Monday, 29 September 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Crazy as it seems, this is probably our last blog of the trip.  Although it feels like we haven’t been home in forever, it also feels as though the trip started just a few days ago.   We are currently in Kampala at the Adonai Guest House – where it all began almost three weeks ago.  As with the Jopfan Hotel in Kabale, we feel very welcomed here.  The chef prepares delicious meals, the grounds are very peaceful, and the weather is beautiful.  We have also met others here at the Adonai Guest House who are involved in various mission activities and we will be making contact with some of them to learn how we might improve some of our programs based on their experiences.

Our trip here yesterday took about 7 hours.  But we certainly didn’t waste that time.  In the “guys” van, there was a lot of continued discussion on the future strategy for the HANDS program.  Dave also spent time working on our budget and expenses.  In the “gals” van, we had a two-hour meeting regarding Pathways – a plan currently being developed to help our HOPE orphans make the transition from the education phase of their lives to higher education and employment. 

Today a group is in town accomplishing several things.  First on the list, Ginny, Sue and Generous are shopping for more material at the market to provide to our volunteers in Michigan who sew the beautiful handcrafts we sell at Uniquely Uganda and our art fairs.  John and Roger are visiting a store to do some research on farm equipment that is more practical and common in this area.  Toni and Karen will be paying a visit to the vocational school where Toni’s sponsored orphan (through a different program) is currently attending classes.  There are many, many vocational schools in Uganda and the more schools we learn about, the better prepared we will be as we develop our Pathways program. 

And …. drum roll please …. they (Generous, Ginny, Sue, John, Roger, Toni and Karen) will all be attending a meeting with the Vice President of Uganda!   What an honor, and how wonderful to be able to introduce him to ACT. 

Michelle is now in her second day in the village since we dropped her at the Empowerment Center and said good-bye after dinner on Saturday night.  She has already painted the one outside wall on the Center that we were unable to finish during our time there.  She is in Kabale today with Alexander and Josiah picking up some food and looking into some additional items that will help improve her phone and internet access.   She has many people in the village looking out for her:  Josiah and Alexander, who she will be working with each day; HANDS team members; Generous’ sister, Mabel, who lives two doors down; Father John is at Uganda Martyrs school across the lane from the Center and is available to Michelle whenever she needs him … the list goes on.  She also has contact information for a Peace Corp volunteer who we all met at the Jopfan Hotel in Kabale. He indicated there are a group of about eight U.S. volunteers who get together periodically – and will probably celebrate Thanksgiving as a group. 

Michelle will be starting a blog once she gets everything up and running and we will be sure to provide the address through church newsletters and e-blasts to those on our distribution list.  If you are not currently on our distribution list, but would like to be, please visit our website and on the “contact us” page you can let us know you would like to be added.

Below are a few more photos (that Dave was too tired to add on Saturday night J).  Be sure to hold Sunday, November 2 from 3:00 – 5:00 to attend our trip review presentation.  There will be many more pictures and stories that we hope will give you a better idea of all that has been accomplished during our trip.  The presentation will be held at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland.

Tonight we will be going out for dinner to Fang Fang – a local Asian restaurant as it is John’s birthday, and a favorite of those on the team who have been here before.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, will be spent organizing all of our 18 check-in suitcases, our carry-ons and getting ready for the drive to the airport, which can take quite some time due to traffic, even though it’s not far from here.   We appreciate all the prayers that we know have been coming our way, and would ask for continued prayers for our journey home! 

Thanks for following our adventures and mission! 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

We received a call early this morning from the Empowerment Center that Michelle and Bill had a fine night at the Center.  There was a small interruption due to a dog fight outside the center, but that was the highlight of the night.  It went so well, that Michelle is going to stay at the Center on her own this evening.

One van headed to Mbarara to pick up some additional needed items:  file cabinets; hardware; computer; sewing machine needles; “she-llac" (for coating the jewelry beads); and much more.  The shopping trip took most of the day, but was successful.

