Published: June 11th 2012May 21st 2012
I think this is probably my shortest but most important entry to date. We had to say bye (for now) to the amazing KIHEFO (Kigezi Healthcare Foundation) and I wanted to do them justice.
Their website (http://www.kihefo.org/
) is fantastic. It’s very engaging and provides a great overview of the work they do. I’d really recommend taking a quick look if you haven’t already; they’re worth a few minutes of your time.
I also wanted to say thank you to everyone who is reading my entries, and especially to those who have written to me recently about them. I write them to let anyone who's interested know what I’ve been up to and to help me remember my travels (the latter means I may put some uninteresting detail in them, so sorry about that!). Sunday 20th May - CATUNA(Rwanda)/KATUNA(Uganda) border to KABALE
After Rwanda immigration we walked through 'no man’s land' into Uganda. This was a MUCH busier border crossing than Kisoro/Cyaniki and there was a BIG queue at Ugandan immigration. We eventually got on our way back to Kabale, only a 30 minute drive, and were immediately confronted with a view of a naked
man washing in the river! We were all a bit speechless! Anyway…. as usual the road was a hive of activity; we passed a small procession of people walking behind a man carrying a cross. Enouk and Lillian told us it was people beginning the annual walk to Kampala for Martyrs Day on the 3rd June (remembers the Christian converts who were murdered for their faith). They were in for a long walk; it takes us 8-9 hours to drive it (although it never feels like that long). Back in Kabale Enouk popped us to the bank and then home to drop our things off, before we headed into the town to say our byes to some of the special KIHEFO people.
First stop was the KIHEFO Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (http://www.kihefo.org/nutrition_center.html
), which cares for malnourished children and educates the community about good nutrition. I gave the office room I'd been working in a little wave (I was still so annoyed that I'd not managed to build a new records system... if any computer experts fancy a try get in touch!) and went to see the only two residents, the girl twins we knew as Vanessa and Purity (there seems
to be confusion over whether they have names or not so we’ll stick with what we know) They were happily playing in the kitchen with their carer’s and looked great! We first met these beautiful little girls 2 weeks ago and they looked like 3 month olds; they’re actually 1 years old. Their background is sketchy and KIHEFO is trying to find out more information as they need to find sponsors for them, but it's most likely they were born to a single mother who was HIV positive. The mother died leaving the twins with family, who then moved out of the house and left them there. On their own. Abandoned (this is a common occurrence across Uganda). The local Church was alerted to their presence and brought them to KIHEFO. KIHEFO will take on all cases provided they have funds to pay for the child's care (availability of funds is their major challenge, the care of each twin in their first year costs apx $100USD a month) and a foster carer is provided by the Church whilst the child is with KIHEFO. Once the twins have regained full health (they’ll be with KIHEFO for another couple of months) the
next step is for KIHEFO to work with the Church to secure long term foster parents and sponsorship, so the twins can live within their own community. Today they were looking so much healthier, they have improved so so much since we met then (can even see a huge improvement since we last saw them on Thursday, 3 days ago). KIHEFO has literally saved their life. Vanessa is the larger of the two and is now looking totally adorable, Purity is still tiny and I held her for a while. I felt like she'd break in my arms, I could feel all of her bones. Hannah had immediately bonded with the twins, it took me a while longer and what did it for me was seeing the look in their eyes. Vanessa's were full of hope and resilience and Purity's determination and trust. You could feel their will to survive. Hannah had already been considering sponsoring them, I hadn't initially because I'd felt the same money could be used to benefit more people in a different way. But, I resolved when we left the twins to investigate all options; they deserve a real chance in life (I think about them
every day, even 3 weeks after leaving them now I’m back in Australia).
