Friday, 5 November 2010

VSO Cluster Project - Lake Mburo July 2010

In July of this year, the Mbarara and Bushenyi Cluster (VSO volunteers) took a group of children and their carers/parents and some hospice staff on a day trip to Lake Mburo. The hospice children were our chosen project for this year - last year we supported a youth group and gave them money to build a chicken shed and set up an egg selling business. The kids treated at the hospital usually have cancer, HIV or some other type of terminal illness. 
We organised packed lunches for everyone (chapattis, mandazi (a bit like a donut without the hole), fresh fruit, boiled eggs and juice). Peter, a VSOer from Bushenyi had photocopied lots of pictures of wild animals for the children to do 'shading' (colouring in), though some of the parents had as much fun as the children doing this.

Lale Mburo, a national park is just over an hour's drive from Mbarara, but the vast majority of local people will never have visited it, even though it has significantly reduced rates for Ugandan and school children enter for free. We planned to do a game drive and a boat trip - the park is one of only two places in Uganda where you can see zebras, the other place being in the far north of the country. There are 100's if not 1,000's of impala/Ugandan cobs (a small antelope) in the park, as well as bush and water bucks, wart hogs, buffaloes, hippos and crocodiles and loads of different birds. It was a really good day, with lots of excitment on the bus as everyone spotted the animals. Some of the parents, especially the mothers 'feared the water' (were scared) and so didn't go on the boat trip, but funnily enough were more than happy for their children to go! As well as spotting lots of animals and birds, we also had a few games of football and lots of time for 'shading'!

Ed, a now departed VSOer and Jane (in red hat) a current VSOer watching the kids colouring in their pictures - Jane did a great job grading the pictures and wrote lots of positive 'teacher' feedback on them!

One of the mothers thoroughly engrossed in her 'shading'!
Getting ready to see hippos, crocs, kingfishers, African fish eagles and lots more on the boat trip

Michelle (in white skirt), also a now departed volunteer getting ready to strike in the women and children football match

This was one of the 'goalies' with her baby strapped to her back... it certainly didn't stop her lunging for the ball!

Group photot!

A few weeks after the trip, Peter made a fantastic mural of Lake Mburo and stuck the cut out pictures that the kids (and parents!) had coloured in onto it. We took the mural along with lots of photos to Toto ward, one of the children's wards at Mbarara Hospital where the kids from the hospice receive their treatment.
Some of the children and parents helping us to put up the mural on TotoWard and sticking their photos on it
A job well done ......smiles all round!
The very impressive collage on the not so impressive ward wall!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Kato Mathias

Back in March of this year Kato Mathias, a 5 year old little boy, was  referred to Healthy Child Uganda by one of the village health volunteers as a 'special child' - a term used by the project to describe kids who are deemed to have special needs or who need additional care. Kato (he is a twin, hence the name, his sister is Nakato) was diagnosed as having Hirschsprungs Disease (a disease which effects the nerves in the large intestine) when he was 2 years old. He had had surgery in Kampala when he was 4 years to remove the diseased part of his intestine and a stoma (small hole) cut in his abdomen - we don't know if he was ever given a colostomy bag but unfortunately when he came to the project he wasn't using one, his mum was wrapping pieces of fabric around his abodem, a situation which was neither hygienic or very comfortable for him. Both Kato and his mum, Macklean were very subdued and both of them looked utterly miserable - she also had a breastfeeding child, Kato's twin sister and an older child to care for and from what we were told a husband who drank a lot.

I was aware of a charity  called Hope Ward at IHK, a private hospital in Kampala owned by a guy from Northern Ireland - the hospital has had many VSO doctors working on the ward or in other parts of the hospital. Chris and Richard, both exVSO volunteer doctors had spoken to me about the ward and how they take cases where the patient or the family need medical care but are unable to pay for it. I contacted the coordinator of the ward and fortunatel after seeing Kato they agreed to treat him. HCU provided money for Macklean and Kato to travel to Kampala, but all Kato's other expenses (medical treatment, hospital accomodation and food) were covered by IHK  - Macklean had to provide meals for herself but she was allowed to stay on the ward with him. We had thought Kato would probably be at IHK for a few weeks, but in fact it turned out to be 3 months - he had to have two major operations and then time for recovery. However, the surgery was successful and at the end of June he returned to his family in his village.

Kato, with his mum came to visit us at the project office when he returned from Kampala at the end of June. It was so good to see both him and his mum smiling, they were like two completely different people, they were so much more relaxed and talkative, and like all Ugandan children Kato loved having his photo taken.
Kato and Macklean came along to a nutrition training workshop I was doing in their parish.

Kato enjoying a his lunch of matoke, beans, greens and pumpkin

HCU is still monitoring Kato and he is doing well, but unfortunately is not yet going to school, it's difficult to find out from his family if this is because they don't have the money to pay school fees or if they feel he's not strong enough yet. Kato is extremely little for his age and really needs to put on weight - I gave Macklean lots of nutritional advice and tips and she was receptive at the time, but unfortunately back home where she is busy caring for her other children and planting and growing food for the family, giving Kato special care is not a priority.

