Kenya-Uganda Summer Project 2011: Week 1 – The National Geographic Complex

This is part of a series about the Kenya-Uganda Summer Project 2011. Read the other posts here.

Frances Sybilla Howell (UWC AC, UK 2010-2012)

We soon took our mini-bus over to the neighbouring district of Masaka, to carry out our voluntary work. We stayed in a Hotel in the middle of the countryside. To get there we have to cross the Equator which I am counting as my first time since I wasn’t really sure what was going on in Tanzania. It was so exciting to see how water goes in different directions down the plughole on both sides of the equator, and straight down on the equator, since there are no magnetic fields (or because of something more scientific – Physics was never my forte).

On the first day a girl our age who was training at the Hotel took us to the local village. We walked past a local primary school where the children were really excited to see ‘mzungus’ – white people and ran after us as far as their gate. They were much more receptive than many of the locals we met in the town, who, until you greet them in Luganda which pleases them, will stare at you with some hostility. In the town we bought avocados for the equivalent of 2.5p and sugar cane for half of that. The town appeared to be fairly self-sustaining in its own little way and although the sheer uncertainty of day-to-day life here was very clear, the Community seemed to be very close-knit and vibrant. We went back to the town the next day to play football with some kids after school. Needless to say, they beat us.

We planted some seedlings which would grow for Biodiesel. We planted them in a deforested area which the locals cut down to make fires for their houses. We planted them next to a primary school which was very eager to help us and were clearly better at the job than we were. They planted a couple of the trees in their playground as a memory of this day. It was wonderful to see how many skills and how much potential these children had from such a young age and really inspiring for a group, many of whom came from countries where people go through paper like its oxygen and lazily hire other people to do jobs they are perfectly capable of doing themselves.

Another day we visited an orphanage with many AIDs orphans and HIV positive children (we were told that 20% of the Ugandan population is HIV positive). We shared our stories through a translator and got to know the children before playing games with them. The kids seemed to be really enjoying spending time with these strangers whose skin they would poke and be transfixed by, having seen nothing like it before in real life. Some of the children were wearing school uniform and getting basic primary education, some in Christian and other in Muslim schools. We were told repeatedly throughout our trip that the two religions, as well as others, are very respectful of each other and there is no noticeable conflict.

We also visited a Fishing Town where the main problem was a weed which quickly grew blocking the fishing boats getting to the main lake meaning that they had to clear it each day. Where we were was essentially a slum with huts built from strips of wood, people sat with nothing to do and everything reminiscent of the war’s ‘Mend and make do’ campaign. Something that most struck me was that pictures of this place would be exactly what was portrayed as ‘beautiful’ in a National Geographic magazine and the thought of it made me feel sick. This was certainly not something to be passed off as beautiful and only in real life is this truly evident. I thought of this often as the ‘National Geographic Complex’. Although I didn’t have much time to dwell that day with the evening bringing an entirely different environment: the Ugandan clubbing scene. This entailed a flow of Amarula, some serious behind-shaking and strategic dancing away from overenthusiastic locals and mini-skirt wearing prostitutes. We arrived home at 4am. That alone just about says it all.

We went back to the first orphanage we visited where they had prepared songs and scenes and stories for us. We brought medicine, stationery, books and toys for them. You can deworm ten children for 80p here, or give out 500 paracetamol tablets for £2. Primary education is free in Uganda, as long as you can afford school supplies and uniform. HIV medication is also free and from what we are told, there are adequate provisions if you can reach a hospital. However, the austere and evident problems in both these sectors show that there are clear flaws in this system.

– United Words –

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