Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to contribute--the indiegogo site is up!

I'm so sorry that it's taken me so long to post this site.  We had technical difficulties and then had a commitment in Bunabuyoka--which is really far away and internet is unheard of.  If you're interested in contributing to our two big projects that we're doing over here, please click the link below.

PLEASE comment in the comment box which project you want your donation going to.  It's very very important to me and the other volunteers that your contribution goes to the project that you're most passionate about.  So please remember to comment where you want it going.

I love you so much!  Thank you for asking me how to help.  I know times are hard financially for everybody right now so please only contribute what you can and know that anything you do contribute is so greatly appreciated by us volunteers and the people here in Uganda.   Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Click here to get to the Indiegogo site!

You can also click here if you'd like to read about more information about the projects that we're doing--though the indiegogo site will give you background information about both projects as well.  Anywho, I'm done blabbing. haha Thank you so much, really, for your desire to help.  All of us are so touched that you guys care like we do about these people.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sipi Falls

On Saturday, the clan and I decided it'd be killer swell to hike Sipi Falls.  I tell ya what, I had NO idea how beautiful Uganda was before I came.  But yikes, yikes,'s breathtaking!
Here's Kelsey, myself and Kara.  These girls are delights.  We're all going to be here for all four months so...I'm going to be in great company.  They're both hilarious and grand.
A view of a bit of the hike.  Zero photoshopping going on.  It's THAT green.  
Me, Cami and Josh. approaching one of the three waterfalls of the hike.  You can see it behind us. 

We made it to the first waterfall and decided to walk underneath a trickling part.  It wasn't the intense downpour, but it was cold and lovely.
Me, Josh and Ashley...we're behind the waterfall .  We thought this was a huge deal--which it was--but there were two more waterfalls to hike to after this.   Count. Me. In.
Cami was taking our pic and told us to celebrate.  Apparently my celebrating pose promotes world peace and an awkward dancing squat.  I dunno...but I can't say I regret it.
Sam and I again.  She's a dear.  She sleeps on the bunk next to me and I enjoy her very berry much.

My nieces Mya and Sadie gave me Lightning McQueen for my birthday to take pictures with him in places where I go.  Wouldn't you know it, Mr. McQueen showed up on our hike.  :)
This is the last waterfall that we were hiking to. this my life?!?  Really?!?  I was blissfully happy.  Nothing could have ruined this moment.  Not if I got mauled by tigers, mugged by a creepster or shot by a sling shot.

We made it to the third waterfall!!  Soooo wet and not minding.  I was wet the rest of the day, my calves and ankles were all kinds of muddy but...oh well.  I spend my everyday life in a skirt.  Why can't I be a bit muddy after a hike to some waterfalls?  I can.  It was sooo fun, so beautiful and reminded me how much I love Uganda and the whole clan of peeps that I live and work with.  Happy and thankful to be here.  Love to you all!  Mals

Friday, May 25, 2012

If you've wanted to know how you can help...this is how.

Let me start by thanking you all for even reading about my adventures here in Africa.  It means a lot to me that you care about me, what I'm doing, and the people that mean a lot to me.  Really, a few of you have written blog posts of your own talking about what I'm doing, and I've been surprised and so thankful for those that have contact me in some way wanting to help.  Blog comments, e-mails, talking to my mom, etc.  I can't tell you how much it means to me that you care about what's going on over here like I do--and your desire to be involved.  We had a discussion about it as a team and here's how you can help:

We are VERY excited about a lot of work that we're doing here.  For the most part, we have the funds to help people--because a lot of the things we want to do don't cost a lot of money.  There are two projects, however, that we feel are very compelling, can help a lot of people, but are going to cost more than say...200 bucks.  Here is what the projects are and then I'll tell you how you can help.

Namatala slum water project.  I've posted a couple of times about Namatala.  That place has a big piece of my heart.  It is a slum with 20,000 people that are drinking and cleaning with dirty water.  The majority of the people are therefore sick very often and have no way of preventing disease that is spread through water--like cholera, for example.  It's a big deal.  Last year, the team was able to get 3 water filters donated to two different "neighborhoods" (like a group of 10 huts) to filter their water.  These groups have not been sick, they're using the water filter, they're cleaning it properly, they have someone in charge of it to make sure it gets cleaned, they completely avoided the cholera outbreak.'s working!  The problem is, these water filters are helping 200 out of 20,000 people.  We really want to get more water filters to these people.  They are hands down the most lovely people that I've met--who coincidentally have the very least I've seen, and close to the least you can humanly live off of.  They teamed up with Rain Catcher last year.  The water filters cost 55 dollars.  We flat out cannot afford to buy all of the water filters necessary.  HOWEVER, we're going to set up an Indie-gogo site on Monday.  IF you are interested in contributing to this project, you can go on this site and donate as much or as little as you'd like. Write a note that it's for the water filter project in Namatala.  We, as a group of 15 people here in Mbale, will get the money directly, as well as your notes.  It's really important to us that your money goes where you want it spent.  We would love to get 50 water filters for the slum.  That's our practical goal.  You can see, however, that they could use more--so earning more than 50 water filters wouldn't be amazing.  I will be updating on the blog about the project with pictures and I'd be happy to mail you pictures and videos about people that you're helping.  They're incredible people and there's no reason they should have to be sick because of water--such a basic necessity.  So that is the option for the water project.  Here are some of my pics from my time in Namatala:

