Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Today the first group of 40 orphans, those 12-years-old and under, came to the office. Seven ACT members devoted the morning to meeting them. Each child was measured for height and shoe size, given a present (fleece blanket), photographed, (3 different shots -- Larry was super busy!), and interviewed. As these were the youngest students, the interviews were challenging at times, but we had several Ugandan interpreters helping.

Each child was questioned about their likes and dislikes regarding school. Almost all said they liked studying -- perhaps we could import them as role models in US schools! Math, science, English, and reading were the favorite subjects. The most commonly expressed dislike was fighting -- in and out of the classroom. When we began asking pointed follow-up questions, it turned out that the fighting was more along the lines of trash talk and generalized rough-housing than anything serious, though there is some real fighting as well.

A nice thing we learned was that an overwhelming majority named another ACT orphan as their best friend. This confirms the one-big-family atmosphere the staff has been promoting. It may also impact how we think about possibly splitting the kids up into two different high schools in the future.

Nancy, Nena, Lisa, Karen & Dave, and Larry & I all got to meet the orphans we personally sponsor. Children and adults were equally excited. When Karen & Dave's orphan, Jonan, was emotional, Karen happily exclaimed, "He gets that from me!" Larry's and my orphan, Promise, was shy, but she knew us from the pictures we had sent and seemed genuinely happy to meet us.

When all the orphans had been greeted, gifted, and interviewed, they and their guardians gathered for a short meeting. Karen explained that "a blanket around you is a hug from your sponsor," even if your sponsor couldn't come meet you personally. She also explained the expense and logistics of a sponsor traveling to Uganda. She gave a great pep talk, encouraging students to do their best because they have been given the gift of hope in the form of education. She told them about some of the senior students: 1 who has finished two years at university, 2 who have gone to hairdresser school, 1 in nursing school, 1 in driving school, and another at teacher's college. "We give you support; you do your best and follow their example," she told them.

After the students and their guardians were served lunch, everyone got a surprise. The Center has a TV, brought in 2014, but it hasn't been used much. Dave M. was testing to see if we could connect a computer to it and show movies. The movie he had was Monsters, Inc. The moment the music began, children started poking their heads in to see, so the room was very quickly converted into an ad hoc theater. The cartoon was an instant hit with one and all: most of the children had never seen TV before, and their big eyes and delighted giggles were infectious!

Dave Viele and Guma helped with the installation of the first solar-powered light -- another instant hit. For awhile it looked like the project might not go well, because all of the planned participant families backed out when they learned the cost. Most of the problem turned out to be a miscommunication which was easily solved, but 40 cents/week was still too much for three of the five families.

We went ahead with the first installation anyway, and it was definitely exciting. The first house was that of Generous's mother. The house is built with no ceiling, so there is a fair distance between the top of the wall and the peak of the roof. The light was hung from the peak of the roof, directly in between two rooms, so it shone in both. Near the wall there is enough light to read by; the other side of both rooms is light but not bright. The monitor panel is mounted high on the wall to prevent a curious child from running down the battery by flipping the switch on and off over and over. (This doesn't entirely solve the issue of a curious adult...) The monitor panel also indicates when the battery is low enough to require recharging. Guma has now been trained in the installation process, so the remaining four lights will most likely be installed after we leave.

The HEAL team began their training program for the six health promotion workers today -- it went very well. The HANDS team continued working on issues raised by their visits to the mushroom growers. They also discussed the possible purchase of an irrigation system for use in land, close to streams, that we rent for growing crops.

The orchestra rehearsed in the afternoon, with one additional member. The kids got to try the cello for the first time. It's a major disappointment that many of the music students haven't been able to get here for rehearsals, but Karen is hopeful that they will continue to trickle in.

A big job for the afternoon was going to the market to buy food for orphan/guardian lunches for the next two days. Guma was the chief purchaser because he gets much better prices than we could even hope for on our own, but several of us accompanied him. The first stop was a butcher shop -- one of several in that particular lane of the market. Guma placed our order; the butcher hacked off a slab of beef and began chopping it into smaller pieces with a machete. Larry stepped forward just a bit to get a better picture and was thoroughly splattered with flying bone marrow. Who knew you need a butcher's apron 6 feet away?! And then Guma had to go to another store to buy a 2,000 shilling (60 cents) gunnysack to carry the meat.

Next on our list were vegetables. The stalls in the vegetable area were beautifully arranged with tidy stacks of tomatoes, onions, beans, and all sorts of other fruits and vegetables. Nena and I were very pleased to find the eggplant we were looking for, only to discover that the purple vegetable we call "eggplant" bears zero resemblance to Ugandan eggplants, which are green and shaped and sized like -- wait for it -- eggs. Can't wait to try one!

We were busy taking it all in when we noticed, out of the corner of our eyes, a small group of children snapping pictures of us. We didn't mean to spoil their fun by turning to look at them but they shrieked, threw up their hands and fled, nearly dropping the camera in the process. (The local Monsters, Inc in process again!) One very little boy ran happily up and down the lane rolling a dilapidated bicycle tire in front of him by smacking it with a plastic water bottle. The cry of "Muzungu!" ("Foreigner!") both precedes and follows us every where, but we got to use it ourselves when we unexpectedly encountered three blonde Aussies in the market. They laughed and returned the compliment.

Next on our shopping list were rice, groundnuts, and matooke. We bought 18 kg of rice and a large bag of groundnuts. These were taken back to the bus (the vegetables and meat had already been deposited there) before we went to get matooke. The first stall wanted to charge even Guma an outrageous price, so we left. Either the next vendor was more reasonable or she had taken note of Guma's negotiating style: we got a good price. Matooke looks very much like bananas and grows on long stems of many hands -- they are so huge and heavy, we happily paid an extra 500 shillings  (about 15 cents) to have them carried to the bus.

Last, we went to the grocery store in town, but this stop was for salt and some random items for ourselves -- some peanut butter, hot sauce, ketchup. Finally, we were finished and ready for dinner at a restaurant within easy walking distance of our hotel. A long, busy day!

Blankets for the kids; Orphan interview; Meeting with sponsors and orphans; Watching movie.