Report from Charles Cachia
UGANDA August 2014 TRIP REPORT
I had been dreaming about re-visiting Africa since 1975, which is 12 years after I had last been in Kenya where I was born. Our family moved back to Malta a few months before my 6th birthday. I can still remember that the house in Kisumu where we had lived was within walking distance from Lake Victoria. I had once attempted to catch fish using a thick piece of string tied to a safety pin with no bait. Earlier this year I felt a particularly strong urge to travel to East Africa and do some work possibly through I.R.F.F. together with our daughters Christina and Virginia who were only very willing to participate. Personally, this was a trip that was waiting to happen for just over half a century.
I thus approached Ashley Crosthwaite about a possible trip to Uganda where I know I.R.F.F. is quite active. As we belong to the North Region (Manchester), I divulged my intentions with our pastor Dale Rose who then asked the community whether anybody else was interested in going to Africa. After several discussions and consultations with Robert Mwogeza, the I.R.F.F. director in Uganda, Ashley made a plan for Christina, Virginia and myself to travel to Africa on July 28th and return on August 13th.
As it happened, I.R.F.F. U.K. was in the middle of a fund-raising campaign, raising capital to purchase a suitable vehicle for I.R.F.F. Uganda. The necessity had long been felt to own a vehicle to transport the I.R.F.F. and W.A.I.T. mobile medical team to all the many localities where events and activities were projected. Up until this time, a vehicle was being rented at considerable cost. Once purchased, it was also planned that the vehicle would be used in some business venture in the motor hiring industry. This would help meet the costs of keeping and running it, thus making it a sustainable acquisition in the long term.
My first task in Uganda was to facilitate the purchase of this vehicle. Since several weeks, Robert had been searching for an appropriate vehicle which needed to have a diesel engine for better fuel economy, and also a 4 wheel drive option so that it can cope with the off road driving conditions commonly found in Africa.
After getting the mandatory jab for yellow fever, and the recommended ones for typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, and polio, the day finally arrived when we boarded the flight to Uganda. On arrival at Entebbe airport we were warmly welcomed by Robert and other I.R.F.F. / W.A.I.T. members.
As planned, the next day was dedicated to purchasing the vehicle. I was told that I.R.F.F. Uganda had been dreaming of this moment for several years. Robert took me to a car dealer in Kampala commonly called a “bond” in Uganda, to look at a vehicle he had short listed. It was a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser, freshly imported from Japan. Although being 18 years old, it was surprisingly in very good condition with only 45,000 miles on the clock, which is very little for a diesel engine. The vehicle was clearly little used and very well cared for. Under the bonnet, the 3 litre engine was still shinning in some areas. After making a thorough external and internal inspection of the body, we started the engine and took the vehicle for a test drive. On returning to the “bond”, I inspected the warm engine for signs of wear. There were no signs of “down-pressure”, meaning that the engine had done little work and had been well looked after, as the clock on the dashboard suggested. Furthermore, all five tyres looked almost new, which again indicated the general condition of the vehicle. I was a little concerned however it had 8 seats and not 12 as had perhaps been originally envisioned. Robert assured me that this was not a problem.
The air conditioning, cd player with radio, 4 electric windows, 4 wheel drive option and all other equipment and instruments functioned properly. I was very satisfied with what I saw. This was a very sturdy and reliable vehicle which is what is needed on the extremely bumpy and rough roads found in practically all Ugandan villages. All in all, this was a very sound proposition, and after a little prayer I felt very positive about purchasing it, although for me it is never easy parting with so much cash.
We thus decided to purchase the vehicle for a toughly negotiated price of 34,000,000 Uganda shillings (£8000), and after the roof rack and bull bar were fitted, we drove it to Robert’s home in Kabuuma outside Kampala. I pointed out to Robert that as the vehicle was in such good condition, it should give at least 10 more years of reliable use. I then drafted a maintenance schedule to help keep the vehicle in top condition. It must be mentioned that the Manchester (North Region) made a substantial contribution towards the purchase of this much needed vehicle and towards the whole trip as well.
The Toyota Land Cruiser with IRFF logo safely parked at Robert’s home in Kabuuma.
Tadeo is explaining the values of W.A.I.T. to some pupils at Souvenir primary school.
The next day we drove to Bunga Lower Konge, where we visited Souvenir (pronounced Souvennia) primary school. We were greeted by the director Peter, supported by enthusiastic and lively African singing as performed by the many children lining the entrance to the school. We were then shown around the various sections of the school, including the workshop where students make several types of hand crafts, and the music recording studio. Tadeo from the W.A.I.T. team then gave a talk about the values of the organisation, and Robert spoke about the work of I.R.F.F. We were then entertained by more singing and dancing performances which the students happily and enthusiastically gave. We observed that religion is a very important part of life in some Ugandan schools, and many songs are infused with religious messages.
