Tuesday, 27 August 2013

6 Month Update

6 months down the line we wanted to give you all an update on the families that we worked with in Uganda. We have some great news and some sad news.

We've updated already on the work that was done to the school - shutters to the boys dorms, playground upgrade, mosquito nets, bunk beds - but updates relating to people that were supported have taken a little while longer.


On my first visit to Uganda I provided monetary assistance to rehabilitate a paralised epileptic boy. Unfortunately his mother Aisha did not attend the sessions and did not learn to care for him. The second time I visited his condition had worsened. I made the difficult decision not to fund more treatment - it really was a hard one, but it had been proven to me that this wasn't going to work. Unfortunately Musa passed away.

CALM began an investigation into neglect by his mother Aisha and involved the local police. However, unfortunately whilst she was being investigated, Aisha also passed away.

Our thoughts are with Musa's brother. We are trying to find out how he will continue schooling and if he is being cared for now that his mother has gone.

This news is not easy to digest, but we know that if we're going to do social work in a developing country that we will come across this sort of thing from time to time. You have to take the good with the bad and focus your efforts on areas that you can actually make a difference in.


Mariam's latrine has been completed. This will improve sanitation for her and her 3 children and increase their health.

A small business loan was given to Mariam to start a charcoal selling business. This was quite a risky loan as Mariam had no business experience. However, I am pleased to confirm that she has succeeded in her business and is now earning enough to support her family without having to spend long days digging in other people's fields.


Ronald was loaned a pig to increase his family's income. The pig has been well cared for and is now pregnant. When it gives birth in 1 month's time, 3 piglets will be claimed back as the loan repayment and he will sell the rest as income before breeding again.


When we met Scovia she was being given free rent by a friend but had no income. She was loaned 3 bags of charcoal. The charcoal business is still running, though her friend has insisted now that she pay some money for rent.

It is our hope that in time Scovia will be able to save little bits of money and expand her business, though this will be a slow process for her.


Mary was loaned 3 bags of charcoal to sell in her existing shop. She has done so well with this that she has been able to purchase 2 piglets and invest in fruit to sell also.


Margaret was given a loan to start a shoe and handbag sales business. Unfortunately Margaret did not comply with the agreement and seems to have spent the money (approx £50) on delivering her baby instead. This is disappointing, but again, something that does unfortunately happen from time to time.

It's difficult to say what we would do differently next time, both Margaret and Mariam felt like high risk loans. Mariam's turned out so well and has improved her family's life, whereas Margaret took advantage of the situation. Had we been a little more conservative then we would not have lost £50, but Mariam would still be digging in fields, her disabled daughter left unattended and with no money for food or soap.I feel like we made the right decisions but appreciate that not everyone will agree.

Once again, a huge thank you to those who contributed. Your donations have just kept giving and made lasting improvements to the lives of many people who just needed a little bit of help to get back on their feet.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Day 11 - Goodbyes

Today was a day of goodbyes, some happy, some sad, but all with promises to return.

Before heading out today I had to say goodbye to Dorothy. She didn't take it well and started to cry. Being terrible at these situations about all I could muster was an awkward hug and a 'there there'. I'm sure she will be fine. She seems to have built up a good friend network at the school and is focussing more in class.

Then it was delivery time. The plan was that the receivers of the income generating loans would come to the school and then we would take them home depositing their items with them. But this is Uganda. At the time we were supposed to be leaving only 2 had arrived, the delivery truck was nowhere to be seen and for some reason that eludes me Israel was loading an oven into the CALM van.

An hour and a half later we were ready to go. The final item, the pig, was chased, caught, tied and hauled into the truck tray. Watching Ben run around the pig pen trying to catch it was a sight to see!

First we went to Scovia's house and left her with 3 bags of charcoal. Next was Ronald's pig and bran. The pig was (understandably) a little distressed so we hung around for a while to make sure it got cooled down and settled in OK. Israel decided the pig should be named Susan, but the family have a daughter named Susan so we called is Isobel - much to his annoyance. Then was Mary who was also left with 3 bags of charcoal.

Next we went to Mariam with her 2 bags of charcoal and shop rent. While there we were able to check on the latrine which is coming on nicely. She gave us half a jackfruit as a token of her gratitude. I'd never had one before but it's quite tasty.

Finally we found Margaret at the CALM field office and distributed her loan. Once the field office is up and running Margaret will be employed by CALM as their representative in the area and will run her business from the office. There will also be vocational skills training for at risk young women there. There is still a bit of work to be done there before they're ready to open.

