Monday, January 27, 2014

Awaiting Departure

Currently awaiting my plane back home. It’s interesting that this time around I got pretty homesick (in addition to be physically sick again). Perhaps because it wasn’t all new anymore? Also probably because I didn’t go clubbing as much :P

This time, Jackson came with me Isaac and I to the airport. I learned earlier that he had never been past even the outer areas of Mukono so it was his first time passing through the capital Kampala and the airport. It must have been great. Also, the time he went with Lllian and me to the new year’s eve party was probably one of the best days of his life according to Lillian as he had never been to a music festival and he was able to see one of the top Ugandan artists perform live.

As I passed the security I was told to leave my bottle of water. Unsure of how long it would be until my next drink, I drank around 750ml of water and now I feel sick…

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Revisiting Jinja Kids

I went up to Jinja again to revisit the Orphanage I stayed at for a week. It was nice to see them again and play with them. They even remembered my name!

Uganda Ice Cream bike. Complete with ice cream music.

I also managed to video call Alina who I met in Uganda last time and travelled around with. She had been a volunteer at this orphanage so it was nice to get her to see and talk to the kids in real-time. 

This day also marked the end of donation distribution. I had collected over $1,500 in donations and with Lillian's help, we carefully distributed it to many different projects and groups. Thanks to all who donated :)

Unfortunately, I also got sick recently and have been out of action for 4 days with a sore throat and lethargy. I went to a doctor and got the usual antibiotics and paracetamol and I hope that I'm well by Sunday for my flight. An interesting thing at the doctor was that two people pushed in front of me. Its not like Australia where your name is called. The admin guy didn't even make sure I was served at the right time. Only after 2 people, did he stop the 3rd from going and told me it was my turn. I thought it was appointments but I was actually just losing to the system.

Before this illness though, I had finally started working with the computer training centre. I have been training the staff to train future students which was good. I also spent some time while sick training Jackson, the boy who helps around the house to play the games I installed on the computers as he will be helping out at the centre during the revenue hours. Pretty awesome when volunteering involves video game training. Also interesting to teach someone to play GTA 3 when they've never played a game before. He went from totally hopeless at controlling anything on the first day, to actually playing the missions himself a few days later!

I had earlier taught him how to use Windows and word and set up a Facebook and GMail account for him. He wrote me a really nice email thanking me for help and saying I was different to the other volunteers :)

Today I also saw this great toy car!

Awesome homemade toy car

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Just as in my last trip, I lost my ATM/VISA card again, and like before, this happened just before I needed to use it as I ran out of money.

I asked my friend Jeff to transfer me some money but the transaction was not allowed. I asked a few other friends before finally my friend Wilfred was able to transfer it. As soon as he confirmed we left to get to the Western Union office before it closed at 5pm. On the way, the Boda Boda broke down and so we had to find another to take us the rest of the way as it started to rain.

After arriving, I was told that the transaction did not exist. Basically, the “Money in Minutes” service did not work as advertised this time. It usually took a few minutes but not this time. I tried calling my friend but ran out of credit. After talking to him through gmail and confirming that the numbers were correct, we waited for another 20 minutes and just 3 minutes before the branch closed, Wilfred received a confirmation email noting that I was now able to pick up the funds.

I ran back inside to the window and started processing the transaction. I asked if I could get it paid in 20s and the lady said no. Surprised at this I asked why and she informed me that “The network is bad. Come back tomorrow”.

It was a pretty funny day and we laughed at each misfortune. The next day everything went well :)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Village Life

I spent the last few days visiting a village with Lillian, her sister and two nieces where we stayed at her relative’s house. It was really nice to live with a family for a change, rather than just at the volunteer house. I got pretty close to the kids there, even those that cried when they first saw me.

I drove there in a car that we hired for around $25 a day. One of the tires was punctured when we arrived and when I went to replace it I realized it was a temporary tire, not a spare. When we went to get the punctured one fixed, the temporary tire also became flat. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the fixed one to be brought to the car. 

All in all, it was a great experience and I enjoyed the remoteness and seeing how things are done day to day.

In this case, it's best to tell my story in pictures and videos:

Before leaving Mukono, I saw Lillian's 2.5 year-old niece cutting green banana's with a knife. I am so amazed that she doesn't cut herself and that kids can start becoming useful so early on!

On the road, no restraints

Drive through take-away African style

This is how pineapples actually grow

Improvised toy car the kids often played with

More realistic toy car

Old-school iron. You put charcoal inside.

