On Friday, we spent 8 hours conducting very basic visual assessments and distributed more than 180 pairs of eye glasses to children who had been identified by their teachers as 'having problems with their eyes'. We also saw many adults including several of the nuns for the school. It was a long but productive and gratifying day! This was made possible by the combined efforts of those who donated and collected glasses over the past year. Special thanks to Alexandra Lieb, Sean Kelly, Eadaoin Marrinan, and the Lion's Club.
Kevin and Susan
August 1, 2107
We’ve been attempting to post this full update for several days but one of the difficulties of working in a developing country is access to reliable electricity and Internet connections. We hit a blackout! And that means we left you in the dark as well…so, here we go!
Finally on August 11th we reached water in Chodong!!
It is an amazing experience to see the water gushing from the ground and all of the faces of the people in the community as they realize that they will finally have a safe water source.
July 24, 2017
Nine members of our 2017 team are in route to Uganda today! It takes over 24 hours to fly there from the US - for some of us as many as 4 or 5 flights. Hopefully they will all be on time so that we can make our connections! Kevin has so many boxes of donations including large items like walkers for the kids who need them that we had to request a larger vehicle to pick us up at the airport. The next update will be from Uganda so no telling when that will be as electricity and access to the Internet can be limited at times.
If you're interested in helping us bring clean water to this area, please let us know! Host a party, come to one of our events or just help us get the word out. We'll need all the support that we can find to improve conditions here!
There are also geopolitical implications as the Chinese continue to buy land and employ agricultural practices that are not conducive to sustainability. We are fearful that given the hardships of day to day living in this region that some families may be tempted to sell off their land which would have devastating impacts on the culture and livelihood of these communities. Perhaps having access to clean water will encourage them to stay and provide the time for better access to education and healthcare.
July 12, 2017
The hydrologist completed the site visits to Chodong and Kanyanga villages to determine the best places to drill the wells. We are now ready to drill for clean water when we arrive there on August 7th. James sent us these pictures to share with all of you.
We have been incredibly busy since arriving in Uganda. We started in the west and have had limited access to the Internet along the way. Seven of us traveled west to check out the wild life and were not disappointed! We saw six lions: a tree climbing lion lyin' in a tree, a lion and lioness who apparently had just finished hooking up - they looked exhausted - and two lions who looked like they just lost a fight (they were licking their wounds). We also came across two rare sightings: a family of forest hogs and the ever-elusive bush buck.
Clean water for Kanyanga!
Thanks to Wilmette Rotary outside of Chicago and supporters of the Clean Water Jam, we were able to bring clean water to this village. We are very happy with the placement of this well as it is centrally located for the thousands of people using it.
This is a photo of the finished well. This will improve the health of thousands of individuals, save the women hours each day that had been devoted to walking for miles to gather water, keep them safe and allow them to spend more time working in their gardens and taking care of their children.
A maintenance committee will see that the well is taken care of and continues to serve the community.
We've just wrapped up our second week and want to let you know some of the things that have happened. The team finished all of the garden beds at the schools and our meetings at Kisubi Brothers University and the U.S. Embassy were very encouraging. It's a good feeling when all the pieces start coming together.
We are especially excited about the opportunities in front of us in our work with Kisubi Brothers University. Our meetings with the Provencial and the executive leadership put in place a foundation on which we can build teacher training programs that will better prepare teachers to work with children with disabilities. This has the potential to impact education across the region and the country as a whole. Our partners here recognize the importance of these kinds of sustainable programs and we are very excited to join hands with them in these efforts.
Kevin and Susan
However, the main reason for our visit into western Uganda was to check in with the Batwa tribe. This was our third meeting with the tribe. It was encouraging to see how much progress they have made given the challenges that they have faced after being expelled from the national forest. We were welcomed by the king and invited to sit with the tribal council.
We want to drill 4 wells in this region in 2018.
Clean Water for Chodong!!
Our last week in Bukedea and Soroti were intense! We began the week with an epic visit to Kodiata where Rori and her boss, Will Rehrig funded a bore hole last year. We were enthusiastically greeted by dancing women and indigenous music. We hiked down to the old water source before posting the dedication sign at the well. The well maintenance committee was present as well as the manager of the well. We understand that there are many wells throughout Uganda (and Africa for that matter) that have fallen into disrepair and no longer function. Will and Rori asked the people of Kodiata to create a maintenance plan so that this well would be sustainable. We are very pleased with the results and management of the well which includes regular payments to the maintenance fund and regulations placed on when the well is accessible. We believe that this may be a model to follow for all new wells that we are drilling there.
