Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Flowers Galore!

I mentioned in my last post that I was organising income generating training for local communities, well below are lots of photos of the first HCU flower-making training. It was held in Rugazi, a parish in Bushenyi district, about 1 1/2 hours drive from Mbarara. The training took place in a room at the local health centre. It was well attending, 38 participants in total, all of whom were really motivated so much so that they didn't want to leave at the end of the day and many of them carried on making flowers at home or sitting on the grass at the health centre.

There are 2 small visitor's houses at the centre and I stayed there for the 5 days training - I'd been a bit worried what the accomodation would be like but it turned out to be fine, there was even an electric cooker so I could boil water for a hot bucket bath each morning. Patricia, the admin assistant at HCU took a week's holiday just so she could come on the training, she also said she was missing me not being at the office (I'd spent the previous week in Kampala doing motorbike training...now that's another story!) It was great to have her for company and to have someone to converse with in English, we got on well and she enjoyed having lots of DVD's to watch on my laptop in the evenings. Where the training was is pretty remote, and the only 'restaurants' were small little dining rooms, which served matoke, matoke, matoke or matoke! So not a huge deal of choice and as I'm not a huge fan of it my food choices were pretty limited, though the really nice owner of one place did cook potatoes and an omlette for me one day. Avocados are plentyful in the area, they're gorgeous, but by the last day I'd had my fill of them.

The training went really throughout the week, though I did have a few concerns about the trainer as she kept changing her mind about things, such as payment for equipment and buying the finished flowers. Myself and Teddy, the project manager had agreed with her that she would purchase the finished flowers at the end of the training, which would allow the participants to recoup some of their costs. But unfortunately, on the last she had a change of heart, I don't think she'd found a market for them and was a bit spooked by the volume of flowers that had been produced and didn't want to be out of pocket. Some of the participants were annoyed by this, as was I, it put a real damper on what had been a really good week. In the end, after sitting down at a table and putting her head in her arms and crying (!), causing a bit of a scene it was agreed that she would take the flowers back to Kampala and would pay the participants once theywere sold. It was a really weird situation, I fretted over it all weekend as I didn't know if i'd done something wrong and wondering if it was some kind of cultural issue.But when I was back in the office on Monday morning I found out that everyone, like me (though I'd kept it quiet) thought she was mad and totally unprofessional! I was relieved, it had been a long week and being surrounded by people who only spoke Runyankole for 5 days had left me a bit jaded. The next training is during the first week of August and needless to say, I've made a number of changes to the way we work with the trainer.

Some of the finished flowers on the last day

Very pleased participants

More happy flower-makers

Patricia and I hard at work!

Many of the women sat on the grass like this for hours on end

This 'mzee' or old man is 74, he was the oldest participant. He really struggled to grasp making the flowers on the first morning (look at the concentration on his face!), so he didn't go to lunch but kept trying instead and by the afternoon he was on a roll. In fact he was the first to produce a complete stem.

Patricia, modelling a corsage or head piece that I made from the maize husks.....orders for Ascot or weddings kindly accepted!!

Production table! The maize husks are dipped in water to soften them, as well as making them more pliable

This is Gertrude, she's 61 and a real character. She arrived every day with a sack full of banana fibres balanced on her head. She's also been a CORP for over 5 years.

Lydia, the lady in the head scarf, was really good, so I asked her to be a trainee trainer at the next training session at the beginning of August.

This is Apuuli, he's a really hard working HCU employee - he's a field assistant and was responsible for mobilising all the participants as well as sorting out the logistics of the training

What a smile!

The CORP's in each parish have their own anthem, which is all about the work they do. We started each day with a rendition of it, t's a lovely song but they were always so serious when they sang it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

'Welcome Our Dear Visitors'

Last Saturday I met up with other VSO volunteers from Mbarara and the neighbouring district of Bushenyi for a cluster group meeting. There are 4 VSO cluster groups in Uganda, the idea is for volunteers to meet regularly to support each other and it's a good excuse to have a few beers together. The clusters are given a budget from the VSO programme office to undertake some kind of community-based project activity.
The Mbarara/Bushenyi cluster are supporting a youth group, called the Kyabugimbi based Twerunguure Group, for disadvantaged young people. It's run by a guy called Amos, a colleague of 2 of the volunteers who work at a teacher training college in Bushenyi. The kids get involved in music, drama, craft making and horticulture. Many of them don't go to school because their families or guardians haven't got the money to pay for uniforms, books, pencils etc. Amos wants to raise funds to allow these kids access to school, so our cluster group decided to donate money (650,000 Ug Shillings, about £220) so they can build a chicken house, buy chickens and sell the eggs.
Above: Amos (centre) with some of the other VSOers
So on Saturday we went to visit the group, to tell them we would be supporting their efforts and to discuss plans for the chicken house. The kids put on a some entertainment for us to show off their singing and musical skills! I recorded one of their songs - 'Welcome our dear visitors' a well known song throughout Uganda.
Below: Danny presenting a dummie cheque to Amos

Below: Kids playing the adongo, it has a lovely sound, a bit like a harp.

Below: the youth group meet on a Saturday at a local school

Below: recording of 'Welcome our dear visitor' - the little girl in the blue dress was a real sweetie, I love her dancing!

Last week I was given my HCU work contract and my official work title - Community Development Co-ordinator (!), though to VSO I'm a Nutrition Advisor. It's not unusual for volunteers to find themselves doing something completely different to what VSO had intended, though I am responsible for putting together a nutritional education programme. I can't say I knew a lot about community development when I started but so far so good. My first community-based training event takes place on the 20th July - the handcraft flower-making project that I've been working on, which is part of HCU's income generating initiatives. I'm going to be doing the 5 days training myself, along with the community members. Well, I figure if when I return to the UK I can't find a job I can always fall back on my flower making skills......though I might have a problem sourcing banana fibres and maize husks in Birmingham! When I've told some people about the project, they ask about ' plain and wholemeal flour' - there are usually a few giggles when I tell them it actually making 'flowers'!
Above and below: the banana fibre and maize husk flowers

The project office is based on the edge of the university campus in Mbarara and it's quite common to see all sorts of drills and parades on the sports fields, but yesterday's was the funniest I've seen so far. I spotted the university groundsmen and gardeners, dressed in their uniform of navy tunic and trousers doing very serious drill exercises, while one of the local policemen shouted out commands, banging a stick on a plastic jerry can as he went along. But the most amusing thing was the gardeners were parading round with hoes on their shoulders!! When I asked what this was all about, I was told it was good for discipline! Do you think the Birmingham City Council gardeners would be up for a bit of Ugandan discipline before they start work every morning??!
I'm off to Kampala this weekend to meet up with some volunteer friends from Masindi..... looking forward to pizza and ice cream!! Then next week I'm doing motorbike training through VSO, it's not something I've ever considered doing before, but I was asked if I'd give it a go as it means I can get out into the community more if I have my own transport. I've been assured that I'll be given a light bike, a scooter-type I think, I was a bit concerned about having anything too heavy because of my wonky knee. Watch this space..............