Ritah Namwiza November 22, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity, people.
In the last 25 years, I don’t think I’ve met someone who has impressed me as much as Ritah Namwiza. Pretty, incredibly competent, articulate in ways I wish I was, and wise far beyond her years. This young lady I met only briefly on my last trip, but have communicated with often before this trip. I call her ‘business partner’ because, if I were to ever start a business in Uganda, she would be my first hire as manager. But on this trip, she was more than that; she was my counselor and savior.
We met at Kiwanga in Kampala at Sister Rose’s memorial service (a later post on that); Ritah had agreed to escort me to Sabina in Rakai province (we Mzungus need to taken care of worse than small children there, I’m afraid). The bus park area was a nightmare because of a strike against the bus park fees and our bus was two hours late starting out, turning it into a 6 hour trip. For me, it seemed far shorter (and, for poor Ritah, probably a lot longer) because talking with Ritah about everything and anything turned out to be one of the most enjoyable intellectual experiences I’ve had in decades. There are few subject I could not bring up that Ritah could not speak to and speak well. I also realized how much forbearance the beautiful young lady had when two pastors sitting next to us marvelled at just how long I could talk!
Ritah had to return the next day and promised to meet me at the bus park. That location was an even bigger nightmare on my return and that nightmare was to prove costly. While struggling through the packed crowd, I fell a bit behind and got waylaid by a three-man pickpocket team that fortunately only got my camera (being left-handed and having most my valuables on that side kept it from being worse). But that camera had valuable video I hasn’t had a chance to offload and I was distraught.
Ritah immediately took control. She got me and my baggage to a safe spot behind some vendors, got on the phone to call in Esther for reinforcements, got to the police and got things underway. They got me back to Kiwanga and Ritah continued to work the issue and- believe it or not- got the camera back intact! Ended up essentially paying off some cops to actually do their jobs, but the $40 that cost was well worth it and considered an education expense. FUll Story later; bottom line, Ritah is a can-do, VERY resourceful young lady that cannot be denied. Here are my two saviors at Winnie’s graduation; good thing I’m old and pretty settled; a younger, freer man as impressed as I am with these two fine women would propose to either- or both! :)
Toward the end of my trip, I was carefully marshalling my money (staying at the orphanage, instead of a hotel) because I knew there was something I wanted to do. I had promised to buy lunch for all at a meeting of the group of great people Ritah has forming into a new and exciting organization called LEAD Africa, essentially orphans working together to help the next generation get out of the cycle of dependency. The meeting was about their constitution and I judged the group during that meeting; as I expected they were all exceptional. At the end of that meeting, I surprised them with a personal grant- of one million schillings! (about $480). That will be enough for the to sub-let an office, get some basic furnishings and file the paperwork to become a CBO (community-based organization). Whether the group succeeds or not in this form is not my biggest concern; I know the PEOPLE in this group can succeed, and my investment is with them. Ritah has an eye for the exceptional person and can bring them together.
I cannot praise Ritah enough, except to say that I have little doubt of her future success and that just a few people like her and Winnie can truly be the future of the entire country of Uganda. Wise, worldly, but compassionate and talented to the extreme. Ritah IS the future for an entire nation and I am proud and honored to call her dear friend.
The Mugisha Family November 20, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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Godfrey Mugisha is my new ‘son’ in Africa and he’s a fine young man; the brightest in class and amazingly well respected and liked in the village. (By ‘son’, I am his full sponsor and- like Winnie- I take this VERY seriously; I’ll back him as far as he can go, then make sure he becomes independent and self-sustaining. That’s what we do for our children.) I walked up the 2km to his mother and siblings home through really nice country (The father was seriously injured in a fall into a pit and later died years ago) . This is the entire family in front of their home:
The inside of the hut is so cramped (no more than 100 square feet), it is obvious that Godfrey had to move into the orphanage for one simple reason; there was literally no floor place for him to sleep! I take up so much space here, two of the kids stayed outside.
The mother was incredibly gracious; serving hot milk with sugar added. Very nutritious and filling. They keep the hut very neat and have these very attractive jars for storing their cows’ milk. Note the design has for using the cooling affect of the ground (or in this case, the dried mud platform). That dried mud is EXTREMELY hard with a high clay content.
Godfrey’s mother insisted on presenting gifts as well (I have been supportiGodfrey for almost a year, and included a little extra money every month for the family- not even $20; raising it by $15). She gave me a giant straw mat and two very nice straw bowls. The mat was too big for be to carry in luggage easily, but it was a perfect addition to the visitors hut, as seen here. Other charity workers will avoid cold feet in the morning, thanks to the generosity of an incredibly poor family with more dignity than one can imagine.
My goal; someday, raise $2,500 to build them a proper house on the 13 or so acres they own. If I can get that done, then Godfrey can live at home and this fine family can take care of their own (though I’ll still get him through school).
Sabine Trip 2010 Videos November 5, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity, places.
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Raincoat distribution in Sabine:
SABINE, The Chicken Coop
Tour of the Sabina Permaculture Project
Permaculture, video 2
The Plant Nursery
The Drainage Work
Textbook Issue at the Primary School
A Message to Donors October 31, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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As I wrap up my trip here to Uganda (getting over a minor cold I picked up while here, same as at home), I marvel at how I have gotten so much more out of my work here than I put into it.