Kato has become a bit of a special project for me, he is such a sweet little boy and the change in him has been fantastic, but it's difficult to get too invloved. Macklean asked me a while back to try to get her a mobile phone, so I gave her an old spare one that I had. She rings me occasionally, well she 'rings' me in typical Ugandan style - when the caller has no airime or credit he or she 'beeps', 'flashes' or 'sends a missed call', meaning they call, allow the phone to ring once or twice then hang up and you are expected to call them back. I can't count the amount of 'missed call's I get in a week!). Unfortunately, Macklean doesn't speak English, so I have to get someone else to call her back for me!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Masindi Reunion - June 2010

In early June I paid a return visit to Masindi, where I lived when I first arrived in Uganda. My friends and ex-volunteers Chris and Maggie had come back on holiday, so I took the opportunity to catch up with them, my other volunteer friends Jan and Fen and of course people I used to work with at the hotel. I hadn't been back since left in May 2009. After a very long bus journey - 5 hours from Mbarara to Kampala, then a further 3 hours from Kampala to Masindi, I had a really lovely welcome from Chris, Maggie, Jan and Fen at the bus park in Masindi. It was great to catch up with them all and lovely to see the Ugandan friends I had made during my time in Masindi. I've kept in contact with many of the hotel staff that I used to work with - many of whom no longer work there. Actually there were only a few people remaining at the hotel form the time I worked there.

While I was there I went with Maggie to the Family Spirit orphanage - Chris and Maggie were involved with the orphanage during their time in Uganda and still continue to support it. The kids there are wonderful and as you can from the photos below, they thoroughly enough having their phot taken!
The children were more than willing to pose for Maggie's photos
These little girls were just adorable, they were so giggly and have such beautiful smiles, you can't help smiling yourself!
It was Chris's birthday while I was in Masindi, so we all went out to a local hotel, where they do great Inian food. Above - myself and Maggie and Chris and Maggie
It was a really lovely evening, good friens and good food - Jan and Fen above.
These were two boys at Family Spirit - they asked me to take their photo because they were 'best friends'!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Four month up-date...!

Did I mention before that I wasn't very good at keeping a diary, on-line or otherwise....... hhmmm! Well the lack of blog up-dates of late probably confirms that I think....

Life continues to go well here in Uganda and there are still lots of things that surprise, dumbfound, shock me and of course make me smile..... I'm just not very good at recording them here!

I'm feeling very settled in Uganda now, I've been here 16 months and whereas the first 12 months seemed to go by quite slowly, the last 4 months have flown by and naturally thoughts and conversations are tending to focus on 'what I do next'. It feels way to early to be thinking about it at the moment, but I know I need to start thinking about it in the months to come, but I don't want to start 'count down' just yet. There are many things about life in Uganda that can frustrate me beyond belief (traffic congestions, lack of order, the more or less non-existence of customer care, time keeping, a language that is totally incomprehensible to name a few) but there are also many, many things that I love, most especially the people, the friends I've made, the simplicity of life, the weather (wet season being the exception), the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, not having to worry about council tax, raod tax, car insurance etc.... 

My work here is best described as 'so-so' - I, like most volunteers at various points in their placements doubt the effectiveness of what they are doing and if they are achieving anything. My work in community development/nutrition training is interesting and yes, I've had some successes and I know I've helped to improve some peoples lives, but unfortunately it just doesn't feel like it's my 'thing'. By that I mean that it's not an area of work that I have a great deal of, if any experience of doing, and at times that feels very frustrating. I enjoy working with the local communities, but unfortunately I've been mainly office-based for the last 6 months, in an office that doesn't really promote 'social interaction', where the management style is that once you're at work, you're there to work and it's no place for chit chat.....and I haven't been out in the 'field' much. At times I wish I was involved more in work that within my professional area, where I feel I could be more effective.......

But overall it's ok, and life outside of work is good and enjoyable. I keep reminding myself that I'm basically on an 'extended adult gap year' and to just enjoy the experience, as I'm sure I'll have to return to 'real' life at some point!

If you scroll down after this reading this up-date you'll see a mainly pictorial overview of what I've been doing since December......

Ber's visit....travels around Uganda

To say I was excited about Ber coming to visit, would be putting it mildly.... I'd been counting down the days since it was day 146 (no joke)! She was my first visitor in Uganda so I was really looking forward to showing her the sights.....and I'd missed her so much! Back in the UK we'd see each other regularly and chat on the phone for hours, so a good catch up session was well overdue!

We had a fantastic 3 weeks, which basically went like this..... lots of chat.....safaris.....good food....nice lodges.... swimming in crater lakes......visits to the market.....visits to the tailor... boat trips.... some more chat.... tasting local food..... meeting Lucy and Kato and Kakuru....sun bathing and well it wouldn't have been a holiday without a few G&T's, Pimms and the odd bottle of red wine thrown in for good measure!

We visited Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Bunyoni, and Fort Portal. The trip was made even better by having a great driver, my friend Alex, who seemed to make all the journeys on some of the worst roads seem effortless. Ber left saying it was the best holiday she'd ever had, which was fantastic!

