Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dedicated To Janet.....

I realize I have been somewhat tardy in blogging over this last week. After our weekend adventure of more than a week ago, it was back at 'er! Monday we travelled to our second SACCO called Oyam South, nestled in the VERY hectic middle of Kamdini and about an hour from our hotel in LIRA. It is right on the highway and so there are steady streams of busses and traffic everywhere - some on their way to Kampala, others travelling through to Kenya or South Sudan. Each one stops and then it's 'game on' for vendors rushing to the vehicles in order to sell their wares. I'm impressed by the bottles of water that the children will hold up in a make-shift container attached to a stick in order to reach the very high bus windows. Watching this in the background while conducting a meeting is most enteratining - albeit distracting. Focus Barb....focus!
Craig and I were greeted by the staff and a few board members, who are very gracious. After collecting some preliminary information it is time to visit some members of the SACCO. We don't need to walk far before we meet Olila Denis (Ugandans place and say their surname first). Denis used to be one of the young vendors running up to the windows of the busses. He started saving little bits of money in the Oyam South SACCO until he had enough to get a loan. The requirement (which I think Canada should adopt) is that you have to have a minimum of 30% of the requested loan in savings first. It serves the purpose of providing some security towards the loan for the SACCO, but more importantly, it teaches members responsibility by having a vested financial interest in any business venture/future loan. Denis used his loan money in order to buy a small store - approx. the size of half of most bathrooms, to give you an idea. It is on the side of the road and he sells small items that people need every day. He is making more money, without needing to be running up to the bus windows. He is continuing to save as well as pay off his loan. His next venture is to move down the street a little ways and open a larger store - a very bright young man with a bright future!

The next day we were invited to another members' home - he and approximately 300 others live at Ajalo Goro HIV/AIDS Group just outside of town. We walked there and were completely surprised when we were greeted by ALL who were holding beautiful tree branches which were a symbol of a blessing. They were all singing us a welcome song as we approached. These are children and adults who are either HIV-positive, or are orphans because of AIDS. They prepared some songs and poem readings for us - talk about tugging at heartstrings. :-( Such a beautiful group of people and we felt so incredibly honoured to be there. Here is a picture of some of the kids and I with a Canada beach ball that I blew up - we threw it up in the air all together and then they were keeping it in the air and were screaming joyfully.

We visited some more members as well who were very grateful to their SACCO - most of these people have never had a bank account ever before. Surviving is all they know, and now they are seeing their friends, family and neighbours all benefitting from getting a bit of a hand-up, so that they can better their lives. We visited other members, including a very astute lady who was able to have her daughter graduate school and carry on to University - without the SACCO she would not have been able to do this.
This particular SACCO is very important to its' members and I believe that we were able to help construct a plan for them to utilize so that they fix some of their issues and move forward positively. The Uganda Cooperative Alliance will check in with the SACCO as well so that our recommendations are followed up on.
As we spend our last day in Africa before heading back to reality, Craig and I can't believe the amazing experiences we've had. To Isaac (our Field Rep from UCA) - sorry I never got that motorcycle ride, but thank you very much for all of your insight and assistance with the SACCOs - you are doing a great job of helping them. The UCA is very lucky to have you. On a personal note, you are a brilliant young man and will go very far - I've enjoyed our time getting to know each other very much - I think we both learned alot about each other's country. I hope that you liked playing Angry Birds on my laptop - perhaps you'll get to further levels the next time I see you. :-)
To John from UCA - you kept us SAFE in a country where driving skills are so incredibly important. I could never be half the driver you are, and Craig and I sure appreciated the care that you took in ensuring our safety, while also bringing a few little bananas to throw out the window to attract the baboons for us. :-)  You too are a bright man, and I hope that you keep on writing - your positive and inspirational nature is a great gift. Take good care of that beautiful new bride you have!
So before I sign off, here are a few more parting photos that are my favourites:

Making use of everything

Man praying in a Mosque

Alfred and his family in front of their home that
they've been building little by little with loans from

Lucy provided us with a beautiful lunch and we met her daughter
who was able to go to University

Are you looking at ME? :-)


Good advice

Team Uganda - my new additional family.
Man stacking mud bricks

Lastly, I am dedicating this blog to Janet Hnatow. My coaching Partner Craig Barclay was spending time with us in London while waiting for his wife Janet to arrive the next day in order to spend a week of sightseeing together. Tragically she was killed in a car crash on her way to Edmonton to catch her flight to us. Needless to say our family, 'Team Uganda' was very shaken and feeling for Craig and his children. Here is a family photo that I thought would be nice to share. Even though we never met, Janet, the two weeks that I was with Craig I certainly heard so many great things about you - and feel like I really did know you. Each time he spoke of you and the plans for England that you were sharing with him, I was so envious that you two obviously had a great love. How beautiful that you were able to have that time together. Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hakuna Matata ;-)

What A Way To Start The Day....I'm in Heaven.

