A day.

By: Cate Creede
Original Post from May 20, 2015: http://bit.ly/1BuneyN

We woke, bleary, mosquito nets pushed aside but sleep still draped around us. I tapped ground coffee from starbux into my triadventure mug, and added milk I brought in a tetra pack from home. On my 8th visit, I know what I need.

Steph and I spent an hour in the office of the Probation Officer, the man in charge of children’s welfare in the district. I barely noticed the cartoon like poster admonishing people against child sacrifice behind Mr. Sowati. The first time I saw it, I gawped. Now it weaves in.

“The Rwenzoris feel like home, don’t they?” Steph and I looked quietly at the green hills, the red roads.

We went in with worry, knowing that now that we are an official NGO in Uganda, we have a whole new maze to walk through. The Ministry of Gender doesn’t approve of orphanages, wants to push children to their villages, force parents to take up their responsibilities. We understand that, and have never called ourselves an orphanage. They need to protect children, want us to send away the older kids, take in more local children.

“Do people abandon their children in pit latrines in Canada?” asked Mr Sowati, forcefully. Making the point that some people in Uganda are terrible, that something has to change.

“Sometimes in firehalls,” offered steph.

“But PIT latrines?” he asked.

We were quiet.

Getting through the conversation was like watching the weaver birds on the hotel grounds carefully build the fragile nests that dangle from the trees, like Christmas ornaments. One thread at a time, carefully, contrary to nature.

In the end, he understood that the Niki kids have always had connection to their home villages, that they each belong somewhere, know what it means to dig and slash and plant. They know who they are and spend six weeks at Christmas with their families. We are not merely housing them, we have active programming when they are at the house between school terms. “You should help them plan for being donors themselves when they are adults,” he said. “We agree.” Success.

Then to the vet, to help the poor skinny mama dog, some prolapsed pink oozy flesh coming out of her vagina. Kicking her puppies away because she’s starving. Steph slid in the fresh black mud. “It’s okay, I did too,” laughed the vet.

Like Ugandans, we assumed the vet would wait patiently while we did errands on the way back. Two thwarted ATM visits, six shops to find minutes for my phone, a bag of milk for the puppies.

Innocent held the dog while the vet injected her with “anti-puppy” (depo provera for dogs?), prescribed de-wormer, anti-bacterial spray for her wound, tick wash. We persuaded Good to feed her twice a day.

Then writing job descriptions and letters of appointment (2 of the 18 tasks we have to do to satisfy the Ministry of Gender), more coffee, then a feat of engineering to hang the triad banner. Photos of the kids.

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Meeting with two of the community project groups, updates, planning, suggestions, inspiration. Moments of immense gratitude for what’s being created before our eyes.

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Lunch, plain spaghetti with tomato soup, basically. Avocado. Sleepy haze, broken fan in the hotel.

good

Boys’ meeting. Career planning, something each of them is proud of over the past year. Expectations, hope. Pringles and soda.

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Meetings with three of the boys one on one, who need specific guidance. Bargaining. “”You’re far too bright to have this trouble. You have two terms left. We’ll send you to the better school. But you have to promise you’ll focus.” “I will… but really, I want to play football. I am so talented.” An hour with Kagame, talking about songwriting. Not posting barechested photos on facebook.

Staggering toward the house, sleepy, it’s dark. The girls waylay me. Auntie, come dance! I dance two songs, slide into the house, talk to Tina and Gabriel about job descriptions.

Filthy, sticky, I turn on the tap at the hotel. No water. A mystery. The dinner of every night: tilapia, rice, vegetables, avocado.

Bed, filthy.

What we thought was far, was near

By: Cate Creede
Original Post from May 20, 2015: http://bit.ly/1ACwRjL

vicky-behind

When we came to Nikibasika this year, we found a new girl playing volleyball with the others. “This is the street girl.”

Last year, we set up the kids in community project teams, asking them to go into the local communities to be helpful. We gave them basic project planning training, and each team appointed a leader. They came up with ideas themselves, and in the breaks between school terms when they came back to the house, they went out into the community.

One team found three girls on the street. They were 13, and they were sex workers. “They put on the attire to attract men and stand and wait for them.”

The Niki team talked to the street girls, and asked for guidance from Tina and Gabriel. The Niki kids talked to them about different options from being on the street. “We try to talk about having hope,” said one of our girls. “It’s good peer pressure for them,” said Tina. ”

Now this girl is part of the Niki community. She stays with her mother — she was running away before — who pays something small to her school fees. All of the Niki kids pay the rest of her school fees from their pocket money. It was their idea. She’s 13 and in the equivalent of grade three, but now she’s going to school steadily. And playing volleyball.

The other groups have had the same kind of impact. Phionah’s group supports a poor family of three small kids to go to school, giving them clothes, soap, shoes and notebooks. Again, from their pocket money.

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Britah’s Community Project Team, the “Save Lives Group,” decided that their project would be to help out in the local hospital. Rural Ugandan hospitals are a place to receive medical care, but nothing else — you bring your own bedsheets, food, soap, wash your own bedding. People in hospital are described as being “admitted” and need a person with them at all times.

“We went to the hospital four times. The first time was to seek permission from the doctor to do our project. He became our friend. We were eventually no longer strangers, we are now part of them.”

