On the road again....

The day began, as most do not, with an air of charged energy.  The serenity was still there but overlaid with a veneer of anxiety mixed with excitement.  We were preparing to return to America.  This meant packing and repacking to fit the handicrafts necessary for ACT’s retail outlets in luggage and under the weight requirement for KLM.  We ended up leaving many baskets behind for the next team to bring.

One reason we struggled was that we had to buy just a few more special items for the shops.  We did what we needed to do and so we packed again.  At last, we were on the road to Entebbe, dinner, and our flights home.

I am sure if each of us had to describe this experience in a few words, there would be superlatives charged with emotions.  Now that we are back, it is a good time for you to ask.

Meanwhile, back in Kampala

Sunday the Vocational Training Team attended St. Stephens church to share in the celebration of Director Generous Turinawe and her husband (and fellow founder) Richard's son Jesse's confirmation.  Jesse, along with more than 70 others were confirmed in the church in a service that started a little after 11:30 and ended at 3:00.  The priest while recognizing the VTT near the end of the service said with a smile, "I don't think you have ever attended a service this long."  We agreed he was right!  Jesse is the handsome young man with the bowtie in the family picture below.  

In the afternoon and evening, Dick Dolinski provided training on what makes a good board to members of ACT Uganda's Advisory Board and Suzanne Greenberg presented information on fundraising to Generous and Richard.  

You will recall that sending a team of trainers to Uganda was our "Plan B" when the ACT Uganda team was unable to obtain U.S. Visas to come to Michigan for training.  Reflecting on the time that we have been here and the large numbers from the community that filled the Muko center beyond capacity, we realize this may have been for the best.  Many more than the ACT staff benefited.

Sue Waechter, U.S. Direct of ACT says, "The training was so successful that I think that every time we come we should conduct at least one training session."

A Day of Travel

Good evening to all followers of our blog!  This is Saturday, January 21 and the 6 of us just had a delicious dinner buffet. It consisted of Fish, Chicken, fresh vegetables, Irish potatoes, rice and pasta.  The women are sitting outside on the veranda (where we ate) while I type out this blog. The rest of the women are reading news on their cell phones and the 2 men are calling home. Now Dick, Vanessa, Suzanne and Sue are beginning to play Farkle! 

Our day started with the final packing and poor Christopher (our driver) having to load extremely heavy suitcases on the top of our bus.  We said our goodbyes to the Jopfan Hotel and Christopher drove us 10 hours to Kampala for the last leg of our trip.  All of us stopped at the Equator (which was counted in our 10 hrs) to do a little shopping and have lunch.  It had rained in Kampala before we arrived since we saw puddles.

It is currently 77 degrees at 7 pm and humid.  Most of us are tired from the travel and I don't think it will be a late night. To our dismay, there will be no shopping Sunday, which will be our day of rest.

Last Day in Muko

Today, unfortunately, marked our last day with the wonderful people in Muko. We will certainly miss their warmth, graciousness, and especially, their enthusiasm for learning. 

We began the day with a community dialogue in the village of Nyamiyaga. The leaders and villagers of this extremely high elevation location (8,200 feet!) met with ACT staff and the HEAL team (Health is Elemental for All Life) to identify key issues in the village. The dialogue began by separating the approximately 80 participants into three groups; women, men, and children. Each group was charged with brainstorming a list of issues facing the health of the community. The groups came together and reported on their work. The women identified issues such as alcoholism, a lack of potable water, the care of orphaned children, and spousal abuse. The men noted concerns about a lack of quality seeds, domestic violence, and fees for supporting children's education. The children reported their concerns about a lack of books, disruptive students, and the unaffordability of uniforms. The groups prioritized the issues in two categories; the lack of water, and affording school fees. The groups then developed strategies and actions plans for achieving these objectives.

Upon returning to the Muko center, Vanessa led a group of staff and 32 additional men and women in a training session about community wealth. She spoke to the universality of the desire for health. The key elements of health were discussed as were specific actions to improve outcomes. These included hygiene, vaccinations, exercise, and other important ways to improve health outcomes.

In addition to the group dialogue and training sessions, individual training, consulting and counseling sessions were undertaken by Diana with Guma regarding handcraft marketing, and Tim with Moses following-up on the HANDS (Helping Agricultural New Development and Sustainability) training and field work. Sue also met with Rauben regrading the pilot evaluation of the HEAL program and with Guma about the new administrative/secretarial hire.

Prior to leaving, the various handcraft articles produced at the center were packaged for return to and sale at the US ACT retail stores. Ginny's inventory request was fulfilled.

As it became time to leave, the heavens opened up as if grieving the end of our wonderful journey and we left in the rain. We are heading for Kampala tomorrow and then leaving back for home on Monday. 

Training, Training, Training...Shopping

Today was a fabulous day filled with learning and organizing!  We started with Sue teaching Leadership Skills through her “Living the Leader Role” curriculum and it was well attend with 27 people with staff and Muko Sub County teachers and leaders.  While Sue was teaching, Vanessa, Diana, Suzanne and Jorrin (Generous’ daughter) sorted the nearly 600 dresses and then Vanessa and Jorrin put them all in bags to prepare them for distribution to the churches!  Then, the churches will distribute them to the families in need!

During the final hour of Sue’s training, Diana sorted baskets according to Ginny’s inventory.  She also worked on cutting patterns for our new stuffed animals (hippos, small elephants, zebras and rhinos).  As Vanessa completed the bagging of ALL of the dresses and short sets for our children, Dick and Suzanne left with Father John from Muko Martyrs (the church that is generously supported by Blessed Sacrament) to visit the Uganda Martyrs Clinic (medical), Muko Martyrs school and church.  It was heartwarming to view all of the buildings, playground equipment, and multiple facilities that Midland’s Blessed Sacrament has made!  We saw that for only $6,000, the parish would have a new roof for the new rectory as well as finishing all of the walls and interior!

