Day 9 – Goodbye at Nsumba

Will I see these girls again?

Today we said goodbye to Nsumba Orpahange, and it wasn’t fun.  I’ve been in a bad mood for a coule days now, dreading exactly this moment.

Nsumba Orphanage

Thinking of all the things I wanted to accomplish, all the conversations I wanted to have, all the meaningful moments I wanted to share with the kids who mean so much to me.  Also, trying to think of what to write in a letter to each of the girls, and what token of a gift I could possibly come up with to express the tiniest bit of how much they mean to me.  To express my love for the children of Nsumba.

Be the Change (that you wish to see in the world) – Ghandi

Looking around the van on our sullent and silent drive back to town, I know everyone else feels the same. A few cry, some just sit and stare, but the question on most of their minds is the same – “Will I ever see them again?”

I could talk about the projects we completed today, the mosquito nets, the tree project, or even the amazing amount of clothing, shoes, and bags we were able to gift to the children, but for me, today was all about goodbye.  And I hate goodbyes.  I learned how to say Jakuda Omwaka Ogujia, which means “I will return next year.” There’s no way I can accept that this was goodbye.  For me, the friendships are as real as any that I have in America.  Considering the age of the children, they’re actually much more real.  They’re so mature.  The things these children have seen and deal with on a day to day basis must shape them that way.  I guess it’d be hard to be immature and care for the survival of you and your siblings at the same time.

Bessie taking time to enjoy our last day

A girl SO happy for her new dress :)

And for Rose, Jacky, Kevin, Cassie, and Stellah, it’s more than friendship.  I love them as if they are my own children.  Were it possible, I think the would be.  I’m not a father, but I feel utterly responsible for them, and imagine that this love is only comparable to the love between a parent and child.

In the letters I gave to each of those girls, I thanked them so much for their friendship, and let them know that I care so much about them.  Along with my contact information, I let them know that I will do whatever I can to support their health and education.  If they study hard, I will make sure that finances are not the limitation to them achieving their career goals, whatever they may end up being.  Maybe they can even come to university in America.

It seems funny when I remember that Stellah is only 10 years old, and I’m basically telling her that I’ll help her pay for college.  How many 10 year olds in America even worry about that sort of thing?  I think Stellah recognizes the significance, but I’m not sure.  I love her mix of playfulness and maturity, but I hope she works hard in school.  I wish I would be around to support her in person.

Our departure from Nsumba was almost a disaster.  For me at least.  A group of children were surrounding our vans as we gave our departure gift to Sr. Sylivia and thanked her for letting us come to Nsumba.   Earlier I had sat with Cassie on a section of wall as she cried.  I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing for the women of Uganda, but they try very hard to hide crying as well as blushing from me, turning their faces away, but Cassie’s tears were falling to her lap.  My reassurance that I would return, and that I would not forget her helped only slightly.  I’m not much of a crier.  I run out of things to say when other people cry.  But hopefully, it was enough my sitting there with her.

Stellah’s new shoes

As the departure speech concluded, I went around and got hugs from most of the children there.  Hugs and goodbyes from Cassie multiple times, from Kevin, and from Rose.  From Isaac, and Waswa, and Lala.  Several goodbyes from Robin.  But not from Stellah.  I couldn’t find her.  I shook hands with the younger boys, John Paul, another hug to Cassie, Patricia, a friendly goodbye and see you next year from Mugisha, Dempa, Josephine, Rachel.  But still no Stellah.  We were being herded into the vans, and I managed to see Jacky and give her a big hug.  Out the back window of the van, I continued to grasp hands and say goodbyes.  Robin again, Cassie again, Rose again.  John Paul and Isaac.  Then, behind several other students.. Stellah appeared.  There’s something about Stellah and dramatic goodbyes.  She squeezed through the others, grasped by hand once, and said goodbye,  immediately turning away to hide the tears.  Through watery eyes, she watched as our van pulled away and I waved with my hand out the window.

Me and Stellah

I’m such a sap.  I’m sorry that this is such a personal post, but it’s the only thing that’s really on my mind.  And though this was just my viewpoint, I believe most the others in the group feel the same way with similar stories about the kids they grew to know and love.  It’s incredible the strength of bond we form with the children at Nsumba after only a week or so (two for me).

I’ve skipped ahead a few days of posts, but felt this post was important to get online.  Tomorrow morning we head north to Gulu (ex-KONY territory) where we will get a chance to see a different side of Uganda.  We’ll also be going on a safari along the Nile River up to Murchison Falls and through the game park.  Internet will be unavailable though, so will have to update upon our return to Kampala.

There’s an indescribable confidence that I’ve found in Africa.   Being so absolute in my certainty that what we are doing is good, and that I so utterly love the children we are helping.

I love Africa.

I love the man it’s helping me to become.

I love you all,

-Ross

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Day 6 – Mosquito Nets and a Congolese Party!

Day 6 – Mosquito Nets and a Congolese Party!

Some light traffic

Saturday in Uganda!  Today we… wait wait wait.  A few photos I need to share first!  K, so one of my goals for Uganda this year was to get a GOOD picture of a 4-person boda boda.  For those of you who haven’t read last year’s blog, a boda-bodas are crazy person motorcycle/taxis, which carry the strangest things around town (beds, other boda bodas, 12 foot sections of lumber) and also a crazy amount of people.  We’re talking about RUSH hour traffic, where the cars are so closely jammed that your side mirrors get bent inward as your squeeze through the gaps, and these motorcycles are weaving through carrying not 1 passenger, not 2 passengers, but sometimes 3 or even 4 in addition to the driver!  Little kids squeezed between the driver and their mother, and of course no helmets.  Well, see below.

4 Person Boda Boda

Besides that, we started off meeting our in-country Rotary Club connection to pick up the 200 mosquito nets we purchased for Nsumba.  Of course, as a first meeting between our two groups in Africa, the encounter ended up being a very formal affair with many introductions, a tour, thank yous, photos, and attempts to increase the extent of the partnership.  We saw their sewing room, were presented with the nets, and also got a tour of their vegetable production, bakery, and were nearly force-fed a lunch we were definitely not expecting.

