Uganda is an amazing country, much like Rwanda it is full of mountains, greenery and amazing scenery. In fact it is home to the tallest mountain range in Africa, the Rwenzoris. It is also has the beautiful, huge lake Victoria that flows into the Nile. As with Rwanda, Uganda is home to some of last surviving gorilla groups in the world.
I spent a week in Uganda, mainly in Kampala, which is a beautiful, lively and friendly city, although at some points (mainly around the taxi parks!) it’s best to take some care and keep your wits about you, if only so you can navigate the huge space and find the correct minibus to leap onto. In general though it is a safer and friendlier place than most European cities.
Rather than detail the many and varied experiences I had there, I want to share a story of a lady I met through one of our partner organisations. The organisation works with rural women in Uganda, for many of whom the UN definition of poverty ($1.25) would be a dream, they exist at subsistence level and work endless hours to provide for themselves and their families.
The woman I met, was and will forever be an inspiration to me. Widowed in 1987, she is one of the poorest people I have ever met, her home is constructed of mud and brick with tin roofing and for many years, until the organisation I visited with installed a water tank, she had no access to clean or safe water. The picture below is of her home, in the background is the water tank installed by the organisation I visited her home with.
However, this woman, a grandmother, has taken it upon herself to support those their community has rejected. She takes into her home children with HIV/ Aids, who have either been orphaned because their parents suffered the disease or who were rejected by their communities because of their status. Not only this, but she also offers a warm, safe and loving environment to young women who are pregnant and again have been rejected by their community. She is a “grandmother” to those most in need in society and despite having nothing, has given hope, life and a future to so many, she will always inspire me and has taught me that even without material support, giving is possible, it is always possible to give with your heart and you offer yourself to others. You can see in the picture below how happy and well her children are despite their poor health status
The support the organisation has given her, in a very practical sense has transformed their lives. They offer technical and resource based skills to rural women, in this case they have given her the seeds and the agricultural technology to grow food not only to support herself and her family, but to sell at market and thereby afford other things. The list of food they are now growing was too long for me to keep up with, but included matoke, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, bananas and everything they needed for a healthy diet and to sell at market.
As you can see in the photo below they are so very proud of the food they’ve grown themselves.
They have a wonderful scheme by which they give an animal, in her case a pig, and once the animal reproduces, then they give one of the the babies to another member of the community, a “revolving” animal system. This not only means that people have food and animals, but that communities are strengthened by sharing their livestock in ceremonies that echo older community activity. The picture below is of them showing off not only one of the pigs they first received, but they now have four adult pigs and countless piglets roaming around!
In addition to all this, the organisation provides health advice and medicine for people who are unwell or affected by disease. The woman I met, was the community representative for this program, which means that not only is she currently looking after five orphans with serious health problems and a young pregnant lady, but that she visits her neighbours to ensure they are well and taking their medication.
This is one example, of the power of people within their own country to bring hope and support to each other and to truly develop society to a better place. Whilst I know the value of our volunteers and that everyone who supports charity brings to the lives of people in poorer countries, to see those “in the field”, the beneficiaries so empowered, so positive and bringing about such important changes not only to the lives of their families but of their whole communities I am beyond inspired and as always proud to be part of an organisation that enables people like you to come and help this wonderful women and so many like her, help themselves and their countries.
Moorahoh (hello) from sunny Kigali!
As I’ve been in Rwanda, working as the 2Way Development Regional Placement Manager for East Africa for a few months now, I thought the best way to introduce myself and our work was to talk a bit in general about life in Kigali, Rwanda, our work and my experiences so far.
Rwanda is a beautiful country, from the shores of Lake Kivu, it is described as the Land of a Thousand Mountains and I suspect they’ve miscounted! Everywhere you look here you’ll see beautiful, verdant mountains stretching as far as you can see.
Like so much of Africa, the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in Kigali are the rich colours, the homes and shops painted with adverts for everything in bright colours and the fabulous array of fabrics that people wear.
Within a short period you’ll find how safe, secure and relaxed life in Rwanda is. When I told people I was coming to Rwanda, their first response often was to talk about the genocide of 1994 and although the country clearly is still suffering the scars of this horrific event and the following conflicts, it has rebuilt itself to a stable, rapidly developing and above all safe place to live and enjoy life.
Whilst there are many frustrations working in a developing world context the rewards are huge and the life here is truly enjoyable. Most Rwandan people are hugely eager to help and be around you, proud of their country and wanting to show it in the best way possible to foreigners. Almost every time I go out I’ll hear people shouting “Umuva Muzungu” which means listen foreigner, really just because they want to say hi, shake hands and spend some time talking to someone from another country. When you arrive it can be disconcerting, but simply smile and wave in return and you’ll be greeted with such kindness. Since arriving in Rwanda, I’ve had men sprint over to save me from stumbling down a hill, people remonstrating with moto drivers who wanted to charge me 100 francs over the price (about 10p), been invited to many homes where I’ve been fed and looked after. It is an amazingly beautiful country, but the true beauty is in the hearts and actions of the people who live here and who make Rwanda one of the most special countries I have lived in.
Working for 2Way Development gives me the opportunity to meet with some amazing organisations and individuals. I hugely admire all the volunteers who are giving their time and skills to help other people often in difficult circumstances and I have found the organisations we work with inspirational. 2Way Development specialised in finding volunteers placements with smaller NGOs who benefit so much and value the volunteers we place with them. We work with a wide array of organisations focusing on almost every aspect of development, including in Rwanda, organisations working with environment and gorilla conservation, gender, poverty reduction, vocational and educational training, disabilities, human rights and so many more areas. Often these organisations have limited funds, but are able to reach such a large range of beneficiaries and affect truly positive change, improving the lives of those they work with and the country and world we live in. I am often inspired, awestruck and humbled by how much they do.
One of my more recent visits was with an organisation that works with children with special needs including mental and physical health difficulties. In Rwanda, sadly, those affected by disability are marginalised, they are not valued by their families and communities and can be left to fend for themselves in a society that doesn’t care about them, their needs or their rights. The organisation I went with focuses on advocacy, education and with partners caring and protecting children who already have such a difficult start in life. I spent the day visiting a project and loved the way the children had decorated their home
speaking with parents who dearly loved their children but were finding it hard with children affected by, in this instance, mental health difficulties, for whom the organisation was creating cooperatives and support networks
and perhaps most enjoyably playing with the kids!
I am managing all of our relations with partner organisations and volunteers here in East Africa and it is a wonderful experience, I will be updating this blog as I spend time travelling around Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, hoping to inspire future volunteers, share experiences with past volunteers and helping people starting and developing their careers throughout the development sector. Through my posts, pictures and links I ‘ll be sharing stories of my experiences and the things I learn during my time in East Africa, I hope you’ll enjoy and please feel free to contact me or comment on any of my posts.
For now, I’m preparing to travel to Uganda next week, so until then I’ll leave you with some photos of flowers in East Africa, simply because they are wonderful and a joy everyday.