Monday 8 December 2014

Water of Life

How many times a day do you turn on a tap?   How many taps are there in  your house?

Way back in May 2012 when I first visited Kahokya it was immediately obvious that two of the biggest challenges facing that community were lack of access to energy, and lack of water.  As you know we addressed the energy issue with a solar project in December that year.  A project that was then successfully replicated in 7 other remote and rural Baptist churches.

However, the water issue was more of a challenge.  I knew that the high rainfall for most of the year would lend itself to rainwater collection, but the church were in a transition from their old wood/mud building to a new brick one, and anyway although its easy to put guttering up to gather the rain its harder to figure out an affordable and secure way of storing it.

In September this year I went back to Kahokya to visit the now-completed new brick church with Gulu-based BMS colleague Tim Darby, who is a water and sanitation engineer.  We were there to establish the charcoal making project, which we've already done in several other places and which is a process requiring a fair amount of water.  As ladies trudged up the hill to the church with heavy jerry-cans slung from their heads, I was reminded about the difficulties of getting water there and so picked Tim's vastly-more technical brain on what we could do.  On the way home on the newly graded mountain road (which used to terrify me but is now safe and easy to drive) we measured the distance until we reached the communal public pump-tap at the bottom of the hill:  8km.  Yes 8km, or 5 miles, is the distance that people of Kahokya, - mostly women and children, walk every day to fetch water in 20 litre jerry cans, which they then lug back up the steep hill for the return 8km to their homes near the church.

Tim gave us instructions and pictures for how to make a ferro-cement water tank, and did lots of clever engineering maths on a spreadsheet to calculate the optimum size of tank based on the roof dimensions, slope and material; and the average rainfall for that area.

In late October we received a generous donation from a friend from church.  Now we had the technical plan and the funding, we just needed the skilled labour and materials.  Another visit and a meeting lead to agreement that Kahokya BC would collect the 25 sacks of sand required (from the side of the newly graded road!), gather all the water needed (more trudging 8km from the tap), provide unskilled labour and mountains of food for everyone involved.  The donation would purchase gutters, pipes, metal bars, metal mesh, binding wire and several bags of cement.  Isaiah, Pr Alfonse and Pr Ezekiel from Kikyo BC would provide the skilled labour, and I would be the driver and general lackey/builder's assistant!

In the end it took a week and I was taken sick in the middle with D&V and ended up on a drip in hospital, which we hadn't originally planned.  However, the job was eventually completed and Kahokya BC now has a 5,500 litre rainwater tank, which fills up every time there's a big rainstorm.  Thanks to Tim's clever "first-flush system" it's also pretty clean water as the initial 10 litres or so which is full of dust/leaves etc gets disposed of before collecting all the cleaner water which follows.  There's been a bit of leakage around the pipe, which we'll be addressing this week, but the tank is strong, the guttering works beautifully and members of the community have already enjoyed having water on tap right where they are.  This project should especially benefit the church's nursery school whose hundred pupils find their attention flagging in the afternoon from thirst and who rarely wash their hands after using the latrines because there's not been any water to wash them with. 

Now if you visit Kahokya Baptist Church you can pay to charge your mobile phone with solar-charging, do your homework for free with solar-lighting, buy some clean renewable cooking fuel, and get some water, as well as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That's what the phrase "integral mission" means to us.  It is likely that this project will be replicated in some of the other remote rural Baptist churches which also suffer from lack of access to water, but that will be entirely down to the considerable skills and organisation of the other members of Kasese Baptist Association of Churches - Development Committee (KBAC-DC), especially Isaiah and Prs Alfonse and Ezekiel, as I'll be back in the UK by this time next month.

Monday 17 November 2014

What to do with Fred? - How to help the poor. (By Bethan)

We seem to have adopted a grown man called Fred.

Three years ago we asked a metal-worker to fix some gutters on our house and commissioned him to build a slide for Sam.  He did both jobs very well, but the slide was very much delayed because the worker had ‘gone to the village’ and hadn’t come back.  We were quite annoyed at the delay, however, we soon learned that the worker had become paralysed in the village because he had suffered a major stroke.   We soon became very guilty as we were thinking him lazy and maybe even that he had stolen the metal we already paid for and run off to the village.