In the afternoon, Sue continued her day full of training.  She led a full room of staff and community leaders through her project management training, “Leading Successful Projects”.   Over 27 people learned how to plan and execute their own project as well as the planning history for ACT and its programs!  With 8 hours of training, Sue inspired and educated those present!

After 10 hours at AEC, we headed to several stores in Kabale.  Our team needed to pick up toner for the MEC printer, and fabric for the handcraft program.  We actually had a pleasant experience in the Kabale market purchasing fabric---36 yards to be used for sales in the Uniquely Uganda store!   Our team has truly bonded as a true group of professionals with a common vision and we have truly made a difference already!

PS Sue is going to bed - exhausted! I have waited 1.5 hours for the three photos to upload and cannot wait any longer. I will try tomorrow morning to upload the photos. Goodnight!

It's so late we can't think of a good title!

Computer Training was the beginning of our day today. Diana Stubig spent several hours sharing information about organizing computer files, accessing the Internet and Google Drive where we can share documents with each other. There were about 20 people who continued to file in as Sue, Jorryn and Vanessa kept visiting the copy machine to make more and more handouts. Most of the people from the village have never sat at a computer before. They sat in the secondary seats behind our staff who were at their own laptops learning. We discussed the possibility of opening a computer lab for the community.

 

After lunch (of power bars, peanut butter and crackers), we started Suzanne’s session on Child Development and Child Abuse & Neglect. Again people filed in for the first hour for a total of 27. It was a very passionate session discussing how children develop and what to expect of their ages and then moving into the abuse and neglect portions. This was a very animated portion as people were uncomfortable with the topic but we learned a lot from each other. We discussed corporal punishment and that ACT’s position is that our orphans should not be disciplined in this way – a new concept for many! We encouraged them to try different ways to discipline the children such as time-outs.

 

At the end of our training sessions we are presenting the participants with certificates that is a very important thing for them. They want their photos taken when they receive the certificate and Generous suggested they laminate them.

 

Tim took advantage of the opportunity to return to Daniel’s land which ACT rents for crops to observe the new water pump that ACT purchased to water the crops.

This evening, we attended our third Rotary meeting at the Rotary Club of Kabale held at the White Horse Inn.  It was a great opportunity to share with more Rotarians about the VTT (Vocational Training Team).  Dick and Tim introduced the VTT and the ACT Uganda Team.  Finally, they exchanged the flags…Dick and Tim presented the Acting President with the Midland Noon Rotary Club’s flag.  Then, the entire group proceeded to the dining room for a dinner that included everything from Chicken Curry to Muchomo (pork pieces with vegetables)!

Keeping Hope Alive

The day began, as most days in Uganda, embracing the stillness and serenity of the morning.  The first stop, at Murole Preparatory School, was truly inspiring.  Head Master, Norman Tushabe greeted us and provided a tour of his school where 74 of our 130 orphans attend.  Mr. Tushabe was a successful teacher at another school when he realized he could be more effective in his home village.  It was then he decided to return.  His last name is his inspiration and means let’s pray.  His prayers are constantly being answered and today his compound includes equivalent of our kindergarten through seventh grade classrooms, a computer lab without internet, boy’s and girl’s dormitories, a piggery, a soccer field, and a multipurpose room under construction.  Mr. Tushabe stood tall and a faraway look descended upon him as he spoke of the future for his school.  “My dream, he announced “is where students excel academically and [are] morally upright and are God fearing.” Next approximately 75 guardians engaged in a stimulating seminar expertly lead by VTT member Suzanne Greenberg, CEO of the Child Abuse and Neglect Council Great Lakes Bay Region.  In addition to a review of basic disciplinary practices, Suzanne guided the group thorough the difficult territory of caning and sexual abuse.  She was skilled and demonstrated alternative methods of discipline via a role play which introduced the idea of “time out” with 2 and 3-year-old children.  Sue Waechter, trained the ACT Uganda staff and a few community members in Creating Strategic Partnerships.  The group actively participated and were ready with examples of relevant application for Muko. The full day of activities ended with a staff and community training at the Muko campground complete with a delicious buffet of local dishes.  The staff gratefully acknowledged the support of their American partners.  Rotary VTT member, Richard Dolinski, was professional in his delivery and appropriate in culturally translating child development.  His presentation provoked much discussion and creative solutions proffered by staff and community members alike. Although it was evident that there is still much work to do, everyone left full of hope, shaking hands, and renewing their individual commitments to the ACT mission and Rotary values.  The day ended, as most days in Uganda, enveloped in darkness with the beauty of a star-spangled sky. 

Cabbages and Crafts

Monday the VTT training team went to work.  Tim and Dick toured many fields with the HANDS Uganda (Agriculture) team.  We got a great overview of the types of crops they are growing and their successes and challenges.  One exciting visit was to a new demonstration garden where the villagers had planted 13 different vegetables, most of them new to the area.  This effort was a result of a community based health promotion program introduced in September by ACT called HEAL.  One of the primary concerns identified nutrition deficiencies as a concern due to limited variety in the local diet.  Another NGO, Hope Seeds, provided the seed.  The goal is that one day, every family has a garden.  In the afternoon we worked together to think about the growing process and identifying improvements for the next crop cycle based on the results of the last.  