You see, Winnifred Nazziwa here is my daughter; not by blood or by adoption, but in every other way. That is how I view her, that is how I treat her; and she treats me like Dad in exactly the same way (well, A somewhat handicapped father while here- far more handicapped than her wheelchair makes her. Mzungus take a long time to figure out this country and culture and need to be treated like small, not-too-bright children until they do). I get far more out of my relationship than I put in, making it very different and so much more special than a simple act of charity.
As my daughter, I have many responsibilities to her, ones I take very seriously. That means not only paying for her education, but participating in it with her. Which means communicating with her constantly, praising her when she does well, scolding her when she doesn’t and- when she asked me to- to be here for her graduation from college, if it were at all possible. For me, it meant putting off a return trip to Uganda an entire year (I knew- in the economic times- I could not afford back-to-back trips). And, while I regret not getting back here sooner, I will never regret the decision to be here for her Big Day. I must say that I felt even prouder than when my blood-related son graduated college earlier this year; while Alan and Winnie both faced medical challenges to accomplishing this, Winnie’s were more significant and her Dad much farther away. And I was treated with a great deal of respect while here; far more than I deserve, because the credit really goes to her mother for giving her the drive and determination early on and her large support base of marvelous friends (very special young people, indeed). But a big part of the respect I received was because, sadly, so few Donors make the trip for that Big Day.
I also know- just as with my son- that my obligations did not end right at graduation. There is setting up house (costing about the same as a semester’s tuition, in Winnie’s case)- and supporting them in finding a job. Long before now, I explained to Winnie- and she accepted this as true- that her ultimate freedom comes the day she no longer needs any help from Dad- other than the emotional support and guidance parents give to their dying day. That explanation was also part of being a parent; explaining the need to leave the nest and making them understand it to their benefit. But these are really tough economic times as you all know (and I was massively relieved when my son in the States found a great job after just a couple months of searching). Winnie has just started her job hunting and I am with her until she succeeds- because she is my daughter. Because of her drive and determination, it won’t take long, but it’s important I do my part as a parent.
I would ask all donors to these kids to realize the greatest joy and gift comes from being a full-fledged parent, as opposed to one merely writing a check. The latter is a transient feeling of doing good; the former a lifetime of meaningful accomplishment and joy.
My Visit to Sabina (Orphanage in Rakai Province) October 31, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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The bus ride to Rakai with Ritah Nyamwiza- delayed over two hours by a bus park strike, hot, rough and cramped- was one of the most intellectually enjoyable times I’ve experienced in years. Will discuss later. Got out in the pitch black; no one was there to meet us. We struggled down the 500 yards of the final road (recruiting a passerby to help) And came to the first new feature at Sabine- a locked gate. Yelling ‘Hello!?’ several times got someone to let us in; mild irritation, naturally.
The changes in Sabina were absolutely stunning, starting with being shown to one of two round new concrete huts for visitors. These don’t have electricity yet, but the rest of the complex does (though in 48 hours here, it was knocked out almost 24 hours by a storm and out for 2 hours for no known reason.). What I didn’t know was they now have piped water! They still use retained rainwater for many things, but they don’t require it for everything and that HAS to improve health. The water and power is making the nearby village to be a booming development; so much so, there has been encroachment onto Sabina land and it will only get worse; need to fence the ENTIRE property (but gate it, so the people can still transition it) to set the boundary ASAP. Surprisingly, this probably would not cost more than $2,000 and would allow for more efficient cattle management, if cattle guards could be added (and the cows can figure out to stay off them. Cattle branding would also be helpful and necessary to grow the herd significantly; modern chips probably wouldn’t be understood, but tattooing would be.
Sunday was not much of a working day (and I’m getting far enough behind on this that days are merging). I toured the place, astounded at the substantial fields, smaller plantations; chicken coup populated with 60 chickens, concrete sculptures (and couches??; never seen anyone sitting in those and they pool some rainwater- update; I sit in them when they are dry; this place wears me out).
I did get the opportunity to meet Godfrey, my new project; a big kid; as tall as Alan and only 13. We made the 3 km walk to visit his mother, 4 siblings (still at home; 3 other siblings live elsewhere) and a nephew. The hike was through very pretty country, still muddy from an early rainstorm. The Mugisha family actually owns a significant tract of land- at least 13.5 acres including a lovely hilltop. But all 6 live in a dried mud waddi that can’t be more than 100 square feet. No wonder Godfrey had to leave; there literally would be no room for him to lay down to sleep.
His mother, 6 feet tall, was incredibly gracious, feeding us hot milk and sugar and bread; delicious and incredibly filling. She presented me with a large straw mat and two straw bowls. The mat is far too large for luggage, but proved to be a perfect addition to the concrete waddi I am living in.
Projects for the Mugisha family:
- Build them a house (a basic one would cost about $2,000, maybe $2,500 because of the remote location- fully equip it for another $500)
- A fenced, plowed 1 acre plot: maybe $500, to allow them to grow sufficient sustenance
The big rainstorm of earlier occurred just as Ritah was leaving: huge pounding rain. I was really worried about her with the laptop. She called and assured me she found shelter when it hit. It knocked out power and continued to by a frog strangler for well over an hour In the middle of this, I had the bright idea to break out my candy supply and give each kid one piece. Great idea- for the kids in the same building. The kids in the other building found out and they all came running through the descending ocean of water and I suddenly had over 100 completely drenched kids all with their hand out for candy. Not very smart, even for a mzungu.
Worked the fields on Monday: 300 college hours plus 40 years technical work experience and I find I am not qualified as a field hand. Essentially, I dig holes for planting- lots an lots of little holes with a garden trowel. Last time here, I was a little guy filling a big hole with a big shovel; now, I’m a big guy with a little shovel making lots of little holes.
