Saturday, February 11, 2012

No Money, Lukodi, GUSCO, MP, Advising, Disasters,...and Poetry

Feb 11th, 2012     Happy Birthday Meg  - you are 1 in a Million, Cuz!

No Money in Uganda
I am asked for money daily – usually by strangers – occasionally by co-workers. Often it is for transportation, money to attend a funeral, for a relative with AIDS, for a wife who needs surgery, or to help pay school fees.  I always say I can’t help them. Which may seem awful, but as soon as I give money to one person, the floodgates will … and I am here for 2 years.  So I empathize, say how sorry I am, and often give them a hug, which is not a Ugandan custom.  I assume they think it’s a weird American custom for saying something like life is hard.

However a week ago was the most difficult dilemma. Our Matron (lady who oversees the girls’ dormitory) and grinding mill operator mentioned again how sick she was feeling, especially in the chest area, and how it hurt to breathe and spit. She welled up with tears and said “I am dying and have no money for the hospital”. She was obviously very frightened and really thought she was dying. I have no medical training and had no idea how sick she was, but I could tell she believed she was very sick and dying. She never asked me for money, she just said she had no money for transportation, hospital fees and medicines. I believed her, since our staff has not been paid since November.  

On top of this her grown daughter was recently severely beaten by her husband. So she was gone for a few days to nurse her daughter. The husband was arrested. Although it is OK to hit your wife, you are not allowed to almost kill her. I have no idea how old the Matron is, as her life of poverty has prematurely aged her. I do know she also has kids in primary school and her husband is either dead or “gone”.

So I hugged her and told her I was so sorry and I would pray for her.  I felt so torn. My heart was talking and my head was talking. I listened to both knowing there are millions more stories that are equally horrific and compelling.
So I decided to find things in my home I didn’t need – the package of incredibly large old lady panties a friend sent (to my horror), some mint leaves and lemon verbena as herbal medicines for her chest, an extra package of Band-Aids, and 2 extra pillowcases in a brown cloth pouch. Not much, but I told her she can use or sell any of the items as she feels fit. So I skirted around my “no giving money to Ugandans policy” by giving things she can sell. Funny how the heart can out rationalize the head!
The outcome has been she has recovered and is now looking almost 100% - I like to think it’s the lemon verbena and mint teas that helped cure her. Maybe it was just that someone cared and tried to help that lifted her spirits.

On Wednesday Feb 1st, 2012 I went with a reverend from Kampala and representatives from Bright Futures Australia to visit Lukodi Village – 17 Kilometers north of Gulu town. This village was the site of a massacre during the 20 year war with the LRA. The village was attacked because the LRA felt someone in the village had given information to the Ugandan army about the LRA’s whereabouts. People were burned inside their homes, cut into pieces and abducted – along with many other atrocities. This is not unusual in this section of Uganda and I am reminded daily that almost everyone I meet has lived through so many horrors.  It was a bright, hot day and everyone was smiling as they welcomed us. We interviewed many women and village leaders to learn how aid provided from Bright Futures is helping them recover. We toured homes, inspected agricultural stores, attended a Village Savings and Loan (VSLA) meeting and inquired what their needs are at this time.

They have received seeds, oxen, and education on farming to help attain more secure food sources. They have been given chickens and goats to help generate new sources of income. They have received improved water sources and a grinding mill for the community. We were warmly greeted and even watched some youth perform cultural dances.

One thing they asked for that I am trying to assist them with is a mobile HIV/AIDS testing vehiclethat can come to their village. Most women get tested – it is required if they go for treatment during preganancy. However many men do not get tested and say they don’t want to pay to go to town for testing. So the women want to get their men educated, counseled, and tested. They feel a mobile vehicle is the only way it will get done. I am hoping I can set this up through Peace corps, USAID or another organization.

Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) is an NGO that has selected 3 vocational schools to provide 3 month courses to war affected youth to help them acquire skills to make a living. My school is one of those selected schools, and I have been registering the potential students as they come to register for the subsidized courses. This has been taking place for the last 2 weeks and we have signed up almost 80 potential students to date. Part of the registration is asking them a series of questions. “Were they abducted by the LRA? Dates of Abduction? Are they child mothers? Did they drop out of school?” The majority of registrants were abducted. Many come with papers documenting their reintegration into the community and detailing the dates they were “in the bush”. 

