Portraits of Ugandan Children

Below are photographs of children that I took on a recent trip to Uganda.

Masaka, Uganda

Masaka, Uganda

Kabale, Uganda

Kabale, Uganda

Kasese, Uganda

Kasese, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

Arua, Uganda

Arua, Uganda

Masaka, Uganda

Masaka, Uganda

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Colorful Playground Pyramidal Towers

Colorful towers with pyramid-shaped tops are a common sight in Uganda. They are easily made, and since they have no moving parts, they should be very durable. They make an excellent companion piece for a swing set. Young children climbing on the tower, use both their arms and legs. The towers are also relatively inexpensive.

Colorful Tower installed at Survival School near Lira, Uganda

Colorful Tower installed at Survival School near Lira, Uganda

There is one aspect of these playgroud towers that needs to be explored further: how they be used in conjunction with other playground structures.

Monkey Rings at Survival School, Lira, Uganda

Monkey Rings at Survival School, Lira, Uganda

At a school just morth or Lira, Uganda, we installed 2 towers and stretched a 4×4 board between them. We then hung monkey rings from the board at one-foot intervals.

At installation in Masaka, Uganda, funded by the Lions’ Club, there is a large climbing tower. But there are serious issues associated with this playground structure. Foremost is how to transport it to isolated rural areas. Perhaps a modularized version is possible.

Large Climbing Tower in Masaka, Uganda

Large Climbing Tower in Masaka, Uganda

The next permutation I think we will try is constructing a swing set using towers as end posts. One possible problem: children on the towers might interfere with those on the swings.

A square formation with towers at the corners might be fun. Strung between the towers could be swings, monkey bars and rings, and/or suspension bridges.

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Our One-Car Crash in Uganda

Yesterday was a crazy and tiring day. We set out from Kabale, Uganda, at 8:00 am. We were headed to the Batwa Pygmy community in mountains, a 3-hrs drive from Kabale. The last 50 miles were on a rocky gravel road.

Our Flipped SUV

Our Flipped SUV

I was rocking out (with my headphones on) to the sounds of the Stones, ZZ-Top, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and CCR. We occasionally saw wlldlife along the road, monkeys and small brown antelope. One boy along the road was showing off his camilleon.

A few miles before we were to arrive at our destination, our driver lost control of our SUV. The vehicle veered to the left. On returning to the road it spun 180 degrees into a ditch and then rolled on its side.

Luckily nobody was hurt. We all had our seat belts on. It was a bit of a chore getting out of the vehicle but we managed.

By the time we had gotten out of the SUV, we had attracted a crowd of local villagers. They worked for an hour to get our vehicle upright.

We decided to continue to the Batwa school where we were going to install a small swing set. We negotiated a bad deal to get ourselves and the swing equipment to the school.

Pygmy Woman Trying Out the Swing Set

Pygmy Woman Trying Out the Swing Set

Unfortunately, the newly-rented small pickup could not climb the sandy, rocky “road” to the school, so several of us carried the swing parts the last half-mile. It was a hot day, even in the mountains. Several locals stayed around to help us, including a middle-aged Batwa woman. After about 2 hrs we had the swing assembled and concreted in.

Small Swing Set for the Batwa Pygmies (with Installation Crew)

Small Swing Set for the Batwa Pygmies (with Installation Crew)

The sponsor of our project, an Anglican Canon, agreed to give us a ride back to Kabale. The owner of our damaged SUV didn’t want us riding in his vehicle. So our driver rode back to town alone.

Our three-hour trip back to Kabale was largely uneventful. The Canon took a much longer route, but the gravel road was better.

About halfway through the trip we were forced off the road by a large, speeding bus. We ended up in another ditch. Unfortunately, there was a man standing in the ditch. Fortunately, we were able to stop about a foot short of hitting him. No problem, we just pulled out ditch and continued.

We got back to Kabale at 8:30 pm. We were dropped off at our favorite restaurant. Even though I hadn’t eaten all day, I wasn’t very hungry. We took boda-bodas (small motorbikes with drivers) back to our hotel. It had been a long and eventful day. I was tired.

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Abilnino, Uganda, Movie Theater

Albilnino is a small Ugandan community located 4 kilometers off the Gulu-Kitgum highway. To say that Abilnino is an isolated, poor community would be a serious understatement.

Abilnino Chidren Waiting for the Start of a Movie

Abilnino Chidren Waiting for the Start of a Movie

Because they want to see their children educated, the parents in the Abilnino area have banded together and started a school. Their buildings are primitive, but it’s a beginning.

