Monday, 30 November 2020

Vicious cycles

During my project in Uganda I could see from the field what is the poverty cycle and how difficult is for them to come out of it. 

In economy, and regarding the capitalist system where the countries are developing into, this cycle explains the trap where people bornt in poverty get stuck in. A child born in poverty will hardly have options to come out of this situation, if there is no external intervention. Ideally, this external intevention should be through social policies from the own government: free education, free access to health system, sponsorships for higher education, support to the families... But in the case of Uganda, that is not happening. The investment of the government in education has gone down in the last years. Despite the education is free, the quality of the education in the public schools is really poor and anyway it only reaches primary levels. So, they count with a very high young labor force, but not well educated. That makes labor market very cheap, getting very badly paid jobs and keeping people under a poverty line. 

Another scene where I could see this poverty cycle was with the people in the rural community where I've been working. They are mainly farmers with little gardens, so the capacity of saving money is really low. Uganda in general is a country with little enterpreneurship among the population, but this is motivated from one side for the little access to higher education and in the other, in the lack of capital for investment. In the village where I was there were ideas, and good ideas, for creating different activities to develop the economy of the area and create incomes for the people. But what they didn't have was the capital to start these ideas, not enough savings for openning a little shop, for buying a mill for the maiz of the community or for producing bricks in a higher number so they can get better contracts... No incomes, leads on no savings, which leads on not having options for growing and improving their situation. 

Connected with that last problem, I want to introduce the last cycle I could live when working in this community. The subsidies, grants or support from the goverment. Most people don't trust on them and/or don't even try to apply. And after supporting a group to apply for a grant I understood why. In the Parish of Kikooba there are quite a good number of people with disabilities or families with children with disabilities. They are all farmers with little resources (all kind of resources, money, transport, literacy...). These families don't even know which kind of sickneses have their children, because they don't undersand and because doctors don't even try to explain. They only know that their children can't talk, or walk, or even seat... They are totally dependent. Besides, they live in the countryside, in their gardens. The proccess for applying for a grant for a group of parents with children with dissabilities have taken us one year and a half and still they didn't receive the grant. In between, we have make plenty of lifts to the district headquarters, which are 50km away from the village. They have requested for a big ammoung of random paper works and pictures. Thanks to the support of MONDO I could support that group to go through all that proccess, but if I was not there, they wouldn't have been able to afford never these expenses and manage all this paper work. I could not understand how a grant for people with fewer opportunities and most vulnerable ones could be so unaccesible.

In our lifes we should be very thankful for everything we have, and burocracy system for public grants is one that has come into my list from now on. 

At least, after all these months working with the development officer we became a known group for them, and thanks to that we were taken for a program which were donating wheelchairs. From now on, the grandma Maria won't have to carry her 15 years old grandaughter on her back each time she needs to go to town for asking any kind of grant. 

Smily Anji with the neighbour.