After work we were treated to a farewell lunch with James, Joseph, Martin, Israel, Ben, Ali and the other 2 volunteers. It was a typical Ugandan meal with piles and piles of starchy food, followed by some really rather formal, but appreciates speeches from each of them. Afterwards we played pool and chatted, James telling us how sometimes he likes to so the driving on the boda bodas he hires. 'They are scared but it's OK.'

Our ride to the airport was quite long, but we were kept entertained by the men weaving through the traffic on foot selling a random assortment of products. These included a map of Africa, belts, shoes, a kitchen knife set, some sort of games console, CDs, loofahs and toilet paper.

It was also a great chance to get to chat to Joseph who was driving us. He is concerned about the upcoming Kenyan election and the effect it will have on Uganda. If Kenyan's strike or riot, it means no petrol in Uganda - the perils of being a landlocked country. Joseph said that last time there were problems people were walking to work or not going for 3 weeks. I can only imagine the damage that did to the economy.

Sitting here at the airport sweating my butt off, having a Nile Special, I am looking forward to running water and being able to step outside without being instantly covered in red dust. But I'm really sad to be leaving CALM and Uganda again.

Once again, thank you so much to all the people who donated and allowed us to make the contributions we did. You have had a huge impact on so many people's lives and we will keep you updated on other progress.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Day 10 - Shopping!

Today we got to put our plans into action and go shopping for the donation and loan items.

The shopping list looked like this:
* 20 mosquito nets
* 8 bunk beds
* 10 clocks
* 8 bags of charcoal
* 1 pig
* 1 sack of maize bran
* 1 sack of potatoes

First we went to a farm next to the school who have pigs for sale. Benedict had picked one out that was the right price for us and looked healthy. We took his word for it and made our first ever pig purchase.

Then we split up with Leckie and Martin going to get the bunk beds and Benedict and I going for everything else.

First we looked for the maize bran. We haggled with a local dealer to get the price we wanted and the right mix for the pig to grow quickly. The mix included cotton, salt and fish. We watched them mix it on the floor in front of us to be sure they didn't skimp on the fish and left the bag for later collection.

Next we purchased the mosquito nets and went in search of clocks. I'm not sure why I was surprised but there were no clocks to be found. Martin is going to Kampala tomorrow and will get them then.

After this we looked for charcoal, finding someone willing to sell us the entire sacks. They are absolutely massive and I had no idea what we were going to do with them, but we paid and Benedict instructed them to hold them while we found a truck.

Then we found a potato seller. Sacks of potatoes turned out to be very expensive, so we decided it best to leave this one. So we added one bag of charcoal to the loan of Mary and took out the potatoes. When she repays the charcoal loan then CALM will look at the potato option.

We had to then hire a truck, which consisted of just approaching a truck driver and bartering a price. After loading the charcoal into the back though it was obvious that the bran wouldn't fit, so we hired a boda boda (motorbike) also and strapped the bran to this.

We had not long been back at Jolly Mercy when Leckie returned in another truck with the bunk beds and several men in the tray. They had been stopped twice by traffic police, one of whom wanted to know why they had a M'zungu in the car. No questions about the men standing in the tray though.

The men set to work assembling the bunks in the dorms and were done by the time we left. In the meantime more trucks turned up carrying things for the construction work that will be happening and work on the playground began. I've been amazed and super impressed at how quickly this has all happened.

Tomorrow we distribute!

Today's tidbits:
* When discussing domestic violence against men, a man on the radio this morning said that if a woman hit him he would just put her in a suitcase and put her outside.
* Naming animals is not common place in Uganda, but Israel has named his cows. One of them is named Brian.
* It's been so dry and dusty here. I told them it was going to rain on Saturday and now they think I am a prophet. I tried to explain it was just BBC weather.
* There are 'not for sale' signs everywhere. This is to prevent people selling land that does not belong to them.
* While at a shop I saw a funeral wreath that read 'Rest in internal peace'
* Several of the children have now drawn tattoos onto themselves to copy Leckie

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Thanks to all of our generous family and friends we have been able to make some excellent contributions. Here is the list of donations made and why we think they are a good idea.

20 mosquito nets
There are currently 20 children at Jolly Mercy sleeping with either no net or a torn one. These will help prevent malaria, minimise the risk of malaria related disability and allow the children to spend more time in the classroom and less in the hospital.