Next stop was the Kigonzi Clinic/Nursing Home (http://www.kihefo.org/clinic_service.html
), the medical centre where Drew and Hannah had been painting the general clinic with Grant (and a little bit of help from me!). Grant had completely finished it whilst we were in Rwanda and it looked great! Drew was a little concerned about the outside because he didn't think the job was tidy enough, but it's hard when you're limited by time, logistics and dry weather! I think it looked great! We were especially pleased with the inside of the rooms, they had been cream and pretty dirty, now they were crisp white. It might not seem like a lot, but we'd (Hannah and Drew did all of the hard work, but I did contribute my share to the cost of paint and wages...and don’t forget I painted a little bit!) made a real difference. KIHEFO plan to refresh the paint job every few years, but it hasn't been done because there have been many other priorities. We said bye to the staff, Dr Allan and the Nurses, who were really really happy with the job and sad
to see us go, especially Drew. They do an amazing job, the clinic supports a huge area and provides fantastic service and healthcare, especially considering the challenges they face - even something as simple as the rain, which makes the courtyard flood and it difficult for the nurses and doctors to get around from ward to ward. I was glad we were able to provide a little bit of brightness to their days.
Because they’re closed on a Sunday we were not able to visit the AIDs Clinic (http://www.kihefo.org/hiv_aids.html
), which provides HIV/AIDs counselling and testing and Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy to people affected by HIV/AIDs. There are only some of KIHEFO’s projects; others include delivering outreach clinics in remote communities (Drew and I had the privilege to attend one the last week, when teams of doctors come from the USA or Canada people walk for days to see them) and upgrading of the Community Hospital, a joint project between KIHEFO and the community (http://www.kihefo.org/micro_finance.html
). So we headed to the shops and back to the house. We were so pleased to see Robert, from the ‘Foundation of People with Disabilities’ (http://www.kihefo.org/community_sensitization.html
) in his usual place outside the shop at the end
of our road. We'd really liked him; he’s such a lovely, kind, dedicated man. We said our byes and swapped email addresses. It was slightly concerning to see him write his name as John though...we'd been calling him Robert for 2 weeks!
We started to pack our things and were joined by Patricia who was showing us the crafts the women in her home village (in northern Uganda) make to sell. They were beautiful tablecloths and chair covers and Patricia was hoping we could help distribute them at home. We're still trying to work out an economically viable way to help her. We each bought a few as gifts which hopefully Drew will deliver safely...! Patricia is more than our housekeeper, she's our friend and I'm so impressed with her innovation. She's sent me some of her business project proposals, all designed to support her local community so they can sustain themselves independently, and they're so professional and realistic. I just wish I had enough money to help her start them off. One day I or somebody will.
We were invited down to dinner with Dr Geoffrey and his family, in the lovely family dining and sitting room.
I didn't realise there were so many people living in the house, and part of the KIHEFO family, because that's what it is. A family where everyone works together to support each other, and the work in the community. We watched African Idol and had a chuckle at Drew trying to make friends with Favour, Dr Geoffrey and his wife Silvia's youngest daughter, who has never liked him (the only small child that hasn't since I've known him!). The dinner was amazing, we had my favourite Groundnut Sauce (as Dr Geoffrey said, only a few people can make it properly and this version was DELICIOUS!) We had a good chat, Dr Geoffrey and Silvia are such amazing people, such an inspiration. If more people in the world were like them, dedicating their time to help support those less fortunate in their community whilst balancing the needs of their own family, the world would be a more successful place. After joined the family for the evening singing (Bread of Heaven featured, which I'd heard before from upstairs) and prayers. It gave us one of those nice warm feelings. We headed back upstairs to sit with Ronald, watching African Big Brother.
