A Travellerspoint blog

Meet Morris

30 °C

FA473FD12219AC68170AEF4AC3DBE170.jpg
Meet Morris.

Morris is a 16 year-old guy from a small town called Bondo on the main road from Arua to Kampala. He traveled the 22 kilometres by bike to drop in on the ORA base trying to sell his home- made truck and bus for 5,000 UGX each (about £1.25). He tells us that it takes about 2 weeks to make one of them. He has been selling his incredibly detailed and expertly crafted vehicles made from sorghum stems to raise the money that he needs for school fees. February is the start of the school season in Uganda and marks the start for the scramble for school fees. Morris needs to raise 114,000 UGX (about £27) for a school term at the Bondo government secondary school where he hopes to complete his S3. He has done very well thus far as many children fail to reach secondary school at all. In our area, perhaps only 10% manage to reach this level of schooling.
As you can see from this table in one of the local primary schools, there is a huge drop in numbers attending primary seven from those attending primary one. In primary one, it is not uncommon to have 300 kids in one class, an incredible number for one teacher to effectively teach.
Primary school attendance numbers hang in a headteacher's office

Primary school attendance numbers hang in a headteacher's office


The drop-out rate is encouraged by parents who believe that a child is more useful at home helping with duties or the small family business selling tomatoes at the market than going to school every day. This must especially true when prospects for children who do attain any level of education is dire. Even university graduates are struggling for employment and instead are sitting at home looking after their family’s children. Another reason for high drop-out rates is the social pressure for girls to get ‘married’ at a young age and bear children aged 14, 15 or 16. These girls get bride wealth for their parents of goats and cows and other material things. Having babies is one of the highest goals of a woman.

At home, after school, children are expected to be involved in domestic work such as caring for the goats or digging in the garden. Water needs to be fetched and food needs to be prepared. Some children are so heavily involved in house work that it affects their school performance. No TV or computer games for these kids, there are duties to perform at home. In fact, if you are called ‘playful’, it means that you are not a very dutiful child because you are abandoning your domestic role. Children are trained to be ‘mini-adults’ from a young age. If the parents are out trying to earn a small income at the market, the older children are responsible to act as a parent by cooking food and looking after the other kids. All of these challenges and more mean that educating the next generation of Ugandan children is an uphill battle.

Kids carrying water

Kids carrying water

Education is a major headache in Uganda. Despite universal primary education (UPE) having been brought in to address illiteracy in Uganda as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, the circumstantial evidence shows that UPE may in fact be increasing illiteracy. Although many children start primary school, their performance and progress is a struggle meaning there is a high dropout rate. Schooling is a huge challenge. Not only are there big classes meaning a competition for a teacher’s attention or even a seat on a bench, school starts early and finishes late. Children are often not eating a breakfast before they leave in the morning and don’t get any lunch at school. Although UPE is supposed to mean free education for primary children, there are hidden costs such as school uniforms, pens, exam fees, and exercise books among others. These costs are not very high, but are still difficult for many parents especially when there are so many dependants to have to look after (Uganda has the 2nd highest fertility rate in the world; the average woman in Uganda bears 6 live children and over 50% of the population is under 15). Many families also include children from extended family who suffer with poverty or who are orphaned.

Many government schools are performing very poorly and pupils are learning very little at all.
School Report

School Report

Consider this photo showing the results for a girl who has failed P4 in a dramatic style. Overall, she received 3.5 out of 100%, but notice that she still only came 137th out of the total number of 162 in the class! In the UK, children can't fail in primary school, so all the children move up the classes at the same age. In Uganda, though, children need to repeat a year until they pass. This means there can be 16 year-olds still attempting P4 which is demoralising for the child. Another issue that doesn't help is the low pay that teachers if they get paid at all!
A school assembly

A school assembly

Talking signs outside a school...I'm sure the the signs used to make sense before the words rubbed off

Talking signs outside a school...I'm sure the the signs used to make sense before the words rubbed off

Talking signs outside of schools encouraging the children towards good behaviour

Talking signs outside of schools encouraging the children towards good behaviour

ORA Uganda, the organisation that I volunteer for, attempts to address some of these huge community and social challenges by paying the school fees of sponsored children, children who have been identified by the community as being more vulnerable especially since one or more of their parents have died most likely through AIDS. Educational fees are paid throughout primary school and on into secondary and tertiary education. ORA Uganda also pays for teachers to teach some of the sponsored children after school to increase their chances of learning properly.
ORA Uganda near Odia