Here is one of the water filters that was donated last summer.  Up and running!
If you'd like to read about my past visits there here is where you can do it:

The other huge project that is greater than our funds allow is in a village called Bunabuyoka.  It's a village that you have to take a boda and then hike straight up for two miles.  Last year the team built a school for the children there--because they obviously didn't have one.  Because of the location of the village, people aren't able to come down very often--nor do people frequently go up.  So having a school there was greatly appreciated.  In fact, not only have they been using the school that was built, but they ADDED on to it!  They ran out of funding so they just need a roof to complete the addition to the school.  So we really want to help finish the roof to this school that they're using and have put great effort into finishing.
The left silver roof, is the school built last summer.  The right side with the orange tarp is what they've added on...and we'd be replacing that tarp. :)
View from the inside of the addition.

  In addition to that, when touring the village, their "medical center" was heart-breaking.  They have a dark room, about four feet by four feet, one cupboard, and like seven bottles of medicine--like aspirin, etc.  That is the room where the 2,000 members of this village go seeking medical attention.  It's also the place where all of the women give birth...if not outside.  There is ONE midwife who administers health needs but has very little training.  Our team would love to build a health center for these people.  We've researched costs, supplies, and even have a doctor, nurse, and a community health worker committed to go up during the week to provide for the villagers health needs.  The cost of the school roof and medical center is $3,000.  If this is something you feel interested in, this will be the other project that you'll be able to contribute to on this indie go-go site.  Once again, please specify what you'd like your donation to go to.  We're very passionate about these projects and are so grateful for your willingness to help.  Any donation will be used on exactly what you're most passionate about.
These are some of the children in Bunabuyoka.

This is the ONLY fundraising that we're going to be doing this summer.  We talked about these projects, how important we feel they are, and decided that we will fundraise for them but these are the big bangs.  I'm not going to be asking you for money or having continuous fundraisers throughout the summer.  This is it.  These are the big papas.  We feel they're both very compelling and have the possibility to influence so many loving and wonderful people.  Thank you so much for your interest and outreaches to contribute.  It honestly fills my heart with gratitude that I have such loving, sweet, generous friends and family that care about what's going on over here.  It genuinely means the world to me.

I'll post on Monday how you can access the website to donate to these two causes.  If, for some reason, there are other things that you want to send, we have a PO Box.  I have heard from several people that want to send clothes, coloring books, candy, etc.  Soooo sweet of you guys.  The postage is expensive, the mail is slow, there's no guarantee that it will get here, but you are more than welcome to send whatever you'd like me to distribute.  I'd be happy to take pictures of the people receiving them so you can feel apart of all of it.

HELP International
PO Box 2258
Mbale, Uganda

Thanks again everyone.  I love you to bits and my heart is filled with gratitude toward you and your willingness to contribute to the well being of these people that I love.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Returning to the Namatala Slum

Today I returned to the Namatala slum.  I've been sooo excited to go back to this area because the first time I went left a huge impression on me.  My feelings hadn't changed on the second visit.  It takes zero effort on my part to just soak these people up and love them.  They are in by far the most humble circumstances I've ever seen and they're so kind and humble.

I returned joining a team that's working on a water filtration system.  There are currently 20,000 people living in the slum and last year the team was able to get 2 water filter systems donated by Rain Catcher and put in place--they help about 100 people each.  We went back and re-evaluated how they're doing, if they're been kept up, how effective they've been, etc.  We were pleasantly surprised.  The groups of people that have a water filter in their area are using it, cleaning it, the people haven't been sick in these areas and completely dodged the cholera outbreak...which is obviously wonderful!

So today we toured around talking to little groups of people throughout the slum to identify hypothetically how many more we'd need, which adults would be responsible for the filters and would take care of the upkeep, etc.  They could easily use 50 more water filters.  The problem is that they cost 30 pounds to 55 U.S. dollars.

We visited many areas within the slum asking lots of questions.  All of them are bathing in the nearby river--that is really dirty.  The drinking water is purchased for 200 shillings from one of two men selling it within the slum.  The water they're selling is not even clean...just cleaner than the river.  So the people  have been really sick in these areas, lots of diarrhea, etc.  So to give you an idea, each of these "neighborhoods" (they're not separate in any way...just groups within the slum) have about 10 houses/huts and have 50-100 people living in the neighborhood.  They share ONE toilet--which is literally a hole in the ground and when it fills up they dig a new one.  They also share ONE "shower"...which is pictured below.  It's essentially an area that has tarps more or less covering up to your shoulders.  You scoop up a bucket of water from the river and that's your shower.
I love taking pictures...especially in the slum for some reason.  The people are so real.  There's nothing fake about them.  I saw this little boy crouching next to one of the huts watching us during our visit and just found him so beautiful.  The eyes of these people just pull me in.
Here's another little guy that I just came upon.  He was just watching our group but didn't notice me pull out my camera.  It's just so easy for me to photograph within the slum.  And I almost filmed the boda ride out of there for you.  I might do it next time.  There's so much I want you to see that I can't describe with words, nor can they be fit within a snapshot.
There was a little girl in a purple tank top that approached me.  She told me that she wants to go to school.  I directed her to one of the people from Child of Hope that was leading us around the slum.  As we toured the slum for hours, I noticed that she was still following us.  With some translation we found out that her mother died a year ago, she is a twin--but her twin sis died a long time ago, she's 11 years old, when her mother died her father abandoned her in the slum, she's unable to attend school because she doesn't have money to pay the fees.

