Construction workers taking a break.
On Sunday, we also took a break from the Poultry Project and headed to Sipi Falls.
Our drive to Sipi Falls began with a brief 2-hour jaunt to the top of a mountain that was in the opposite direction of Sipi Falls.
Even if it was out of the way, it was well worth the drive and we were able to view the wonderful town of Mbale from up above.
Dr. Ngobi and a counselor, both from TASO, look down at their city.
Mbale from above.
As we made are way back across town, we stopped at 5 or 6 “viewpoints” where we would get out of the car and marvel at the land below us. At one of the stops we met some children and shared bananas with them.
A little boy enjoys his delicious banana.
Another stop was made not for viewing the landscape, but rather for purchasing meat from the local butcher. Unlike the typical meat and deli section Americans are accustomed to, Ugandans like to dangle their meat, under the sun and in wide open spaces for all to see.
Typical Ugandan meat stand. Yum.
After satisifying the meatlovers, we continued on our way to the waterfalls. As we navigated the red dirt roads with the windows open, a continuous blast of air muted everything but the striking landscape we passed by.
One of the TASO members looked out the window and stated, “God gave Uganda extra time when he was designing.”
We agree, but only second to the time spent on Ohio’s blueprints.
Above is the main event of the day, the majestic Sipi Falls at the foothills of Mount Elgon.
Mount Elgon is the second highest mountain in Uganda and is located on the eastern border between Uganda and Kenya.
After climbing to the top of the mountain where the waterfall begins, we found children and women using the natural swimming pool for playing and washing clothes.
I think we would do laundry more often if the washing machine was a gigantic pool/waterfall.
Laundry day at Sipi Falls.
Emily and Joe with the waterfall in the background.
August 27th, 2008
21 August 2008 (Day 9)
We apologize for our brief hiatus from the blog – we experienced some internet difficulties and have been busy finalizing home visits and planning for the project. On Thursday we finished our home visits, ending with Michael, Rashid, Emma, and the late Jacqueline. This is what we found…
On our follow up visit to Michael’s home, we were expecting to learn about his health status and recent hospitalization. Unfortunately, we were met by a locked door and no sign of either child or grandmother. Their neighbor strolled over and told us how they had gone “digging” for the day.
Digging-for-hire is very common in the rural areas of Uganda. Children are sent to the field at a very young age to provide for themselves and their families. The pay for a full day of labor is roughly 1,000 UGX (approximately $0.70 USD).
Though 70 cents may seem insignificant, it is vital to Michael and his grandmother in order to feed themselves. Food is Michael’s main challenge, and without it, his ARV’s will not work, he will continue to grow weaker, and his health will continue to decline. We plan to use the money donated to improve their livestock count and provide temporary, but immediate, food assistance to alleviate their household food insecurity.
A child headed to the field for digging.
Although Rashid was not at home when we visited, we found a rather unique set of circumstances that he and his family are facing. Rashid and his six siblings live with their grandmother in a house lent to them by a relative. The accommodations are only temporary, as the relative’s own children will be occupying the house as of December, 2008. Prior to this arrangement, the group of seven was evicted from their land by another relative who wished to sell it at a profit. Essentially, the family will be homeless in less than 4 months.
Sensing the direness of the situation, Peter suggested that we attempt to negotiate with the land-owning relative to allow the group to build a separate, permanent, structure elsewhere on the land.
Where the negotiating went down.
Our next stop was to Emma’s home. Emma’s aunt, the main caretaker of the animals while Emma attends school, showed us the progress they have made with the project. They have turned their original 5 hens into a new roof, a larger plot of land, and are currently saving to purchase a bull.
The new roof purchased by money earned from the poultry Project.
Emma’s aunt was very grateful for the support the Poultry Project has provided her family and was so happy we had stopped by. She told us about their current challenges and their goals for the future.
Before we parted, she ran into the house and grabbed her pocket book where she keeps a handful of faded pictures of her late bother, sister-in-law, and nieces and nephews she raised until they passed away. She worries about Emma; he is also HIV+ and has lost both of his parents and his 4 siblings to AIDS.
The Family of Jacqueline
Our next stop was to the late Jacqueline’s home; she passed away in June. Although the family was absent when we visited, we were met by a thriving project and a large amount of well-kept animals. Her project has grown from the original 5 hens, to 11 hens and 14 goats – 7 of which were donated by the Heifer Project as a result of her displayed success with the Poultry Project. The Poultry Project will continue to offer support to Jacqueline’s remaining siblings, who are also orphans and are being taken care of by an aunt.
The impressive structure Jacqueline’s family constructed for their goats.
August 22nd, 2008
Natule John receiving ARVs at TASO in 2006.
I am sad to bear the news that Poultry Project participant Natule John passed away on August 17, 2008; he was just sixteen years old.
We visited his home yesterday to express our sympathy and pay our respect to his family.
As we were driving up the mountain Peter mentioned how he used to make the very same ascent, but on his motorcycle. We were all amazed, and kind of shocked that he would drive along those narrow and winding dirt roads. It would take nearly 45-minutes to make it to the top – if the conditions were good. I just assumed he was a secret daredevil and thought nothing more about it.
After reaching the top of the mountain, we began our silent walk to Natule John’s house. His aunt’s home, where he had been living during his final days, was beyond the dirt road, tucked into the side of the mountain among cabbage gardens, coffee trees, and miles of blue sky.
We met his family and they graciously took us to his grave where we stood over the freshly laid cement that was still drying in the sunlight. We said our prayers, made peace with John and bid him farewell. We all thought of his harrowing tales of life as an orphan, living with HIV, battling cancer, enduring the pain of neglect, and the isolation he must have felt when he was ostracized and stigmatized by his uncle (his former guardian).
Before we left, I asked his family if they wanted to say something special about John. They said he was friendly, a happy child, and that they will miss him very much. We then said our goodbyes and Peter and I made our way back to the car.
Peter then told me, “Natule John was such a jolly boy. He loved visitors so much and he would beam when anyone came to see him.”
I then realized that Peter had been making those long hikes up the mountain to see his friend. Natule John died knowing someone cared, he died knowing he had a friend, someone who supported him, and gave him love when there was nothing else to give.
Natule John will always be remembered and honored.
His untimely death will motivate us to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS and his memory will inspire us to share love with all beings, no exceptions.
Natule John, we wish you peace and everlasting happiness. May your memory live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved you.
The view from the mountain where Natule John rests
August 21st, 2008
The Poultry Project went on the road today to lend support to another organization supporting orphans in Uganda. The Poverty Reduction Initiative for Development (P.R.I.D.) was created by residents of the sub-county of Sibanga approximately 35 km from Mbale Town. The Poultry Project first collaborated with PRID and its chairman, John Busulo, in 2006 when Kelly learned of the organization and its purpose while staying at Cure Hospital (John worked there as the security guard).
The Poultry Project and PRID are similar in that they each seek to promote sustainable income for orphaned families. Whereas the Project has focused on livestock, PRID has focused on other initiatives such as coffee farming. Currently, PRID provides services for 28 orphans and is led by a committee of elders residing in adjacent villages.
Above are John Busolo, Mzee Dasan and Mzee Boazi, the founders of PRID.
PRID meets in fields and the homes of the members to discuss organizational matters and they provide agricultural training on a small plot of land that was purchased in 2007 with the help of the Poultry Project donors. We spent the entire day walking through the participants’ coffee gardens and were amazed by how much wisdom the elders have and how deeply they care for their community.
Mzee Boazi stands in front of a growing coffee tree.
He is an elder of the village and is currently raising 10 grandchildren who are orphans.
Mzee Dasan, one of the chairmen and founders, is also the pastor at the village church.
After viewing the gardens, we returned to John’s home where we were greeted by women and children, many of whom are orphans supported by PRID. They were singing and thanking us for making the journey to their village. The children performed beautiful poems and songs about their struggles. The women then prepared a large traditional Ugandan meal.
The children and women performing a song and dance for us.
The people we met today are honest, hardworking and generous. They dedicate their time to helping those in need and unifying their community.
What a wonderful way to be.
