Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pushing Ahead

Over one year ago, the school construction project was originally conceived as two buildings - one with three rooms and one with two. The budget for the construction was $120,000 with nothing allocated to the desired solar electrical system and only Nat and I traveling to Uganda. Raising that much in one year was a lofty goal, particularly in the middle of a global recession. By mid summer we decided to scale back the project and only build the two-room building with the solar electrical system (which, by that point, carried a $7,000 budget of its own). By the time we came to Uganda in October over $50,000 had been raised. We were content with the prospects of constructing one solid building.

But this week we were at decision time again. As we mentioned in previous emails, the construction is going quickly and has been coming in significantly under budget (thanks largely the hard work of the Kampala team who were lead by the recently departed Russ and Charles). Also, the need for classroom space has increased since the collapsed of the temporary structure. Over the last couple weeks, with the possibility of starting the second building in our minds, we increased our building material orders to levels that would meet the needs of the second building (saving on transport costs). Now, for the second building, we have most of the roofing and lumber on site. The doors and windows are ordered. We (the royal one) have also made 8,000 of the 11,000 bricks required for the job. We are going for it.

If all goes according to plan, we will complete both originally planned buildings, plus an extra room for the solar equipment and a 1,200W solar electric system. It took over $30,000 to build the first structure (excluding solar), partly because we had to invest in tools and training for the construction and camp setup for the 20 Canadian volunteers, but we are here now. We expect the next building to cost under $20,000. We expect to have a roughly $9,000 budget shortfall - which we will have to “beg, borrow or steal”. We feel like we have come so far and with a little push we can accomplish what we had imagined one year ago.


So, if anyone is feeling rich or is still trying to find a last minute Christmas gift, we would be happy to accept any donations. We promise not to ask for any more donations…. this year :)

Tomorrow we are setting off to Kabale then to Lake Bunyoni for Christmas. We will be back in Kampala by the 28th to meet Sam, Jane and Dave. We will miss all our friends and family. We wish you all the best of the season.

Steve works on the roof

Brick making and cement mixing area

Trench for the second building

Bricks for the second building

Concrete foundation is poured

Footings are poured for the veranda of the first building

Nat works on the site plan

Simon and Colleen varnish the mahogany posts ($15 each!) for the veranda

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dairy Goat Project: Notes From the Field

Over the past week we’ve been traveling around visiting the families that had received a dairy goat  as part of the dairy goat program. The families are scatter over a very wide area surrounding Bwera Town; they are in each of the 16 surround community groups (villages) that make up our local partner organization, Cobra.  So far we’ve made it to six of the groups and have visited close to 100 goat families.

It has been an incredibly moving experience to see how much some of the goat families having improved, and we are blown away by how well Cobra has managed and developed this project. The improvements are especially amazing knowing the dire situations that the families selected to be part of the program come from: all have HIV in the family, most recipients are widowed women that are HIV positive and care for 6 to 14 young children – a very difficult position to be in if you are living in rural Uganda.

To recap, the program began with only three goats in 2005, 11 more were purchased in 2006 with the initial funds raised by selling goat magnets. In 2007 on our return visit we purchased another 50 goats, and through donations another 30 were purchased in 2009. Since that time, the program has grown rapidly thanks to the well-developed breeding program (each of the 16 groups has one robust male dairy goat that has the arduous role of accepting female visitors on a rotational basis). There are now just under 400 families that have one of the project dairy goats, supplying fresh milk daily to approximately 2500 individuals.

The first kid that is born to one of the project dairy is given to a new family that has been identified by the community as a family in need. The second kid is sold by the family (the proceeds are often put toward school fees, to begin the construction of a permanent home, or for the initial input to a small family income-generating project). A family with particular needs is free to apply to Cobra board to sell rather than pass on a kid that would otherwise have been passed on to anther project member. In this way, Cobra carefully balances the task help those families attain some sort of incremental improvement to their health, living conditions, and the opportunities available to the families' children, while at the same time time expanding the program to include new families in need – the organization seems to has navigated these difficult decisions extremely well. 

We were particularly touched to visit the young mother from Katasenda Village that had been in very bad state when we first gave her a goat in 2007. Since our last visit her goat had produced triplets, all of which Cobra had granted her permission to sell. We were proudly shown the three bedroom, permanent brick house that was being constructed with the money from those sales – a stark contrast from  her leaking and dark, one room mud hut that we entered in 2007 to see the piles of leaves on which she slept on with all of her children.

The women who's situation really touched us on our first visit, standing now with her family between her old and new home.

The important breeding aspect of the project also seems to have been well managed (I've recently learned more about the phenotypic characteristics of different varieties of goats than I ever imagined I would). In only one of the groups that we’ve reached so far the male project goat had died two years earlier and had not yet been replaced. As a result, the goat families in this area travel a long distance to have their goats impregnated by the male goat in the neighbouring group. Not surprisingly, many members were instead rendering the services of local male goats. The resulting crossbred goats are smaller and produced only 2-5 cups of milk, compared to the 6-8 cups produced by their purebred dairy goat counterparts. The difference between this and other groups really made us realize how important it is to closely monitor the project in each village. We plan to make one of our goat purchases this year a strong male to regenerate the project in this area.