Brahim's son

Simon with his mum Catherine

Thursday, 2 July 2020

MONDO’s donation to fight Corona Virus in Uganda

By the time Corona arrived in our lives, I was already volunteering in Uganda for six months. I am not going to say anything about what Corona has meant for all the world, because probably in Europe you know it better than me. Here in Uganda, as a preventive measure, the restrictions were implemented very soon (even before the first case was reported in the country) and maybe that’s why after three months living with the virus Uganda is the country with lowest cases and none deaths reported.
I decided to stay in the rural community where I am volunteering during the lock down. I found it less risky, and, although very little due the restrictions, I still could find things to do and support the community. Most of the population are peasants, they live from what the garden provides and from raising some few small animals. Their houses normally are two rooms made by bricks, and a metal plank as a roof. There is no living room, there is no sofa, there is no floor neither walls. Their living-room is outside, on the compound, and the sofa is a palm-fibre made mat. The worldwide spread sentence “stay at home” was kind of meaning-less here. At least when you think on staying at home like staying indoors. Because in the other hand, they always remain at home. The daily life is from the garden to home, from home, to the garden. Once every two weeks, going to the market is often the most exciting activity they do. Or walking to the trade centre (a little village with some small shops) is an event for what they get dressed smart.
However, they can’t live only from what the garden provides, they need soap, sugar, oil, paraffin… For that, they either have the animals they grow to be sold, or there is someone in the family who works outside to bring some income for all: small sellers, boda drivers, builders, teachers… But not during Corona times. The families in the villages have found the situation where the income producers can’t work anymore, so they can’t support the families with some incomes, plus having them back to the villages, so more mouths to feed.
At least in this side, they still have their gardens and they can feed themselves with something. In the city is where they are really struggling, as they still can’t work, plus not having a piece of land where to grow their food. I have seen the family hosting me preparing packages of harvested products to send to the city for the daughters they have there. The game has changed, the help goes now in the opposite direction.
But people still keep caring from each other, and the new of a donation coming from MONDO to support people in Uganda to fight Corona was a little light in the sky. It was difficult to find how to do the best use of it, as there are many challenges. But we could do many things thanks to the grant:

  • Ugandan government has made an incredible campaign to inform the population about the measures to prevent the virus. Everybody knows the basics: washing hands, not touching soft parts and social distance. All of them quite easy to follow, except washing hands. At least in this area, they have access to water, but without jobs, buying a piece of soap is not that easy. And in public places, like trade centres, despite some shops have settled their little jerrycans at the entrance, they are almost not used by the users, as they are not handy and visible. In Kosovo, a slam of Kampala, where our host organisation also collaborates, they have similar problem. There are not fountains or taps or resources for people to keep their hands clean often. For that, we provided with water dispensers and liquid soap. In this way, people can put the soap directly in the water inside their jerrycans, and they don’t need to be touching all the time the previous person’s soap bar. The school we work with also got a couple of water dispensers, to make easier the practice of washing hands for the children when they come back to school. These water dispensers will also make the role of creating habits and keep reminding the people the importance of washing hands. For corona, but also for all the sicknesses threating them every day. 

  • Kosovo is also an area quite crowded, with not many resources. Televisions are not common in the houses and few radios are around. The way they have for spreading news and messages is, indeed, like we could think of the image in medieval age: the messenger shouting around. So, we provided with a megaphone to the responsible of communications in the slum, so he could record the messages and just play it while walking around the slum. 
  • Compared with the rural areas, the slum is a crowded area. Social distance is quite difficult. We can’t avoid that fact, but at least some face masks were distributed for the elderly and sick people.

  • As I was saying, in the village most of the people have their gardens, and they could live from them. But there are these people who normally spend their days far from the garden, at the school. The teachers of our school were really struggling after two months of not work. Since the lockdown started, they started to work some little pieces of land, but the crops need time until they grow and produce food. Myself could see after that time how they had become more skinny. We couldn’t know for how long this situation is going to last, but providing with food packages for a family for a month, could at least light their situation, and give them time for the corps to grow and start producing their own food. I could see the relief feeling in their faces when they got the packages. 

  •  Our local organisation also partners with Kampala Disable Initiative. A group of women with disabilities which makes tailoring. They normally have difficulties of mobility, but with the corona restrictions this mobility even got more reduced. Also, no orders have come during this time, and market is quite hard to reach. If we add the general situation of not receiving support from relatives who can’t work anymore, they were also suffering from access to food. So, we could also support those families with some food packages, they would release their situation. And since little shops were allow to open, a water dispenser with soap was also provided for them, to ensure their safety when receiving visitors.

I felt very thankful to be able to be part of this donation, to see their faces when delivering all the stuff and knowing how they were going to help them in this situation. Because, while in Europe the quarantine has meant on winning weight for the most of the population, here it has turn into many people starving, and because while having a sanitizer spray in my pocket doesn’t mean much effort, for those families getting a small piece of soap bar can be the investment of the month. 