ORA Uganda near Odia


ORA Uganda is only able to help a few children in one sub-county of Uganda. There are countless other children like Morris who have to rely on their own initiative to try to earn some pennies for school fees. After all his efforts, I hope and pray that Morris will be successful and be able to complete his education and fulfil his dreams.
Amelie playing with the incredible bus that Morris created

Amelie playing with the incredible bus that Morris created

Amelie does a daft dance

Amelie does a daft dance

Posted by africraigs 06:57 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

A little trip to the airstrip

sunny 30 °C

As I have said before, there is never a dull moment living in Africa, excitement seems to come at you from all angles to bite you in the bum. However, sometimes I miss the variety of entertainment available in somewhere like Edinburgh (especially during the fringe). So Amelie and I were excited when we had a mission to accomplish a couple of Saturdays ago involving us going to the 'International Airport', Arua.
Arua Airport Sign

Arua Airport Sign

Amelie at the airport almost a year ago

Amelie at the airport almost a year ago


The only downside was having an early start on a Saturday morning. We were helping to take Pioneers missionary colleagues or ours, a family of 10 to catch their Eagle Air flight to Yei. The Perrys live and work in Yei, South Sudan but had only recently decided it was calm enough to return following the rebel activity and fighting in certain parts of the country. Because of the size of their family and amount of associated luggage following time in the States, there was need of a convoy of 3 vehicles! Whenever Emma and I feel stressed and down about having to travel a lot with 2 small kids, we often think of the Perrys and can't imagine how they do it...

Arua airstrip feels cute and homely, where you invariably know most of the passengers or pilots. As well as the commercial Eagle Air flights (don't think of Boeing, think much smaller), mission airlines MAF and AIM also fly out of Arua using their teeny Cessna planes. The airstrip itself is red-dirt, but very smooth and flat.
An Eagle Air flight on the red-earth airstrip

An Eagle Air flight on the red-earth airstrip

The check-in desk

The check-in desk


At the airstrip, Amelie was enjoying playing with the Perry kids, 2 of whom are close in age to Amelie. I felt a little sad at the fun she was having since I knew she would soon have to say good-bye...again! This is one of the more difficult parts of being a missionary and having your own kids, seeing her miss her friends.

This specific time at the airstrip seemed more exciting than normal:

- Amelie and I watched a large helicopter landing containing some soldiers from the UPDF (Uganda) army having come from deployment in South Sudan. It is fascinating to be seeing soldiers who had been part of the action to deal with a civil war in the neighbouring country which we had been hearing about on the news.
- I spoke briefly to a missionary lady flying out with AIMAir to another war zone in close-by Central African Republic for 5 days to encourage the church there. I had heard on the BBC Worldservice that soldiers were cannibalising their enemies and shot up a quick prayer to God that the nice lady wouldn't become a victim. I think her name was Donna from the States, so I am hoping that she is still well and walking around somewhere. Her next stop after CAR was going to be South Sudan, and I felt that she and her husband were definitely not your typical tourists... Speaking to Donna also made me appreciate missionaries a bit more. Who else would go out to a dangerous situation for no reason other than to encourage people there?
- Incidentally, missionary pilots are the cool-cats of the missionary gang. Their lifestyle consists of flying off to far-flung destinations, evacuating people from war zones, being shot at, having bigger cars and nicer pads than the rest of us...They even get calendars and funky t-shirts publicising their work.
- While watching all the exciting goings-on around me, I noticed a change to a more party atmosphere as a dj in the back of a pick-up with huge speakers pumping out some tunes. A big crowd appeared from nowhere as local people came to catch a glimpse of a celebrity, an Arua radio presenter had returned back from a long absence of being ill.
- Despite being an international airport with flights leaving to go to CAR, South Sudan, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo, the airport has a sleepy and very informal feel. For example, sometimes, the luggage is lifted by hand to check the weight. Additionally, there is no bodyscanner. Flight tracking involves phoning the manager of the airstrip, Robert to see if a flight has left Entebbe. There is a new terminal being built which looks a lot bigger and more imposing than the current little building. It remains to be seen whether the cozy atmosphere at the Arua airstrip will also end up changing. I hope not, though...
Asher asking Robert, the airport manager a question

Asher asking Robert, the airport manager a question

Army helicopter arriving

Army helicopter arriving

Army arriving from duty in South Sudan

Army arriving from duty in South Sudan

Amelie and Asher with new airport terminal behind them. How will the airport be changing over the next few years?