Mosquito Net Sewing Room

Eventually though, we did escape their hospitality to continue on to Nsumba where we hung the mosquito nets to dry (for 2 days – they had been soaked with insectide).   We also coordinated for the student project that will be planting 30 trees for shade around the orphanage.

Ugandan Countryside

Impressive

Side note – the shade reminds me of a story I heard which I’ve been meaning to share.  I really have not had any experiences in Uganda, especially at the orphanage where I ever worried for my belongings being stolen.  The children are constantly trying on my sunglasses, taking photos with my (expensive DSLR) camera, or carrying my backpack for me, but they are SUPER careful with everything.  Even when I haven’t seen my sunglasses for an hour or so, I can ask any of the nearby children “Where are my goggles?” and they take off running and proudly bring them back to me a few seconds later.  Judy told me a story about when she came in February, which was in the midst of their dry season.  The well was not yet working, and apparently the conditions were just insufferable.  The Nsumba children had prepared a speech to thank Be the Change for the medical care, and all the work on our different projects, and in the middle of the young boy’s speech, he had to pause to to try and work up some saliva.  He had not had any water and his mouth was too dry to speak.  There was no water.

Sometime later that day, Judy had a water bottle in her backpack as she walked around the orphanage and it fell out.  Judy hadn’t noticed, but immediately one of the children grabbed the water bottle up off the ground and handed it back to Judy..   Even with such need, these kids are selfless, trustworthy, and gracious gracious hosts to our group.

Mugisha and My Gift

Mugisha and My Gift

Thankfully, we have now completed the well and water is much less of an issue.  The planting of 30 large shade trees will also be great for the orphanage, and a plaque commemorating Be the Change / Watumishi 2012 for them as well as a plaque for the well will be put up before the end of the trip.

After that, I spent most of the day taking photos of the kids and printing copies for them, which is both gratifying and exhausting.  I love seeing the smiles and laughs from the children after they see the back of the camera, and the grip they take on a photo of

themselves with a friend is endearing.I also received an amazing piece of craftwork from one of the boys named Mugisha.  It’s amazing how giving the students are.  They have nothing, but give everything.

The camera crew, haha

After Nsumba, I was invited to Arnold’s parents’ 38th wedding anniversary with Peggy, Judy, and Cassidy.  Arnold and his family are Congolese refugees who, through quite a bit of luck, the Doucettes and Henkens happened to figure out a few years ago are related to Fidel, who is a Congolese refugee in Boise, ID.  As it turns out, roughly 15 years ago when their village was brutally attacked in the DRC, the family was separated.  Some made it to Uganda, while Fidel eventually was sent to the US.  Each had thought the other group dead until only a few years ago.  Now, BTC and the Doucette/Henkens in particular are helping to bring supplies and gifts from Fidel to his family in Uganda, and for this relationship we were the honored guests at the ceremony tonight.  It was incredible, with the family preparing enough food for 100 people, alcohol flowing, signing, gift giving, and some of the most formal clothing I’ve seen in Uganda – pin-stripe suits, matching shoes, amazing dresses, blinged out in jewelry.  There was also a full-blown camera crew to document the event.  Augustine and Vinne were amazing though, and I felt honored to be at their celebration.  The culture is so different, but so fun when people start clapping, singing in Swahili, nonstop microphone announcements through the procession of gifts, speeches, and dancing, and gratitude at our being there.  We moved the party outside for a bit of dancing, but took off just as the party was really getting started.

Augustine Receiving a Gift at his 38th Wedding Anniversary

It would have been fun to stay for, but we didn’t want to overstay our welcome.

Didn’t have time to take a shower between the morning/afternoon and evening events, so am now covered in a mix of insectide, bug spray, sunscreen, lots of dirt, and lots of sweat from all the dancing.  Definitely gonna get a good shower in tonight.

I wish the internet was more functional here, and that I had more time in the day to capture these thoughts in writing (pen or computer) before the next wave of emotion and life-changing events came my way.  I anticipate a lot of writing on the drive up to Gulu Wednesday, but I HAVE to make the most out of the next few days.  They are just too important to miss out on.

Will update again soon!

-Ross

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Day 4 and 5 – TASO at Nsumba

Days 4 and 5 – TASO at Nsumba

The last couple days have been great.  2 days in a row out at Nsumba!

TASO Speaking to the Secondary School Students

Yesterday and today were focused around an extensive effort Be the Change (specifically Judy) has made to bring HIV/AIDS testing and awareness to Nsumba.  As one doctor told us a few years ago, to bring medical supplies, care, and testing to Nsumba WITHOUT testing for HIV would be irresponsible and wrong of us.  A visit to the orphanage by The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) was the result of this effort, with an informative lesson about HIV/AIDS and free voluntary testing to anyone who wanted it on Thursday, and a drama group showcasing HIV and the issues/relationships/stigmas about it through a 2 hour play on today.  I thought both were great for the kids.  The informative lesson talked about the importance of knowing your HIV status, and that knowing your HIV status will not change the fact that you are or are not HIV positive.  It was also important for the children to hear the difference between HIV and AIDS, and that being HIV positive does not mean you’re going to die.  Once you know your HIV status, you can get the support (and anti-retro virals) to make you live a very long time without ever progressing to full-blown AIDS.  You can have HIV-free kids, get married, and live a very normal life.

Bessie with a Friend

Several of the children asked me if I was going to get tested, and it seemed appropriate to be able to say that I just got tested a few weeks ago back in America.  Saying that provided them a bit of moral support as they volunteered to get tested themselves.  You have to remember that most of these children are at Nsumba Orphanage because their parents died of AIDS.  In most cases, the children not only watched the entire sickness take place, but attempted to care for their parents’ illness as well as take care of the rest of the younger siblings.  And they were only kids, 12 years old in some cases.  The kids are also smart enough to know that HIV can be passed on during birth, and while it’s becoming more available throughout Uganda, the chances that their parents knew their HIV status and took the proper precautions during childbirth to prevent transmission are slim.  So.. these kids have some real concern about having being been born with HIV.  Basically they’re scared to death.

