September 8, 2016: Kampala
Verse for the day: Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don't be frightened by the size of the task for the Lord, my God, is with you. He will not forsake you; He will see to it that everything is finished correctly. 1 Corinthians 28:20
Today was our first day in Uganda and all agreed that the verse Nancy chose for us is 100% appropriate.
After breakfast, Dave and Generous went to the bank to change money. With the exchange rate at 3300 shillings to the dollar, they came back with quite a stack! It is a bit alarming, before you do the math, to be told that something you were considering buying costs 35,000 shillings...
We drove back to Entebbe on a major road. It was paved, but many of the side streets were not. The road was lined with a multitude of small shops, all with wares displayed outside in a wide, unpaved area between the street and the shops. There were many vegetable stalls, and shops selling meat (hanging from hooks), clothing, furniture, building materials, bicycles, tires... Also some restaurants, and several large popcorn makers. The traffic was chaotic, to say the least, and included large numbers of motorcycles. Several women passed by carrying large loads on their heads -- a common load was a basket of bananas, but there were larger, heavier looking loads as well.
One of the main excursions today was to visit CoRSU hospital, for two reasons: first, two of our orphans have been helped there -- one with a cleft palate, the other with a club foot. And second, we are thinking we might like to partner with them. We met with Malcolm Simpson, the CEO, who gave us a very thorough tour and explained much of what they do. One of the highlights was seeing the lab where they build prosthetics-- some the old-fashioned way, by hand, and some with a computer scan and 3-D printing. Much of what we saw could be described as state of the art, though on a small scale, and many of the procedures they are able to do aren't performed anywhere else in the country. As we went from one area of the hospital to another, Malcolm described one logistical challenge after another. But each challenge has been met (or is in the process of being met) with creative solutions, many involving international partners. Malcolm's approach is practical: showing us the very basic lunch program for the rehabilitating children and their caretakers, he said he had hoped the process they use would be temporary, but he'd "never had money to spend on something that was working." Needless to say, we left feeling very inspired.
Our next errand was to the fabric district buy a sewing machine-- part of the project voted upon at the last Circle of Blessings (one of our fundraising efforts, where twice a year, we choose one or two projects to fund). The shop was tiny, nestled in among a long line of shops selling various electronics -- from machines to light bulbs. These particular shops were underground -- we went down several steps to get to the lower level, walked a short distance to the shop, and could've come out on a different street on the other side if we had wanted to. It was almost unbelievable the number of items packed into such small spaces, not to mention the number of people either working in the shops, delivering lunches to the workers, collecting used plates, making their way from one street to another, or, like us, actually shopping. Several of the workers came to say hello, ask where we were from, and profess their love for Chicago, San Francisco, and the US in general.
Buying the sewing machine became complicated, so most of us went on -- accompanied by several of the shop keepers -- to buy fabric. This store was on an upper level, but was equally small. Many of the fabrics were folded and stacked on a shelf above our heads. We would use a long pointer stick to indicate which ones we wanted to see, then the clerk would climb up on the counter and take our choices down so we could inspect them. The electricity went out several times while we were there-- we continued choosing fabrics by the light of Sue's cellphone! We went to two shops and there were so many gorgeous patterns, we overspent our budget. Couldn't be helped!
A sub-group of us met late this afternoon with the Mastering Community Services organization regarding how they work with micro-financing clients. Their vision and operating protocol mirror ACT Uganda's objectives. We've agreed to have additional communications in the hope of developing a future working relationship. We expect this may take some time.
Our Ugandan Advisory Council joined us for dinner, so we had a chance to meet everyone. A very full day!