This man was Fred.

We received our slide from one of Fred’s apprentices and thought no more about him until one day, two years later, Fred appeared on our doorstep.  Literally on our doorstep: I went out to take the boys to school at 8am and actually tripped over him.  “Hello?” I enquired, “Can I help you, sir?”  He explained that he was Fred who had built the slide and he wanted to talk to Gareth so I let him in and Gareth listened to him.  Apparently Fred had come because since his stroke he had struggled to get work, considering he could now no longer use one side of his body (although he could walk) and his family had to move to Jinja (8 hours away by bus) and he had run out of money.  He needed work but before that he needed money to buy metal in order to make something to sell.  Gareth sent him with 20,000 shillings (£5) to make a school boarder’s tin trunk which he would hope to sell at 30,000 shillings.  Problem solved.  Or so we thought.

The next week Fred was back … with the trunk!   Fred explained that he hadn’t found anyone to buy the trunk and that he didn’t want to be in debt so if we just gave him 10,000 shillings we could, in effect, absolve his debt and have a tin trunk in with the deal!  Win-win!  (Over the next months we would come to find Fred full of win-wins that somehow didn’t add up!)  So Sam is now the proud owner of a tin-trunk in which to pack his toys to come home.  At least he thinks he has won!

Fred came back a week later at 7.30am.  He asked to speak to Gareth.  Gareth came and Fred told him that he needed more work.  Gareth told him of our colleague who needed a lock fixed on his own tin trunk (everyone must have one!)  We arranged to deliver the trunk to his ‘workshop’ (under a tree off the main road) and although we believe he over-charged us for the business but we figured we were helping him at the same time.  We said thank you and good bye.

Fred came back a week later.  At 7.30am.  I tripped over him at the gate on my way to school.  I inwardly groaned and then immediately thought “I wonder if Jesus ever groaned at seeing someone in need?” and felt guilty.  I smiled at Fred.  “Good morning Fred!  How can I help you?”  He wanted to see Gareth.  “Gareth’s a little busy right now, preparing for work in a village.  Can I help you?”  No.  Fred just wanted to see Gareth.  I’m used to this now: Gareth is the boss and any word from me, even if I say “Gareth said this” is irrelevant and probably untrue.  I went to get Gareth who also groaned.  Fred wanted more work.  We seriously didn’t need any more trunks by this point so we sent him over the road to Sam’s school to ask the director if he needed a slide for the kids’ playground, which we had heard him mention before.  Fred didn’t want to go alone so Gareth went with him and became late for the whole day of busy work making a water tank in a village.  The director didn’t have an answer straight away but promised to phone Fred back.

Fred came back a week later.  I tripped over him at the gate.  “Morning Fred!” I groaned inwardly thinking ‘Now I understand why Jesus used to go up a mountain or in a boat to get away from people!’  “What can I do for you this morning?”  Fred wanted to know why the director hadn’t phoned him yet.  I took Fred to see the director but he wasn’t there.  He then wanted to see Gareth to say good bye.  “It’s fine, Fred, don’t worry about it, I’ll tell him you said ‘bye.”  No, Fred was adamant he was going to see Gareth and anything I said wouldn’t change his mind.  I told him he may as well wait at the gate to save him the walk up to our veranda which, as a semi-paralysed man, is a steep walk.  He waited at the gate.  I went in to get Gareth.  Gareth groaned and we had a little rant about how Fred was really annoying.  Then we had a little rant about how annoying it is that we could never do the right thing: if we kept on giving him things he would keep coming back.  If we didn’t give him anything we were ignoring one of Jesus’ own children who was in need.  Gareth went to see Fred but Fred had gone. 

The next time he came he chastised me for being rude and leaving the gate locked with him outside.  I tried indignantly to explain myself but Fred always talks through my explanation and continues with his helpless expression and nothing can be said that he would listen to.  Of course he wanted to see Gareth so I went to get Gareth before I exploded in Fred’s face.  Fred told Gareth about how he was going to see his family in Jinja and try to stay with them and get work.  The upshot was that Gareth gave him 60,000 (£15) for bus fares to Jinja and sighed an inward sigh of relief thinking we wouldn’t be tripping over Fred on our doorstep again.