It was pretty touching, and one of those moments I wish I could have on video forever, when Josephine came to me after getting her results back and asked if I wanted to know what it said.  I told her cautioningly that she did not have to tell me, and that it was up to her whom she decided to share the results with.  She said she wanted me to know, and opened the piece of paper with a huge smile on her face to show a large all-caps “NEGATIVE.”  I could tell how relieved she was, and I gave her a big hug to celebrate :)

As it turned out, of the 167 children tested, there we 0 reactives.  Meaning all 167 children are HIV free.  Incredible!  Just incredible.  Especially considering their circumstances.  I’m not sure what the exact prevalence of mother-to-child transmission is, but it must be low.  Or these kids are extremely lucky.  The TASO testing helped to confirm the results we gathered last year as well, where out of 50 tested only 1 was HIV positive.  We had been worried that there was some problem with the testing equipment last year due to the long flight and our baggage being lost for 2 days.  The equipment was testing against a control sample back in the US which showed reactive, but having a 2nd confirmation seems to show a low HIV prevalence among the students, which is fantastic!

Should be noted that this year was all voluntary testing though.  There are still a group of high-risk (often sick) kids that we believe have been too scared to volunteer for testing.  Also, should they be found positive, it may be more difficult to navigate the social interaction between positive and negative HIV children given that such a small percentage of the kids may end up being HIV positive.  TASO also provides counseling though to help with the process of telling those important to them (if they choose) and how the results are completely confidential otherwise.

The drama group production today was in all Luganda.  So it felt like I was watching a show on Spanish TV and trying to figure out the plot.  The best we could figure, it was about a young man who through risky behavior (clubbing, wrong kind of friends, etc) gets HIV.  He then falls in love with a girl who is HIV negative, and who he wants to marry.  Some family drama ensues about the mother and father disagreeing whether or not the marriage should be allowed, a priest gets involved, and in the end it is decided that the couple should get married and they do.

TASO’s Drama Group introduction – HIV Positive Testimonials

For this entire 2 hour play in a foreign language, I sat in the midst of the students on their incredibly uncomfortable wooden benches and shared notes with the student next to me.  It was really interesting being in their shoes for a bit, crowded on a bench in a hot classroom, but the drama group was hilarious, with the students in a near-constant uproar of laughter and clapping.  What a great way to get an important message across.

TASO Drama Group

Besides that, the days were again filled with medical screenings and audiology testing down at the clinic, taking hundreds of photos of the children and printing  them copies, photos of the children, and I also got some good video of Dragas rapping and singing for the camera, which I plan to post on youtube for him.

Eldon “Mr. Professor”

I also became a Santa Clause of sorts down at the dormitories where each child wanted a picture of JUST me and them, so a line formed and I stayed seated while children ran up, sat down next to me, and posed for a picture that Hunter was gracious enough to take.  LOTS and LOTS of pictures of Hunter, Shelby, Mason and I with the kids though, which was a ton of fun.  Same as always, where 2 friends want a picture of themselves, maybe with us in it, then the instant I try to take that picture about 20 extra kids rush into the frame and try to get in on the photo.  Some minor pushing and shoving trying to get the intruders back out of the frame, then eventually defeat and the picture ends up having all 20 kids in it, haha.

I’ve gotten 2 more letters, one from Sylivia (whose real name is apparently Kevin) and Rose.  They’re so gracious and thankful for our return and all the gifts we’ve brought (we haven’t even given out the 20 bags of donations yet), and apologize for not having any gifts for me.  I feel guilty that I haven’t had a chance to write back to them yet.  I feel like they deserve more than a letter of my time, but don’t know what gift I have or could make that would be enough to express how much I care about each of them.

Stellah, Me, and Cassie :)

Auntie Rose mentioned to me wanting Cassie to go to a better school, and she wants me to help pay for it.  It’s funny, because I’ve definitely been thinking about how I care so much for these kids and would like to set up some sort of college scholarship fund, especially to support the ones who I know well and who do well in school.  They do not have the financial opportunity to continue their education and become the person they want to be, be it nursing, accounting, a doctor, surgeon, engineer, etc,.  I’m hesitant to talk about the education requirements for the kids at all, because the only thing I know for sure is that I do not understand the process fully.  I do know that an operational science lab is incredibly important to these kids at Nsumba being able to continue on to study at university though.  As it is now, Nsumba is not an accredited secondary (high) school, so the children can not continue on to college directly.  The main deficiency is the science lab.  Without this (as it is now) Nsumba is not able to provide the last two years of secondary school needed before university, thus all the orphans would need to continue those last two years at a different, fee-based school.  Without any funds of their own, most of the kids can not afford this (or university).  If Nsumba were able to become accredited, it would effectively cut out 2 years of tuition that the kids struggle to come up with while going to school, while only being 16 years old.

Lots of other thoughts about the trip, the children, and life in general, but I think I’ll save those for future posts.  Africa is a whole lot to take in, and I feel I have a daunting amount of things I want to share out as well.  Goodnight for now though, and for those of you who know me, you will understand just how much I enjoy killing a spider in my bed right as I crawl under the mosquito net to go to sleep.

-Ross

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Day 3 – Kampala Day!

Today was a “rest” day from the orphanage, but that by no means meant it was relaxing or boring.  We had a full slate scheduled, and didn’t get to a lot of it.

We started off the day at Makerere University, which is the largest health sciences university in the country.  Several of the BTC medical staff had a meeting with the Dean of the School of Public Health and his staff about building a partnership between Makerere University, Be the Change, Idaho State University, and Nsumba Orphanage.   20 minutes into the meeting though, the dean abruptly got up and left.  Our BTC team didn’t know exactly why, and assumed that the meeting must have been going poorly.  20 min later though, the dean came back in accompanied by the head of the largest orphanage in Uganda, whom he had apparently wanted to join in our discussion.  The meeting ended up going VERY WELL, with Makerere and ISU going forward in applying for a MacArthur grant for Nsumba .  The dean was also very supportive of starting up a full on medical clinic at the orphanage, which could be used to train students from both Makerere University and Idaho State University.

Makerere University

Makerere University

During that time, I led the majority of the other BTC members in our first leadership training session outside in the grass at the university.  It went pretty well, with some excellent group discussions about what defines a leader, examples of leaders that we admire and why, as well as some self-reflection about what leadership qualities you do well, and which qualities you could improve on.  We’ll be continuing these discussions throughout the trip, and I think they’re valuable for everyone.  Volunteer work, especially internationally on a multi-week project, brings out quite a few situations where leadership is required in some way or another, and reflecting on and sharing our experiences with the rest of the group can be incredibly worthwhile.

