Back from Uganda

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Back from Uganda

Bram Moolenaar

After I returned from my trip to Uganda I had a big pile of mail waiting
for me, both paper and electronic.  I have now finished dealing with
this.  If you expected a reply from me but didn't get it, please send
your message again.  It might have been caught by the spam filter.

Now about my trip, visiting Vim's charity project in Uganda.  You can
find my visit report online here, with pictures:        (English)        (Dutch)

I'll include the English text below.

We are currently looking for donations and sponsors to help the children
that are finished at our school and want to continue at advanced level,
university or a professional training.  This costs much more, not only
for the school but also because the children need to rent a room in the
city and pay for their meals.  This part of their education is very
important, it turns them into skilled workers.  So please consider
helping them.

If you are going to do your Christmas shopping at Amazon, use the links
on this page:
It doesn't cost you anything and will help the children in Kibaale.


Progress and complications

In the past years Uganda has seen an economic growth of about 5% per
year. This is very noticeable in the streets. You can see more vehicles
driving around, new shops, and better dressed people. Kibaale now has a
real petrol station! It is operated manually, since there is still no
electricity, but it works. Now we don't have to drive to Rakai to get
petrol and diesel.

The Kibaale Childrens Centre has grown a little bit. There is one new
block of classrooms and a big rainwater tank at the primary school is
almost finished. This will provide clean water for the children. Water
has always been a problem in this area; last year I reported the
borehole was fitted with a filter to improve the water quality. It still
works, but the amount of water is not enough for the 700 children at the

Last year about a dozen of the children sponsored through ICCF Holland
finished secondary school and are now doing advanced level, business
school or another form of professional training. This means these
children have to move from their simple house in Kibaale to "the big
city" and find a place to live there. We need to pay for their housing,
food, education, books, etc. Obviously that is quite expensive; and
since they are far away from Kibaale and in many different places it's
difficult to keep track of these children.

The office at the project is currently struggling to manage this. Most
of the issues can be solved with money, but we need to make sure it is
used for the right purpose. There have been reports of a school where
money went missing and a student that faked a letter. We need to verify
the requests, which takes time and effort. I hope this won't result in
some of the honest children being slowed down in their studies.

I interviewed Namate Rose. She first studied in our school in Kibaale,
continued at advanced level in Masaka and has now finished university in
Jinja. She is confident that she did well and her exam results will be
positive. That will make her a qualified secondary school teacher. It is
very good to see one poor orphan that we helped become an educated
person; I hope many will follow.

Ssese Islands

One of the children I wanted to visit is in an agricultural school on
Ssese islands. Friends of Dave and Ruth Frith sponsor a couple of
children there, and so we planned to combine work with pleasure: visit
the children and have a day off at the nice islands. Well, it didn't
work out as planned...

We managed to get to the ferry landing site quite early, and noticed it
was coming in. But instead of letting us aboard they brought in welding
equipment and started to fix the ferry. At first they said it would take
a couple of hours, but it turned out to be five! In the meantime a lot
of vehicles arrived that all wanted to go to Ssese islands. When they
finally started boarding it became a race to be the first on the ferry.
This involved a lot of brutal driving, resulting in scratches and broken
lights. We didn't want to risk damaging the vehicle and failed to get on
board. Oh well, maybe next year.

But the day wasn't finished yet. On our way back to Kibaale we found a
huge python. Someone apparently killed it and left it stretched on the
road (see the pictures page ). There was no way around it, I had to
drive over it. After taking a couple of pictures we continued driving
back to Kibaale and had two flat tires! Makes you wonder whether it was
caused by driving over the snake. To make matters worse the vehicle had
no spanner. Friendly Ugandans stopped to help us, even though it was
already dark.

Fortunately there was a second chance to make a trip. We went to lake
Mburo national park for a weekend. I'm glad I could see some of the
beautiful nature that Uganda has. Lake Mburo is the smallest park and
the only one that has zebras. I enjoyed driving around and seeing many
wild animals, including impala, buffalo, hippo and topi. No flat tires
this time!


Last year I failed to setup e-mail at the project, but I did learn from
the experience, and this time I came prepared. I brought several phones,
a special antenna and a bag with cables. Last year I found that with
this antenna it is possible to get a good signal for a mobile phone. I
had heard that the phone provider MTN had started to support GPRS, but I
was not sure if it would work in Kibaale, so that was the first thing to
try out. I visited an MTN service desk in Kampala before going down to
Kibaale, and they entered settings in the Nokia 6310 that I brought. The
first day in Kibaale I managed to make this phone work to connect my
computer to the internet. Great!

The cost is reasonable, 5 shillings per Kbyte. A big advantage is that a
slow or failed connection will not make sending data more expensive. The
disadvantage is that browsing the internet quickly costs a few thousand
shillings (1500 shillings is a US dollar). Thus I had to find a way to
do e-mail efficiently, avoiding webmail. This kept me busy for a few
weeks, because several attempts failed. I finally figured out that MTN
has a firewall that blocks many ports. Fortunately my friend Cor in
Kampala could setup a simple POP/SMTP account for me on standard ports
and that worked. Hopefully it keeps on working the coming year.

This still isn't ideal, a flat-rate connection would be preferred.
Therefore I also tried another system, called CDMA, but could not detect
any signal in Kibaale. The progress in Uganda continues, hopefully a
more cost effective solution will become available soon.


At the project many of the usual activities continue. Arleen had
restarted her work to improve the quality of teaching. She does teacher
training and curriculum development. Trying the improve the quality of
education is something that will never stop. The clinic was busy as
always. I joined the nurses on a immunization trip. It continued until
late, and we had to drive back in the dark.

We worked hard to get the children make a Christmas card for their
sponsor. It's quite a challenge to help them write a good letter. Each
year I ask them to write in a way that the sponsor gets useful
information. I was in the S1 classroom for this, and now know how hard
it is to explain to these children in remote Kibaale how to write
something that a person in Holland would like to read. The cultural
difference is huge. They often end up writing a "thank you" note,
instead of relating important things that happened in their family.

Photos and text are quite limited in what they can show about what goes
on at the project. I brought a video camera, interviewed several people,
and filmed the children in the classrooms, on the playground and in
their homes. The coming months I will edit the four hours of video into
to a short documentary. People with sufficient bandwidth will be able to
download it.


The coming year the center will concentrate on quality improvement. That
means we do not start new activities but do better at what we are
currently doing. A problem is that this isn't popular with people making
donations, as we will not be able to show a new building; but we do need
to invest in better guidance for the older students, repair some of the
buildings, continue teacher training, get more books for the library,
etc. We are helping 700 children, and we will do our best to help them
grow and become responsible adults.

Bram Moolenaar

hundred-and-one symptoms of being an internet addict:
244. You use more than 20 passwords.

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