While her story breaks my heart, what might have been equally hard to swallow was her demeanor.  When the translator would ask her questions, she didn't look at his face once.  She would be looking to the side, but wouldn't look at you in the eyes.  Her arms were crossed across her chest, her fingers playing with her collar bone.  I asked the man if I could give her a hug (feeling completely helpless and not knowing what to do), she seemed nervous about it.  I couldn't help but get the feeling that the only form of physical touch she's familiar with isn't to express love.  We spent the rest of the tour just aching for this girl--Deborah is her name.  I don't know what to do with her, but the feeling she left in our hearts has us wanting some way to fix the horrible things that this little 11 year-old is having to live with.

On a lighter note...I hope my posts are never depressing.  Little things that fascinate me are the things the children do for fun.  A girl in the slum had some long pieces of grass or hay...or something braided together to be a jump rope.  While we were in her part of the slum she's jump through her homemade rope blissfully happy.  Other kids draw in the dirt with a rock and play hopscotch.  Then I ran across these two boys having a handstand contest.  It needed to be photographed.
You can find joy in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.  It may take creativity and your resources might be different, but you can have fun and be happy--and you should.  I love these people. I need to continue to work with them.  They completely inspire me.  A song that I really enjoy by The Paper Kites has a song called Featherstone.  I love a bit of the lyrics that say, "When you go what you leave is a work of art--on my chest, on my heart".  I feel that way at the Namatala slum.  I love it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I'm coming up on my two week mark here in Uganda.  Craziness.  I guess I've just been thinking a lot lately about my time I've already spent here and what I expect from the rest of the time here.

I know that God has a plan for each of His children.  I know that He's aware of us and places us in each others paths to bless us--and show us our ability to benefit the lives of those around us.  I believe that's a lot of the reason why certain life choices I've made have been right is because of people.  People that I've met and been in contact with.  People truly leave a mark on me.  I learn so much from those around me--regardless of age, education level or nationality. I find true value in my associations with friends, family, acquaintances, etc.  I have loved my life because it has been so rich of people.  People inspire me.  They teach me how to more effectively love.  Love life, love others, etc.

Thus far, my time spent in Uganda has been unreal.  I frequently look out of the window of our taxis and wonder if what my eyes are seeing is really on a screen--a film, footage, a commercial maybe, but it can't be real.  It can't be my life.

I have seen joy in the eyes of children with tattered clothes, zero electronics or toys to entertain them.  In fact, the most advanced toy I've seen played with is a milk carton with wheels that is pushed by a stick.  They have flies on their faces but don't even flinch.  Their legs are tiny and have poked out bellys.  They're hungry.  But they're so happy to see you.

I have seen mothers that have multiple children--often from different fathers--and are raising their children alone.  They rarely have a husband at home as support.  And chances are good that they got pregnant at a young age, and therefore have no completed education to their name--even high school level.  They don't see potential in themselves or their situation.  But they go forward.  They are gracious.  They are lovely.  They are kind.  They are so happy to see you.

I've seen men walking home from work in raggedy clothes that don't even come close to fitting their frail bodies.  We were buying bottled water the other day and I got overwhelmed watching the passersby.  I noted the serious looks on their faces, the frames of their bodies so fragil beneath the billowing button up shirts they wear.  But you utter a word to them in Lugisu and their eyes just illuminate.  They are so happy to see you.

I guess I just needed a second to reflect.  I love it here.  I love the other volunteers.  I know that we can help.  I know that I can't fix every problem or change the world in 4 months.  But I can change the world of a few people.

 I guess it's just been kind of a frustrating day today.  I believe that I'm here for a reason and that I have qualities and talents that can be used to help.  I suppose I have just felt kind of lost.  I was hoping that since I came into this knowing that I'm supposed to be here, that everything would fall magically into place.  Silliness.  I should know better than to think that the most satisfying things come naturally without work and struggle.  I go to these meetings and discuss possible projects and have yet to find my thing.  You know, my area, my project, that I can take some ownership over--that can be my baby, the thing I'm most passionate about.  You know?  I am excited about all of the projects and want my hands in all of it.  But I guess I've just wanted to find something to make me feel purpose.  Like there's something particular that I can head up.  Perhaps I just need time.  I'm sure it will come.  But I've always been terrible at the waiting part of God's plans.  I always want to understand the purpose and know ahead of time what I'm supposed to learn.  I'm sure I'll figure things out and I'll find what I need to do here.  But in the mean time, I continue to appreciate all of the little moments--the details.

I'm happy to be here.  I feel so lucky to have this opportunity.  I never thought I was that girl.  You know, the type to up and move to Africa.  But it's been cool to see what I think and how I handle things.  I always learn a lot about myself in my travels.  I'm sure figuring out what I'm supposed to do and what my purpose is here will be another great spiritual growth spurt.  It'll be a good thing in the end.  But like actual growth spurts, there's that awkward phase when things feel weird and gawky.  Perhaps life lessons are the same way.  There's a level of discomfort until we make sense of everything.