We were in Abilnino this week starting construction on a new 3-classroom complex. We decided that while we were there, we would show animated movies to the children. (There is no school in Uganda in January.)

Abilnino has no electricity, so we brought with us a small, battery-powered LED projector and speakers. We played th movies on a laptop computer.

Since the LED projector requires a dark room, we decided to show the movies in a circular, windowless traditional Africa hut.

Albilnino Movie Theater

Albilnino Movie Theater

Twenty-five children gathered inside the structure. All enjoyed the animated feature films. We used a battery-powered fan to help control the indoor environmental conditions.

Although this activity was strictly for fun, it did demonstrate that LED and laptop technologies can be successfully utilized in isolated developing country environments. Educational videos, PowerPoint presentations, etc. are now possible anywhere, which opens up a whole new list of activities for improving global education.

The next step for Abilnino is the installation of a small solar unit to recharge the batteries for their future educational hardware.

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Request from an African Prison’s Worst Inmates

By Peter Gwin, Senior Editor, NG [1]

“Ssssssss, monsieur. Ssssssss, monsieur.” The hissing sound comes from the padlocked door of the cell holding the “stubborn ones,” says the prison warden in Berberati, a Central African Republic town near the border with Cameroon.

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The inmates poke their fingers through the cracks, trying to motion me to come near, possibly to whisper an alibi or maybe to slip them some cash or the ballpoint pen I’m nervously clicking. The warden ignores them and continues his tour of the rest of the prison, organized around an open concrete yard.

In the corner of the yard two naked men bathe themselves, splashing water from a bucket and vigorously rubbing their skin. A fire smolders in another corner. The sweet, pungent smell of cassava flour and human sweat hangs in the air. The eyes of all the prisoners follow us as we move around the yard. I ask the warden about the men in the padlocked cell.

“Some are bandits,” he ways with a dismissive wave. “Two are anti-Balaka,” members of a movement of Christians and animists who joined forces to fight a Muslim-led rebellion. Just that morning the town’s prosecutor had told me that the prison’s worst inmates had participated in the burning, looting, and lynching that left the Muslim quarter of the town an empty ruin.

The warden leads us out of the yard, and we pass the cell once more. The fingers poke through the cracks beseechingly, Ssssssss, monsieur! Ssssssss, monsieur!” they hiss. “Some soap, please. Some soap.”
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National Geographic, Jan 2016

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The Best Gifts

By William MacAskill, Co-founder of the Effective Altruism Movement [1]

Giving gifts to loved ones is great; it’s a rewarding way to spread joy and strengthen friendships and family ties.  But at this time of year I’m always reminded of how many people not only get no presents but also lack the basics to allow them to live healthy lives.  For me, luxury [gifts are great];for the world’s poorest, it would be nutritious food, clean water, and health care.

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The poorest 10% of the world’s population, some 700 million, live on less than $1.90 per day. And that’s adjusting for local purchasing power: they live on what $1.90 would buy in the U.S. Faced with this kind of budget, and often geographically isolated, they are forced to eat whatever they can find, and drink and wash in unsafe water. They can only pray that they don’t succumb to malnutrition, malaria or any number of diseases that, while perfectly curable in rich countries, frequently ruin or end lives in the developing world.

I don’t seek to make anyone feel guilty for exchanging luxury goods with the people they love. But it seems to me that there’s another type of giving that is, if anything, even more profound; giving the basics of life to those most in need. Sure, you might not get a thank-you letter, but you’ll have done something extraordinary. However, I’m not just interested in people giving more to charity (although that is important). I’m also passionate about people giving smarter, because where you give can make a huge difference on the impact you’ll have.
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[1] Time magazine, 14 Dec 2015

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Where Are the Liberation Theologians?

The website religiondispatches.org recently listed 10 religion-related stories that were under reported in 2015. Number 9 on the list was liberation theology:

Maybe it’s out there, but I haven’t seen in-depth reporting on the reception of Pope Francis’s slight nod in the direction of the liberation theologians. This after a Little Ice Age of official Vatican hostility to the consciousness and the practice developed in Global South justice struggles.

The U.S. bishops, most of them appointed by John Paul II and Benedict, have not been seen rejoicing over the idea that liberation thought is at least discussable again; they are certainly not seizing the opening to lend any concrete support to current justice struggles that could use some liberationist framing. Of course, one still hears some​ liberationist discourse among some 70-year-old left-leaning Mainline Protestants, but they’re not any kind of force to be reckoned with.

Overall, it seems that the liberationist “moment” has passed, which is a little bit ironic in that many of us would prefer to see the viewpoint identified ​simply ​as “Christianity,” with no modifier required.

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