in the past with other organizations. It is a way to show transparency. No one could question that these children were deserving and needy.

At 7 o’clock our team met at a restaurant to review the day and just enjoy each other’s company.

Charlie

back to top

February 14, 2010

WEATHER

This is the dry season. In northern Uganda there is a long dry season followed by a major rain season then a short dry and short wet. Last year the short rain season never came. It caused havoc on agriculture. Climate change?

This season does not end until the middle of March, and there are fears it might last longer. When you drive through the landscape it is as if the landscape is just begging for water. Every thing is dry. Most types of trees have lost the majority of leaves. The harvests plants are dry stalks. And everything is covered in a red dust. And the heat is constant until the sun goes down. Then the people can relax.

Every day, the people try to sweep away the dust from the homesteads. And in Gulu there is a water shortage. All water comes from wells, called boreholes. Even in a hotel the same occurs. The hotel sends a pick up truck filled with empty jerry cans to fill. When returned the jerry cans are lugged into a large container and then electrically pumped to the rooftop to create the pressure for our water needs. It is a labor-intensive procedure.

ON MY OWN

I had not realized it, but the entire time I have been in Gulu, one friend or another has escorted me. Today I had to go to the see the bursars of four high schools to set up future fee payments.

I suddenly realized that I was on my own. I'd jump on the back of a motorcycle and ask for Sir Samuel Baker School. Off we would go through small farm paths, by mud hut homesteads, I just hoped that the driver understood my American accent. Sometimes he did not. One time today we landed up at another school, but the one we were looking for was not too far away. But it does take a bit of faith that everything will work out.

That is also the fun and adventure of being here.

MALARIA

There are many illnesses due to tropical diseases in Uganda. The most common is malaria (yes, I am on preventive medication). Today, I just received an email from our university student in Kampala. She is with our other student who is evidently suffering greatly in this episode. He has been admitted to a medical clinic and he is on some sort of medical drip. This is Monday and I will not be in Kampala until Thursday night.

I am so glad that Nancy is there for Moses. They are both far from home. And though ChildrenUP is working in the north with the people of the Acholi tribe, Moses is from the southeastern part of the country and a member of a different tribe. When Nancy had a problem last year with Western Union, Moses had come to her aid. Though they are not close friends, they have been there for each other.

Charlie

back to top

February 17, 2010

This is the story of 3 Ugandan sisters, aged 10,8 and 6 years old. A member of the Gulu Rotary whom I have known for three years, said that he wanted me to meet two university students. The women are junior partners to Rotary.

As they were working on a project helping people in distress, they had come upon the three girls. Their story is heart breaking. The father of the two oldest girls died a while back. The man they suspect to be the father of the third girl does not claim responsibility for fathering her.

The mother, faced with poverty and wanting a better life, abandoned the children. They were left in the care of an elderly grandmother. The grandmother did her best to care for the children. In October she passed away. As is the custom she was buried right in the mud hut compund where there are some other family graves.

The girls have absolutely no way to take care of themselves. There is no adult who is there for them. They live in the grandmother’s mud hut, which is slowly falling apart. The thatch on the roof is partly open to the sky and needs to be fixed. The mud construction where there should be a door has deteriorated. An old piece of cloth hangs there. When I went inside the hut, I found a mattress on the floor that the three share. Clothes are disorganized, some hanging on a string. For water, there is a broken ceramic pot. There is no means of making a light. The parafin lamp has long ago run out of parafin. When darkness comes at 7:15 each night the girls are left in darkness. A traditional mud hut means of cooking is a very small clay stove. The rains through the thatch have ruined the stove. The toilet facility is made of bricks over a pit latrine. It has no door for privacy. The girls place some jerry cans in front of the door for some privacy....but not much. The place to shower is a brick walled enclosure about 4 feet high. They simply splash themselves from a basin of water. Again, there is not much privacy.

The single greatest worry is for the girl’s safety. Anyone could take easy advantage of them. They cannot lock themselves up for the night in the hut. If they need to use the facilities at night, they are vulnerable. Luckily their health has been good, since they have no access to medical care.

The university women have been asking the local rotary for donations so they can provide food to the girls. But it is not a regularly maintained schedule. The women say that particularly during exam times at the university they have a difficult time getting away.