Being in Africa is sensory overload for me. I'm trying to take it all in, but at the same time looking for photo opps.....CONSTANTLY and there are definitely no shortage of them!! Mostly, these are the types of photos that tug at my heart:

Holding a Canadian pin that Craig gave her. Isn't she pretty?? :-)

So on Friday we had finished our final report for our SACCO and headed out. After presenting it to the Board and Management, we headed back to our hotel for an early night, as we had to head out for our weekend away. We left shortly after 6:00 am Saturday morning for a 3-hour drive to Murchison Falls National Park. ALL of our 4 groups drove to this central area to recharge and update each other about our SACCOS thus far. It felt really good - oddly enough I guess since we have been so busy it feels like the time is flying, and yet at the same time I feel I have been here for a long time, but in a really good way. :-) The whole Uganda team is great, so getting back together for the weekend feels like seeing old friends, even though some I've really just met. We were able to take in a boat ride to see the falls (see my updated profile pic for a quick view) as well as take a tour to see some animals. I have this urge to watch The Lion King when I get home, and have had the song Circle Of Life in my head most of the day.
Back to Lira now and going to bed pooped. Very busy 3 days coming up, so better get some sleep. Hope all is well with everyone.
Hakuna Matata :-)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Life. period.

In the town of LIRA, on the way to our SACCO, we experience organized chaos in the form of many things. People seem to be in tune with each other, in and out of traffic without road rage and yet somehow with some sort of hierarchy of traffic ettiquette, if there is such a thing. Looking in any one direction, we see hundreds of people who are walking, bicycling (always with cargo on board), people fixing their bikes, barbers set up under a tree, people bagging coal, vendors getting ready for selling anything from shoes to clothing, to just laughing, smiling, shaking hands and enjoying life. It is like Where's Waldo in hyper-motion.
So today was a very good day. We were able to visit our SACCO to provide our final report. Yesterday we were able to visit many SACCO members in their homes which was a great experience. They all had the same message - that without the SACCO, they would not have been able to buy the things in life that have made them succeed. We visited Alfred, who is a school teacher and had been taking small loans at a time in order to build his house a bit at a time. He was ecstatic to be putting up a corrogated roof instead of the traditional thatched roof, so that it would last longer. Besides being a teacher, he has a small nursery and sells the seeds that he cultivates, and he is also a cassava farmer (like a potato). He and his beautiful family are testament to the postive experience that a SACCO encourages......with a hand UP, not a hand OUT. He also quoted that "without savings, your future is gone".
Another member, Lucy, was proud to show us her house and offer us lunch - consisted of rice, goat meat, cabbage, matoke (banana cooked) and it was very nice. Her biggest accomplishment to date was that because she was able to take loans from the credit union, her daughter was able to attend University. What a great success.
So besides that, we took rides around today - and Craig and I rode in the back of the truck, to the shock of everyone. We have a small truck and had to transport about 11 people, so everyone normally piles into the back. WELL, we caused quite the stir getting into the Mazungos...meaning white people. They all laughed and loved it....those of you who really know me know that this was nothing odd for me. :-) Given the roads, I was glad that Dennis (a board member) held onto me from at the end of the day I still haven't found Waldo!?!?!?! Perhaps tomorrow. Today: be grateful that you have choices in your life. You dont have to just exist. Most here have to live order to sustain life. period.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lemon or Lemonade??

