Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Living in a mud hut

Saying from North Uganda:
 "If you refuse to eat the first food you are given you go the whole day hungry"

Pakwach is one of the towns next to the highway from Kampala to South Sudan and Congo throughout the country. According to 2014 national counting, its population is about 23000 people. Electricity came to town in 2015 and is still on and off in the dry season. Pakwach itself is also a new district just 3 years old with a new district office just about a kilometer away from town. The main street is full of permanent one-floor buildings and the street down are the village huts with grass roofs. Maine business for people is selling fish to tracks passing by on the highway.
I am living in a local family about a half of a kilometer away from the town center. I have my own grass-roofed mud hut.  There is no permanent electricity or running water. There is a small solar that gives dim outside light at nights so people sitting together in the evening can see what they are eating also it powers the cd reader so that it possible to watch Nigerian soap operas before and after the dinner is served.  Water is collected to jerrycans at night time from a neighbor's tap.  Jeri cans are heavy. It is the work of the two daughters in the family to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Clean the parent's hut and fill the jerrycans with water and lift them to the shed where is a place for cooking and storing things. Girls also have to bring the water for washing hands before every meal and as a respect to men and older women, they kneel down while pouring water for washing. It is the most embarrassing for me seeing someone kneeling in front of me and though it happens every single day I never get used to it. The women in the North have little self-confidence. Just about ten years ago they were not allowed to eat good food like chicken or eggs to keep them in a lower position. Also, women could not own any land and until now it is still the custom in more traditional families. As men could have many wives or lovers for a woman having a lover outside the marriage would be the death penalty by the community. Mostly men cant cook and it is considered even embarrassing for a guy to go to the kitchen since it is a woman’s job. So it is necessary to get a wife because otherwise, one would struggle with getting food.
The day starts early around 6.30 everyone is up and my host father is putting on some loud gospel music or just news from the radio. Everyone has a task. Children run to school before seven without eating. If the host mother is at home she is preparing the charcoal stove lightning it with a piece of plastic bag. My host father is the one for compound cleaning and he is swiping of the leaves fallen from trees during the night and bird shit from pigeons and ducks that freely roam around the compound. Cooking takes time because the charcoal stove is slow. First, it takes about an hour to get it hot and then the water for tea is prepared. Meanwhile, I peel the sweet potatoes or cassava depending on what has been brought the previous evening. Generally, white people are considered to be helpless considering housework. My skill of peeling potatoes gets a lot of attention, but while trying to boil the potatoes I fail, because I don’t know how to do it right. Every potato, cassava or jams is boiled with little water and covered with a transparent plastic bag, to keep the fumes. Plastics bag is the most important tool in the household besides using it for lighting fire, cooking it is also used to tie around chickens wings with a purpose to keep the chickens healthy. There is no logical explanation of how a plastic bag around a chickens wing will keep it in good health but the community, where Christianity was introduced just a century ago, the original beliefs and superstitions are still strong.
My family is very religious. Every Sunday morning they go to Born Again church and every meal is started by a prayer. I find it beautiful to appreciate food with gratitude and sometimes I am asked to pray for food, though i am short as: "Thanks for the food, Amen!" I appreciate the habit and miss it after. Another tradition that comes with serving food is washing hands before eating. It looks like follows: almost always the lady comes kneels in front of the person washing hands and pours water on the hands holding the basin and also the jug. It is almost like in the Bible. I understand the respect that is given to the people served food to and the need to wash hands because of hygiene, but sometimes its 70-year-old ladies who have big trouble kneeling, but still it is the tradition and they do it. Every time I feel embarrassed because I never see men doing it. Another observation is that women, when eating are always seated on the ground and men sit on chairs. This is also happening in all the meetings. Even if I try to tell women to take seats on the chairs it is not going to happen because of this is how things are done here.

