Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Birthday time

Well, this will be a bit of a different post. Today is my birthday and so I want to talk about what my beautiful husband did for me. He picked me up from school, later because I had a meeting, and off to town we went. Ron wanted to buy me a dress (I think he might be sick of seeing the same thing day in day out!). We found a dress and a skirt and top, had a nice drink and did most of the necessary shopping. Then, it was off home, or so I thought. Suddenly we took a different turn. Oh, what is Ron up to, maybe to see the falls, that would be nice, but then again, we will be late home for dinner. Then, stopped by the army at a road block - still not sure what that was about but we didn't give him the cigarettes or the money for cigarettes that he was looking for. The other end of the blockage we had no trouble getting through! Along a reasonably rough road and to Bugagli Falls. Then, Ron took a turn to the resort - I said this won't get us through - he said it is the right way. Ron always knows best as far as direction is concerned, then he stops at Reception! I'm thinking - it is too soon for dinner, but the person greeted him, "oh you are Ronnie!" So, I was left wondering and suddenly Ron is signing in!
Needless to say, Ron had planned a night away for us. It was really lovely, on the hill overlooking the Nile River with the big falls within the distance and many other water falls. A better setting it would be hard to find, have a look....
The room was fantastic, the sort of thing that you see on Getaway or such programmes. It had a solid structure and then canvas and mosquito net partitions. The beds facing the water, sitting areas, a hammock (you can just see in the corner of the picture) and even hot water! When we arrived we were the only guests, so were given a room at the end where no one would go past! Even the shower had a view out on the water, at a discrete height of course!
So, settled in, time for a swim in the pool. A beautiful clean pool, something we do love. Dived in and looked up, and on top of the reception/restaurant building there were monkeys. At first a quite big one, then a couple of small ones that looked like they were sharing something. On closer scrutiny, we saw it was a little baby monkey. Then lots of the monkeys around came out and there was quite a display for us while we enjoyed the swimming pool. They collected berries from a tree and ran away with them. Interestingly, there were still berries there this morning, they only ate what they needed. Then a couple of them had a fight, looked like the real thing, but soon stopped. Beautiful monkeys, easy to tell whether they are male or female though as the males have aqua blue testicles!
The meal was wonderful, candle lit, with great food. I had pork ribs, seemed to be nearly half a pig! Ron had the mixed grill. We do not miss meat but do have it when we go out for meals. Again, of course overlooking the water, though by this stage it was dark.
It was lovely to sleep in a bed not completely surrounded by a mosquito net, though we did have protection because of a very large netting of the room. The mattress was similar to here but it was a change. We could even see the faint distance lights of Kampala in the distance behind some hills.
It was great to spend together without any chance of interruption or, the thought of things that needed to be done. Ron remembered to bring everything (except shampoo but that was very minor) and even had the equipment so that we could let everyone know through facebook about my birthday!
Here is a view from our bed, the feet are Ron's - just to give you a picture of the view! Then, there is also a picture of breakfast with Ron. It was a great surprise, a lovely break and fun. I do love my husband so much, and a great way to keep me from missing family and friends back at home. Now, to celebrate with the village. special chocolates and maybe another treat. We will not do much as we have already had one big celebration this week. Lots of friends and family have sent love and best wishes. You do miss home at these times, but the celebration is just different.
It does make us think though how we can celebrate childrens' birthdays. Some thoughts at the moment are that we could once a month have a celebration - there might be some imagination used to produce birthdates but it is so nice for every person to feel special, and these children certainly are.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some introductions

For three weeks now the size of the village has been double what it had been for the past eighteen months. This is the biggest change that the village will ever undertake! From now on it will be a much smaller ratio that will be added when each two houses are filled. Fortunately, God has been gracious, it has been a very smooth transition with very few difficulties. The children have settled in well and the new mothers, Persis and Rose, are managing their roles beautifully.