Meetings with Debra. It was agreed that food supplementation and finishing uniforms would be priorities. Seemed to be impressed about the supplement; Currently they get rice once a week and the other thing they get is porridge- essentially a maize flour in water, with the consistency of milk, not even gruel. And I know they feed them a little better when I’m in camp. I’m funding rice for 3 times a week for up to 5 months. Uniforms will get done; Godfrey needs a new one, even if he isn’t on the list. He looks pretty ratty and he is Student Prefect.
I’m committed to seeing him through the end of college as long as he keeps up his grades and I have capacity.
Uniforms: woman involved probably jacked the price a bit on seeing me; very severe woman. Knocked it down a bit by promising to stop by her shop. Ended up buying a bolt of fabric, because she apparently is not permitted by law to make cloths unless to specific measurement. This probably is to prevent individual sweatshop operations, but the implementation of that good intent significantly restricts their business and is protectionism for the larger operations.
Had a good discussion with Debra and I think she realizes I’m a different kind of donor; one very accepting of being told when there is trouble with a kid. That started when Charles Mug??? showed up from school, complaining of severe eye pain. I had suspected he was exaggerating it, because it was the only way to get away from school to see me. He DOES have significant eye problems, so I was glad to take care of a checkup, even under somewhat false pretense. But he has become a problem for the staff with exaggeration and outright lies, coupled with arrogance. Too much touchy-feeley contact with the donors and not enough kick-in-the-pants contact from them; he’s about to get one from me.
Tuesday; made 3 trips to the marketplace maybe a kilometer away; first for pineapples for the kids (only found 31 small ones and needed more, next day there were none, so we supplemented with sweet bananas). Next was for Aunt Stella (who I call the enforcer; the obvious disciplinarian of the house mothers. She has large varicose veins and real circulatory problems below the knee. Went to a clinic, then sent her to a specialist: cost- 100K (including some balance at the clinic from a previous visit). She was very grateful. Third trip was with Godfrey for doing the unenviable task of washing my clothes; sodas and a school binder. I was amazed at how well known he was in town, and well liked. The store owner, on finding out I was his sponsor, immediately started scolding him to be sure to study hard. Those trips and a couple hours of field work wore me out. But in the middle of the night a pack of dogs sounded like they were killing each other or someone else right out of my window. Turns our to be their mating ritual; do they get rough!
Wednesday started by pricing the drainage work; as I suspected Debra massively underestimated the cost. 80K, Hah! We ended up adding a few features and it will be 520K. Also, started honoring something I promised to do; pay each staff member (37, including the school) 10K and thank them for the job they are doing. They can’t be paid nearly enough for the successes of this place. For the janitorial and cleaning staff this might be a week’s pay for all I know. This afternoon is time for individual interviews; many of the staff have further schooling dreams and should be considered for such.
- NOW: Food supplementation -Was going to commit 1.5 M to boosting rice to from one time a week to 3 times a week, but drainage work cost far more than anticipated. Will drop my investment to 1 Mil, good for over 3 months. Will try to raise another $500 when I get home for another three month.
- NOW: School books: need to get more for the upper grades; Godfrey feels limited by the lack of them. Will donate several to the school, with the understanding that Godfrey have one whenever he needs it.
- NEAR-FUTURE: fencing the ENTIRE land, leaving gates at the natural paths. This would serve to establish the land rights. Would also put up signs indicating that the access will continue to be free as long as property and Sabina’s property rights are respected. Future could include cattle grates
- NEAR-FUTURE: Need to discuss a summit with the squatters and come to some mutual understanding. Would like to open up a property transit, but would completely dependent on property respect and certainly a lack of violence. Tell them they have a chance to move from being considered squatters to being considered squatters if this is down AND additional squatter being kept out. Sign a Memorandum of Understanding, give them a copy to save as a provisional title to their land, dependent on good behavior. After a set period (5-8 years), it converts to a real deed.
- FUTURE: increased egg production. This will require raising the flock to 300 to be ideal (both for consumption and flock maintenance. This would utilize the building to the west edge of the property, near one group of squatters. This would need exceptional security: probably a solar powered motion detector and possible alarms. Would recommend divining the building 3 ways. Equipment room in the center, separate flocks at each end. Three separate flocks would reduce chance of disease annihilation.
Back home: First Post-Trip Thoughts October 27, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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It was with great reluctance that I left everyone in Uganda. So many wonderful people that I’ll miss. Winnie, Ritah, Richard, Anthony, Marie, Sandra, Ester, Godfrey… so many others. I am more convinced than ever that people can only become truly great by overcoming great adversity.. as each one of these people have. I would deeply honored to have any of them as friend; to have so many of them as friend- even family- means I am truly blessed. Here they are:
Winnie and Anthony
Ritah and Ester
Godfrey and family
…and so many others. Many of these have told me I have been a big help to them; they have little idea how much they touched- and saved- my soul. Individual stories will come later.
I Don’t Want to Come Home October 16, 2010Posted by Mike O in people.
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The title says it all. I deal with such marvelous people here. Rita Nyamwiza, savior an Wonder Woman, is on the way to this cafe to return my camera from a grand adventure described below:
Savior, Goddess, CEO of Getting Things Done; whatever title Ritah Nyamwiza wants, I’d gladly try to get for her. She has really saved my bacon here. I’ve been taking too much risk for too long and it finally caught up with me, but not nearly as bad as it could have and- because of Ritah’s tremendous efforts- all of the real damage was undone and all that was left was a little ‘education’ cost to me and three professional thieves are in prison.
