It’s about giving …

For several years I worked in Bosnia and spent a lot of early Decembers in Sarajevo, a multicultural city that was still predominantly Muslim, before returning home for Christmas.  The country was also in a post-war period and struggling to rebuild.  I was always struck by the contrast between their society as it prepared for the winter solstice and year-end and mark varied religious celebrations and the onslaught I got when I came home the week before Christmas where I was bombarded with the pre-Christmas hype and commercialism that we endure in North America.

In the past few years, retailers have developed special shopping days to encourage people to buy, buy, buy – Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  The aim seems to be to offer bargains for people buying Christmas gifts and help the retailer get everyone in the spending mode.

This year, for the first time, Canada will mark Giving Tuesday.  Instead of focusing on getting, on December 3 there will be a country-wide effort to think about giving back – either through donations or volunteering.

africaleaf 2The CanAssist African Relief Trust depends on donations from people across Canada to do the infrastructure support work in East Africa that we know helps communities to improve their well-being.  We fund school classrooms and desks, hospital equipment and beds, rainwater catchment equipment in schools, clinics and communities, latrines for vulnerable children and adults at schools and in villages where no facilities have existed.

Each year CanAssist attempts to fund about $100,000 work.  We rely on the generosity of donors to do this.

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This Giving Tuesday we hope you will consider the CanAssist African Relief Trust in your charitable activities. And a bonus is that a donor has agreed to match the first $3000 in donations to CanAssist on December 3.  So the value your donations (which already can buy about 4 times as much in East Africa as it would in Canada) will be doubled. Your donation will also be tax-deductible.

A study in the U.S. last year showed that the majority of people would prefer to have money donated to a charity than receive a gift that they could not use or did not really want. In this Holiday Season, please put CanAssist on your Giving list.  Donations can be made with a credit card on the Canada Helps link below or by searching for CanAssist on the Giving Tuesday website.  Or you can mail a check to 582 Sycamore Street, Kingston, Canada K7M7L8.

In the next few days, I will post some videos that highlight some of the work that CanAssist has already done in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.  We plan to continue to do similar work next year with your support.

Listen to members of various CanAssist partner communities as they express their appreciation for the generosity of Canadians that is making a difference for them and their families.

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Giving Tuesday 2013 50

Meet Edward and Christopher

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This is Edward. He is the oldest of three kids living with a father who is intermittently ill and absent from the family. For much of the past three years he and his siblings have had to manage on their own.

Christopher and his older brother, Edward at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda.

Christopher and his older brother, Edward at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda.

Edward and his brother, Christopher, are just finishing up their studies at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda – a school that has been supported in several ways by the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Fortunately the staff and administration at the Hope for Youth school have been there to offer an element of stability to the lives of these kids and a bowl of porridge mid-day when food was scarce.

I have visited the school three or four times and have watched Edward and Christopher grow up. They both are involved with the traditional dancing and drumming entertainment that the school.

Christopher serves up some posho for lunch to visitor, Dave Kay, at Hope for Youth School

Christopher serves up some posho for lunch to visitor, Dave Kay, at Hope for Youth School

When I visited the school in September I asked the boys if they planned to go on to Secondary School. Their response was downturned eyes and shrugged shoulders. Their family has no money for them to attend secondary school (it would take about $550 for each boy to provide tuition and books for a year).

Their final exams are happening in December. The teachers at the school imagine that both boys will qualify for secondary school entrance.  (This little school is leading the pack in terms of grades for their district.)

Prossy

Prossy

I also met a girl named Prossy who has received top marks at the school but who has no money to continue her education. The teachers report that her academic performance has also been good but she lacks the resources to go on to secondary school.

What will become of these kids, I wonder.

This is a familiar story. African kids may get through elementary school but to go on requires some tuition, books and uniforms and this is often out of reach for a family living in poverty. Even fewer go on to post-secondary education. Most rely on outside support to continue their education. But there are so many pupils in this circumstance all desperate for some assistance.

Enjoy Christopher, Edward and some of their classmates as they do some Ugandan Traditional Dancing at the Hope for Youth School in Uganda. And realize how lucky we are that most of our students are able to complete secondary school with public funding regardless of their background or family situation.

Looking for Chimps in Kibale Forest, Uganda

I have just returned from a three-week safari in Uganda.  One of the highlights was a morning spent climbing over bushes in Kibale Forest to watch chimpanzees.  They are boisterous and lively.   They squabbled and shrieked and ran past us in the brush, then ambled up a tree to swing from vines. It was as if we were not there, standing in the forest quietly watching. The Alpha Male kept them all in line. He would settle a fight or chase off a trouble-maker then lie down in the forest, legs crossed, for a rest.

