I just got back from a whirlwind tour of orphanage/schools, technical secondary schools, and several villages in rural Uganda. We saw much of country in a little over two weeks. Between traveling and visiting, we put in 12-hour days, visiting Masaka, Kabale, Bubwa Island (in Lake Victoria), Katosi, Iganga, Tororo, Kaberamaido, Lira, Gulu, and Karuma Falls. The poverty is overwelming, but the Ugandan spirit endures.
Uganda is sub-Saharan and landlocked, with most goods coming in from Kenya. The country straddles the Equator, so the days and nights are of equal length. Uganda doesn’t get a lot of tourists, so most of its residents are unjaded by travelers. The country is reputed to have over 2,000,000 orphans (missing one or both parents), resulting from war, AIDs, and poverty. The need is great because the population is growing too fast, and the subsequent subdividing of agricultural land is causing problems for subsistence farmers.
The tour involved representatives from: the USU Student and GSL Professional Chapters of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Interethnic Health Alliance (IHA), Westminster College, and a recent civil engineering graduate from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. It was an assessment trip to find and prioritize future opportunities for collaboration. And there is no shortage of potential projects.
President Obama, whose father was born in nearby Kenya, is a huge hero in sub-Saharan Africa and a great source of regional pride. There are photographs of him everywhere, with many wearing Obama T-shirts. The director of IHA, who was traveling with us, is African American, and he was also very popular: the descendant of slaves, getting a PhD, and being very successful. Ugandans also liked hearing the story of our guide: a woman, a Makerere University graduate, and headed to the US to do graduate work at USU. All served as important role models at the places we visited.
The schools and orphanages we visited included:
- Byana Mary Hill Orphanage/School (Primary near Masaka)
- Hope Children’s Center (Primary near Iganga)
- St. Konrad’s Integrated Vocational College (Vocational near Kabale)
- Lumino Community Polytechnic (Vocational in Busia)
- Uganda Martyr’s Orphan Project (Primary and Secondary near Tororo)
- Kaberabaido Children’s Village (Primary near Kaberabaido)
- Bobi Community Polytechnic (Secondary near Gulu)
- PIT-TEK (Women’s) Vocation Training Centre (in Gulu)
Most of the schools and orphanages have adequate buildings, but are seriously lacking in teaching resources (ie. computers, power tools, sewing machines, etc.). Some also need assistance with their water and/or power systems.
Perhaps the greatest challenges and opportunities are in the Gulu area of northern Uganda. The area has been devastated by the recent rebel insurrection. That war appears to be winding down, and the villagers are moving home from their relocation camps. The villages are in need of reconstructed infrastructure. Technical training is also needed.
We visited a primitive women’s training facility in Gulu: PIT-TEK Vocation Training Centre. At the time of our visit, the center was only providing tailoring instructions. All the sewing machines were treadle. The women at the school were all single mothers, many the victims (including rape) of recent insurrections in northern Uganda. Of all the places we visited, this one left the deepest memories.
Near Kampala, we visited a village on the island Bubwa in Lake Victoria. The village has no power, no water (they haul it from the lake), and no schools. Their fishing livelihood is in decline (because of dimishing yields from the lake), and they want their kids to start getting an education. A local resident has donated a building for a future school. While the setting of the village is very idyllic, the conditions are very primitive and the villagers are concerned about their future.
One of the more interesting experiences of the trip for me personally was a mass performed in Tororo. I had asked Father Centurio, the force behind Uganda Martyr’s Orphan Project, if it was possible to have a special Friday evening mass. He concented, and three of us visitors assembled with about 30 of the orphans for a small ceremony. Father Centurio’s message was on target and the kids had a good time singing. It was all very inspirational. It was an evening I will long remember.
Our evening in Katosi, a fishing village not far from Kampala, was also interesting. After inspecting the area for a proposed new school, evening started to fall. As we looked up in the early evening sky, we could see Venus and Mars adjacent to each other . . . with a crecent moon just below. The three made a celestial “smiley face” :).
One of the prettiest areas that we visited was Lake Bunyoni in the mountains above Kabale in southern Uganda. The lake has an irregular shape and is dotted with islands. It is also a popular vacation site, with several resorts located on and above the lake. To get to the lake, we took a gravel road up into the mountains. We drove past several outcrops where men, women, and children were quarrying rock and manually breaking them into standard sizes using small mallets.