Playground Upgrade
At present there are 2 working items of playground equipment at Jolly Mercy. When the children fall off they fall on to the rocks below and sometimes necessitate a trip to hospital. This donation will create a soft sand base for the play equipment to reduce injuries and a basic equipment upgrade (some used car tyres).

8 bunk beds
There are currently children sleeping on mattresses on the floor in the girls dorms. This means that they aren't able to use mosquito nets. This donation will get them off the floor and help prevent malaria. They are in need of 5 beds at the moment, but 8 will allow them to bring in an extra 6 children.

10 clocks
This is a super cheap but necessary one. The school is trying to teach the children to value time, but there is no way for them to tell what time it actually is. This is 1 clock per classroom.

Shuttering for boys' dorms
Jolly Mercy are currently working on a second boys dormitory. The dorm has no windows at the moment. This donation should make the dorm functional allowing for the introduction not news students and reduction of overcrowding in the existing dorm.

Latrine for Mariam
This will improve the hygiene of this family, their surrounding community and will provide income for local diggers, builder, brick maker, cement seller, timber seller, etc.

Loan for Margaret
A small business loan to allow Margaret to purchase shoes and handbags from Owe no market in Kampala to sell in her local community. When returned this loan will be a donation for CALM Africa.

Loan for Marian
A small business loan for Mariam in the form of 2 sacks of coal and 1 month rent at the local trading centre. This is close to home so would mean Mariam doesn't have to leave her disabled child home alone when she goes to work - as she does now. When returned this loan will be a donation for CALM Africa.

Loan for Mary
A small business loan in the form of charcoal and potatoes to allow Mary to expand her business. When returned this loan will be a donation for CALM Africa.

Loan for Ronald
A small business loan in the form of 1 pig and a sack of maize. This will be returned in the form of 3 piglets that will be distributed into other needy families to start their own piggeries.

Loan for Scovia
A small business loan in the form of 3 sacks of charcoal. When returned this loan will be a donation for CALM Africa.

It's never easy to hold the futures of people in your hands and make decisions based on money entrusted to you by others, but we're comfortable we have made the right choices and thanks to all of your generosity have been able to provide a lot of support that will effect a lot of people.

Thank you. :-)

Day 9 - Making Decisions

Breakfast this morning was an interesting affair. We have eggs, but due to a county wide gas shortage there is no way to cook them. We had also 3 loaves of bread. Loaf one was full of bugs and no doubt responsible for the cockroach infestation in the refrigerator. Loaf 2 from the freezer was mouldy from being defrosted and frozen repeatedly with the power outages. The 3rd looked reasonable though so we ate it.

The plan today was to see a few more people who are seeking small business loans and make a final decision on where to spend the donation money.

True to Uganda though the first visit didn't quite go to plan. The first woman we went to see was called Nancy. When we arrived she was sitting on the floor of her tiny room crying, holding her hand in the air. Her left arm and hand were really swollen and infected. She refuses to go to the hospital believing that she could die if she does. Despite pur protests that she could die if she doesn't we had to settle on traditional medicine. So we went to a local herb dealer and got her some herbs. The idea is that she ingests some, rubs some on her arm, ties it off and waits until it is ready to pop. She has a wound on one of her fingers where she has tried to 'pop' it but it wasn't ready. It was so hard walking away knowing that she could easily die from something so easily treated because she doesn't believe in modern medicine. The smell in the room was awful as well. I don't think she has bathed in the 2 weeks since the infection started which won't be helping.

While we were at Nancy's house we asked Israel about painkillers. We tried then words 'painkiller', 'paracetamol' and 'ibuprofen' and all were met with blank looks. We also enquired about a missing finger from the swollen hand. Apparently it is unrelated, having been bitten off in a fight when she was younger.

Nancy really believes that someone has put a charm on her and that the only way she can be saved is with traditional medicine. Unfortunately Nancy was in no condition to discuss a business plan so we had to leave her with some herbs and move on.

Next we went to visit a woman named Mary. She has 3 children who attend school and her husband has left 3 years ago. She is currently selling tomatoes from a makeshift stall in front of her house and runs at a profit of 21,000 shillings per week (£5). She currently wants a loan to expand into the charcoal and Irish (standard potatoes) business. She is an excellent candidate for a small business loan with her business experience and demonstrated motivation.

