A community growing stronger

Greetings from the village where the rains are thundering gloriously and the banana palms are lapping up the drops,

So much has happened since I last wrote – it seems a lifetime can happen in just two weeks here. We celebrated the nursery students’ graduation and end of the school year at KAASO, as the students packed their metal suitcases and rolled their mattress in preparation for their departure.

image

Emirinah graduating from nursery to Primary One

image-6

Students heading home for the holidays

It is a time of rocketing highs and lows as some children are reunited with their parents while others stand tearfully waiting for those who never come. By the end of the day, over 100 of our 638 students still remained at school, glumly kicking around trying to work out why no one came for them.

image-2

A very happy little girl being picked up by her father

That number has slowly dwindled and now there are only around 20 for whom KAASO will remain their home for the holidays. The school bus transported a bunch of Tanzanian students back to the border and yesterday the bus departed on its first official charter – rented by a group of teachers going to a function in Eastern Uganda. It’s being put to good use!

Around this time last year, I sent an email requesting support for community piggeries. In addition to the Kiwi Sponsorships programme I created to help students finishing KAASO get through secondary school, I also witnessed the need for assistance for families with children still studying at KAASO, those struggling to pay school fees. So, following up on the great work started by a Spanish volunteer, Lara Briz, I launched an appeal for a community piggery initiative. The response was staggering and we got sixteen piggeries – which meant that sixteen families would receive assistance and a chance to help themselves to pay their children’s fees.

image-4

A family supported by the piggery project initiative

Yesterday, Rose , Teacher Gerald (who has been helping to oversee all the piggery projects) and I completed the last four visits. Fifteen piggeries visited (the last one was apparently “too far” – considering one of yesterday’s visits was almost a two hour drive away, I’d hate to see what “too far” really meant), fifteen families helped and dozens of pigs growing stronger each day. It was astounding to see what a couple of rusted iron sheets, a few logs nailed together over a concrete slab and two grunting pigs can do for a family here.

image-8

The pride in each family we visited was evident as they showed us their project, and the way it was integrated into their gardens, using the manure to help fertilise their banana and coffee plantations. Parents spoke of teaching their children about rearing pigs and excitedly outlined their plans for expansion. Most of the pigs are now 5 months old and at 9 months will be able to start “producing” piglets which can then be sold to help parents pay their children’s school fees. Each of the recipients of each piggery farm were carefully chosen by Rose based on those she believed would best be able to make the project work, taking into consideration those who were capable of doing the work (many families here are headed by elderly jajjas – grandparents – whose children have either died or abandoned their young children, a frighteningly popular trend that never ceases to astound me).

image-2

A family supported by a piggery project

The chosen families were then brought together for a community meeting here at KAASO where the project was explained to them and they all agreed that the main focus would be to use the profits to pay school fees with the profits as soon as it was feasible. A local vet explained how best to care for their pigs and provided each project with the necessary vaccinations and deworming pills. The funds supplied by each donor covered not only the construction of the pig stys and purchase of a male and female pig for each project, but also this medical treatment, feeds for the first nine months and the supervision of Teacher Gerald who travels on the back of a motorbike to each project once a month to offer guidance and support. It’s incredible what $200 can achieve. A huge thanks to all those who got behind this project – individual stories and photos from each project to come!

image-3

Rose and Teacher Gerald – the piggery team!

Last weekend, I drove to Kampala with Beth, Rose and a carload of tiny children heading home for the holidays. The journey was, as always, rather eventful with the 4 hour trip taking over 10 hours thanks to another run-out-of-petrol incident (the fuel gage on Dominic’s car doesn’t work when you’re on dirt roads which is a challenge when you live a 20 minute drive down a long dirt road…) and the gear shaft blowing up and needing to be replaced. Fortunately for us, in true Ugandan fashion, having just driven for an hour over atrocious dirt tracks after a piggery visit, we conveniently broke down in a roadside trading centre right in front of a local mechanic who happened to be hanging on the side of the road. By the time we finally pulled into Kampala at 9pm, having handed over our little passengers and Rose to Rose’s brother, Beth and I were exhausted and I was more than a little frazzled – Kampala driving at night feels like driving through Space Mountain at Disneyland, with full-beam lights, trucks, motorbikes, people and fully-loaded bicycles coming at you from all angles. Needless to say, arriving to a home-cooked dinner and a bottle of red wine at John and Mirriam’s house was absolute bliss. I love my Ugandan home-away-from-home and that I can walk into a house in Kampala and have little Laria come flying at me, welcoming home her Auntie Em. Each year she gets a little taller, a little wiser and a little more irresistible.