The usual breakfast is boiled sweet potato, or a mix of beans and corn fried in oil –, lunch posho, porridge from cornflower, and beans and for dinner fish or meat with calo, porridge from cassava and millet flour.  Fork and spoon are not used, people eat with their hands, taking a little piece of porridge making it into a ball between the fingers and pushing a little hole into it and dipping it into the sauce. The consistency is very strange for me and I can feel pieces of sand in the porridge until after a couple of months I don’t chew the porridge anymore but swallow it straight. It is very healthy food because there is very little processing evolved but no one ever eats anything raw except mangos. Tomatoes are considered a spice inside the food. Though there are delicious avocados I don’t see people eating them. It is because of possible diseases that you can get from food and people don’t have money to go to the doctor, so it is much safer to eat only hot food and this is a rule. There are no sweets. The only sweet thing is tea. For a cup, my host father is adding about three spoonfuls of sugar.  To accompany tea, one can have mandazi - it is a deep-fried piece of bread similar to a donut. But there has to be something called "escort" or the tea won't go down. It can be several things like potatoes or even pasta or just peanuts but has to be something. Mandazi is my favorite and is really a treat as it is the only somehow sweet food available.
Dinner is around ten in the evening and I struggle with the lack of sleep from waking up early in the morning and eating very late.  Ugandans definitely don’t sleep eight hours a day as it is thought in Europe. Sometimes my family goes to sleep one am or later, but always waking up before seven in the morning so estimated sleeping time is about 5 hours.  The endless differences in our life setting and possibilities of living are one of the most amazing things I experience and also it brings understanding why people struggle in poverty, why life is so much slower and how much easier and faster is life in developed countries just because women don’t spend the whole day in the kitchen preparing food, so there is space for other activities. Usually, all the families have some little land to grow crops and to feed on it , there is a lack of money. If there is no money there is no education and the land inherited from father to sons is getting less and less. The climate change is chasing the farmers and the fish is overexploited.  Wood for charcoal is ending up and deforestation is chasing the next generations among many other problems.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Working with ICT in Uganda

Can you remember the time when there were no computers at home? Well, I do :-) I was born in 1983 and learned to type on an old-fashioned typewriter. I was 17 when had my first computer lessons in school and experienced the shift to the so-called Information Age at close quarters: The historic period characterized by the rapid shift to an economy primarily based upon information technology

A couple of years later and I am in Uganda to work as an ICT specialist (ICT = Information, Communication and Technology).
My task is to identify IT and communication gaps and possibly close them.

Everyone needs IT knowledge
Even though I have worked for a big IT company in the past, I don't consider myself an IT expert. I am more into communication and marketing.
And yet, that's how everybody introduces me: Iris (or Maria), the IT specialist. This leads to the fact that people constantly approach me to fix their computer, phone or ask me questions about networks, VPN connections, coding or other computer programs I have never heard of.

But in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

30 years after entering the information-age computers are still not common in Uganda 
The need for IT knowledge in Uganda is huge. According to the Uganda National Household Survey (2016/2017) using a computer is no regular activity of Uganda's population.

I am here now for 11 weeks and I have currently been assigned to work for 3 different projects.
One of them is at the Uprise Foundation | Timeline Vocational Training Center -  A foundation, that aims to improve the lives of vulnerable children and their households by providing quality education, protection, access to good health and sustainable livelihood programs. 

Teaching challenges in Uganda
Once a week I go there and teach IT skills for 3 hours. It is part of their timetable. The students are between 18 and 25 years old and will be tailors, electricians, and mechanics when they have finished their training. We do Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint and despite having done endless basic exercises, they struggle every week to change the color of a font. 
Typing is another issue. They use 2 fingers instead of 10 and we start every lesson with some typing exercises, but since they don't own a computer, they cannot practice at home. It is a very slow learning process.

And then there is the issue with the equipment. We have 2 computers and 2 laptops for 7 students. 
Unfortunately, 1 monitor is half broken and the screen is constantly green. Keyboards have been donated and come with German or Chinese keys. Most of the cables have a defective contact and work only randomly.

Last but not least: powercuts also affect the school and if there is no electricity - there is no IT lesson.

