Friday 28 December 2012

Women's First Cake - By Bethan

For those of you who have been following ‘my’ women’s co-operative who are learning baking and general café skills to open a café in Kasese town some time in the next year, you will be pleased to know the following:  The women got their first contract for cakes!  I spent two full days with a mixture of joy and trepidation as I wondered a)will the women turn up in time to cook it, ice it and deliver it? And b)will the cake turn out okay and look good/taste good/be well received so that the women get more work?

The ladies kept good time (that is, within one hour of when they should have arrived three of the six were here!) and the lemon cake was cooked to perfection.  As it cooked we experimented with making icing roses with the icing bag.  It turned into a bit of a competition as we tried to see who would do most of the icing in the future!  Most of the women were good at it but one (who has many other assets, as well as being the self-proclaimed ‘grandmother’ of the group!) was hopeless so she has not been allowed near the icing nozzles!  To cut a long story short, (that’s unusual for me!) suffice to say that the icing didn’t roll properly so had to be watered down and spread, almost causing me to break down in tears of frustration! but the rest of it went well and the cake was delivered in one piece and rumour was that it was enjoyed in ‘the village’ by four daughters whose birthday it was.

Not much profit was made from this cake, but hopefully word has got out that these women are starting business and that the cakes are yummy!  Please pray that this happens and that business can start for these women even though they have not yet opened their café.  Savings are nearing the target of 1.2million and are due to hit that peak in two months’ time so watch this space as we hope to have opened by Easter to catch the tourist trade and local students coming home for the holiday.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers of support.  Any ideas as to how to roll royal icing without it sticking to the table anyone?  See the picture of our first cake in the gallery.

Friday 21 December 2012

Light into Darkness

This Christmas people all over the world will be re-reading the Old Testament prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ the Messiah, as a baby.  In Isaiah 9.2-7, we read that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;… and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The theme of light continues throughout Isaiah (esp 49.6 & 58.6-10), and is echoed in the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus telling us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Matthew, 5.16).

It was a real privilege therefore during this Advent to be able to physically bring light to a community that lacked it.  Some of you have heard about Kahokya Baptist Church before, a small building on a steep slope in a remote village in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains which is only accessible by a narrow and steep dirt track.  Its Pastor, Baluku Mbalizwa is a man of vision and real passion who established the church after he left the DR Congo in 1997 and has also set up, at his own expense, a small health clinic to serve his community.  The people of Kahokya walk for an hour down a steep hill to get water from a tap in the valley, struggling back up with heavy jerry-cans on their heads, and even walk for an hour round-trip to charge their mobile phones at the nearest trading centre.  Their children return from school after sunset and struggle to do their homework with kerosene lamps which are expensive, dim, unhealthy, and dangerous – or don’t do their homework at all for lack of lighting.

Thanks to a generous private donation from the UK; and to some training, advice and equipment from an English NGO (, Bury St Edmonds); I returned to Uganda in October hoping to establish a solar project at Kahokya B.C.  However, as many people know, physics was my worst subject at school and whilst I’m game for most forms of DIY I have a fear of most things electrical, coupled with a low competency!  Thankfully, Alfonse introduced me to Amisi Katalaliko, from our church (KCBC) who is a qualified electrician employed by Kilembe Investments on rural electrification projects.  Amisi generously agreed to offer his time and expertise and we did a planning visit to Kahokya along with my Dad back in October.  Fitting around Amisi’s working hours we spent much of the next 7 weeks purchasing a large folding ladder, U-bolts, a Gel-battery, wiring, switches etc; commissioning a carpenter to make a bespoke lockable wooden equipment cabinet with multiple phone charging sections on the top; and getting a special secure frame welded for the solar panel – which was done by Eric from KCBC, who is a good metal worker, and the best male singer in our church choir!  The plan was that by mid-December the rainy season would have finished, and so the road would be dry.

Meanwhile in Kahokya the church constructed a little guardhouse so someone can sleep there each night to protect the equipment, and made doors for the church’s two rooms.