Three weeks later I tripped over Fred on the doorstep at 8am.  Oooooooh no.’ I sighed under my breath.  “Morning Fred!”  I said.  “I’m surprised to see you here, I thought you went to Jinja!”  Fred had gone to Jinja and found that everyone there was using machines to make metal objects so there was no work for someone who still used their hands.  He came back to find work instead.  But alas, there was no work to be had.  Could we possibly give him some money to help him buy metal to work?  Of course he didn’t say this to me, I’m just the secretary.  He asked Gareth.  Gareth said that he wouldn’t be getting any more money and advised him what he should do in terms of looking around and asking around for work.  He offered Fred the opportunity to figure out how to make metal cases for some new stoves that Isaiah and he were making.  Fred went away to figure it out.

Two weeks later Fred was our early morning wake up call.  “Just be aware, Bethan, I think Fred’s at the gate,” warned Gareth.  I took the boys to school and when I came back Fred had let himself in the gate and was sitting on our veranda.  “Gareth, he’s here” I told Gareth.  Gareth didn’t have time to talk to Fred and we both muttered to each other in operatic hushed-tones how we were thoroughly fed up with this man coming to us asking for our help.  Gareth was in a hurry, already late for a long day of burning agricultural waste and making charcoal – a long business that needs a whole day to be done in a village two hours’ drive up a mountain – and seeing Fred was the last thing on his mind.  “Yes, Fred.”  He said bluntly.  Fred explained how he didn’t have any work or hadn’t eaten breakfast and was generally in tough times.  Gareth tried to sympathise but in the end had to shout and use a tough voice to get through to Fred because everything he started saying was interrupted with an excuse as to why Fred’s idea of a hand-out was right and Gareth’ idea of trying to help in other ways was wrong.  Gareth said that he would not give him any more money whilst not seeing anything for it (understand Gareth is a development worker so handing out money is not the way they work: first you implement an idea, work out how much it will cost, make sure it is going to work and then find funding – in effect, us.)  He eventually had to shout to Fred “please go, Fred, I’m not giving you any money and I have to go to work!”  Gareth was about to get into the car and drive off when the usual tug of his conscience made him stop (the Holy Spirit loves to keep tugging and making us better people despite our best efforts!)  He ran down the drive, along the road and offered Fred some baked bin tins and the like for him to recycle into useful things for him to sell.  Fred went away with the tins looking most dejected.

A week later Fred was back.  As I fell over him at the gate at 8am I said “Fred, there’s nothing for you here, please, you have to stop coming to us.  We can’t solve all your problems plus the rest of the town whose people are also poor.”  Fred explained that he was particularly unlucky.  “But the whole of Kasese is unlucky!  So many people are sick, paralysed, deaf, poor and generally very badly off!  Why should I only keep on giving you money and help when the whole town would start coming and then where would we be?  [It is unlikely that the whole town would start coming but I was off on a tirade by this point.]  We are not a bank where you can just come and withdraw money!”  Fred asked me what is a bank.  I sighed.  “A bank is where you walk in and withdraw money and then go.  We are not a bank!  You cannot just come here, ask for money every week and then go!”  Fred kept on explaining that he was a special case, that his mum was dying in Jinja and he had to go there to be with her and therefore needed to talk to Gareth.  “Fine!”  I replied, exasperated.  “I’ll go and get Gareth.” 

With one movement I went in the gate and shut it before he could follow me in, leaving him sitting on the grass outside our gate.  I went to tell Gareth that his best friend was here and we both said to each other “Seriously, what are we supposed to do?  I’m pretty sure we are supposed to just keep giving and giving without complaining because we have far more than he does and to us it really doesn’t matter if we give him £5 because we have it.  But if he keeps on coming every Monday for the rest of our time here he is not only going to drive us insane but he will keep asking for more and more until we feel thoroughly taken for granted and then his friends will start coming too!”  We really didn’t know what to do.  Eventually we decided that we should give him 20,000 shillings (£5) and a bottle of water to go to Jinja and we should advise him to stay there with his family because he clearly isn’t getting any work here in Kasese so he may as well be there in Jinja not getting any work where his family can look after him.  Maybe one of his children needs to leave school to find work to look after him (we usually would not advise children leaving school but since any education beyond year 6 is out of the ordinary it is not unusual for people to do that here.)  Isn’t that why people have so many children?!

