Ian & Helen's Blog March 2016
My 22nd trip here, and the longest journey. We left Cardiff in heavy rain which was turning to snow as we boarded the early morning flight to Brussels, and we flew out of the rain as we landed in Belgium. The onward flight to Entebbe was almost empty, and We both booked our 4 seats as we looked forward to some rest. A loud bang as we began take off put paid to that, we returned to the terminal, to be told we'd be booked on the same flight the next day. We were booked into a city centre hotel in Brussels by the airline, and whilst an investigation around the city looked appealing, an afternoon catching up on missed sleep won the day and we snoozed all afternoon, ate and retired early.
A return to the airport on Thursday morning lead to us joining a full flight, alas no horizontal travel, and an uneventful flight to Entebbe, airport collection and a night in the Lake View Guest House. Mose collected us next morning, and we change money and bought water, before a trip to Chloride Exide, the solar specialists in Kampala to assess solar fridges, lighting systems and fridge options.
The journey through Kampala was the slowest yet. Post election season, I think everyone was out again, many of them on the road trying to earn a crust. And the more traffic queues, the greater the offering from the roadside sellers who appeal to the occupants of each vehicle for business. Newspapers, water, sodas and gum are often seen, but ladies and gents shoes, leather belts, toilet rolls, fresh fish and even solar chargers and phone charges were all on offer, with free delivery through your car window.
The first 60% of the journey follows the main road to Kenya, with very many heavy goods vehicles, crazy minibus taxi (matatu) drivers weaving through, overtaking and undertaking in equal measure. Little surprise half the hospital beds are filled with road traffic accident victims.
We passed one 42T lorry and trailer on its side partially down an embankment, with a team emptying the contents of the container into another lorry, which caused a further delay. But year on year we see more new development sites and factories sites under construction, and even in the poorest of areas, there is more investment.
Saturday and Sunday have been very hot, 30*C, everyone is pegging out for rain. I managed to meet a Dutch group for coffee in Mbale. Henk and Janete, plus 2 members of their Pentecostal church. They have been working with Eibu Sam in the villages around Soroti, undertaking similar schemes to the work of SaltPeter.
Anna and Dave swim at the Mount Elgon Hotel open air pool occasionally, and we had a lovely afternoon in the pool on Saturday. Later Dave & I were able to watch the England v Wales International, nervously, but ending with a smile for us. One of the Jenga volunteers has just invested in a TV and viewing package, which screens all the major sports events, and feels it should be shared, we were delighted to oblige!
Today saw a return to Bethel Baptist Church's morning service, a remarkable place founded in 2003, a new building in 2008, and 10 new churches planted in 8 years. The afternoon was a time of rest, getting out of the sun, it was hot hot.
So to work tomorrow, planning inspections of SaltPeter Trust and Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD) projects in the south of Teso over the next couple of weeks. Jenga have asked for guidance on how to fabricate a coffee cherry pulper, to assist with Dave's coffee project Zukuka Bora Coffee. We have sampled the first crop, and it is very good indeed, so we plan to bring samples home, aiming to find a market for the October crop. There's also a possible mini hydro scheme in mountains above Mbale to supply power to remote villages where no one else seems to work, so research is necessary to see if this could be a new scheme for EFOD.
So we have had a happy (& hot) family weekend and thoroughly enjoyed Grace, Joseph and Judah, who have grown so much since we were last here. Judah is a real smiler and time with the whole family is just great.
It has been a hot and busy week for us here, with temperatures up to 39 degrees in the day and 31 at night, so everone is pegging out for rain. We have spent the week visiting all the EFOD and SPT schemes in the area, and pleased to report that they are all working, some really well, others respectably so.
Grain at Mam Riang Grain Store
We have spent a good deal of time with Pastor Adiba Robert and his two assistants, Odeke Michael and Immaculate, both orphans from the educational programme. Michael has a degree in Development Studies from the local University, Immaculate a diploma in Accountancy, thanks to the kind support of SPT sponors. Two years ago we asked all 270 members of the 3 widow's cooperatives and the women's group whether they would contribute to fund an office and workers to manage the various schemes. All agreed to 1000 Ugandan shillings of per month (20p), the price of a bottle of water. I had hoped that we'd have a fund of 6.5 million by now (£1400), but this ignores the reluctance of the very poor to part with even a small sum each month, even if it is intended to increase each their earning potential. There is a small fund in each of 4 differet accounts, but 2 cannot be accessed, since a signatory has died or left the area, and another because the treasurer is always unavailable. Nothing is simple here.