Okay, I will sign out for the day.  I know that I post super frequently and they're always lengthikins.  Thanks for reading and caring about the work we're doing over here.  It means a lot to have things that are important to me matter to the people that I care about.  Love you all, Mals

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bukweke village, Don Cheadle, First things first

Guess where I went yesterday?  Paradise  village.  Okay, so that's not the actual name of the village but with how green and luscious the area was, it might as well have been named Paradise village.  I have pics added to this post so you'll see for yourself. :) Here is the documentation of our visit to Bukweke village:

We met with a man named Sale.  He's essentially Ugandan Don Cheadle.  He has a big kind smile and he raises his eyebrows a lot when he smiles which somehow makes you trust him and love him more.  He's the principal of the school and is a really good man.  Tuition is SUPER cheap for the students and if they can't afford to pay in cash each semester, he allows them to pay during the semester--even if they have to pay in wood or chickens.  He just really values education and does whatever he can to help people obtain it.  I love that.
We visited a couple of the classrooms and the children are sooo lovely.  They're happy and kind and so eager to learn.  It's beautiful.  After we toured the school and met the kids we took a walk to where we'd stay if we came up there to help him for a few days.  These are pictures of our walk to our sleeping quarters.  It was insanely beautiful.  So green.  I need to get close-ups of those mountains back there because there are gardens on the steepest of slopes.  It's beautiful to look at but I don't envy their farming hours of the day on that steep mountain.
We stopped and took a pic.  The two mzungus with me are ladies from the program who'll be working in that village.
We were waiting for Sale to talk to his aunt (her house was on the walk from our sleeping quarters back to the school) and I saw these cute little kids across the way.  So I went to pay them a visit.  Maybe I'm just a softy but their smiles melt my heart every time.
Here's the rest of the fam.  Grandma and grandkids...I imagine.  They're such beautiful people.
I just try to give you a glimpse of the extraordinary people that I casually pass on my walking paths throughout my day.  These are common occurences.  Different people, but always extraordinary.

Sale wants us teaching math, physics, french, and leadership classes.  Ryan is a chemical engineer so he'll be teaching the math and physics classes.  Holly lived in France for 9 months so she'll be teaching french...though I'll possibly be able to help or take turns with her.  And I'm sooo excited about the leadership classes.  This is the village where they have a problem with girls getting pregnant at 12, 13 or 14 years old.  Sale said he thinks it's a matter of self-esteem. They don't actually believe that they can finish their education and do something.  So they marry someone for status and to be taken care of (at a sublimely young age).  He introduced us to the girls telling them that we graduated from college, what we studied and he introduced us as "professionals".  He said, "I don't want you kids to ever say, "I went to school for a brief time."  I want you to say, "I finished school and this is what I studied"."  I'm really excited to work with these girls and help them see value in themselves and realize their ability to finish their education and take care of themselves.

Sale said, "Do you know what "first things first" means?" He was addressing a class of about 12-14 year olds at this time.  He said, "It means that education comes first and sex comes after.  If you're not doing those things in that order then you're doing the last thing first.  It's not right. "  He told us later that in a school of 400 children that are 20 and younger, he believes about 70% of them are sexually active.  So...we'll probably be teaching some sex ed classes because they don't know anything about it and therefore are having extremely young pregnancies that drop out of school.  I feel like we can really help out here and I'm so excited about it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hailing, Hot Cocoa compliments, Jack Fruit

Today was our day off.  So we didn't have any meetings today which was fun...yet odd.  We went for a swim, soaked up some sun, I read Hunger Games and it was oh-so-heavenly.  P.S. Marms, do you think you could send my swimsuit with someone coming to Uganda next wave?  I'd really like to splish  and splash around if possible.  Lemme know if that'd work.

So there was a rain storm of death today. It was insane.  I was at the pool and I took a right nice shower because I was hot and sweatilicious.  So I showered up and when I came out to where everyone was swimming it had started raining.  Now it's the rainy season here in Uganda so there's usually an hour or two every afternoon where we need to pull out our umbrellas and rain jackets.  Today, however, went above and beyond anything I'd seen in a very long time.  Websters definition of downpour.  It literally started hailing at one point.  The sound of the rain/hail pelting the flimsy roof above us next to the swimming area was sooo loud.  Some of us actually pulled out books and started reading because 1. we couldn't hear each other because it was so loud and 2. there was no way any of us were going to be able to get out of there because it probably would have hurt.  So that was one thing that was crazykins.

ALSO, before I forget, while we as volunteers didn't have any meetings today, our country directors had a meeting at the pool where we were at.  They were speaking to a man in charge of a school in a village a little bit away.  One of our country directors came to use the bathroom while I was in there showering and I asked how the meeting was going.  It sounds in-cre-dible!  Essentially there are problems in this village with girls getting pregnant while they're really young and, therefore, is an abundance of AIDS...stuff like that.  So a project proposal is to teach classes teaching the girls about empowerment/self-esteem/and abstinence...or at least waiting past the age of 12 to get involved in that stuff.  Anywho, I asked Holly if I could be involved and be on the team and she said yes.  So I'm going to the village on Monday and will be hopefully starting things after we check out the village and assess needs.  Other than that, I'm excited to work with Child of Hope (in the Namatala slum) and this education program which is going to be huge.