I came back from Sabina on a much later bus than Ritah had realized and she was left cooling her heels for several hours waiting for me. I was vastly overloaded on the return trip, still carrying all the stuff for Winnie (her laptop DID allow me to maintain a journal, however). But, more importantly, I was carrying far more cash (most in safer American currency) than I should have: $3,300 in US- buried deep inside the laptop case- and about 650,000 Ugandan Shillings (nearly $300) in my left cargo pocket, as well as maybe $100 of mixed currency in my left front pocket. NOT a good way to arrive in the nightmare of shoulder to shoulder crowding around the New bus park (which is being struck by the bus drivers to demand that the recently increased fees be rolled back).
Ritah and a young man found me at the bus with Peter, a young security guard I’d struck up with. Ritah and the young man took charge of the other bags and I retained the laptop case that I had around my neck. Peter went his way after a bit and I followed behind Ritah. However, I’m big and awkward and a little separation occurred- very likely deliberately generated by people in the mob scene.
Suddenly, there was a big guy blocking my path- clearly deliberately so. I hestitated, prepared defensive and barged by him. I knew it was trouble and my passport coming flying back to me from the crowd confirmed. It. My camera- in the small bag on my right hip- was gone. Along with the critical pictures and video, taken to take back to Jetpay and to document the sorry condition of textbooks. The pictures and video taken were worth far more than the camera.
I was hit by a standard 3-person team; a blocker (and obvious enforcer), a pickpocket and a ‘bag man’ who instantly takes charge of whatever gets taken, in case the pickpocket gets pegged. Ritah took charge, got me and the baggage to a safe spot among the taxis and vendors, called in reinforcements (Esther Gray; so glad to meet her!) and set to work. Within the hour, she had informed the police, who actually knew the names of the three person team, who were taken into custody shortly thereafter. They confessed to taking the passport, but claimed not to have the camera. Ritah said to let her work the issue on the angle of paying a reward for the camera as a trap to the men and it is apparent she a good part of Saturday doing just that while Winnie and I went to graduation. By evening, she had the camera (with the chip) and the three were in prison.
This whole incident was a lesson: that we Americans are not always the most observant and lack common ‘street-’ sense, that big city criminal patters are the same worldwide (we have such three-parson teams in this country), and the one thing unique in this case: the incredible promise of this place, primarily due to phenomenally wonderful people here, from the street vendors who ‘baby-sat’ the Mzungu, to the drivers and police who helped locate the thieves, and- most of all- Ritah Nyamwiza, my resourceful, intelligent, articulate savior who I cannot possibly thank adequately for her efforts. If my son were to find a young lady that was 1% the total package that Ritah is, I’d be proud to call her daughter-in-law.
First Days back in Uganda October 8, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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Trip on KLM was smooth as I expected; they are the best of airlines. Learned one lesson on landing,though; don’t go to the bathroom first or you will be the last one for a visa or to get your luggage cleared. The raincoats were inspected and, if I hadn’t had the charity letter, they would have tried to stick me with an import duty because of the volume.
Found Sandra very ill with malaria and cramps; I’m spending the better part of my first day taking care of that precious young lady. We had more fun plans, but I’m glad I was here for this; how they get by on their own in this state is beyond me. I did get some currency exchanged, and a new cellphone for around $35.
No pictures or video yet, but any future uploads from here will be very small. Thunderstorm rolling in as I write this; rainy season
A Week to Go! September 29, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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….And nowhere near ready! Thanks to my Sister Susan’s insistence that I use a good part of what little my mother left behind on this trip, the cash situation is now covered. But the supplies are shaping up pretty much at the last minute (politics kept getting in the way, but not anymore; I have to be ready!). I’ve got 72 plastic rain slickers being shipped to me (they promise i will get them by Monday. But the first donation inventory is here (minus the three laptops and three camera’s going to my ‘daughter’ Winnie and my ‘nieces’ Ritah, Irene, and Sandra):
Also, need to start the malarial medication today. Yellow fever, typhoid, malaria, oh my! (Shows you just how tough those kids are over there.)
Starting my Plan to go Back April 24, 2010Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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Politics has taken way too much of my free time for the moment and taken my focus off of the pure good to be done with Children of Uganda. The video below shows me what I’ve been missing out on and the only way I can make amends is if some of my new political friends were to chip in to help :) . Here is the presentation of my previous trips mzungu_mike_2010 (and, sadly yes, I was that thin in 2007)
Tremendous progress has been made at Sabine since I was last there, primarily in the area of permaculture. My buddy ‘Prince’ Charles, growing to be a productive member of the community, gives a tour of that work. Sixty eggs a day is a tremendous boost in protein for the kids, not to mention the nutritious fruit and vegetables, and I hope this progress continues!
Update: A new video, with film of the effort with chickens!
I tremendously miss helping with such things, and I owe Sabina BIG time, since I let Kiwanga drain me financially last time before I got to Sabine. I can’t wait until October, when I go back to do what I can to help, to
- Bring whatever I can to help Rakai and the kids there; if you read thins and want to help, let me know. I’ll video-document what gets done.
- see my wonderful daughter Winnie graduate from college,
- meet my new kid, Godfrey Mugisha, a very bright boy
- check on my angelic-voiced niece Sandra, who I will accompany on a trip to Rwanda to help with closure on her horrific genocide experience.
RIP, Sister Rose October 9, 2009Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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The matriarch of the Daughters of Charity, having cared for many thousands of orphans in Uganda, passed away earlier this week. No one was more beloved among the orphan community and her loss is deeply felt by all of us.