There were also two orphan home visits.  We stopped at the Murole School on the way to the Center and picked up Musa (age 11), Ginny and Bob Donald’s sponsored HOPE orphan, and Ronald (age 12) and Friday, (age 14) two brothers who are sponsored by Diane & Bill Busch.  We dropped part of the team off at the Center and then Ginny, Diane, Bill, Michelle, Josiah, Musa, Ronald and Friday headed higher into the mountains for the home visits.  We first went to Musa’s home.  It was a long, steep walk up a path to his house, but what a beautiful view once we arrived at the top.  And how gracious and welcoming were his guardians!   As is the Ugandan custom, we were treated to delicious fruits and breads.  They have dogs, a cow and a pig - and of course Michelle made friends with one of the dogs :)  After that visit, we headed back down the mountain, hopped in the van and headed further up the mountain to Ronald and Friday’s home.  Their smiles got bigger the closer we got to their house.  They saw a young family friend along the road and yelled out his nickname “yellow tiger” and had to tell us all about him.  It was great to see them so happy.  We arrived at their home and were greeted by their guardian, who is their 17 year old sister.  They’ve lost both of their parents to different diseases over the last few years and their sister has been caring for them since she was 15.   She is a wonderful, smiling young lady and was a very welcoming host.  We also met her extended family and neighbors who all pitched in to serve us another feast of cooked cabbage, Irish and sweet potatoes, rice, peanut sauce, a dish of greens and red beans, avocados and blood fruit.  It was delicious!  As with Musa’s home, it was again a picture-perfect view of Lake Bunyonyi (lake of many birds) and beautifully terraced mountains full of crops. 

While the orphan visits were happening, several of the other team members met for many hours to plan the launch of the HEAL program (Health is Elemental to All Life).  The first step is to form an advisory team and seven health promotion teams, one team for each parish.  Within the seven parishes there are a total of 72 villages.  We are hoping the launch of the first Health Promotion Team will occur early-mid 2015.  They will visit the villages in their parish to determine specific needs for their villagers.  Generous is excited to put into action the knowledge and skills she attained at the health conference she attended in Chile earlier this year - thanks to a grant from Melanie Nelson. 

More work was done on the bedroom - mosquito netting is now up, curtains and screens are installed.  Looking more and more like a warm and welcoming bedroom everyday!

“Mama Toni” was busy most of the afternoon making a genuine homemade Italian meal for all of us to enjoy at the Center.  The homemade sauce simmered on a propane stove out on the veranda, and the pasta, Bucatini, was cooked in a large pot over an open fire in the backyard of the Center.  Turning the heat down meant removing a log - not turning a knob.  We also had a superb green bean dish that Toni prepared, fresh avocados and breads as accompaniments to this great meal.   Nineteen people - our whole U.S. team, all the ACT staff here in Muko, our wonderful drivers and Father John from Uganda Martyrs, enjoyed the feast!   We ended with a meaningful devotion, cleaned up the dishes and headed back to the hotel - remember this is about a one-hour drive.  We arrived around 9:00 and all headed immediately to bed! 

And if you’re keeping track, our score for today is 150%.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Off to the village around 8:30.  When we arrived, one group, Toni, Roger, Ginny, Karen and Alexander immediately headed off for the Ikamiro Clinic - which exists in part because of a generous grant from St. John’s Episcopal Church.  This clinic is staffed by two nurses who live on sight.  They provide immunization and delivery of babies for the population of Ikamiro, about 20 deliveries each month.  The immunization services are mainly provided by home visits from the nurses.  On-sight they have medication for malaria, pain medication and all vaccines.  Mental health issues are referred to Kabale Town, with the closest hospital being Lugarama, about 45 minutes away.  Lisa Corso knitted several newborn baby hats and those were presented to the clinic by the team.  They were very happy to receive them.  They are also making very good use of the baby scale that was delivered by the US team that came last May.  Their immediate needs are another refrigerator for medicines requiring refrigeration and also a vehicle for transportation to hospitals.  They are also working to complete the staff housing.  Reverend Julias and his wife, Hope, entertained the team with a nice brunch.