Quite an amazing three hours.

Development – A two-edged sword

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls .... or not.

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls …. or not.

If you look at the travel books like Lonely Planet you can find lots of things to do around the city of Jinja, Uganda. One of the highlights is touted to be a visit to the Bujagali Falls, more a series of rapids that are about ten kilometers north of he city on the Nile River. (The Source of the Nile is another tourist must – the place where John Speke discovered where the 4000 mile long Nile River begins as it flows out of Lake Victoria).

Photos of white tourists bouncing through the rapids in large rafts show just how much adventure can be had in the Bujagali Falls rapids.

But…. it seems there is always a but…

The need for electrical supply for East Africa is great and is mostly supplied by several hydroelectric dams. The biggest one is just below the Nile source in the city of Jinja. In the past few years, a second dam has been constructed just below Bujagali. It opened last year. My understanding is that much of the electricity is sold to neighbouring countries although I must admit that on my recent trip to Uganda there were not the long power blackouts that I had experienced there before.

This is “Development” and it will benefit the region, the government who will sell the electricity, and those who can afford electrical supply. It comes, however, with a price.

The Bujagali Falls are now completely submerged under 15 feet of water. The restaurant that once served tourists has been flooded and dismantled. Young men who once acted as spotters or guides are now trying to convince any visitors to take a sedate boat trip on the resulting lake which was calm as a mill-pond. Large rafts sit piled on the shore. Not a ripple is in sight.

Although I have been to Jinja a few times, I had never visited Bujagali Falls. Last week I took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to see the falls. There was one other tourist family of four at the site and me. The spot which had been bustling with tourists four years ago was quiet.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

I ended up talking to a couple of the fellows who were trying to convince me to take a boat ride. They said that they received nothing to compensate them for their loss of income. Many people have moved away from the area in search of work. Despite being so close to this power source, they have no electricity. I offered to buy them a soda, both to support the fellow who had a kiosk and to thank them for talking with me. The one fellow asked if he could forgo the soda and get some food with the money. He had not eaten for a while. I ended up buying him both food and a soda.

This story or theme is not uncommon. This kind of Development is deemed to be something favourable to the general economy and it may, in fact, help. But the “little guy”, the less than a dollar a day person we hear so much about, does not seem to benefit and often suffers. On the other side of Jinja there is a fish processing plant that receives, cleanse, fillets and freezes Nile Perch caught in Lake Victoria. The plant is owned by internationals and all of the fish are sent to Europe and beyond for consumption. The local people can not afford the fish at the price that the plant can get from the North so they go without. Resources (fish) are depleted from the lake to feed the developed world in exchange for a few low-paying jobs.

The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

Continue reading

Finishing our safari in style in Jinja, Uganda

On our first morning in a cabin by Kibale Forest,this big baboon boldly came in through our back door and grabbed  bag containing a dozen eggs.  Our breakfast became his.

On our first morning in a cabin by Kibale Forest,this big baboon boldly came in through our back door and grabbed bag containing a dozen eggs. Our breakfast became his.

David Kay and I have been on safari in Uganda for the past three weeks. Our accommodation has varied throughout from a cabins by the rainforest where we cooked our own food using fruits and vegetables purchased from local trading centre kiosks, to the accommodation we have for our last two nights here in Jinja. In our cabin by the forest, we even had a huge baboon come into our “kitchen” and steal the eggs we were planning to have for breakfast. Today, we are staying at Surjio’s Guest House and Pizzaria in the upscale areas of the city not far from the place where the Nile River begins out of Lake Victoria – the infamous “Source of the Nile”.

The best food of our safari was curry at Aaswad's.  We are going back for  another Aaswad meal tonight.

The best food of our safari was curry at Aaswad’s. We are going back for another Aaswad meal tonight.

Last night we wandered along the Main Street seeking a restaurant that had been recommended to me by Hugh Langley. He said it had great food but an unfortunate name. Yes the place is called Aaswad’s Forever. The restaurant has mainly Indian food and we likely had the best meal there last night of our whole trip. So good, in fact, that we are planning to return tonight. Today rode a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) into the countryside to see the Bujagali Falls, listed in the lonely planet things to do in Jinja. Unfortunately the falls are no more…since a dam just below them flooded the area and raised the water level several feet. Dave has headed off to do white water kayaking on the Nile. I elected for something more sedate. I found myself on Main Street at 1 pm so I stopped at a little restaurant obviously catering foreigners where I had a midday treat of Apple and Passionfruit crumble with a big scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream and a cappuccino. Now this all sounds as if today I am living the life of luxury. Relative to most Africans, I am. But if you are willing and able to arrange your own travel and maybe take some motorcycles around town rather than a taxi, it is not that expensive. My lunch treat and coffee mentioned above cost me the equivalent of $6. Our dinner last night – Two large beers and a table ladened with delicious curried dishes cost us $16 each, including a tip.