Kodiata's well maintenance committee with Rori
The 2017 Uganda Team:
Leaders: Susan O'Rourke, Carlow University;
Kevin Spencer, Hocus Focus & Carlow University
Volunteers: Sean Kelly, St. Angela's College, Sligo, Ireland
Eadaoin Marrinan, Ireland
Rori Brawer Baron, Los Angeles, CA
Will Baron, CA
Sam Baron, CA
Ben Baron, CA
Kyle O'Rourke, Pittsburgh, PA
Chelsea Berry, New York, NY
Jessica Collins, Occupational Therapist, KS
Angela Nied, Pittsburgh, PA
2017 VCAYA Team
We distributed some eyeglasses for children who needed them, played games, and taught them some magic tricks. They were amazed by Kevin's magic and weren't nearly as frightened as we thought they might be. He's applying for the position of Witch Doctor.
The drive back was about 8 hours; bathroom breaks were 'harrowing' - some of us bailed. We finally arrived in Entebbe at 11 pm, checked in to Banana Village. It was good to be home! Jessica and Angela arrived to join our team; we were excited to meet up with them.
Yesterday, we spent the day at Noah's Ark School for Special Needs and enjoyed our time with the children. With the guidance and help of Bashir and his team, we constructed two raised garden beds which are accessible to the children in wheelchairs. This will enable them to help with the gardening chores. Working alongside the physiotherapists and teachers, we problem solved a couple of challenges. Nina Harris Exceptional Center donated 4 walkers for children. These were a challenge to transport (no thanks to United!); however, this gift was life changing for Richard and Julius!
While we waited for the compressor repair on the drilling equipment we took a day to visit Sipi Falls. Alex, Simon and Issa must have heard that we were visiting because they came to greet us and guide us on our hike to the falls. We have enjoyed their company for several years now and when the resort encouraged us to use their guides instead, we politely declined. We enjoy hearing about how the village tribe is negotiating with the Chinese and trying to establish local governance that will benefit their community.
And finally, today we constructed gardens at Gloria's Clinic and the Bright Kids Uganda (BKU). We're planning to grow medicinal plants at the clinic, and food at BKU. Our team is impressive...even Bashir commented on how quickly the gardens were finished and gave high praise for our teamwork. In the afternoon, we returned to Entebbe Welfare School for Special Needs and prepared the raised garden beds. The children were helpful and attentive to our lessons on planting the seeds, which included hands-on participation. We continue to be challenged by the lack of teacher engagement in the process. On the positive side, we have some ideas on how we might respond to this challenge.
Susan, Kevin, Rori, Kyle, Angela, Will, Sam, and Ben
July 10, 2017
We are finalizing our plans for purchasing the sewing machines for the women entrepreneurs who are starting home-based businesses and for building the accessible garden beds at the schools for children with disabilities. Fortunately Victoria Nalongo Namusisi is a trusted advisor and assists us in not only identifying needs within the Ugandan communities, but in making sure that we get the best prices. Because of her help, we are able to build two additional garden beds; one in the BKU compound of the dormitories that will grow nutritious food and another just outside Gloria's Health Clinic where we can grow medicinal plants and herbs.
Improving the lives of vulnerable children
All of our volunteers fund their own travel expenses to join our team. We appreciate their dedication to helping others so that any donations from the contributors listed below can be applied to our projects. This year contributions funded 3 new wells in remote villages, 7 sewing machines for home-based businesses and training for acid attack victims and mother of children with disabilities, 8 raised garden beds, over 300 pairs of glasses, learning materials for schools, mattresses & food for BKU, and adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. WOW! Thank you!
Our work is made possible by the following contributors:
Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Justice and Social Responsibility at Carlow University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Penn Hills Rotary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Wilmette Rotary, Chicago, Illinois
Rori Brawer Baron
Single Barrel: Howard Davidson, Phil Burgard, & Dick Wade
3 Lakes Golf Club, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
St. Angela's College, Sligo, Ireland
Wine by Design, Morgantown, West Virginia
Rivertowne Brewery, Export, Pennsylvania
Mountaineer Nutrition, Morgantown, West Virginia
Steel City Nutrition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Emmanuel Lutheran Church & Pastor Linda
Phil and Kathy Burgard
Rebecca Abrams Campbell
Howard and Claire Davidson
Sheila and Walt Dietrich
Jack and Linda Doman
Jack and Mary Foster
Dominque and Ryan Greene
Bill and Annie Jackson
Denise Melanson o/b/o of Paradigm Talent Agency
Matt and Becky Meehan
Stephanie and Paul Morris
Sue Dargay Nagel
Lou and Pauline Piccard
Matt and Sarah Rodriguez
Patti and James Stuart
Dick and Ann Wade
Jill and Richard Williams
David and Nanette Zak
Jim and Christine Zubrow
July 7, 2017
It’s been a busy day in preparation for the upcoming trip to Uganda. First thing on the list today was to order the large print braille keyboard labels for the computers at St. Francis School for the Blind. It’s great for the students to have access to the computer but, if they can’t find their way around the keyboard, it’s not very productive! The next stop was the bank where we wired the deposit to the drilling company in Uganda. This will secure the two drilling dates we have in August for Chodong and Kanyanga - super exciting! We also knocked out the wire transfer to Brian, our guide in Western Uganda. Brian helps us gain access to the Batwas and arranges for our transportation from the west to the east. Things are shaping up for an incredible adventure!