Once the Makerere meeting finished, the entire BTC team got a tour of one of the MU buildings and listened to several of their staff speak about a number of research initiatives and projects that they’re involved in which we’ll be able to take advantage of via our partnership.  These included project management courses relating to medical clinics, HIV studies in rural fishing communities (some having as high as 48% HIV occurrence), and infectious disease control between animals and humans.

Peggy with Destiny Friends International

Peggy with Destiny Friends International

After a nice lunch downtown and some shopping for supplies, we gathered again to travel and meet Destiny Friends International, a group that has come together to form a network of support for their many unfortunate circumstances – being single mothers, international refugees, and HIV positive to capture the big ones.  Through all this, they earn a living to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families, pay for their children to go to school, and yet they do not lose hope.  And they do not beg for money.  They only ask for us to support their projects, which nclude making and selling bead jewelry (we’ll be bringing these back to America to raise funds for the women), growing and selling mushrooms, and supporting their local communities.  Be the Change has maintained a partnership with Destiny Friends International for several years, and it was clear that the group had been anticipating our return for quite some time.  They were especially excited to see Peggy and Judy again.

Deb Feeling the Vibe!

Deb Feeling the Vibe!

Our visit started out with the women singing and dancing some traditional-style songs for us, then grabbing our group up out of our chairs and dancing with us!  Man, some of those women can really move their bodies.  Not sure I’ve ever seen leg/chest/booty shakes like that, haha.

Cassidy Learning Some Moves

Cassidy Learning Some Moves

After the dancing was finished though, their leader Vikki spoke about how they have learned to celebrate, dance, and rejoice every day “because yesterday we never died.  Today we are alive.”  And for these women, surviving to take care of their children is a concern that they have to think about every day.  Their bravery and determination to not beg for help, but rather to support each other and find projects they can undertake to raise their own money is inspiring.  And all the while they celebrate life and sing and dance!  It’s a great organization and some great people to admire and support as we’re able.

Children of Destiny Friend's International (super cute!)

Children of Destiny Friend’s International (super cute!)

We purchased as many wonderful bead necklaces and bracelets as we could, then returned for the night (and dinner) to our hotel Pope Paul Memorial.  Everyone in the group is doing well, and I haven’t heard of any health/traveler’s sickness issues yet.  Jason even brushed his teeth with the water from the sink and was ok.  Bessie’s luggage showed up last night too, so she got to wear some new clothes today, haha!  Somehow one of my hands got 14 mosquito bites on it though.  Not sure if I washed all the Deet off in the sink or what, but it’s a little frustrating (and a lot itchy!)  Definitely gonna have to be rock-solid on taking my malaria pills every day right on time. Besides that, things are good!  We’re headed back to the orphanage tomorrow for a full day of HIV testing with TASO (the HIV/AIDS organization), which should be quite an experience.  Can’t wait to get back and play with the kids!

Incredible Beaded Jewelry Made by Destiny Friends

Incredible Beaded Jewelry Made by Destiny Friends

Love you all, thanks for all the support, and will update again soon! (internet willing)

-Ross

Categories: Uganda 2011 Posts | 2 Comments

Day 2 – First Day of Medical Screenings!

Day 2 – First Day of Medical Screenings!

I apologize for the delay in these blog postings! The internet has been incredibly shoddy the last couple days so I’m writing the posts on my computer, and will be uploading them as soon as possible. There’s a good chance that multiple posts all show up at the same time.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Good Morning from Africa Video!

Today, by request, the team was again woken by The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” :) It was a beautiful sunrise with crazy amounts of birds flying and squawking all around the lake. Another quick breakfast, then we were out to the orphanage by 8am for our first day of medical screenings!

Car Trouble

Car Trouble

Nicole examining ears

Nicole examining ears

After a slight hiccup with one of the vans (it broke), everyone piled into the other van and we continued on to Nsumba! You can never expect things to go quite as you plan in Africa, and you just have to roll with it.  We arrived at the medical clinic to find that Annette, the school nurse, had already set up the place with tables, chairs, and a waiting bench for the children on the outer patio. Very shortly after, a steady flow of kids showed up, some to get checked out for issues identified by their aunties or Annette, some just to hang out! We also set up audiology testing in a separate room, where the kids had to be VERY quiet. They weren’t very good at that, lol.  Nicole, Bessie, Jason, and Gabe, our Idaho State University representatives, tested a number of children’s hearing and cleaned their ears of years-worth of ear-wax. In some cases, the ear-wax had built up so much to be completely occluded (blocking the entire ear canal of sound, thus making it very hard to hear). Nicole was the resident expert on cleaning out those ears, and man was it weird to watch! For more severe cases, children were sent to Peggy for wound-treatment and prescribing of medicine.

Cleaning Ears

Cleaning Ears

Stellah and Sylvia both went through the audiology screenings, and we discovered that Stellah has a ruptured and infected right eardrum which was caused by an untreated ear infection. She had complained of pain, but we’re pretty sure that in most cases any sort of internal medical issue is treated as if it’s malaria (including headaches, nausea, pain, etc). Normally a ruptured eardrum will heal itself fairly quickly, but with infection, it stays open and has a hard time healing. And in cases where infection has been prolonged, permanent hearing loss can occur. This is why we’re here. Stellah needed to be diagnosed and treated with the proper medicines. Without treatment, the chances of her suffering permanent hearing loss would have been significant, and as an orphan in Uganda, she needs every opportunity in life she can get. Disabilities and sickness, especially preventable ones, are a scourge on these kids, and on 3rd world communities in general.

Idaho State University students, staff, and alumni!

Idaho State University students, staff, and alumni!

Meanwhile, the 3 students were taking care of check-ins for the children, measuring height and weight, and taking a photo. Judy and Mason were able to purchase a battery-powered printer for the trip, which has been a great hit with the kids. Obviously. We were able to take a picture of the kids with a few friends and actually print them out a copy of it to keep within 5 minutes. They go absolutely crazy looking at photos of themselves on our cameras’ LCD screens, and being able to actually own a copy of the picture to keep is incredible for them.

