Sunday, 10 November 2019

Water, source of life

Do you ever think on how much water do you use during the day? For washing yourself, for cleaning the house, for cooking, for drinking... And also, all the water needed to produce the clothes we wear, the petrol, the electronics, the paper....  Everything!

Water is source of life for everyone, it's part of our body, it's big part of the earth and it's part of our daily life. We couldn't life without it.
I am in Kikooba, a small rural community 75km from Kampala. Here people life from agriculture, small farms where to grow enough to eat and get some little income. Climate crisis has really affected their lifes, as water is not coming when it used to, it keeps changing, so they can't grow their corps efficiently.
We have the community school, which ensures children get education for their future. They have been also suffering from water lack. The children have to go to fetch water every morning and afternoon. They carry 10 and 20 litres yercans over their heads for some miles. And when there's no water, they have to buy it from far (with the extra expenses that this means for a school with very little resources cause of the economic situation of the families).
So, it has been such a pleasure to collaborate with them, Mondo, and the help of families in Estonia, to be able to setup a water tank in the school. The tank collects the water from the rain, and stores it just in the school. Now children can have access to water easier.

But it's been mainly a very good reminder of which kind of consume we do in the north. We've forgotten the importance of water, to value it, as all the natural resources. Keeping a no-meat based diet, recycling, repairing, reducing the amount of things that we use, moving along on green transport... All counts. It has been very nice to participate in this, but it's just a little drop in the Ocean. We still have to change the tide.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Breathing it in

I came to Uganda trough European Union Aid Volunteer Initiative, funded by the European Commission. My project would be to work with the local community most especially local women. Women, in general, are one of the vulnerable groups in Uganda and Africa. Even though the laws of Uganda are quite equally treating men and women in traditional families there is little space for equality.

My assignment is to work with local women groups in the West Nile region in North Uganda on product development and marketing. The area is known to be less developed then Southern Uganda due to the rebel attack until 2006 and struggling with high HIV rate, low income, lack of jobs poor education ad health facilities. I will be working in this area mostly in two towns called Arua and Pakwach.

Arua is an 8-hour drive from Kampala. We are setting off from Kampala to Arua at 7 o clock in the morning. The taxi to pick me and the host organization representative Sam is late and we get stuck in the jam. Arriving in Kampala downtown we rush out of the taxi in the middle of Kampala jam and call two motorcycles where we put my luggage for the year and ourselves and rush through the narrow spaces between cars to the bus station called Gaagaa. To my surprise, the representative of my hosting organization is worried and anxious about our delay. I am curious because in my assumptions all the African people are relaxed and laid back. The bus is one hour late and I am relaxed.
Knowing that the drive will be long I am looking forward to the travel snacks, scenery and conversation with Sam to find out more about Uganda. Sam in his 30, well dressed Bugandan, he does not feel comfortable sitting next to me and sits backside of the bus.
To my amusement journey starts with the introduction of the bus driver and the crew and finishes with a prayer. The prayer includes keeping everyone safe and not hitting elephants on the way. While taking off I start to understand the need for prayers, because the bus driver is driving like a mad man, taking over cars and trucks with high speed. On the bus windows are signs to take action against speeding drivers, but everyone is sitting quietly, it’s the way how people drive here.
In Europe, while traveling, the petrol station provides you with fresh coffee and sandwiches, hygienically wrapped into designed packages. In Uganda you can buy traveling food like gonja - fried banana that is offered from the bus window and wrapped in a newspaper. From more heavy dishes one can buy fried chicken legs on a stick or cow or coat meat or liver on a stick. It does not look or smell desirable. Everything is prepared freshly by the roadside in the middle of traffic and dust. To enjoy Uganda one can’t be very keen on keeping strict hygiene.

During the travels, there are many highway towns who are known for different products. In Luweero one can buy pineapples with a cost of 5 pineapples 1,2 euro. In Karuma salesmen are offering live chicken that you can buy for 7 euro and store them in the booth specially for transporting chicken and goats. The next known sales spot is Pakwachi where ladies sell fish–deep-fried or dried in different sizes and types. So the traveler's appetite should be satisfied. But I am afraid of all the delicacies except 3 pieces of gonja. It tastes nice.

Arua is close to two refugee camps from South-Sudan so it is full of NGOs and UN cars passing by in the streets with darkened windows. Many hotels and local shops the trade with Congo and Sudan are growing the town. Congo is just five kilometers distance.

