Friday, January 25, 2008

Parents and a little recap of distribution

So my parents made it safely and are adjusting well to the shock of traveling so far and being thrown into a totally different culture. We navigated the crazy and huge Owino market today in Kampala with style and ease. Ok, well maybe that's an exaggeration, but they had fun and enjoyed the experience. Tomorrow we visit the family I stayed with for 10 weeks when I first got here. It'll be my folks first time on public taxis and having dinner in a Ugandan Home. I think it'll be a lot of fun and informative. After that is Murchison Falls National park in the north then we make our way to my site in the East and enjoy the real village experience. Should make for many good stories that I hope to put on this blog if internet connections and my memory allow it.

So as far as the distributions go, the video for Kitoikawononi parish are up and it looks really good. It was edited by the donor org and they added music and captions to tell you what was going on. I'm super happy and can't wait to see the other parish's videos. I'm tired so I'm not gonna do the promised recap, but the jist is that we were organized and vigilant on our rules and it all turned out well in the end. The End! :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nothing but nets!

Done and Done! As of Saturday, January 19th, all 8,400 mosquito nets that were donated to us were handed out to the people of Kitoikawononi, Kasajja, Kadokolene, Kaitysia and Kanginima Parishes in Kakoro Sub County, Butebo County, Pallisa District, Uganda. Overall it went really well. For something free handed out to a large amount of people, it was suprisingly organized and civil. I give a lot of credit to the staff members of my organization for having a good game plan and sticking to the rules that they set up. Needless to say, I am super happy and excited that this project turned out successful. I was freaking out inside the whole time, but look surprisingly composed (I think) to the outsider. There are pictures already up for one parish and video will follow. The pictures and video of the other 4 parishes are on their way to the UK now for the donor to edit and post. I'll try to post some pictures asap, but I might not be able to. The Bob and Sheila show (mom and dad) is arriving to Uganda tomorrow so I'll be busy showing them the sights. If all else fails, I have a cd with all the pictures burned on it and I'll send it back with them to put on the web or show all the folks that helped out or are just want to see them.

Here's the donor link from the first distribution, Kitoikawononi Parish:

Since I have a little time here, I'll give you the breakdown of everything that happened since picking them up and bringing them this way. So after many stressful days dealing with money issues dealing from the rise of fuel prices and a failed loan attempt, I finally just told my supervisor that we were going to take some donated money intended for the distribution and use it for transport. I was super tired of waiting and just wanted to get the nets to the village. Our nursing students would pay tuition in a few days so I knew that we'd have enough money for the distribution. We couldn't wait any longer because the donor needed video and picture footage ASAP for a conference he was going to attend. So midday on Monday January 8th, after the last straw had been broken with these shady microfinance guys we were trying to get a loan from, I told Kateu, my supervisor that we were leaving right then for Kampala to get the nets. After a series of calls with the Red Cross (who had the nets in a wherehouse) and a guy with a big truck, we set up to transport them the next day back to the village. Gas prices were down a little so we were able to get a truck for 250,000 Ugsh ($145) which is a good deal. We found a guy who's job it is to transport goods from Mbale to Kampala, but since he usually doesn't have anything on the ride back to Mbale, he transports for less. So the day starts really well. We go to the Red Cross, the guys are really nice and give us a free ride to the wherehouse. The nets are there in bundles of 100 and I almost cry when I see them. Ok Kateu, call the guy and get him here with the truck. So it's 10am and for Africa time, we're doing really good. The guy shows up in 3 hours which is annoying, but not unheard of. We load up the truck and get ready to head out at 1pm. Not too bad, we'll get back to the village around 5 or so. The next 3 hours is when the nervous breakdown almost erupts. After many shady deals with some middle man and stops for who knows what reason, the driver tells me that he needs 200,000 of the 250 that we owe right away because some guy ran off with his money and we need petrol and blah blah blah. It's 4pm and we haven't left Kampala yet. We finally get on the main road and the driver has the gaul to ask us for small change to pay off police bribes on the way. This is were I flip out and start yelling at the guy that he can pay his own bribes and he's made us wait and so on and so on. About 40km into the journey I calm down especially cause the driver was making good time and we arranged for an advance team of Kateu's brothers to meet us at our school building and help unload. By 9pm the nets were securely stored in one of our classrooms and I was a seriously happy man. Kateu and I looked at each other with big grins on our faces and just silently congratulated each other on the first step to the biggest project we've ever worked on together. That was a good day. You can see the huge cheeser on my face in the photo of me holding the bale on the link above.

I'll save the rundown of the actual distributions for another blog because of time reasons and the bulky length of this entry. But before I go, I want to give out a HUGE thank you to all the people back home that helped made this distribution happen. It's not easy to make a difference so far away, but you did it. Thousands of people in my area of Uganda will be protected from one of the deadliest diseases because of your contributions, hard work, and faith in the ability of a small amount of people to make a big difference. There's no way I can properly thank each and every one of you, but I hope you know that me, my family, and my community here in rural Africa is extremely grateful. That's all for now and wish me luck with my parents. It should be a fun and adventurous trip! Take care, Wes

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whirlwind Holiday season

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to all from the Pearl of Africa! I've had a very busy and social last couple of weeks. It started mid-dec at an IST (in-service training) put on by Peace Corps in Kampala to train us on how to teach life skills to kids and teachers in Uganda. It wasn't a bad workshop and was a good excuse to see all the other volunteers in my training group and make holiday plans. I spent Christmas day at my supervisor's father's (the head of our clan) house in the village. For a guy with 40 kids, it was suprisingly low-key. Apparently most of the kids were at the trading center participating in Christmas day games like soccer, wrestling, and a bike race around the district. The next many days were spent just visiting with other volunteers and having a good time. However, the last few days have been a little intense because of what's happening in Kenya right now. For those who don't know, there was a disputed election and riots that followed that have resulted in at least 300 deaths. There has been violence in the border town of Busia which is the main crossing from Kenya into Uganda. Unfortunately, besides scaring volunteers stationed near there, it has caused a huge fuel shortage here in Uganda. Most imports to Uganda, including fuel, come through the port of Mombasa in Kenya then are trucked this way.
All this has completely disorganized my organization's program of receiving and distributing nets (fyi, that sentence was inspired by Ugang-lish). We were scheduled to pick up the nets today in Kampala, but transport costs has grounded us. The normal taxi ride of 12,000 Ugsh from Mbale to Kampala is now 40,000 Ugsh. Not including what it's going to cost us to rent the truck to bring them back. My supervisor and I are discussing sucking up the costs and just getting the nets asap. We don't know if things are going to get better or worse in Kenya, especially cause there is a huge rally of opposition supporters scheduled for today in Nairobi. We've been waiting so long to get these nets and really want them in the village in people's homes. Especailly since we found out that the donor organization, Against Malaria, has fundraised and authorized us to have an additional 2,000 + nets during this round. That means any time now, we will be distributing 8,400 treated mosquito nets to 5 parishes in Kakoro Sub County. Super exciting stuff and it better all go right or I'm going to go crazy! Stay tuned and hope all are having as an exciting (if not nervewracking!) new years as I'm having...