While we were there the women were able to find a maternal uncle to come. I think that my presence as an American is the only reason he came from his village. He says that he has his own family and other orphans he helps and cannot help these girls. Since the grandmother’s death, this was the first time he had come back to see the girls. It was obvious that there was not any affection between the girls and himself. In Ugandan culture it is important in these situations to have an adult family member present as documentation that we are not taking advantage of the children. It has been all documented on video.

A happy note: We asked the children to show us how they amuse themselves, There is a swing on a sapling that looks like it should not hold them. There are some traditional African games using seed pods in a series of indentations in the ground. They are very proficient at these games.

Before our departure, we asked the oldest what would be her greatest hope. She simply stated that to have someone to take care of her and her sisters and to have food. We left on motorcycle and went to town to supper. Just after we entered the restaurant, an incredible downpour occurred. All I could think of was the open thatch roof and their bedding. The floor of their mud hut will turn back into mud.

Charlie

back to top

February 20, 2010

SECONDARY STUDENTS

First, I am happy to report that our mentors have checked up on our 8 secondary students. They report that all of the students are adapting well to their new life-style. At Gulu High School we have two boys and two girls. Even thought they are from various villages they have bonded as ChildrenUP students. I was particularly pleased in the report that the two girls had appeared rather shy when we first met them. They seem to have found support in each other and were very open with the mentor, Jennifer.

At St. Joseph Layibi School, we have two boys. Although quite different personalities, they seem to enjoy knowing each other and are mutually supportive. The young lady at Sacred Heart has made friends with other students, as has the boy at Sir Samuel Baker School.

UGANDA

I would like to reminisce a bit about my first trip to Uganda in 2005. Sir Winston Churchill called it "The Pearl of Africa". Except for the northeast region of the country, it is a lush land. Tropical fruits grow wild. The mango season in particular is overflowing with fruit. People have a hard time selling the fruit since it is so readily available to anyone. The melons, oranges, lemons, pineapple are easily found.

In the southwestern part of the country we found Lake Bunyonyi. It is an idyllic setting. A large lake, free of hippos and crocodiles, dotted with islands. The ride in a dugout canoe is an experience as the water is lapping right at the canoe’s edge. i never sat more still in my life. I think my favorite memory is seeing school children going to school by dugout. Early in the morning there are many dugout canoes traveling toward the school island.

ANIMAL TREKING

Uganda has a wealth of wildlife. Each of the parks have various animal species. Elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, hyena, warthogs, water buffalo, monitor lizards, hippopotami are all here. We saw a fair number of lion sightings, males, females and cubs in various settings. There was a time when we were in a SUV following a running male lion right ahead of us, with another male running right alongside of the car.

But my favorite experience has to be mountain gorilla trekking. There are three families of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains that are accustomed to humans, even though they are still very wild. Only 8 people a day are taken to see each of the families. Trackers are far ahead of us. Since they know where the gorillas were the day before, they follow the scat and broken twigs to their new location less than a kilometer from the previous day. They radio back their co-ordinates to our guides. There are no trails. The guides have to use machetes. When we finally arrived there was a family of 13 gorillas. The silverback male, three adult females, and the rest were at various ages including a 2 week old. I cannot impress on you how very close we were to the gorillas. The closest were right at my feet. The farthest was the silver back and he could not have been more than 50 feet from us. That is a memory that I will always hold.

THE PEOPLE

Uganda is made up of a series of tribes. The only one that Americans are probably familiar are the Batwa... or as we call them Pygmies. One of the university students whom we are supporting will be going to the Batwa in order to do research on their sanitary conditions and how it may affect their health. The reason for the study is that the Batwa are hunter-gatherers who lived in the forest until recently. In order to stop the encroachment on the gorilla habitat, the government has moved onto villages. This has not been a natural adjustment for them and as a result some problems have occurred.

In the north we work with the Acholi tribe whose native language is Lwo. Interestingly it is also the first language of Barack Obama’s father in Kenya, since he was a Lwo speaker as well. The people are generally very poor. Most are subsistence farmers. After having been forced into camps for over twenty years, due to the war, they are now reclaiming the land. This is not an easy job since the elderly have either died or are too weak to work. The younger generation has no knowledge of farming. And the land has gone wild after 20 years. Amazingly, even facing these odds, I have found the people patient, warm and friendly. I am constantly amazed at how the children find joy with the simplest of homemade toys and games.