The other main activity was Diana and Sue working with the beaders, weavers and sewers.  About 45 village women who work in these areas came to the ACT center.  They learned more about the process of bringing their handiwork to market in the U.S. and what items are most in demand there.  New patterns were introduced for the sewers and planning began to bring a trainer to Uganda to teach them additional sewing skills. Those who have had difficulty with vision while doing their close work received reading glasses donated in the U.S.  The handicrafts the women had produced since ACT's last visit were purchased for sale back in the Uniquely Uganda store in Midland and two other stores in Traverse City and Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.  

On Sunday the Lord rested and so did we.

On Sunday, the Lord rested and today so did we. We met for breakfast at the hotel at 7:00 then departed for Muko at 8:00 chauffeured by our trustworthy and reliable driver, Christopher. From Muko, three pairs of our team along with ACT staff went to three different churches. Tim and Vanessa attended All Saints Church of Uganda in the village. The service started an hour later than scheduled and lasted for about 2 and a half hours once it got started. Generous was the guest homilist and gave a sermon on giving. Sue and Diana rode to the Ikamiro Church of Uganda along with ACT staff members. They were happy to see the robes donated by the First Presbyterian Church of Holt (Michigan). A photo of the robes is attached. Suzanne and Dick, along with ACT staff, attended the Ugandan Martyrs Church in the village. They arrived 10 minutes before the scheduled time but were told by a nun who greeted them that the service would start later. She invited them to her home and proceeded to put out a breakfast spread on her table—remember we had already had breakfast at the hotel. We were hospitable and had some tea and a half a slice of bread while engaging in very spirited conversation about Rotary and ACT. Sister is a math teacher in the parish school and will be attending our training sessions on early childhood and youth development. So the time was not all in vain. Four representatives of the concert orchestra played a tune at each of the three churches this morning. The service was also joyous and lasted about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

After returning from church, Dick had the opportunity to visit his and Donna’s orphan, Elisa Niyonsaba. Elisa lives with his married adult sister and her husband in a house at the top of the mountain facing Muko village. The walk to the house is on a very steep, narrow, and dusty path that is highly irregular with roots, rocks, and ruts along its entire length. The trial is a little over 2 kilometers in length (about 1.5 miles) and was even more tedious coming down than going up. A photo of Dick’s shoes is attached with one cleaned off and the other not to illustrate just how dusty the trial was. Elisa and his family were most grateful for the gifts that Dick brought for them. His 96 year-old great-grandmother was present and was especially grateful for ACT supporting Elisa’s education.

Later in the afternoon, Howard Biryomuriwe, ACT Music Manager, led the orchestra in a concert for the team and other local people. This was followed later by a music camp-ending performance of the animated rendition of the traditional Rukiga dance that includes jumping, expressive arm movements, and chanting. This high energy performance was genuinely enjoyed by all.

Tomorrow we will be training the field people in Agricultural practices and the Muko Empowerment Program people in handcraft marketing. The week is full of training activities in all the subject matter areas represented by our team. As they say in show business, “stay tuned.”

First Day in the Village...

We met at 8 am for breakfast while we waited for Christopher to pick us up and finally make our first visit to Muko!  This is the day we all wait for we begin our travel to Uganda.  Four out of 6 members of our team have never met our Ugandan ACT staff. The travel on Christopher’s bus was about 45 minutes, going up a mountain on winding roads.  The view is incredible as you see the terraced hills that are beautifully farmed by the village people.  You will also see many people walking along the roads, carrying water in large plastic containers, baskets on heads with produce and animals walking freely.

When we arrived at the Muko Empowerment Center, we were greeted by musicians playing on their violins and cellos.  The staff was ready and waiting for us as well.  It was an amazing and tearful experience.  The village was so happy to see us.

We spent the afternoon going over the agenda for the week, Tim, Dick and Vanessa then walked the Muko market to look for fabric for vests.  Meanwhile, Josiah, Diana, Suzanne were driven by Christopher to make a home visit to see Precious Arinda (Diana’s sponsored child).  That experience is indescribable.  The whole family waits outside for you in anticipation, then lead into their home.  We visited for one hour, took pictures, shared pictures and left with a promise to see everyone in church tomorrow. 

Dinner was at 7 pm and it is always an experience with all of the new experiences with Ugandan food.  It is 9 pm (we are 8 hours ahead of Michigan) and people are either calling home or retiring to their room. 

Stay tuned for our training information  beginning tomorrow!

What would you attempt, if you knew you would not fail?”

“What would you attempt, if you knew you would not fail?”

January 10, 2017:  What a day!  Our mission began on Tuesday, January 10th (1p.m.) as we all gathered to load our suitcases at the Uniquely Uganda store!  Of course, it was blustery and snowing!  We were blessed to have Katie Brinklow chauffeur us down to the Detroit Metro Airport amidst rain, snow and high winds!  Katie is the Youth Coordinator for Memorial Presbyterian Church and a former Muko Team member. Thanks a million Katie!

Our journey started in an airplane from Detroit Metro Airport scheduled to depart about 6:11p.m.    We were not surprised when we were delayed about one hour.  The plane was packed!  The seven hour flight to Amsterdam and then eight hours to Entebbe was followed by our 45 minute drive to Kampala check out the pictures of the beautiful Adonai House where we stayed for two nights.  With the unloading of our suitcases and unpacking---we were able to get to sleep about 2 a.m.!

