Saturday, March 22, 2014

This and That

There are many stories and photos that did not make it into the blog.  I am sure there are more than a few that are temporarily forgotten and will come to mind when I am back home.  I am now in Entebbe.  A day of rest before the long journey back home.  This will likely be my last post unless something amazing happens on my flight home - here are a few final snippets before I talk to you from Victoria.

The Truck

PODA purchased this truck for COBRA about 1 ½ years ago.  It has been instrumental in helping the project move forward.  They hire the truck out for hauling and it is also used to transport students and the band.  They have developed a good maintenance program for it and the profit they make helps fund the school and other COBRA projects.

A Nursery

They have started a small nursery at the school.  They will be selling coffee seedlings at the market.  It is part of the agriculture curriculum to maintain this nursery.  Perhaps they will start growing seedlings for cocoa trees!

The Student Council

When I met with them the things they asked for shocked me.  They wanted clocks for the classrooms so classes could run on time, garbage cans for the school grounds, sports equipment and mosquito nets.  What a group.

Putting up the new clocks

The School Secretary

Sharon is a former student of the school and is now the school secretary.  She is great and is always wanting to learn more.  She is eager to increase her knowledge on the computer and does a million and one things every day to help the school.

The Map

The pink line running vertically on the left side of the map is the Uganda/Congo border.  The pink dot on the right of this line is where the school is located in Lhubiriha Mpondwe.

The Land

It was easy to just gaze out at the land here.  The Kasese region, mainly near Bwera and the school can be quite lush and green, especially during the rainy season.  Any of the areas next to the Rwenzori Mountains get a bit more rainfall.  This is the gorge where the chimpanzees live.  I was happy to take a photo and forgo the hot and steamy hike.


I couldn’t resist – this was on one of the chalkboards in the Senior 3 classroom.  Beautiful!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Joyful Goodbye

The best way to spend a last day at a school is to see the students happy, active and just being kids.  A group of students from Camosun College’s Service Learning Program had a garage sale in Victoria last week and donated the proceeds to PODA.  Today I was able to get two soccer balls, two volleyballs and a net for the school.  They love playing both of these sports….and so do the teachers.

It was a beautiful day with several games going on in the school yard, under the overhang of the two-classroom building students continued to make baskets while others were helping with the sewing.  It reminded me of a school fun day in Canada. 

There was a break for lunch where there were some formal thanks given to PODA from the local Mayor, the regional representative, Chair of the PTA and from the COBRA organization.  Enough of the formalities, it is time to get back outside.

It was an hour or so of entertainment.  Nelson and the students performed as well as some of the local cultural dancers.  It was great to see members of the community drop by, especially all the small children.

The day ended but not before Nelson had to rush off.  I don't want to end this post on a sad or serious note but it is the reality of their life here.  His son Nellie, whom you met in yesterday's post has contracted malaria and is in the hospital.  What it brought home is that parents, wherever they are from, want the best for their children.  Nellie is going to be fine.  This tough little three year old has unfortunately had malaria before.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Head for the Hills

Today was a day away from the school and a chance to visit the villages surrounding Bwera where the COBRA members come from.  It was a hot one – somewhere around 32 degrees.

There currently are eight villages that are actively participating in COBRA.  I may have neglected to mention that COBRA is the local organization that PODA is partnering with for this project.  Some of the villages border the Congo. 
These hills are in the Congo
The villages are:  Busalya, Kamatsuku, Nyakahya, Nyabugando, Katasenda, Kyampara, Tuyalomdere and Kisanga.
I spent some time today with Nelson & Wilson and we have put together a map of the area so we can now locate these small villages on a map.  The first village we visited, Katasenda, there were two funerals happening that day.  One was for an elder in the village and the other a young mother who had died a few days after childbirth.  It was not appropriate for us to be touring about so respectively we moved on to the next village.