In part because of the success of the program, and as people begin to realize the nutritional quality of fresh dairy goat milk, the price of a dairy goat has almost doubled in the Bwera and the surrounding villages over the past two years. People from Kenya and Tanzania are also starting to come to the area annually to purchase dairy goats. We were told by many of the goat families that they now sleep with their goat staked to the ground in their bedroom at night for fear of thieves. One family that we went to visit was not at home when we arrived and neither was their goat. We were informed that they had gone for  burial way up in the hills and had taken their goat with them rater than leave it behind unattended.

On a personal level it feels great to spend all day walking from one goat family to the next through winding mountain pathways, peering into a world so completely removed from our own. It is a magical way to deal with all the stress and the emotion of past couple of months and shake off the numbness that invariably settles in. We feel truly humbled.

We hope to reach all of the remaining groups before we leave for Christmas and look forward to doing another major goat buying extravaganza from all of the donations we’ve received for this program over the past year.

Below are some photos from one of first days Pete, Colleen and I spent visiting goat families in Katasenda and Tuyilhondera Villages.

One of the project goats

After recording some details about the goat – the number of kids it had produced, what had been done with those kids, the cups of milk produced daily by the goat, and so on – each goat family posed for a photograph with their goat

A good harvest of g-nuts laid out to dry in front of one of the goat family homes

Surprised goat

One of the goat recipients

A goat family poses in front of their got pen 
Colleen terrifies small children with amazing regularity

This women was able to start a very successful chicken and turkey rearing business after selling two goat kids

Showing us the chicken and turkey coop she had built

Following the maze of paths between goat families

A goat family

Most of the goat families have been given seeds and encourages to grow small home gardens like this onion garden to supplement their very starchy and basic diets
As is true all over Africa, here grandmothers often care for their orphaned grandchildren

Recording the details from each goat family

Peter and the jovial chairperson of Katasenda Group  
An elderly couple, goat recipients, in front of their old home
The same elderly couple in front of their new home, being built through the sale of their goat kids

A man feeds his male project goat, the only one in the area. Group members pay 2000UGX ($1CND) to bring their dairy goat to be bred with the male project goat.

Beautiful smiles

As was true for many of the families we spoke with, this man told us that his family sleeps with the goat in the house at night for fear of thieves
Nat and one of the goat recipients

A women prepares matoke just inside the door of her home

The majority of the dairy goats we visited had either recently given birth to kids or was pregnant.

Pete checks out a goat pen

A grandmother and her young grandchild

Nat shows a family their photo

Tis’ the (Grasshopper) Season

Glare of bright lights illuminates the smoke filled air. On a good night, grasshoppers by the thousands swarm traps made of shiny corrugated steel fitted into large drums. Children jump on the insects that miss the traps, picking them out of the grass and off walls. During the day, women sit in groups pulling the legs and wings off the still squirming bodies. Grasshoppers are a delicacy. They are usually deep fried and eaten like potato chips. Although they are not our favorite snack, we have tried them on occasion. Locals definitely get more delight out of a mzungu eating the little critters than we do ourselves.

Traps are set

Grasshoppers fill the air
A tasty plate of the fried insects

Peter, Robina (Nelson's wife) and Robert


A reluctant grasshopper eater

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas is coming!

We are happy to announce that there are golden nail Christmas tree ornaments and dairy goat fridge magnets available again this year. Thanks to the Solar Team, this year we have also added mini solar panel magnets as well. Each of these three items comes with a project description. If beautiful cards are what you are after, try Emily Dickson Designs ( She generously donates a portion of each sale to our projects (and she has already donated over $300). Remember, we are in Uganda until late February so any support you give will be carefully directed to the projects in Uganda. Thank you for your consideration and support!

Bats, Babies, Balls, and Brides...

Our little buddy Danny

Pete and Danny

Nat nailing her baby-carrying technique on the sideline.

Teachers vs students, the big end of year match. Students 6, Teachers 0.

Nat goes pot shopping, Kampala

Purchasing some hand-washing stations for the school, curtosy of John and Jill

Downtown Kampala

Nat of the jungle

Simon's birthday hike through Mabira Forest

Cam and Jim fix up some old wheelchairs at Mengo Hospital for a disabled man in Bwera

Beautiful tea fields in Bushenyi District, enroute back to Bwera


Colleen gets wrap pointers

Stage one, empty bucket

Downtown Bwera, power lines are a very new development

Nat gets painted by local ladies pre-wedding celebrations

Our Ugandan wedding begins...

Nelson was very proud to hand us the wedding outfits he had made for us

Nelson, his wife Robina, and little Nelson

Nelson's grandfather, husband to 16, father to over 90 children, a respected elder

Nelson's mother, the firstborn of his grandfather

To begin the wedding ceremony Nelson's family gathered for his grandfather to give Nat her Ugandan name, Katusime (ka-tu-seem-eh)

The wedding party arrives at the school for the celebrations, led by the women's group cultural dancers

View from our table

Students preform

Traditional dancer

Students sing

The following day, two of the teachers at the site

Nat and Wilson, project cordinator
For Cam's last day, we took a bike trip to the hills with Nelson and Wilson

Pete photographs hundreds of giant bats

We climbed to the highest peak on this side of the Rwenzoris

A man with curious stones