When they returned, another group, Diane, Michelle, Bill, Toni, Ginny and Sue, headed to the Muko Parish Clinic.  We were treated to a very thorough tour of the clinic which includes a maternity ward, boarding of expectant mothers up to one month prior to due-date, in-patient facilities for men, women and children, an operating room for minor surgical procedures, nutrition counseling, family planning and all immunizations.  There are seven full time employees:  senior medical clinical officer; two nurses; a midwife, a laboratory assistant, a nursing assistant and one counselor.  In-patient care is free to all, only payment for medication is required.  After the tour, all but Ginny (who was needed back at the Center for MEP activities) stayed for a delicious lunch and discussion with Father John.  It was a fruitful and lively discussion which we all walked away from knowing more about each other’s culture and education systems.  This information will be very helpful as our two organizations (ACT and the Muko Parish) continue to work together to help improve the lives of the children in Muko subcounty.  As with all meetings here, when it was over we realized we’d spent four hours together!

The HANDS team (absent Michelle) assisted in the planting potatoes one of the leased parcels of land for the ACT commercial farming endeavor.  Seeing young men carrying 80 kg of seed potatoes on their shoulders down rough trails gave us new appreciation for the very hard work of subsistence farming in Uganda.  Roger and I first observed the process of laying out the rows, digging the trenches, sprinkling the starter fertilizer and kicking it in the soil, laying out the seed (9-12 inches apart) and covering the seed with the panga (large hoe).  Then the two muzungu helped with various parts of the planting process.  Roger developed a blister from operating a too short panga handle for three hours.  After bending over placing potatoes for three hours, John is not too sure he wants to see a potato for a few weeks.  As the planting was concluding a light rain began to fall, Gods gift of perfect timing of watering the seed to begin the growth of our potato crop.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Empowerment Center was full today!  Approximately 40 women and a few men were here for the day learning new dyeing techniques for the materials used to make the baskets.  Very interesting to see.  There were several large pots on wood fires behind the Center.  Each pot was used for a different dye.  Carrots were crushed and boiled to make a beautiful yellow dye; an herb (Nyarwehindura) was used to get a dark navy/black dye; the same herb was used with ash added to achieve a soft light blue/slate/green color.  We were also able to watch the women weaving – what an amazing skill.

There was also much time spent explaining and demonstrating improvements that could be made in jewelry making to make the products desirable for purchase in the United States.  Sue, Ginny, Toni and Alexander, with the help of Octavia, critiqued well over 300 necklaces one-by-one with the MEP women.  Additionally, we also time spent showing the men what type and quality of carving would sell well in the U.S.   We are anxious to begin carrying more wood figurines and walking sticks!

Believe it or not, there was more painting again today.  A strip was painted at the bottom of the columns and walls on the back veranda to match the green on the front of the building.  Then the walls above the tile in the new shower room were primed.

We also spent time getting the pillowcase dresses and shorts organized.  These items were donated by many kind individuals and they will be given to the village boys and girls this Saturday morning.  Luckily we have team members here who have experienced this event before, so it should go fairly smooth.  Each year is a little less chaotic.

The HANDS team stayed in Kabale today.  They shopped in the morning for a few needed supplies for the ACT Center, such as mosquito nets, towels and hooks to hang the nets. Along with Generous, Moses, Sharon and two local government officials they visited the Mushroom Training and Research Center just east of Kabale to increase their knowledge on the training, start-up costs and profitability of growing mushrooms.  We were warmly greeted and given a tour by Emmanuel, the manager of the center.  The discussion should “set the stage” for bringing more individuals in Muko sub-county into this profitable

new endeavor. They were also able to meet with the local chairman of Kabale District to inform him of ACT’s Mission.  He was pleased to learn about ACT and thanked us for all the efforts to improve the lives of the people of Uganda.

Bill and Michelle are staying in the village tonight to take advantage of all of the improvements that have been made to make the center a little more like home. 

Karen headed to Muko High School to hold her usual violin/viola practice.   All went well.

This day was very full – from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. with dinner at 9:00 pm.  I tell you this so you understand why we think today we rated a 163.5%.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Another day full of orphan visits.  We first went to the Uganda Martyrs Primary school to visit seven of the Muko HOPE orphans who attend there.  We were also taken around to each of the classrooms – baby class (3 years old) through P7 (7th grade equivalent).  We were warmly greeted in each class, sometimes with a song and other times with a recitation by the entire class welcoming us.   We each introduced ourselves and then in the older classes the students asked us questions ranging from what the weather is like in Michigan to what we each do as a profession, and even just asking us to repeat our names.  Each visit at the schools provides more and more insight on the culture of education in Uganda.