This community, Kisanga, is very active and very well managed.  Like any project there are villages that are thriving and some that are closer to just surviving.  This community was so welcoming and they took me around to meet all their members, their extended families, and their goats.  They showed me their gardens, their pigs, their fowl and their cocoa trees.
Two new kids
Stopping to eat some cocoa
They had already heard about the water bottle lighting idea and showed us buildings they wanted to light up.  Even on a very bright day like today, the inside of these buildings were totally dark. 
By mid-afternoon we were back at Nelson’s house where he hosted me for lunch.  I got to meet his son Nellie who is now three.  Nelson said that I am the first Muzungu or white person he has seen.  At first he was very shy but by the time I left he was talking to me and always trying to get my attention.  He was also intrigued by my glasses!

For tea time I brought them my favorite peppermint tea from Silk Road in Victoria!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Perhaps for Women Only?

The cloth menstrual pad project is really taking off.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, projects move along a bit, sometimes have a setback and then seem to gain momentum again.  I have felt that in the past two days a fire has been lit under this one.  The right combination of people, understanding and motivation has made this work.

On Monday, Robina (burser) and Loice (sewing teacher) met with many of the girls in the school to discuss the idea of cloth menstrual pads.  Probably 95% of the girls cannot afford to buy pads so they are left to use rags or cloths.  This is far from ideal and interrupts their studies every month as they are not comfortable coming to class.

I put together and brought an instruction binder on how to make a pad holder and a heavy day pad and light day pad.  I also brought with me some fabric to help with the project.  There are a ½ dozen girls who are going to ‘test drive’ the first set of pads made.  We are going to get their feedback and improve the design with any recommendations.  Today a good start was made on sewing the pads and they will be ready to distribute in the next day or so.

After meeting with the COBRA board today one of the female Directors approached me about her bringing a sample back to the communities that represent COBRA.  She indicated that there are many women who would benefit from this.  The pads are simple enough that they can be made with a sewing machine or they can be made by hand.  They are also designed to use materials that are available in this remote area of Uganda.

Meet the Teachers

A little about the school name.  Originally it was called Bwera Vocational Secondary School (BVSS) but when the school went to get its official license this name could not be approved as they are no longer allowing ‘vocational’ and ‘secondary’ in the same name.  The new name is Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School – a mouth full – MLSS will work.  Mpondwe Lhubiriha is the more exact area where the school is located.  There are four grades at the school, Senior 1 to Senior 4, which is like our grade 7 – 10.

I have had a chance to talk with most of the teachers, a few more to go in the few days left.  Their names are sir name first, followed by their given name. 

Mr. Thembo Lazarus – Literature & Religious Studies

Lazarus has taught at the school for 3 years and at another school for 2 years.  He is a widow.  His wife passed away from lung cancer in November 2013.  He has five children and his eldest daughter Catherine goes to school and is in S1 (grade 7).  Lazarus has an education diploma.  Lazarus is also the Health Master so he is responsible for monitoring the mental and physical health of the students.

Mr. Mwanamwolho B. Jophes – Kiswahili & History

Jophes has degree in Education from the Ugandan Christian University.  He is married and has two children ages 5 and 2.  In addition to teaching, he is also Director of Studies.  This position entails liaising with the administration and teachers to ensure adequate teaching materials are available.  It also involves creating the school timetable and co-ordinating all government exams. 

Mr. Masereka Zebedee – Agriculture – Senior 4

Zebedee was once a student of Gideon, the Deputy Head Teacher, when there was a small school in one of the hill villages.  There was a cholera outbreak at that school about a year before PODA built the current school.  The school was closed and it was combined with the school that is now MLSS.  He is working part time at the school and also works as a pastor at the parish church in his small community.  Zebedee is married but has no children yet.  He has a diploma in Education.  He has six siblings at the school so teaching at the school also allows him to see his family.  He recognizes the benefit he received from the school and is grateful.

Mr. Kule Francis – Agriculture – Senior 1/2/3 & Art

Francis was a student at MLSS and after completing Senior 6 he has returned to teach at the school.  He lives in the area directly surrounding the school and lives at home with his parents and six siblings.  He enjoys teaching agriculture because of its practical nature.  He has a dream of the school owning a small farm where many agriculture skills, from crop production to mechanics, could be taught to students.  He enjoys teaching the students art history and when possible to do creative, hands on art projects.