January 12 2017:    After just a few hours of sleep, we all meet for breakfast at Adonai House---pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit, and coffee.  Chef Francis made a delicious breakfast and we enjoyed every last morselJ!  Our task for the morning was to exchange money, and bring donated cell phones to be unlocked.  In the afternoon, we spent several hours in the Fabric District as we were crammed in a small space  (7x10) lined with women at sewing machines and fabric.  The aisle was just wide enough for one person and there were 15 people in there!  It felt like 100 degrees as seven sellers yelled for our attention, calling us “Mama”, “Mama” while showing us their fabric--gorgeous African material.  The funniest thing is that I don’t sew BUT I will be looking for someone who does when I return!

Following this outing, it was time to head to the Kampala Rotary meeting at the Grand Imperial Hotel.  Dick and Tim shared our mission here and introduced the Vocational Training Team.  Dick described the critical training that we will be providing on leadership, early childhood education, child abuse and neglect, community building and so much more!  At the end of the presentation, Dick and Tim exchanged their Rotary Club banner with the President of the Kampala Rotary!   Next, we met with the Port Bell Rotary to discuss their projects and give them more details about our training.  Before we ended, Dick and Tim exchanged the Midland’s Noon Rotary banner with the Port Bell leadership.  When we arrived back at the Adonai House, we enjoyed dinner by Chef Francis and delicious chocolate cake with Generous’ family to celebrate Josiah’s 10th birthday!

January 13, 2017:  Waking up to the beautiful noise of mocking birds and a delicious breakfast was the perfect way to begin this day!  Immediately after breakfast, we began to load our suitcases (12, 50lb) bags to the van as today we head to Kabale.    The trip to Kabale from Kampala was about seven hours!  However, we first stopped at an amazing market – the big Kampala Market where the locals make purchases (only open on Fridays) where Sue W and Generous would shop for dozens of items to use in the village and Vanessa, Diana and I enjoyed shopping for beautiful wares.  We were blessed to have Dick and Tim along as they were kind enough to carry ALL of the goodies that were purchased!  With our tight schedule and desire to arrive in Kabale before dark, we only had one hour to shop in this huge marketplace!

We headed to Kabale about 10:30am and with just two stops to stretch and get some cold drinks, we arrived at our home for the next 10 days—the Jopfan Country Hotel (check out the picture below).  We each were given a double room with a television, our own bathroom/toilet and hot water in the shower!  The team enjoyed some wine as we sat on the hotel’s porch with a view!   Next, we had delicious meals such as Chicken Curry, Egg Curry, Spaghetti Bolognese, Pork Chop and Grilled Chicken.  Our evening together concluded with reorganizing our luggage so that we have ALL of the items for our children, choir robes, music stands, violins and viola!

PS We cannot seem to get our photos to load! We'll keep trying...

In Kampala...

We arrived safely with all our faculties (although exhausted to be expected) and with all our luggage (I sometimes consider this a miracle!) Yesterday we went to the Kampala Rotary Club meeting (2 actually) and purchased fabric which is an experience to be described in detail later.

We are at the hotel waiting for Christopher to arrive to visit the Kampala market and then off to Kabale - our all-day drive. More soon! Sorry this is so short. Christopher just arrived and we need to load the van.

Off to Muko Again! January 10, 2017

A new team is leaving tomorrow evening for Muko. This team is a Rotary Vocational Training Team - known as a VTT. It is comprised of some Rotary folks and some non-Rotary folks, all experts in their fields. This team will be providing training for the ACT Muko staff and other community leaders in topics such as Leadership, Board Development/Advocacy, Early Child Development, Child Abuse & Neglect, Computer Skills, Agriculture, Marketing, Public/Community Health, Project Management, Partnerships, and more! We have a very full two-week schedule. The Midland Noon Rotary Club, the Midland Morning Rotary Club and the Bay City Rotary Club are sponsoring this wonderful opportunity for the ACT Staff to learn more about their work and share in cultural exchange in these topics. 

The members on this team are Tim Dyste, Sue Waechter, Diana Stubig, Suzanne Greenberg, Dr. Vanessa Brooks Herd and Dick Dolinski. Arrival in the village will be this coming Saturday. We will continue to update our adventures daily if we have power both electrical and energy to stay awake! 

September 22, Kampala and Travel

Generous graciously invited us to her home this morning, where she treated us to "Second Breakfast" -- samosas, tea, and juice. We visited with her family -- Richard even came home from work for a few minutes to say hello (and goodbye).

Dave and Generous went to the bank to exchange our excess shillings for dollars; then they spent some time working on accounting issues.

The rest of us went to the Kampala Crafts market. On the way, we passed the Parliament and other government buildings. The craft market is big, colorful, and a little on the touristy side, but it was great fun and they have very good prices. Almost everyone spoke enough English so we could manage without interpreters. They called out from their stores, "Hello, friend! Come and see me! I have everything for you!" Besides "Friend," I was addressed as "Sister" more than once. And in one section of the market, Larry and I were consistently called "Papa" and "Mama."  (Couldn't be the gray hair, must be how tired we look by now...) Some of the salespeople were extremely persistent (I'm trying to be polite here...) but some were very good -- once Sheryl started looking at children's dresses, the saleswoman asked how old the child is and what's her favorite color, and promptly brought out the perfect dress. Sue was able to buy several more baskets in sizes the MEP women hadn't made. She also picked up some stuffed animals, some more earrings and some angel ornaments for Christmas. (Hint: there aren't many angel ornaments, so if you want one, visit the store early!)

Back at the hotel, we had lunch and then packed the extra baskets, etc. in the remaining duffel bags for transport. The day is one of the warmest we've had yet. By 3:00 pm we were hearing growling thunder and the wind was picking up.