Amelie and Asher with new airport terminal behind them. How will the airport be changing over the next few years?

Posted by africraigs 07:49 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

African Nights

Why earplugs are a great invention

sunny 31 °C

I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.
*

*

It’s 3am and still a sultry 24 degrees. The stars look incredible out there as there is no night pollution or cloud cover tonight. I am not a fan of the hot and dry season we’re in (Come to think of it, though, a fan would be a good idea). No getting snug under the covers, there are no need for any covers. Juno, our dog has woken me up with some earnest barking outside. It is a concern, as our night-guard, John, told me that there was an attempted burglary the night before at our neighbour’s place. Thieves were chased off the compound, but not before they had cut open the wire mesh fence to get in. These days, there seems to be far too many stories around here of robberies for my liking.

Thankfully, we now have our solar-powered security lights meaning that even when the town power goes out unexpectedly, there are lights to deter any potential robber somewhat. This early morning, as I walk around the house checking everything at, I relax when I see John patrolling around outside and vow to give him a bonus when I see him before he leaves shift. Most night-guards are fast asleep at this time. They will likely be busy during the day-time as well, like our other night-guard, Rashid, who rides a bicycle taxi during the day, with its large padded seat for passengers.

Getting back to sleep is a problem under the cloak of the tropical heat. The air is punctuated with countless dog voices, giving vent to their excitement. People say that 3-4am is the ‘witching hour’ and it’s easy to believe that when there seems to be a lot going on outside in the blackness.

In the distance, I hear a club playing popular African pop. Though I usually enjoy the tunes, I detest any music at this time of night. I want to be in a deep sleep before 5am when the mosques wake up and their eerie chanting begins around us. It is difficult to tell where these ghostly voices are coming from. Seriously, Islam doesn’t seem to consider a community’s need for rest.

Each day, morning comes too early for me as Amelie wakes with the light between 6:30 and 7am. Ironically, it is the best time for sleeping as it’s cool and quiet.

Posted by africraigs 03:13 Archived in Uganda Comments (4)

I knew I was back in Africa when...

sunny 29 °C

I knew I was back in Africa when I was in the shower washing my curly locks and looking down, saw that the water draining away was reddy-brown from the dust that must have been accumulating…

The last 2 nights, however, I have not been able to have a shower because the water has run out, the last dribbles dripping out the shower head as I watch on forlornly. This is the first time since being in this house that we have had real water issues and it isn’t even the dry season yet. I find that water problems cause me a lot of stress, so I am not sure how I will cope. Likely I will be having to raid my UK winegum stash sooner than I would have.
Tea anyone? When the water did come out

Tea anyone? When the water did come out


We have also been having more power outages these days. I find that having no electrical power causes me less annoyance as long as you have planned beforehand to charge the solar lamps in the sun during the daylight and keeping the computer battery topped up when the electricity is available. I am working out how to cope with the inconsistent power by planning another solar panel on the roof and a combo electric/kerosene fridge! (Who has ever heard of a kerosene fridge unless you live in Africa?) Living here demands extra creativity and ingenuity in how to survive. Our mission agency is called “Pioneers”, which is an apt description of the attitude and character that is often needed to live day-to-day. Unfortunately, I don’t really fit that label, which is why I enjoy hot showers and being able to charge the laptop anytime in the UK… Sorting your life out here with solar panels etc means it is also often more costly than the UK. I get frustrated when I hear people say how cheap it must be to live in Africa. In fact, evidence shows that some of the most expensive places to live in the world as an ex-pat are in Africa, places such as Angola and Juba in South Sudan where most things need to be imported.

