How to make a friend in Uganda. business consultant, NGO worker, former Peace Corps volunteer, activist: searching for sustainable solutions to eradicate extreme poverty

December 21, 2010

take my hand

Filed under: Peace Corps,Uganda — Jeff @ 4:52 pm

handsHere in Uganda men hold hands quite often. It’s a common sign of friendship and surprisingly cute. Before today, I’d only engaged in this behavior sparingly and briefly. Yet this all changed when my barber took me on a tour of Mbarara this afternoon and wouldn’t let go. I caught quite a few people doing a double take, looking up at our faces and then down to our clenched hands. Apparently this social activity is viewed a bit different when your skin contrasts as distinctly as his and mine. All the same, it didn’t feel all that odd to me. Ever notice when you are holding someone’s hand that the rest of the world seems to fade? There is a bit of focus that one feels even in a handshake. Next time your hand whisks by your friend’s, grab hold. Skip if you want to.

December 19, 2010

Pond water? How’ll that get anything clean? I’m using a plastic fork.

Filed under: Peace Corps,Uganda — Jeff @ 12:54 pm

Woke up this morning. Grabbed my empty jerry can and walked to the neighbor’s cistern to fetch rain water to brew my morning coffee. It was dry. Too much of this vital water source has been diverted to help fill the digester of the new bio gas plant adjacent to the kitchen. More on that project later. So, I asked about alternate water sources. There is piped water from the hills and the neighbors indicated that the closest tap is in the village, perhaps 1k from our homes. I walked to the village with my brave 20L jerry can only to find a dozen or so containers lined up in from of the spicket. One of the children hid and cried as the ladies replied to my greeting. I was close to tears myself 2 hours later having only filled my can with 5L of water and feeling the need to ready myself for church. [I’m being a bit dramatic here.] I wore my newly made tunic, which of course brightened my mood. Let me skip past the rest of the day. You see, at church people spoke, prayed, and sang in Runyankore. At the gospel concert that afternoon, the same + political speeches. [It might be hard to comprehend just how isolating it can be to live in such a remote area without a common language.] In between I chatted with the brothers who live next store — Ben and Kenneth, 25 and 17 — who both speak a bit of English. They seem to enjoy the sporadic conversations in which we engage. Yet now I sit on the edge of my bed, eating a bowl of delicious rice and beans with a plastic fork. I refuse to wash my dishes with the pond water I hauled up the hill this afternoon. Let it rain.

December 12, 2010

Hippos

Filed under: Uganda — Jeff @ 4:36 am

I’ve got a lot to say about my site and travels over the past few weeks. I’ll get to that later. But today I want to talk about hippos. Yes. Big lumbering beasts that stay submerged in the water all day only to lift their heads to flick their ridiculously small ears. These are amazingly interesting creatures. I went on a boat safari with a group of Peace Corps volunteers in Queen Elizabeth Park yesterday. The pontoon vessel eased us passed an elephant, monkeys, kob, buffalo, waterbuck, and hippos. In fact the Kasinga Channel, which we powered through, is said to have the largest concentration of hippos in the world. I literally squeeled with delight as a baby hippo splashed through the water to snuggle with his mamma. We had so much fun on this little sunset cuise. bye for now.

Hippos!
Photo courtesy of Britt Larson.

December 7, 2010

when it rains the power goes out

Filed under: Peace Corps,Uganda — Jeff @ 1:12 pm

So I thought I might update you on a few stats about the place I live. [I type this sitting on the floor of my bathing area as that is the only light that still works in my house. Where is the yellow pages? I need an electrician.] Here goes. There are 200 people living in my village. I greet about 100 walking from my office in the neighboring trading center to my house. In my subcounty there are four parishes and a total of 20,446 people; 10,389 are female. I’d guess that 99% of those 3821 households are farmers, producing matoke, coffee, and milk. There are also some whose livelihood is made as traders, traditional healers, boda boda operators, and casual laborers.

And then there is me. What will I do? In previous blog posts I have chronicled the need for staff leadership to revitalize operations at the organization that hosts me. To that end, I plan to work on capacity building. First, I plan to plunge into skill development, and then though informal interaction and perhaps formal workshops teach softer skills such as ethics and management. Much of this is however predicated on the hire of a permanent bank manager. Below are a few of my initial ideas.


Capacity Building

train staff in computer software
set up electronic record keeping
conduct business seminars for members
individual consultation with member farmers
new member acquisition
new loan products to better meet farmer needs and boost repayment
organize farmers to lower input costs and increase access to markets through collaboration


Outreach

partner with local education institutions
primary — basics including cultural understanding, hygiene, life skills
secondary — entrepreneurship workshop leading to open Q&A session discussions with topics ranging from health, sex, business, gender, personal finance, and culture
university — microfinance, marketing, et al
condom distribution through local retail outlets; nets through the bank

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