VCAYA led a team of 12 volunteers to Uganda July 24 - August 14, 2017. If at anytime you have some ideas for us, please let us know!
July 20, 2017
The Garden Curriculum binders are ready to go thanks to Mark Dawida in the printing department at Carlow and of course to the graduate students who conducted the research and designed the lessons a few years back. I'll be picking up some contacts for Silver today from the folks at Eye and Ear Hospital which should last him until our next visit. Pastor Linda invited Sean and I to Emmanuel Lutheran Church tonight for a pot luck dinner and to talk about our efforts to bring clean water to villages in Uganda. It's Vacation Bible School this week and they are focusing on water! They have decided to give their offerings this week to VCAYA for drilling the wells. They have the cutest well for collections!
Chelsea's funding site has gathered over half of what we need to drill a 3rd well in Oukut! If you'd like to contribute, here's the link: https://www.youcaring.com/vcaya-874011
It seems crazy to think that we might be able to drill 3 wells this year! Just a few months ago Kristen and I were sitting around the Esther's dining room table in the Southside planning the Clean Water Jam event and wondering if we could possibly reach a goal of drilling all 3 wells. At the time it didn't seem possible but thanks to all of the contributions and efforts of so many (see the list below), I really think that we can do this!
We've been working in Uganda for five years now and have observed a multitude of challenges faced by many populations there on a daily basis. However, our visit to Matata in the Kangole sun county was particularly troubling. This remote area is home to thousands of people but only one bore hole for clean water. Women walk an average of 3 - 4 kilometers to the water source only to wait in line for their turn to fill geri cans. I can't imagine having to spend 8 hours every day for clean water!
Some women have 'good husbands' who go to the well at night when its not busy, fill up the geri cans and leave them at the well for their wives to pick up the next day when it's safer for them to be out walking. Inexplicably for those of us living in western cultures, these men don't carry them back home with them!
Women are also responsible for planting, harvesting, cooking and caring for the children so you can imagine that they look for closer water sources. We walked to one of those sources where there is no waiting line. This was 3.5 K (each way) from the village where we parked our car. It was shocking to see how many people were collecting water from the swamp. In addition to the amount of effort needed just to get water was the information from the health clinic that reports 7 out of 10 visits are due to Typhoid. Easy to understand after seeing the herd of cattle drink from and urinate and defecate in the same water source where the women were gathering their water.
August 9th at SIpi Falls
Clean water for Oukut!
Finally! The weather cooperated and Stefro engineering was able to bring their equipment out to remote village of Oukut. This village is north of Soroti and suffered tremendous hardships during the years when the LRA roamed this area killing parents, abducting their children and burning down their houses. The conflict is now behind them and the region is peaceful however, they suffered through a drought this past year. This is a farm to table community and when the crops fail to flourish, the people starve. This well will help them survive through the different weather patterns brought about through climate change.
Thanks to our supporters of the Clean Water Jam and friends and family of Chelsea Berry, they have clean water today!
July 5 - Three weeks out
Preparations are underway including securing Visas for entry into Uganda (10 down, 2 to go) & getting vaccinations for yellow fever, Hep B, typhoid and tetanus. We'll also need to take medication to prevent malaria. Insect repellent and netting for our beds help to keep the misquitos at bay but Malaria is a serious health threat in Uganda. Our hotel/camping reservations were made months in advance and we have our transportation arranged as well. This week Kevin is managing the VCAYA accounts to be sure that we can easily transfer funds for drilling the wells, purchasing the sewing machines and materials needed to build the raised garden beds at the schools. Susan is meeting with Alex Lieb to pick up the used prescription lens that she has collected over the past year as part of her Senior Honors Project at Carlow. Tomorrow Margaret Olisky, a vision therapist, will help Susan categorize the glasses for easier distribution. In addition to the Batwa tribe, the children living at Bright Kids Uganda Children's Home, Noah's Ark, Entebbe Welfare School and the St. Francis School for the Blind, Malika George has identified 65 children in one school who will benefit from corrective lenses. Fortunately we will have many glasses to choose from. Team member, Sean Kelly collected 178 pairs which are being categorized by the Lions Club in Lynchburg, VA. Eadaoin is bringing more with her and thanks to Sue Dargay Nagel, Wendy Duchene, and others, we have many glasses to distribute this year.
After working hard for the last couple of weeks, our team had a "self-care break" and ventured to the banks of the Nile River. Our first stop was the Source of the Nile in Jinga where we boarded a small boat and cruised around a bit...monitor lizards, monkeys, beautiful birds, and (finally) the gurgling swirling water rising up to feed the Nile River.
From here, we made our way to the Nile River Explorer's Camp where we would settle into our tents for the evening before rafting the white water rapids of the river on Sunday morning. Five hours, eight rapids (mostly grades 4 and 5), excellent "raft captains/guides" (thanks Musa and Peter) and our adventurous spirits made for a exhilarating and exhausting day.