image-6

Rose, Teacher Sarah, Beth and Dominic say farewell

Our time in Kampala was filled to the brim, visiting schools, sponsored students, craft markets (getting ideas with Rose about new projects for the Suubi Sanyu student microloan fund – full story to come next email!) and then saying goodbye to Beth. It was amazing to have her here and to share this KAASO world with a good friend. Thanks Beth for not just talking about it but for actually coming and for doing so with all your heart and soul. KAASO is forever grateful – as I am.

Each of my annual visits to Uganda seems to get busier and busier as I take on more and more and the support grows. Since arriving here, I have had some wonderful new sponsors come on board, giving seven students the chance to begin secondary school next year, in addition to the 34 students already sponsored. Along with our 6 – soon to be 9 – graduates, it certainly keeps us all busy here! I never could have imagined when I first came here that seven years later we’d have grown so much and have come so far. Thank you all for sharing this journey and being a part of the KAASO family from all your corners of the world. I am incredibly proud to know that so many people near and far now know the KAASO name and are helping to spread the web of support, pushing the school forward, giving children hope for the future and helping a community grow stronger.

image-9

Advertisements

Laying eggs, laying bricks

When I was last in Uganda in November 2013, a volunteer named Daniel O’Kelly had fundraised with his family to construct a chicken house and had left enough money to purchase 200 chicks. The building had been constructed and the chicks lined up with the breeder in Kampala but KAASO lacked the funds to buy chicken feed and other essentials.

P1100820

Thanks to the generous support of family and friends, we raised the money to complete the project. Trucks arrived bearing giant sacks of feed and Dominic went out and purchased the troughs, drinkers and lanterns needed for the chicken house. Money was set aside to vaccinate and de-beak the chickens on their arrival.

P1100785

P1100790

When Dominic and Rose drove me to Entebbe Airport, they came back with a car full of 200 chicks – this was one time I was happy to be on a one-way journey to Kampala… Now, seven months later, the chicken project is thriving. Last year in the USA, Dominic was introduced to the concept of ‘Career Academies’. The basic concept is to integrate projects into the school that will help the children learn practical skills beyond the standard academic curriculum. Rose adopted the chicken project as a career academy, selecting students to be ‘chicken monitors’ and teaching them how to raise chickens so that one day they can use these skills to set up a chicken project of their own.

Thanks to the love and care of these chicken monitors, the chicks have turned into chickens and the first eggs have been laid. When I asked Rose if they had sold or eaten the first eggs she laughed heartily. ‘Oh no! We must first eat them because we are longing! So long we have been longing for these eggs and now they have come. Eh, they are so tasty!’ The project will help vary the children’s largely monotonous diet and the remaining eggs will be sold to buy chicken feed and keep the project going. The idea is that the project becomes self-sustaining, generating income for KAASO, providing protein in the children’s diet and helping teach new skills to the chicken monitors.

Here are some of the latest shots of the chicken project from Amanda and Kartal Jaquette who have just returned from KAASO:

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

And here we have it – our precious first egg!!

SONY DSC

With thanks and love to the generous donors behind this great new initiative:

Willem Jan van Andel

Don & Maureen Robertson

Christine Belanger

Judy Blackman, Shelley Duncan & Margaret Koski

Catherine Smith

Alwyn & Wendy Harvey

Not only are the chickens laying eggs, but the workers have been doing their own laying – brick laying! With another amazing donation from Willem Jan van Andel, the KAASO school perimeter will finally be enclosed. Here are the latest images coming out of the village showing the front wall that now separates the school from the road. The fence will soon be completed with metal gates at the main entrance and iron bars filling in the triangular spaces. KAASO has children as young as 3 years old and now the entire school can be closed off, helping keep the children safe and secure.