Charlie

back to top

February 22, 2010

Winding Down

Things are winding down. This morning I took a taxi from Kampala to Entebbe. Originally the place I stay at was filled. So I booked another for $45 a night.... extravagant by my standards. Then on the way to Entebbe my favorite place called and said they had a cancellation. So for $10 a night I have a room and share a public toilet. It is OK with me.

Another Quarry

Last night a friend of my daughters wanted to show me a place where women from the north earn a living. This was my second quarry visit since I have been here. The women are widows, some suffering from HIV/AIDS. They were very happy to see us. They had been told that an American was visiting and wanted to buy some of their paper beads necklaces. When it is raining or at night when they cannot work in the quarry, they make the necklaces, hoping to earn extra money. Buying directly from the women cuts out the middleman. When they work in the quarry, they hit the stone with metal hammers until they get it down to the size of gravel. For this they earn about 4 cents for every jerry can they fill. Though they make more money from the paper beads, it is not a steady income.

One of the amazing things about these women and poor people in Uganda in general is the happiness they can still exude. They were happy to see us. They were also excited to hear me say "Iri Ma Ber" or "How are you" in the local language.

The Three Sisters UPdate

As we wait for the Rotary to decide how to best take care of the 3 abandoned sisters, we ChildrenUP have sent $100 for their immediate needs. And sending the funds is an African experience, which I have learned.... Money can be sent via mobile phone.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow I hope to visit a Montessori school in Entebbe founded by Tony and Carol Kambich from Deerfield, Illinois. Earlier this year they came and spoke to ChildrenUP. I am excited to go and see their operation.

My flight is at 10:55 tomorrow night. I have a layover in Amsterdam and should arrive in Chicago in the early afternoon on Wednesday. The cold and snow will actually feel good.

Charlie

back to top

February 26, 2010

First of all it is good to be back in the USA...even with the cold and snow. My first morning back and I had to do some snow blowing!

I have had a number of emails while in Uganda. So many in fact that hotmail told me I had exceeded the number I was allowed to send each day. So I have had to restrict the number of responses that I made. I now have 366 emails to answer. So it may be a while before I can answer all the emails.

HELPING ChildrenUP

Some of you have been asking about helping. Obviously, money to the ChildrenUP cause is always welcome and appreciated. But there are ways to help besides cash donations. I am willing to give talks to schools, churches, civic organizations, libraries, or just meet with people in their homes. I am somewhat restricted to the Chicago-land area, but I am willing to travel several hours away if needed. Part of our mission is to just educate people about northern Uganda. I have specific programs for younger children that are gentler and more participatory.

MONTESSORI SCHOOL

On my last day in Uganda, I was able to visit a Ugandan Montessori school in Entebbe. It was founded with the assistance of Tony and Carolyn Kambich of Deerfield, Illinois. I had met Tony and Carolyn when they made a presentation to ChildrenUP earlier this year. The Victoria Montessori School is an amazing place. In a country where many schools have over 100 children in a class and rote learning is the only method of instruction, this was indeed a delightful surprise. My own grandchildren go to a Montessori school in Cincinnati, so I had an idea of what I would see. The Head Mistress is an enthusiastic woman named Christine. We visited classes of younger children through the 7th grade. The layout of classrooms is exactly that of my own grandchildren in Ohio. The teachers are enthusiastic and caring. The campus of buildings is well organized and well kept with a new addition being built. During a class break, I was pleased to see children running around, playing soccer..... and filling the playground filled with swings, slides, see-saws, a jungle gym, and a spinning seats much like a tilt-a-whirl. It was an amazing place. I was additionally pleased to find out that the students did exceptionally well on the grade 7 leaving exams, which determines the high school education they can receive.

In the evening, Christine came with her husband Joseph and we had a delightful time together. Joseph is a fellow Rotarian and we were able to talk about Rotary projects that have been taking place in this part of Uganda. Afterwards they were gracious enough to take me to the airport.