I didn’t sleep well. After our time at the medical clinic last night, we realized we were out in the bush late, and the next day we would be in the same area, two hours from Mbale, again. We stayed in Ugwegwe, a small nearby city with a bustling trading center and an audible bar scene. I know about the bars because our hotel was directly across the street and my room faced a handful of rowdy bars. The roach hotel wasn’t much to speak of, until the sun rose. The room’s balcony was a real treat. The fog against the distant green hills i was just like the early summer mornings in the mountains of northern Georgia. Wow. Just a really special and unexpected sight. I think it’s made me a morning person.
My room at the roach motel.
My view from that tiny little room at 6:45 am
Also, we had morning Chipates! Chipates (Chee-Pah-tees) are a fried flat bread, similar to malawach, and it is delicious. Most of the locals eat it plain but I think it really shines with a little bit of honey. Nom nom nom!
My man Robert frying up a breakfast Chipate!
First on the day’s agenda was a visit to Buvundiya Primary School and Orphanage. I spoke with Patrick, the school’s director, and Hakim, their headmaster. There aren’t quite words to describe the heart these two have. I am sure it’s true of all of the school’s ten or so staff, but speaking with them was very touching. The school received a solar system two years ago, when I had visited for the first time and met Patrick, and it’s been a real game changer for the school. No more parofin, no more karosine, and a cell phone charging business that was installed alongside the solar panel to cover maintenance costs. Interestingly, in rural African villages, most people lack electricity, but they still have mobile phones. So, small businesses to charge them are commonplace, often times using solar panels to provide the electricity. At Buvundiya village, the school and orphanage is the only cell phone charging business. The next closest one is about six kilometers away. Patrick told me it has brought the community closer to the school.
Patrick, Director of Buvundiya School and Orphanage
Hakim also shared some insight about the orphans. The school hosts students from the local community, but also has a small dorm for the school’s orphans. One of the most telling thoughts Hakim told me was how the teachers are more than teachers to the students, specifically the orphans; they are role models, and almost parents to them. It seems Hakim and his teaching staff understand their role as instructors better than most teachers.
There was a child I spoke with as well. NAME, is seven years old and determined. He is an orphan without any parents; no one would tell me what happened, but I imagine the circumstances were tragic. As I asked him questions in English, Davis translated for me. He was wearing a small wireless mic and I could hear him practicing his Enligh responses very quietly before he spoke. Each answer he supplied was in English which completely surprised me. We had been traveling for a few days, and I had met no one else who spoke so clearly in English, adults and children alike.
When the interview was over, and as I was removing his mic, he very calmly asked, again in perfect English, if there was a way I could help to pay for his school supplies and books. Now, normally I am a quite stoic when asked for money by the locals, but this kid tore through my tin man heart. I explained to him that there would be other muzungu (white people) coming soon who could provide help. I excused myself behind a tree and spent the next ten minutes struggling to stop crying. I can’t quite explain why, but it was heart wrenching. James Nachtwey said that because someone is suffering does not mean they are without dignity; someone who is suffering expresses dignity even in a more powerful way. Here was a child with no parents, a few meager possessions, and more dignity than most I’ve met anywhere.
When I travel in rural villages, I don’t see victims. The people I meet, young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian… they don’t see themselves as victims. There is a pride among committee members and professional work ethic amongst medical staff, regardless of how few resources they have. There are smiles and laughter at every corner, regardless of how difficult the place and time may be. There isn’t fear or anxiety for tomorrow; there is gratitude for today. The view of sub-saharan Africa as a place filled with tragedy is so deeply misguided and misses the point. They don’t want a hand out. They aren’t beggars looking for pity. They are, by their own description, people with barriers preventing their own realized potential. They are doctors and lawyers, teachers and engineers, environmentalists and writers. All we can do is ask what they need to manifest their hopes and improve their home communities, and attempt with our vast wealth and resources to provide them the chance they are asking for.
The second stop of the day was Kaliro Orphanage, which was the first place I’d been with the rest of the IA team. It was a very different experience. There was dancing, singing, ceremony and pomp as you would have with any official visit. Kaliro was the first orphanage I had visited on my trip two years ago, and I met Esther. She was five then, had an infectious smile, and great patience. I was shooting her and nearly walked away thinking I was done, until I crouched down and found one of the IA lamps behind her made a perfect halo behind her head. We photographed her under the solar powered lights in their main building two years ago, and two years later, Bar from the IA team had a chance to show her the brochure she had been in, and share with her how her story had been told, over and over, to volunteers and donors around the world.
Sabrine of the IA team make a friend
Sivan, Founder of IA, and The Kaliro Orphanage Director
Esther, the orphan we met and profiled on our last trip
We went back to Buyinda to finish an interview with Rose, the midwife, by candle light. Again, it was harrowing and eye opening. She talked about the complications of birthing children under candle light, and the difficulties as a midwife in the process. We lit the scene with six paraffin candles which were so smokey we had to stop the interview at some point to let the smoke clear. Rose commented how we could see how difficult it would be to try to be in labor with the smoke burning your eyes. She was so excited to hear that the next day there would be electricity and lights in her clinic.
Ironically, a kerosine lantern is used by the solar installation team working late into the night at Buyinda Health Clinic
“This will be our last night in the dark,” Midwife Rose said with a smile.