This has been a real front row experience for me. Most can only speak a little English and we get through the questions using my infantile Acholi language skills and their often better English abilities. The hardest part is when the effects of the experiences are still severely debilitating to the young person sitting across from me. I can see it in their eyes. They look like they may cry at any moment and will not maintain eye contact. Frequently they stare at the ground and answer in a whisper. I am also encouraged by those who appear to have overcome the trauma to a large extent and are smiling and communicating with a light in their eyes. They all seem grateful I am there and smile broadly when I try to speak in Acholi.

Minister of Parliament Visits Koro Abili
On Friday Feb 3, 2012 the Omoro County Minister of Parliament(MP), and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the Hon. Jacob Oulanyah rolled through Koro Abili to address School and Business Leaders. Since the Director of our school was not there I was selected to go along with our  Deputy Director. The meeting place was across Kampala Highway directly across from our school offices. I tagged along to witness the event and was completely surprised when a man took my arm and led me to the front of the room and placed me 2 seats over from the MP’s seat. I was then asked to address the crown of approximately 80 and introduce myself. It’s funny but if you are white person in a small village you are automatically an important dignitary. I took a breath and with a translator introduced myself and the objectives of Peace Corps and said I was excited to work with the community to help in any way I could.
After the MP addressed the audience in Acholi, he turn to me and spoke in English thanking me and saying he was very familiar with our school and will work hard to help us. Who knows, but I am hopeful he will keep his promise.

Business Advising
We just began a new term at school and I put the word out that I am happy to meet with any students who want business training and advising support. So presently I have 3 students whom I meet each Wed and Saturday. Since this is a vocational school almost everyone will leave here and try to support themselves with their skills. I plan to cover some theory, but mostly practical steps to help them get started. I also I am working with the administration on a speaker series of successful graduates and other local businessmen to come talk to the students about their business journeys. This will be very interesting to them and to me. Finally when I spoke at the Minister of Parliament Meeting, I met 2 Gulu University Students who are studying business and they have both asked for mentoring from me.

Dry Season Disasters
Yes it is the dry season and I am very well equipped to deal with the heat and lack of water. However, I did not realize the other challenges I would face. The biggest problem for me has been that in Acholi land all animals are released during the dry season to forage for themselves. This has led herds of goats and cows to roam freely onto our campus to eat any green thing they find. This means they have finished off our remaining cabbages and in the process damaged a number of the irrigation pipes on our drip irrigation field. They had also eaten almost everything I painstakingly planted and watered over the last few months. I am very annoyed with this setback, but I will rebound once the wet season returns. Thanks Mom and Dad for the sunflower seeds!

I wrote last time about Africa Burning and this continues – however last night I found out they don’t always contain the fires. My friend Nancy’s compound caught on fire around 1:30 am and she was awakened to the fire crackling precariously close, just outside her window. She, I and her neighbors frantically worked to contain it and keep the buildings from catching on fire. This was all done with no running water – just filling jerry cans from the water source just down the road and carrying it back to the fire. There was no major damage but it was a very close call. Read more on her blog...


Sunscreen     Jan 31. 2012
A happy memory to take out
And roll over in my mind
Applying sunscreen to my sons
A protective tender ritual

While vacationing
Taking time to pay attention
 To the beautiful parts of life
Smiling while asking to be still
Giggling at the grimaces

Anointing all magical surface areas
Lobes, Toes, Neck, Nose
Arms, Legs, Foot tops!
One simple moment
Encompassing so much of motherhood

Overflowing Eyes            Jan 31, 2012
A favorite movie line
God is in the Rain
Returns to me often
And I manipulate it
As the moment requires
God is in the breeze
God is in the effort
God is in the resting
God is in the sunrise, sunset, light & darkness
God is in my heart
God is in your smile
I keep seeing God
And understand why
My eyes overflow
Yes they overflow and I am so grateful for the life I am living.
Hugs and love to all of you