Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nile Horseback Riding

After our morning at the preschool, we ventured back to NRE to grab our gear and headed down to our private river access. A boat and a cute young boy was waiting there to take us across the river where our next adventure awaited us. We walked up a huge hill where we saw a little family washing their clothes in the river and then we got saddled up and were off to explore the villages via horseback!  
The views were breathtaking. Everything was so lush and green and the view of the Nile was beautiful. I loved exploring the roads that lead to different villages and the kids just thought we were the coolest thing ever up on those horses. We went for about 2 hours I believe. And man, my butt was getting sore. We walked and trotted and then at the end our guide took me out to an open are to gallop/cantor. I've never done that before! It was so exhilarating. But it sure takes a lot out of ya. You have to squeeze your legs so tight! It took til the second try to feel in control. It was so great but I don't know how them people in the olden days used horses as their main method of transportation. It was definitely great entertainment but not exactly restful. We have it easy with cars--that's for sure. 

After our excursion, we sat and chatted with the horse owner for a bit (an Australian man and his adorable 5 year old daughter). He told us about how hard it is to take care of horses in Uganda. They have a short lifespan because of the flies and bugs that carry certain diseases kill the horses. He imported them from Kenya and he has to take extra-special care of them. So crazy to think about right? Horses just can't survive there. You would see cows and lots of different animals all over the place just chillin' but no horses. Interesting huh?

I also talked to him and his daughter a lot about life in Uganda. I would be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind a million times to move there with Matix. I wanted to get everyone's perspective on what life as an American with children is like over there. Everyone loved it. It's such a great cultural experience for kids to grow up in place like that. A big part of me would love to move somewhere and experience life in a whole new way. Uh, someday....

Our new Australian friend drove us into Jinja town to catch a minibus back to Kampala. He negotiated the rate down for us in Ugandan and we were on our way. It was the absolute worst drive of my life. Once we left we were on our own and they were not very nice to us. Two so-obvious-American-tourists packed into a minibus that legally sat 11 but was currently holding 16 Ugandans--and us. Smelly, stuffy, cramped for 4 hours and they initially tried to separate Margo and I into two separate buses (which we refused) and our Australian friend had told us exactly where to drop us off so that Nick (our Kampala driver and friend) could meet us with no problems. Well they decided to take it upon themselves to drop us off at a more convenient place for them because of traffic and refused to let us use their phone and just demanded their money. We eventually won the battled but they were NOT happy with us. Such relief when we were reunited with Nick--the absolute savior of our trip :)
Minibus life. Every stop you were swarmed with street vendors. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Soft Power Education

One of the things I was most excited to do in Africa was volunteer. I didn't care how, or what or through what organization. All I knew, was that it was a must. How can you go to Africa and not volunteer?  Exactly...You can't. I found that it was hard to find an organization that would let you just come and volunteer for a day or so, with no long-term commitment. That is until I found Soft Power Education. I found SPE through NRE, our rafting company and it is a non-profit located in Uganda that partners with schools, communities and organizations. Learn more about them here
Something I really liked about SPE was that they don't just come into Uganda a couple times a year and help out. They have set up roots in Uganda and help out in many schools, all the time. And then they even have their own education center where different schools can visit to have more opportunities for learning.

The project that was going on the day that we were there was painting visual aids on the walls of Kyabirwa Pre-School. We were picked up and met some of the other volunteers for the day--most were from Europe. Margo is the educational director at a special-ed high school in California, so this was right up her alley and she was so excited! She even brought as many school supplies as she could fit into her backpack. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near enough. So the teacher gave it to some of the top performers in a certain class. Margo's heart broke as she watched the other kid's jealousy as she handed notepads, pencils, and erasers to select students. Her heart ached for them and wants so badly to come back and bring more supplies. So much more.
Next we were taken to the various classrooms and given assignments. Most of the other volunteers had already been working all week on theirs, so Margo and I were given our own classroom that was for the year 1 kids (1st graders). They told us their general desires for the room, and we were on our own. Well, kinda. The kids just couldn't stay away from us. They were constantly running in and out of the room and giggling their heads off, spying through the windows, or stealing the extra brushes and painting anything they could find--they did anything to gain our attention. They just wanted our love and affection. The paint and brushes that we were given were very old. And the saddest thing I quickly realized was that there was no running water at the school. None. We had no real way to wash our hands. They gave us an almost empty bottle of paint remover and that was it. And it definitely didn't last. How is there no sinks or water at a school? I was baffled and kept re-explaining myself in hopes that they were just misunderstanding. Running water? I need to wash my hands? My hands are dirty! Nope. Nothing. They kept pointing to the basically empty paint remover. That's just how it is there. We have so much to be grateful for. 
Next this sweet lady Joyce made us lunch. It was a vegetable/bean stew. So delicious. Seriously, I got seconds. Or thirds. I can't remember. All I remember is that it was delicious. We sat and talked with Joyce for a while and then she insisted on showing us her home. (She is a teacher and lives on campus). Her husband and kids don't live with her. Her husband lives in his village and her kids are in boarding school. She rarely gets to see any of them, but she sure loved talking about them and showing us photo album after photo album. One of my favorite things to do was getting to know the people of Uganda and hear their stories. I find it so interesting to learn the cultural differences between us. Life is such a different ballgame for every single person. It's definitely something we all need to remember and I'm grateful for these eye opening experiences. 
Matix is the same age as her son.
Finally it was time to say our goodbyes. Margo promised Joyce that she would return and bring more teachers with her to trade teaching strategies. I hope they get to do that. Joyce was the sweetest lady who just wants the best for her kids at the school. I'm so glad we got to spend so much time getting to know her. :)
Next we were taken to the Amagezi Education Centre--SPE's central eduational resource. AEC is located in the heart of the Kyabirwa Village and is a place where partnered schools across the Jinja District can visit throughout the academic year to enjoy practical, interactive, and hand-on learning sessions using equipment they don't have access to in their schools. 