Ritah Nyamwiza, A Rare Gem September 21, 2009Posted by Mike O in Charity.
I wish I could claim any responsibility for helping Ritah Nyamwiza become what she is today, but I can’t. I have to admit that I only met this wonderful young lady after the pressures of a hard life were taken by her stellar character to form and burnish the precious jewel she is today. An extremely gifted writer of high intellect and a caring soul, she is a joy to associate with. I have read and occasionally reviewed some of her writings (I find very little in need of correction and can rarely suggest improvements), talk with her occasionally and- as of this summer- became her ‘business partner’. If I ever actually go into semi-retirement and go to set up a small business in Uganda, Ritah would be the first one I would look to hire. Alas, I fear I won’t be able to afford her by the time this happens; she’s too good and will likely be running an NGO by then.
Her proposal for business is here:
Dear Uncle Michael,
I was supposed to have typed this in ms word and attached it but I thought I would just send an email with the explanations.
With the increasing in the country due to the global credit crunch problem- young people all over the country have been encouraged to be job creators and not seekers. It is in light of the above situation that I came up with the idea of a small business. it would be dealing in ladies bags, shoes, accessories and clothes. This side income is very much needed.. I estimated that it would cost me 400000 and that is why am seeking for the loan as I plan to raise 200000 from savings. I would also request for a of 2months and thereafter spread the repayment over a period of 4 months. Let me know what you think.
My response is here:
I have read the proposal and approve it, with some modifications.
I have never seen a small businessperson who- starting out- sufficiently capitalized at startup; there are always excess expenses. Therefore, my loan will not be 200K; it will be 300K loan (possibly a little more, depending on exchange rate). My target for delivering this will be June 15th -16th; I cannot preclude some delay, but do not expect it.
Aof 3 months will be granted, with repayment spread over 12 months. Repayment will not to me; you will serve as a charitable source for that period. You will report to me who, what and why you donated 25,000 that month, along with regular business reports (those reports will serve as your interest payment). Frankly, this will be excellent training for the NGO world.
I also am fully aware (as hopefully you are) that most small businesses fail. Should this occur in your case, I expect a fully detailed report on the what, why, hows and the lessons learned. You will still be obligated even if the business fails; however, that obligation may not involve financial repayment. It will take the form of specific charitable service to others; to be as specific and detailed as a payment version. That can be tutoring or other assistance of significance to others. I need consistent reporting in any regard.
This is as much a training exercise as anything else for you, not to mention a means of keeping up with you (which I enjoy immensely. There is an additional long-term cost to this: Should I actually work out how to establish a small business for my retirment in Uganda several years from now, I will likely need a top-flight business manager to help make it successful. I want the option to talk to you at that time about it, because I currently can think of no one I know there more likely to be a sure bet for that role than you.
BTW: I am always available as a personal reference for you; if i was a hiring manager, I Would would hire you on the spot for almost any public-relations, presentation, and/or customer interaction role. I expect anyone as impressive as you to be highly successful.
And this was the latest report from her:
A New ‘Family’ Member: Godfrey Mugisha February 22, 2009Posted by Mike O in Charity, family.
Now that Irene and Faridah are through secondary school, I had a little bandwidth to pick up another. This time I worked directly though Children of Uganda and their monthly donation program. I requested a Primary boy this time, because I need to mix things up a bit. I was fortunate enough to draw Godfrey Mugisha, a young man who- according to Peter, the Sabine library manager- has been the top of his class since the first day he walked in the door. I fully expect I have another college education to pay for in my future.
Godfrey’s family situation is tough. Rather than being the typical orphan from AIDs, his father was seriously injured in a fall many years ago, was unable to work and finally passed on in 2007. His mother and 7 siblings had to sell their cattle (cattle being a strictly man’s business in Uganda; both societal and practical, as cattle theft must be an issue.). They bought a small tract of land and struggle to survive. I’ll be helping his family where I can, so Godfrey can focus on school.
A new, long-term adventure and commtiment for me; I haven’t regretted one yet. I look forward to getting to Africa and meeting Godfrey and his family.
Moud Kasirivu May 6, 2008Posted by Mike O in kids.
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Moud is now about 20 and a very talented artist. He lost both of his parents to AIDs when he was 15 (and long before was in orphanages due to their inability to even care for themselves). He has lots of hustle, is quite personable, and presents extremely well. He helps care for a much younger sister that is HIV-positive but seems to be doing OK on medication. This is one of the ‘kids’ I don’t worry about making it; he has the drive and skills to go places.
Solar Lighting Pack March 21, 2008Posted by Mike O in Idea Specs.
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Some of the required components would be:
Solar panels, Battery pack, Transformer, LED-based lights, Sufficient wiring for flexible usage.
Some kits exist like this one, but this example lacks adequate power, wattage and likely storage to be effective.
A minimum of 30 watts of solar panels (polycrystalline would be the most durable and cost-effective)
At least 6 lights of minimum 2-3 watts each
Battery pack capacity for 5 running hours of all lights when fully charged.
Mzungu Engineering March 21, 2008Posted by Mike O in Engineering.
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My experiences in Uganda made clear to me that a number of small mechanical, electrical and/or manual systems could be deleveloped as engineering projects at the high school or college levels, or as NGO-funded projects. The purpose of these postings is to establish the needs and general specifications of engineering projects that would be of extreme value in third-world, poverty-stricken areas.