We will be leaving for the airport soon. If anything interesting happens (we sincerely hope nothing does), I'll try to keep you updated. Otherwise, we'll be traveling...

Twabakunda! Webere munonga!  We have loved you, and have loved spending time with you! Thank you very much!

Below:  Craft market; jacaranda tree.

September 21, 2016, Travel to Kampala

Last night, Sue, Karen, and staff (Generous, Guma, Josiah, Moses, Maurice, Rauben, and Tito) were featured on a talk show on Radio Rubanda. It was a one-hour call-in program that lasted for two hours and 10 minutes. The air time would've cost 2.4 million shillings but we got it for 400,000 because Tito co-founded the station. It was a small recording studio that would comfortably fit three people, so the nine ACT participants were sure there was no air left in the room by the time the program was over!

During the program the phones rang constantly -- and were still ringing at the end, so not all questions could be answered. Some of the questions came from adult orphans looking for help. One particularly difficult question was, "When are you going to serve everyone else in Uganda, not just Muko Sub-County?" Answer (Not verbalized on radio): When the sky rains both money and volunteers to do the work!

The rest of us tried to listen in, but had trouble finding the program, partly because Generous had remembered the station name incorrectly and partly because the station -- only a fraction of an inch on the dial away from the one we thought we wanted -- was hard to find. Plus, the program was almost 100% in Rukiga (which we expected). Wescanned the stations with the hope of recognizing a staff member's voice; Dave M. and Roger found it towards the end of the program but everyone else had given up, assuming it had ended much earlier.

Today we checked out of the Jopfan Hotel. We had requested a special breakfast item --  "chips" (French fries) to go with our eggs or whatever else we chose to order. The chef probably thought we were crazy, but he was happy to comply anyway. The staff all wished us safe travels and we received hugs with our goodbyes. Sue was able to get a recipe for chapatis -- we'd been invited to learn how to make them but we never got back to the hotel early enough.

Procedure for How to Make Chapatis (Joshua, Jopfan Country Hotel)

Mix a scant teaspoon of yeast witha liter of warm water. Mix well with 1 cap (maybe 1-2 tsp?) olive oil and 3 eggs.

Finely grate a carrot, 1/2 onion, some fresh ginger; mix with a bag (??) of wheat flour.

Mix all ingredients together. Cover bowl and let rest for 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into small balls. Roll very thin and flat.

Heat a skillet; add a small amount of oil. Add the chapatis one at a time. Cook the chapati until lightly browned; flip to cook the other side.

NOTE: The measurements are all approximate since we don't know how big the bag of flour was and they don't use cups, tsps, etc. Experiment -- it should feel like a fairly stiff dough.


As we began the long drive, Sue led a devotional exercise in which she asked us each to use our names to create an acrostic with words describing our experiences of the last two weeks. The result was inspirational, yielding words like empowering, humbling, acceptance, opportunity, respect, adventure, love, understanding, serving, and yes, among others. This has clearly been a meaningful venture for all of us.

On the road, we again went through several police checkpoints, but we were required to stop only twice. The first time, the policeman came inside the bus to check Christopher's license and our seat belts. He also asked us if Christopher was doing a good job. We responded with enthusiastic applause -- I wonder what would've happened if we'd said we thought Christopher was a bad or dangerous driver...? The second time, the policeman talked with Christopher and checked his license through the window, walked around the bus looking at the tires, then waved us on.

When it was time for lunch we opened the box lunches the Jopfan chef had prepared and discovered delicious samosas and chips in each one! It was such a thoughtful reminder of our friendships with the staff at the hotel.

Just as a matter of interest, we noticed that the price of gas ranges from 3250 - 3450 shillings/liter. This translates to approximately $3.75 - $3.95/gallon. The gas comes from refineries in Kenya.

New things of interest spotted as we drove included papaya trees, jacaranda trees in bloom, sweet potato stands, a jackfruit tree, a crested eagle, and gardens that are noticeably greener than they were two weeks ago. A little rain makes a huge difference!

As on our trip south, we stopped for a leg stretch and some shopping at the equator. Several people were able to buy souvenirs they had looked for but couldn't find in Kabale. We made it back to the Adonai Hotel in Kampara in just over eight hours.

After arrival, while the rest of us tried to finish packing for our flight or otherwise attended to business matters, a small group -- Nena, Sheryl, Dave M., and Roger -- went for a walk to the Wine Garage and a grocery store. They returned with treasures to share for dinner: South African wine, both milk and dark chocolate bars, and ice cream! The rest of dinner was fantastic too, and Francis, the Adonai's superb chef, has agreed to share his recipe for pumpkin soup.

Below:  Jopfan Hotel; vendors selling 'chicken-on-a-stick' and other foods to bus passengers; roadside sweet potato stands; bota-botas (motorcycle taxis) waiting for passengers.

Final Day in Muko, September 20, 2016

Today was our last day in Muko, and it was one of the most difficult. One of the things we do is distribute "pillowcase" dresses/t-shirt outfits made by volunteers in the US. We brought 239 dresses, but we could easily have given away ten times that number and would still not have had enough. The dresses (and shorts & t-shirts for boys) are given to village children only. ACT orphans are not eligible because they already receive considerable help. Two weeks before we arrived, ACT volunteers, knowing how many dresses we could bring, went to the villages to determine which children/families were most in need and make lists of who should receive the clothes.

The hand-out was scheduled for 1:00 pm. We arrived at the Center at approximately 9:00 am and there was already a crowd. The crowd grew and grew. And grew. The volunteers lined people up and started checking off the names. Many who were not listed were turned away, but very few (if any) of them actually left.