We arrive at Arua in darkness and we pile my staff on the motorcycles called boda bodas. I can’t stop being surprised about the way of transporting my luggage and we drive 3 km on a dusty dirt road to arrive at my host home. Its pitch black and I don’t feel comfortable. We are welcomed by a crowd of people who sits in a small living room, they have all come to welcome me. After a short introduction and agreement for the following day, we can go to sleep. The mosquito net of my bed is attached to two wooden sticks that keep knocking my head.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

It’s a culture shock

Like previous volunteers had written, arriving in Uganda is a bit of a cultural shock. Everything is very different, and even if I had traveled to Asian (developing) countries before and the organization had told us stories and shown us pictures, I was not prepared for Uganda.
Uganda is different from anything I have seen before.
Its capital Kampala is loud and polluted, and crowded and hectic. Pickpockets are everywhere and as Mzungu you are a very flashy aim.

Using public transport is still a challenge. You need to know exactly where you want to go, how much the ride will be and at what moment to tell the driver to stop (“Conductor, parking” is the magic sentence). It will most likely be crowded in the Matatu and of course hot. Traffic jams are normal and 12 km from Nansana to Kampala can easily take 2 hours. Sometimes they kick you even out, as a bigger group is waiting and you need to make space.

Crossing the road is another challenge. The boda-bodas (scooters) appear out of a sudden and cars, trucks and matatus come with an amazing speed. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian walkways and you have to try your luck or find a local and follow him/her across the street.

Power cuts are regular and electricity can be gone for several hours. You have to prepare yourself for showers in the dark, empty phone batteries and of course, think about what is in the fridge. And if it appears during the day, you may work as long as your laptop has battery.

There are a lot of restrictions in Uganda: 

  • don’t swim in the lakes (risk of bilharzia and other parasites), 
  • don’t use the water from the tap except for showering (risk of Cholera and other diseases), 
  • try not to be outside after sunset and don’t use public transport during the night (risk of rape and robbery), 
  • sleep under a mosquito net (risk of Malaria), 
  • avoid sex (risk of HIV),  
  • be careful with street food (risk of stomach problems) and of course, 
  • don’t fall in love with a mzungu hunter (risk of broken heart).

The truth is: it's not so bad :-)

All this information is very intimidating and on my first day I really wondered what I got myself into.
Even though!  10 days have passed and Uganda feels surprisingly good. After a first shock and deep breath, you realize, it’s not that bad. Because of its people. They are incredibly friendly.

Children in the village of Kikooba

Green countryside

Most of the people around Nansana speak good English and once you are used to the accent, it is no problem to talk to people and children and get in touch. We already know some of our neighbors and Nihia, our little Ugandan friend regularly shows up in our kitchen and prepares meals, plays UNO and teaches us some new words in Luganda.

After one week we are able to manage some daily tasks with confidence and even speak first words of Luganda.
Taking some language classes
I have started with my project on Monday and together with UPA we are currently assessing needs and defining first tasks.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Getting started in Uganda

This is me

My name is Iris, I am 36 years old and I am a EU Aid Volunteer for Mondo from September 2019 until March 2020. I was born in the Black Forrest (Germany), studied product engineering and worked for various small and large corporations in Germany and Portugal for the past 10 years.

My European Aid Volunteer experience to be

The deployment with Mondo brings me to the Pearl of Africa: Uganda. It's my first time to East Africa and my first official deployment for the humanitarian sector.
For the next 6 months, I will be conducting marketing and IT trainings and workshops to UPA staff and other local partner organizations such as schools, community-based organizations, local authorities and other NGOs.
I will also assist in managing and upgrading the social media accounts and the website, develop information, communication as well as educational material for different occasions and help implementing a newsletter.

First days in Nansana, supported by local volunteers

What is my motivation to leave the corporate world, comfortable life and a safe environment to work as a volunteer ?

I am well aware that in 6 months I won't initiate a big change in the world, in Uganda, not even in
the close neighborhood in Nansana. But I hope that I can ease and simplify some of the daily office tasks of UPA and their partners and increase their online visibility. Like this UPA will be able to focus more on their vision to create a society where youth is empowered to enhance development.

Muhammad Ali once said:
" It isn't the mountain ahead to climb that wears you out, it's the pebble in your shoe". 

I am sure together with UPA I will be able to find some of the pebbles and remove them so the organization can focus on achieving their goals.

It's a learning experience also

But of course, I did not only come to Uganda to help UPA with trainings and workshops.

