Sunday, June 28, 2015

From Lake Victoria to Gulu and Back Again

Our time with the Keppler family was spent at St. Paul Primary School in Nkokonjeru, Uganda. St. Paul is about 50 kilometers from Kampala which translates into a 2.5 hour drive on a good day. However, if you leave too late in the day or anytime on a Sunday, your 2.5 hour journey might turn into a 5 hour drive stuck in Kampala's jam (traffic). 

When we arrived at St. Paul School we were greeted by a flood of children that surrounded the car. We were escorted through the newly-finished school building, where more children were waiting to perform their welcome songs and dances. They also included a few "field day" activities to showcase their athletic curriculum. 

The dancing and songs seemed endless but with the help of the staff I managed to pull each student aside for their pen pal pictures before the sun set. 

The next day, Dale gave a lesson on dental hygiene and dental kits were distributed to every child. 

Later on, the Kepplers assisted the students in writing their pen pal letters that will be delivered to their partner school, Coyote Ridge Elementary, this fall.

Meanwhile, we had our driver, who also happens to be a plumber, work on installing gutters at the school so they can harvest rainwater on site rather than walking far distances to collect stagnant water from a local well. 

After parting ways with the Kepplers and the dear staff at St. Paul, we embarked on an 8 hour bus ride, north to Gulu. Gulu was a welcomed change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. We  woke to crowing roosters, ate meals prepared in mud huts, lived amongst the animals, washed by bucket showers, and concluded our days beside a fire lit in the middle of the compound. 

Aside from enjoying the pace of village living, we visited two schools that could both benefit from a partner school in Colorado. 

The first school we visited was deep in the bush. A school of only 2 years, there was a lot that could be done. We had to commend the communities involvement to ensure this schools success. We were greeted with welcome songs from the children and parents, then were given a tour of their modest 4 classroom school building that was constructed of bricks that were handmade by the parents. 

The second school we visited was on the other side of town, in a remote village. We were very impressed by this schools ability to mobilize the community to start money making projects. They have a micro-loan project to support members of the community in starting small businesses. The director of this school actually used this program to buy chickens for the school to provide eggs for the children and to sell in the market. Their ingenuity was admirable and inspirational. 

We came back to Kampala on another 8 hour bus ride, then celebrated Namatovu's birthday with her before heading to the airport to come back home. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Smile for the Camera!

Uganda is a tropical paradise in so many ways.  Green is everywhere.  Fruit is plentiful.  Heat is pervasive.  Life is relaxed.

For the Western visitor, it takes awhile to see past the poverty – the ramshackle slums, the trash, the congested roads - and enjoy the beauty that Uganda has to offer.  Each time we return, we find the beauty more quickly.  And the most beautiful thing about Uganda is the people.

Upon arriving in Uganda, we were greeted by Ms. Namatovu Catherine, the headmistress of Mwebaza School in Kyengera.  Her family, the Bukenya family, greeted us in typical African fashion with tea, groundnuts (peanuts), bananas, and hugs and smiles.  We have spent most of the last few days at the school started by Namatovu’s mother and father, the first partner school and namesake of the Mwebaza Foundation.

Our days here have been very busy.  It took much of a morning to distribute pen pal letters from Niwot Elementary students to their Mwebaza friends.  After helping students read and understand their letters, we assisted the students in composing responses.


We took photos of every Mwebaza child to attach to his or her pen pal response letter.  It was both a joy and a challenge to coax a smile from each child, many of whom are “culturally shy.”  It is an interesting paradox how the children here are so shy to speak, and yet, have no reservations about breaking into song and dance.  Meanwhile, American children can be reticent to sing or dance, yet are less reserved about talking.

Next, Dale led a lesson on dental hygiene, stressing the importance of visiting a dentist if one has tooth pain.  A student at Mwebaza School recently died of a toothache – an untreated tooth infection that spread to his brain.  Ms. Namatovu asked us to address dental hygiene to try to help prevent such a tragedy from occurring again at the school.  After children were reminded how to properly brush their teeth, each child was given a toothbrush donated by a Colorado dentist.

On Friday, we headed to Jinja to view the school van that was recently burned in a garage fire.  One of our top priorities over the next year will be to replace this van that not only transported Mwebaza students, but brought in income for the school when used as a taxi during off hours.  Losing this van has considerably damaged the school’s ability to be self-sufficient.  A part of our mission as a foundation is to promote self-sufficiency for our partner schools in ways that make sense to those we serve.  The school bus/taxi was the idea of our friends at Mwebaza School, and they have made it work to the benefit of the students and school community.

After viewing the van and eating lunch, we went on a hour-long excursion in a boat to view the source of the Nile and a bit of Lake Victoria.  There seems to be some disagreement whether the springs bubbling up from the edge of Lake Victoria are really the “source” since most of the water coming from the Nile comes from the lake.  But regardless, we loved our time on the water and seeing the fascinating bird life and the life of the local fishermen.

Early Saturday morning, we picked up former Niwot principal, Mike Keppler, former Mwebaza Foundation Board Member, Christa Keppler, and their daughters at the airport. We returned to Mwebaza School to celebrate with students, staff, and parents the graduation of the “top class!” 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chapati, Ugali, and Baby!

As the Kenya leg of our trip comes to an end, it's hard to believe it's over already! Looking back, we accomplished so much, made good connections and had a lot of fun.

When we arrived, it took us all a few days to adjust to the time. It wasn't uncommon for us to find each other at random times of the night in the hotel lobby, sending emails to our loved ones. 

We spent our first few days at the school. We were eagerly escorted to the greenhouse and chicken coop to view the progress that has been made over the past few months. The greenhouse was overflowing with sweet peppers and tomatoes and the chicken coop was ready and waiting for chicks. While we were here, the first batch of tomatoes were sold to a lady in the local market. We purchased the chicks that will be delivered to the school on Thursday. 

Hillari and Karie taught lessons to the children about what life is like in Colorado, and how it is similar to life in Kenya and how it is different.

They also filmed a short movie entitled, "The Day in the Life of an Empakasi Student" where they followed a young Empakasi student named Susan around for a day, documenting her life. This video will be shown to the students at their partner school, Eagle Crest Elementary, in Colorado.

With the help of the Empakasi staff, we were able to get the whole student body to write pen pal letters, after receiving their own letters from their friends at Eagle Crest. 

After a full week of activities at the school, we took a few days to tour around Nairobi. First stop, Nairobi National Park. However, on the morning of our safari, Kevin (our project manager) got a call from his wife. She was in labor and their baby was on its way! After 7 hours, baby John Omondi was born. Kevin was now a father!

After all the excitement, we made it to the national park and had a wonderful time! We saw different animals all day long and practically stayed in the park until sunset. 

All in all, we had an amazing and successful time in Kenya. We ate traditional foods, made attempts to learn the local language, and experienced parts of the various cultures that are found in here.  The partnership with Empakasi School is stronger than ever now because of our trip!