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A Message to Donors October 31, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

Posted 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.

Margaret Meeting:

  • 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, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

Posted 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