My job for the beginning of the day was to take an official photo for each new child’s medical record, which can be a bit repetitive, but definitely let me practice my Luganda. “Erinya yo yange nze Peter?” (Your name is Peter?) “Nsanyuse Okubalaba.” (Nice to meet you). “Nze Ross.” (My name is Ross). “Oliotya?” (How are you?) I also had a lot of quality conversations with the kids hanging around me. Again, it’s amazing some of the things these kids can talk about. Frederick (aka Dragas, his rap-name) had a full-on conversation with me about how he’s going to come to America, fight in Obama’s army, and build guns. He also wants to go on stage with Jay-Z and rap though. And he got into quite the witty repertoire with Hunter about if she’s actually a hunter (she said no, she’d never kill anything big, to which he replied that if you put a fly under a microscope it’s pretty big). Somehow I also got into a conversation with them about where in America I live, and what the different industries are in each part of the country. I tried explaining the New York financial district, California’s Silicon Valley, and the Midwest steel and auto-belt to them, which turned into a full on geography lesson with a chalked up world map I’m pretty dang proud of!

Eldon and Candy took care of ears/nose/throat while Cassidy and Deb got a general overview of the rest of the body including skin, abdomen, heart/lungs, etc. A few possible cases of asthma were identified, and one tiny girl half as big as she should be for being 6 years old was treated for infected tinea capitus, which is a condition where her head is covered with scabs. It’s sad the type of untreated issues these kids have, but again, that’s why we are here. The work we’re doing is incredibly important and I’m happy to be associated with so many amazing doctors, nurses, and health care professionals.

IMG_9142In the middle of taking photos and chatting about Finland, I looked over to see a group of kids playing Duck Duck Goose with Hunter, Cassidy, and Shelby. That definitely made me smile; remembering that I taught them how to play that game just last year. Earlier Cassie and Stellah had reminded me of the Ugandan games they taught me a year ago, and I look forward to playing again with them and the students this year.

Lunch was down at the sister’s house, with absolutely AMAZING pineapple that you couldn’t help but hold out away from your body due to the gush of juice that exploded out when you took a bite. SOOO amazing! And the pineapples were 80 cents a piece. We also had Papaya, oranges, mango, bananas, and some bread with honey. The food didn’t have to be fancy or cooked even, it was amazing!

Official Medical Record Photo for Rose

Official Medical Record Photo for Rose

I felt a little bad at not being able to spend quite as much time with some of the kids today, but I still had quite a few great conversations. I don’t think I remembered to mention yet, there have been a TON of questions about the traveler’s from last year. All the children want to know where you are, what you’re doing, and if you’ll come back next year. You are definitely remembered, by name, and it’s obvious the impact you made on their lives. We got back to town in the middle of a rainstorm for the 2nd night in a row, but that’s fine. Rain during our exams out at the orphanage would put a damper on things, but rain on the way home made for a relaxing drive. Just ask Peggy. Oh wait, she might not remember anything except the back of her eyelids :)

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Made it to Uganda!

Hey Everyone!

IMG_8948We made it to Uganda!  It was definitely a long 32 hours of traveling, but William and Peter, our BTC in-country partners were waiting for us at the airport and ALMOST all of our luggage made it through safely!  Bessie had to last-minute check her carry-on of personal items, and we think it may have gotten off the plane by accident in Kigali, Rwanda.  She’s handling it pretty well so far though.  Hope we find it soon, for her sake!  After dodging (literally) oncoming traffic for the hour drive to our hotel, everyone basically just crashed.

Our hotel is pretty nice tho!  It’s much closer to the orphanage so commuting will not be such a concern this year, and each room has its own bathroom complete with shower.  My closet is basically just a partition in the wall with no drawers, hangers, or shelves.. but that’s ok.  Internet speeds leave a little to be desired, too, haha.

IMG_8951So, as is now custom, I woke everyone up this morning with “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King soundtrack :)  Worked like a charm!  There’s something about the first morning in Africa and waking up to “Naaaaaaahhh Tsevenyaaaaaaaa!!!….. badabiis addimo mo……” that helps everyone wake up really quickly, haha.  A light breakfast, and then while Peggy and Judy met with Sr. Sylivia and the Archbishop of Uganda (BIG-TIME MEETING) to discuss the future at Nsumba Orphanage, the rest of us reorganized our duffle-bag supplies (now occupying an entire room) and then wandered off to explore the city.

IMG_8953Walking around town, you have to remember just to take it all in and try not to judge.  There are the most adorable little children everywhere who yell “MUZUNGU!!!” at you as if getting your attention is crucial to future of the planet, then there was also the naked homeless man sleeping/passed out in a pile of trash where a sidewalk would have been had it been America.  The smell of ripe mangos, bananas, and freshly hung goat meat mix with the smells of unregulated exhaust and burning garbage.  But mostly, the people catch your attention, as a mix of all walks of Ugandan life abound throughout the city, from rich to poorest poor, and EVERY SINGLE ONE looks at you with a smile and says “HELLO!!  How are you!?”  Especially to Hunter and Shelby, haha.  They got a lot of ‘hellos!’ today, lol.  The exhilaration of boda-bodas whizzing by inches from you as you stroll down the side of a crowded dirt road.. There’s just something about Uganda.  It’s so foreign.  So exciting!

We exchanged some money, and for a brief while I was a multi-millionaire in Ugandan shillings.  Then, with Peggy and Judy back, we packed up our vans and headed out for a quick trip to Nsumba Orphanage!  This is what it’s all about! :)

IMG_9032Today would just be an introduction for the BTC team: meeting Sister Sylivia and some of her staff, seeing the children, and getting a tour of the grounds (something that had been missing in our previous trips).  Of course, when we pulled up to 50 of the schools top students/prefects lining both side of the road and clapping for us, I realized that Nsumba was as anxious for us to arrive as I was to get there!  Scanning the crowd, I immediately saw Josephine, one of a crew of girls whom I had gotten to know pretty well last year.  I didn’t see Rose, or Sylvia, or Jackie, or Cassie, or Stellah though.  At least not yet.