How are you? This is the traditional manner in which a person is received. All that I have met have been so personally interested, but this is very customary. Africans are oh so polite and gracious..
So we got some sleep and got on our project this morning. We went to Ikwerra SACCO today - left hotel at 830 and back by about 530. I hope to post photos in the coming days.....our Field Officer who is accompanying us had to stop at his family's home nearby, and so his Dad was on his way to his farm, but stayed to be hospitable.  He introduced us to his wife, other 3 sons, and 4 daughters including a granddaughter. They served us tea, bread, a banana dish as well as cassava. 
The SACCO is so small, that we had to walk across the street where they had chairs set up underneth a mango tree......and out of the sun. Itwas 34 degrees around supper, but much hotter earlier, so probably a good idea to relax.Was great until mangos started dropping from the tree...... 
We went to a nearby village for supper, and honestly, I feel that we will be able to make a difference with this SACCO. Tomorrow we will hope to visit some members and how the SACCO has made an infuential and formative difference in the lives of the SACCO 
Here's my aha moment for the day: 
Driving up long roads where you are going 80 kms and then 2 kms because of flooded out roads etc,  We have a great driver, John, thank God. So part of the drive included driving by a fairly larg puddle. There was a car in it - so because it was basically a ditch, I assumed that he ended up in there by accident and that he was stuck. THEN on the way home I noticed a large puddle with motorcyles in it, and then realilzed- they were washing the motorbikes. It struck me that I was willing to accept the negative, and yet the people of Africa see this and many other situations as a positive. hhmm........they all seem to make lemonade out of lemons......there is no pretense, they just do what they need to do. That car owner was happy that he was able to wash his car! 
Today: be happy that you are in charge of your future. 
sweet dreams........b :-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The New Definition of LIRA

I have to apologize for not blogging sooner. Internet has been sketchy and even now I can't access it from my room, but rather am sitting in the dark in the lobby of our hotel to write this, as it is closer to the modem. It was hit and miss in Kampala, where we've been for the last couple of nights. It all seems like such a blur.
I probably wrote this already (am tired) but after about 26 hours we made it to Uganda. We got to our hotel about 5:30 am local time on Sunday, slept for about 1.5 hours and then up again. After a nice breakfast (the hotel is very nice) we went wandering. We came upon a market of sorts to buy some things, but then some of us went to a Mosque - climbed up into the dome in order to get great views and photos.
We spent the whole day yesterday at UCA (Uganda Cooperative Alliance), which is kind of like our Credit Union Central in Canada. We worked on tools to be utilized in the field and met our field staff that would be travelling with us. We did the same today from 8:30 - 1:00, had lunch and then hit the road. Craig and I went up to the town of LIRA - hence my title for this post. I have been thinking of LIRA as being a Locked-In Retirement Account for 20+ years, but now it is seen as the town I will basically be inhabiting over the next 10 days. We will be visiting one SACCO tomorrow and working 830-500 each day until Friday. It took us 5 hours to get here today and we left around 330, so got here in the dark. The travel is not much short of death-defying.....the WHOLE way had many many trucks, cars, and boda-bodas (motorcycles) vying for road space. Then there are the people that are NON-STOP walking along the sides of the road as well. Many are carrying water, some are coming home from school or work.
OK, so Craig and I had supper and worked on our notes for tomorrow, so will be ready and excited to greet our first SACCO. I really enjoyed the roadtrip, but can't help but think that as we drive down the road and see all that we see, that I feel I will be leaving Uganda with more questions rather that have any life questions answered. It sure looks different here than in the Lion King movie. I DID however, get a couple of great shots of tonight's sunset. :-)
I must sleep now - no air conditioning, but have a fan (when the power works...has gone out a few times already) and I also have a mosquito net, so all should be good.
Today's thought as you start your day - Be thankful for being able to go and buy whatever food you like.
Good night....

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Camels? Oh my.....

I guess it should come as no surprise that we didn't arrive in Uganda exactly as planned. Last year's Uganda team got  laid up in Turkey, before finally reaching their destination. We were not much different this year. We had many flight delay notifications in Montreal and then Brussels. We got there 10 minutes before the Brussels plane left for Entebbe, Uganda, via Rwanda, but it refused to wait for us. What was our solution? Why, it was of course to have a Stella Artois. :-) First though, I thought it would be fun to have a snowball fight, mostly because it was fun to have people look at us like we were from Florida, or had never seen snow. Also, we felt slightly guilty of having the Brussels stamp in our passports, with never really touching soil. 
OK, so on our way to Uganda now.....oh, but via EGYPT. What the?? So long story short we were in planes and airport for about 26 hours. Would I already do it again to come here? In a heartbeat, and our journey has barely begun. :-)
Will write more tomorrow.