But computer skills can be defined as important skills in today’s world. People who don't develop technological expertise will be left behind in the digital revolution. 

This is one of the messages I keep telling my students. It might not be their favorite subject, but the importance is high and the potential huge.

Provisory IT classroom

Some of my students

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Natural colouring workshop

Women with abilities is the craft group of Kikooba. It's a group of women that have come together to create a space of sharing, supporting and learning from each other.

They are all are little farmers. They grow for food and to make some little money to maintain their houses. But sometimes it's not even enough for that. So, working together in this craft group allows them having some incomes to be able to pay school fees, doctors, medication, milk, oil...
They've been working for a while, and still they are learning and improving, but I could already see their improvement from old baskets they had and the new ones their are doing. They have been working with the EU volunteer for two years, and they are always open to listen to new ideas and suggestions for improvement.

With other volunteer, Kaie, who has been working with them for long, we organised a workshop on natural colouring. It was lead by two ladies who came from another organisation, Open Hands To Serve, which have been working for very long on this kind of crafts with ladies in Uganda.

They brought some leaves and roots from where the ladies in Kikooba learnt how to colour their rafias on yellows, greens and black. Black is a very difficult colour to find in here, so it was really profitable for them learning how to make this colour.


Thank you for sharing your groups with me!

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 http://specialchildrenuganda.org/uganda-and-disability/) . 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. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

It is only the beginning ...

Yesterday I had a chance to give a branding workshop to one of the organisations I am working with. It is called KIFAD. It's an NGO, that is working hard on building capacity in their communities for people living with HIV/ AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children and their families to progressively become self-reliant. They do it through HIV prevention, testing, consultations, skills-sharing, education,  support and many other remarkable projects.

Few weeks ago, KIFAD’s development manager Judith, told me about their cool team development concept. Every Tuesday they gather all the employees and one of them has to give a session about something that he/she is passionate about. It is beneficial for both of the sides because the audience can learn every week something new and the presenter can improve his/her presentation skills and gain some valuable feedback. When she asked me to deliver a branding related workshop, I was more than happy to do that. Anything that could help them raise awareness to their honourable work, will do.

One of the minor “errors” I had to consider, was that here in Uganda it is not very common to use PowerPoint slides because there simply aren’t any means for it, no screens nor projectors. Therefore, it was a slight challenge for me and for my obsession of beautiful visual content. Especially when there are so many cool branding examples to present them with to really draw that big picture.

Well, what you gonna do. It was time to get creative and use the traditional methods, a flip chart. That is also something I have experienced in that short time - people here tend to write most of the things down. Therefore, it was important to pin down all the things I considered important for them. Although, I am not sure how effective it is in the end, as you are trying to divide your focus on 2 different things at the same time, but hey, I had to adapt to their preferences. I have to admit, I could have also been more clear when communicating that I will be sending them all the materials after the session. Maybe that would have helped them to arrange their full attention to my talk. 

However, that is clearly not the most important. Actually, what I wanted to write is that while I was sharing my ideas about corporate and personal branding, and after while getting feedback, I realised how I, in fact, had gained a lot of valuable information in those past 2 hours. I got an insight to Ugandans mind and their consumer behaviour, which I am sure will help me to understand the locals better further-on.

Imagine getting feedback like, “Thank you so much, Victoria! We have been using Facebook because that’s the only social media channel that we have been introduced to (except WhatsApp, of course). I had no idea that there are such opportunities out there. So many channels to choose from. Thank you!” 

I had to take a step back and think, was half of my presentation even relevant to this group. Indeed, I have noticed that most Ugandas are actually not very active in social media. Except WhatsApp, but even that is tricky.

See the thing is, internet costs money and you know what else costs money here in Uganda? Social media. That’s right. They have regulated a fee for it and it is called the OTT tax. Buying an access to social media channels for a month costs locals 6,000 Ugandan shillings (1.5 euros). Doesn’t sound like much? Now, add also the cost of the 2 GB internet bundle for another 20,000 shillings (5 euros). That is already something for the locals. Most of them would rather put that money into something rather practical and essential. 