I often here myself saying that Africa is “bonkers” because of the knotty issues that we regularly deal with which are mind-bogglingly different to what we would deal with in the UK. My Aunt Barbara has been staying with us since we arrived back on the BA flight almost 3 weeks ago and her first time in Africa has been a real eye-opening experience. For example, taking her round the market in Arua is fascinating because of the colourful sights and the cacophony of sounds such that Karl Pilkington in the TV series “An Idiot Abroad” would remark “My eyes have never been so busy”. Obviously, Aunt Barbara wanted to take photos and I was carrying the camera as discreetly as possible to take pictures for her. Not discreetly enough, it seems, as an officious-looking man (officious usually means large in Africa…) directs us to an office to sign a notebook and hand over money for the privilege of taking pictures in the marketplace. For this, we were then lucky enough to be escorted by the said burly man, now carrying a long stick ready to use to keep the market women in order in case they weren’t keen on being snapped by the camera.
Sneaky market photo

Sneaky market photo

Aunt Barbara and Amelie washing by hand

Aunt Barbara and Amelie washing by hand


Right now, we have a situation where the lady who helps us, Lilian, has been bringing a 6-year old girl she doesn’t know to help her look after her own 2-month old baby, Norban (no idea what it means, neither does she, the father named him…). It has caused various issues of boundaries in the home and stresses which we weren’t prepared to cope with. The girl is not at school and it seems as though her family are in no hurry to send her. Lilian says that has something to do with her being Muslim? We have also had our share of people coming to the gate wanting work and others coming in to take our oranges.

These and other situations (like the nest of cockroaches Aunt Barbara bravely helped us get rid of in our drawers) make living and working in Africa a unique experience, something only understood first-hand (right, Aunt B?).
A fallen enemy

A fallen enemy

Fighting the cockroach infestation

Fighting the cockroach infestation


However, the best thing we have experienced since returning is the welcome that we have received from Ugandans and ex-pats that we know. Amelie has re-connected with her little friends and had a international mix of friends at her wee tea-party for her 3rd birthday celebration. Around town, people we may or may not recognize wave cheerily showing huge smiles and white teeth shouting out “Welcome back” greetings. People are happy to see Asher and call him “our baby”.
Amelie's 3rd birthday cake

Amelie's 3rd birthday cake

Amelie's teddy bear picnic on the front lawn

Amelie's teddy bear picnic on the front lawn

The UK already seems a long way away.

Posted by africraigs 11:20 Archived in Uganda Comments (5)

teddy bear cakes and fabric conditioner

(12 things to enjoy in our last few days in the UK and a reason to go back to Uganda)

With less than a week before our flight, life is a jumble of lists and lasts…

this week amidst packing and goodbyes and stocking up and shopping for resources, we are desperately enjoying the little things of the UK before we plunge back into a completely different culture… Someone recently mentioned that when children (or any of us) go through transition, it is helpful to write a ‘list of lasts’ to prepare to leave, so this week I will deliberately enjoy and delight in…

hot and clean water for washing up

ovens which bake beautiful cakes

beautiful sisters to bake with

cute cafes to catch up with friends over a cuppa and discreetly feed Asher

blending in - and having children who blend in (especially now her strange Uganglish accent has gone)

well maintained playparks

wrapping up in coats and going for a walk and looking in on the cosy houses in the neighbourhood

fast, cheap and reliable internet

a church where children have pompoms and flags to help them feel included, and Sunday school teachers who are committed and trained and enthusiastic to share truth with little ones

getting dark and gloomy at 4pm

immunisations which are in date and not fake

the smell of fabric conditioner and the result of machine washed clothes

Someone said last week ‘oh, but presumably Asher and Amelie can be vaccinated against malaria and typhoid?’ hmm. unfortunately not…
and maybe it goes without saying that returning to East Africa with our precious little ones is not a decision we make lightly.

The focus at church yesterday was on adoption and orphans, and encouraging the church to consider their role in adoption and fostering. It was good (and timely) to remember the passion for some of the roles we hope to be involved in when we are back, and the need for people to encourage children that their future is (or can be) brighter than their past.

http://www.oranewzealand.org/where-we-work/uganda/

So much as I hate goodbyes and the thought of leaving loved ones, we push on with the thought of our home in Arua and hopefully our purpose there…

Snapshot of life in Arua...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OaTGE0wH9E

teddy bear picnic

teddy bear picnic

pic 1

pic 1

marathon viewers!

marathon viewers!

DSC_0003

DSC_0003

bye lizzie

bye lizzie

swimming

swimming

soft play

soft play

marathon runner!

marathon runner!

Posted by africraigs 11:56 Archived in England Comments (0)

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