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

March 12, 2011

me and my kid

Filed under: Uganda — Jeff @ 12:25 am

I’ve been sponsoring a kid through compassion international for over a decade now. Compassion uses my monthly donations to pay school fees, health care expenses, and other related costs for the kid. Asumani lives right here in Uganda and I’ve been scheming to meet him since my arrival.

The day of my visit started with a long ride from the small town of Iganga, which itself is about an hour east of Jinja. The roads meandered for 21 miles from farm to farm, village to village, rounding about small plots much like the roads in Colorado circumnavigate large ranches. Unlike other parts of the country, many of the huts dotting the landscape were brightly colored with graffiti. Later, my host explained that teenage boys build these huts to gain a bit of independence from their folks and are allowed to decorate as they see fit. I liken it somewhat to a teenager in the USA taking over the basement or the room above the garage.

When I finally reached the village, my driver stopped at what looked like a small school. Neither one of us was quite sure if this was the place to be because the sign simply read “child development center”. I was greeted warmly, inquired, and found that I was indeed at the right place. After being introduced to one of the two program officers, we toured the facility. Tom and I climbed to the top of a rocky hill to find a church perpetually under construction. After, five years, there is a roof and walls but little else. The building belongs to the born-again Church of Uganda, a politically active denomination with a hateful agenda. I quickly stopped talking about religion and focused on the org’s program activities. At the project site, they have a staff of three whose time is spent finding appropriate schools for the children and reporting back to Colorado on expenditures. Not many kids were around except those that attend the local nursery and primary school — most kids here in Uganda attend boarding schools.

After our short tour, we returned to the office building where we were served tea accompanied by bread and margarine. Biscuits and soda were available but I passed. It just seemed a bit too extravagant. Another student joined us for tea along with my host’s counterpart. I was never to meet the director. Conversation plodded slowly along … and then stopped coldly. I looked to my right and noticed a teenage boy standing there, shy and awkward. Those two words would describe his demeanor for the rest of the day as we travelled to meet his moms, his grandmother, and the local council chair.

Asumani is now 17 and attends a secondary school in Mukono. In a couple of years he will finish o’ level with dreams of becoming an auto mechanic and residing in the capital city of Kampala, where his birth mom lives and he attended primary school.

Tea moved from inside the building to under a tree outside. I overheard the staff talking in the local language about hiring bodas for transport. I quickly insisted that I could manage the walk through the village. After a short walk, many of the neighbors greeted me at the family home. Then, after sitting with them ALL for some time outside on the front porch, we walked up the road to visit the health center. Despite my wariness of entering during a TB clinic, we barged right on through, meeting both the staff and the patients. I held my breath. We then crossed a small soccer pitch to find his grandmother’s house. I used all the Lusoga I know to greet her. My host readily translated the remainder of the conversation.

When we journeyed back to Asumani’s home place, chicken had been prepared along with rice and cassava; fresh mangos and pineapple served for dessert. I was told that I would have to eat the gizzard. Not quite sure why this is an honor. If I had a choice, I’d readily just eat one of the drumsticks. As we finished, my host mentioned to me that we would soon have to soon move back to the office because lunch was nearly ready. Chicken gizzard again. I could hardly stomach more than a couple spoonfuls of rice, but my host and kid somehow devoured another complete plateful of food.

That was my day — minus final farewells, a few snaps, and, then, the journey back to Iganga with my host. It was good to finally meet Asumani as I’m not much of a letter-writer. Fellow volunteers Nick and Rashida hosted me during my stay and I finally got to see the slowly crumbling town of Jinja, with all its free wireless, cheap hotels, casino, and American-style restaurants.

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