The children have been profiled for a while. This is the process of finding the children most in need and making sure that the information that we have about the children is correct. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of life here, there can be lies told so that children can come to a place where they will be able to go to school and be fed regularly. Ivan does this job and it is an amazing and important task. There are so many in need and he has to distinguish between them. Then, the board in Australia approves the children and then their case is presented to the probation officer. This went much smoother than expected, thank you God.

The houses needed to be ready, this was not quite at the completeness we thought through no fault of anyone. The tables needed to be made, the bunks made, the locks on the doors (some of which were much harder than expected) and the cooking area made. Also, so many things needed to equip the houses: pots, sheets, bowls, mugs, lanterns, etc etc. So, most of these things were ready prior to the children coming, though the cooking stove (made out of mud) needed more time. Lots of lessons learnt and new timelines made for next time - but that is the process.

Saturday morning dawned and off we set in the village bus (this is usually just used as a fund raising bus). Thinking it was a little bit of a drive to the first place but..... TIA (This is Africa)... two and a half hours later, after travelling small bumpy country roads we arrived. The two boys were at the water pump and hopped on the bus. We then took them to their grandmother's house and officially collected them. For me, this was incredibly emotional, the grandmother looked fragile and is the only one these boys have. We offered them a bag to bring anything they would like to bring - they had nothing! We will of course endeavour to help this grandmother see her grandsons again but it is a long way away and she seemed very frail. A new life at a cost. The boys settled into the bus well and the younger one Sebudde played pick-a-boo with me, Steven was a little less certain. It was good to stop and buy some food, that helped them as they ate what was probably a big treat for them, buns and bananas.
The next stop for the bus was the slum that we have been to on a number of occasions, where Ron and I feel quite at home in a very surprising way. Here, we were picking up five young girls ranging in ages from about 3 to 13 years of age. Their father had died about 18 months previously and their mother about 6 months ago. They were living with an aunt (who we had met and thought she was about 18!) who has four children of her own. They have been able to attend school but struggled to find food to eat. These girls were all ready for us to pick them up and though it was hard to hear a cousin cry that they were leaving, one knew that it is a good solution. They will be able to keep contact but there is security in their lives. At Kikaramoja children hold your hand, you take care where you walk as there is likely to be faeces in your path and you walk over open drains/sewers. The girls names from oldest to youngest are Brenda - who is in Senior One and achieved well in Primary 7 exams despite having to look after a sick sister and the other circumstances of the year including her mother's death), Santina Christine who is quiet and had just had a front tooth removed, Carol who is in Primary 4 and a happy girl, Rachel who is in Primary 2 and then little Angela who has two ways of being - happy/enchanting and stubborn/crying. They all speak some English unlike the rest of the children we collected on the Saturday.

The next stop was in a different place in Kikaramoja. This was always going to be hard as this little boy's mother died on the previous Thursday. She had wanted him to come to the village but here was a boy in mourning. After discussions it was decided that it would be better for him to finalise all the burial rituals and then come on Monday. He looked like he had not eaten for a long time and is very small. I think that, despite his mother not fully knowing that he would be picked up as quickly, the timing seemed perfect. He was able to be with his mother until she died and now he is able to be well looked after. I need to show you two photos of Maliko to show the difference. He is a very street wise young man, he has needed to but with the new environment seems to have settled in quickly and well. The fighting that happened when no adults were around appears to have stopped. He is such a happy fun-loving young boy and looks like a great runner but this might just be lack of nutrition.This picture only partly shows the happiness that it is evident to us each day but I want to get this post finished so I'm not going searching more pictures.
Then, it was up to Bugembe to pick up a child who we have met at church. Michael has a lovely grandmother but it is very hard for her to continue to look after Michael and he needed a new home. Michael is funny for us, he comes to the door and asks to come in and then will commence to talk "Auntie Anne..." or "Uncle Ron...". The problem, the rest of the sentence is in local language and he thinks we understand. We think he understands more English than he speaks and so thinks we are the same! It is quite amusing as we have no idea most of the time. Michael found it very difficult to leave his grandmother but has settled in well.