After our visit at Uganda Martyrs, we then headed to Muko High School where there are 17 Muko HOPE sponsored orphans.  We had fun, and sometimes sadness, learning how their lives and studies are progressing.  They all appreciated the hockey jerseys and t-shirts and we took a nice photo of all of the boys in their jerseys.

We left the high school around 3:30 pm so Karen stayed in order to have time before her 5:00 violin lesson to visit with the music teacher and see her classroom.  Or so she thought…Karen set out with the music teacher, Isabella, three students, Haward, Henry, and Isobel understanding that they were headed for the music classroom. Instead, they took her to a beautiful home in the middle of the Muko High School campus where the “grandmother” of the school lives. Her home was surrounded by plantings of beautiful blue hydrangeas, calla lilies, and a large palm tree. When Karen was introduced to the grandmother, named Dinah, pronounced “Deenah” she thought she was about to be served dinner! A wonderful time of fellowship ensued which included a call from Dinah’s daughter who lives in Kampala. Dinah insisted that Karen talk with her on the phone! Dinah amused everyone with stories of her life and a brief sermon including John 3:16. Karen will remember this for the rest of her life!

Music classes included an introduction to the viola. The students caught on quickly and it seems like they are on their way to a second section of the orchestra.

While part of the team was visiting the schools, the HANDS team made great progress with plans for the commercial potato endeavor, including finding a buyer/distributor, William Katonga who agreed to purchase potatoes from ACT for 1000 UGX above market price.  William has been a volunteer for ACT Uganda from the start of ACT and recently donated 20,000 UGX to fill the rutted road in front of the ACT Center prior to the Thanksgiving Event.  All we can say is: Webare Munonga William!  The HANDS Team also met to discuss soybeans, liquid manure production and organization of the potato storage area. Tomorrow the team will meet at the Mushroom Training and Resource Center east of Kabale to learn more about training fees and on Thursday we will observe and help with potato planting in the three parcels of land that have been leased by ACT this growing season.

Dave, following instructions that Dave Molzahn (who was on the last ACT Mission Team in May) found on-line, was able to provide 3G access to the Empowerment Center on his first attempt by rigging up an antenna attached to the new 20 foot water tower.  The antenna is comprised of a metal colander, an empty peanut butter jar and duct tape.  We're giving McGyver a run for his money!

Speaking of the water tower, there is now running water in the Center in the form of a sink and a shower – which has more water pressure that our hotel!

Ginny spent much of afternoon organizing and packing baskets to bring back to the U.S.  She also prepared lessons for tomorrow’s class with the MEP women and men.  She is expecting 40 women and up to 10 men carvers.   They will be learning new dyeing techniques and will also be working with the jewelry makers and carvers on quality control.

One of the vans returned to Kabale a little earlier than normal today and Norman, Ginny, Sue and John did some shopping to purchase a few more necessities for the Empowerment Center.  Shopping is a bit different here … and negotiating is expected.

We accomplished many extra things today, so rated ourselves a 175%.  The bar just keeps getting raised.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Today’s focus was much different than last week.  We traveled straight to Murole Primary School where 73 Muko HOPE Orphans are enrolled.  We set up an “interview room” and one by one the orphans were brought to have their photos taken, their shoe size determined, height measured and they were then interviewed.  The interviews, photos and information gathered will be provided to all orphan sponsors to help them understand more about their orphans.  Hockey jerseys that had been donated to the Muko HOPE program were passed out to all of the boys and bright colored t-shirts were handed out to all of the girls.  There were many smiles, some shyer than others, but it was a great day with much happiness.  We also had some dedicated time to talk with the owner/director of the school which gave us some more insight into the education system in this area.  As custom dictates, we were treated to a small breakfast when we arrived, and five hours later we dined again on a feast that was prepared for us.