The goal of each project is to engineer useful components for third world charitable operations. All items must meet certain generic parameters
The total system must weigh under 50 pounds when packed for shipping (as luggage on an airline).
It must be no larger than the luggage requirements of international airlines (length + width + height must not exceed 62 inches)
It must be packed in a way to be assured survival in airline transport and it must be capable of being repacked.
It must break down into backpack sizes and weight; not more than 30 pounds and 18 by 30 by 8 inches.
The entire apparatus must be lockable in a secure case form to prevent theft.
The system must require no or very simple maintenance.
The system must be very easy to set up and use; consideration of third world knowledge base must be considered.
The entire apparatus must be rugged, insensitive to environmental temperature extremes, and water/humidity resistant.
The system should be reasonably cheap to produce. Therefore, Nearly all components should all be off the shelf.
The types of projects involve attempts to bring lighting, water handling, medical, and educational capabilities where there is no basic infrastructure at all: power, communication, sewage, piped water, and paved roads may all not be available. The specific projects are as follow:
Solar lighting system capable of lighting a home or small common areas sufficiently for comfortable reading.
Backpackable materials- including books- sufficient to teach specific secondary classes (math, sciences, health, etc.) to a minimum of 25 pupils
Water pumping and filtering systems.
A Video of My ‘Niece’, Sandra March 8, 2008Posted by Mike O in family.
The poor young lady has gone through a fair amount of hospitalization lately; complications (minor) after they took a clot out of her brain months after a pedestrian accident.
Update: The last hospitalization seemed to take care of a transient problem with dehydration. Lat I talk to her, she had been fine for quite awhile and was concentrating on studies, as she should.
But does she look good in this video from before!
She looks too good! I can also attest to something else from personal experience, but fortunately I’m old enough and ‘comfortable’ enough that the damage was minimal: A big hug from Sandra delivered to any male with a functional endocrine system will drop said male’s IQ to match his age for hours.
Maybe I need to include this message I sent prior to the PAM Awards (the East Africa Grammys). She didn’t win, but even being nominated was an honor.
A Message to Conservatives December 25, 2007Posted by Mike O in Reasons.
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Two things that real political conservatives- of all stripes- believe in are personal responsibility and ‘traditional’ values. Note those traditional values are found in all of the great religions and deal with good and evil, as well as sacrifice and charity. In this season, we Christians celebrate the birth of one who later made the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind and, in this season, it is appropriate to consider sacrifice. We must think of those great people in our military, so far from home during these holidays, making such sacrifices for our country and the causes of peace and freedom. We must especially think of those- American and her allies- who gave the ultimate sacrifice in those causes and the loved ones they left behind.
Even when they don’t come up to the level of those in the military, we must also contemplate our own sacrifices. If we truly believe in personal responsibility, we cannot leave it to others. And by sacrifice, I don’t mean merely signing off on a United Way pledge, or writing a check to a charity (although that, too, is needed). Sacrifice comes as a personal commitment, generally long-term, to serve others that you are not obligated to serve. It means to follow through, make a difference and see it done. Personally, I feel we are all judged at one point or another- whether in this life or after- and it’s best to have enough ‘good points’ over bad; sacrifice helps tilt those totals.
As I look back on this year and all the people and projects I’ve dealt with (primarily on my trip to Uganda), and consider that I’ve done just fair. ‘Fair’, some would say “You went to Africa for weeks to work personally, spent 12-15% of your income on this work. Only ‘fair’??” Yes, considering people like this, my family obligations made it difficult to make that kind of sacrifice. More importantly, how can it be classified as sacrifice when I get so much out of it? How much would you pay to be happier with your own life? To gain an attitude that has led to less complaints and the strength to deal effectively with the adversities of my son’s serious medical issues? To get the privilege of associating with great people of sweetness, character and strength, both workers and orphans? However, fair will have to do, since that is all I’m capable of doing and still fulfilling basic family obligations that naturally have priority.
I ask everyone to- in this holiday season- consider the commitments in their life. If you don’t already, consider making a serious commitment of sacrifice to support your belief in traditional values and personal responsibility. It doesn’t matter what form it takes (though you are more than happy to support the group I work with, even if it’s a simple contribution.) As the Nike ad puts so well, ‘Just Do It!’ Prove you’re a Real Conservative.
May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I hate writing this, but I have to. November 20, 2007Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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It is difficult for me to write this posting, as I have- since early in my adult life- eschewed asking others for anything. But there is a need that is beyond my capacity to resolve, for some people I care deeply about.
The Children of Uganda recently lost a major corporate sponsor and has been under financial pressure for some time. They have reduced overhead- which was pretty minimal to start with- to the bare bones. With these cuts, the organization thought they could manage operations; however, a big shoe just got dropped on them. A group within the World Food Program, which has been supplying the majority of the food for the orphanages, is shutting down operations in Uganda. As of January 1, there will be no food deliveries to the orphans from them. Children of Uganda will need to come up with about $12,000 per year of additional funding to make up for this loss. I suspect the loss from the World Food Program is due to their own financial stains described here.
Added to this is the age curve of the orphans themselves. Many more of the orphans have reached the age to enter secondary school. In Uganda, this is not paid for by the government, though the costs are fairly reasonable. There is also room and board involved, as nearly all secondary schools board the students. Even with all of that, it is no more than $900 total for a year. These costs have begun to outstrip the donor base (I personally am fully covering my ‘daughter’ in college, plus partially covering several others in secondary to the tune of about $4,000 per year).
This all sounds like a lot of money, but every donation will make a huge difference. A $70 donation I made will cover one staffer’s salary for a month and enhance the sustenance-level meals for one of the orphanages for a week.