Showing off the banner I'd made to welcome Ber at Entebbe airport - I waved it furiously, so she had no chance to miss me when she walked into the arrivals lounge.....!

The obligatory 'tourist' photo at the Equator on the way from Kampala to Mbarara... Ber's first taste of Ugandan roads
A very angry looking Ankole cow at Lake Mburo National Park - he had a terrific scar on his forehead so had obviously been in a bit of a tussle.
Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo - we stayed there for 2 nights and it was fantastic, lovely food and wine, great scenery. I had a 1-hour full body massage in the open air....I was so 'chilled' afterwards I could hardly speak...
Some of the many zebras we saw on an early morning game walk at Lake Mburo

A riverside market on the shores of Lake Bunyoni - a crater lake in southern Uganda. We had to take a dug out wooden canoe to cross the lake to get to the island where we were staying.
A view of Lake Bunyonyi  - the area is often referred to as the Switzerland of Uganda, because of the beautiful freshwater lake and surrounding mountains. It's much cooler in this part of Uganda, but the weather was lovely while we were there. 
This is the Deluxe Geo Dome that we stayed in at the Byoona Amagara resort at Lake Bunyonyi - the dome is made from papyrus reeds and bamboo and is completely open to the elements. At first I was a bit worried that we only had mosquito nets for protection, as I have a huge fear of bats, but fortunately it was fine!
The spectacular early morning view over Lake Bunyonyi from the verandah of the
geo dome. The lake is free of hippos, crocodiles and bilharzia, so is perfectly safe to swim in.

Our last day at Lake Bunyonyi - we were both really sad to leave, it was such a
lovely place

A crocodile spotted on the banks of the Kazinga Channel between Lake George and Lake Edward at Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP)
Elephant in QENP
Water buffalo and hippos live along side each other on the Kazinga Channel
Outdoor showers at Bush Logde, the tented camp where we stayed at Queen Elizabeth - the water tank is filled with cold water in the morning and by evening it's piping hot. The camp is in a great location outside the park boundary but it attracts lots of wildlife - there's a family of hippos who live in the channel just below the camp and regularly come into the camp; while we were there we saw an elephant, forst hogs and lots of baboons in the swamp just below our tent.
A dried up salt lake in QENP

Lake Ninyabalitwa in Fort Portal  - this area of Western Uganda is well known for its crater lakes that are bilharzia free and so safe to swim in . The lodge where Ber and I stayed was way off the beaten track but had a fantastic location right on the edge of the lake. We were told by the owner that it was safe to swim ..... that is if the lone hippo isn't around! And true to form the lone hippo arrived next morning, though that didn't stop the local children from swimming only a few hundred yards away from it.
This is not the best picture but its of prisoners picking cotton at a prison in Kaese, the most desolate and depressing town I've seen in Uganda, it's extremely hot and dry and has little of any interest there, so it tends to be a place that people just passs through.I couldn't believe that the prisoners were being made to pick cotton in the searing heat, it was like a scene from the Shawshank Redemption.

Enjoying a beer...

Ber with Kato and Kakuru - they were showing off the clothes that some of her friends had given to them.
Ber picking tea at a plantation in Bushenyi

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Catching up with family ......great Christmas in South Africa

I spent the 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year with my sister Fionnuala and her family just outside Durban - my sister Margaret and her family were also there.  It was the first holiday I'd taken since I'd arrived in Uganda just over a year ago. I had a great time.... it was lovely to see familiar faces and my nieces and nephews that I hadn't seen for ages. I was spoiled rotten, had great food and wine (brocoli, asparagus, lettuce, courgettes never tasted so good),  a fantastic pedicure, great shopping, walks on the beach and of course lots of catch-up chat with my sisters!! 

Christmas Eve .....getting ready to watch a soppy Christmas 'chick flick', with my niece Shivy (godchild and namesake!), dressed in matching xmas pj's!
Family photo (brother-in-law Ian missed out on the photo)..... Christmas Eve lunch at a beautiful country resort
Carving up the turkey on Christmas Day...... it was 'yummmy'!
'Super' Shivy showing off her some of her Christmas pressies....
The three 'hatters' - nephews Euan, Aaron and Tom modelling their new Christmas hats!
My niece Kate, looking very 'chilled' after a dip in the pool....

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Mushroom picking at HCU

These photos are of the HCU staff picking mushrooms in the flower beds in the compound. The mushrroms apparently appear annually in early December and last for about 3 days. They seemed quite literally to come from nowhere and grew inches high over night! One day there were small piles of orange coloured sandy soil in the flower beds, which I was assured hadn't been put there, it 'comes naturally' so I was told; the next day the mushrooms could be seen sprouting through; by the third day, the mushrooms were 2-3 inches high and ready for picking. Everyone was out picking at lunch time, basically whatever you picked was yours. They were then left to dry in the afternoon sun to dry. I was told that they are rarely eaten fresh, but dried and ground and then added to the 'sauce' or 'soup' the words used to describe a stew of beans,, meat or ground nuts.