Below are more pictures that highlight the development of PRID’s coffee gardens and the children they support.
Coffee seedlings in the beginning stages.
Once the seedlings have germinated and grown about 6 inches high, they are prepared in tiny, biodegradable baggies for each of the orphans. Each orphan receives 100 seedlings per year; the estimated time to harvest per plant is 3 years.
A coffee tree in the garden of a participant.
A full grown coffee plant that is ready to harvest.
Peter is a beneficiary of PRID and is very bright. He is 16 years old, in S-4 and he is ranked 4th in class.
Joe encouraged him to continue to work hard in school, but to also take advantage of the coffee farming opportunity. The extra time Joe spent with Peter made him feel special.
The orphans involved who are growing coffee and benefiting from PRID.
Thanks for reading and your continued support!
August 19th, 2008
19 August 2008 (Day The country of Uganda is broken up into districts, counties, sub-counties, parishes or wards, and villages. Many of you are probably curious about where exactly we have been traveling to reach the Project participants. Just click on UGANDA MAP and use the key below.
29. Kampala District. We originally flew into Entebbe (40km from Kampala) and spent much of Day 1 in Kampala.
54. Mbale District. We are staying in Mbale and TASO is in Mbale. In addition, the following participants reside in Mbale District: Emma, Rashid, Jacqueline, Michael.
73. Sironko District. The following participants reside in Sironko District: Mimuna, Vasca, Violet, Protus, Yekosofat, Eric, Hanania, Shamim, Doreen, Jude.
45 (southeastern portion). Bukedea District. The following participants reside in Bukedea District: Peter, Betty, Agnes, Faith.
45 (northwestern portion). Kumi District. Engole Jude resides here.
Today we traveled to the district of Soronko. We visited with three participants: Doreen (county of Buluganya), Jude and Protus (county of Buyaga).
The county of Buluganya is a green, mountainous region with breathtaking views. Everywhere you turn, there is a waterfall.
The mountains make for a beautiful landscape but a challenging traverse for the families living among their slopes. When it rains in Buluganya, many families are trapped in their villages for days until the poorly kept roads dry out.
Doreen is 15 years old and lives ¾ of the way up a 3,000 meter mountain with her three siblings, all of which are AIDS orphans. The living conditions for the family are very poor. Doreen is a few years behind in school but expressed a strong desire to catch up.
Waiting for Doreen, Emily passed out candy.
Doreen posing with her nephew.
The Project originally helped Doreen pay for school fees. However, due to the small amount of land occupied by the family and the challenges of keeping free range chickens in such an environment, Doreen’s chickens did not last. Doreen further explained that the bicycle from the Project has very little use since the road to her home is often fit only for walking.
We plan to explore various options including a sale of the bicycle and the establishment of an enclosure for poultry, goats, etc.
During the school term, Jude resides in Mbale with his uncle. During holidays (breaks between terms), he lives with his three siblings and grandmother at the home of his late parents in Buyaga (also a mountainous region).
Jude’s grandmother and her grandchildren.
Jude has maintained the Project in both locations. In Buyaga, he sold three chickens for a pig. In Mbale, he has kept one hen which has recently hatched chicks. The Project has helped Jude pay for school requirements and support his family. The siblings continue to struggle with basic needs, however, the grandmother appears to lack the necessary training for overseeing a successful poultry operation. So, both Jude and his grandmother will attend the workshop.
Protus and his five siblings (all AIDS orphans) live together with his wife and child in Buyaga. He and two of his oldest siblings have dropped out of school to perform odd jobs in the trading center for food.
Their land lies in a valley and is very prone to flooding. As a result, the family has retained one goat and has made very little progress with the Project otherwise. Protus is confident that his land is fit for livestock other than poultry (i.e. cows or goats). Until then, the family will continue to struggle and the younger siblings will risk dropping out of school.
Emily and Joe in Buluganya.
August 19th, 2008
We have uploaded some of our pictures on the web. At this time, only half of the pictures have been uploaded and they are in no particular order. When we get more time, we will organize and label them to add context. Thanks again for reading. Click on GALLERY to view.
August 18th, 2008
18 August 2008 (Day 7)
Project participant Michael Wanambwa (12 yrs), was admitted to the hospital a few days ago due to malnutrition. His grandmother became his guardian when his parents passed away, but is becoming too weak to care for him. They have very little land and her crop yield is almost non-existent. Until recently, they relied on stipends from World Food Program (WFP) to maintain adequate intakes.
With the increase in global food prices this life-sustaining ration has been taken away and replaced with nothing.
Over the past couple of months Michael’s health has plummeted and he has dropped out of school. We are waiting to receive word on his status.
Today we found a similar situation with late Hanania’s grandmother, who is raising 3 orphans (Hanania’s siblings) and is struggling to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate them all. She has very little land to grow crops and like Michael’s family, her WFP stipend has been retracted. When asked how she manages their food, she said they eat very little, when money is available they buy soya flour and maize, and sometimes they go hungry.
We were equally saddened when we learned that she sold 3 of her 4 hens and the donated bicycle from the poultry project in order to pay for a proper burial and a cement gravestone for Hanania.
We have been discussing options to help this family and feel the most urgent need is to fix the home. Below are pictures of the family, the roof, and the inside of the home. In order to fix the roof we will need $125 USD.
The remaining family: Brenda, Grandma, Isaac, & Simon.
Pictured above Hanania’s grandmother and younger brother, Isaac.
The yellow water can lies on the dirt floor – they don’t have the luxury of buying clean, filtered bottled water or Gatorades at the grocery store.
The family’s home consists of two rooms; this room is where the dishes and water are stored – and also where the two boys sleep at night.
A dirty sheet, foam mattress, two faded soccer magazines & a donated bag – these are the belongings of the late Hanania and his two brothers.
At bedtime, Simon and Isaac unfold their foam mattress over the cement floor and fall asleep, side by side.
On the left is the wall that divides the grandmother & Brenda’s room from the boys and above is the roof that is open to insects, lizards, wind, rain and dirt.
Walls and ceiling/roof in the boys’ room.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Goodbye!
August 17th, 2008
17 August 2008 (Day 6)
One of the major challenges for Ugandans who reside in rural villages is the lack of infrastructure in their regions. There are very few paved roads and the dirt roads that have been haphazardly constructed are virtually impossible to cross. The clients we visit rarely leave their villages and often remain in isolation. They are blocked in by winding stretches of dirt roads that are filled with potholes, trenches, livestock and occasionally sludge from recent flooding.
Two boys herd their cattle in the streets of Budadiri.
Visiting Eric (6 yrs) and his mother brought us a little ray of sunshine. They have constructed an enormous house for their poultry and it keeps the chickens safe from theft and disease. She also opened up a bank account for herself and is saving up to purchase a cow. Eric is maintaining his health and has been stable since he began ARV’s in 2005. He will begin school in November and is the cutest.
Eric smiles for the camera in front of his family’s chicken pen.
August 17th, 2008
16 August 2008 (Day 5): Agnes, Peter, Betty
Hello again. Today was interesting, productive, and at times emotional. First, a few general comments:
Ugandans are very kind. Since Emily and I arrived, we have been treated like gold. More impressively, Ugandans are nearly just as kind to one another. In Mbale (urban), the streets are buzzing with people and yet there are very few disputes. Friends are holding hands and helping one another with tasks. In the villages (rural), where land is wide open and crops and livestock are vulnerable to theft, people are generally honest and respectful of the property rights of their neighbors (with some exceptions – see Jude below).
Ugandans are unbelievably polite. Everyone is eager to greet us and welcome us to their country. Yesterday, I was greeted by a TASO staff member with perhaps the most courteous sentence ever constructed: “Hello, you are welcome, thank you please, goodbye” – as if it came out of a holster of kindness from her belt.
Ugandans have remarkable endurance. I began to detect that this might be the case when I learned that men, women and children from the villages often ride their bicycles uphill to Mbale for more than 60km, carrying produce, goods, or people on the back. The concept was fully revealed during my brief (45 min) stint as a member of the Cure Hospital fútball team. I was graciously asked to join by John Busolo, a security guard at Cure. Our first practice was on Thursday. I knew there was a problem when I was breathing heavily during stretching, after opening drills. Then the scrimmage. We had an even 8, so we split up 4 on 4. 15 minutes in, I was politely offered a “substitute”. Again, we had even numbers.
