Friday, November 27, 2009

the first week, all about KCCC

You know that game that is a small square and it is made up of 15 squares that have to be moved around until you complete the picture? You move the squares up and down or right and left and make it all match up. That is what it is like to be in a matatu, the little van taxis that you take everywhere in Kampala. If you are sitting in the back and need to get out, everyone has to get out to let you pass and then rearrange. There is a lot of strategy in placing yourself in the van so that you can do the least amount of moving until it is your stop. The stops aren’t really stops either, you can just tell the driver to let you off wherever you need to go. The driver's helper uses hand signals, like a baseball coach to let you know if he is going right, left, or straight, or whether he has room or not

We have completed week one in Africa and are already quite really (ugandan english for alot) savy, although we have much to learn. I realize now that we are not “muzumbus,” rather we are “muzungus” but I didn’t catch the difference in the b and g sounds. We are still hailed as such everywhere we go, especially by the kids and boda boda boys. We have started working at KCCC. The organization is quite amazing. It was started in 1986 by a community of pastoral leaders and with the generous help of an Irish nun (who also happens to be an OB/GYN) to serve the needs of this very poor community in Kampala. The organization has grown up with and around this community, responding to the needs and incorporating the people in the growth and expansion of services. The day starts with morning prayers, 30 minutes of hymns set to African drums and blessings for the day.

The primary purpose of KCCC is as a clinic which was first just for HIV/AIDS and the provision of medical care and access to antiretroviral medications. To combat stigma and because the community was in such need, the clinic expanded to provide general medical services to people who are also HIV negative. The HIV testing is not free, it costs about $2.50 which is a lot for most people. But, once you are tested, if you are positive, access to the medication is free. Community volunteers who are also patients on treatment have case loads of about 50 people whom they visit in the community each week, making sure they are taking their meds, and identifying problems and needs.

KCCC has also built a school in the community that serves about 500 kids. Universal primary education exists in uganda, but the associated school fees and classroom sizes of 140 kids or more make them a choice of last resort. People attempt to send their children to "private schools", but fees associated with these along with one of the highest birth rates in the world of 6.2 children per female make it near impossible for anyone to have an eduacation here. The KCCC school has a fee, but it is less than in other private schools and they sponsor some children who cannot afford it. It was built to serve orphans and other vulnerable children in the community but has been mainstreamed as well, again to combat stigma and normalize the existence for people dealing with HIV.

KCCC also has a vocational program to train kids in trades who were not able to be successful in school and go to university. It has a mental health clinic, a new development, which is a huge deal, since mental illness is stigmatized and most families banish and beat their relatives who have mental health issues. By the way, epilepsy is considered a mental illness.

There is a youth center for kids to go and play sports with a small computer lab. It is intended to keep the young people occupied when they are not in school, to keep them from having sex (soccer vs. sex?). The organization is Catholic and gets a lot of funding from Catholic sources so contraception is not part of the mission.

There is a bank that offers opportunity to save and micro-credit loans of around $200 for people to start small businesses. The average laborer makes about 50,000 to 100,000 Ugandan shillings per month which works out to be about $25 to$50.

The jist of all this writing is that the organization is pretty amazing and has done much with very little resources. It has also really partnered with the community to provide relevant services. There is still SO MUCH need. We each went into the slum with community workers last week and visited people in their homes and saw how people live. The homes are nothing more then mud brick homes, roughly 5 by 7 feet wide, which include a living space with a broken couch and a bed in the back. some of these houses are homes to 6,7, or 8 family members. the cooking is done outside, on a traditional coal burning stove. the houses have dirt floors or possibly scrapped linoleum pieces which they lay to cover the dirt. Despite the filth and mud that is everywhere outside, homes are mostly kept clean, god knows how.

We are slowly making friends, imade friends including a kiwi couple who are volunteering in Kamwokya as well, and who happen to be related to the nun who founded the organization. We celebrated thanksgiving with them with a fine curry and plenty of ugandan lager.

We are slowly making our way through Kampala, meeting other Muzungus in the NGO world, finding tasty indian restaurants and a yummy coffee shop, and we are rationing our "The Wire" episodes so that we can make them last.

Happy thanksginving all, we miss you!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In to Africa

Well, we are in Africa. We arrived on Thursday night late and were greeted by our current landlord and someone from the organization where we will be working, KCCC or Kamwokya Christian Caring Community.

Welcome to our blog. This is intended to be a collection of our thoughts, musings, experiences, pictures while we travel. We would love for you to share it with us whenever you have some time and we promise to try to keep it updated. We are just at the beginning of an 8 month trip, for those of you who don’t know. We are going to be volunteering in Uganda for the next 4 months with an organization that works in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. The organization provides lots of services to people in the largest slum of Kampala, including health care and a clinic. We are going to be helping with the clinic in some capacity….we’ll know more in a few days about what we will actually be doing.

here is the loose itinerary:

Nov 15 leave for London
Nov 19 leave for Uganda
end of March leave for Cairo
beginning of April leave for Israel
mid-April leave for India
mid-June leave for Thailand
end of June leave for Hong Kong
July 3 arrive back in Denver

total travel: 7 months 19 days

It has been a long journey to get to Uganda. At the end of October we left Oakland, CA and drove back to Colorado with a car stuffed to the brim with our wordly possessions. We spent a really fast week in Denver unpacking and then re-packing and prepping for this trip. Then a few days in North Carolina to see Guy’s parents, a wedding in Atlanta and off to London, England for 3 days where we got a chance to see the queen as she passed by on a procession to open the Parliament, saw a play, ate some excellent Indian food and enjoyed some English bitter. We tried to do London on the cheap, which is not so easy. Thanks to Rusha’s cousin Becky we had a place to stay, which helped. We saw many of the sites, and walked all over the city. We got to go to parliament and see the House of Lord and the House of Commons. Decidedly more pomp and circumstance than would ever be found in the US and we were lucky enough to hear the most boring speech imaginable about the need for stopping deforestation in Brazil. We spent much of our time minding the gap. We managed to avoid the rain in London….but we got some in Africa and will probably be seeing more rain for about the next month.

We woke up this afternoon, after sleeping 12 hours—our first real night sleep in weeks, it seems. It poured rain while we were sleeping and now the roads are wet with sticky, red-brown mud, almost like clay. The roads are pretty bad. Huge pot holes, bumps and the drivers are worse. They drive on the left side, but not many people seem to follow rules while driving. There are tons of motorbikes, boda bodas, which also function as taxis. Guy read a statistic saying that 5 people die each day in Kampala from accidents on these things. As many as 4-5 people will pack onto them, including mamas holding infants. We plan not to take a boda boda. The main mechanism for public transport are the matatas, little vans that function as taxis. We haven’t figured out if there are regular routes or stops yet. They get pretty packed as well and we took one but it didn’t really drop us off where we intended to go. Also there are people on bikes, people on foot, private cars and it is pretty chaotic overall, but fun.

Many people speak at least some English, as we are in the city. Uganda has over 50 dialects and none of them are similar to eachother so English is ostensibly the official language. In Kampala, the language Luganda is a common dialect and we have learned a few words: “oli oyota” means “hi, how are you?” and “webale nyo” means “thank you very much.” Oh, and “muzumbu” means ”white person” and it is used by pointing at a white person and repeating it several times.

We are settled into our apartment which is a 2 bedroom house with a nice kitchen. It is simple but functional and we are looking forward to knowing this place better. Tomorrow we will venture into downtown Kampala. When we figure out how to use this better we will upload more pictures.