Monday, September 12, 2016

Our day had a delightful start. We stopped at the gas station on our way out of Kabale and an elderly Ugandan gentleman came up to ask where were from. Dave told him, "America." The immediate question back was, "America? Chicago or Hawaii?" Michigan definitely wasn't on his radar! He went on to say that he had learned his English from Texans, but as he lacked even the faintest trace of a Texan accent, we weren't sure we believed him.

Having people approach to ask where we're from is very common. In fact, we seem to cause a furor wherever we go, just by being there. People stop and stare; crowds gather. People will stare until they catch your eye -- our light-colored eyes are apparently even more startling than our white skin. There is no anonymity for us here, no chance to fade into the background to simply observe -- we are always center stage.

One cultural problem: the Ugandans are so agreeable, they answer "Yes!" to everything we say. It isn't immediately obvious that this is what's happening -- it's when you ask a non yes/no question and get, "Yes, yes!" back that you suddenly realize you've had a 5-minute conversation that wasn't. This is exacerbated by the fact that American and Ugandan English aren't always quite the same and our accents are mutually confusing.

Larry and I went with Moses, Roger, Dave M. and the HANDS team (Herbert, Benson, and Sharon) to visit mushroom growers. We visited 5 cooperative groups spread around the Muko area. The mushroom houses were wattle and daub buildings with either thatch roof or, in a couple of cases, metal roof with insulation. Some buildings were constructed by the group members: individuals contributed poles and thatch and they all worked together to erect the structure and apply the mud coating. (BTW: the majority of members are women.) In addition to an area for composting and boiling the growing medium of sorghum husks and bean straw, two rooms (or two separate areas/buildings) were needed -- one for incubating the spores; the other for actually growing the mushrooms in bags hanging from strings. A couple of the groups also had a separate area for storage because the sorghum husks and bean straw are only available six months of the year -- if left in the fields, the goats will eat them.

The great success of the program can be measured by the size of the groups. In the first group, there were two people who had been trained by ACT. Those two had trained 38 more to form a cooperative of 40 members! The other groups all had similar numbers. The expenditure to get started would've been insurmountable for any one individual, but the cooperatives made the effort manageable. When we asked what successes they had experienced from growing mushrooms, the number one answer was nutrition. Increasing family income was second.

The challenges the groups experienced were very uniform: lack of water (especially for the groups higher up the mountain), lack of oil drums for cooking the growing medium (for disinfection purposes), and lack of money to buy more spores.

We had our personal challenges today too. Although at one place I got to hold and play with a 5-moth-old, at another place I managed to reduce two small children to hysterical screams and sobs just by getting too close and smiling at them; Dave christened me the ACT Monsters, Inc representative. And after climbing a very steep goat path up a mountain to get to one of the sites, Larry was greeted with the comment, "Welcome -- You're old!!" We found out later that Dave Viele was informed he's gained weight. I guess today was a hard one for us!

Lisa met with Fr John and toured the Uganda Martyrs school. She was very impressed with improvements made since she was last there two years ago: old, rickety wooden classrooms have been replace with a plaster walled building and there are new dorms and a new security fence. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart make the students' uniforms -- they're currently on break, but the students who were around anyway dressed up for Lisa and sang her their "Welcome Visitors" song. The Sisters report that the students are now rated number two in the district.

Lisa also visitedthe Muko Health Clinic, where she delivered baby hats. They have also modernized, with a new a pediatric ward and a ward with some private rooms.

Lisa, Nancy, and Karen worked to organize the blankets which are gifts for the orphans (for about 17 hours ๐Ÿ˜‰). It was a daunting task until Maurice came to help. She is so knowledgeable about the orphans that the job was quickly completed with her help.

Nena, Generous, Maurice, Josiah, and Dave Viele met to discuss a new system for sponsors to use when they want to send gifts to their orphans. Currently, choosing a gift is challenging because children grow so fast we don't know what sizes of clothing to send and the postage is prohibitive. With the new system, gifts can be purchased in Uganda, stimulating the Ugandan economy as a good bonus.

Maurice and Josiah also went with Karen to visit both Muko High School and St. Charles Lwanga High School, meeting with the head teacher at each school. Since we have 34 students at Muko High School, the time there was spent discussing student progress. Not all was positive: one student married and has left school, another has been dismissed for bad behavior (being in prison), and a third has been placed on probation. Karen let them know that we are also looking at another school, Charles Lwanga, where they visited the library, 140 million shilling computer lab, and solar powered science lab, complete with skeletons and anatomical torsos. St. Charles Lwanga also had a better nutritional program than Muko High: they slaughter a cow once per term and offer rice and groundnuts instead of beans on Wednesdays and Sundays. They have 14 paid staff and 28 staff paid directly by the parents. Also, students who rank high in their class get free tuition. The team left feeling very impressed!

In the afternoon Karen had time to work some with the orchestra. We've been loaned an empty hall that will suit us beautifully, and 3-4 classrooms to use for sectional rehearsals at the Uganda Martyrs School across the road from the ACT office. Only a few students were there today but Karen is looking forward to seeing the whole group.

Nancy was excited to work on her own with 6 violin students and 1 viola student today. They started by organizing all 30 instruments properly so that instruments, bows, and cases all matched. Then they began with violins and viola for themselves, tuning the, and practicing some pieces: Amazing Grace and then some short pieces from Book One so the beginners could join in. The most fun was having two pieces ready to play when Sue and Karen came in.

Dave Viele and Guma inspected the water tank and the ACT facilities and grounds. They've agreed on some needed improvements. Guma will be getting bids.

Six ladies, including Josiah's wife Phoebe, arrived in the morning for Sheryl's very first sewing session. They talked for awhile, then six more ladies arrived. They progressed to cutting some patterns, and Sheryl says they had a very quick learning curve, including a couple of women who appeared to have never held a pair of scissors before.

Dave Viele and Guma inspected the water tank and the ACT facilities and grounds. They've agreed on some needed improvements. Guma will be getting bids.

Sue worked with Sheryl and the sewing ladies in the morning. In the afternoon she worked with the HEAL program, discussing plans for the week -- training, village assessment, etc. There will be a trial run on Friday; they're planning the first dialog in a village on Monday. This is an extremely abbreviated report of an incredibly busy day. Sue summed it all up by expressing her amazement with our staff members.


Mushroom house built by co-op members; mushroom growers meeting with HANDs team

Ellie SchroederComment