The temporary spare tire which went flat when we reached town

I was really happy to hold a baby goat. I am actually biting it...

Cocoa Plant. tastes nothing like chocolate. More like Jackfruit.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jinja Adventures

I went back to spend a few days in Jinja recently, with an orphanage and the dance group I met during the previous visit. We also came across some kids doing somersaults on a piece of dirt. This little Mafubira village is just full of amazing talent.

In the evening however, we got a call from a teacher back near Mukono that we know pretty well (Moureen), letting us know that her 16 year old brother that we’d only seen the day before had suddenly died. It was some kind of brain swelling cranial pressure related cause although they aren’t sure. He just had a big headache the night before and never woke up.

We went back home for two days to attend Moureen’s house and then the burial the following day. The whole village was there it seemed. A Few shelters were setup outside and many people mourned and slept there overnight. We ended up staying until 11pm.

The next day there was the burial and even more people were there. It was a very communal event after which they carried the coffin to a nearby cemetery and put it in the ground. Both days were really interesting with both mourning and a few laughs. Meanwhile, many of the children were quite unaffected and just kept sitting around me laughing and trying to play or teach me the local language.

Another interesting thing was driving home at night. I was really worried as the road has no reflectors at all. This is usually fine but when passing another car, you’re left driving blind for a moment hoping that there are no surprises on the road. Keep in mind that while passing cars you often need to go off the road a bit and there was quite a few people still walking by the road near midnight. All this becomes even worse when you pass a car during a turn.

Back to Jinja

When we returned to Jinja after the burial, quite few cool things happened. There was a bit of disorganization which I think was due to the dance group being new to the whole idea of receiving volunteers. It was still good though. We walked through the villages where we saw some interesting things.

A popular game for kids

This nursery looked very much like a concentration camp

A village cinema!

We bought lollipops for a bunch of kids who chased us each morning

We also briefly helped with some construction. It was quite satisfying to cut a branch by hacking it with a machete.

On two occasions I hired a local dance hall and DJ to record the dance group and it seemed to bring the village a lot of joy as many people came. Especially during a day where lots of children came and followed up the adult dancing with their own. 

All the kids dancing on stage after the adults were done

This kid shoved his shirt into his pants for some comedic effect

Here's a short video of the kids dancing:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Very interesting volunteer work

One day, I travelled to another town and village and met a group of women who supplement their income with some craft making, primarily bags.

Another volunteer, Lawi, helped to estimate the cost of some of the crafts to get a better idea of what they should sell each item for, if at all. One bag which took 2 days to make was actually being sold at a loss while smaller items of which many can be produced each day were producing a small profit.

We were also asked about how they should market the products so I helped them to come up with a brand name and got the started on deciding on a logo. We settled on Bwaki (Pronounced Bwa-Chi) which was combination of the village and group name. I also took various pictures for a website that I will make for them later. I actually felt useful as they really did need a western perspective to design a brand and logo that seemed attractive and stylish rather than a charity case or souvenir craft.

We also looked at other projects they were considering such as a brick making operation, water selling and leasing a boda-boda motorbike taxi. This too was interesting as they were really set on the water operation which looked the most profitable on paper but a few considerations I thought of made them realize that it would have been very risky and likely to fail. So the brick making business seems like the best idea due to entry barriers and growth potential, and the next step will be to work out some kind of micro-finance loans for them.

There was also talk of with the micro-finance company where I suggested that they get together their records on past customers and I could take a stab at building a credit risk model for them. It would be interesting as one could use all sorts of information that I can’t back at home. Not just gender but number of children, marital status, health, employment type, etc. They have been running for 3 years so there should be enough data. It would probably help with risk based pricing as the interest rates are around 30-35%!

On a side note, the women's village had a butcher with some really fresh meat that I could not help but photograph:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Volunteering Begins

A few adventures to catch up on.

We went to see the source of the Nile. A lot of nice sceneries with some nice highlights. Firstly, a Crysis-like part of an island that looked like it was partly frozen over although in reality it was bird poop. I also found a crab and saw many monkeys

On another day, we visited the orphanage from last time again where I successfully mixed the large bubble recipe. We played some games on a nearby field before retiring back to the orphanage to watch and listen to the children sign and dance. They were incredibly good, particularly at dancing.

It was cute how they all lined up and took turns

3 legged Race: 2 big boys > 2 little girls

Some other interesting tid-bits:

The chicken coup project some of you donated to

Fried grasshoppers with onion. Tasty, like corn-chips
In the next post, I will write about some really useful marketing work I did with a group of village women who make crafts.