By the time we had discussed all this Gareth went to the gate and found that Fred had gone.  The next bit is rather ironic, considering that we had been trying to get rid of Fred: Gareth ran down the road looking for Fred in order to give him the money and give him the advice to stay in Jinja!  He found him a few hundred metres down the road and hopefully, saw Fred go on his way for the last time.

Fred has really made us think but we are really and truly not sure what Jesus is trying to teach us through Fred’s visits.  Or are we making excuses and it is really perfectly obvious:  We are not seeing Jesus in everyone we meet.  What does the Bible say about Fred?

Matthew 25:35 –

Jesus was talking to people: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.   Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?  The King will reply “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Proverbs 14:31
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Matthew 10:42
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."

Monday 13 October 2014

Kingdom economics and the problem of growth - By Bethan

BMS produces a wonderful magazine called the Mission Catalyst that professes to be “intelligent comment on faith and culture”.  It never ceases to provoke my mind and stir up action in both my day-to-day life and my relationship with God.  The latest edition (issue 4, 2014) was about the economy.  Surely that’s nothing that Christians have to worry about?  That’s what I thought – well at least I assumed that I could never understand it so why bother? – but I was wrong and here’s a summary of the magazine for those of you who either didn’t receive it or didn’t read it thinking that it was not something you need to worry about.  It argues, very persuasively, that “the neglect of economics is a wound in the side of the church” (Canon Peter Challen).

The first article, “Creating Consumers”, sets the scene: an article about the man who changed the world of advertising from the mind-set of buying what we need that was durable and effective, to the age of brand identity, desire economy and disposable everything.  According to Jonathan Langley (author/editor) this change has not been a “calculated evolution instigated by big corporations, but largely the brainchild of one man.  Edward Bernays.”  Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s American nephew and he used psychology and clever wording to change ordinary peoples’ buying habits.  The advances made in manufacturing during WWI had created the danger of overproduction.  These ordinary buying habits could not keep up with the speed with which goods could be produced.  Advertising, under the tutelage of Bernays would turn into the science of making people desire things that were being produced!  Do we realise that we have been used to prop up an economic system that requires us to keep on purchasing things that we really do not need?  President Hoover even stated that Bernays had created “constantly moving happiness machines”!  In other words, slaves to production.

So that is potentially where the thirst for constant economic growth comes from.  But surely economic growth is a good thing?  Brian Czech, Founding President of the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, thinks not and I tend to agree with him.  “In textbook terms, economic growth is increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate.”  But let’s think back to where ‘things’ come from.  “To put it in the technical terms of ecological economics, as the human economy grows, natural capital is reallocated out of the economy of nature and is converted into consumer goods and manufactured capital.”  So everything we buy has been taken from nature.  That’s not too hard to believe considering we came to this world with nothing and everything we have been provided with for life on Earth has come from the natural environment around us.  So if we are constantly pushing for economic growth, God’s Earth and therefore his creatures who depend on the Earth’s resources are going to suffer.  Czech advocates a “steady state economy” that basically means stabilising population and per capita consumption.  In simple English that means having enough children to replace ourselves and not consuming everything you can but only consuming what is necessary (and this can be argued according to the living conditions in the place where you live but think like this, as Czech does: “Would anyone be driving a Hummer in the kingdom of God?  Or building a McMansion?”)