However Michael and Immaculate have taken the initiative and opened a SaltPeter Trust office in Kabwalin, next to our first mill on the main road, complete with a connection to the mains. We have an agreement to pull all the monies into a single bank account to be managed by Immaculate, save bank fees, and improve financial control. The groups have again agreed to make monthly payments, and Immaculate and Michael plan monthly training meetings, when funds can be collected. All we now have to do is to register SaltPeter Trust as a Community Developmet Organisation (CDO), which requires a constitution, the minutes of a start up meeting, and a letter from the local councillor. Sounds easy, but remember, this is Uganda, and we still have to convince beneficiaries that a smalll investment will be rewarded in spades!
The great news is that all 4 boreholes and 4 grinding machines in the mills are serviced and working and the grain stores have sacks of grain in them.
SaltPeter Trust's first Office at Kabalin Mill site
Nyakoi Village Borehole, serving 150 families, so 1200 people with sweet water
We have demonstrated that each store could yeild a profit of at least £10,000 per crop if run well, and with more than one crop per year, they cold be real money makers. So year by year we hope to work towards full stores, although we know that this will take some time.
Koutulai Grain Store nears completion. outside painting to be completed by Easter
I met the borehole committee from Malera, where we installed a solar pump into a borehole to pump water for 500 households and 5000 cattle. They have been collecting the monthly 2000 shilling (40p) user charge from those who will pay, and the treasurer holds it as cash, since the nearest bank is 15km away, and means transport costs and bank charges, which they are unwilling to incur. They asked SaltPeter to collect, bank and account for it on their behalf, another task for Michael & Immaculate. It's a good job we bought a SPT motorbike last year for Michael to gt around.
The system is working well, the public are happy, the cattle are many, and much healthier then 6 months ago. Even the local vet has complimented us for reducing his workload in the area.
Happy healthy borehole committee members and cattle at Malera Borehole
Sunday saw us at Koutulai Church for their morning service, lovely unaccompanied singing, and a real desire to worship. Michael lead the sevice, a remarkably modest young man.
Odeke Michael greeting during the Koutulai BC service
I spoke about Palm Sunday & the Triumphal Entry, and Helen spoke about Joseph and his Grain Stores. Church services are quite long here!
The great thing we discovered this visit are initiatives to generate income for the church and the members. The 3 rooms to the side of the village hall are now leased to a pharmacy & a hairdresser, and a the gent in a suit in the photo below has 25 members of a craft group making bead bags and garments using a knitting machine, meeting in the Village Hall during the week.
Koutulai BC send greetings to Ainon Baptist Church
We managed a day off on Saturday, and spent the afternoon in the pool at a local hotel, and plan a few days on the Nile in Jinja before celebrating Easter here in Mbale. Soroti is planned for the week after Easter, where I intend to install a couple of small 4 bulb domestic solar systems in the Medical Centre to provide light at night during power outages, prior to hopefully installing a full solar system in January 2017. I am also looking for a 12v fridge which can be powered by a couple of solar panels, so they can store serum and participate in the Government innoculation programmes.
We have enjoyed a busy, often exhausting week and trust our meetings and discussions will result in further benefits for such needy communities. We have had the loan of a 4x4 vehicle for this visit, and what a differnce it makes being able to drive ourselves. Tonight we were able to get back to Mbale for a 5pm swim, what a way to cool off after another roasting day.
For the last week we have had a 4 night break with the family, down in Jinja, at a very rustic African hotel set in lovely grounds which run down to Lake Victoria as it discharges into the River Nile.
Dave & I managed a round of golf at Jinja Golf course, and we all spent time each day in the pool.
We returned on Saturday, and enjoyed an Easter Day service at Bethel Baptist Church, with much dancing, jumping and singing, a great celebration. We spent the evening at an egg hunt with the expat community here in Mbale, mostly from the US, so an excellent BBQ to end the day.
One of my (Helen) tasks here has been to help Anna with the develpment of the Jenga ladies' sewing programme. They have successfully made small purses & zipped bags which have been selling well & now want to develop a larger lined zipped shopping bag made out of the local katenge fabric - with as few seams as possible, as simple as possible (no written instructions), without using an iron & still looking professional & good! The sewers among you will recognise the difficulties here without having to contend with power going off frequently, though to be fair, the tailors use treadle or hand machines. We've trialled a couple of designs, sounds simple enough but it's certainly put me through my paces!