Then, on to a place in Wairaka, where I was pleasantly surprised to see a lady I know from Women of Hope and it was two of her grandsons who are twins. Waso and Kato are two lovely little boys with very different personalities. Kato is much more outgoing and was sitting instantly on my knee. Their grandmother has AIDS in the later stages, their mother has died and their father who is very young is in Kampala. Unable to look after the boys they are given to the grandmother who has about 6 other grandchildren to look after. She shared at Women of Hope what a great relief and blessing it is that the children are here.
Time was moving on and Ron needed to go into town to collect the tables, so we dropped him off at the village and went on to Kairaka. Here, we were picked up two children who's parents had both died, a sister and brother, Martha and Peter. Martha is HIV positive but is well and on treatment to maintain that situation. Peter is the child that has found it hardest to fit in and has been a bit unsettled. However, this is improving on a daily basis, he will continue to need encouragement and support with his school work.

Then, finally home to a great celebration. Yes, if you count up we had only added twelve children. One of our new mothers Persis has two children that have come to be part of the village. She was in a poor situation and so her children were also vulnerable. Then, on the following Wednesday Ron, Ivan, Luke and a mother were able to go and get Joshua. Here are pictures of these three. The first one is a picture of Brenda (one of the original children) with Willington . Then, there is a picture of Purpose and then Joshua.

Well, I will finish now and hopefully we will continue to have power and I won't have to make such long posts that take all morning! It is such a great adventure and so good to see children so happy. Food at first was stockpiled in bedrooms - no longer needed. Children are learning that there is always enough for them. It is exciting and I have to go - time to kill a chicken for dinner - I am going to help (maybe).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Three months on

Today, we went and renewed our visas. This was a good reminder of the fact that we have now been here nearly three months. So, I have been musing on our time, what has it meant, how have we gone, is it worth it? These are just some of the questions that come to mind.

It has been quite a dramatic change in our lives. We have not been incredibly surprised by the changes but one needs to be aware of the differences here to our lives in Australia. As an ordered, procedure person I suppose one of the biggest things to adapt to is not knowing what is going to happen in any day or at any time. The irony is that most of the time I am really happy to go with the flow, and always enjoy the different things that crop up. It probably does not come as a surprise to any of my friends that each day manages to be quite busy. Sometimes, I am reminded of life many years ago when the children were little. After a day, feeling tired and not really being able to quantify what has been achieved. With children all around, homework to be done, questions to be answered and fun to be had, this seems to often be the case. Also, the daily chores can take more time. Drinking water comes from the tank, so the bottles need filling. The concrete floor gets very dirty and so it needs at least one daily sweep and a mopping as often as possible (on hands and knees). Cooking is reasonably straight forward and varies little in the effort required to home. Washing, well I have to admit that I pay the mothers in the village to do this. Though, I do wash the towels and sheets on a Saturday. Of course dishes are done in a basin not the dishwasher. I think I walk a lot more, down to the gate each morning to unlock it, 20 minute walk to school on the days I go, walking to the houses and even walking to get water from the bathroom while cooking (that is the only running water in the house).

Are there hardships? Yes, there are things I definitely miss. I miss our family and friends so very much. On a really hot day I miss being able to swim in the swimming pool. When the water is being used by the houses and I can't get any water out of the tap I miss having lots of water. I miss the things that are in the container that we thought would be here three months ago! Things like a printer, a grater and the Christmas presents Anita put in for us! For three weeks I missed having power, mainly because of technological communication and cold drinks. I miss going to church and understanding everything that is going on. However, there are a lot of things that I like more. I like the fact that we don't make a lot of rubbish. Vegetables are great, fresh from the market - I get to go to the market. I really like the fact that I walk along the road and am greeted by friendly people, some I know, some I am getting to know and others that I do know and they know me by name. I love walking by the primary school and hearing "Hello Aunt Anne" and big waves from so many. I love children being excited by simple things. I love watching children make things out of nothing. I love seeing lives changed for the better and sometimes even life being saved.