The pool view from the patio in front of our room at Surjio's Guest House in Jinja, Uganda.

The pool view from the patio in front of our room at Surjio’s Guest House in Jinja, Uganda.

Our hotel, by far the most upscale we have taken will cost $120 for the two of us in a twin room and includes a full breakfast of fresh pineapple and banana, a Spanish Omlette with toast and a large bodum of coffee. Uganda is a land of great diversity and we have had that in our accommodation and food as well. We have been in places with no light, running water or indoor toilet and also in a hotel that is clean, comfortable, secure and with full amenities, including high speed internet WiFi. And with a little planning and flexibility, even comfortable upscale travel here can be less expensive than anything comparable at home.

Cappuccino, warm apple and Passionfruit crumble with  ice cream - $6 at Flavours on the Main Street of Jinja, Uganda.

Cappuccino, warm apple and Passionfruit crumble with ice cream – $6 at Flavours on the Main Street of Jinja, Uganda.

More Ugandan Safari photos

Here are a few more photos of the wildlife we saw last week in western Uganda.

Hornbill in Kibale Forest

Hornbill in Kibale Forest

Black and white Colobus monkey in Kibale Forest.

Black and white Colobus monkey in Kibale Forest.

Giraffes by Lake Albert

Giraffes by Lake Albert

Waterbuck in Murchison Park

Waterbuck in Murchison Park

Crowned Crane at Ziwa. Uganda's national bird.

Crowned Crane at Ziwa. Uganda’s national bird.

Chimp in Kibale Forest

Chimp in Kibale Forest

Great Blue Turaco

Great Blue Turaco

Risk aversion

Over the past several years when I traveled to Africa with students from McGill university, they were always briefed repeatedly prior to their safari about risk aversion. There was an acronym that was drummed into their heads – SSRAB. Never one for learning things this way I could never remember what SSRAB stood for. I did know that the general idea was that while traveling in Africa ( when traveling anywhere unfamiliar, in fact) one needs to be more cautious than usual to avoid putting yourself and your travel companions at risk.

imageNow some people have a greater risk tolerance than others. I am not one of those. I did, once, pay a keeper to let me into a compound with two cheetahs. But I like cats so….

This week I am traveling with a friend in Uganda. One of our stops was at a rhino sanctuary a large park where several rhinos live free in the bush. The hope is that after several years their numbers will increase enough to release some back in to the Uganda parks. Rhinoceroses used to be found in Uganda but over years poaching for their horns reduced their number … to zero,

imagePart of the experience was to hike with a ranger into the bush to find the rhinos. We were warned that they were wild animals and that sometimes they would charge without much warning. Before we went out to the bush we signed a release which clearly stated that the sanctuary will not be responsible if you are injured or killed. Very reassuring. Adult rhinos weigh three tons and can run 35 km per hour. They have that big horn. Our escape, we were told was to climb a tree.

Those of you who know me can imagine me running through the bush being chased by a rhino and looking for a tree to climb. I am more likely to trip on my shoelaces and get trampled. So I was a bit anxious about meeting the animals in the bush.

The night before this we had a bit of a rehearsal. We encountered a hippo in the compound where we were staying. My friend, Dave, who is somewhat less risk averse than I am, found himself a bit too close for comfort as the hippo changed direction and he had to scramble up an acacia tree. Acacias have thorns. Dave spent the next morning picking thorns out of his hands.

imageYesterday, we walked into the bush and ten minutes from the guest house where we were staying, we suddenly came across four huge rhinos chewing grass in the bushes about 30 metres from us. We followed them for a bit and then they turned toward us in the grass and started coming our way. It didn’t take long for me to scoot back to a place of relative safety near a clear path out of the brush but Dave stayed in place, at least for a while. I think he was actually hoping to climb a tree and watch the rhinos pass below him.

All ended well. We survived. The rhinos took a right turn into the brush and meandered in, chomping on grass as the went.

As this was happening, I was blessing my camera zoom which let me get some photos from a safe distance.