We return to the fray tomorrow, with a 4 day trip to Soroti to monitor progress at the Soroti Baptist Medical Centre, built in 2009. We hope to fit a simple solar lighting system to assist the night staff when the power is down, and make plans for an SPT Team visit in January 2017. When we return to Mbale, we have a site visit to a possible mini hydro scheme and Dave's coffee plantations, and next week we still have to meet 2 of the cooperatives in Kachumbala, and the community served by the Malera borehole, so lots to fit into the remaining time here.
It's still very hot, and although we have had occassional rain, the farmers hope for much more. I think the UK has taken it all.
We went to Soroti on Tuesday 29 March for 4 days to see how the Medical Centre in the grounds of Soroti Baptist Church is doing. The premises are looking pretty good following out team visit in October 2009, although some redecoration and minor repair work is now necessary, so plenty for a maintenance team next January.
One of my tasks was to install a couple of mini solar systems in the rooms in use through the night so we could bannish kerosine lamps and candles when mains power goes down. There are now several solar systems around. We have trialled a Barefoot 4 light Australian system in a house over the last 18 months, which is working well, and so installed this in the doctor's surgery, injection room, reception & toilets. A second 4 light system now supplies the hall and 3 wards. Simple but effective, both are powered by small roof mouted solar panels. We hope to replace these with a full solar system which will power all lights and sockets throughout the Centre in January 17, to reduce the operating costs.
The staff of 12 have been very loyal, some haave been working there for 5 years on low pay. Patient numbers are slowly increasing & the standard of patient care is high. Dr Ronald is the main stay of the place, and we heard good reports of the recovery of seriously ill patients under his care. He is not from Teso, but has bought land and has built a house in Soroti. His wife is a teacher, but in the absence of a job (as an outsider?) breeds chickens and sells eggs, and does this well. Their daughter Karen is 3 and a delight, they come for a meal in the hotel each visit, and she is convinced the Soroti Hotel is the muzungu house. George, the Lab Technician, was top of his year in college, and has just completed a weekend course to fully qualify to run a Lab, and is now training Eric, his assistant to follow in him. Sarah and Angela, our 2 younger nurses require further training to progress, and we are looking for suitable part time courses for each, we now need to find funding to assist them to reward their loyalty. They were thrilled when Helen explained this to them, they both had great big smiles for days.
Little Sam helps with maintenance, and was able to ensure all the mains powered lights were working when provided with a bag full low voltage bulbs and a few new light fittings, so the Centre is now well lit since it has both mains and back up solar lights.
Patient numbers are increasing slowly, and recent out reaches into the villages around Soroti by a couple of Dutch teams of medics mean more are hearing about the Centre and are coming in for treatment. Peter, the dentist, now works there full time, and whilst we were there was wiring up the jaw of a young lad who had probably been in a road traffic accident.
Administration is still our main problem. Whilst the Centre is on the brink of sustainability, more drive is required to improve profitability. We saw the inside of another clinic in Mbale and realise that Soroti BaptistMedical Centre is a superb facility in comparison. It could do so much more,aand we uderstand the current Administrato was askedto leave after our visit, because of poor performance. We are patiently encouraging the staff to maximise its potential of the place as we seek a new Adminstrator, it's a concept which few in Uganda seem to understand.
We plan to fit more solar to power the place in January 2017, and a full design has been commissioned, so a fundraising drive will be necessary over the next few months, but free a continuous supply of power with so much sunshine in Africa is within our reach.
One final objective is the supply of potable water. We already have the biggest rainwater harvesting scheme in the town, and Teva Water, a Ugandan company provide excellent filters for £50 a pop, so we had planned to leave one in the Centre.
We tried to collect one from Tiva's offices whilst in Kampala, only to discover they had moved. We arranged for Moses, our driver to meet their delivery driver on the day after we left, only to discover they out of stock. Nothing is easy or clear cut in Uganda, but we remain confident pure water will shortly be available!
We returned to Mbale after a very hot 4 day stay content that the Centre is providing good medical services at fair prices. If anyone knows of a Medical Administrator who fancies a sabbatical in Soroti for a few months, then we'd be motoring!