Enough with the comments. Today, we made field visits to the homes of three Poultry Project participants: Agnes, Peter, and Betty
Agnes is 17 years old and attends secondary school at an Mbale boarding school. She lives in a village in Bukedea with 10 siblings, her aunt, and grandmother. The children are AIDS orphans (parents died of AIDS). The grandmother is very old. The aunt is a TASO client on ARV’s and is not in good health.
Of the Project participants visited so far, Agnes’s family is perhaps experiencing the most hardship. There land is very small considering the number of inhabitants. Sleeping quarters for the 14 of them are split between two huts with one bed apiece. The Project has allowed the aunt to begin building a house while Agnes is away at school, but because of her health, the house remains only half built (unlivable by any standards).
The aunt is worried about what will happen to the children once she and the grandmother pass on.
Agnes with grandmother, aunt and Martha the counselor from TASO. The half constructed house is in the background.
Peter (Project participant, not Peter the manager)
Peter, 20, and his four siblings are also AIDS orphans. At the onset of the project, Peter attended secondary school. Since then, he was forced to drop out of school after getting married and having a child. The orphans, Peter’s wife, and the child (7 months old) live in a small house in Bukedea. 3 of the orphans attend a local school. The 4th was forced to drop out to help with generating household income. The family continues to struggle for basic needs.
Peter has been relatively successful with the Project. He has turned the original 5 chickens into 7 goats and 3 pigs. In addition, the family has a large amount of land for ground nuts, sugarcane, and cassava (among others). Currently, though, they are relegated to plowing it by hand. They could really benefit from an ox plow (approx. $150) as their neighbors have oxen. We will continue to brainstorm.
Betty, 17, attends secondary boarding school in Tororo. She has 5 siblings, all AIDS orphans. The children live in a small village in the Bukedea region with their uncle and his six children.
The progress of the Project for Betty’s family brought a smile to our faces. The uncle was eager to display the 5 goats and more than 30 chickens that the Project has reared. In addition, he explained that he had just come back from some early morning work – planting 100 citrus trees and digging a new well for the village – just a little light landscaping for a Saturday. This man is tremendously hard working. He will speak on behalf of his and Betty’s accomplishments at the Project workshop. Hopefully, his words will inspire.
Emily and I finished the day with a good Indian meal in town and watched the first Arsenal match of the season (English premiership soccer) with Peter. Peter is great. He wants to study in the U.S. He has completed his studies at the University and would like to pursue a master’s degree. Any suggestions are welcome.
Betty’s uncle shows Joe the chickens he has acquired through the Poultry Project.
Good Night from Uganda!
P.S. A flickr page with more pics coming soon!
August 17th, 2008
14 August 2008 (Day 4)
The Angura family is a true child-headed home, meaning they have no other family members (aunts, uncles, or grandparents) to help with basic needs, such as clothing, food, shelter, education and transportation.
The 5 brothers have been getting by to the best of their ability. They are maintaining their health, trying to attend school, and farming their land for food. However, they suffered a great loss when their youngest brother James, who was six years old, passed away last year.
Their lives are so much different from anything I have ever known. Aside from the periodic visits to/from TASO counselors, their mental health goes largely unnoticed. They are together with each other, they smile and laugh like children should, but in the same breath they are dealing with extreme poverty, chronic malnutrition, and the traumatic loss of two parents and a sibling.
When the brothers led us to James’s grave, we could do nothing but bow our heads as we stood in silence. There in the middle of the garden, rests sweet little James. His brothers have lovingly carved his name into the stone and placed him alongside their mother and father.
After going to the villages, we were given a break and a chance to connect with some of the TASO clients back at the main office. While Joe spent the morning with Peter, I stayed with the female clients in the skill-building class for HIV+ women. There are about 15 women enrolled, most of them are in their 30’s, with children and have had very little education. TASO has created a program for these women in order to teach them a skill and empower them to start their own businesses – or at least sell what they make in the markets. The craft they are learning is raffia and sisal weaving. I may need some extra time skill-building, I was unable to make much more than semi-braided/deformed raffia stick.
Deena weaves a colorful raffia basket at TASO’s skill-building program.
Shamim stopped by to color, but found looking at pictures of Kelly more exciting.
Shamim happily looking at Kelly and Colin’s wedding album.
Christine Acan is the aunt and caregiver to 6 children, including Faith, who is 9 years old and the original participant in the Poultry Project. Christine is single and chose to remain unmarried in favor of raising her brother and sister’s children after they and their spouses passed away due to HIV/AIDS. With the lively Christine stepping up and taking over the poultry rearing, Faith and the other children are able to attend school and are improving. Ben is the eldest and is preparing to apply for college in November – he is also among the top students in his class of 400.
Joe, Ben, Emily, and peanuts.
From the original 4 female chickens and 1 male cock, they have acquired 5 goats and more than 20 chickens. Christine gave us a small bag of peanuts to show her appreciation.
Faith (left), Aunt Christine and brothers show off their new goats.
August 15th, 2008
14 August 2008 (Day 3): To Jude’s
Today we visited with Engole Jude. For those of you who have just started reading this blog, he’s 19 yrs old and has lost both parents to HIV/AIDS. He has been the sole provider to 3 siblings (Christy 13, Speciosa 15, and Maria 17) and 2 grandparents since 2005, when his father passed away. Jude is a star participant in the Poultry Project and has excelled since the onset. He has turned the original 5-hen allotment into 2 Chickens, 6 baby chicks, 3 goats, and 1 cow.
The Engole Cow was purchased with 12 hens and 2 goats.
Jude’s family’s land: kitchen, house, bathroom, grandparent’s house (left to right).
Despite his successes, Jude’s situation has recently become significantly more complicated. First and foremost, Jude attends boarding school an hour away from his home in Mbale, and relies on boda boda (riding on the back of a motorcycle for cash) for transportation. He is away for the vast majority of the year and has only the cell phones donated by the Poultry Project to communicate with his family (and run his business).
Most recently, Jude spent three consecutive months at school. While away, several factors threatened the family’s sustenance that Jude had worked so hard for: Speciosa revealed to Jude that she was 7 months pregnant; various hens and goats had been stolen by a neighboring clan; the same clan asserted ownership of the land occupied by Jude’s family and threatened to take it back.
Jude has many remaining needs and the Project can help. We have allotted time with TASO workers to brainstorm Jude’s options.
Beautiful Speciosa cleaning cassava.
So long for now. We will blog again soon as we now have a fairly consistent internet connection. Sorry about the delay.
15 Aug – 22 Aug: Field visits with remaining 20 Poultry Project beneficiaries
23 Aug – 24 Aug: Field visit with P.R.I.D. (orphan support organization – will explain later)
25 Aug – 29 Aug: Planning for Project workshop, donation distribution, meeting with executive director of TASO in Kampala
30 Aug: Poultry Project Workshop
August 15th, 2008
12-13 August 2008 (Day 1-2): We have arrived!
We spent our first evening sleeping at BOMA Hotel in Entebbe. Considering our 17 hour trip, neither of us had the energy to be frightened by the five lizards that were stationed, motionless throughout the hotel room. We both decided that lizards are better than hairy spiders and slept peacefully until the morning sun shone through the window and the music of the birds filled the air.
In the morning we feasted on delicious bananas and coffee as we waited for Peter (director of programs at TASO) and Saulo – they graciously offered to transport us on the 4 hour trip from Entebbe to Mbale.
When they arrived at BOMA, they told us they had to pick up medications on the way back to Mbale. To make a long story short, we ended up waiting for 3 hours in a car at the Joint Medication Store; this is where TASO purchases their antiretrovirals. And then we then had to make a quick pit-stop and purchase a refrigerator.
Purchasing a refrigerator in Kampala.