It's a volunteers birthday today--Josh.  We went swimming with him because he wanted to...and none of us were complaining.  He wanted to go to Chat N' Chino in the evening.  Chat N' Chino is soo rad.  It's a little restaurant-ish place that has such a cool vibe.  It's good food, free wifi, and just a really cool venue.  So a lot of our volunteers go there to hang out.  Jenny and I ate some street food for dinner beforehand.  It was crazy.  We split chicken, rice and chapatti and it cost us like $1.50 each (in American moolah).  It was grand.  Anywho, so by the time we got to Chat N' Chino, we split a hot chocolate which looked like this:
Am I fishing for compliments if I order hot chocolate frequently at this place?  Because...yeah, I didn't hate this experience.  haha  Here are a few cute ladies (of many) from our team:
This is Jan.  She's hilarious and always a good time.  She served a mission too so we frequently share hilarious mission stories and never have a boring time together.
This is Sam.  She's a dear.  She sleeps in the same room as I do.  I'm already dreading the day that the girls in my room move out (because they're not staying for the whole summer).  I really lucked out.  Our team is awesome and everyone gets along.  How marvelous is that?!  Very.
This is our guard named David.  He literally guards our house every night with a bow and arrow.  Scary or funny just depending on how you look at it.  So he came home with this MASSIVE crazy looking fruit called a Jack Fruit.  It's easily the size of a watermelon but it looks like it should grow underwater or something.  He had to cut it, wipe the glue substance out of the inside, take some seeds out and then we eat the orange chewy pieces on the inside.  One of the girls compared the flavor to starbursts.  It was good crap.  I love trying new fruits and stuff.  I'll take more pictures next time but yeah...Jack Fruit.  Rad.
Jenny and I had to get eggs on our way home after eating with everyone at Chat N' Chino.  It was already dark so we had to be careful and not linger in places.  The night street food was out.  It was cool to look at all of the things people were selling.  We'll maybe try some later but tonight was not the night.  We purchased some eggs (which they don't sell in cartons by-the-way).  They just put a bunch of eggs in a plastic bag and tie the top--not joking.  We then were going to boda home because the walk would be super creepy-creeps in the dark.  While we were getting on the boda we had like 4 guys approach us asking if we were married, saying we were sweet like sugar....weird junk like that.

We got to the point where we have the boda drivers drop us off.  We don't really want a lot of people knowing where we live so we always have them drop us off early down the street.  Jenny and I were a little scared because we saw a boda rider off the side of the road ahead of us, just sitting on his motorcycle thing, in a yellow trench coat.  I made the mistake of asking if she'd seen "I know what you did last summer" and we were pretty freaked.  We may or may not have held hands...haha...and I asked her to tell me a funny office quote or give me the summary of her favorite Care Bear episode or something. haha We got past and everything was fine...just scary little moments from time to time.

But after we passed him I just took a second to look up at the beautiful Ugandan night sky.  It was dusted with glitter.  It looked so beautiful.  I couldn't help but feel so grateful that I'm here another day and that I have many more to come.  I wake up each morning with people in mind to help, learn and see new things every day, and come home to people that I love and consider friends.  I'm happy to be here and even if some things aren't ideal (like not being able to flush our toilet paper and having to throw it in a separate bin, or getting mobbed with marriage proposals late at night, or showering out of a bucket, etc) none of it takes anything away from how beautiful of an experience this is.  The pretty glittery sky just reminded me how happy I am to be here and how lucky I feel to have this experience.  I should probably sleep because I have to teach Young Womens tomorrow. :)  Love you all, Mals

Friday, May 18, 2012

School project, to market to market, destiny

Things are going pretty great here in Mbale.  We had a meeting today with the Ministry of Education.  It was really well.  I'm so excited about this project.  We're working with this school district of...wait for it...104 schools!  Not just a handful.  The teachers in this area really struggle with curriculum and teaching skills.  It's rote memorization, no student participation, etc.  So we're going to evaluate lectures at a bunch of schools in the next two weeks and then we're going to hold 5 big teacher trainings--1 in each area of the school district so that the teachers don't have to travel as far.  The school district is HUGE.  You remember that waterfall we hiked to last Saturday?  Yeah, 7 schools from the district are on top of that mountain.  So going to five different locations and having the nearby schools each send 5 teachers for us to trains how to more effectively teach as well as expand programs like art, music, drama, math, etc.

We met with a bunch of principals from the schools and they were very enthusiastic about the project.  We're so excited about developing this curriculum and training because there are a lot of places that have requested this type of help from us.  So once we help with this huge district we'll be able to implement it in small villages and stuff.  Bingo!

The meeting itself was...kind chaotic.  We were all sitting around this big rectangular table and I really felt like I was sitting in on a parliament session or something.  Everyone was talking at once, talking louder is the only way to make yourself heard, the woman in charge would frequently call everyone to order, when people wanted to speak to the group they'd get her attention and say, "Madame". haha Somehow, through all of the chaos, it worked.  Everything that we wanted to discuss and get hammered out, worked.  It was different than I was used to initially, but it worked like a charm.  I'm stoked to get this project underway.

Oh!  I wanted to show you a picture of our local market where we buy our fruits and vegetables and stuff.  It's nuts!  You watch where your step, you just handle the fact that everyone is going to be muttering...or yelling "mzungu" as you pass by, people pitch their products to you as you pass, etc.  It's exciting, sometimes smelly, but always a solid good time.
On our way back from our hike on Saturday, we stopped at a slow food farm, and the man in charge gave us passion fruit.  yipes...not disgusting at all. I'd never eaten...or even seen a passion fruit before.  It was yummy....crazy tart, but yummy.  Here is Carlee, Kelsey, Ashley, myself and Yassim is in front.