The events in Nairobi this past weekend at the Westgate mall bring risk aversion for foreign travel to another level and make the rhino trekking trivial. For months, Western travelers to Kenya and Nairobi in particular have been advised to avoid places like malls and large international hotels or public gatherings because of the risk of terrorist activities.

SSRAB (Street Smart Risk Averse Behaviour is the translation I have dragged up from the depths) is always a good strategy.

A successful July for CanAssist

Our July 2013 drive to fund two water projects in East Africa went over the top!

Students at the Nyandema Secondary School have to walk about 5km every day to get water... and then it is from this muddy river.  CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

Students at the Nyandema Secondary School have to walk about 5 km every day to get water… and then it is from this muddy river. CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

Earlier in the month, we were challenged by the Sasamat Foundation, a charitable organization in Vancouver B.C.  with the offer that they would match donations received by CanAssist in July that were allocated to a rainwater collection projects at the Olimai Health Clinic and the Nyandema Secondary School in Nyatike District, Kenya.Well, our supporters rose to the occasion and as of July 31 we have collected $6708 in donations toward these projects through our 2013 Sasamat Challenge.   Donors will be pleased that the first $5000 will be matched by Sasamat. Even better, Sasamat has offered another $10,000 toward these projects.  Great news for CanAssist and the project partner communities in East Africa.

Putting guttering on this building and providing rainwater storage tanks will help the community to acquire clean water.

CanAssist will fund construction of  guttering on this building and provide rainwater storage tanks to help the Nakiwaate community  acquire clean water.

The good news doesn’t end there.  With the money donated this month toward rainwater collection projects, we are able now to fund THREE of our approved 2013  water projects at the Olimai Clinic in rural Uganda,  the Nyandema Secondary School in Nyatike District, Kenya and the T.A.Crusade Institute of Professional Studies in Nakiwaate Village, Uganda.

We are all excited.

We are in the process of signing the Memoranda of Understanding with the groups and will forward the money to them by mid-August so that the projects can be started as soon as possible (and before the anticipated rainy season in October and November).

CanAssist extends thanks to all who supported this effort and to the Sasamat Foundation for their generous funding and confidence in CanAssist to get this work done!

Here are some responses we have received from these groups when they were notified of this funding availability on August 1.

From Amuge Akol at Olimai Clinic : “I woke up to heart racing news. We are so hapi with the successful fund-raising drives. We shall write directly to supporters to express our our sincere grattitude. I will go to town tomorrow and
process the MOU and return it. Thx a million.”

From Ronald Lutaaya in Nakiwaate Village, Uganda: “We are so happy to hear this great news! Thanks so much for your effort in making this dream project come true. You have saved life in this poor community. I have just passed on the news to our Staff Members and some of our beneficiaries. They are all thankful and happy about this news.”

From Hellen Omollo, Nyandema Secondary School: “We are very happy indeed to hear from you.Once againwe do say THANK YOU for considering the life and health of our
Nyandema students and the local community a priority.
Good luck, good health and Gods peace and Mercy be part of you in yourdeserving work to East Africa.”

Canassist has had an ongoing relationship with the Olimai Clinic for the past three years. Here, some Canadian CanAssist supporters visit the clinic in 2012.

Canassist has had an ongoing relationship with the Olimai Clinic for the past three years. Here, some Canadian CanAssist supporters visit the clinic in 2012.

In search of a Ugandan Rose…

My 2009 safari in East Africa took me back to the edge of Kibale Forest, a high-altitude rain forest ( a jungle, in fact)  in Western Uganda. The forest lived up to its name with rain pelting down in dramatic outbursts most days. When the clouds cleared it became humid and warm and felt quite tropical.

I had been there a few times before so it was quite wonderful to see the villagers who live nearby, people I had smiled and waved at in past visits. They seemed to remember this white-haired mzungu with a camera around his neck who wandered along the road taking pictures of birds and butterflies and kids. I have tentative plans to return to Kibale for a few days in September 2013 and am very much looking forward to it.

On my daily walks, as I followed the red dirt road into Kanyawara village, I was aware of  being watched by several sets of eyes.  An old baboon sits in the grass, scratching himself and looking like he’s a spectator for a parade. A big brown cow stops chewing for a moment to look up as I pass and children peek from behind curtain doorways.   Some of the bolder ones run out to greet me with “How are you?” the only English phrase that they know. One little girl is dressed in a torn and dirty party dress and most of the children are barefoot.

MarkI stopped along the way to visit a young fellow named Mark who is a progressive entrepreneurial type. He had purchased a plot of land that sloped down into the valley.  He grows all of the food needed to feed his four children and has some left over to sell. As we chat, he hands me a carrot pulled from his garden and I munch on it as we walk.  He introduces me to his 9 year old son, Moses, as “Geddes, my friend from Canada”.

