The first week was an absolute whirlwind.
Mornings I wake up around 6:30 or 7:00am and start the day with a basin shower. I shower in a small dark room with some natural light peeking through a small window. I stand in a wide red bucket and pour water over myself. Mama Ali provides me with one jerry can of cold water and two smaller cans of boiled hot water. I mentally prepared myself for much worse so I actually feel a bit spoiled to have hot water each morning.
Breakfast varies a bit, but usually consist of Ugandan tea (sweetened with a healthy dose of three tablespoons of sugar), an egg, chapati (a thick tortilla) and an assortment of fruit like papaya, pineapple, banana and passionfruit. Simple and delicious. It is actually one of my favorite times of day since there is still a slight chill in the air and I get to practice my Lasoga (native language to this region) with Mama Ali.
Next I head to the Shack to spend some time with the preschool. This project was started a few years ago when Brooke and Jane thought it was too quiet so they announced to the village that they would open up a preprimary school. Soon enough 125 kids ranging from three to six years showed up ready to learn. This project is the simplest and perhaps the most sustainable since S.O.U.L. doesn’t need to provide much except a few schools supplies now and again. The student $3/term school fee pays the teacher’s salary and it provides the kids with a great foundation for early education. Without it many would already be behind and may not continue past primary school. Plus, the kids are so so so adorable. I have already found a few that have stolen my heart and I will be hard pressed not to smuggle one or two back with me to Colorado.
The second day, Brooke had a meeting with Bill and Glenn of BEL. BEL has been commissioned by Blackstone, a major international investment company, to build a dam on the Nile River to provide energy to Uganda and surrounding countries. The project is also backed up by Sithe, World Bank, Agakhan and others. The project started six years ago and the site has been responsible for displacing and/or affecting several villages. BEL is therefore responsible to give money to the affected villages (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the way of money or land and assets.
One village in particular, Niminya, was displaced from their homes on the Nile River where they had lived for generations. This also took them away from their livelihood of fishing. Long story short, Brooke got connected with Bruce Wrobel, the CEO of Sithe, because she saw this as a big opportunity for the area. Over the past three years, Brooke has met with Bill, Glenn and representatives of BEL countless times and was able convince them to fund two fish pond projects. This involved manually digging the ponds, stocking and selling thousands of Tilapia. In the end, she was able to get $45,000 in grants from them. This is a huge feet for any small non-profit but even more remarkably so by a 23-year-old girl. The projects have definitely had their ups and downs, particularly in Niminya who is now used to getting things from these huge organizations. They aren’t as grateful as others who have never been handed anything before. But in the end, Brooke will tell you that she is most pleased with the turnout not only because of all the hard work and man hours she has personally put into it (I’m sure past Project Manager Michael Rossi will say the same), but also because this project has the biggest potential. It gives many people jobs and ensures food security to thousands of people by producing over 25,000 Tilapia per year.
Although it was the first meeting I had witnessed, it went well overall. The dam project is drawing to a close so S.O.U.L. is pressed for time to make sure we are very productive in the next two months to make sure we can utilize the grants before BEL ties up loose ends. The high of the meeting was when Glenn offered to work with Brooke at their future sites, meaning she could create other initiatives around the world. Although this may be far off, it was is a huge deal to hear this from such a big and profitable corporate partner. After the meeting was over, Brooke released a huge sigh a relief, an action that I imagine happens after every meeting with them. It was a great learning experience to sit in on the meeting and I hoped I was able to provide some moral support along the way.
Tonight we had a family dinner at Mama Ali’s with a full group of ten our so around the dinner/living room table. After dinner, Brooke asked that everyone give me advice for my “journey” here. All addressing my as Stef-on, they went around in a circle contributing their words of wisdom. They shared such kinds words and encouragement as, “Don’t fear us,” and “You are here to empower us and lead us to our future.” Mama Muganda (Tata Muganda’s second wife) gave the most memorable of the night for me, ” We walk with you as you walk with us. We will work with you and follow your instructions.” To the sweet drizzle of the African rain, I fell asleep peacefully.
One morning I was able to meet Mama Ali’s sister. Each house is a revolving door of visitors so you never know who you are going to meet. She asked me my name and as I told her, she replied, “Stephanie, are you Catholic?” I told her that I am not but my mother is. I asked her name and she told me, “Edith.” A huge smile came over my face and I told her my mother’s name is Editha. She smiled from ear to ear and told me then I am her daughter too. What a great way to start the day.
The days are crazy, long and hot. They fly by and there is always more to do. Although each day differs depending on what needs to get done, here is what my day looked like today, Thursday October 18th, my one week anniversary in Bujagali.
6:30 am – woke up, showered
6:45 – breakfast: hard-boiled egg, avocado, paw paid (papaya), elynvu (banana)
7:00 – picked up by Phoebe on boda boda (moto taxi)
7:30 – arrive at Ugachick to pick up chicks: 150 to group E, 200 to Group B, count chicks and send to different villages
8:30 – set up breeder at Group E in Budondo: organizing structure, placing drinkers and feeders and making sure chicks are warm
11:00 – head to Namizi to check out fish ponds, sampling fish size in two ponds, discuss work needed to stock 4,000 tilapia on Tuesday
2:30 pm – lunch and short rest
4:00 – Shamir and I head to Walekuba to talk to goat group, investigate why goat died
5:30 – head to Mulungi women to pay for yesterdays purchases
6:30 – Home
That’s all for now kiddos….