Ronald gave us the most touching 'speech' to thank us for everything and talked to us in the most moving way about KIHEFO and everything it's done and is doing for him and the community. I really really like Ronald, he's so fun, caring, positive and inspiring, always talking about how you have to take responsibility for yourself, work hard and give back to your community. We missed him as soon as we left :) It’s getting to spend time with people like Ronald that makes the KIHEFO experience so special. Monday 21st May - KABALE to KAMPALA
We thought we'd got up early enough to pack up everything, but we were still rushing! I had a hot/cold shower and quick breakfast whilst dishing out thank you notes to the lovely people that looked after us. Drake was first, our amazing cook! I still don’t know how he managed to cook such a variety of delicious meals in a small kitchen on a couple of gas stoves. He’s a really bubbly bright guy with such hopes and dreams; he’ll get there through hard work and determination. Next up was Patricia, our lovely housekeeper who gives nice hugs and
good shoulder massages, she really helped when I was struggling with my shoulder when I first arrived. Patricia always looked after us so well and was there on hand for anything we needed. Max popped up to say bye and gave us gifts (including one for me to take home for Hannah) to show us how grateful she was for the support we’d given her and her community (what a nice attitude that lovely girl has). And then there was Lillian, such a hard one to say bye too. Lillian is an amazing person, so intelligent, smart, kind and full of information and laughter – we learned a lot from her. Lillian also gave us gifts (personalised to each of us, so observant and intuitive) and a touching thank you letter. We said bye to Ronald upstairs in the house… :) You know how much I think of Ronald. We took our stuff downstairs and went out into the rain, loading up the van. There was quite a crowd gathered! I didn’t want to leave KIHEFO and the people of Kabale, I’d grown so close to them, made friends and really admired them. If I get asked now who inspires
Drew and I with Dr Allan, baby Favour and Sylvia.
me (often happens at work courses!) Dr Geoffrey will certainly feature high on the list.
But, we had to leave. We drove out of Kabale in the rain, me up front with Enouk, Irene (Lillian’s friend was heading to Kampala), Lillian (a different Lillian, Dr Geoffrey’s daughter who was heading back to school) and Drew (who predictably fell asleep at the back after 5 minutes and stayed asleep for most of the journey). It was a nice drive back, the weather brightening up and I enjoyed the views whilst doing work on my computer. We were stopped by the traffic police a couple of times for routine checks (one was joking with me, asking why I’d not married a Ugandan yet) and saw the Zebra’s, again! We bought pineapple and milk from the van out the window (at the trading posts the different vendors crowd around you) and got to Kampala in good time but the traffic was terrible! We stopped to pick up another KIHEFO employee who’d brought with him a package from Enouk’s wife Gloria, a present for us! I was seriously touched, she’d sent it from where she was working and it was a beautiful piece
of material featuring Zebras, which was so thoughtful because Enouk knew how much we loved seeing them as we passed by, and Gloria must have noticed too when she’d done the journey once with us to Kampala. Enouk was dropping us at Dr George’s house where we were meeting Hugh and Becky (will tell you more about George, Hugh and Becky next time). Enouk knows the city very well and got us there with no problems. I was feeling very emotional, I think Enouk was the hardest person to say bye to. He’s so kind, humble and unassuming, a brilliant driver and most of all he kept us safe, whether it be driving us on KIHEFO project visits or see beautiful lakes and gorillas. I thanked him for doing so, on behalf of myself and my Mum and Dad. I was really really choked seeing him drive off and I hope I see him again.
So, that was it. We were saying bye to KIHEFO for now and I have to thank them for the bottom of my heart for taking the time and effort to show us as volunteers what they’re all about (as they have done successfully
for many volunteers over the years). KIHEFO is an inspirational and innovative organisation, you can find their Vision, Mission Strategic Objectives and Development Goals here: http://www.kihefo.org/vision.html
; their approach statement sums it up:
‘Our approach. KIHEFO believes poverty, ignorance and disease are interconnected, and therefore, all must be addressed to break the cycle. The key to our bottom-up strategy, is to educate and empower local people so they can contribute towards living a positive, economically productive and sustainable healthy life’.
I’ve been studying international development through The Open University for a few years now and although I’m no expert, after spending time with KIHEFO I can see that their approach is the way to go. It’s all about engaging with and adapting to the needs of the local community, not imposing a way of life or doing things to them. I will continue supporting KIHEFO from overseas and know already that I will visit Uganda again.
I’d like be a sponsor for the twins with Hannah (they’ll have several sponsors to ensure their stability) and am confident and comfortable doing this through KIHEFO because I believe in them and have seen how the money will
I’d like to help provide a freshwater supply to a village community, so they don’t have to walk miles to a stream (usually the children’s job, they miss out on school to do it) or worry about the quality of the water (those that know me well know how much water I drink and how stressed I am if it’s not available) and as I was studying freshwater supplies when I visited a community that needed a water tank I think it was a sign!