Another problem that consumerism and constant economic growth brings is that of debt.  “Countries have got themselves horribly into debt, individuals have got themselves horribly into debt and governments have often got themselves re-elected by promising more and more goods and services and by taking themselves more and more into debt…” (Interview with Michael Ramsden)  But I, for one, am confused about how many billions of pounds countries can be in debt for.  For example couldn’t the National Mint simply print more money?  That was my simplistic thinking anyway.  But Canon Peter Challen (Chairman of the Christian Council for Monetary Justice) explains: “money is created not by the state in a transparent way by a national treasury, as people’s money, created and lent out into the system free of interest.  What we have is the commercial banks, who, ever since 1695, have been allowed to create money.  They create credit, which goes out and generates economic activity, and the money associated with that.  But what they don’t create is the money that will pay the interest.  So in order to pay the interest on top of the capital, people have to borrow.  And so we get this incredible exponential growth of debt, slowly and insidiously at first, but then at an incredibly increasingly rapid rate in recent years.”  So this ‘invisible money’ circulates and doesn’t really exist except on paper (well, computers).  But then a rumour comes about and people want to withdraw their money but their money doesn’t really exist so banks go bankrupt so that no one has any chance of getting their money back (the most infamous bankrupting situation has to be the Wall Street crash in 1929).

So is this type of economics the only way to exist?  Canon Peter has a theory that goes against the flow of economic reality today.  When asked about what economics would look like in God’s Kingdom he replied:  “[Kingdom economics] … would have to have the issuance of credit and money as the responsibility of the state and not of commercial enterprises.  I think banks would have to return to their proper role of brokerage.  Of arranging, where there is saving, that that is lent on.  At that private level of lending on people’s savings, you could have interest as a private transaction.  But basically, the income for infrastructure, for schools, hospitals, roads, etc, should be created and lent into the system to generate productivity of goods and services that then repays that money into the treasury, either to be taken out of circulation or, if a new need arises, to be circulated again.  So that you have a reciprocal flow of money against real values.”

Finally, the problem that ever-growing economics has for the world as a whole cannot be ignored; especially not by an international mission agency such as BMS!  Herbert Anders (Editor and co-author of Equomanual: a handbook for a spirituality of economic justice) wrote a paper about neoliberal economics: “an economic approach where the private sector, rather than governments, controls economic life…  The underlying idea of neoliberal economics is to have a deregulated market where the most powerful win all.”  The basic idea being that everyone will profit from the enormous riches created by a small percentage of the world because the capital will be invested in the global market.  Unfortunately, “the wealth ‘trickling down’ to more than 80 percent of humanity from the riches and consumption of its richest 20 percent is more like the crumbs that fall down from the banquet than a fair participation in the meal.”  Anders believes that correcting this problem is not a question of collecting money to share with the poor; rather “it is a question of rules that can guarantee rights of participation in the global market for the more vulnerable players.”  Andy Flannagan (director of Christians on the Left) points out that “‘Free’ markets have led to the collapse of developing world economies.  As history has shown, the weakest are inevitably exploited when there are no laws.”  This explains why the term ‘fair trade’ is creeping into our vocabulary and is perhaps better than ‘free trade’ at creating an even international playing field.

When it comes to changing economics we might all say “but we are just one person/ one church/ one village, how can we change anything?” but Anders cites that there are Christian movements opposing the main financial players in financial activities in the US [and elsewhere].  He also suggests that “[churches] are creating awareness of economic injustice in a manner that could be described as ‘capillary’ – at the local, limited level.  From that consciousness-building grows alternative economic thought and action all over the world.  There is a saying that I have heard and is particularly poignant whilst living in Africa: “If you think you’re too small to make an impact you should try sharing a room with a mosquito!”  A constant buzzing in your local MP’s ear will make a difference.

I’m going to leave you with a very sobering thought from Joseph Stiglitz, an American economist: “The top one per cent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 per cent live.  Throughout history, this is something that the top one per cent eventually do learn.  Too late.”

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Thursday 25 September 2014

Solar Project - Completed

Last week I submitted the 30 page evaluation of the solar project which I've been working on with Isaiah, assisted by electrician Amisi, for over two years. We spent July and August travelling around all the project churches gathering data and conducting interviews of church pastors, church members, children who've attended the solar-lit homework clubs and locally elected community leaders.   Obviously some churches have done better than others, but on the whole we've been overwhelmed by the success of this project, not only in development terms through providing a community light source, reducing local dependence on kerosene, and providing income from phone charging; but even more so through its success as a missionary project bringing communities into their churches and helping those churches to reach out into their communities.

