Saturday, October 30, 2010

Project Update

Russ arrived in the afternoon on Thursday while Nat and I were out. When we returned from town he had already assembled his team from Kampala – a collection of local tradesmen named Steven, Simon, Ben, Richard and Joel. These guys had worked with Russ and Bill during past renovation projects at Mengo Hospital. They sat in the bright front room of Jjaja Gwen’s Guest House, the tradesmen listening to Russ and offering the occasional suggestion in carefully selected words. The tradesmen were briefed on the project details. They are skilled men and will make the project happen much more quickly and they will be paired with workers in Bwera to maximize skill transfer. Everyone is excited.

The six days after that meeting were to be used to gather equipment that would be necessary to build the school. We would also need to meet with pest control experts, to decide the best methods of termite deterrence, prepare for setting up and living in a tented camp and organize transportation to Bwera – 8 hours away.

We have decided that I will leave for Bwera on Wednesday with Russ and the five tradesmen in a rented truck. Nat will stay in Kampala to arrange the purchase of a permanent vehicle and will come out to Bwera with John, Gill, and Charles by the weekend.

Nelson, our contact in Bwera and the director of Cobra (our partner organization), is very excited to see us and is working hard to prepare the site for our arrival. He is determined to make this project a success. We spoke with him yesterday. We had asked him to get some dimensional timber a few weeks ago but he could not find some of the 18-20’ pieces we requested. When we spoke with him he had assembled a team and was felling trees in the forest and was planning on milling them before our arrival. Freshly milled trees were not quite what we had imagined but the effort speaks volumes of the local commitment to this project.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Jungle of Specialists

Uganda has moved forward in many ways over the past few years but many things remain the same. A prime example is the telecom industry, which we became reacquainted with on our first day. Communication is a critical part of this project both for project management and for sharing our stories with people in Canada.

We heard that it was now possible to use the internet with your smart phone and this sounded very convenient for our purposes. The evening we arrived, Rogers had given us a Uganda Telecom (UTL) sim card. I tried to use the card that evening but it would not work so we decided to try MTN – which is the company we used last trip. At the MTN store they assured us that you could use the internet with their service so we both bought sim cards ($1.50 each) and a little airtime. Upon leaving the store we found their service was really only for voice and email over their accounts. So we were directed back to UTL. The sweet girl at the UTL store told us our new UTL sim card from our friend Rogers was useless – sometimes they are just made that way – and we should get another one… and yes, they have 3G internet. But, she told us, UTL has the best rates for voice but we should use Orange for internet. It sounded like Orange was the company for us. We went to the Orange store and found a USB key wireless modem for our computers and we picked up one sim card so at least one of our phones could be used on the internet. But there’s always a catch. Their voice rates are astronomical. So we returned to UTL and purchased a UTL phone for 35,000 UGX (about $17) for voice use. Within an hour of leaving the Orange store my overheated iPhone’s battery died as a result of struggling with the poor G3 network. I am now back to mostly using UTL for voice only.

In the end, between Nat and I we have six new phone numbers over three networks. Each network works better in certain areas of the country, one is for data the others are for voice. Now, like most people here, we are juggling a pocket full of sim cards and multiple phones on different networks.

And then there was our trip to the bank to set up our account…

Kampala at Last

Nat and I arrived in Uganda yesterday afternoon. The trip was longer than we remembered and it felt, in our over tired state, a little surreal to be back. In a way it has been like coming home. We were met at the airport by our taxi driver friend, Rogers. We shared stories with him on the way to Kampala and upon arrival ran into Persis, Sister Dora and others. We settled alone in Jjaja Gwen’s Guest House, where we have spent so much time over the past years. We were asleep by 7pm.

At midnight it rained - torrential rain with thunder. I listened to the water pour off the roof and thought about living in a tent in Bwera.  And I thought about the need to dry bricks in the sun. And I thought about keeping a team of volunteers dry and happy. Neither one of us slept well and we were awake by 5:30am. To my relief, it was a beautiful and bright morning. We planned our day over coffee and tea. A couple more tarps were added to the list and the rainy season information was rechecked. Everything will work out one way or another.

Russ will be arriving today and we will be running around gathering bits of equipment and getting new phone numbers.

It’s nice to be back to this wonderful if quirky place.


Monday, October 25, 2010

VYR and Out

And so the next adventure begins - or maybe it began a year ago when Gord said “I really want to help you guys raise funds for another project in Uganda”. The past year of feverish fund raising has certainly been an experience if not an adventure. The project has snowballed from a couple dreamers with few school blueprints to a large coordinated effort including 22 people traveling to Uganda each bringing skills and ideas. It has been a magical thing to be a part of.
We hope to be able to keep all our friends, family and supporters informed of our experiences over the next four months with this blog and - if it works from Bwera - Twitter. We have started a new Twitter account @podacanada.

Before we leave, we would like to say one BIG thank you to everyone who has made this project a reality. We are so lucky to be surrounded with so many supportive, generous and loving people. None of this would have happened with them.

We are at VYR now waiting to check in. We will send another update when we arrive and get settled at Mengo Hospital in Uganda. Catch you on the flipside.