Wednesday 30th July was dedicated to visiting Destiny Junior School in Kibiri close to Kabuuma. The school is supported and sponsored by I.R.F.F. U.K. through I.R.F.F. Uganda. There are 95 children attending this school run by the headmistress Jessica. The children’s ages range from 3 to 11 years organised in 5 classes. We were entertained by several songs and dances performed by each class. As in the previous school we visited, some of the songs had religious messages. The teachers are doing a great job of educating these children many of whom come from broken and underprivileged families. I.R.F.F. is really working in a suitable location, amongst those who really need support, help and encouragement.
The 95 children with the teachers at Destiny Junior School in Kibiri brought together for a group photo.
One of our main tasks at the school was to create profiles for every child. The next day Thursday 31st July, Christina, Virginia and myself carried out this work with the help of Jessica. Christina prepared the forms, while Virginia took down some basic information about each child. I had a camera set on a tripod and took a photo of every child as they were interviewed. During the lunch break we were served a filling meal with typical Ugandan food consisting of matooke, boiled rice with pea soup sauce, with avocados, water-melon and pine-apple for dessert. All the meals were prepared in the kitchen of the school. Matooke is a staple food made from green bananas (found readily in Uganda) which are boiled and mashed like potatoes. We completed the task of gathering information and taking photos of all the children by the next day.
On Saturday 02nd August, Robert drove us to Jinja situated by Lake Victoria, a town about 50 miles east of Kampala, and is one of Uganda’s largest towns established in 1907. This is where the river Nile starts its 3 month long journey to the Mediterranean Sea, more than 4000 miles downstream. Naturally we took a boat ride from the shore of the lake, from where we were taken to a tiny island which marks the exact source of the Nile, considered to be the world’s longest river. At the little port harbouring the lake boats, there is also a beautiful monument of Mahatma Ghandi, as it is said that in 1948 some of the ashes of this most famous Indian statesman were scattered on Lake Victoria at this very spot from where they eventually made their way along the shores of the Nile.
The little island on Lake Victoria that marks the source of the River Nile.
I.R.F.F. and W.A.I.T. Uganda have connections with several schools in the country. Robert and Tadeo have been very busy forging strong links with these institutions. The students and teachers of these schools, as in many other schools in Uganda, are quite religious and are very receptive to the values and goals of I.R.F.F. and W.A.I.T. Uganda is indeed very fertile ground for disseminating religious principles, and may probably readily accept teachings based on the Divine Principle. As we travelled through several villages in eastern Uganda, I observed the numerous small schools scattered around the area. Although we did not make any contact with these schools, I could not help noticing the lofty slogans that most of them had next to their name.
The next day Sunday 03rd August we visited Walyembwa primary school on the outskirts of Iganga, a town about 30 miles north east of Jinja. This is where we helped the mobile medical team to treat some pupils that were suffering from jiggers (chigoe flea). These are tiny insects that live in the dust and sand of countries with tropical climates and attach themselves to the exposed skin of usually the feet, and grow to many times their original size, causing havoc to the victim. If untreated, the feet can become totally infested, and in some cases prevent the victim from walking properly and can cause other dangerous infections such as tetanus as well. In extreme cases, infestation by the chigoe flea can even be fatal. The task of the mobile medical team was to wash the feet of the patients, using liquid disinfectant and liquid soap, and then extract the parasites from the victims using needles.
This certainly was not pleasant work, but it helped alleviate the sorry condition of those unfortunate people. We were told that jiggers affect thousands of people in Uganda.
However, to deal effectively with this huge problem found in many areas of Uganda and elsewhere, sustained action and investment is required. In the short term, victims of jiggers need to soak their infected areas in water with disinfectant for about 15 minutes every day for 2 weeks until the parasites are killed and then extracted. In the long term, people living in risky areas need to be educated about hygiene and personal cleanliness, and to wear shoes continuously. The breeding grounds of the parasites also need to be fumigated and sprayed with insecticides. Furthermore, floors of schools and houses need to be covered with cement and kept clean from dust to eliminate the possibility of the parasites from claiming their ground. The work that we did in this school was like trying to extinguish a forest fire with a cup of water. The task to eradicate these tiny insects from areas adversely affecting humans is a mammoth one, but not impossible.
Washing and treating children suffering from jiggers at Walyembwa school near Iganga.
Certainly, dealing with jiggers is not a trivial challenge, and volunteers need to be properly trained to be effective in treating patients suffering from these parasites. The headmaster was really very grateful that we visited Walyembwa school, and here as well we were entertained with singing and dancing performed by some of the students. As in other schools, some of the songs were influenced by religious beliefs. It was interesting to note that even though it was a Sunday, many children and some parents still attended. The challenging experience at this school really makes one aware of the very difficult circumstances that many other people find themselves in. However, even in the face of such adverse conditions, most people are still grateful and joyful for what they have. This is such a contrast to the attitude of many people in materially more advanced countries. There is much to learn from people in Africa.
The I.R.F.F. / W.A.I.T. team with the headmaster of Walyembwa primary school outside Iganga.
