Today was quite a powerful day in many ways. I joined Katrina, Alasdair and Clare on a 2 hour journey into rural Uganda to meet with three Ugandan children that Katrina’s kids sponsor (more on them later).
I was excited by this opportunity as it meant we were going to visit the “real” Uganda. What I mean by this is that in some ways Watoto is a bit like Disneyland. It’s not real… certainly not “Real Uganda”. So today we got a much better insight into the hardships and tragedy of Ugandan life.
The day started with slight hiccup when Katrina poisoned Fred our driver for the day…. After one of Katrina’s super-strong coffees, our guide was sent running to the toilet where he suffered a 20 minute vomiting attack. Now Ugandan drivers are absolutely crazy at the best of times, so needless to say Katrina and I were feeling a tad nervous when our driver got back into the car rather shakily.
The driver started the car, put it in gear and then turned to me and said…” Would you please say a prayer”. Now I can’t say that any “off-the-shelf” prayers immediately jumped to mind, so I improvised with something along the lines of…
“Dear God, lets hope we get to our destination in one piece”. That seemed to do the trick and driver roared off to do battle with chaotic Kampalan traffic.
The trip was just mind blowing. For me it really was an assault on the senses…. I was just speechless taking in all of the sites and sounds…
When we arrived in the project office of the charity, we met some of the charity workers and they showed us photo albums of various kids, activities etc. that the charity are involved with.
Then the three children turned up (we can't use their names because of privacy). The 12 year boy that Alasdair sponsors, the 11 year old girl that Clare sponsors and Oliver sponsors a 6 year old boy who travelled for 3 hours with his case worker for the meeting.
We travelled out to the 11 year old girls house and met her family and got a tour of their house and gardens. It was at this point that reality really hit Katrina and I. I’ll try to give you just a feeling for their situation. Her house was probably not much bigger than a double car garage. There were 4 kids living there now (some had moved out). Her mother has contracted HIV (we think from her father). Her father doesn’t seem to live at home or spend much time there, as far as we can tell he lives in an old army office (don’t ask me why). Her sister Luth is 18 and 8 months pregnant.
We then had lunch back a the project office. This was actually quite amusing as it was a typical African lunch which consisted of Metoki (mashed green bananas), rice, chicken, spinach, soup and a nut paste. Katrina and I thought it was pretty good, and for the local kids it was definitely a feast. Jeffery ate a plate full that was probably twice what I could have eaten. We were told that he has probably not ever eaten a meal as good as this as he comes from a very poor family. The amusing part was the look on Alasdair and Clare’s face when they scooped the plate full of Metoki, spinach etc. despite the rather feeble protests….. There’s no chicken nuggets and chips over here…. Your not in Kansas any more Toto. The kids enjoyed the rice and potatoes but struggled with a lot of the more traditional fare.
After luch we went to the 12 year old boys house. His mother is dead and his father is also seriously ill (staying near a hospital for treatment). He is the youngest of 10 siblings and is looked after by his big sister. Their house was probably the size of a single car garage.
While we were there I had fun with lots of the local kids who were fascinated by my cameras. I took their pictures and showed them the image on the LCD display which sent them off into fits of laughter. They were absolutely gorgeous kids. What also struck us was the way kids as young as 6 years old were given responsibility for looking after babies that couldn’t have been much older than 6 months old. They just walked around with them on their back like a Koala bear.
When we got back to the project office, we actually were hit with one more shocking discovery. We spotted a strange sign in the charity office that we at first thought was some sort of joke poster. However we were very quickly informed about a very serious and quite prevalent practice that neither of us had heard about… child sacrifice. This is unbelievable. Apparently the peasants will go and consult with one of the local witch doctors and seek a blessing to obtain prosperity. In order to deliver the blessing the witch doctor requires a sacrifice which is often the head of a child. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing, but after talking to a few others, it is clear this practice is fairly prevalent and of significant concern…. It is currently being discussed in the Ugandan parliament.
By the time we got back in our mini-bus for the trip back, it’s fair to say that Katrina and I were both stunned by our experiences of the day. It is one thing to hear about the poverty in the world and hear all of the stats and facts, but I don’t think anything really prepares you for coming face-to-face with it and experiencing it for yourself.
I wish I was more articulate with words, because I really find myself struggling to convey in words what I am experiencing and observing. Despite all of this unbelievable poverty and tragedy, if I were to try to summarise the Ugandan people, the first word that would come to mind would be “Beautiful”… they truly are beautiful physically…. Especially the children…. Also in spirit and attitude. As we drive through the villages, there are smiles everywhere. There is definitely a very strong thread of hope that you feel everywhere. Hope for more prosperity, a better life, a more stable country, less corruption etc. etc. But you know what… they really make the best of what they have. What I find interesting is I remember clearly on my last visit to the USA thinking how depressed many of the people seemed as they walked down the street….. and they have so much!
Tomorrow we are going to go to the main church in the morning and attend a service by Pastor Garry (one of the founders of Watoto), and then we go to one of the Watoto villages and have lunch prepared by the children which will be fantastic.