He  and his wife have been digging sweet potatoes and pulling up plants that have peanut-like clusters on the roots. Ground nuts, or G-nuts, are a staple here.  Mark also knows that they enrich the soil somehow so he intercrops them with other plants.  We walked under the banana trees and he pointed out various other crops – greens, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cassava and arrowroot. Avocado trees form a border for his lot. He sells the fruits for less than ten cents each. He breaks off a fresh pineapple from a spiny bush and cuts it up for me to savour. There is no comparison in taste between a tender, sweet, fresh pineapple that is five minutes from the plant and the pale sinewy ones we often get in the super market.

I leave Mark with thanks for his hospitality and carry on. I’m on a bit of a mission.  I have with me a photograph of Rose, a waif who I have seen by the side of the road every year for the past four.

When I first encountered Rose in 2006, she was a sad little waif on the side of the road.

When I first encountered Rose in 2006, she was a sad little waif on the side of the road.

When I get to her village, Rose is nowhere to be found. Knowing that many children in Uganda succumb to malaria or malnutrition before they reach the age of five, I worry that she is OK.

I show Rose’s picture to a woman who is sitting under a tree as she weaves a basket from coarse grass. She shakes her head then points vaguely across the road but I can tell from the look in her eyes and absence of a smile that I won’t find Rose there.

Rose in 2007.  I knew she remembered me from the year before.

Rose in 2007. I knew she remembered me from the year before.

A man sitting in a doorway looks at the photo and tells me that this little girl is not here any more. Both her parents died within the past few months, her mother on Christmas Day. She has gone to live with grandparents in another village – the stereotypical African orphan story. He says he will try to pass the picture on to them.

Disappointed, but glad to know that Rose is alive, I start to head back to the research station. Soon I am joined by four young kids who have been following me around the village. The youngest, about four years old is dressed in a one-piece red pajama outfit, the dome fasteners up the legs and around the crotch all undone. She grabs my hand as we walk.

I think of how trusting and open these kids are with me, a white foreigner from the other side of the world.. In North America, we have scared our children so much with warnings about strangers that they have become fearful and suspicious. There must be a happy medium.

As we walk, the kids want me to go up a side road. I don’t understand their Rutoro language nor do they understand my English, but it is clear that they want me to follow them, perhaps to their home.  So, also in a very non-North American way, I let these kids drag me half a kilometre up a narrow roadway lined with tall grass and banana trees.

We come to a driveway that leads to a small house. Outside a mother is sitting with a baby on her lap. Beans boil on an open fire in a mud kitchen hut. Three other kids are playing in the yard.

One of them is Rose.

Rose in 2009. A happier chid living with grandparents and brothers after both parents had died, likely of AIDS.

Rose in 2009. A happier chid living with grandparents and brothers after both parents had died, likely of AIDS.

She looked happy and healthier than when I saw her the year before.  Shyly she came to greet me. She remembered me for sure and once again, I checked out the scar on her leg that reminded us both of our first meeting when I treated an open sore there. We were all smiles and I take a few more photos with promises to send them back or maybe bring them myself one day.

After a brief visit, I headed out, feeling relieved that Rose was still there – still alive – struggling, no doubt, to get day to day but looking like she will survive. Rose will never know and would never understand the influence her being has had on motivating me to help in Africa where I can. I have trouble, sometimes, really understanding it myself.

I will travel to Kibale Forest again this September.  Will our paths cross again in this little town near the Ugandan jungle? Stay tuned.

Rose in 2010. Look at those eyes. She will be a teenager now. Will I find her again? I am on a mission.

Rose in 2010. Look at those eyes. She will be a teenager now. Will I find her again? I am on a mission.

Dimes 4 desks

Kids!  Their enthusiasm is infectious.

Last month I visited the Grade 4 class at Glenburnie School to tell them a bit about Africa.

Here is a “campaign” that resulted from my visit. This short video presentation, created by Ashley, one of the students in the class,  speaks for itself.

Ashley had originally had “With a Little Help from my Friends” as her background music but YouTube is picky about copyright so we changed it to some original African sounds. I recorded the music in the video when I was visiting a CanAssist project site in the village of Olimai, Uganda in 2011.  The thumb piano band had welcomed me to the community in the afternoon and serenaded me again after dark. What a delightful treat for a visitor.

The money raised by the class will go to the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre to provide furnishings (they have none at the moment).