I have heard many times that corona is a worldwide sickness, kind of “the sickness of equality because it affects everyone, regardless the race, the country, the culture, the religion…”. Well… I think it comes from all that much time people have had in Europe to create romantic speeches about the situation… But it is a big lie… It does not affect to everyone the same.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Baskets starting from the garden

Baskets have been part of the daily life of Ugandan women for very long. Before the globalization came, before the plastic bowls, the shelves, the polyester sacs... Baskets were there, ladies were making them from the plants around to manage their homes: they are used to collect the corps from the garden, for storage at home, to serve the food...

These traditional baskets start from the garden, indeed from the big matoke trees. Matoke is a green banana and the most popular dish in Uganda, they just love it.


They cut long leafs from the tree, and separate it's fibre.

They leave these fibres under the sun to dry. After a week, all the water has gone, and the thick fibres are now dried thinner sticks.

Once they are dry and ready, they will remove in thin strips the exterior part, the cover. 

They will leave them to dry again, until they become very thin long straws. 

This is the material that fills the baskets in this side of Uganda. Other groups or regions use a different plant for the filling, papiro, but it grows only in humid areas, and in this side there is plenty of matoke, but not swamps. 

So, we have the filling part, what do they cover it with? With another plant. 
The traditional one in Kikooba parish is the “enjuru”. It's a long bush that grows everywhere. The proccess with this one is very similar: they remove the leafes from the main stem, cut it by half and let it dry. 

When it's the moment to wave, they will put these dried strips into water, to make them soft, and they will wave the previous matoke sticks with the enjuru strips. 

For the modern baskets, they will use a different kind of matoke leaf for the waving. This kind of matoke is not around in this area, so they get them from other ladies, and it's called “sisal”. The proccess is very similar, cut the leaf, take the fibre and let it dry until create the strips:

For sisal baskets they will first do the colouring. With a plant called “ina” or another one called “nyarwehinduria”, they can colour the sisal in greens, and with the root of the plant called “ekifumbwa” they can colour in yellows and browns. For the very colourful ones, they treat the sisal with ink. 

For the natural colours, they have to peal the root or to separate the leafes from the plant, and smash them in the mortar. When it is ready, they put them to boil with the sisal. To create different tones of colours, and to fix the colour, they will add ashes to the water. Once it has boiled and the strips have taken colour, they let them dry. 

Before waving, they will clean them a couple of times, to make sure the remaining ink comes out, and the colour stays clean and in it's place while waving. 

For waving they just use a needle, their hands and a lot of patient. However, it is an enjoyable time, as they like keeping themselves busy and creating something. Keep moving to bring better things for them and their families. 

Monday, 27 April 2020

Skills exchange

There is a question I have discussed so many times with friends, colleges and family. Maybe my social working background is the responsible one of my high interest to find an asnwere for it, however I can't still find a clear statement. The question is: by nature, human beings are meant to compete or to collaborate? I have read different theories deffending one and the other position. I don't know what the answere is, but when it comes to work, to behave or just to define my values, I have it clear: I go for collaborate. And I love when I find people and groups on the way enjoying from collaborating, sharing and exchanging with each other.

My volunteering project is with a group of ladies in a rural community. When they are done in their gardens, they wave baskets. The group is an excuse for them to meet, to share, to support and learn from each other...
With the programme, I can meet other volunteers in Uganda, like Ana. She works for a group in Nansana, a city besides Kampala. The members of her group are mainly teenager mothers with difficult situations. When young girls get pregnant they have to quit school and sometimes they are also abandoned by their families. The group brings them together to support them and teach different skills.
One of the good points of meeting other volunteers and their projects it's the possibilities that this can bring itself to the projects. That was our situation, when we realized that both our groups could benefit from the other one by exchanging skills. We proposed the idea to our groups and they were more than glad to meet up and share a day together.