The road trip lasted longer than 4 hours (11 to be precise), but along the way we were given a glimpse of a world that is so different from anything we have ever seen. The landscape is magnificent – vast, lush, and flourishing with sugar cane, tea and matoka trees. Periodically the driver would pull off to the side of the road and get out of the car – we met these children during one of the driving-breaks.
Today we learned that we will spend the majority of our time here with Peter Wenlikhe. Peter is the director of programs at TASO, Mbale branch and has devoted his life to helping orphaned & vulnerable children and fighting HIV/AIDS. He oversees the Poultry Project and ensures the participants are given the support and resources they need to be successful.
Yesterday, after leaving a village that is completely isolated from the world we began discussing the many challenges faced by children who live in these environments. Peter also grew up in a similar village and when asked if he was personally frustrated with the lack of support and access to the outside world, he said “No, I am not frustrated because I know that if I work hard and struggle, then I will make it.”
Peter Smiles for the camera as we drive through Entebbe on our first day in Uganda.
August 11th, 2008
Hello all. It’s Sunday and Emily and I are preparing for our trip to Uganda. We fly out of Boston tomorrow and arrive in Entebbe, Uganda on Tuesday evening. From there, we will travel to the Cure Hospital in Mbale, Uganda on Wednesday.
We have been advised by the Poultry Project’s founder and our lovely sister, Kelly Flamos, to keep our expectations to a reasonable level. So, after a long a conversation, Emily and I have decided that if we accomplish nothing else during our stay, we would like to, at the very least, save the planet.
In furtherance of that humble goal, Emily has come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. She is applying a machine-like methodology to her packing. Each of her bags is exactly fifty pounds, perfectly square, and consists of individually numbered one-gallon baggies filled with clothes, toiletries, and gifts. I cannot be sure why the bags are numbered, but like an Enron shareholder I will blindly trust the legitimacy of such a complicated system.
August 7th, 2008
We are entering the third year of The Poultry Project, a program that has provided twenty-one families of HIV+ children, AIDS orphans, and single mothers living HIV with an opportunity to be empowered through education and training to make money from smallholder poultry farming.
This project began with a collaboration of minds (Julian Harris, MD, Kelly Flamos, Robert Oluka, Charity Abude, Margaret Muzaki, Sarah Khanakwa, and several other TASO Mbale staff) and a generous contribution from John and Dobbie Luppino of Philadelphia. The Luppinos responded to an email that Julian Harris sent to family, friends, and colleagues asking for assistance to help the children Julian met during his visit to Mbale, Uganda. The Luppinos responded with a large donation that made the implementation of The Poultry Project possible. Without their compassion, generosity and empathy The Poultry Project would not be. Their donation motivated Julian, Kelly and the TASO Mbale team to move forward with their dream. After the Luppinos offered their support, other family and friends of Kelly and Julian donated their hard-earned dollars to keep The Poultry Project going.
On behalf of The Poultry Project participants and the staff of TASO Mbale, we extend our sincere gratitude to the Luppinos for making The Poultry Project a reality.
Stayed tuned to the blog. Emily and Joseph Pavlick will be in Mbale from 13 August 2008 through early September working with The Poultry Project. They will update the blog with photos and stories about their experience.
We are saddened by the loss of three of our project participants to complications of HIV/AIDS. This summer, Jacqueline and Hanania passed away. Last summer, we lost James. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
November 27th, 2007
After months of searching for the perfect name for our organization, we have decided to keep it simple and call ourselves “The Poultry Project”. The Poultry Project is in the process of applying for status as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Plans for the near future include:
Accepting online donations through PayPal
Launching a REAL website
August 30th, 2007
James sitting in the TASO Mbale truck in June 2007.
It wasn’t the kind of email I expected or wanted this morning. I don’t think I’ll ever rid my mind of the image of my Yahoo~Mail inbox and the subject line stating simply, James is dead.
Sweet James. Only 6 years old and the youngest of six children living alone in the rural landscape of Uganda with no parents, and too often, no food. Sweet James. I remember when I met James back in 2006; he contracted HIV from his mother at birth and was at TASO Mbale for a routine checkup. He was clinging to the leg of his oldest brother, Charles, also his mother and father since the death of their parents. James became my buddy that day and he loved my camera. He also laughed at my weird, deep voice and foreign accent. Charles humbly accepted compliments regarding his superhuman courage to assume such major responsibility at such a young age. That night I cried for hours trying to write a blog entry about James and his brothers. Their loss and suffering eluded me. I’ve always known comfort. I have never gone to bed hungry or slept on a dirt floor or walked to the hospital or walked a mile to get water or watched my parents die. I wrote something anyway, I wrote something from my heart. It was important to let people know what life is like for the millions of children affected by HIV/AIDS. That blog entry sparked a flood of compassion and goodwill flowing from friends and family back home, and their friends and family, and even people in Mbale, Uganda…all signing up to help in some way. Money, prayers, gifts, and love poured in to help James and his brothers.
James’ story even reached all the way to Kampala, prompting the Executive Director of TASO to travel to James’ home. During that visit, a US citizen pledged to support the family by hiring a full-time nanny/maid for them. Another visitor sent suitcases of clothes.
Despite all the support, the family continued to struggle, especially with food – there was never enough. And mosquitos would bite little James and give him malaria, something his compromised immune system wasn’t able to handle all the time. And then TB would come. And the sun would be hot. And there was no sink for drinks of clean water and hand washing. And the flies were everywhere, all over James’ body. And mom and dad were gone. And school was a dream. And there was no money. And playing with friends? And being a kid? And having fun? But there was lots of love. Brotherly love. Family love. Love from TASO Mbale. Love from Martha. Definately lots of love around. And James knew about all the love he had from his friends in the US. His counselor, Martha, told me and Colin that James would say proudly to his village friends, “Do you have friends in the USA? Because, I do!”
Sweet James. His soulful eyes and delicate smile softened so many hearts.
June 13th, 2007
A TASO Mbale counselor visits Vaska, a young mother and poultry project participant, at her home. Her shirt conveys a powerful message…”Stopping AIDS begins with YOU.”
It’s ten o’clock in the pm, and we’re in Kampala, preparing and packing for our flight home. I have a terrible urge to write everything we’ve done since that last posting, so I will. Colin’s post is below.
On Friday, we finalized our memorandum of understanding with TASO regarding the poultry project. The participants will receive their hens in July at the next training workshop. We hope to continue fundraising throughout the year to meet project costs ($3600 total), and provide additional support to the children.
Young women outside of shops in the trading center near Kimaluli, the village where PRID serves children like Wycliff and Peter.
PRID has identified a piece of land to purchase for the coffee project demonstration farm, and we’ve already contributed enough money for that purchase. PRID’s chairperson and our dear friend, John Busoolo, offered to provide Wycliff and Peter with additional support.
A farmer holds a ripe arabica coffee bean, reading for shelling and then drying in the sun.
We gave John money to pay for Peter’s school fees for the remaining two terms, and for milk, eggs, and a mattress for Wycliff.
John is a good man. He works five 12-hour shifts a week, spends time with his four children and sweet wife (Gertrude), and uses every spare second to help the orphaned and HIV affected children of his village. Colin and I have been fantasizing about drinking PRID coffee in couple years…we hope the coffee project is a success!
Sipi Falls, where water drops about 50 metres from a steep cliff in the northern foothills of Mt. Elgon. The surrounding area, rich in fertile volcanic soils, is heavily cultivated; major crops include arabica coffee, bananas, and maize.
On Sunday, we took a trip to Sipi Falls. We followed an enthusiastic guide down to the base of the waterfall. He told us that if we stood directly under the waterfall we would die, after the water washed all of the hairs off our heads. We didn’t test his hypothesis.
Colin and Kelly admire the majestic Sipi Falls on the foothills of Mount Elgon.
Monday brought tears. We began the day at TASO where we each gave short goodbye speeches at the staff meeting. This time, I didn’t buckle and weep uncontrollably. I heard one of the counselors tell Colin, “Don’t let Kelly cry.” I think I made people feel uncomfortable last year when I wept like a newborn baby. I guess now, I know that I’ll return to Mbale.
Colin and a few TASO counselors sing folk songs together.