During this trip to Uganda we also visited Brightland school not far from Kampala. Robert talked about I.R.F.F. activities and Tadeo shared W.A.I.T. values. Tadeo also gave a very energetic break dance performance that really wowed the audience. Here too we were entertained by students performing African dances and songs some of which had religious themes. Florence is a close associate of Robert who then spoke to the girls about the importance of personal hygiene. Aided by Christina and Virginia, Florence then gave many girls some sanitary pads which are not as easy and affordable to find as in more developed countries.
Another worthy project I.R.F.F. Uganda will be embarking upon is the manufacture of sanitary pads and their distribution to girls, many of whom miss several days of school every month because they cannot afford to keep themselves clean and tidy. The raw materials needed to make these pads are easily available in Uganda, and Robert already has the space needed where to install the machine that produces them. The machine will be purchased from Nairobi, and transported to Kabuuma where Robert lives. This project will also have a business aspect to it, as the plan is to sell sanitary pads in commercial outlets as well, making the distribution of free pieces to those who cannot afford them, viable in the long term.
Florence, next to Milli in the W.A.I.T. tee shirt with girls at Brightland school who were handed sanitary pads.
Christina next to Paul Isabirye and his wife with Robert and Virginia at Kigulu prime academy near Iganga.
Paul Isabirye, the director of Kigulu Prime Academy on the outskirts of Iganga, is a very close associate and active partner of I.R.F.F. and W.A.I.T. He supported the mobile medical team that treated children at Walyembwa school. We visited Kigulu prime academy where I.R.F.F. installed a small solar panel that powers light bulbs in several class rooms, thus helping to improve academic standards at the school. Here too we were entertained by dancing and singing by some of the 345 children that attend the school. One of the 18 teachers also joined the children in one of the dances. I felt the need to support this school, so on behalf of I.R.F.F. U.K. we donated 300,000 Uganda shillings which pays for the 2 daily meals of 3 children for a 3 month term. One of the children also made a drawing of Christina, Virginia and myself, so we wanted to encouraged her talent by presenting her with some drawing materials.
Being quite close to Kenya, Robert drove us to Kisumu which we visited for just a day. Our family lived in Kisumu until October 1963 when the population was a little more than 40,000. Today there are about 400,000 people living in Kenya’s third largest city. I will need to pay another visit lasting a little longer than a single day, but now I would not be able to wait another 50 years.
On Sunday 10th August we spent the day at Entebbe wildlife sanctuary together with Robert’s family and friends where we saw camels, lions, rhinos, birds of prey, chimpanzees, zebras, crocodiles, hyenas, snakes, ostriches, several kinds of deer, and other animals including Uganda’s national bird the beautiful crested crane shown on the national flag. The bird is also the subject of many paintings and souvenirs sold in craft centres found around Kampala and places of interest.
Robert with family and friends at Entebbe wildlife sanctuary.
The last item on the agenda was the land for sale just next to Destiny junior school. I.R.F.F. has had interest in this piece of land ever since the owners decided to sell it, as it is ideally placed to help expand the school, creating a better environment for the children. The size of the plot is about 95 feet long by 60 feet wide, and would be a very important and valuable acquisition for I.R.F.F. Uganda. Destiny junior school is built on land that is not owned by I.R.F.F. so purchasing the adjacent piece of land would make all the work and effort being invested by all those involved, much more secure and stable. However I.R.F.F. could not immediately purchase the land when it came up for sale. During our visit in Uganda, we visited the owners who informed us that due to pressing needs, they could not wait any longer and wanted to sell the land as soon as possible. Robert then contacted Ashley who organised the transfer of about £1200 equivalent to 5,000,000 Uganda shillings to pay a deposit on the land having a price tag of 40,000,000 Uganda shillings (about £9400). The deposit is receipted in the promise of sale dated 12th August (the day we left Uganda), which was signed by Robert, and formally witnessed by Jessica and myself, and in which it was stipulated that the balance of 35,000,000 Uganda shillings should be paid by 31st December 2014. Securing this money will probably become a priority for I.R.F.F. U.K.
I was really impressed by all the contacts that I.R.F.F. and W.A.I.T in Uganda have made. Robert and Tadeo have also forged a strong relationship with the police academy in Kampala, where a workshop is due to be held in the near future. Most people we came across were also very friendly and helpful. I was also surprised to find that most children and teachers we met were quite religious. When we visited Destiny school for the last time and were about to leave, one very young boy ran towards us with open arms and hugged us so very warmly, even though he could not reach higher than our thighs. The warm and genuine friendliness of the children we met in all the schools we visited is probably second to none. It was truly a privilege being there and look forward to returning to Uganda hopefully in the not too distant future. There is still so much work to be done, especially after the plot of land next to Destiny school is hopefully purchased later on this year. For Christina and Virginia it was most definitely an unforgettable experience, even though at times it was quite challenging.
I just want to end by saying that although many Africans appear to be quite poor, Africa is actually extremely rich in natural resources, and many Africans are very rich due to their warm friendliness and personalities. However they do need help to develop their full potential, and to use their resources in an efficient way.