Dress rehearsals! We visited several schools to see a run-through of their performances today. We were thrilled to return to Chodong (where we drilled a well in 2017) and see what the children have been doing. The drama coaches here were fantastic! And we discovered some amazing talent! Children demonstrated some of the GBV activities for us which were a good indicator that the lessons were fun, held meaning for them and that they had gained so much confidence in performing for visitors. We feel confident that the students here will feel comfortable speaking up for themselves and others who may be oppressed.
I'll never forget the faces of the children when we opened up the back trunk of the van and Dane emerged.
Our travel to Osunyuk was long, dusty and was a challenge for our driver Vicente. However, it was so wonderful to see where the children were living and attending school. Their enthusiasm was contagious and any bit of weariness from the drive was quickly replaced with joy.
The rest of our team finally arrived after significant travel delays! We didn't give them a moment to rest and headed straight to the Niles River Explorer Camp for a quick night's rest and then a day of rafting on the Nile. A new dam reduced the number of rapids from eight to five but they are still level 4s and 5s and provided an exhilarating start to this adventure.
July 8, 2019
Almost ready! We have many moving parts so to speak this year which has made our preparations a tad bit more complicated! If you're reading this, you have probably participated in this preparation in some way or another... attending one of our fundraisers, working on our GBV curriculum, contributing to fund drilling in Matata (the village of Osanyuk), collecting used eye glasses, helping with publicity, or you have an awareness of the needs in developing regions and are interested in finding out more about our efforts. Whatever your reason, we welcome your ideas and thoughts around our projects.
I have one suitcase packed full of eye glasses, vision assessment materials, and school supplies. Yesterday and today I finished my shopping to include items that schools in Bukedea and Opucet will value - colored chalk, colored pens, white boards, rulers - but the majority of our school materials were donated by a teacher that Cindy met at an appointment! Flash cards, puppets and books will all be put to good use and appreciated in these schools.
The drama coaches in Bukedea have been working with the children in 6 schools over the past couple of months to prepare for the Watotos Got Talent competition that will take place on July 26th. Kevin seems to think that he has all of the details taken care of - I'm kind of terrified because of all of the unknowns. We'll try to upload some videos if we have the bandwidth when we finish.
But before we begin our work in Uganda, Kevin and I will be attending and presenting at the International Association of Special Education (IASE) conference being held in Tanzania this year. We planned our work in Uganda around the conference to reduce some of our travel time. We miss seeing friends and family when we travel extensively so this reduces our time away from home a bit. Our presentation topics: 1) The development of the Watotos Got Talent Curriculum and 2) our psychometric investigation and development of the CPR Analytics Scale that measures student's progress through the arts in five dimensions. We are looking forward to hearing about other initiatives around the world designed to promote inclusion for children with disabilities.
One of the most challenging aspects of working in developing nations is the roller coaster ride of emotions that each of us go through multiple times every single day. We observe such beauty one moment and the next minute we can be devastated by the recognition of extreme poverty. On this day, we were greeted warmly by hundreds of children who were excited to show us what they had been learning. However, we were aware of some challenges that should be addressed in future visits. It appeared that a few children need medical care. Their distended bellies might indicate worms, malnutrition - not anything that we are qualified to diagnose. But clearly we need a healthcare team to visit these villages in the Matata area.
We continue to recognize a need for eye doctors. Many children are labeled as having a disability (in their words, 'a problem with my eyes'), however if they had corrective lenses they would be able to attend school with their typically developing peers.
Eye surgeons visit the School for the Blind in Soroti on an annual basis to assess students to see if any child can benefit from surgery. In some cases the intervention results in a child with vision. However, these children return for their education at the School for the Blind and are not usually accepted into the general education schools. We believe that this practice needs to be evaluated in order to determine if these children could benefit from a more inclusive approach to their education.
Improving the lives of vulnerable children
Today we visited the AirTel Store to see about purchasing a hot spot so that we would have more reliable access to the Internet. This in itself could be a short story, but I'll let Kevin tell that one since he had to deal with most of the challenges. However, the connection seems to be fast which will allow us to post updates, photos and maybe even a video or two... but maybe we shouldn't press our luck.
August 14th ~ UPDATE on the AirTel access: In Uganda 4G doesn't mean what you think it means... Our team blog had to be updated when we finally returned to the US. Our access to the Internet and sometimes to electricity really put a damper on updated this page. So the following stories have been posted upon our return.