So, what of our time. We are enjoying our lives here and the lifestyle. It is very hard to be surrounded constantly by such poverty. To realise the fragility of life and the lack of choices. We are in such a fortunate position, able to enjoy the simplicity of life and yet being able to access food, water and anything we need. It is such a privilege though to be part of the community, to be accepted by people as friends and to be part of people's lives. We believe that it is worthwhile. We definitely were a help in finalising the process, and getting the children and mothers into the house. When we came, we thought we would be able to take a bit of a role as acting as intermediaries - understanding what Australia needed and also understanding what the local people needed. This has also happened and so much has changed in our attitude and we are able to understand the difficulties faced and work on solutions. The three months has certainly been a learning time and I imagine we will continue to learn lots. I am beginning to understand more of the problems of teaching here and thinking through how to help teachers. I look forward to running some seminars and am at present thinking through what they should be about. One topic in particular is "What does it mean to be a Christian school?".

In so many ways so much has been achieved in these three months, building is happening, children and mothers are settling and relationships growing. I have been teaching and building relationships outside of the village. We have not done everything we want to but are probably developing some better ideas of ways forward for so many things. Some of the challenge has been to not come in with our ideas and simply make changes, and to also recognise when there is another way that will be helpful and not take away from the people.

Now, I think it is time to take stock and look at what is in store. We know what life now looks like and that it can be very full without a break if we don't take control. I need to take time to pray, think and stop doing in order to know the things I should do, not the things that simply come up and I do to help. It seems like time is flying but we know that God has a lot more in store for our time here and we look forward to all that will unfold.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Three little girls

There have been so many things happen since the power. The first thing I remember thinking I would need to write a bit on the blog about was a little girl. Since then there are two more girls to add to the list.
You may have read early in our time here of me giving biscuits to children who were collecting water. One of these girls I had a chat with and discovered that she didn't have a mosquito net. She came back a few weeks later and explained that I had told her to come back for a net. It was great timing, God's timing, because we had just bought the large amount for the 'Women of Hope'. It was good to be able to give her the net but I didn't think much more about it. Then, on a Saturday I heard someone calling "Aunt Anne" and there was Rebecca with her mother. I was presented with a beautiful box. It was a gift for me as thanks for the net. All carefully wrapped in glittering paper, in a homemade box was a patchwork bag. The photo hardly does it justice but gives you some idea.
How humbling is that! I think it has become one of my most precious possessions.

Around the same time, another little girl had been becoming part of my life. Her name is Priscilla. I met Priscilla on my travels to school. The first time we chatted as I walked, she escorted me to the school and I gave her some biscuits as she said she hadn't had breakfast. Then, when I came out of school, approximately 4 hours later, there was Priscilla to greet me. She told me of her life and that she wanted to go to school. After inquiries with people that know, I discovered that she did have a father, her mother had abandoned the family and that she lived with her grandmother. Her father provided some money for food, but as a boda driver there was not a lot left, certainly not enough for school fees. So, where to from here. I gave her an exercise book, pencil and some 'work' to do. Thinking that would appease her. Wrong! Next day Priscilla was back with her book filled with pages and pages of work. It appeared she had copied work from her previous year's book or found questions to do that were definitely school work. So, what is next? Perhaps some more work and don't come back until Monday! Well, first thing Monday morning, despite other plans, there she was. It soon became apparent that if we did not get her to school our work would be cut out finding work for her. So, Priscilla is now in school for this year. Her desire reminded us of our dream of helping children who cannot get to school. It is still in our heads, how do we help these children? We cannot pay the school fees but maybe we could run classes for them to have some education.... More prayer needed about that one!

