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.