When the day both groups agreed on, the girls from Nansana came to our village in Kikooba. For them also coming out of the city was already something interesting and took them from routine. By the time they arrived in the morning, some ladies were already preparing the food for the lunch.
When the group was ready, the girls from Nansana, with her leader, started explainning how to prepare charcoal briquettes with natural local materials. We all sat under the mango tree on the mats. The ladies were taking notes and making questions along the explanation.

At the end of the proccess, all of them practiced to do those balls.

Then we had lunch together, and when the dishes were taken away, it was the time to seat together and learn how to do the baskets. While in the morning it was more a magistral class, one person talking for the big group, in the afternoon was about seating one-one and learning from what they were seeing.

It was also very interesting the fact that they all were women, from different ages, and in diferent locations (city and rural area).
The fact of being able to prepare these briquettes themselves, saves money as they don't need to use that much charcoal for cooking. But also it can be a source of income, as they can sell those briquettes to the street food sellers. That's what the girls do in Nansana.

A little note about the charcoal briquettes: they are made out of charcoal, soil and cassava flour. It is used in the small cooks. It last longer than charcoal, that's why it is used a lot by the street food sellers, who are all the day cooking some meat sticks, chapatis or maiz.

And the last, but not the least, just a clarification on what it's to cook here: once per week, take a leaf from the banana tree and make kind of a hat with it. Take the machette and go to the mountain to collect branches. Make a big pale with those branches, put them in the head and walk back home. When it's cooking time, in between three big stones, put the sticks, with some other small ones collected from around and light up the fire. Then, cook in these iron pan. To control the strenth of the heat, either add more branches to the fire, or remove some of them.

Monday, 13 April 2020

The rigth to education

“Education is the best weapon to change the world” - Nelson Mandela. 
“Learn as you were going to live for ever, live as you were going to die tomorrow” - Mahatma Gandhi.
When I was a child, I was one of these children who doesn't like going to school, who fights mum when is sent to study or to do the homework. Definitly I did not value the education I was receiving. Nowadays, I can see how lucky I was to have access to a free education, and quite good education. 
My project in Uganda with MONDO is mainly in a school in a rural community. Here, the most of the families can't afford paying for the education of their children. Or there are others who don't realized yet how important is it, and they prefer to keep the children at home, helping with the daily works. But to have access to an education makes a great difference in the future possibilities for a person, and, as social animals we are, the community.
That's why any initiative that provides and ensures acces to education for any child in the world deserves my full respect. And I want to highlight one word in that sentence: “EDUCATION”. 
The Child Right International Declaration says that every child must have access to EDUCATION, because that's what we need. I focus in this word, because in so many cases it is mixed with SCHOOL. 
School is a building, it can have one or thirty rooms, it can have dusty floor or digital blackboards... But because a child goes to school, it doesn't mean this child receives education. There has to be  other conditions for the proccess teaching-learning to happen. One child can't learn when having fever, or when having headache because didn't eat since yesterday. He/she can't learn when is afraid of the teacher, because if he/she says something wrong, they are going to be beaten. When the theacher is not motivated because herself/himself can't pay for the food of her/his own child...
Children don't deserve to go to school, deserve to be toucht to think by themselves, to have somebody helping them to develop their skills, to be able to find solutions to problems, and if they don't find them, to learn how to create them. Children deserve to build their own sociability, to create their own role in the society. 
So, let's make sure all the children have access to education, not only to school. 

In my project at Kikooba Infant and Primary School, we are trying to go for that, supporting the teachers how to improve their resources in order to provide with the best education to our children. We have attended so far two workshops. The first workshop focused on the concept of education, where they were trying to identify which are the activities they do or they can do, in order to help all the children to reach the child they want to become, focusing in all their skills, through love, and paying attention to diversity. The second workshop was leaded by the National Library of Uganda, and in addition to a donation of books to the school's library, during all the morning, the librarians were sharing with the teachers different strategics, activities and games to promote reading among the children. 
It's a great pleasure see the teachers working all together all the morning willing to improve the education their children receive.

