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The ‘Left-Behinds’ March 20, 2015

Posted by Mike O in Charity.
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One of the sad things about orphanages in Uganda is that kids often ‘age-out’ before they gained skills or opportunity to be self-sufficient.  It is NOT due to lack of effort.  All of the fine folks below have tried their best, but educational ‘holes’ and lack of educational or vocational training support left them with no opportunities and struggling to get by.  Here are 10 stories of some of the great folks that got ‘left-behind’.  We are working to give them a vocational opportunity (a GROUP storefront, for them to manage a shop as a TEAM, learning valuable skills in the process)












Ritah Namwiza November 22, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

Posted 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, 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

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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.

First Days back in Uganda October 8, 2010

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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, 2010

Posted 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, 2010

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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

RIP, Sister Rose October 9, 2009

Posted 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, 2009

Posted by Mike O in Charity.

Ritah_n2I 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 unemployment rates 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 grace period 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.

A grace period of 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:

dear Partner,
Am so safe and sound. Thanks for the concern. I am giving the first batch of money-20k to  a boy I identified whose mother can not afford to buy him school necessities. After that however, am going to be supporting a family of five- the father is ailing, the mother doesnot work and she has to take care of her three children. Two of them go to school. Their school fees totals up to 40,oo per term. The  year has three terms but they also need neccesities, other wise they can not go to school.
I will keep in touch. I am bogged down -lots of things to do.
take care
This young lady leaves me speechless (no small feat 🙂 ; Thank God for such people!

A New ‘Family’ Member: Godfrey Mugisha February 22, 2009

Posted by Mike O in Charity, family.
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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.

I hate writing this, but I have to. November 20, 2007

Posted 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, 2007

Posted 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.

The Fantastic 4: Long-Haul Volunteers July 24, 2007

Posted 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.

Rural AIDs Awareness Progam in Kyebe July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in Charity, projects.
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The AIDS awareness program was fascinating, as was really getting out in the ‘sticks’. Getting there involved 90 minutes on a ‘road’ that would barely pass as a jeep trail, passing many miles without seeing any habitation of any kind. I swear most of the younger kids there had never seen a Mzungu; at least not one older, bald and bearded. They would just stand and stare.

The show ended up being 2 hours late (Africa time) so we waited quite awhile, part of which was spent in practical discussion with Vincent on the AIDs problem locally. Later, a pack of kids- obviously just let out of Primary- trooped by and sat in the shade of a tree about 50 yards away. They just sat there, staring at me for minutes on end, not saying anything. Figuring I was supposed to do something, I just jumped up with a shout; the whole group took off like lightning bolts, two of them running like they wouldn’t stop until dark. The rest peeked around the corner and drifted back; I got up- causing them to scatter again- and walked over to where they’d been sitting in the shade, sat down and waited. Finally, some were brave enough to return and sit down; never within touching reach and they had great fun trying to push each other within range, figuring I’d grab them and devour them whole, I guess. No English among there, so trying charades a bit, then got up and left them; didn’t eat a single one of them, which probably a surprise to them. Same pack of kids showed up at the performance and, after it was done, spent a half hour staring at me as I waited in the car. I tried to be entertaining.

When the program people did finally arrive on the back of a truck playing drums, they ‘Pied Piper’ed the entire village to the parking lot that they set up for the show; about 20 performers in all. I was there to shoot film for Vincent, so I tried to find a good position to do so. I ended up standing on a refuse pile behind some of the audience. The villagers kept looking back at me, wondering what the Mzungu was up to. I would just hoist up the camera as say in a baritone ‘I’m the cameraman.” (Anyone who saw the recent movie ‘Blood Diamond’ would understand the humor in that.)

The show involved some singing, a few short lectures, some dancing, and a long morality play, followed by a Q&A session. All in Lugandan, so I had little clue of what was going on. The morality play was- until the end- very humorous and entertaining, with a sobering moral at the end about dangerous behaviors. The length of time of the Q&A was a positive sign, a lot of it about bringing the show to other areas and how useful it was. This particular village was the epicenter of the AIDs epidemic in Uganda and had been devastated; the message resonated with these people. I kicked in 20,000 shillings to the group (things were getting tight for me by that time) as a tip, for sodas, or whatever. They do a great job.

Vincent reminds me that I should mention all of the fine organizations supporting his excellent work; they include USAID, PEPFAR and the Government of Uganda. And, naturally, the Reach The Youth Uganda group, of which Vincent is Team Lead. Note that I have added his link to my link list.

MADEUganda Project, 2007 July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in Charity, projects.
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I had already sent most of my resource (money) on to MADE before I came; it let them repair most of their machinery to keep working. I did bring the final payment for a welder repair, as well as 50 sets of bearings and weightlifter gloves for chair users.

The work with MADE went pretty well, but was a bit depressing. Their new space is so small; they seem to be hanging on by their fingernails. I was (am still am) upset with how long it’s taken to get Winnie the wheelchair that Pat paid for almost 6 month ago, especially with me paying as much as I did to fix their equipment. But it’s pretty apparent times are hard for them.