At the guesthouse that night, Colin played guitar for Muzaki (Margaret), Charity, and Rachel, while Miriam and I peeled carrots and potatoes. They sang old American folk songs. When the mosquitos joined the sing-a-long, everyone left. Jude and John Busoolo arrived soon after the TASO crew left. We laughed and ate together. Colin walked into the room with a dark brown mullet wig. Jude went outside because he was laughing so hard.
Jude laughs at Colin’s new look.
Emma played on the internet. He was looking confused, so I asked him if he needed some help. A detailed map of St. Petersburg covered the screen, but he was looking for Nevada. I asked him why he wanted to view a map of Nevada – Las Vegas? Reno? Carson City?. He said, “I’m looking for Area-51.” Excited about the topic of UFOs and E.T.s, Colin assisted him and ten minutes later, I see Jude and Emma horrified by the alien photos Colin was showing ‘em on Google images. He took them outside to look at the stars and contemplate the vastness of the universe. I walked out to join them. I heard Colin say, “The next time you look at the stars, know that I’m looking at the same stars…the same stars!” Jude and Emma liked the concept of sharing the night sky with Colin; it makes them all feel closer, and safe. Then we had to say goodbye.
We repeated the process this morning. Bye again to Jude over the phone. More goodbyes at TASO. More goodbyes at CURE. But not as many tears as last year. This time when I leave Uganda on a huge plane, I know I’ll be back and I believe that all of our friends will be OK.
Oh, and everyone kept asking us, “When are you coming back?” and we replied, “We’ll be back soon, but my sister, Emily, and her husband, Joey, will come next year.”
****pictures of downtown Mbale…
A vibrant purple logo for a Ugandan cement manufacturer; Wanali Ridge and a shoe store in the background.
The Mbale clocktower marks the center of town; like many historic buildings and structures, the clocktower is a billboard.
Boda-bodas rest against brightly painted buildings on Republic Street.
On the last night here, we could write about any of our experiences. I imagine it will take a long time to process the experiences of this journey. There’s too much to comment on to attempt to summarize. So this will not be the last blog posting.
What has grabbed me the most on this visit is the striking intelligence of the children we have encountered. Their grit and determination is awe-inspiring. While LeBron James is a hero to many, Jude Engole, and other children like him are my new heroes. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like to raise a family at such a young age.
ARVs to be taken for the younger siblings with HIV; meals to buy; meals to prepare; school to attend; books and pens; transportation costs; lack of clothing; leaky roofs; another case of malaria; walk a mile to get water for the family; walk miles for anything at all; It’s real here.
Without sounding too much like a late-night TV pledge-drive for Africa, these child-headed-family teenagers face a host of struggles, including paying school fees for themselves, and their siblings. Primary (elementary) school has no costs (for most students), but secondary school (high school) is very costly — up to 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($60) per term — with three terms per year. To put that in perspective, a solid meal for six, prepared at home (meat, potatoes, rice, vegetables) costs about 60 cents. And that’s still expensive for many.
The sadness I felt saying goodbye to these kids was, in part, because some of this country’s brightest minds may go to waste. We were able to identify some of those neediest families within TASO and PRID and help with school fees. One of my worst fears is leaving the next Albert Einstein in a field of crops to raise, with no outlet for his/her genius.
But these kids don’t complain. They don’t throw pity parties for themselves. They can be found in Mbale, Uganda on the streets; and in the villages, always trying their best. They just do the next right thing, and we can’t ask anymore than that from our heroes.
Candles burn in our hands at the TASO Mbale AIDS Candlelight Vigil to honor and appreciate all the individuals that have been affected by HIV/AIDS, those that have passed on, those that live positively, those that serve to treat and prevent HIV, and all those that have been left behind.
June 10th, 2007
Clouds float in the sky, kind of like the cartoon clouds on the TV show, The Simpson’s.
Linens and fresh flower filled vases adorned our dinner table. It was a special night. Jude Engole, Ben Kedi, and Emmanuel,our friend from a bus ride to Kampala, joined us for a night on the town.
They were all smiles as they feasted on a buffet of local cuisine. After all the plates were cleared, I launched into a lecture about safe sex, decision making, condoms, and HIV prevention. Surprisingly, their eyes didn’t roll. Ben and Jude assured us that their TASO counselor, Robert Oluka, talks to them about HIV prevention all the time. I admit, it may not have been the best timing for such a discussion, but I wanted to start the dialogue. Colin rescued them from my “let’s talk about sex” lecture and challenged them to a game of pool.
Jude and Emma watch carefully as Colin teachs them about the mathematics of pool.
What an amazing man…
They love Colin. Watching the four of them play pool, laughing and shouting, hugging and giving high-fives – unforgettable. Colin and Emma played against Jude and Ben. A couple weeks ago, Colin taught Emma and Jude how to play. Ben is a seasoned pool player. They played best of five; Jude and Ben won. But really, everyone won.
Colin was able to bridge language and culture barriers with a simple game of pool. Ben, Jude, and Emma look up to Colin. They trust him. They can confide in him. And he makes them laugh. When Jude would line up his cue for a shot, Colin would start doing his interpretation of a traditional Bugisu dance. Jude laughed uncontrollably. I, on the other hand, am the boring teacher figure that wants to talk about feelings, condoms, and bad grades. It’s so cool to have Colin balance it out. His gentle tone, patience, and incredible sense of humor make him a friend to anyone and everyone he meets. Jude thinks of Colin as a father; they all know him as a friend.
June 8th, 2007
The family: Back from left: Robert, Joseph, Charles.
Front from left: Reuben, Charles (yes, there’s two Charles’), James.
On this day, Charles, James and their brothers have a place to sleep. All six boys share a house together, and Charles does his best to look after them, after their parents died from complications due to HIV. But after receiving support from TASO and a few folks back home, the boys are all smiles.
Last night we were taken by a TASO vehicle, with Charles’ and James’ TASO counselor Martha Okweny, to purchase three mattresses and two bed frames so all the boys have a comfortable place to sleep. Some of the six boys have been sleeping on old worn mattresses, and some on the floor. These boys are bound with cables of love that are unbreakable, so sharing mattresses together isn’t unusual.
When we arrived at their house, Charles was plowing the land for planting crops. The other boys were scattered around and James was sleeping – on an old, beat-up mattress on the floor.
James is in his glory — in front of a camera, where he belongs.
The boys have had many hardships as a family of orphans trying to survive. But they have received plenty of help, and their lives are improving.
Charles has truly assumed a parental role in James life, and loves him as much as any parent could. Raising a younger brother is struggle enough, but James also has HIV. Their brotherly love has captivated many people’s hearts, including my own.
After Kelly’s visit last year, a few miracles have given these kids some hope. With help from our families in the US, Kelly built the boys a home; the boys built a chicken coop for themselves for the poultry project; a woman from the US (we can’t find out her name) hired a maid for the family to look after James and cook and clean for them; the executive director of TASO Uganda donated clothes; Martha and Kelly set up a bank account for the family; and now the boys can sleep easier because they also have beds, thanks to the caring and generous people in the USA.
Robert and Charles assist TASO counselor Martha with unloading one of the boys’ new beds.
Martha said she feels full of joy.
“God is great,” she said as were driving with bouncing beds on the roof. “Just a few years ago these boys were helpless. They were wearing tattered clothes, they had nothing to eat and their house was falling apart. They were hopeless.”
Martha was there when the boys’ mother died, one week before she was set to begin her ARV treatment. She swore she wouldn’t abandon these children. For these counselors, it’s not a job, it’s a passion.
James curled himself up on his new bed frame and mattress and smiled.
Some people in Uganda have difficulty showing emotion at times, but Martha assures us that the boys are truly happy. This support helps to give them confidence.
The boys will continue to grow and become strong men – strong for each other with brotherly love that inspires us all.
Happy birthday Scott
June 7th, 2007
I could hear Colin laughing really hard as he read the “Roosters” blog entry. He said, “Kelly, do you know what the National Football League is? Dr. Wonekha was not a recruiter either, he was a recruitee of the Ugandan national football (soccer) team.” I’m not into sports, except basketball. Go Caz (short for Cavs)!