Life stories

“Esther, which is your dream?” -  “My dream is to have a good house” - “And what a good house means?” - “Well... a good house, a house with commodities, which has floor, electricity, a working TV, a gas cook, water...” 
Esther is one of the twenty women part of the group “Ladies with abilities” working in Kikooba, central Uganda. They meet every monday under the mango tree to talk about the week, to support each other, discuss how to organize the next baskets order o how much they are going to save from the sales. 
The most of them are willows or mothers alone. I say mothers alone because it can happen that they are single mothers or married, but whose husbands live somewhere else in Uganda, maybe with other women and families, and they come once or twice per year. When they come, they might bring some presents, but the rest of the year, it's the ladies the responsible ones for feeding and give an education to their children. 
As part of my project here in Uganda, I could interview all of them and they shared with me their life stories. Stories that don't take very much than three or four paragraphs and stories that could be copied from one to the other: I went to the school until primary, then I had to quit because of lack of money for the school fees, or because of the war, or because father decided no more education for girls. I was digging in my parent's garden until I was 16-18, when I gor married. From that, I went to live with my husband, produce children for him and work in our garden. Now we live as peasants from what we can cultiate and the four hens we have. 
Eva is also a member of the group. She is my age, 35 years old. She's got 6 children, but she had 8 pregnancies, she also works in the garden, and in her house she's got two rooms. 
I don't have children neither a house... I have other things... What a diference of lifes in the same time frame... But we both had chosen our lifes... Didn't we?

Friday, 3 April 2020

A letter to Uganda

Dear Uganda,

It's been sixteen days since I entered the plane and said goodbye.

Our relationship hasn't been easy. It took me so much time to get used to you. You seemed so chaotic, dirty and dangerous when I arrived.
I struggled with your definition of love, parenting, friendship, and family.
The endless handshakes to say hello, all this chit-chatting before talking business, having to get to know the whole family first.
And you always seemed so disappointed when I told you I don't have any kids.

You called me Muzungu all the time and I hated the attention on the street.
I couldn't move freely during the night. I felt like you take away my freedom.
Uganda, you speak so many languages. How can I ever understand you? Have a conversation?
When it rained, you stopped! Nobody moved and the world came to a standstill.
Your time management was horrible.
And you failed so many times to provide a stable internet connection. Let's not even talk about electricity

You talked about god so much. I don't even go to church!

Instead of flowers, you gave me Bilharzia which will follow me the next two years.
But mpola mpola (slowly slowly) you warmed my heart and I saw the beauty in you. ️ 

Your children fill the streets with laughter. It was my favorite sound.
The fruits that grow in your garden are plenty and some of the best I ever ate.
I love the way you always smile. And boy, how you shake your hips.
Your ability to improvise is amazing and you showed me how to appreciate even the smallest things.

And guess what: I even started liking your greeting ceremony!
I never was keen on bargaining, but you made it so easy. It has become a fun game.

Uganda, you have so little and you give so much. "In Uganda we share" is a not just a phrase. You have proofed so many times that you take this very seriously.

I came to teach your people, but you have taught me so much more.

I already miss you, Pearl of Africa. Corona has arrived after I left. I see you struggle. I hope you will be fine.

Iris / Isa / Maria / Mary / Sanyu

Trying to make the goodbye as sweet as possible

She has been my flatmate and partner in crime.
We documented our feelings and struggles
in a weekly sticky-note on the fridge
Here I stand, I can do no other

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

It's a reverse culture shock

On 26th September 2019, I wrote a blog article with the title "It's a culture shock". It was my second article, 12 days after I had arrived in Uganda.

Since 10 days I am back from Uganda. Due to the Corona outbreak, I am stranded in Germany and cannot yet return to my adopted home - Portugal.

This is going to be my second last article. The title is similar, but it is a whole new story. This is a reverse culture shock.