For example, I have often had cases when I have tried to contact people from the projects through email or WhatsApp, and haven’t got any response in a week. In the beginning, I didn’t understand why it is taking so long, but it is actually that simple. Their data has either ran out, OTT tax has expired, or they haven’t had it in the first place. On the other hand, Ugandans do like to spend money on airtime. They are people who really like to talk. They tend to talk for hours on the phone to have that personal connection and that is why they don’t really understand why I prefer emails or messages. Now I have adapted to calls, though.

Anyways, getting back to the cost of the internet and social media. There are surely people who can afford it, but they are also mostly not so active there because there is limited amount of people they can interact with. Makes sense, right? 

When I reflected back on my thought, I understood that this cannot be it, this has to be only the beginning. I thought, “Of course, I remember now!” Back in 2009, me and most of my friends were using a networking platform called Orkut, and then I had somehow discovered a new channel called Facebook. I logged into this new promising platform and I didn’t get it. It was empty, I had like 9 friends and I felt bored. I told myself, “This will never become a thing.”  Yet, here we are today :) 

Then I figured it out, Uganda and many other countries are still going through that change. It takes time but they will get there sooner or later. That is why it is actually important what I taught them. The sooner they realise the power and opportunities that internet in general has on hold for them, the better it is. During that time of the shift, I am happy to prepare them and share some tips how to gain that advantage and lead on others. I love how much potential there is in Uganda and I am so happy to make my own small contribution to its development.

Thank you for your time!

Until next time ;) 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Child Protection Training in Kikooba; an international EUAV cooperation

MONDO and the EUAV program launched a comprehensive support program for Kikooba Infant and Primary School. The first step was to establish a boarding section in order to ameliorate the services of the school and to find income generating activity. The next step was a child protection training for the teachers and other employees of the school.

Child abuse is a common phenomena in Uganda. The practice of corporal punishment like canning, burning, hanging from the ceiling is still an everyday way of discipline. Verbal abuse and humiliation of the children is also common. The Ugandan government tries to act against these practices by banning them by law however the police has not much capacity to deal with these cases especially that these incidents are normally not reported. As a good sign some of the schools started to realize the harmful effects of these practices and try to fight against them. Kikooba Infant and Primary school is one of them. When we brainstormed with the Head Teacher how to move on with the school support project he himself rose the topic and asked me to organise a child protection training for the schools staff.

Concerning the question of violence in schools Uganda is not unique. Most of the countries in the region (if not all) are affected. MONDO already has successful projects in Kenya regarding child protection. Marine, EUAV in Shianda, Kenya is an education expert whose special field is safe school environment. Marine is providing trainings for teachers regarding this topic in several Kenyan schools since six months. Due to her expertise and experience it was not a question that an international EUAV cooperation would be the best solution for Kikooba. Marine happily accepted my invitation and thanks to MONDO’s support she could visit Uganda to hold a 2-day workshop for the Ugandan teachers.

The workshop was focusing on attitudes towards learners, violence in school and the importance of positive discipline. During the training the teachers were invited to share their opinion, motivations and ideas about these topics. By using interactive methods like group work and role plays Marine made the group to brainstorm together on the sensitive topics. The teachers learnt about the difference between punishment and discipline. Violent punishment is a biological act which triggers fear and blocks learning however discipline meant to develop the students’ behaviour and to teach self-control and confidence on focusing what the students should learn. The teachers were asked to refresh their best and worst memories from their school ages and draw parallel with their behaviour in the school as a teacher. Then by a role play they were asked in groups to act an example of punishment and   positive discipline. By the games the teachers could familiarise with alternative discipline measures and could reinforce their good practices.  
The teachers will to participate and honest sharing of their opinion is very promising. By talking about the taboo of child abuse we could start a dialogue which could affect positive changes in a long term.  Quote from Isimail, the Head Teacher on teachers’ responsibility to create a safe environment which assures learning and development:

“We might be different by colours but we do the same services!”