June 6th, 2007
Vaska’s younger brother boldly selects the most intimidating, brightly-crowned rooster of the bunch.
Last week, I developed a peculiar rash-like, pus-filled, reddish infection on the inside of my elbow. From the start it seemed weird and I wondered about life without a left arm. It puzzled the doctors at CURE and TASO, but they reached a general consensus that it was the work of an insect, probably a Nairobi Fly. I took some antibiotics, and I am happy to report that I will keep my arm, the pain is gone, and the scar is beautiful. Now, poultry project business…
This week we set out on Monday to deliver exotic breed roosters (note: to satisfy Colin, we will start referring to male chickens as roosters instead of cocks) to 15 of the participating families that lost their roosters to sickness. Our journey began at 8am, but we didn’t leave TASO until noon. We planned on picking up the birds and our project consultant, Dr. Wonekha, at his office in Sironko. When we arrived, we learned that over the weekend his stock of roosters was sold and he was out looking for replacements. Our deliveries were postponed to Tuesday. We were bummed. I worried because I wanted an opportunity to visit the children once more before we leave next week. Muzaki and Charity reassured us, telling us that we could complete the deliveries in one day. We went home disappointed, but with a sprinkle of hope.
We got a much earlier start and left TASO at 9:30am sharp. Dr. Wonekha waited for us at his office in Sironko with a handmade wicker basket full of roosters. We loaded the vehicle, and by noon we delivered 5 birds. The families greeted us welcoming arms. We visited families living in the foothills of Mt. Elgon and families living north of Mbale.
The family of 11 orphans gathers with their new rooster. (Not pictured: Apiot Agnes, the eldest sister and primary participant of the project)
Dr. Wonekha told us more about himself too. Turns out, he is a veterinary surgeon. Once, he operated on a lion. He said he prefers general veterinary medicine to those high-risk surgeries. A self-proclaimed man of the people, he has dedicated his life to helping his fellow Ugandans out of poverty. We thought he was solely employed by FARMAfrica, buy he works as a consultant with several other sustainable agriculture development organizations, mainly in the field.
Colin and Dr. Wonekha are awed by Christy’s soccer talents.
A former football player at Makerere University and National Football League recruiter, Dr. Wonekha used his soccer skills to engage and entertain some of the children. He took a special interest in Jude Engole’s younger brother, Christy. He told Colin that Christy has a rare talent as a left-handed player. He promised Christy he’d put him on a team We are really excited that Dr. Wonekha is working on this project.
Dr. Wonekha plays a traditional Ugandan instrument at Charles and James’ house.
It was so refreshing to deliver birds with someone that actually understands poultry farming and is able to give quick, useful advice. And, he let each participant select their rooster of choice. Which brings me to Shamim…bright, rambunctious, shining Shamim. When we pulled up to her house, she ran out screaming. She ran back inside soon after realizing she was only wearing her underwear. I came to the rescue with the special rainbow dress that Theresa (my sister) sent for her. With her new dress and her vibrant personality, she hopped into the TASO vehicle to greet everyone. She selected her rooster with a quick scan of the birds in the basket; she chose the most unique one of the bunch.
Shamim makes everyone feel good. She’s like a rainbow.
After handing the rooster to her granny, she leaped out of the vehicle and started running towards the road. Everyone called out, “Shamim, where are you going…come back.” She just smiled and kept running, on the lookout for her favorite person, her grandpa. Although she couldn’t find him, she was determined to keep us there until he came home. Colin and the TASO counselors had to pry us apart. After a brief song session and several hugs and photos, we tried to leave. Shamim ran out in front of the TASO vehicle for one last handshake and goodbye smile.
Shamim and I are kindred spirits (as my mom would say).
By 8pm, we finished all the deliveries. Rashid and Emma got their roosters in the dark. The family with 11 orphans brought out their soccer ball from last year to show off their new skills. Speciosa wore the necklace she made with the beads we gave her. Charles and James joined the rest of their brothers for a long awaited photo (my mom and sister Emily kept asking, “so, where are Charles and James’ brothers that you always talk about?!. Unfortunately, this photograph can be viewed on Colin’s next blog posting. Stay tuned…
Speciosa looking beautiful in yellow rain gear.
Lona and Yekosophat send their love to everyone in Ohio. Violet and Vaska missed the opportunity to handpick their roosters, but their brothers were around to do it for ‘em. Hanania still has his rooster from last year, but we gave him a special visit – he’s doing well and TASO is trying to get him back in school.
Yekosophat smiles at Colin while they play catch together.
Akido Betty left school to get her rooster. We delivered 12 roosters, drove hundreds of kilometers, crossed terrible roads, and suffered whiplash from driving fast over lake-sized pot holes. It’s not over yet. The project is just beginning, and it’s off to a great start. Dr. Wonekha will purchase 63 hens (3 for each of the 21 participating families). During the first month of the hens’ lives, he will administer vaccinations, parasite control meds, high quality feeds, and special care to ensure the longevity of the hens. Next, Dr. Wonekha trains TASO staff on effective poultry management, monitoring, and evaluation. On Saturday 7 July 2007, the 21 families will meet again at TASO for another workshop on hatching, egg handling, record keeping, and disease management. After the workshop they will receive their 3 hens. A final workshop will be held in September. For the remainder of the year, TASO staff and Dr. Wonekha plan on visiting the homes often to assess progress and address problems and needs.
Hanania models his new raincoat. TASO plans to place him in school next term.
As our time here comes to a close, we are a bit overwhelmed with all the commitments we continue to make – school fees here, medical expenses there, food all the time. We can’t possibly help everyone, but we’ve gotten a lot done. We’ve strengthened relationships with folks at TASO and project participants. It is evident that these are lifelong relationships. Mbale is another place like home. People keep suggesting we make it our permanent home. That won’t happen, but I do want to see how all these children progress through life. I want to hear about their graduations, first dates, university acceptance letters, job offers, babies…we’ll come back. My sister and her husband will visit. Other family and friends will visit the next year. TASO staff and project participants will have the opportunity to visit the US…these are our dreams.
I hope to grow our efforts in Mbale into a foundation by January 2008.
Colin and I enjoy some food at Nurali’s after a long day.
June 5th, 2007
Christy, Speciosa and Jude huddle around the goat they purchased with poultry project profits.
When I received the first letter from Jude, I wept. Grateful, good Jude wrote about his struggles as a teenage parent to siblings, about the hard work of subsistence farming, and about his dreams to become a doctor. Jude Engole was the only poultry project participant that wrote me. (NOTE: sending a letter to the US costs 2000 USh; many poultry project participants may lack stationary and/or transport to the post office…etc.) Jude continued to send updates throughout the year and I was so anxious to get back to Uganda to visit with him. The letter sent in December had messages from Jude, his sisters Speciosa and Maria, and his brother Christy. They wrote, “you are our mother and father.”
On Sunday, Jude invited us to visit him at his home in Ajuket. Currently in secondary school in Mbale, Jude only goes home on weekends when transport money is available. He was so eager to get back to the village to see his youngest siblings, Speciosa and Christy. Maria, the second born, is also away at secondary school.
Driving along the main (paved) road near Jude’s home, we got a phone call from one of Jude’s late father’s colleagues, Alex. He assured us that Jude would meet us to direct us to the home. Alex is a father and a teacher, but he finds time to assist Jude in so many ways. Alex helped Jude write me letters. Alex helped Jude open a bank account. Alex is a good man.
The peaceful, spacious front porch of Jude’s home.
Jude’s house is really nice – front porch, great view, four large rooms, and spotless. A crucifix hangs on the living room wall, adorned with the St. Theresa prayer card my mother, Kathleen Flamos, gave them. There are photos of Jude and his siblings. A teddy bear hangs by a string on a nail, as decoration. The girls share a bedroom; so do the boys. Their pet dog sleeps on the porch, while Christy feeds millet to the pigeons he keeps. Speciosa helps an auntie prepare lunch. Jude cuts and slices the juiciest, most delicious mangos ever for his guests. Colin and I indulge. Then comes the pineapple. And some roasted corn cobs. Organic food at it its finest.