When I first heard about the project I hardly knew anything about Uganda, even Africa I dare say.
Since the preparation started in Estonia 5 weeks ago, I have learned a lot about Africa - about its geography, about politics, economics, and humanitarian work. I have also learned something about traditions, language, music, food, mindset and daily struggles in Uganda. There is still a lot for me to understand and I will certainly leave this country rich in knowledge and a better understanding of this green and fertile country.

Be part of my adventure

Most people come to Uganda as a tourist, or they don't come at all. I am aware that not everybody is able to experience Uganda the way I will. Therefore I would like people to experience Uganda through me.
I want to be the eyes and ears of the people at home. I want to tell and show them about volunteering, about Uganda, about Mondo and the humanitarian world.

Join me for this journey and watch this space!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

One day in Buikwe

It 5 o’clock in the morning when I hear my alarm clock. It is too early I think. Even the roosters haven’t wakened me up yet. After almost automatically pressing „snooze“ on my phone, I remember that today is the day when waking up that early is necessary because I have a 6am matatu to catch from Old Kampala. Matatu is a local taxi, that is in a mini-van form that can fit 15 people inside but usually is exceeding it by 10. It is an adventure itself.

We are on the way to Buikwe village which is 60km from the center of Kampala to give a women’s health workshop to local girls in collaboration with KIFAD. That distance doesn’t seem like a long one, right? Well in Uganda it is totally okay to spend most of your time in traffic. Especially when you find out that there are some protests going on because of the opposition leader Bobi Wine has been put into jail, and the main road is closed due to that. So, instead of 2hour drive to the destination, we arrive there 6 hours later.

Despite the long journey, we arrive and manage to deliver a very memorable workshop. Me and another volunteer Emeline from France, are openly talking about hygiene, menstruation, sexual reproduction, and sexually transmitted infections. During the workshop, girls asked us questions that got us really worried. Like, “Is that true that I am not allowed to cook during my period because it will put a curse on the eaters?” or “Is that true that if a dog sniffs my underwear, I am not a virgin anymore?” We could really tell that the information we gave was much needed because talking about these important topics is a taboo in many communities in Uganda. I was happy to see that it really helped these girls and we had so much fun while doing it.

After the workshop, I grab a Rolex. A local street food combining of omelette wrapped in chapati aka pancake. Not as fancy as its name but damn delicious. It’s a quick bite and then we are back on our way to Kampala. Matatu is crowded and the drive is even longer than in the morning. After many discussions and laughs with my fellow passengers, I arrive back home at 10pm. Only thing that I want to do is have a shower and fall under my mosquito net and sleep. But oh no, that is not so easy because surprise-surprise, electricity and water were not there. So, I take my flashlight, take a bucket and bring water from the tank outside, and have a regular ice-cold bucket shower. I jump onto my bed and think, “What a day!”

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Launching Brilliant Fund in Uganda

MONDO’s child support activities reached a next level in Kikooba Infant and Primary School. In the last months we did not spare energies in order to ameliorate the living standard of the children and help the school to stabilize its functioning. As a first stage MONDO financed the establishment of a boarding section hosting twenty children in the school. We also organised two sessions on child protection with an aim to provide training for the staff. As a third step MONDO decided to involve Kikooba to the Brilliant Fund, its child support program. 

MONDO is actively involved in supporting hundreds of kids in need in Kenya, Ghana, Myanmar and Afghanistan. The Brilliant Fund was founded in 2009 and since then gave the chance for the most vulnerable children to have one of their basic rights, education. Specifically in Uganda children are exposed to child labour, human trafficking, abuse at school, early marriages and teenage pregnancy which are factors of high level of drop-outs from school. According to UNICEF’s data only 25% of the children enrolled to primary education makes to be enrolled to secondary. In a country level only 40% of the children become literate at the end of their studies due to the extremely low level of quality of education. Children with disabilities are largely excluded from formal schooling because of shortages of special needs teachers and facilities. Kikooba Primary is aiming to provide quality education and fights extreme poverty in order to keep the children in the school.  

In Kikooba paying school fees is a challenge for each and every family. The region is highly affected by the bush wars of the 80’ and touched by draught regularly. The families are mainly living from subsistence farming and lack of any other income. Kikooba primary school was founded in order to provide the possibility of education for the most vulnerable ones with very low fees. However the question in Kikooba is not whether something is expensive or cheap but rather costs any money or not. The families are struggling to find the means to support the children’s schooling, nutrition and clothing.