Eye glass distribution! We received over 100 eye glasses and thanks to Harriet's fantastic organizational skills, we met with around 75 people and distributed around 80 pairs of glasses. Most of the folks who signed up were older and needed readers. Cindy and Kevin were given a ton of readers that were really appreciated! Eddy was essential in helping to translate for us.
Harriet (our friend who organized the event), manages a sewing studio for women who otherwise would not have an income. Many of the women are aging and without these glasses they would not be able to continue to work. We also distributed some donated sunglasses that are so helpful for eye health in this climate.
Took a well-needed break at Sipi Falls today!. Arrived for lunch and a hike to the top water fall. We have met so many wonderful young men living in the village here. Our first encounter was in 2013 when they were teenagers and showed us our way to the three falls in the area. This is self-sufficient community living on the hillsides of Mt. Elgon growing coffee, bananas, cabbage and beans. This year we returned to the coffee plantation for another tour and to check on the coffee trees that we planted last year. Wow! Have they grown! The arabica coffee from here is the best! We were also privileged to be invited to one of the homes of the 'boys' as we call them. I received a huge bag of red beans to take home and of course we bought pounds and pounds of coffee.
DATES: July 9 - 31, 2019
2019 Team: Margo Dolgos, Dane Morris, Erin Barringer, Sean O'Rourke, Kevin Spencer, Susan O'Rourke
Two classrooms had a chalk board and a few pieces of chalk. Classrooms had benches to sit on but not desk tops for writing. The classrooms were super small and crowded. The straw roof seemed well made but the walls had many holes - some intentional for airflow but others - especially in the last two rooms had patches of mud between the sticks rather than a fully constructed wall.
The children attending this school did not win any of the school supplies during the Watatos Got Talent competition. We returned to the village a few days later and brought chalk, writing books, pencils, markers and some other art materials that had been donated. Margo also had some feminine hygiene products that were REALLY appreciated by the teenage girls!
One area in which we are experts is education and places of learning. We were profoundly struck by the fact that the village of Osunyuk had a church made of brick while the school beside it was made of sticks and leaves. When we asked the community leaders if the children were able to take classes in the church during the week, we learned that this was not a possibility. Obviously these are cultural issues that are important to respect here, so we turned our attention to the needs of the school. To give you an idea of the environment, here are some photos of the school office and the head teacher, the classrooms - there were 4- and the equipment/materials available for learning.
We were introduced to George, a boy of about 3 years who has cerebral palsy and was abandoned at the hospital. Parents often find it too difficult to raise a child with disabilities in Uganda and given the stigma associated with giving birth to a disabled child, they are often left to die. The police brought George to Victoria at Bright Kids Children Home a few months ago. She has been nursing him back to health with regular feedings and he is now healthy enough to benefit from therapy. She will arrange for an assessment and regular PT and SLT sessions. I believe that this child has good potential if given the right kind of interventions now. We reached out to our therapist friends through facebook for ideas to share with the nurse and his care providers.
While it is hard for me to believe, I am preparing for my first trip to Uganda! I guess this year’s trip for me started with some improvisational performance between Christmas and New Year’s Eve for the Watatos Got Talent curriculum. From there, like other years when I was not traveling personally, the May fund-raiser on Pittsburgh’s Southside, Beers for the Bush Bar Crawl was next. We had a great turnout and a lot of fun while also raising funds towards an additional deep water well and support for the Watatos Got Talent competition. Heidi and Erin (see below) hosted a Cocktails in the Garden party on a beautiful Friday evening in Sewickley which proved to be the best single fundraiser for VCAYA! More importantly the time we get to spend with others talking about our work in Africa really expands our world view and allows us to both anticipate the trip and reflect on what wonderful opportunities we have been given.
In early June I went to the County Health Department to get my shots (Tetanus booster, finish up my Hep B, etc) and also to get Typhoid and Malaria pills. I’ll be taking the Typhoid this week over the course of 4 days, and then starting the Malaria pills a couple of days prior to our departure on the 19th of July! I have a bag packed already with formal gowns for the women who have started a rental business last year and am just starting to get my personal belongings together including clothes, some insect repellent, etc still on the list are some protein bars and travel coffee supplies 😎
In addition to being with Susan the past several days as she prepares to leave, we got to be with our son Dane and my sister Erin who are also coming with us, so we have all been getting excited. We had a chance to go whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River, which was our ‘warm up’ for the Nile. Although we have been assured by Susan and Patrick Spencer (a previous traveler to Uganda & Nile River rafter) that we are in for a much wilder ride at Nile River Explorers! Can’t wait to head out next week!