And I’d like to help the boys from the local football team we visited, by buying them a TV and working with them to find a sustainable way they can manage the subscriptions and access, so they can watch big games without having to walk for hours into town to catch a glimpse of a game they have to pay to see.
This will all depend on me finding a good job when I get back to England! KIHEFO did not ask us to commit to these; the only commitment they asked of us was that we help spread the word.
So, I’d been hoping to write something really
compelling to encourage anyone who reads this to think, is there a way I can help? But I’m not feeling at my most creative today! The help doesn’t need to be a financial donation (although they do need money), or a period of time spent in Uganda (they’re desperate for medical professionals, like doctors, opticians and dentists but there is something for everyone to do). It’s as simple as sharing the messages, clicking ‘Like’ on KIHEFO’s links, following them on Twitter or encouraging anyone who wants to know more to contact Drew, Hannah or I. Or KIHEFO directly.
The bottom line is that these people need some support. It’s not about hand-outs. It’s about a helping hand so they can sustain themselves financially. The UK has already developed to provide everyone with a basic standard of living, 99.9% of people will have a higher standard of living than anyone in rural Uganda. Uganda is a country with beautiful landscape, special people and many prospects, but’s it’s also one crippled and disadvantaged by decades of conflict and poverty. I’m a firm believer that charity begins at home and make donations to important causes like Cancer Research UK and volunteer my
time to the Riding for Disabled Association. I also think it’s important to balance this with the support I can give overseas, to people who don’t even have the basic fundamentals of life – the opportunity to see a doctor if needed for a start. We are all human beings and the only difference is where we were each born.
If anyone has any questions or wants any additional information on KIHEFO or Uganda let me know. If you don't have my contact details, you can contact me through Travelblog.
Love you all.
Links to KIHEFO Week 1 http://www.travelblog.org/Africa/Uganda/Western-Region/Kabale/blog-718870.html
and Week 2 http://www.travelblog.org/Africa/Uganda/Western-Region/Kabale/blog-719553.html
ODD BITS OF ODD BITS OF INFORMATION I'VE READ AND OBSERVATIONS I'VE MADE
· There are many orphans in Uganda, usually because their parents have died during times of conflict or illnesses associated with HIV/AIDs. There are some orphanages but many have closed, leaving the children to live on the streets. The street children operate in cartel type arrangements, protecting their territory which usually operates around somewhere like a hotel, where they can go through their waste to find whatever they need. We regularly saw street children and saved our empty water bottles (they sell them) and unwanted food for them, sometimes placing it in a plastic bag for them to find in the bin. The successful orphanages are those that are self-sustaining, maybe because they have a farm attached that helps to generate an income. KIHEFO encourages placement of orphaned children with foster parents in their community and organises and annual party, which around 2000 orphans are invited to. It’s the highlight of their year.
· The Ugandans use hand signals to represent different political parties; e.g. thumbs up means one party and the peace sign another, so we had to avoid giving people the thumbs up (not sure which party that represents) in case they were offended or got the wrong idea! A challenge when we’re so used to using the thumbs up signal, especially when communicating with people that don’t speak English.
· It’s often difficult for poor families to bury their dead. It’s traditional for people to be taken back to their home village, but sometimes people who die in hospital are left there if they families can’t afford the burial costs. If the bodies are not collected in 3 days are buried anyway by the state.
· It’s rumoured that the USA are withdrawing their funding of the ARV medication for HIV positive people within 3 years; this funding enables the medicine to be provided to all for free (although the medicine is free it’s important to remember that the medicine has serious side effects and requires a special diet which has to be funded by the recipient). The annual cost of a person’s ARV medication is apx$180USD a year, so out of reach for the majority affected (it’s free in the UK). It’s really positive to see in Kampala a laboratory and factory that’s enabling Uganda to produce its own ARV medication.
· The Uganda people have amazing teeth, lovely white wide smiles.