Conversations with Ugandans
I feel like this is a segment that should get started.  They say the most hilarious things.  I'll give you a few examples...

  • We have a cook named Sam.  He has such a kind voice that sometimes it makes me laugh.  He is so caring that it almost weirds me out I can't believe he's for real.  One time Kelsey and I were talking to him while he was preparing dinner.  He asked if we have cars at home.  Kelsey said, "I had one but my brother wrecked it."  He got a concerned look on his face and with his words drenched in kindness he said, "Oh, I am so sorry.  I'm very sorry."  We both looked at each other and laughed a bit because I couldn't believe he was so genuinely caring.  Back home people would probably half-heartedly say something like, 'Ah man, that sucks'. haha 
  • He did the same thing when one of the volunteers was showing him some music on her iPod.  The screen is cracked a bit apparently.  He asked her what happened to it and she said, "Oh, it just fell."  He did the same thing.  "Oh no.  I'm so sorry.  I'm very sorry about that."  Genuine, sweet concern.  It just makes me laugh sometimes because I'm not used to it I guess.  haha We love Sam.  He's very sweet.
  • Yesterday on my walk home I stopped at a little craft place with some fellow volunteers.  We were just looking at the handmade jewelry and stuff.  I saw these really cool giraffes that were carved out of wood.  They look way cool.  I was just admiring them and I guess I said something like, "Oh that would be so fun to have in my house."  The woman who owned the shop said, "You have a house?"  To which I laughed and replied, "Oh, not yet.  Just someday."  She said, "I'll pray for that."  haha Really?  You don't need to pray for me to get a house. haha Someday is an okay answer for me.  They're just really sweet people here.
  • Another thing that lady at the craft place said was she saw one of the volunteers scratching her arm...yeah, pesky mosquitos doing.  The lady who owned the shop asked if we all sleep with mosquito nets and use spray to keep them away from us.  She said, "I'm just worried.  They're very dangerous and I don't want you to get sick."  Darling.  Stranger on the street, knows nothing about us, but she directed us to a store where we could buy mosquito spray and is apparently praying for me to get a house.  haha Sweet.
  • Yassim (the little boy pictured above) is pretty funny.  He really likes hanging out with us.  Sometimes he just shows up at our house because he..."left something behind"...but really he wants to tag along with us to whatever we're doing. haha One time he was walking with us to the market and we were buying little juice boxes.  Yes, they have those here.  And yes, I've dropped a few shillings on them a time or two because they're delish.  I asked him which flavors were his favorite and he didn't like apple juice.  I asked why not and he said, "It is not destiny for me to like it." haha How great is that?!  I kind of loved that response.  There are some foods that you like and some that you just really don't like.  In the words of Yassim, it's just not destiny.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Indiana Jones ride, discerning good orgs, and PROJECTS

Today a small group of volunteers visited an orphanage.  We had to take a taxi about 45 minutes away to a village out of town.  The taxi ride was a doozy.  One girl commented that it felt like we were on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland...but without seat belts.  While I see where she was coming from, I don't feel that quite described the fright merited from this ride.  The van was scrunched full of people.  I believe I've told you how the roads are like driving on the surface of a huge dusty golfball.  The potholes are everywhere--and big.  So there was a lot of bouncing.  Like your spine was an accordion or something. I've never been so happy to get out of a car. haha

We toured the orphanage/school that this man Dan has up in this village.  He wanted us to have four volunteers essentially sleeping in the village 3 days a week.  He said they'd provide food and sleeping quarters for us.  We got to walk through the sleeping quarters of the children.  Tiny rooms with several beds inside, multiple children to a bed and the condition of the room was eerie.  There are no lights so even in the day time it's a bit scary.  The walls are made of brick with splotches of cements holding them together.  The largest spiders that I've seen thus far in Africa were just chilling in the ceilings of these rooms.  The bathroom was a room with...not even a squatter toilet--It was a room with a little hole in the corner where the floor and wall meet, where you could pour water to rinse out whatever you did in there to the outside of the house.  It was alarming.  No doors to the buildings even--just a curtain.  Some of the kids sleep on the floor without mosquito nets.  I tried to picture myself sleeping there for three days--as an adult...I think I could do it but I don't think I'd sleep.

We went to meet the children and you know, they're always my favorite part.  They're full of smiles and happy to stop listening to their teacher and wave as we pass by.  The children are very sweet and they have over 200 students ranging in ages from 3-18.  We asked questions to the man (Dan) giving us the tour about what exactly he was looking for--how we could help.  It's so interesting to me because none of us volunteers communicated any doubts or anything while we were there.  We toured the facilities, asked questions and pondered project ideas...but that was it.  However after another treacherous taxi ride home one of the volunteers said, "Did anyone else get weird vibes from Dan?"  (The man in charge of the school and also the man who gave us a tour).  Every one of the volunteers immediately agreed.  There was something odd about him.  Something didn't seem right the whole time we were with him but none of us said anything during the tour.  I'm so thankful that we were all able to discern who we should and shouldn't be working with.  That school as income generating projects and is doing okay...ish on its own--at least comparing it to other areas here.  But the idea of sending four white female volunteers up to a village, so far away, sleeping there, three days a week with a man that  every volunteer got icky vibes from just didn't seem right.  It was a unanimous decision that while the living quarters weren't awesome in the least, there are many other places with a greater need and that have leaders that would be good for us to work with.