Also while at Murole, a few of us were able to attend some of the classes to see what a typical day is like for the students.  There were different experiences ranging from happy, energetic teachers with lots of clapping and happiness to some teachers being rather strict with what might appear as overly rough discipline to most of us.

Later in the day, Karen and Ginny worked with the MUSIC students on string duets. Many students are participating but the hours were shortened by the school administration that we are allowed to practice. Haward is making very good progress as a teacher and several of the students are developing good tones and relaxed bow holds.

Sue and Generous were able to spend some one-on-one time together, which is rare. It was nice for them to be able to reconnect and it was a very fruitful discussion.  

Tomorrow we will be visiting Muko Martyrs Primary School where we have 7 Muko HOPE orphans and also Muko High School where we have 14 Muko HOPE Orphans.  We are looking forward to another enjoyable day with these students.

You didn’t hear from us yesterday because it was a day of rest!  However, our score for today is 120%!  Woo Hoo!   More tomorrow ….

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Unfortunately we lost internet at the hotel yesterday, so the Saturday blog is being posted Sunday morning.

The Thanksgiving event was full of activity!  It started around noon with lunch for many at the center.   We headed over to the tents around 2:00 for the actual program.  It was great to see all of the different ACT groups represented.  There were four tents; one for HOPE children guardians; one for HOPE orphans; one for all Volunteers; and one for the U.S. Team and the Guests of Honor (dignitaries and board members from Uganda).   There was much dancing and music – even some of the U.S. team members joined in at one point.  All of the ACT programs were able to give a demonstration during the program: agriculture, MEP women, and HOPE orphans.  Seven of Karen’s MUSIC violinists performed and did an amazing job.  They sounded great and also looked wonderful in the vests that were sewn for them by Diana Stubig, a member of the last ACT Mission Team.  Thanks Diana!  Both the U.S. and the Ugandan flags were raised and both national anthems sung – the U.S. team being the only nine singing our National Anthem.   And I say nine, not ten, because unfortunately Toni was not feeling very well so stayed back at the hotel all day.  Thank goodness for Cipro, for she is feeling fine today. 

The portion of the program that took up the majority of time was the auction.  This is a very common event in Ugandan culture … they even do it at Sunday church services.  There were many items donated - chickens and goats, spears and drums, clocks, coffee mugs, produce, calendars and more.  It was a very interesting activity to witness – and Dave and Karen got into the spirit and bid on and won the drum.   It will be an interesting carry-on on the flights home.

Many of the orphan sponsors on our team were able to meet and spend a bit of time with their orphans and the orphans’ guardians today!  That was definitely a highlight. 

By the time all activity wound down and we loaded up the vans, we didn’t get back to the hotel until 8:00 pm.  Another late dinner, great devotion by Michelle, then off to bed early.  We are all excited that there will be no need to set an alarm for tomorrow.  Looking forward to a day of rest!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wow, wow, wow … as our driver, Christopher, would say!  We worked very hard today to get everything finished for the big Thanksgiving event tomorrow.   ALL rooms are painted, the outside is painted, everything has been scrubbed, the windows washed, banners put up, books organized, a stone path laid, choirs practiced, our five piece orchestra practiced, the baskets are beautifully displayed … so we’ve decided our score for the day is 155% - another record.  Josiah and Alexander were with our driver, Aine, in Kabale most of the day getting supplies for the event.  When they returned we saw a lot of items unloaded from the van, including seven live chickens which will be prepared for tomorrow’s feast.

We are expecting 100 to 200 people.  There will be tents, food, dancing, music, and more.  We are looking forward to it and will be sure to pass on how it all went.

During all of this activity we also saw a pig butchered in the field across from the Center.  We also saw a goat being skinned.  All getting ready for the Market – which is also happening tomorrow not far from our Thanksgiving celebration.  Because of all of this nature in our face, there are a few of us who are very close to becoming vegetarian.

Another great addition to the Center today was the new sewing machine.  Ginny and Sue worked on it for quite awhile and it is now set up in the training room and ready to go!

We also had fun dancing and playing with the children that like to stand in the yard of the center and watch all of the activities.  We will be very busy tomorrow and we are all ready for Sunday – a day of rest!