I should backtrack a bit.  In case you haven’t read the blog entries from last year’s trip, I made quite a friendship with several of students at Nsumba, especially a group of 10-16 year old girls.  Of course, having the job of trip-photographer meant that I got to hang out with the kids and wander quite a bit more than the rest of our group, so I like to think I made friends with a lot of the kids.  During that trip I came to the realization that for these children, attention and friendship mean everything.  Especially when it comes all the way from America!  If you have time, I would highly suggest reading through last year’s posts.

But, back to the point, this group of girls means the world to me.  I barely know them if I think about it, but I love each of them so much, and truly deeply care about their well-being.  Last year we traded conversation, letters, hugs, and even a few tears during my time at Nsumba.  They were ever-present and helpful in my time here, and since then, they’ve written me additional letters in February which were hand-delivered by Peggy and Judy after their visit.  I even tried calling them Christmas morning, which didn’t connect directly to them, but I hear the message got through after all.  My girls :)

Well, our group was met by this large procession of students at the front entrance.  They gave a speech welcoming us to Nsumba, along with a speech by Sr. Sylivia thanking us sincerely for coming and listing a few of the projects we’ve helped on or that they would like to start.  Peggy also addressed the group, thanking them for their hospitality and their work in school, which is what motivates us.  Which is true.  We want all of these kids to grow up to be educated and healthy, primed for success despite their rough upbringing, which is why we do what we do.

IMG_9048As the gathering broke, our tour of the grounds began with a swarm of children immediately joining us.  Introductions, laughing, picture-taking, and hand-holding ensued, and oh the names and memories that came ringing back.  Francis, the 2 year old from last year with a hurt toe, has grown probably 6 inches.  Isaak is exactly the same ball-of-energy, wearing his pink rainboots we gave him last year and swinging from peoples’ arms.  Josephine’s laryngitis is gone, Frederick is looking buff with his bow-tie, and in the midst of some pictures, Stellah and Cassie find me!!!

Stellah has new clothes, which makes me extremely happy, and has lost one of her front teeth.  Cassie squeezes my hand, and I noticed she no longer has a cut we treated on her forefinger.  Huge hugs and smiles are given, and then the girls are reduced to silence in what I assume is a mix of happiness and disbelief.  As I bring up these small details and differences from last year, the girls turn to hide their blushing.  The fact that I remembered them, and especially that I came back to Uganda, means the world to them.

IMG_9043Sorry sorry, I’m supposed to be including the entire group in these blog entries this year :) Everyone had a blast!  Not just me!  The tour was casual and oft-interrupted by pictures with the kids, which is exactly how it should be.  The reason we’re here is the kids, after-all.  Mason spun little ones in the air while Hunter and Shelby became linked to about a dozen each.  We toured the medical clinic, and the dormitories and bio-gas cooking stoves, and walked past RUNNING WATER filling yellow jerry cans at the water storage tanks.  That’s thanks to Be the Change, in case you hadn’t heard.

Of course, as today was only a short visit, we had to leave much earlier than anyone would have liked.  But with the promise of returning tomorrow, we slowly wrapped up our tour and made our way back to the vans.  It’s so exciting to be back!  Tomorrow we’ll start our work at Nsumba, screening the newest children to create a medical record for each while Gabe and Nicole test the hearing of as many kids as they can.  I hope I get to go around and take pictures and video all day, but I guess I’ll do some work too if I have to :)

I loved hearing the new BTC travelers speed-talk about the day after leaving the orphanage.  This trip is incredible.  Inspiring.  Heart-warming.  And hearing that everyone else is loving it as much as me makes me even more happy to be a part of Be the Change and this effort.  It’s the most rewarding kind of trip there is, and worth every saved penny and vacation day I had to use.

Love life!

Love the trip!

Safe and healthy and happy!

Talk soon!

-Ross

Categories: Uganda 2012 Posts | 3 Comments

2012 Trip Preview!

Hi everyone!  Here’s a quick preview of our July 2012 trip to Uganda!  It’s shaping up to be one of Be the Change’s greatest yet!

This Saturday (July 7th), a group of 14 American traveler’s will be traveling to Kampala, Uganda to meet with our 3 local Ugandan contacts.  We’l be spending two weeks working with our partner organization and communities to provide medical aide and project support in several different parts of the country.

The primary focus of the trip will be continuing our support efforts at Nsumba Orphanage, where over the last 4 years we have improved the quality of medical care for the children there as well as provided improvements to the orphanage itself, including a new solar-powered pump to provide clean drinking water for the entire facility.  Read more about Nsumba on the About page.

This year, our projects at Nsumba will include:

  • Completing the medical record for each of the children at the orphanage, including audiology tests for the first time.
  • Providing medical supplies to the on-site nursing staff
  • Assisting with any wound or malaria treatment needed
  • Continuing our efforts at improving the oral hygiene of the children through donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and instruction classes
  • Bringing an assortment of sporting equipment and teaching as to the proper use, aka PLAYING with the kids :)
  • Organizing a drama performance and testing day by The AIDS Service Organization (TASO) at the orphanage.
  • Initial planning for the creation of a science laboratory
  • Setting up hand-washing stations outside each of the bathrooms
  • Bringing an incredible amount of donated clothing, shoes, and schools supplies for the children, first aid kits for each of the aunties (overseers of the dormitories)
  • And many, many more!

In addition to our work at Nsumba, we will be meeting with the Mpigi Sewing Group in Kampala to pick up several hundred insectide-treated mosquito nets which we’ve purchased in country (thereby supporting the local economy) which we will provide to the children at Nsumba.  We will also be making a visit to Makerere University, meeting with Destiny Friends International to support a group of HIV widows and their children (and against whom we will be playing an internationally anticipated soccer match!)

Towards the end of our trip, we will be heading north towards Gulu, where we will be taking a 2 day expedition through Murchison Falls National Park, the largest protected park in Uganda.  Home to elephants, lions, giraffe, hyenas, leopards, kobs, and hartebeests on land, there will be plenty of crocodiles, hippos, and the great Murchison Falls itself along the Nile River.

Stay posted for trip updates from in country, and remember to check out our other pages available up top, including posts from our 2011 Trip To Uganda, the About section, and how to Donate to Be the Change!  Thank you for all your support!

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2011 Trip

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Murchison Falls and Game Park!

