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!


  1. hah - i was going to call you out on the muzungu thing but wanted to wait till you got it. how i miss a nice life-threatening matatu ride to start the day! keep the updates coming and be well! xo

  2. we miss you guys! zach says hi (in his own way).

  3. Let me get this straight: Two Jews working for a Christian organization, celebrating Thanksgiving in Africa with Kiwis, eating curry and drinking Ugandan beer. Is this a volunteering endeavor or just a pilot for a wacky new reality show? You should get a photo of Guy eating bacon in a yamaka to top it all off.
    Sounds like you guys are digging right in. I look forward to more updates and photos!!

  4. Love reading your updates, what you guys are doing is truly inspiring. Contrasting your Thanksgiving in Uganda with ours at a friend's huge house in Woodside is hard to even get my head around. What you are doing will stay with you both for the rest of your lives. I am so proud of your accomplishments already! - Keith
    PS - someone moved to your place, they always keep the curtains closed, so it seems very quiet and different.... Miss your chair Guy!

  5. just found this was in my spam box you guyz are amazing i want to get involved tell me what i can do peace Howie Martin

  6. awesome descriptions...keep 'em coming. we miss you!

  7. I love the detail and imagery of your writing style and look forward to following the adventure and traveling vicariously with you! Glad you're settling in well and starting to make some friends. And even were able to celebrate Thanksgiving there! What a bonus! Lots of love to both of you!! xx