We're really excited about our education project we're doing with the Ministry of Education  (cough...magic)...cough...nerd.  haha  We have another meeting with him tomorrow.  The team working on this project is great!  We have a lot of things we want to teach and help them implement to help improve the education here.  And even after we work with this district of teachers, there are a lot of small villages that would need these same programs and tools taught to them.  So in our research and preparation for this project, we would like to package it in a way that we can bring it to other places with the same need (there are plenty who want help with teacher training and curriculum) and give them the same tools that we're giving the Ministry of Education.

Other projects:  We're SOO excited to go back to Child of Hope--the school in the Namatala slum.  The leaders of that organization are kind, trustworthy, genuinely good people.  I'm excited to go back to the slum and work on the water sanitation projects and women's group projects that we currently have in the works.

We also have a team going out to a village that was worked with last year.  Last year, the team helped build a school and since we've been gone (anyone else just sing that kelly clarkson song in their head?  No?  Just me?) they've added on to the school!  Only problem being that they don't have a roof for it.  So we're going to build a roof for them and see what else we can do to help them out.

A pair of volunteers met with someone who has a soccer league here.  Last year the team helped advertise and work with this soccer league as an extracurricular activity for the kids.  Apparently some of the kids have even made it to the national team after playing in this league.  Cool eh?  They have things they'd like us to do and we have some volunteers in on that.

The village we went to yesterday has a lot of potential project opportunities.  We have two medical peeps on the team that are going to be getting some clinical hours in at their clinic there.  And we have another volunteer that is going to be preparing leadership training classes for the high school students at that school.  Might good stuff.

There's plenty to do here and plenty of need.  I think the trick is choosing what is a priority and trusting who you work with--but that honestly hasn't been a problem before today.  We've mostly worked with really wonderful people who want to partner with us for the improvement of fellow Ugandans.  I have so much more to say but I feel like this post is way way too long.  I'll have great news tomorrow I'm sure.  Love you all, Mals

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Up in the night, warm welcomes, school needs

Well it's 1:30 am here.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because there is a chorus of howling dogs throughout the community and/or because I really need to use the restroom and I was hoping to hold it all through the night (the bathroom process is kind of awkward here so I try to go as few times as possible. haha) but it didn't work out so I wake up and go.  Either way, what a great opportunity relieve my poor bladder, enjoy the outdoor tunes and update you guys on goods here in Mbale. :) Win, win, win.

Last post talked about the Namatala slum.  We've been talking a lot about possible projects that we could do there.  We for sure want to do some work with water sanitation.  The team last year got a couple of water filters donated to the slum.  They're still doing well and have prevented problems from a recent cholera outbreak.  They currently only have two water filters in a slum of 20,000 people.  So we'd love to do research on good organizations and get them some more access to water.  Currently one of the men living in the slum that is selling them water from a water source that he has access to--that's there in the slum.  Selling water that's not clean.  Does that rub anyone else the wrong way?  We want more people to have access to free water that is clean.  We also are really interested in some micro-financing projects and doing some workshops teaching women about hygiene, etc.  I'll keep you posted!

We met with the Ministry of Education (several of us call it the Ministry of Magic because we Potter nerds find it hilarious) on Monday.  The teachers in the area really struggle because they don't always have very good training and oftentimes don't have a curriculum.  So the scores at the end of the year are usually low.  So we're really interested in working with them to do some teacher training workshops and have like a big science fair type activity at the end of the summer that could bring kids from all over the district together.

Yesterday our friend Sula picked us up in this "taxi" and brought us to a village called Kakoli.  The welcome was overwhelming.  When we rounded the corner the women were yelling (this cool african AYE YAYAYAYA) and dancing and literally pulled us out of the taxi.  Everyone was so excited to see us.  They escorted us to chairs that they had lined up and then came down the line and all shook our hands and hugged us.  We had NO idea what was going on but none of us had ever experienced anything like this.  They sang a song for us in english and then sang one in their local language.  It was unreal.  Here are some pics:

When they sat down after hugging all of us, Sula talked to them about the possibility of us working with them this summer. They, too, could benefit from water filtration systems.  It's just crazy to me that something that I never worried about---getting sick from drinking water--is a legitimate problem here.  There are a bunch of project ideas we have.  We just need to assess the work they did last year and see how we can improve on it.
While we were already quite aware of our inability to blend in here, today was another shocker.  Their welcome was so friendly and overwhelmingly kind.  I had never experienced anything of the sort.  It's so humbling to be treated this way by people whose lives I respect so much. I feel like I've met some of the most remarkable people in the world and it's overwhelming to me when they think we deserve any sort of glamorous treatment.  I'm just happy to be here, interact with them and help in any capacity.  What lovely, humble, sweet people...all over the place here.  haha
Sula later took us to several different areas--schools, community groups, etc.  A couple of the schools that we visited had some details that were mind blowing to me.  For example, did you guys have these things painted at your schools growing up?
I don't know if you can read what they've painted to the right but I'm not joking you, it says, "Avoid gifts for sex".  Yeah, "Say no to drugs" is not their only concern here.  Apparently girls sleeping with their teachers as a bargaining chip has been a problem.  Unbelievable and just so sad.