***NOTE: This is the last post from our 2011 trip.  To read the entire 2011 trip, I recommend scrolling to the bottom and reading from the beginning (ascending chronological order).***

The next morning, we started our drive up to Gulu, where we would stay a night and then proceed onto Murchison National Park.  The town of Gulu was a very nice change from the chaos of Kampala streets, even though it still has a population of 150,000 people.  The market was very centralized, with everything from fruit and meat to several hundred used-clothing shops, and even a couple dozen ‘tailors’ with a range of fabrics that they would sew for you (a shirt cost 7 dollars).  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a long enough stay there to have much made.  The next morning, up early to go hit the park, and both vans were broken.  The high school crew had just returned from the park and were on their way back to Kampala.  Really good to see them again.  After a few hours at the mechanic, our van was ready to go, and we continued the drive into the park.

Kobs

A few minutes into the park, we’d already seen a hundred of so Kobs, which are a deer-esque animal with a beautiful brown skin that roamed EVERYWHERE.  Literally saw a few thousand of those over the next day or so.  Apparently not so fast as to outrun lions, but they breed like mad, so they get by all right.

Hartebeest

Similar to Kobs, and usually in the same areas, were Hartebeests, which had very long faces and apparently are slower and dumber, but also breed like mad.  Both the Kobs’ and Hartebeests’ horns spiral like a unicorn but have a some curve to them.  Really interesting animals, and about similar in size to an Elk.  Seemed like the Hartebeests always hung out on the top of termite mounds, probably for better vantage of the grasslands.

Giraffe Running

Then, all the sudden, we saw GIRAFFES!!!  They were running too!  Watching a giraffe run is probably the craziest animal picture I had the entire trip.  Such long legs, moving in super slow motion and looking quite uncoordinated, but then you look at the ground and its moving really fast!  Truly very interesting creatures.  Ended up seeing hundreds of them, but every single time it was a huge adrenaline rush, to look to your right and see a half dozen giraffes munching on leaves from the top of a tree.  Welcome to Africa.

Hippos

We continued on through the park to the Nile River, where a boat tour was to take us up to Murchison Falls.  Immediately, we saw dozens of hippos in the water all along the shore.  Baby hippos are incredibly cute :)  I saw an ekrit, a white bird the size of a crow who we’d occasionally seen eating bugs off of animals, pecking at a baby hippo on the beach.  The baby kept jumping forward as if  ‘Owch!’ every time he got bit and turning around ready to fight the mean bird, lol.

Then, catching us completely off guard yet again, BLAM!  There are elephants!  A whole group of them moving along the shore of the Nile River.  Quite a few young ones in the group, and a couple of the large males turned towards us and flared their ears (a gesture of anger we learned).  So incredible, to be on the Nile River, watching elephants just walk down the shoreline munching on grasses.

Elephants!

Crocodile on the Nile

Also on the river, we saw several water buffalo, Kingfisher birds, a River Eagle, a couple different kinds of storks, and a couple dozen crocodiles!  This one, the largest we saw, I was estimated to be 6 feet from its nose to the back legs, so maybe 9 feet long in total??  It then slithered into the water, with only a few dots for its nose above water as its tail churned towards us.  Freakin sick!

Finally, we reached the EPIC Murchison Falls, where the entire Nile River flows through a canyon 7 meters wide, dropping 141 feet at 11,000 cubic feet per second. Seriously an amazing sight.  The boat dropped our group off towards the bottom, and we hiked about 90 minutes up the side to the top of the falls where you could really appreciate how large the Nile River is that flows into that canyon.  Absolutely crazy.

Murchison Falls

That night, we slept in tents in the park not too far from the Nile, where the possibility of hippos wandering through camp was quite real, not to mention the warthogs that mosied around camp like nobody’s business.  Before dawn the next morning, we were back at it, this time riding on the top of the van’s roof-carrier for our day of real Safari!

Warthog with a Common Bee Eater on its Back

We continued to see Kobs, Warthogs, Hartebeests, Monkeys, Giraffes, Dik Diks (very small deer-ish animals), Water Buffalo, Water Bucks, Brush Bucks, Babboons, and even a Hyena and a Jackal.  The real treat though, were the lions.  Two juvenille males wandering the brushlands, with every Kob and Hartebeest for a thousand yards staring directly at them.  And I was sitting on top of the van, with nothing between me and the lion but 6 feet of elevation.  That was definitely an Africa moment, where I may never experience that same sort of exhilaration again.

Lion

Legen.. wait for it… dary!

So many pictures of so many animals.  I can’t wait to get home and edit the photos with something a bit better than MSPaint, haha.  After our safari, we drove the long drive back to Kampala where we rejoined with the high school crew.

The trip is really nearing its end now.  Today we toured William (our driver)’s house and farming projects, and had lunch with him and his family.  Afterward, we had our closing meetings, talking about the trip, what we liked, and what we would change for future trips.  I was given the Lion totem, for leadership, focus, and being ‘handsome in action’ :)

Tomorrow is a last bit of shopping, packing, and then off to the airport.  I’ll be arriving back in Boise on Monday afternoon, and this will most likely be my last blog entry for the trip.

It really has been an incredible experience.  Life-changing, as everyone forewarned me it would be.  I’ll be coming back to America with a new sense of just how fortunate I am, and also of how important it is for me to help those less fortunate.  Already I miss the kids of Nsumba, and I am very sincere in my desire to return to Uganda.  I can’t wait to come back and see each of the kids a little bit older, and continue to work to provide a few of their many many needs.

Thanks again for all your support!  I couldn’t have done this without all of you!  Webale :)

-Ross

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Last Two Days at Nsumba :(

It’s hard to even write this blog post.  Saying goodbye to Nsumba was an incredibly difficult thing to do.