While we were waiting for the situation to be sorted, I joined Karen, Nancy, and the orchestra students. Karen was playing "African Blessing," a piece the students are learning to play, on the computer. There's the cello!" she announced. "Second violin... Viola...!" The students were absolutely rapt. She also demonstrated how to find the music on the computer-- her screen was displayed on the TV -- by switching to "Ode to Joy," the second piece the students are learning. Finally, she switched to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven's 9th. There wasn't time to play the entire symphony, but the kids were thrilled anyway.

When the volunteers couldn't hold back the crowd any longer, we set up the boxes of clothes inside the Center and established a path for children to come in, receive a dress, and exit via the back door. Dave V. was posted as a guard at the back door to keep kids from coming in uninvited.

At first, the process was fairly smooth. We had sorted the dresses (which were individually packed with a coordinating t-shirt in a labeled Ziplock bag) yesterday, and the children came in 3-4 at a time, which was easily manageable because there were 3 of us working together, plus Sue, who was escorting children in, Sheryl, who was escorting the children out, and Rauben, who was translating when necessary and trying to manage things so that the children who came in would be more or less the right sizes.

For each child, we took a dress out of its bag and held it up to make sure it would fit the child. The children accepted the gift, some shyly, others with huge smiles. So far, so good. Then we started finding that many of the dresses were mis-labeled and we had to try several bags before we found one that would fit. And many of the t-shirts were adult sizes -- handing a child (boy or girl) a shirt that was big enough for her or him plus two or three siblings was not comfortable. But the children kept coming. Once or twice we were uncertain of a child's gender -- one little boy objected fairly strenuously when we tried to give him a dress! Not that we blamed him. Then we started running out of certain sizes -- the majority of the dresses were smaller than we needed. And we could hear that, if anything, the crowd outside was larger than ever. I went out to check and one of the volunteers was wielding a large stick -- he wasn't exactly beating anyone with it, but he was definitely keeping the crowd from rushing the door. When we ran out of clothes there was nothing we could do but shut the door, knowing that people had been waiting for hours and we had nothing for them.

This was an extremely distressing exercise for us. We wished the dresses could have been divided amongst the parishes and distributed by the volunteers. But they've done this before: they know that there will never be enough for everyone no matter how many we bring. So they have to choose, as best they can, who should receive. And they have to deal with the hordes who come, hoping, even though they were not chosen. We visitors have to do the actual giving and we have to be the ones who close the door. The staff and volunteers, as they pointed out to us, have to live here after we go home.

In the future we will probably choose not to repeat the giving away of dresses because it does not really fit with our mission. It is direct aid -- a bottomless pit that in the end often does more harm than good. ACT Uganda is about building relationships through sustainable, developmental aid.

By the time we finished with the pillowcase dresses, it was time to fix lunch for the orchestra students. As a special treat, we made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches (two per student). We also had potato chips and sodas for them. A very popular lunch! We made sandwiches for staff and ourselves while we were at it.

Dave M. got to inspect the garden behind the Center today. The beets they planted, using the wheel hoe, less than a week ago have already sprouted! Yay!

Then it was time to inventory and pack all the baskets and jewelry we're taking back to sell at the Uniquely Uganda store in Midland. Larry and Roger had been working on this all morning; Sue, Nena, and I joined in for the next couple of hours until it was time to go hear the orchestra students' concert. They performed "Ode to Joy" (directed by Nancy) and a D scale, with some exercises (directed by Howard). The challenge was reading music and fitting the parts together -- the things they've been working on with Karen this trip. They were a tribute to their teachers!

Below: Crowd waiting for pillowcase dress distribution; giving out the dresses; making PBJ sandwiches; music students coming back for seconds on PBJ; sorting earrings into matching pairs; counting the baskets for packing.

Howard leading the orchestra concert

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sheryl had a very interesting breakfast yesterday and it looked so good I requested the same thing today. Then we learned from our driver, Reward, that it's a very common Ugandan breakfast for a busy day. It's called an Egg Rollex, and basically it's a very flat omelet with finely chopped vegetables, wrapped in a hot chapati. Delicious and filling!

It varies from school to school, but today is the first day of the term for some schools, so the foot traffic along the road as we drove to Muko today was full of children in school uniforms. Those of our orphans who attend Murole Preparatory School were due back today and we found some of them already waiting when we arrived at the Center. Others trickled in until eventually we had to take two trips to the school. Dave V. went with the first bus; Nancy went with the second. Nancy said the students disappeared with their friends almost immediately upon arrival.

We had one unhappy experience in sending the students off to school. An orphan new to the program, 9-year-old Sunday Dickson Tumwebembeza, came for his first interview this morning. He was clearly scared half to death by the room full of muzungus measuring him and taking pictures. We presented him with his blanket and interviewed him, but he actually doesn't yet have a sponsor, so he couldn't get on the bus with the other children. We had to send him home with his guardian, who did seem to understand the situation, but it was heartbreaking all the same. Perhaps someone would like to sponsor him? On the ACT Uganda website, click on "Make a Difference," then "Sponsor an Orphan." It's simple and it's not too late to send Dickson to school his term. It would change his life.

Nancy had the opportunity of touring Murole School with Norman Tushabe, the director. Shesaw the computer lab -- 24 new Dell computers (a good start toward the goal of 50). The students in the Primary 4 - Primary 7 classes have a 45-minute computer class daily: the school expectation is that when they graduate, the students should be able to compete in the world market for jobs. After school hours, inexpensive classes are offered to the community.