It is an exciting time at KAASO with Dominic about to head off to the USA on Saturday where the KAASO network will no doubt grow further.

Thanks so much to you all for reading, for caring and for being a part of this inspiring journey.

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC Image

The Kiwi takes flight!

It’s raining outside which puts us under a strange kind of KAASO house arrest – leaving is at your peril as the dry earth turns to lethal slippery mud and you are saturated within seconds. Trying to get into town is impossible, the boda boda (our only way out of here) drivers won’t risk the roads in the rain and the whole place just kind of comes to a stop. So I sit under my mosquito net listening to Kiwi music and waiting for the rains to clear and the scorching sun to dry the earth once more. At least it’s good for the plants…

P1040441

As always, I feel as though the last week has flown, even more so when I open my diary to see written on tomorrow’s page: “One week”. Six months is fast coming to a close. The days are frantic in an African kind of way which means that while you feel busy you’re not often getting a lot done but still end up exhausted by the end of the day. You learn to live that way. It’s going to be a shock to the system to get back to the ‘real world’ where you’re expected to actually tick off everything on your day’s list and not just be satisfied with one out of ten…

Last Sunday was a day of epic proportions. School visiting day saw what felt like hundreds of parents and relatives flooding through the school gates in their colourful gomesis to be met by children who raced to greet them then hung off their arms in delirious excitement. It was wonderful to see so many reunited with their families and to confirm that some did, in fact, have families.

P1040701

You can never be sure here. I was proudly introduced to numerous mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters and had many hilarious conversations in Luganda – needless to say, they were short conversations! This joy was undercut by the the children who stood waiting at the gate all day for parents who never came, leaving them in tears of disappointment.

P1040569

The day began with an 8am two-hour mass which Cherie and I somehow managed to dodge – it was our job to decorate Kiwi House for the official opening and we, of course, took our job very seriously. Unfortunately the moment that we chose to begin decorating was not exactly ideal. We’d tried to wait until the mass was over to avoid causing a commotion outside the window hanging our paper chains and fans that we’d made with the children but eventually mass dragged on a little too long and we decided to just begin. So I was balancing bare foot on a chair trying desperately not to fall off in the scorching heat as I tried to thread the paper chains through the rafters, Cherie was laughing at me and trying to help at the same time when the entire congregation came outside. To our horror, the priest began to bless Kiwi House, half dressed as it was with us standing covered in paper chains. Not quite how we’d pictured it. The crowd watched us with amusement as we tried desperately to get it done but we gave up and stopped as they started to take photos of Kiwi house half-draped with paper chains and boxes all over the veranda. It was hilarious.

P1040461

Continue reading

Translating words into action…

Life at KAASO continues to spin me, throw me, baffle me and make me smile. The sun is beginning to climb and you know that in a matter of minutes the day will be scorching beyond belief. After six weeks here there is a strangely contradictory sense of really belonging, while also knowing that you will never quite understand what’s going on. It’s a paradox you learn to embrace, to accept and ultimately to enjoy.

Many of you have expressed a desire to contribute, to donate in some way and for this I am eternally grateful. We arrived here knowing that we wanted to do everything in our power to help the school and the community – yet also knowing that we needed to first spend some time here to soak it all up and to understand what really needed to be done. Having talked with Dominic and Rose for hours the past weeks we have finally worked out the greatest fundraising priority for the school: the completion of the half-finished girls’ dormitory so that the computer lab and library can be vacated and used for their original purpose.

P1000327

P1000325

The computer lab/library has been completed for some time now but due to lack of space and funds, is currently being used as a girls’ dormitory. As strange as it may seem for children in rural Uganda to need a computer lab, you would be surprised at how great the need is. Many children that are lucky enough to leave KAASO to go onto secondary school end up top of their classes in everything – yet they are failing the computer classes for they have never even seen a computer before. Around the world, computers are becoming indispensable and Uganda is no exception.

In the words of the District Chairman at a recent fundraiser: ‘Very few of our schools in Rakai District having computer training facilities. You may ask: why do these people in the developing world need computers? Computers are now part and parcel of our life. We are trapped between the developed world and our traditional ways. I appeal to you passionately, please help our children to move forward so that we do not become backwards. The world is now a global village, help us to join it.’ Continue reading