I was glad to get them the interview with the microfinance people and Kristin. I went first to check things out with Fatuma. While I was there, Winnie got in an extensive discussion with Mohammed, the blind wheel man. I was impressed; he matched Winnie word for word. I wanted to make sure he had his say to others. When Kristen and the others came, the interviews went well with Fatuma, but they never got to Mohammed. I realized this after the fact and arranged to come back and have Winnie do an interview (I told a little fib about this; I told Mohammed that Kristin was the one who caught this oversight and insisted that Winnie and I return. I actually initiated it, but Kristen heartily agreed).

Mohammed is an amazingly thoughtful individual for someone with little formal education and I love the ‘thinker’ picture I got of him. A mechanic and wounded warrior, his view on what needs to be done about the disabled is well worth listening to.

The microfinance people did not necessarily with Kristin did not impress me (hard to, compared to Kristen). During their discussion, I pointed out that they were looking at financing in the wrong way; they shouldn’t consider loaning money directly to a place like MADE, but to the people who need the wheelchairs. The loan should also include vocational training funds. I think the near $400 cost of the chairs likely put them off; it’s the material costs that eat up MADE, I’m afraid. Still, the video of the interviews should be useful.

Rakai work July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in Charity, kids, places.

Was really embarrassed to go to Rakai; I only could do 210 K (about $120) in work there and that involved paying to get most- but not all- shower room doors fixed for the boys. Pretty minor stuff. Was glad to see how much progress others had done on drainage and water retention, however. They really need an agricultural effort at Sabine; that place could not only feed itself (including chicken), but grow enough to help feed Kiwanga. It just has to be managed, the kids need to be trained and motivated.

I was left feeling worthless enough that one morning I tackled the last standing water in the compound; a big pothole at the entry to the area. Had wanted to use a wheelbarrow, but both they had were broken. So I ended up digging dirt out of a pile for that excavate for the septic tank and carrying it in a bucket up 100 yards to the pothole. Vincent Mujune, National Team leader of an AIDS outreach program called Reach the Youth, ended up pitching in on this mindless activity; when asked why by Rhita (a phenomenal young lady I’ll discuss later), I told her: ‘When you have money, you use that: when you have words and wisdom, you use that: when all else fails, you use your muscle to try to make the world a little bit better every day.” I told her to pass that on to the kids she was teaching: hopefully, the life lesson will end up being worth far more than the filled pothole.

Toward the end of the effort, Vincent pointed out that rock would stabilize the patch and we could get the young kids (who were out of school while the older ones practiced for a performance contest) to find them. I transmitted the need and within minutes, we were have to stop kids from ripping bricks out of the edging around trees. If we hadn’t got it stopped, the mob of kids would have torn down the school for rock to throw in the hole. My back pretty well gave out, but the hole was 75% filled by the time we quit, got cleaned up and got ready to go out to see the AIDS awareness program out in the country.

Kiwanga Project, 2007 July 24, 2007

Posted by Mike O in Charity, places, projects.
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I ended up funding- and working on- an extensive project at Phillip’s House for screening and addition of glass shuttered windows. Also brought a staple gun and staples that helped. Phillip’s House is home of 16 severely mentally and physically handicapped individuals and some of them are real charmers. Phillip’s House dorms have always been shuttered, making the dormitories particularly dark and stifling; this work will go a long way into improving it. But
it was expensive and made a big dent in what I was planning to spend in Rakai.

Since I was there 2 years ago, they had someone come in to work with the residents there and there has been great progress. They take care of their own laundry and do some cleaning. In fact, they were trying to stop one of the girls from doing her laundry because her hands were damaged by some small accident; she was having none of it and insisted on doing her part.

The work also covered screening the clinic; it made absolutely no sense for the clinic not to be screened; last thing a malarial patient needs is another case of malaria two weeks later. Screening the clinic also involved building out wood frames and opening panels, because the window structures were all metal and concrete. Like I said; expensive, but necessary. Got screens on in a lot of other places as well. I helped on some of it; the type of simple work the unskilled, cheap imported labor can do. I made sure Constance’s screens were up to snuff; as a Tour assistent (and one of ‘girls’), we can’t afford her to come down ill if the Tour is going to ever get going.

The medicine we brought into the clinic was put to good use; antibiotic ointment and anti-diarrhea medication was most appreciated. Could definitely use more bandaging materials, however; their ‘plaster’ tape is pretty harsh. Flex bandages would be great. I ended up playing emergency nurse one weekend; not only did one of our volunteers (Tia) have a serious reaction to a peanut dish (peanut allergies can be serious enough to be fatal), but a couple kids got some pretty seriously cut toes. Thank goodness I’d brought some Benedryl for the clinic; it’s about the only medication effective for more serious reactions like Tia’s. Gave her two as the max dose; knocked her out like a sledge hammer; 10 hours later, she awoke and was much better.