Speciosa and Kelly.
After some chatting and a tour of the property, we sat in the living room and enjoyed the fruit and conversations. Jude showed us photos of his late parents. His mother died “when we were young”. His father died just recently in 2005. (Ages of the children: Jude,19; Maria, 17; Speciosa, 15; Christy, 13) Jude’s father used to sit them down in the living room each night and share his wisdom and guidance. He told them that no matter what they should always be together. He charged Jude with the responsibility of keeping the family united. Jude said that he advised him to be weary of aunts, uncles, and others trying to take them in. One day, Jude went to an aunt’s house and before he got through the door she asked him to fetch water. According to Jude, that example illustrates exactly why his father told him to focus on work that will benefit the family, not an aunt only. A priest from the UK built the family’s home a few years ago. Their parish priest assists with family counseling, school fees, and other various needs. Their network of support is strong and reliable, yet Jude continues to bear the burden of being a mother and father to three, making good marks at school, and being the main provider.
Jude can’t stop laughing when asked to smile for a picture with his sister, Maria.
I noticed Jude’s black watch band and I wondered if it was the watch I wore last summer; I had forgotten who I gave it to. Well, hours later, I asked Jude for the time. He turned over his arm to reveal the face of the watch and I knew it wasn’t my old timepiece. The digital watch showed the time and a flashing “I love (something written in arabic)” over the face of Osama Bin Laden. I chuckled and he asked me what was funny. I asked him if he knew the man on his watch. He said no. He did, however, know about September 11th. He said he borrowed the watch from a friend at school for the weekend. He seemed embarrassed. We told him that such a watch could bring terrible consequences to someone in our country. For him, it’s just a watch with a random man on it. He only wanted to look nice for us.
Jude’s accidental accessory.
Before we left, we gave the family some gifts: clothes, books from Colin’s mom Loretta, beads for jewelry making, soap, magazines, calculator, bookbag, and some special gifts for the baby-Christy.
First, Colin handed Christy a brand-new socceer ball. Christy flashed a huge smile and ran outside to play. We called him back in to give him a harmonica. We figured he, like Peter, didn’t know about harmonicas. He opened the box and smiled again. Jude started laughing really hard. He told us a story…
Christy stands proud next to Colin. Christy, Jude, Maria, and Speciosa love Colin…they told him so.
One day, some boy in their village was playing a weird instrument and all the children gathered around him to get a peek at the shiny music-maker and hopefully give it a try. Christy, among the crowd of curious children, took a special interest in the strange noise machine – a harmonia. But the child playing the harmonica was greedy and mean and he refused to share. Christy devised a plan. Christy is a star socceer player and everyone wants him on their team, so he thought he would call a game. He kept an eye on the harmonica hog to see where he set his belongings before the match. Once the game was in full swing, Christy tip-toed off the field to the tree shading the precious harmonica. He was a natural. He loved this cool instrument, but knew his playing time would be stopped once the harmonica hog heard the music. But now, Christy has his own harmonica. And he’s good. He also said he’ll share it.
Christy beams with joy, happy to show off his socceer skills to his new friend, Colin.
Jude travelled with us back to Mbale. He asked us to help him with purchasing two cell phones, one for him and the other for Speciosa. He wants to keep in contact with them in case of an emergency or minor problems that he could help them with over the phone. He said he worries too much about them and he can’t wait two to three weeks without knowing if they’re ok. We can get them both nice Nokia phones for $60 each. There are no Sprint or Verizon monthly service plans here; rather, you buy airtime (minutes) on the street, in shops, anywhere. Jude loves his brother and sisters. They have so much fun together and their bond is unbreakable.
Jude is fulfilling his promise to his father everyday…he’s keeping his family together no matter what.
June 2nd, 2007
Mzee Boazi extends a compassionate hand to sweet Wickliff. Boazi cares for his son’s 10 children. Boazi finds himself caring for toddlers again. Boazi is 78 years old.
To follow up with the PRID (Poverty Reduction Initiative and Development) and the current coffee project, today at the rooster’s call we left for Kimaluli to sit in on a PRID meeting. Kelly, Miriam from the CURE Hospital, John and his wife Gertrude and I piled into a mini-van taxi that John found for hire. When we arrived, we parked and moseyed down a path toward the coffee plants which had been started nearly one year ago.
Miriam displays a fresh pod of beans. These beans beat canned kidney beans anyday.
A short, pudgy and cute young boy appeared from around one of the bends in the path, and I heard Kelly shout his name in her excited voice. “Wycliffe!” He cautiously walked toward us with his grandmother, Alice, behind him. Wycliffe is the young boy that Kelly and John met last year, when he was dying from malnourishment and anemia. John hurried him to medical assistance, and he survived.
Wycliffe is four years old, and looks like he is two.
Wycliffe enjoys a ride on Colin’s shoulders.
He doesn’t speak much, but he loved the fact that I carried him all day. In fact, he clung to me, and this was among the few times I saw him smile.
Wycliffe is caught smiling and playing with pals during the PRID meeting.
We made our way to a church, where the PRID meetings are held, and where Mzee Dasan is the pastor. Kelly rolled out a soccer ball and the more than 50 children in attendance went nuts. The meeting began with everyone, including children, introducing themselves. John then explained to the orphaned children and village members that PRID was beginning a new and invigorated coffee project that would have long-term benefits to the community. HIV/AIDS is a problem here, and one of the main reasons that children are orphaned, and one of the concerns is how will children raise coffee without parents.
Alice is Wycliffe’s grandmother and sole caregiver. She tries her hardest to care for Wycliffe and his older brother, but aging bones and diminished energy levels seem to get in the way.
One of the mzees, Dasan, reassured boardmembers that PRID will not simply act as cash crop, but as a way for children to receive guidance. “If parents died from HIV the clan will not perish,” he said. “The father will die, the mother will die, but the children will inherit this land. We can be the guardians of these children.”
PRID: a community based organization!
It is completely obvious that the boardmembers of PRID have their soul invested in what they are doing. They have made a life’s effort to care and love for impoverished children. Mzee Boaz is raising 10 of his grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, so he can empathize with the plight of the villagers. Mzee Dasan also has taken responsibility for many of the village’s orphans.
Peter tells Miriam and Colin that his favorite school subject is English; his superb command of the English language, and his wide vocabulary make it obvious.
During the meeting, Peter, one of Kelly’s efforts last year, came in wearing a giant smile. Last year, Peter – who John said will someday be “king of the village” because of his incredible intelligence – missed months of school because of an infection on his leg that prevented him from movement.
Colin teaches Peter about the harmonica.
Kelly and John saw to it that his leg be healed and he received medical treatment. He now is the fourth in class rank for his amazing grades. Kelly gave him some gifts, including a harmonica, and he received them with grace and appreciation.
Wycliffe is introduced at the meeting as a potential PRID beneficiary and a dear friend of the visitors (Kelly, Colin, and Miriam).
It is children like Wycliffe and Peter who will benefit from PRID and the coffee projects. There are 10,000 coffee plant seedlings, ready to be planted to assist some needy families. PRID is investigating the purchase of land – for a headquarters and demonstration farm to plant coffee seedlings, before being given to needy families. Kelly and I hope to provide some assistance to PRID, which includes the land purchase of an acre; quality top soil; bicycles and additional coffee plants.
John Busoolo exhibits the premium potting soil destined for use in the coffee project.
We will do our best to help getting the project off the ground. “At PRID, we thought we had to do something,” John said during the meeting. “We are fighting poverty, but we are also helping these children’s minds – PRID fights by planning ahead.”
June 1st, 2007
This road is closed, but another one is open.
Today, after hours of attempting to negotiate a bank account for PRID, we were finally successful.
Our day started at 8:30 a.m. John Busolo woke us at the CURE Hospital guest house. (Kelly had actually been awake for more than an hour)
8:45 a.m.: We were elated to learn about our triumphant Cleveland Cavaliers’ resounding victory in the drag-em-through-the-mud motor city of Detroit. I danced around the guest house.