So atthe end of the dry season, rains came, a little later than usual, but the temperatures dropped, and the landscape Changed from parched orange to green.
And last Saturday we went on the Great Coffee Trail to see what Dave has been up to. Jenga, the local Charity they work for, has bought 2 coffee gardens on the mountain above Mbale, and together with 5 local peasant farmers, produce a crop of almost 100kgs of top grade Aribica coffee in January. So we spent a day on the mountain visiting the gardens.
Check out the Zukuka Bora Coffee Company online and on Facebook, great stuff, and great project, we brought samples back if anyone is interested in a regular supply from the Ja https://www.facebook.com/zukukacoffee/?fref=nf. The idea is to increase the yeild for the coffee farmers from 5% of the retail value of a bag, so 15p, to 20%, or 60p, and plough more money into yje local community. A Fair Trade label may be more duifficult because of the cost to establish and monitor, but if it's like any of the Jenga initiatives (http://www.jengauganda.org/projects/) it ill comply ane more.
And then on to Walalera a community of 1000 at a trading centre with no power, an Irish potato store, and a potable water supply just about to be commissioned.
Dave was able to hand pulp 360 kegs of ripe coffee cherries in the village in January to produce 83kgs of raw coffee beans, causing great excitement. Around 1000 peasant farmers now want to join his cooperative which could produce between 3 and 4 tonnes of beans next year. And if their share of the value of the crop increases from 5% to 20%, then they will be fairly rewarded for their labour. But this will mean pulping 9-12 tonnes of coffee cherries, quite a task. So Dave is working on a mechanical pulper driven by bicycle. Since there's no power in the village apart from few small solar panels, I was challenged to consider mini hydro from a couple of streams which flow all year round. It would provide light throughout the trading centre, and power to giind maize and of course to pulp coffee. It would save fuel hauling sacks of grain down the mountain to grind. Another project for EFOD from water floweing down the hillside all year round?
Our weekend was somewhat affected by Pastor Robert Adiba collapsing and being transported to hospita, with suspected malaria and bacterial infection (typhoid?). We visited on Saturday evening, and he was very sick, causing concern to all. I suspect he was given a heavy dose of antibiotics, because he returned home on Sunday evening, although has taken 10 days now to approach full recovery. I am concerned we have given him too much to do, all the work in the Kachumbala are go through Robert. We have opened a SaltPeter Trust Kachumbala Office in the old Kwabwalin Mill Office, replaced in 2008 by a larger mill which still operates.
Two of our Orphans have been supported for 14 years through second and tertiary education. Odeke Michael has a degree in Development Studies, and Immaculate Okello a diploma in Accounting, so both have committed to working for SaltPeter Trust. This will hopefully provide relief for Pastors Robert & Cuthbert, who both have too much to do at present. The office is already open and functionong, and funds sent to add essentials so they can manage the 4 cooperatives of 270 wives and widows, together with the Malera Water scheme, completer in August 2015 by EFOD.
And a visit to Malera to meet with the borehole committees and community was one of my formal tasks on Monday 4 April. The scheme is working well, but the heavy rains the previous night had caused flooding adjacent to the Malera water troughs.
Further work will be necessary to hand dig grips to divery water, and place 15 lorry loads of murrum to raise the level of the ground, another task for Michael to supervise.
A final visit to Kwarikwar was necessary to discuss the construction of Faith Community School, a Not-For-Profit primary, which Pastor Cuthbert runs at the request of the local community. The local Government school has 10 classes of over 100, so achievement is low. English is taught only from year 4 so Faith Community School teaches it from Nursery level, aiming to improve the chances of success in national examinations, which are in English. EFOD Cardiff have resolved to design and build it, so land purchase and registration, followed by borehole provision are needed before the start of constuction towards the end of the year. Their current premises are woefully inadequate, adequate premises are desperately needed, and early eaxam results suggest, will help improve education in the area.
The trip ended with a with negotiations to rebook our Brussels Airlines flight because of the partial closure of Brussels Airport, we declined the Entebbe-Brussels-Frankfurt-Munich-Bristol flight offered, and delayed our return by a day to make an uneventful return on Friday 9 April with KLM via Amsterdam.
No peace for the wicked though, because Saturday saw us on an early train to London to the EFOD Summit the following day.
We are now resting!