The next candidates we saw were a full family, the father named Ronald. They have 7 children, 3 of whom are wheelchair bound after untreated malaria in childhood. When we arrived neither parent was home, but the children's grandmother introduced us to them and showed us around. Later Ronald came to the school to chat.

Ronald is seeking a pig loan, which will allow his wife to work from home caring for the pig and also their children with special needs. The way a log loan works is that you give a female pig and a sack of maize. When the female gives birth the recipient family will raise the piglets up to the same size as the one handed over. At that stage repayment comes to CALM in the form of 3 pigs which will be used for similar loans. The remainder and the original pig then belong to the family to breed, raise and sell.

Ronald has kept pigs before and I am very impressed that he has stuck by his wife through the children's disability. This is not something I've seen a lot of. Not only has Ronald stuck around by he has created a local network of parents of children with disabilities, encouraging access to medication and anti-discrimination. This has now been running for 3 years and has 210 members.

Finally we saw a woman named Scovia. Scovia's husband left her and their 6 children and sold the land out from under them. Thankfully a member of the local community has taken them in and they have a roof over their heads. All 7 of them are now living in a room that is about 3.5 x 4metres though and Scovia needs to find a way to get back on her feet and improve their situation.

Scovia is seeking a loan of 3 sacks of charcoal which she can sell in smaller quantities for profit. There is a small stall in front of the property Scovia is staying in that she can use to sell her charcoal and there is only one person already selling in the area.

Back at Jolly Mercy we made our final decision on donations, made payment to Ben and arranged to see this all through for the next 2 days.

Final stop for the day was the bar for a celebratory drink. Joseph and Martin from CALM joined us with their usual amusing stories. CALM have a second volunteer house in the more remote Rakai district. Joseph told us how once volunteers there had ignored his instructions to wear proper shoes and has ended up with jiggers in their toes - little bugs that love under your skin and feed off your blood. When the locals saw they had them they all laughed as jiggers are associated with being unclean and people are looked down on for having them. They had to dig them out with a safety pin. What a hard lesson learned!

Funny things that happened today:
* Ben was telling us about the first time he bought a pig. He hog tied it and strapped it to the back of his motorcycle. He says the pig liked it, but started squealing as they went through the market and people started shouting at him.
* We saw a woman pushing a bicycle. Ali, Israel and Boscoe collapsed in fits of hysteria with Ali asking us 'have you ever seen a woman riding a bicycle?!'
* A bee flew past us and we were informed that this means visitors are coming.
* Afro bar was playing Ninja Warrior with all patrons staring in disbelief

Monday, 25 February 2013

Day 8 - Plans Coming Together

Before we got started this morning we went on a walk around the outter school grounds with Edward. He showed us the fields where they grow bananas, cassava, sweet potato, paw paw and jackfruit to feed the school. We also saw the pigs and new piglets, which are sold for income.

Since my last visit the school has built a well. This is clean water but is about 5 minutes walk from the school (without full jerry cans). The children all go for water at the end of the school day. Edward says they have a pump and filter and hope to pump it up to the school one day, but can't yet afford the piping.

This morning we had a typically mad Ugandan conversation with Benedict. He was telling us how he doesn't like to eat ants because sometimes their legs stick in your throat. He's fine with grasshoppers though.

Then of course we moved on to witchdoctors. There was a woman in the office this morning who is being assisted by CALM. She showed us her arm which was swollen. She said that someone had out a charm on her and her arm got infected. It is a common belief that infections are caused by charms. Also, in these situations people don't go to hospital because 'sometimes when you go to hospital with this you die'. Ironically rather than realising that these deaths are due to leaving it too long to go to the hospital, they attribute them to going to the hospital itself. So instead they use a local herb and rub it hard up and down the arm until the skin breaks and the pus is released. Then they might consider going to the hospital to have the wound treated. Ben doesn't believe in witchcraft, despite coming from the very tribal North of Uganda. He does believe that there are psychological effects of believing in curses though and that people think themselves into illnesses.

We got the costs this morning for some things that need doing at the school, put down payment for Mariam's latrine and confirmed visits for families requesting small business loans. By tomorrow afternoon we will have a full plan for the donation money and will be able to help quite a few people with it. So exciting!

I'm feeling really good about the latrine. Not only will it improve the health of Mariam, her children and their neighbours, but will also inject cash into the local economy - the diggers, handyman, concrete supplier, brick supplier and wood supplier will all be local and will benefit from this order.