Thanksgiving is coming up this week and we all have so much to be thankful for. And for the first time ever, I’m asking all friends and family I have to consider pitching in and helping some very special kids. If you do see fit to donate online or by check, mark the contribution for Food or Tuition and Rob (the group’s CEO) and I will ensure that is exactly what it will go for. If you can help, donate at this link
Again, forgive me for this request, but I have to try everything. Including a picture of the standard combination breakfast-lunch that has been cut back since I was there:
AIDS Testing Day in Ssanje; Many thanks to Sarah October 18, 2007Posted by Mike O in Charity, places.
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Sarah Cowan is the marvelous Peace Corps volunteer associated with the Sabine orphanage in Rakai. Just before I left, she spoke about the need to get the family members of the kids who went to the same primary school as the orphans tested for AIDS. A number of parents had died of unknown causes and, during previous home visits Sarah had done, brought up the issue of AIDS testing. The families all wanted to be checked but there was no nearby location to do so. Sarah had found out tha she could get a testing team out to the area for the cost of transport and salaries; about 100K ($60). I threw in $100 to let her get some treats for the kids and Sarah recently pulled it off in a grand fashion. The writeup is here.
What I did for this- in terms of supplying a bit of money- is insignificant to Sarah’s Herculean effort in pulling it off and making it a success. Many kudos to Sarah; I wish I was a tenth the human being she is! I am pledging to support this activity on an at least annual basis for her village of Ssanje. Hopefully, Sarah will oversee it one more time before her Peace Corps tour is completed.
Introduction to Uganda for ‘Rookies’ August 2, 2007Posted by Mike O in Introduction.
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This post is for you, if you are planning to visit Uganda to do charity and/or religious work for the first time and have no clue what you are getting into. Pay close attention, especially if you’ve never been camping or hated it when you did,
Packing: To be the most useful, be darn sure to pack to the maximum weight allowed for travel and figure on getting back with just your personal clothes (and normally not even with all of those). Be sure to consult with trip veterans on what to take to help. And pack a jacket, unless you are going in the hottest part of the year; it actually does get cool enough for them, especially after rain. One of the biggest requests I get from the orphanages is for sweatshirts and jackets. If nothing else, throw in nice used clothing (I generally use such as packing material for other things). Almost everywhere dealing with kids can make use of over-the counter medicines (cough and cold, asthma, pain relievers, antibiotic ointments, etc.). Pens, pencils, hand-cranked flashlights (torches, they call them), art supplies, calculators, etc. are useful. Even your now-empty suitcases are highly useful; plan to leave all but what you need to get back home. But, whatever you do, do not show up without being ‘fully loaded’ and ready to work.
Have I scared you yet? Then click here.
Personal Hygiene: You are in for some significant culture shock. First: finding a standard flush toilet in Uganda (outside of the downtown Kampala area) is rare. Underground plumbing and running water doesn’t exist in 98% of the country. If you are lucky, you’ll have access to a latrine (often quite smelly) with a seat. However, the majority of the facilities are slit latrines with nothing to sit on; you squat and aim at a slit normally 8 inches by 24 inches. Bathing without plumbing is with a big plastic pan and a jerry can full of water; only if you’re lucky will the water be heated. Washing clothes is always by hand, using a type of bar soap; I personally have never seen a standard washing machine in all of Uganda. Energy is way too precious to waste when labor is that cheap. Washing of hands is also done out of jerry cans as well. Ugandans are an amazingly clean people, given the conditions, but the environment is hardly to Western standards. And a big bottle of hand sanitizer just won’t change that (and will drop you from the ‘Aid worker’ class to the ‘safari’ class real quickly).
Have I scared you yet? Then click here.
Mother Nature: There are bugs; lots of them, and you will get bit. If you can’t live with Mother Nature, please do not go to Uganda. The mosquitoes are probably no more prevalent than in Houston, Texas in the summer (plentiful enough); it’s just that the ones in Uganda have a far higher percentage of disease-carriers. Malaria is more common than the flu there; do NOT forget to take your medication, since it is a far more serious disease for the typical Western than the Ugandans (Malaria alone kills tens of thousands of Ugandans every year). However, I have actually met one Norwegian who has never taken malarial medication for several years and never come down with it (a natural immunity). Then there is yellow fever; be sure you are vaccinated for it. The rest are rare enough events that- if you use your mosquito netting and common sense- you should be fine. Proper control is possible; at my favorite bed and breakfast, I have had a total of two mosquito bites in my 15 days or so of living there in two trips.
Have I scared you yet? Then click here.
Health: If you suffer allergies or other conditions requiring medication, be sure to bring lots of everything you could possibly need for them; I also suggest packing a little bit of benedryl, in case you find some new ones. One volunteer developed a serious peanut allergy while there (it could have as easily happened in the States); if I hadn’t brought benedryl for the orphanage clinic (which I didn’t my first trip), she could have been in serious trouble. If you are bothered by air pollution, you will suffer tremendously in Kampala; half of all vehicles on the phenomenally crowded roads belch visible smoke. This mixes from wood fire smoke from cooking and brick making, along with trash-burning smoke.
Have I scared you yet? Then click here.