It is very hard to explain to my friends and family about reverse culture shock. Many of them never lived abroad. And only a few of the ones that did, experienced the harsh conditions of a developing country.

Reverse culture shock is nothing new. It happens to many people that come back from an experience abroad. It does not even need to be a developing context.

The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock (source:

But still, people around me don't understand. They say things like: Germany is your home, how can it be a "shock" to come back?

Maybe they forget that I haven't lived in Germany since 2016?  Germany has not been home for a while.
And how can they understand that the difference between Uganda and Germany could not be any bigger?

People around me don't understand and can't relate to things I talk about. Or understand my thoughts. Some are not interested in what I'm thinking either. My experiences are too abstract to follow.
I feel people ask the wrong questions, make the wrong comments. I get frustrated. 

The inconveniences of a developing country

  • The past six months I showered with cold water, I got used to power cuts and lack of internet. 
  • I learned to survive in the crowded and polluted streets of Nansana and Kampala.
  • We had to filter the water we drank and boil the water we brushed our teeth with. 
Perfect water filter, to go!
  • The selection of food was limited and banana was the main element of our diet. Sometimes I lived with two meals per day, and food was not always very nutritious. I lost 4 kg while I was there.
Typical food (from the left): Beans, Casava, Matoke (plantains)
  • The temperatures were warm, we never had less than 18 ° Celcius. I learned to deal with the rain and how life stops when the streets get flooded.
  • I had to bargain for prices at the market, for public transport, for clothes, basically for most the things. 
  • I got used to overcrowded busses that don't follow any timetable but come whenever they feel it is appropriate.
  • I washed my clothes by hand, in cold water.
Handwash. With soap and cold water
  • I saw malnourished children, spoke to women that had been raped.
  • I worked with people that had to flee their country and experienced violence we cannot even imagine.
  • I was surrounded by people with HIV/ AIDS and met people that could not afford medicine that cost not even 0,25 Euro.
  • Some people in my neighborhood earned 40 Euro per month and had to feed a whole family. Many struggle to pay school fees because, despite severe poverty, education is not for free.
  • I visited children that were neglected by their parents.
Visiting kids that were left by their mum

Many people I met in Uganda don't have an easy life

The glass is always half full in Uganda

And yet! I saw a lot of happiness. I was surrounded by children. I heard laughter and saw children playing in the streets every day when I came home from work. People smiled and greeted. Everyone was always curious to talk. 
Most of the people were happy with the little they had. And yet, it goes without saying that everything is shared in Uganda.

My friends from the neighborhood, always up for a game. 
It took me quite a while to adapt and understand the different contexts in Uganda. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by all the impressions and differences.
But one thing is for sure: I felt ALIVE and work felt meaningful sometimes.

Coming back to first world problems

Now I am back in Germany. I have a hot shower, I can drink water from the tap. Our fridge us full and my mum doesn't stop feeding me, serving me 5 meals per day. I know she means well but she is sometimes overwhelming me with her care.
The roads here are in amazing condition.
People worry about the perfect shape of a cake, about toilet paper and changing the clock.
There are 30 different kinds of cheese. Actually, I don't even care which one I eat, I am just happy to have cheese at all.
Life is much more comfortable and yet I have moments when I am overwhelmed by a deep sadness.
It feels like I live in a bubble.

How to overcome a reverse culture shock in a Pandemic?

There are a lot of recommendations on how to overcome reverse culture shock, such as:
  • Keep busy
  • Share your experience
  • Connect and network
But how can I keep busy if Corona locks me in the house? How can I share my experience if everyone is only worried about the virus? How can I connect and network with friends, when everyone is isolated?

Lost in transit

Times ain't easy at the moment, for nobody. I have to be patient with myself, my friends and family and people around me. I hope they are patient with me too.

And I know: Germany is only a temporary destination and I hope I will be able to return to Portugal soon, to the comfort of the ocean, which feels a little bit more home. Then reintegration can begin!