Finally last week, we thought we were facing something that is a constant reality here in Africa, death. The mud bricks for the houses and buildings in the village are made by widows. One of these widows is a lady called Joyce. She has suffered much in her life. She has come from northern Uganda and was adversely affected by the Lord's Resistance Army. This affect is ongoing, she is now HIV positive and so is one of her daughters, Mary. Mary is a lovely girl with a beautiful smile and when I next see her I hope to get a good photograph for you. She is about 9 years old and is also keen to do well as school. On Wednesday, last week, there was a knock at the door and it was Mary. We were busy meeting with Robert but it was instantly obvious that she needed our attention. Her face was swollen, like the most severe case of mumps you can think of. After seating her, we found out the whereabouts of her mother. She was just next door and so I was able to call over the fence. It appears she had insisted on walking to school and told her mother that if she needed help Aunt Anna would be there. So, with some assistance they headed to the hospital after a prayer. However, Joyce needed to get the medical information, so had to go back home to get it, leaving Mary at the gate. After finishing the discussions, Ron and I needed to go into town, so hopped in the car. Oh dear, Mary was still at the gate! So, we bundled her into the car, drove and found mum on her way back and off to town we went and dropped them at the hospital. Tests were done and they needed to return the next day. We didn't hear the results on Thursday but Friday morning Ron was just walking down the road in the village and saw Mary upright on a tyre but appearing to be sound asleep. She did not quickly rouse and when she did, did not speak. He called us and then she was carried to the sofa. I went to find Joyce who was at the brick making shed. She said that Mary had treatment and that she needed a cup of milk each day. She had missed Michael (our farmer) so wasn't sure about getting milk. I reassured her that we had milk and checked that we didn't need to make another trip into the hospital. Joyce was sure that the treatment would be fine and so we all took care of her throughout the day. We were all very concerned. However, by the end of the day she was much improved - thank you God. A highlight for me, was that she wanted to 'bathe' and so she did so in our bathroom with a basin in our shower. There were some noises coming from the bathroom and still being concerned I took a quick look. There was a girl squealing with delight because she could freely pour water over her (a half basin) and enjoy it, for her a rare treat. Her mother has to buy water so it cannot normally be used in any way like this. Mary is improving and tried to drop in yesterday her mother informs us, to greet us. Unfortunately we were out.

There are so many special children, not just in the village but in the wider community we are able to be a part of.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sitting in a cafe in Jinja

Some of the readers of the blog might be wondering why there has not been anything put on for a couple of weeks. How slack! Well, actually it might be slackness but not by us, there has been no power for more than two weeks!

We are sitting in a cafe in Jinja, charging up everything and making use of their free internet (though the power was more important).

It has been an action packed two weeks and we are a little tired but very happy. The reason for the action was that unexpectedly the probation officer appeared to have a personality change and was very amiable to our application for the children to come. Thank you God and thank you for those praying. So, final preparations were made and then on the Saturday (a week and a day ago) we went on a bus with new mothers to pick up children. An incredible experience that neither of us will ever forget, though we hope to be part of at least one more before we leave. We will write more about that and the new children very soon (if the power comes back on).

The 16 new children and the mothers are now settled in the village. New children with old hbbits bring new challenges but they are all so grateful to be there. We feel so fortunate to be there to greet them, help them settle in and to start new lives. The previous children who have been in the village for nearly 18 months have adjusted really well. New friendships have been formed, there have not been signs of jealousy of the new children getting all the new things. God has been very good. It is always so exciting to see the faith growing in the children.

I will not make this any longer as I wanted to post it for those of you who were unaware of the lack of power. Good old Facebook has been helpful in conveying information. We have another busy week approaching as we get procedures happening for the new houses, two public holidays with 32 children home due to council elections, and then a visit by Global development later in the week. Please continue to pray for us. Better post coming soon..... Watch this space