In the Dog House or Just in Hot Water

We started the pop bottle lighting project today.  I had thought the dog house was a mud hut but it is actually clapboard.  We wanted to make it was dark as possible to show the best effect of the pop bottle light so we started using any paper we could find to cover the cracks.  I think the students thought Madame Gordon has finally lost it!

It wasn’t lost on me when Nelson climbed into the dog house to see how well the one bottle lit up in the space.... I let Robina (his wife) know what it means 'to be in the dog house’.  Later in the day when the COBRA Board of Directors arrived they also got a demonstration.  Many of them were also happy to climb in.

We also showed the Board the solar stove made from a tire.  Today we were able to get the water to boil.  They are going to take both of these projects back to their communities to implement.

What's Cooking

Nelson and I started the day fashioning a solar cooker from an old tire, recycled cardboard, some aluminum foil and leftover glass.  In addition to all that Nelson does as a Director in COBRA, he is also a full-time park warden in Queen Elizabeth Park.  His job is to be a liaison with the communities that live within the park.  He wants to bring this stove idea to them to test.  Today we easily got the water hot enough to use for tea or to make beans. 

The idea came from this you tube video:  I hope this is the correct video - these are very difficult to download with my slow internet connection.

The school is using this energy saving stove that was researched by PODA on their last visit in 2011.  This information came via Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP)  When using the stove it takes 75% less wood and it can be made for free as there are no special materials required.  This is the cookhouse that is used to cook the food for the student meals.  They receive lunch and dinner at the school.  Previously they were using the traditional three stone fire for cooking.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mission Impossible?

I don’t think so.  PODA’s mission, vision, mandate or whatever term you would like to use is to partner on projects that will be self-sustaining.  Our goal is to provide infrastructure, seed money, advice, training and/or equipment to help a project.  The receiving partner then must develop ways (with our help) to ensure the day to day management and funding of the project is done.  At times this is difficult but not impossible.  How can it be when there is such an interest in learning and a thirst for knowledge?

While trying to reach sustainability COBRA struggles to make enough to cover their budget.  The first priority is always food for the students, second being compulsory fees for students taking exams, followed by miscellaneous supplies needed to run a school, salaries and then down the list is improvements or new projects.  But what I have seen this past week is progress and we keep talking about that.  Things are starting to turn a corner.  Projects that have had setbacks are now moving forward again.
Today was a day of a thousand purchases – well perhaps a dozen or so.  It just seems like a thousand because you go to a different store (and sometimes more) for each purchase.  What I found interesting is most of these purchases didn’t cost a lot but each helped move a project further ahead.  We bought good tubs to use in the apiary, materials for the sewing project, maintenance work on the sewing machines, repair work on a few storage cabinets, building of a cubby hole storage unit for the teachers and materials for a pop bottle lighting project.

The shopping happened in the afternoon but the morning started with sewing.  They are eager to learn and Loice (sewing teacher) was glad for assistance in organizing the supplies and talking about ideas to further develop the program.  Now that I have met her it will be much easier to send emails through the Head Teacher to discuss the program. 

I spent an hour or so with Robina (Burser) and Robert (Head Teacher) reviewing all the accounting from last week.  Robina is doing great and she says she sleeps more peacefully since all the information is organized. 
We had a special lunch today as Deputy Head Teacher Gideon was announcing to his colleagues that he was going for ‘Introductions’ on April 26th.  What this means is that Gideon will be going to his future bride’s family and asking to marry her.  I was grateful to be part of this day.  In recognition of this day Gideon supplied meat and soft drinks to be included in the lunch.