Britah’s team went to the local hospital to wash clothes and bedding for people, to “slash the compound” (cut the grass) and do washing up for the nurses. They imagined and planned the project themselves, and went by themselves to the hospital to arrange it.

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“It was a bit weird at first,” said Britah. “We talked to the patients and they thought we were doing a punishment. Then they found we were very kind and they appreciated.”

After their first time, they thought they it would be more interesting if they switched roles, and the second time the girls slashed the compound and the boys did the washing. They also had the younger, shy team members do the talking with the nurses and doctor.”This small experience is helping us get big ideas.”

The third time, they noticed that the hospital wasn’t very clean. There was dried blood on the floor, and there were not gloves to scrub with. “We didn’t want to, but we had to hustle hard and just do it.” They pooled their pocket money and bought liquid soap, detergent and gloves and scrubbed the hospital floors and equipment.

We asked them how it felt to give up their pocket money, pointing out that this is what all of our donors have to do to support them. “It made me feel you’re a big girl now, it’s a responsibility.”

“It’s a bit of a challenge, giving our pocket money,” said Phionah. “It squeezes us.” “We know,” we said. “Us too!”

Next term, everyone agreed, they will support the projects not just from their own pocket money, but from doing fundraisers themselves.

“We are the Canadian community team,” we said. “You’re now doing what we do.” They will keep doing this kind of work after they’re done with Niki, they agreed. “When you have any money, you have to help others.”

Six of the Niki youth finished secondary school in December and did the three month Kibo leadership program early this year. “It taught me so much,” said Brenda. “What I thought was far, is near.”

Our vision for this work was to develop community leaders. That vision isn’t the future anymore. Yesterday, I had wave after wave of realizing that for us, what was far, is here.

We Can All Be Mandela

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world — you, too, can make his life’s work your own. Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man. He speaks to what’s best inside us. We read this excerpt from Obama’s speech in the big kids’ meetings on Thursday, the young people of Africa. Everyone was stilled. “It is so touching,” said Andrew. Smith quoted what Mandela said about courage not being the absence of fear, but the facing of it. We all hovered on the edge of tears, feeling the weight of possibility. Our work in this project is about trying to find ways to live into what’s best inside ourselves.  That our week here coincided with Mandela’s memorial was serendipitous.

everyone-listening All week, the Niki students have been working in teams to develop community service projects. The “spirit of Nikibasika,” said Tina, our social worker, inspired. “It is not about these kids, but what they can do for the community. The spirit will get even bigger when they are grown, when you are done here!” Lisa had the brainwave of having the kids develop leadership projects this week, a satellite version of what the older ones do in the three month leadership program they do with our partner, the amazing Kibo Foundation. We set them up in mixed teams on Monday and asked them to think about who they might want to help with a community service project. team-2 (Team 2 – Jethro, Dan, Kagame, Beth, Angela, Joyce and Desire) We were blown away when we met with them on Tuesday and every team had identified a community to help and a set of creative, deeply empathetic goals. Helping the street kids of Kasese, volunteering at the local hospitals, teaching the children of a nearby village who don’t go to school, helping the elderly. We coached them on setting realistic, specific goals, and gave them an outline for a basic project plan. Name of team, name of project, goal, steps, timelines, roles, impact. brenda-n-talking (Brenda N presents for her team, “People’s Hope”) They presented their plans yesterday, and we were utterly blown away. These are all high school students (the university students are on campus this week), and each group had a comprehensive, insightful, meaningful, inspiring plan. (Derrick scribes for his team) More than the plans, though, it was the insight. The need for the elderly to “feel loved,” by visiting and talking with them and providing practical support like cleaning and slashing (keeping the grass cut). To improve health through helping scrub at the local hospital, to help the sick who have no family while in hospital. What strikes us over and over is their understanding of empathy, seeing themselves simultaneously as role models and as the same as people in deep need. They talked about helping street kids “feel we are all one,” about approaching people “without arrogance.” The see the need all around them. “We feel the urge,” said Phionah. “We owe them something. We have to be a part of them — feel what they feel.” They talked about asking questions, doing research, finding out what people need. brenda-writing (Brenda M scribes for her team) Some of the projects were about short term help, but some of the students innately understand longer term community development. One project focuses on the children in Rebecca’s village, to help them learn cleanliness, basic English, how to talk to others, team games, how to resolve conflict, along with helping the whole community understand the rights of children.  They plan to talk to the parents about children’s rights where they see need. These young adults straddle many worlds.  During these presentations, the rooster wouldn’t stop crowing loudly and pecking at a hen right beside the presenters.  At one point, randomly, two goats from the neighbours bounded onto the porch and into the kids watching.  They understand about bridging between what they have and people who have nothing. “My village is my witness,” said Rebecca. “My home inspires me. They have the team spirit. When you come with a new thing, they will go to it because they believe in me, they trust me.” rebecca In other words, the students at Nikibasika are already seen as leaders, and have integrated the notion of community service into what they see as their role in the world. When they talked about expected impact, they talked about the effect on the community, but also the effect on themselves. “We get pleasure from helping those people,” said one. “We learn cooperation and empathy.” “We have zeal, commitment and sacrifice,” said Innocent, several times. “Our plan is to do this for two years, with some hope of doing it for the rest of our lives.” “We are the future Nelson Mandelas,” said Phionah. I believe them.