For example: They have a garden there, where they will teach the students the proper way to plant crops and then the proper way to care for the crops. Then they tell the students to create their own garden out by their homes, and go monitor the progress of their personal gardens.  

They also have a computer lab at the center--computers are very rare in Uganda. Children can come visit and learn about computers and actually sit down and play on one. We watched some children experience their first time on a computer. It was really sweet to watch. 

I think it's so great that they are improving the level of education in Uganda.

"Tell me I will forget., show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand."
-Benjamin Franklin

Our final stop was to a big field where they had probably 50-100 kids ready to play field games with us! We played tons of different games, such as duck duck goose, basketball with no dribbling (I cant remember what they called it), a rubber band jumping game (that my best friend Stephanie played in Philippines growing up) and double dutch jump rope.  It was so fun to play and interact with so many kids! They were so fun and again LOVED getting their picture taken. I lost my phone and camera several times during those few hours. But I absolutely LOVED those few hours. It was so much fun to have no other care in the world besides just letting loose and playing with the kids. I specifically remember having a "somebody pinch me" moment while we were playing the basketball game--like is this really my life right now? Am I really in Africa, sweating my butt off during this intense game with these sweet kids right now? Yes. Why, yes I was. 
This little boy ran after our van. Actually a ton ran after us. They were always so sad to see us go. 
This was the whole crew we volunteered with! Some cool peeps right there!
The next day we didn't have plans to volunteer again. But Margo especially just couldn't stand to not help out us much as we could! We made arrangements to be picked up again the next morning, but we must have missed them because we never found them. Instead of giving up we decided to step outside the gates and head into the village on our own in search of the preschool they told us we would be volunteering at. We grabbed some fruit and hit the (dirt) road on a bora bora. The school that we thought we correctly described ended up not being the right place. But the ladies in charge decided to let us help out anyways since we were with SPE. 
The kids spent the day practicing events for field day, which was the following day. Oh how I wish I could have seen those cute kids compete with other schools on field day. We go to help them prepare for the events and they were so cute and fun to help. There wasn't a whole lot of order, to be honest. It got kind of frustrating to me, but you can't get upset with those cute little faces. Especially becasue their English wasn't super great so it was hard to take any sort of control. Some of the events we helped them with were:
-Potato Sac Races
-Filling Water Bottles with Sponges
-Races to Get Dressed (The teacher took off all the kids clothes, turned them inside out and they had to re get dressed--those little naked bodies and bums were so cute. 
Around lunch time a neighbor lady brought what I initially thought was cookies. Upon further investigation I think i determined that it was like a blob of meat or something that was definitely not cookies. Anyways, when she entered the kids all lined up and gave her some coins in exchange for the food. As I stood there observing, I realized, that not every kid had coins. Once she had collected all the coins being held in her face, she prepared to leave. I noticed some sad faces on the kids who didn't have money for food. One boy in particular began to sob uncontrollably. (see picture below) My heart broke. I immediately went over to the teacher and asked if I could buy a snack for all the kids who couldn't afford one, without even thinking. She counted all the kids without a snack (12 total) and told me it would be 2,000 shillings--which is less than a dollar. The teacher told me that a lot of the kids at the school are orphans and never have money for a snack. The lady hadn't prepared a snack for that many kids so she went home and came back with enough bananas for all the kids. My heart almost burst as their frowns quickly turned to smiles as they ate their bananas and hugged me to pieces. <3 nbsp="" p="">

I cannot begin to tell you how sweet the children of Uganda are. If you ever want to be smothered in love--just go there. They will hug you, climb all over you, demand your constant attention and genuinely just love on you. They are the cutest, happiest, (and maybe even the stinkiest kids) in the world. If we compare their lives to our standard...we might just think that they don't have much to be happy about. But their contagious smiles and continuous giggles say otherwise. They are genuinely just so happy and I'm so grateful I got to experience their giggles and hugs first-hand. Our favorite thing to do with the kids was to sing with them. Their excitement and interest in learning the songs and actions was adorable. They hardly spoke English, but they sure tried their best! We taught them songs such as head, shoulders, knees and toes & the eensie weesie spider etc. The kids loved it so much. They wouldn't ever let you stop until you came up with another activity to keep them entertained. 

The conditions in Uganda are less than ideal. Please notice the lack of shoes on the feet of the young children. The majority of  the children never wore shoes. Their poor feet were so calloused and raw. When they took off their shirts, their bodies were so thin, but their bellies big. I suspect that a lot of kids had parasites of sorts. And the smell of the poor little kids was almost unbearable at times. As much as I loved being smothered by them--I had to come up for air air times. I remember watching the sweet babies drinking and playing in the dirty Nile water in the schoolyard. And nobody even flinched (except for me and Margo). You can't help but want to help what little you can. 
The teachers at the preschool

"All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them."