For the next two days we are focussing on requests for small business loans. This would mean donating the loan money to CALM, overseeing goods purchase as well as CALM providing training on book keeping, business plans and household budgeting. When the money is repaid it becomes a donation to CALM to use where they feel is appropriate.

We also have some brochures from UNICEF who are doing free immunisations and some healthcare. The brochure is in English though so Israel translated it for the families we saw.

The first woman we saw is called Margaret. We went to the school where she works earning 60,000 shillings a month (around £15). Her children also receive tuition as part of her package. For this reason she wants to stay in this job, but also wants to start a small business selling women's shoes and handbags. Her sister would do this for her while she is at work and Margaret would take over at 4pm daily. Margaret is pregnant and I'm concerned that she is working in a kitchen. Here, this means being in a reasonably enclosed room with large coal fires, breathing in a lot of smoke. I put to her that perhaps her sister would be better here with Margaret selling the shoes. She didn't seem to excited about that idea.

Margaret had run a small business before, however her husband who is an alcoholic, took her money and so she wasn't able to purchase any further goods to sell. I'm obviously very worried that if we give her a loan that he will just take her money again. She assures me that they are separated and while they live in the same house they are in separate rooms and she has a lock.

It's really encouraging to see someone thinking outside the box and being so enterprising but the husband is a real worry.

Next we went to Mariam's house. She was home and we were able to discuss the latrine with her. She was very thankful. We gave her also some children's clothing that we were given to bring from the UK.

We discussed with Mariam that she had left the child home alone and that she needs to avoid doing this. She was asking for a start up loan for some land to grow crops on. As this would mean travelling far and leaving the child we said this would not be appropriate. Her other idea was a charcoal selling business where she will use a loan to purchase large bags of charcoal and rent shop space. She can make about 20,000 shillings profit a week doing this.

We went to the local shop space to check that no one else is already selling charcoal there and it's looking like a go ahead.

Tomorrow we will see the remaining 4 loan candidates and be able to make a decision.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Day 7.2 - Culture

After cooling down from reading Uganda's equivalent to The Sun this afternoon I picked up the other papers we got. These thankfully read much more intelligently. They mainly focussed on corruption and lack of access to public services. One had an article about a fire on one the highways that started when a full petrol tanker tried to overtake some cars.

We had a touristy evening planned, escorted by CALM's Ali. He took us first to the Bahai temple. There is apparently 1 Bahai temple on each continent and they seek to unite all religions. Inside the temple there are books of faith for each major religion and no religious symbolism. Strangely though, reading the literature, it seems as though Bahai is in itself a faith as well. Odd.

The temple is set on beautiful green grounds with a view over Kampala. Ali told us how when he was a child living in Katanga slums below, he uses to skip school and come to the Bahai grounds. For lunch he would rustle up some edible grasshoppers and jack fruit from the temple gardens. He was caught there in school uniform once and taken to the police station to wait for his parents to collect him.

Along the drive talk inevitably turned to witches. Leckie told Ali how not so long ago in the UK people were often accused of being witches and thrown into lakes to see if they floated. Ali told us that here, to test if a baby is yours, you take the umbilical cord, dry it out, then put it in water. If the cord floats the baby is yours. Apparently some men tamper with the cord to ensure it sinks. As if the men here need another excuse to deny their responsibilities!!

We went this evening to a cultural show that demonstrated songs and dances from across the region. Some of the dancers were very impressive. My particular favourite was from Rwanda where the men donned long blonde wigs and headbanged. It was like being back home in Camden.

The host was an excellent showman and had appeared in the movie Last King of Scotland. However, his talk of the great kingdom of Buganda, their democracy, how they distribute wealth to ensure all are taken care of and how well they treat women was a little hard to swallow after what we've seen. It make me wonder how much the tourists around us knew about what was happening in this country.

On the way home we were charting to Ali about something we had sewn yesterday. There was a huge military helicopter and as we passed the army blocked the street. While interested to know what was happening we thought better of hanging around. Recently the President's father passed away and as it turns out this helicopter was to take his body back to his home region. No such things as a quiet, uneventful day in Uganda!

I've had a query about sponsoring a child to attend Jolly Mercy. The top priority children at the moment are those in the Katanga slum, who would need to board. To sponsor a child to board at Jolly Mercy is £308 per year (around $450 AUD). This includes meals, healthcare, accommodation and uniforms.

If anyone else is interested please let me know and I'll email through the children's profiles.