Photos for Their Medical Record

Monday started off with an hour delay waiting for our drivers to arrive, then out to Nsumba (without the high school crew, who had gone north to Gulu).  This meant that with our short-handedness, I took over the job of writing down each student’s name on a chalkboard and taking a picture which will be attached to their medical record.  We got through 117 kids in the morning, which was an incredible number, however I felt bad having to work the entire time while so many of the kids stood around just watching.  I wanted SO BADLY to go out and play with them!  I had been wanting to start some toothbrush education today also, but there just wasn’t a chance to escape the medical examination line.  After a lunch of mangoes and bananas, I got called down to a photo-op by Sister Sylvia, the head of the orphanage, presenting a few of our donations to the students.  After our celebration day, which was apparently too unorganized, all our supplies and donations were ‘confiscated’ by Sister to be handed out more orderly.  We weren’t thrilled about this, not being able to give out the stuff ourselves, but she’s the boss.  So, after a few staged photos of kids receiving t-shirts, the mesh-bags with mess-kits inside, and posing while holding 2 soccer-balls (but not being allowed to play with them), I rejoined the rest of the group.  My station had been filled though, so lucky, me.. I got to play! :)

The kids absolutely loved playing Duck-Duck-Goose :) Stellah chasing Jackie (off into the bushes. Jackie hadn't figured out the circle thing yet, lol)

It started, as it usually does here, with kids asking to have their photos taken, then me turning around the camera and showing them (to lots of pointing and giggling :) ).  Then more kids, and more photos, and more kids, and more photos, and pretty soon I’m surrounded by about 30 kids all crowding in fighting to see the camera!  Soo, a few seconds of racking my brain for entertainment, and I suggested Duck-Duck-Goose!  The kids LOVED it!  It took a little while to teach them that they didn’t always have to say ‘duck’ twice before goose, and also that they had to run around the outside of the circle as opposed to through the center of it, but pretty soon we had a group of about 50 kids, ages 5 to 15 all playing the game!  My crew of girls (Stellah, Casie, Jackie, Rose, and Sylvia) were of course close at hand and helped out extremely in translating for the other kids.  We also gave an attempt at Red Rover, Red Rover, and also Freeze Tag, but Duck-Duck-Goose was king of the day :)  After that, the kids taught me 3 or 4 of their games, which would take too much space to describe here, but were a lot of fun and usually had a song that went along with them.

Stellah and Rose

And then Stellah and Rose just about broke my heart.  They each wrote me the absolute most adorable letters, with home-made envelopes around them, written in different color ink and with pictures of flowers around the sides.  The letters themselves were the most heartfelt words I’ve ever read, each thanking me for their gifts, and telling me how much they love me and that they will pray for me and my family back in America.  They each asked me to pray for them, telling me that they want to be nurses when they grow up and that they will try very hard in school.  These girls have never sent a real letter in the mail, or emailed, or talked to someone on the phone, yet made me letters.  They have zero money to pay for college, yet they have aspirations and hope of a better life.  I hope to God that they get the opportunity, but driving back from the orphanage and looking at the streets of Kampala, I know their chances are not good.

That night, I wrote each of them a letter back and included my contact information (should they ever get an opportunity to use some sort of contact technology) as well as my two spare passport photos.  I also wrote letters to Jackie, Sylvia, and Casie, which I gave out the next morning, our last day at the orphanage.

Toothbrushes!

It ended up being an extremely short day, which started with my tooth-brushing class. I managed to get a classroom full of 100 students, all of which received toothbrushes and toothpaste (the baking soda thing fell through).  I gave a 15 min lecture in English, and then I personally went around and observed each of them demonstrating proper brushing technique.

Isaak with his toothbrush and fancy new shoes!

After that, a couple hundred more toothbrushes were given out as well as some of the smaller Crocs to the youngest children.  The shoes were actually donated by Crocs in return for lots of pictures and video, as well as a doctor talking about the importance of protecting your feet.  And as it turned out, 75% of the injuries treated by the medical staff were foot-related, caused by a lack of proper (or any) shoes, so the Crocs were a perfect donation.  To be honest, I didn’t realize that Crocs made such cool shoes.  The kids were super excited for these gifts from America!  Again, we weren’t able to hand out all the supplies we brought because of Sister Sylvia’s fear of disorder, but enough to definitely get our photos.    Emmanuel, one of the most helpful teachers as well as two of the Aunties helped to make sure that kids came forward in a single file line and that there was no fighting for the gifts.  Each kid was sooo cute too, either kneeling or doing a sort of curtsy and saying ‘Thank You’ as they came up :)

The last hour or so was spent hanging out with the kids, and of course my crew of ladies.  Cassie had hurried off when I first gave her her letter, apparently running back to her dorm to write me a return letter.  A girl I barely knew named Rachel also gave me an envelope and letter, telling me not to open it until later.  As it turned out, she had included her rosary in the envelope.  That girl had 2 belongings to her name besides her school uniform and school supplies; the doll we gave her, and her rosary.  And she gave me her rosary.  I still can’t believe that.  There’s no way I would have accepted it had I known.  The letters and the rosary from the girls really helped to bring into perspective just HOW MUCH our visit meant to these kids though, and how much they loved me for taking the time to become friends with them.  I seriously love them.  All of them.  So much.

Stellah, Casie, Rose, Marie, Sylvia, Jackie, and Me

Our last goodbye lasted way too long for me.  Stellah, normally an energetic and smiling ball of fun, was speechless for about the last hour that we were there.  After an innumerable amount of thank yous, handshakes, hugs and embraces with the kids, teachers, nurse, aunties, sisters, etc., I finally climbed into the backseat of the van.  Kids kept running up to the window and grasping my hand as the rest of our team slowly loaded up.  Then Stellah, last of all, came to the window, slowly, head down, and grasped my hand.  As the van’s engine rumbled to life, she looked up, told me that she loved me, and the van pulled our hands apart as it drove away.

Several of the younger children ran along the van waving and shouting ‘Byeeeeee!’ as we drove towards the edge of the orphanage, but the older of the children stood still, solemnly watching us leave.

I had joked before this trip to Africa about bringing back an orphan.  I can honestly say that if Nsumba Orphanage weren’t a strictly non-placement orphanage, I might have.  These kids have nothing.  And I love them.  The amount that I love these kids is impractical given how long I’ve known them, but it’s absolutely genuine.  And watching someone suffer such hardship and lack of opportunity when you care about them THAT much.. I can’t really describe the feeling.

Just our short visit, a few small gifts, and a bit of attention from the outside world changed, and in a few cases probably saved, these kids’ lives.

I’m coming back to Uganda.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped support this trip.

Categories: Uganda 2011 Posts | 1 Comment

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