Travel is pure unorganized chaos in Kampala; you will see some of the most frightening traffic on earth (monthly traffic fatalities in Kampala typically are in the 150-200 range). The number of people per vehicle is higher than anywhere on earth. Boda Bodas are motor scooter taxis that weave through the tightest of traffic with heart-sopping maneuvers; cheap and often the fastest way around. Regular taxis are 14 passenger vans (often with 18 aboard). ‘Specials’ are the Western concept of taxis- normally hired for a day- and are far less common. There are no street signs to help you here and getting around will normally require a guide of some sort. Outside of Kampala, dirt ‘roads’ are the norm; normally these are closer to jeep trails than roads, since rain runoff drainage systems are limited.
Have I scared you yet? Then click here.
Food: Ugandan food is normally very starch heavy and bland. Rice, beans and matoke (a very bland banana fruit, normally steamed). Fruit is plentiful and the pineapple is the best on the planet. Chicken cost twice what beef does; the taste of the beef is somewhat different. Fish (talopia) is also available.
Going as a church worker?
Let a secular worker (who highly respects your work) ask a favor of you; go there and plan to put in as much effort for the body as the soul; more would be better yet. Ugandans are- for the most part- a highly religious people; many will know more hymns than you do, and in multiple languages. But they need far more physical than spiritual support. Bring the bible; but also the mosquito nets. Personally, I just wish they could spend just a fraction as much time in health and agricultural pursuits as they do in Biblical pursuits; living longer and healthier makes for even better parishioners.
Prices: I’ll try to update this section regularly.
Current exchange rate fluctuates between 1,600 and 1,700 Ugandan Shillings to the dollar. Generally, you cannot get Ugandan currency in Foreign exchange locations outside of Uganda; in Kampala, I normally got the best rates at the Grand Imperial Hotel.
Why Go? August 2, 2007Posted by Mike O in Introduction.
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Now that I have you terrified, you are probably wondering why anyone would ever want to go? Simple; the inconveniences listed above are infinitesimally small compared to what you will get out of it. After going, I only wonder how long it will take me to rebuild the resources to get back. If I had the money and did not have family commitments that prevent it, I would never leave. Because in all of those conditions I have listed are some of the greatest kids on the face of the planet, kids that- even with my limited resources- I can help a great deal. Never will you feel that you are worth more as a human being than you will there in Uganda. Never will you feel as welcome as the kids will make you. If you aren’t moved by what you find there, you are indeed a cactus, incapable of feeling anything.
Visitor’s Village and Host Emmanuel July 25, 2007Posted by Mike O in people, places.
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Emmanuel’s bed and breakfast is called Visitor’s Village and will always be my preferred residence in Kampala. I won’t always have the resources to stay there; while not overly pricey, it requires transport to get to the office and/or the Kiwanga orphanage. When Kiwanga gets it’s visitor’s rooms squared away, that will be my normal home to save money.
But Emmanul’s is worth every penny. He is an exceptionally gracious host and a good friend. He is very accommodating to all who come; sometimes difficult, because the craziness of volunteers, their schedules, and sometimes their culture shock makes it hard on such a host. But talking to Emmanuel is always like talking to an old friend, and he has the patience of Job with zany Mzungus (some of his guests are definitely not zany, like Kristin here).
Visitor’s Village has been a labor of love for Emmanual for 15 years; it is a phenomenally peaceful refuge from the insanity that is Kampala, with lush vegetation and a vast array of beautiful birds living in the trees. The birds are your melodious 6:30am alarm clock every morning (if you are a light sleeper like I am). Breakfast (omelets, toast, fresh fruit) is normally served on the terrace of each of the small units and is a very pleasant and relaxing way to start the morning (especially if joined by some of the great guests there).
The rooms themselves are quite comfortable and I have far less problem with mosquitoes there – despite the vegetation- than anywhere else in Uganda. With the seating areas of the larger suites, along with the small terraces, Visitor’s Village has proven to be an ideal place to have small gatherings of family and friends for a quiet time of it. The only downside is that it is too far from Kiwanga and the tasks at hand.
The Fantastic 4: Long-Haul Volunteers July 24, 2007Posted by Mike O in Charity, people.
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I don’t think there are enough good things to say about the group of volunteers shown above; right to left: Sarah Cowan, Cassie and her sister Talitha, and Cassie’s boyfriend Tim. People like this, their attitude toward life and faith, and their willingness to work and sacrifice, all are reasons to really have hope for humanity. May I earn half the good deed points in my entire life that this crew will just this summer!
Talitha is the real veteran in all of this and great, but occasionally the overly practical side of me might disagree with her focus. Natural differences between the young and religious, and the seasoned (old) and secular (cynical). She’s the planner and- with the $10k they’d raised for their work- she’ll make it do great things. Cassie obviously got tired of my mouth- rightfully so- but overcame that somewhat. She is very pretty and dedicated and probably not taken to sitting by silently when she disagrees. Tim is a real champ and proved to be far more valuable as a rookie than I did; he’d done underwater construction before and pitched right in with energy I wish I still had. I’m hoping he becomes the confidant of some of the older boys like I have for some of the older girls. It is a real need there.
I think Talitha felt somewhat uncomfortable in terms of directing me to some of the work they had planned; I should have figured out a way to resolve that. I’m sure most older types would be uncomfortable taking direction or a gently (or not so gentle) prodding from somebody of her youth but I wouldn’t. And, Talitha, if you’re reading this, remember; a verbal kick to my posterior is sometimes appropriate. Do not be afraid to apply it
Sarah Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer and there for the very long haul; absolutely wonderful young lady and I massively admire her dedication and fearlessness. She does a tremendous number of home visits, where you really find out the needs. I was able to supply her with the resources for an AIDs testing day- now put off until October, due to a snafu with the Children of Uganda office. Amazing how much good $100 will do.