At one point today we were meeting with the head of an elementary school and I saw a poster on the wall that had warnings about HIV/AIDS and had a bunch of questions on it like, "At what age should I get involved in sexual activity?".  Is that crazy to anyone else?!  Elementary school!  One of the schools that we went to had a spray painted sign saying, "Virginity is power."  We all laughed because most of us were raised in the LDS community so the message is funny to us.  But when we understand what it means here and is trying to's pretty eye opening.

We have a meeting today with a man in charge of an orphanage.  We have a LOT on our plates.  There are a lot of organizations that would appreciate our help.  If we do have spare time here and there, we'd love to volunteer at some orphanages.  So that's the most recent agenda.  I apologize if this post is less coherent.  It's still the middle of the night and I'm not entirely sure how I awake I am. haha But the bugs are starting to congregate to the light from my computer so perhaps now, with an empty bladder, and outdoor bugs currently in the process of singing me to sleep (instead of the dogs from an hour ago) I'll try to get some sleep before our orphanage visit.  I'll update you again soon!  Mal

Monday, May 14, 2012

A visit to the Namatala slum

Yesterday we visited the Namatala slums.  The group that came with Help International last year did some projects in this area and we came back to evaluate what they did and brainstorm new project ideas for this year.  There are 20,000 people living in these slums.  There is a school that we're working with called Child of Hope that targets the poorest of the poor.  One child is selected from each family to attend the school.  They are fed one meal at school.  Moses, the director of the school, said it's probably what keeps them coming to school, it's likely the only meal they eat each day.  Child of Hope is an incredible organization that's working off of little resources.  They have an office in the UK that is providing funds but it's still a small school trying to influence a lot of suffering people.
These pictures are ones that I took casually throughout my time there.  The people really have nothing.  You rarely saw shoes on the children.  They were rarely wearing underwear or shoes.  And they were lucky to have pants too.  I imagine, by the state of their shirts and dresses that it's the only clothes that they own.  They are so tattered and their tiny bodies were always drowning in their clothes.  I was shocked the whole time, however, by how easily they'd smile if you talked to them or took a picture of them.  They are sweet, kind people.  It was overwhelming.
We walked throughout the slum to get a good idea of what some of the problems are.  About 20% of the slums is infected with HIV--compared to a 6% national average. Prostitution is a problem because they have no other way to make money.  There was recently a cholera outbreak which is pretty much taken care of right now. One of the workers I was talking to said they have 5-10 people sleeping in a house and they'll often have 1,000 shillings to live off of per day...which is less than $0.50 in America.

This darling little girl in the blue dress was so sweet.  The group behind her was dividing up sugar to eat.  She ended up getting a little bit in her palm and licked it.  She was so darling and I feel like their purity and innocence in their eyes just go right to your heart.
The children in the community loved having pictures taken of them.  We'd show them the pictures afterward and they'd laugh and laugh.  As we walked throughout the community, all the kids that we passed would follow us.  We sometimes had easily 30 children following us to see where we were going.  One of the volunteers said it felt like we were felt very strange.  I am not any more important than these kids and their families.  Their instant love and fascination with us felt unmerited.  I was in awe of these people and how they live each day.  It was inspiring to me that they were in the most destitute conditions I've ever seen, but the people of all ages were happy to see us and genuine smiles lit up their faces when we looked their way.
Many of the children would curtsy to us as they shook our hands.  The man giving us a tour said it was a symbol of respect.  Obviously from our end there's no need for them to do that but just look how sweet these little ones are.
I liked taking pictures of the kids on the outside.  Lots of kids were so funny and would jump in front of the camera, but there were the standoffish ones that wouldn't demand attention but were so striking to me.  There's something about their sweet faces and eyes that sink into you.  I don't understand how you couldn't love them.
One of the volunteers told me that on the tour she went on that she saw the children playing soccer with a dead rat...with their bare feet.  It's literally a level of poverty that my mind can't understand or make sense of.  A fellow volunteer, Ryan, was asked if he'd ever seen people this poor.  He said that he "doesn't think there are communities much poorer than this.  You can't survive off of much less."
This is Pias, our guide through the slums.  Josh and I got to go in one of the little circle huts.  Pias told us a family of five will sleep in there on the dirt floors.  The children use their mothers clothes as blankets.
A fellow volunteer named Cami just happened to be around while I was playing with this little girl and told me later that she'd filmed it.  I am so glad that she did because it was such a sweet, sweet moment. I think I almost cry every time I watch it.  Her sweet tiny legs, innocent spirit and loving,  trusting countenance are overwhelming.  I just fell in love with each of these tiny kids and love them for the people that they are and happiness they are finding despite their living conditions.
When we came home from visiting the slums, it was like a reverence fell over all of the volunteers.  It was hard to eat our dinner knowing we're eating more in one meal than those people eat in a day.  One of the volunteers said, "If I ever complain about anything...ever...please hit me.  Because I have no right to complain about my life."

I am excited to have the opportunity to work there.  There are a lot of projects that we can do we just need to develop them.  There are plenty of problems that have project possibilities:  water sanitation, prostitution, child abuse, abandonment by the fathers, etc.  I don't think there's one member of our team that doesn't want to return to Namatala and work to improve the conditions there.  The experience yesterday did something to all of us.  We sat in a circle at dinner last night pondering what we'd seen and feeling a reverence for these people. They are remarkable people and they deserve any help we can give.