Due to MONDO’s Brilliant Fund we were able to identify the 100 kids the most in need and cover their school fees for the year 2019. The selected children are all members of families living in extreme
poverty, some of them abandoned by one or even two parents, orphans and some HIV+. Abandonment of children is a very common phenomena in Uganda. Due to the lack of work places in the country many parents decide to look for jobs abroad mainly in Arabic countries and leave their children behind. These parents are highly exposed to human trafficking and modern slavery. The parents leave their children to the care of their relatives in the villages and try to earn an income abroad. Almost every selected children are coming from this family background. 

 By paying EUR 50 per year for each supported children, the donors keep the children in school, alleviate the financial struggles of the families and make sure Kikooba Primary school can keep on the work to provide quality education. By supporting a child, as a donor you are not just helping by giving the chance to a kid to be educated and a successful member of the Ugandan society but help to keep them away from child labour, human trafficking and forms of exploitation. MONDO together with Ugandan Pioneers Association is dedicated to continue the work for a better future for Ugandan children in Kikooba.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Being disabled in Uganda

This blog article is about Simon.

Disability is defined as permanent and substantial functional limitation of daily life   activities   caused   by   physical,   mental   or   sensory   impairment   and environmental barriers resulting  in  limited  participations (Special Children Uganda . According to UNICEF 13% of the Ugandan child population is living with disability which means approximately 2.5 million children (2014).  

Simon is a little boy living in Kikooba village. Her mother is a member of the ladies group we are working with and also a stable attendant of my adult English courses. One day she approached me after class and invited me to meet his son. The family is living in a small house and owe a small garden where they grow their beans and cassava. The house is little and modest but kept tidy.

The mother introduced me to Simon. He was lying in her hands. This little boy cannot walk, cannot sit, cannot hold the neck, cannot use the hands, cannot eat solid food and not able to communicate. Simon is 3 years old. The mother told me she brought Simon to the local hospital where the doctors were not able to set up a diagnosis and advised to visit a better facility in Kampala. All she asked from me is a baby carriage in order to take Simon with her when she leaves the home. When he was a baby it was not a problem to tie him on the back but as he became heavier it is not possible anymore.
As a development worker we always focus on sustainable solutions. Baby carriage is a help but not solving deeper problems. Simon do not have any kind of health care service related to his condition and a family do not receive governmental grant. I started to look around…how could we find a long term solution for the core problems?  In Uganda special health centres are established in order to support people living with disabilities. These facilities are able to make assessments and set up a care program based on the needs of the child. However these facilities are only available in bigger cities and these expenses are not covered by any governmental support. The social net in Uganda is in a very early stage. In Kikooba village people do not benefit from pension, family allowance, unemployment benefits, health care or disability grant. The family of Simon is struggling even to cover the price of the bus ticket to go to Kampala. 

After contacting several Organisations dealing with child support we found only one who visited the family and provided cash to purchase the bus tickets. At the healthcare facility  first time in Simon’s life he was checked by a specialist doctor and a therapist gave instructions to the mother how to do exercises and how to feed the little boy. They also prescribed medicine and special equipment for him. We were able to buy medication for one month. What will happen after one month is still not clear. We are trying hard to find a donor or an organization which could support the family.
Simon’s case is not unique. In the village many children are suffering from disability without any support or treatment. Women give birth at home not in hospitals and the families are lack of funds for basic vaccination. Malnutrition and poor hygiene conditions also sharpen the conditions.
The government tries to help these families by establishing a special grant program. Disabled people or their parents can form a support group which must be registered at the local council. The government releases a certain amount every three months for the municipalities. Then the designated officials choose two groups to be supported and provides them approximately UGX 2-3 million (EUR 500-750). They also provide guidance about the use of these funds. They encourage the group to purchase animals and seed together and try to have investments in a hope that the extra income will help in a long term. Permanent individual support for disabled people does not exist. The idea of group support is not bad…however it can be questioned how the “lucky” groups are selected. It can happen that a registered group is waiting for years without benefiting from the grant. In Kikooba the families already decided to register their group and try to get the support.

MONDO is involved by supporting people living with disability in Uganda and Kenya. In Uganda we are working with a women’s group engaged in tailoring activities in Kampala and a group in Gulu too. In Kenya MONDO is supporting a school for children with special needs. By the help of MONDO’s efforts these people have the chance to earn a living and be more independent.  These initiations are giving amazing opportunities however this is just the tip of the iceberg.