Nancy also visited a VocTech class where secondary students were learning to make shoes. If the shoes pass inspection, they are sold in the market. Nancy was so impressed, she bought a pair on the spot, as soon as the shoemaker-girl finished her work! They are a pair of flip-flops with an oval of beadwork at the juncture where the straps join. The beadwork is not done by Murole students at this time, but it has been introduced into the classes.

The HEAL Program ran their first dialog with a village today and it was a great success. The volunteer health promoters ran the meeting. A surprise was the attendance of 15-20 Batwa (bush people, or pygmies). The relationship between villagers and Batwa is usually akin to that of the Australians and the aborigines, so it is not typical for the Batwa to willingly intermingle. What they shared at the meeting was their happiness to be sitting with the villagers and to have a voice in the proceedings.

The dialogue process went well. Clean water and agriculture were the two priorities chosen, and action plans were made. Rauben, however, is working to alter the HEAL process to more closely align with the cooperatives which are currently working so well in other areas, so the action plans may be changed some before they're implemented.

Several sewing ladies came to work today. They cut fat quarters and, after Phoebe figured out how to thread the treadle machine, worked on assembling elephant and giraffe toys. The other sewing machine was out of commission today after the needle broke. The ladies are looking forward to getting a new machine or two so that progress won't be so slow.

The HANDS team stayed in Kabale today, meeting with people from the Kihefocommunity health outreach program. The program runs a variety of health clinics -- AIDS, maternity, dental, and others. The program the HANDS team was most interested in was one for malnourished children -- they have 3 demonstration gardens and a large rabbit farm. The supervisor for the gardens wasn't available, so they weren't able to visit the gardens, but they did get to tour the rabbit farm. Classes in tending rabbits are offered, after which the students are given three rabbits -- two males and a female, all of different varieties.

The team also visited MTRC (the mushroom training facility). There, they learned that MTRC is working on developing new techniques for growing mushrooms, with an aim towards reducing costs for the growers. One anticipated problem the Muko area growers are concerned about is their reliance on plastic bags. Rwanda has passed a law banning plastic bags, and even though it's a controversial issue, Uganda is considering doing the same. So new ways of doing things could be needed soon. One possible solution involves building a box and starting with a layer of dirt, over which the substrate is spread. This may solve another of the Mulo grower's problems: by eliminating the need to cook the medium, they would also eliminate the need for more large cooking vessels. MRTC gave Moses samples of new mushroom varieties to try. A very productive day!

Nena and I sorted the pillowcase dresses in anticipation of handing them out tomorrow. We're all ready to go. I also worked on getting the "basket room" in order by labeling as many baskets as possible so they can be packed tomorrow. We are definitely bringing home some treasures for the store!

The rainy season has arrived. We've had short afternoon rains for the past few days, but both yesterday and today we had absolute downpours. We're all thinking its time to go home!

As this is our next to last night here, we had a staff appreciation dinner. We drove tothe Bunyonyi Overland Resort, a lovely resort area on the other side of Lake Bunyonyi. The food was delicious and everyone, both Ugandan and American, was made to feel quite thoroughly appreciated.

Below: Orphans ready for first day of school, Dickson Tumwebembeza, MEP sewing ladies, Murole School, students making shoes, Murole computer lab (Murole photos by Nancy S.)

Visit to Kishaki Catholic Church, September 18, 2016

Following posted by Dave Molzahn with Larry Schroeder

Dave M. and Larry, accompanied by Victor, Tito, Moses, Generous and Andrew, visited the Kishaki Sub Parish Catholic Church. The lay leader greeted us as we arrived at the mountain top church, which is off the main road on 5 km of rough dirt tracks. After receiving a beverage in the rectory, we were ushered into the church to the rhythm of drums and singing voices. The large cross-shaped church was filled with over 600 worshippers. It was recently built to replace a too-small building, and had cement floors and high ceilings, glass in the windows, battery powered speaker system, and dancing children.

Songs of praise and celebration were frequent. The lay leader’s message to the people was that everything comes from God, not by chance. As such, everyone should be willing to share their gifts. Communion was efficiently served given the number in attendance, offerings were given, then the guests were formally introduced. Tito and Generous spoke about ACT, and our orphans who worship at the church were assembled in front along with their guardians. 

After the service we walked about a mile back down the dirt road with the parishioners, eventually arriving at the house of the orphan volunteer coordinator for the parish. The guardians had chipped in together to provide a nice lunch for us, including chicken, rice, potatoes, beans, and a soup/broth to pour over the rice and potatoes. They also gave us two baskets of potatoes and a pitcher of locally gathered honey.  Thanks were offered all around, and we returned to the center.

Below: Kishaki Church exterior, interior, and ACT orphans and guardians.

Visit to Hukaaka Church of Uganda, September 18, 2016

Nena, Sheryl, Alexander, Rauben and Dave left for the Hukaaka Church of Uganda at 9:00am for the service.  The drive was along a one-lane winding dirt path on the side of the mountain along Lake Bunyoni, that at times was washed out and at other times solid volcanic rock.  We arrived at 10:15am just in time to hear the drums calling the villagers to service for the second time.  Alexander explained that each church has its own drum beat for calling the villagers to service, funerals, weddings and deaths.  Villagers are called to church twice, once earlier in the morning and the second time about half an hour before the service. 

Church started on time at 10:30am with the minister, his wife and three children, and one other villager in attendance.  At 11:30am there were about 20 persons at worship, at 12:30pm there were 61, at 1:30pm there were about 80 and by the time we finished the church was full.  It was interesting that worshipers didn’t enter the church when they arrived, they were ushered in with a song in small groups whenever there were 5-10 persons.  The church had a beautiful view of Lake Bunyonyi. 