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Gulu, my love!

Lugoro Tutte

My first project took place in Gulu with the organisation called Lugoro Tutte Disabled Group (LT). It is a small group which offers tailoring & knitting courses;  school uniforms; different accessories and lots of custom orders.

Generally, persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Uganda are  vulnerable  by  virtue of  their  impairment  and  negative societal attitudes arising from fear, ignorance, superstitions, neglect and lack of awareness. Two decades of war in Northern Uganda didn't really help with their situation and Okot, the founder, wanted to do something about it because he knows the struggles of the PWDs very well. So, back in 1994 he established this group with a sole purpose of helping the disabled and their families increase their living standards in the community. He is truly the sweetest person I have had a pleasure to meet here in Uganda

Anyways, when we got to the part of examining the organisation's needs and their expectations on me, their thoughts were all on one thing. Money. I had to explain them politely that I was not sent here to give or find them money but rather help them gain the needed skills, so they can make their own. That is something I really love about Mondo's approach. Mondo taught us that we should help the organisations help themselves. Share our skills, so that one day they will not need Mondo’s help anymore and can proceed self-sustainably on their own. 

However, my time in Gulu was very short. Only 1 month. So, I was tempted to do everything myself in order to achieve fast results. But this wouldn't have helped them in the long-run, right. So, I had to remind myself about the idea of more sharing than doing. Therefore, first it was important just to sit back, assess their business activity and then go step by step. 

In the beginning I was very optimistic. I remember telling my friend, “First week I will cover their finances and then go on focusing on marketing, teaching them basics and finding them new distributors.”  Haha, I was surely overestimating myself because in the end I didn’t get further than their finances. 

The problem is that, the things I considered obvious, are not so obvious here. It is not like everybody has had a chance to study the basics of business foundation and moreover how to manage their money, how to do the bookkeeping, how to do the product monitoring, etc. That is totally understandable and that is why I had to support them with all that knowledge I have.

For example, one of the simple mistakes they had was not having a system for income management. The money from the pieces sold, was given straight to the tailor who had made it. Therefore, the organisation itself was not generating any income.

When I asked them, “But how do you pay your bills? LT has around 200,000 UGX (50 EUR) worth of monthly fixed expenses.” The answer was, “We don’t know.” 

I realised that like many other SME’s in Uganda, LT is also relying on the foreign support, which makes them extremely dependent. That had to change. We gathered everybody and I made a proposal of 60/40 profit sharing. The discussion was long and intense. Of course, it is no surprise that people wouldn't like to give away a share of their earnings. Nevertheless, they decided to give it a try.

Other option could have obviously been increasing prices, but it is not that simple in this market. As everybody is selling the same products, you cannot just increase your prices. The locals will simply not buy from you because there are already so many others to choose from. I understood it when I visited  Gulu’s main market for the first time and saw so many tailoring shops, all selling the exact same things. 

What about product development? Again tricky. If you are in a business like tailoring, copying is very easy to come. Once you differentiate, you’ll have approximately 6 months before everybody else is doing the same. It is just a typical thing in Uganda or Africa. It is not like in Europe, where being unique and original is the goal.

Although, this doesn’t mean we have to just deal with it and not change anything. What I am trying to say, is that 1 month was clearly not enough to work on their marketing strategy. It was just enough of time to fix some of their core issues. And please try to understand that 1 month in Africa is a very, very, very little time to achieve anything. Everything takes soooo much time, that sometimes I don’t even know if I should cry or laugh. 

Overall, I really enjoyed working with them. They were such a kind group. Going to their office was the highlight of my day. They were smiling a lot, showing a lot of initiative, asking for my opinion, taking care of me and feeding me like crazy. Haha, they even thought that I was starving because I couldn't eat their enormous lunch portions :D

Sadly, my chapter in Gulu has ended and I wish the best of luck to the next volunteer that will work with this amazing group. I promised to keep helping them when needed and checking up on them after some periods of time. 

Until next time!