After afternoon shopping Nelson and I put together a prototype of the pop bottle lighting project.  As a demonstration for the COBRA Board meeting on Wednesday we are going to light up the inside of the little mud hut that is used to house the school dogs during the day.  We thought we would start small!
Nelson is excited to share this project with members of COBRA.  The pop bottle lighting can be used on the grass roofs or a tin roof.  He indicated that the members of COBRA in the more remote areas will benefit most from this.  Here is how the lighting works:, there is also a video for tin roofs but the internet does not like me this morning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Born to be Wild

Today we covered a lot of area looking for wildlife.  The deer, antelope & kob are abundant but the hilarious warthogs are difficult to photograph.  As soon as they hear you coming they quickly take off zigzagging away from you.  It made me laugh every time.  I felt like yelling 'I didn't want to take your picture anyway!'
We found a number of places where a great many baboons were hanging out.  They seem quite tame but I have been warned that they are not that friendly.  This guy kind of looks like an old neighbour of mine. 
We came across elephants in a few areas and this one was actually backing into the bush to get away from us.  They can go quite fast in reverse.
The water buffalo are also out on the plains since the rainy season has started and they don’t need to just hang out by the bigger bodies of water.  This reminds of me of Fairburn Farm in the Cowichan Valley – a little bit of home. 
No luck with the lions this time.  A good reason to return. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Fig and the Fart

No this is not a local neighbourhood pub – it has been my morning experience with the chimpanzees.  An early start to the day, on the road by 6:30 am.  It was a beautiful sunrise as we drove to the gorge to trek for chimpanzees.  We had a bit of time to wait for the guide and then a young Israeli couple also arrived.  They have been travelling through East Africa for four months and are loving Uganda.

The guide came and low and behold so did the chimpanzees.  They decided that the fig tree that is located at the entrance to the trail and the information area was a good place to be.  Talk about horseshoes – no trekking required.

We spent two hours hanging out with them under the fig tree, taking photos and dodging bathroom breaks.  The three of us then found a place in shade, laid on our backs and just watched them interact.  Pretty amazing.  They would eat for a while, then relax, eat some more and then finally they groomed each other before heading back down to the gorge.

They literally arrived a few minutes after 8:00 when the first trek is scheduled, hung around for two hours and then left.  It would have been a hot, slippery trek so we thank them!

The fig and the fart – what happens when chimpanzees eat an abundance of figs. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Business, Beads & Bees

With a 7:15 pickup I was off to Kasese to meet with Department of Education officials.  The Head Teacher Robert & I had an 8:30 appointment.  Because we were taking the public taxi, it is a bit more of an adventure.  It will pick up and drop off people along the way.  Many more people in the car than seat belts.  There was a supplementary charge to the regular rate because I got the front seat (with a seat belt) to myself.  The cost for both of us was 20,000 Ush or about $8.00.  Robert travelled about 55 km and I travelled about 30 km.

After the meetings we did some shopping for the school in Kasese.  It is a busy, dusty town.  We had a respite at the Jambo CafĂ© that I had read about before I left.  A good latte and oatmeal cookie was a treat.
Typical street in Kasese
We picked up a huge speaker that was being repaired.  It is used by the performance band.  We, well not me, had to negotiate the ride home.  For both of us to travel 55 km and a 3’ x 4’ speaker, it was 40,000 Ush or about $16.00 – once again I got the front seat!
Back at the school I got a bit of break for lunch and then we started in with the bracelet and earring making. Well it was a frenzy.  It is so much fun when everyone wants to do something.  I am bringing home some of their treasures – you’ve been forewarned.  This weekend they are going to make a new batch of beads and then probably by Thursday they will be ready to make some necklaces.  Any money that is made from selling the items in Canada will be sent back to the student as well as being used to replenish supplies.
Nelson & Wilson were back from the apiary today and are very excited about the honey production.  I will be bringing some back to share.  If you make the toast & tea, I will bring the honey.  Proceeds from the sale of honey help fund the school.

Gideon (teacher), Wilson (COBRA), Nelson (COBRA) and Robert (Head Teacher)
Back at Farmland and the mountains are beautiful tonight.  I have the weekend off now and will be spending it in Queen Elizabeth Park.  Time for some re-charging and hopefully sending you photos of amazing animals.