During the service the minister told the congregation that Americans are very time conscious and he apologized for his worshiper’s tardiness.  During the service a testimony was given by a MEP woman who said that before MEP she was in debt, could not pay her bills and attempted suicide as she saw no way out of her situation.  Then MEP came and offered her training and a way to make a living. She has now repaid all of her debts, and is a warden in the church.  She said that MEP saved her life.  After this testimony, the church broke into song and dance celebrating her testimony.  There were seven of our Muko HOPE orphans and their sponsors at the service, and afterward we were treated to a lunch of goat, ground nuts, rice, posho, sweet potatoes, and mutooke prepared and paid for by the guardians and volunteers in recognition of our visit.  Nena was able to spend a little time with her grandmother’s orphan Gordon and his grandmother, with several pictures to share.

Below: Hukaaka Church exterior, interior, and view of Lake Bunyoni (pictures by Sheryl H.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

We split into four groups today. Dave M. and Larry went to the Kishaki Sub-Parish Catholic Church; Dave V., Nena, and Sheryl went to the Hukaaka Anglican Church; Lisa went to Uganda Martyrs Catholic Church; and Sue, Karen, Nancy, Roger, and I, accompanied by Josiah and Maurice, went to visit Jackson Kaguri's Nayaka School. I will report on the school visit; the church reports will be in another blog post.

Jackson Kaguri is a Ugandan who now lives in Michigan -- he worked for some time at Michigan State University but now devotes all of his time to the school he built in his home village. He told his story in the book, "The Price of Stones" -- if you haven't read it, you might want to check it out. Sue, Karen, and Nancy met with him in Michigan and we are in the early stages of exploring the idea of building our own ACT school, so we were all eager to visit Nyaka.

The school is located approximately 50 km north of Kabale. Going pretty much straight up into the mountains on a 2-track red dirt road, this translates to an extremely bumpy 3-hour bus ride. Fortunately, it's a spectacularly beautiful drive. For part of the time we were traveling through the Mafuga Central Forest Reserve -- largely eucalyptus and pine forest. Several areas had been clear cut -- this land is then available for public use as farmland for a year or two or three until the government replants trees. There was also permanent farmland. We saw all sorts of crops growing: millet, wheat, rice, cassava, eggplants (the Ugandan variety), groundnuts. Not to mention the banana plantations and tea plantations covering very steep mountainsides. Maurice was delighted with the tea plantations when we passed a sign identifying the district as Kayonza -- it's the tea she regularly buys, but she hadn't realized where it is grown.

The school is beautiful, with brick and cement walls and a Versatile roof (tin that is formed and painted to look like red tiles). It absolutely surpassed anything we've seen in Uganda so far -- clear evidence of what money can do, and an indirect testimony to how much has been accomplished with how little in other schools we've seen. Jackson Kaguri started his school with one class (grade level). The next year he added a class. Then another and another.

We first saw the secondary school. It was large, full of light, and very clean. Currently, it houses 104 students in the Secondary 1 and 2 classes and there are plans for adding S3 next year and S4 the following year. The classrooms are basic -- desks (mostly individual), and a large blackboard. There is also a computer lab with 50 computers, and a biology lab with benches that have sinks and Bunsen burners. All of this is protected by a pretty modern looking security system, plus multiple locks on all doors. A separate building is reserved for vocational education. There are two large dormitories. The boys' dorm is, as they said, habitable, though the outside walls don't yet have the second layer of more decorative brick. The girls' dorm isn't finished inside or out -- and the students are due on Sunday. An entire team of construction workers is rushing to get everything ready.

After the secondary school, we got to see the library. It operates on a subscription basis: for 50,000 shillings/year (approximately $18/year or $1.50/month) you can check out books. Anyone can use the reading rooms for free, and there are often up to 100 people there reading and socializing. One reading room had tables and chairs; another had armchairs and coffee service. A large community meeting room and a small community computer room (utilizing older computers) complete the campus.

The primary school was much smaller than the secondary school because it isn't a boarding school. The children come to school for breakfast and also have lunch, but they go home after classes. This school was bright and cheerful, painted white and purple, with large windows that let lots of light into the classrooms.

Last, we went to see the grandmothers (mukaakas). All of the children at Nyaka schools are orphans; a few are HIV positive and some others are considered vulnerable. They live with guardians, most often family members -- hence the generic term, grandmothers. Very early in the operation of the school, teachers noticed that many children were coming to school dirty, poorly clothed, and hungry. Children fell asleep in class by 10:00 in the morning and were having a hard time learning. So they decided to investigate. They followed the children home and found dismal conditions. This led to the establishment of the first grandmothers group. The women meet together once a month for a variety of lessons -- hygiene, nutrition, etc. They are helped with their housing -- the Nyaka funding provides complete houses where there were none, or supplements existing houses with kitchens or pit latrines where they are needed. The women also work together on projects based on micro- financing. There are now 92 grandmother groups in the district, serving 7000 women. (Only the original one, with 72 members, includes women whose children attend Nyaka schools). The women greeted us with an enthusiastic Rukiga song and dance, after which we talked, through an interpreter, about their programs and about what we do in Muko with ACT.

The return to Kabale was as beautiful as the ascent up the mountains had been in the morning. We were worried all the way back that it would start to rain -- the combination of the dirt road and the steep slope would have made for dangerous conditions. The rain, however, held off until at least 10 minutes after we arrived back at the hotel!

Below: Scenery on the road; secondary school; computer lab; library (photos by Ellie).