8:50: We walked to the gate to meet John and a couple of the PRID Boardmembers, who John refers to as the mzee’s. (Mzee means “old man” in Swahili (pronounced moo-zay) and is a term of endearment and respect for elders.) These men had come the day before, but discovered they needed photos for an account, so they slept at John’s house because the distance to their home is too far. These guys are cool; they dressed in their nicest business clothes, and they carry themselves like men who have worked hard their whole lives. Kelly and I walked through downtown Mbale (one mile) with John, Mzee Dasan and Mzee Boaz.
Colin stumbles upon a long lost cousin from Louisiana; cuz offers to give Colin his cool track-suit.
9:00: Boaz and Dasan needed to pick up their passport photos to present them at the bank to start a bank account, which we would find to be a more difficult challenge than we expected.
9:15: We arrived at our first choice for a bank, Centenaray Rural Development Bank, because of its local roots in the community — and access to Western Union.
9:25: We wait to speak to someone — the lines to speak to a bank representative are unusually long. Things in Uganda take a long time to accomplish, I just learn the hard way.
Boazi and Dasan travelled many miles to Mbale to further the growth and impact of the community-based organization (PRID) they helped found.
10:05: John and Kelly approach a banker, who gives a list — as long as the bank lines — of requirements to open a bank account. Requirements included (but were not limited to) a letter of recommendation, a formal resolution seeking to acquire a bank account and lists of people who approve of PRID having such an account. It seemed like a lot to ask for a bank account. Kelly and I suspected conspiracy.
10:06: It was agreed that we would try another bank.
10:10: We arrive at a neighboring bank, Stanbic Bank, a South African bank. Stanbic is popular among the local Ugandans, because of its accessibility to local farmers and working-class people. Another plus for Stanbic is that they have sister banks all over the world. And, most importantly, its list of demands for membership were not nearly as long, or scary, as Centenaray Rural Development Bank. The line to speak with someone was scary; but we patiently waited.
10:20: I share my excitement about “King James” and the Cavaliers with an unequally amused Kelly.
11:00: We learn that we do need to find the mzees’ photo identification in order to open account. John decides it best to travel alone back to the village of Kimaluli to retrieve the IDs. Dasan and Boaz are tired from standing all morning and proceed to find some shade and a bite to eat. Meanwhile Kelly and I decided to make our way to TASO to see what is happening.
12:15 p.m.: When we found an empty TASO (because everyone was at community outreach), we decided we would go our separate ways; I would go and continue working on a column (and reading Cavs columns) and she would pick up some items for PRID and some of the children at TASO.
Colin takes a sip of the best Ugandan coffee ever!
1:30: Kelly and I were reunited at Nurali’s, a local restaurant and cafe. We walked back to Stanbic Bank to finish the process. Mbale is booming.
2:00: The five of us are reunited at the bank and we proceed to wait in line for a very long time.
2:15: Inside the bank, I noticed the NCAA lacrosse championship between Johns Hopkins and Duke Universities on the television in the lobby.
2:30: Duke lost and I returned to find the group still waiting to speak with a bank representative. I wonder if LeBron were here, if he would make this process quicker.
Boazi pushes through the thick crowd of eager Friday bank customers to flash me a smile.
4:00: We began our business of setting up a savings and a checking account, with the bank’s financial advisor, Ismail. At first, Ismail was telling us that we didn’t have the proper credentials, sending fear through us, because he was starting to sound like the other bank.
Colin tells Dasan about the Cavs. Dasan tells Colin about his disdain for long lines and banks.
He appeared frustrated by the hundreds of other patrons waiting to speak with him, and literally throwing money at him. But after things settled down, he reassured us that we could begin a bank account today, but first we needed to change PRID’s consitution to include the words “Stanbic Bank.” He was serious. So we took him seriously. We were worried because the two “old men” had to travel hours to Mbale to do this business, and wouldn’t be able to make the journey again any time soon. Ismail collected their signatures and allowed them to travel back to their village.
A smart sign promotes smart business services.
5:00: We set about changing the wording on the documents and finalizing the account. The secretary/copier/typist person Ismail had sent us to was supposed to be “quick” and “reliable,” but took an eternity to finish to reword two documents. No worries, Kelly had her camera.
5:45: John, Kelly and I grabbed the completed documents and we ran to the bank before Ismail left. I felt like LeBron James dashing to the basket for the game-winning lay-up. We snuck in the doors. Slam dunk. We did it. We started a bank account for PRID. And since my bank will only let me take out 200 Ugandan shillings ($100) per day, we will have to be busy withdrawing money for PRID for a few days to help them with the coffee project. Wickliff and Peter will be among the many children benefiting from PRID projects!
Colin meets Protus, a poultry project participant, on the streets of Mbale.
During the day we walked and encountered many people on the crowded streets of Mbale that we know from our short time here. Among them was Protus, one of the poultry project participants; Ajit, the owner of the Landmark Restaurant; and Sarah, one of the TASO counselors, who has been very supportive of the poultry project. We feel as if this is our second home, and we are welcomed.
May 30th, 2007
Colin makes James laugh while they play with a little toy car.
As we walked down the hall of TASO’s medical wing on Monday, we could hear the screams and crying of young boy. We peeked through the window and saw the doctor taking James’ blood for his regular check-up screening (CD4 count and other vitals). Charles held tightly as James tried to wiggle out of his arms and escape the procedure. James cheered up when he saw us, but he was still gasping for air after all that crying. The doctor said his last CD4 count, taken six months ago, was still high. James is not yet on ART.
Martha, Charles and James’ TASO counselor, sat down with us to discuss ways to further empower Charles to care for his brothers. We agreed to open him a bank account with Martha as co-signer to ensure the money is spent appropriately. Hopefully, we’ll get this worked out before we leave.
On Tuesday, we visited Charles and James at their home with Juma (the CURE employee that oversaw the reconstruction of their home last summer). We walked to the front door calling the childrens’ names, but the place seemed empty. A young mother and her child sat quietly on the right side of the home watching groundnuts dry in the sun. We found James fast asleep on the foam mattress. Flies congregated atop the untouched porridge his brothers prepared for him. James obviously didn’t want to eat porridge again. It took him a few minutes to wake fully. He sat up and began to smile.
James, still half alseep, rests near his bed.
Charles arrived, and then two of the other brothers filed in. Charles stopped going to school awhile back. He is 17 years old and he has not finished Primary-6 (5th grade). We talked to him about what he wants and he said school would be ideal but it’s impossible. Juma told him that he could manage to go to school and still care for James. Colin’s mother, Loretta, sent a huge package of gifts to Charles and James last summer, including a 300 page coloring & activity book. Charles gave us the completed book and asked us to present it to Loretta as a gift. Charles enjoys creative expression…he decorated that chicken coop and turned it into a grand village suite, he colors, he draws. School could be his safe haven. It could be a safe haven for so many children here. We give Charles and James and other children some chickens and bicycles so that they can make money, but the real money making comes with an education. The chickens and bicycle will turn profit, but not nearly enough to feed, cloth, transport, and educate a family of six boys. Katie and Stelio Flamos made a recent donation intended for school fees for some of the children; we plan on supporting Charles with some of those funds.
When we left, Charles was coloring and James was sitting on the front stoop playing with his toy car. Later that afternoon at TASO we learned that a suitcase full of clothes for James had arrived from Kampala, supposedly from the American woman that pledged money for their maid and six months of food.
We’ll see Charles and James next week when we deliver the replacement chickens to most of the participating families.
The bride and her attendants sit under the decorated canopy during the ceremony; neighborhood children watch curiously from afar.
Michael, a driver at TASO, invited us to attend his daughter’s Kwanjula on Sunday afternoon. A Kwanjula is a traditional Ugandan engagement/wedding ceremony that involves the formal introduction of the groom and his family to the bride’s family. There are processions of gifts and payment of dowry. An emcee officiates and entertains guests. Music plays, aunties and friends howl, and the bride and her attendants sport custom Ugandan dresses, the gomesi, in every color and pattern imaginable. We sat with some TASO staff and they translated for us and helped us understand what was going on. Colin held Charity’s sweet daughter, Melanie.
Melanie soaks up the love and attention from her new biggest fan – Colin.