Last Saturday Amisi and I loaded up the car and drove to Kahokya, excited about the project, relieved that the track was dry, and slightly bemused by the unusually low cloud base we drove through as we climbed our way up to Kahokya, arriving just before 10am.  We then worked hard all day until about 9.30pm.  By getting the lighting working first, we were then able to work on through the evening under the impressively bright glare of 5w/12v LED light-bulbs. The activity of any mzungu  in an African village is usually a spectator sport, so it was no surprise that our every move was being watched by crowds of largely silent children and adults of all ages.  Word had spread that electricity was somehow arriving at the church, so leaders from other churches and local politicians also turned up to greet us, thank us, or see what the fuss was about!  It was only as the sun dropped behind the mountains over neighbouring DR Congo and the sky turned from a brief but beautiful pink to an intense blackness that I started to realise just how significant this light could be.  People who would otherwise have dispersed at sunset stayed in the church chatting, listening to Newcastle play Man City on a battery-powered radio (yes there really is no escaping Premiership football!), or just watching what was happening and enjoying the light. 

By bed time we’d also managed to connect up all the 12v car-socket phone chargers so that six mobile phones can be charged simultaneously, and fitted switches so that the battery load can effectively be controlled from within the lockable box. I say we, Amisi was the star of the electrical work, I mostly drilled holes, drove screws, stripped wire and passed him the right tools when he was balanced on the ladder!  Nonetheless by the time I collapsed into my military-issue popup mosquito net and sheet-sleeping bag I was exhausted and slept quite soundly, despite the inevitable digestive implications of having eaten large amounts of African food.  I woke up shivering cold at about 5.30am to the almighty drumming of an African rainstorm pounding onto the church’s corrugated roof, punctuated only by the raindrops that didn’t bounce off the roof but worked their way through to drip on us below.  We have the luxury of a tiled roof on our house in Kasese, but for millions of Africans the incessant din of rain on a metal roof, and the ensuing drips and dampness is a daily experience.  As it continued to pour for the next few hours it was clear that church was not going to start at 10am so I got on with teaching the Pastor’s son about how to manage the project with regard to saving money for battery replacement, managing daily battery-load, recording income from phone charging etc.

Indeed, after over a year in Uganda I’m slowly realising why time is such an elastic, if not dispensable, concept here.  No-one in their right mind goes out in an African rainstorm, so clearly church would just start after it finished.  As there’s little else to do in a Ugandan village on a Sunday it doesn’t really matter what the clock says.  Sure enough the rain stopped soon after 11 and church started at around 12 and finished around 2.30pm.  As parents of a toddler this often drive us bananas, but as I was on my own this time, it was much easier to go with the flow!  Although much of it was in Lukhongo, of which I am woefully ignorant (we’ve been learning Swahili), the service clearly had a celebratory feel.  I preached using Isaiah 58.6-10 to explain how the church should best use its new light and power, and Amisi translated.  The two main aims of the project are that the church should use its lights to host children doing homework in the evenings, and bible-studies or other community events; and that it should use the income from charging mobile phones (at 10p a time) to support its ministry and save for future projects, such as fitting guttering and building a rainwater collection tank so that those who are least able don’t have to keep trekking the hills with jerry-cans.  In both aspects it should use the extra attention/new visitors as opportunities to expand its Christian outreach.

If Kahokya B.C. can succeed in these aims, we hope to get funding for similar projects in other rural off-grid Baptist Churches around Kasese District. 

The Pastor gave us a good send-off with a delicious chicken-pulao lunch and the ubiquitous prayer for “journey-mercies”.  In this case, they were much needed as the torrential rains had washed away sections of the track, flooded others and turned parts of it into slippery mud.  When driving in such conditions less is more.  If you fight with the steering wheel you lose.  If you brake you slide, and if you stop you get stuck.  The only solution is to keep a steady, but low speed and a loose-grip on the steering wheel allowing the car to follow the ruts and rivets where it can find the best grip.  The resulting bumps, shakes, and occasional forays into the edges of fields are pretty terrifying, but by the grace of God and the strength of Toyota we made it home.  A return visit for monitoring is planned in February, by which time it really will be dry season!

Prayer Requests:

1.     Give thanks for the private donation, the support of Guguplex and the time and skill of Amisi which made it possible to install this project in Kahokya B.C.

2.     Pray that the solar-equipment will not be stolen, vandalised or damaged, and that it can be used effectively to serve the community and glorify God.

3.     Pray for all those for whom this Christmas may be a time of darkness – in any sense of the word – that they may know the love and light of Christ.

Happy Christmas!