The whole evaluation is too long to include here, although if you want a copy then please email me at and I'll send it to you.  However, here is the "summary of achievements" page.  I offer a huge thank you to all who helped implement this project, and to those of you whose generosity helped fund it through BMS World Mission.  It has been so popular that Isaiah will be raising a proposal to extend it to another few churches in 2015, after we've left.

Summary of Achievements:

Despite these considerable challenges, this project has delivered successes in all five of its stated objectives.  Details for each church will follow, but as a whole the project has led directly to increased use of churches during weekdays for homework clubs, phone charging, and early morning and/or evening fellowships.  Although statistical evidence of educational impact is hard to obtain, the evidence of those interviewed is that providing free lighting for doing homework has caused the individuals who used it to improve their educational performance and save money on kerosene.  Over 7,800 mobile phones have been charged in these churches providing cost and time savings to those who previously struggled to charge their phones much further away.  This phone-charging has raised a total of over 2.1 Million Ugandan Shillings (£500) income for these churches, which is a huge amount of money for places where average Sunday collections often total only 3,000 Shs (£0.75).  The money has been used in different ways, which include: support to pastors, income for project supervisors, construction of church buildings or latrines, saving for replacing batteries or other project equipment, church furniture or musical instruments, transport for pastors or members to do evangelism or receive further training (including BMS’ Sunday school training programme), supporting a church nursery-school, hospitality to visitors (including ourselves), support for the sick/condolences for the bereaved, and investment in other income generating projects, including animal breeding, cabbage planting and bee-keeping.  The most exciting achievement of this project, however, is also the hardest to quantify and that is its missionary aspect.  Church membership has grown in all of the solar project churches, by an average of 88%, which is substantially higher than in other KBA churches without solar projects (which averaged 10% growth from Feb 2013 to Jun 2014).  Furthermore, this growth not only consists of Baptist churches attracting lapsed Catholics, bored Anglicans or other denomination-drifters.  It includes people of Muslim backgrounds, Jehovah’s Witnesses or of no faith at all; people who had never heard the Gospel before but have now thanks to charging their phone, doing their homework, seeing a strange new light in a dark place, or being touched by the compassion of receiving solar-funded “first aid” or condolences from a stranger.  God works in mysterious ways, and it is not for us to scientifically apportion credit for the workings of his grace in reaching new believers.  However, there is no doubt in our minds that the faithful evangelism of the dedicated pastors and members of most of these 8 churches has been significantly assisted by the outreach opportunities and income provided by this project.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Paying it Forward.

Have you seen “Pay it Forward”?  - If not then try looking up this Hollywood dramatization of the book by Catherine Ryan Hide, filmed in 2000.  The basic premise of the film is that the world will become a  better place if we pay our gratitude forwards, to others, even those we haven’t met.
Of course, it’s not an entirely new idea.  You might argue that a well-educated professional is already “paying forward” their gratitude to the state which supplied the services they depended upon to achieve success and prosperity (good education, health-care, decent roads, access to justice etc).  Their higher-rate income taxes will fund opportunities for the next generation to enjoy the same benefits.

But the principle of paying it forward is much older than that and can be found in the Bible.  Surely it underlies the whole concept of tithing? – Showing our gratitude for all the blessings we’ve had in life, by passing on a tenth of them in service of the God from whom all blessings flow.  However, for many of us who grew up going to ancient Anglican churches, the idea of tithing lost its appeal because it seemed people were being asked to sacrifice their income to pay for astronomic heating bills, fixing decrepit lead-roofs, Bishops’ palaces and the pensions of retired clergy.  Whilst some of these may be necessary, they don’t always sit well with the teachings of Jesus, the radical yet humble carpenter and preacher from Nazareth. 

Jesus himself criticised the Pharisees who obsessed about the legalistic details of tithing everything right down to their herbs  - “mint, dill and cumin”, but neglected “justice, mercy and faithfulness” Matt. 23.23.  Instead he drew our attention to the poor widow who gave “all that she had” (Luke 21.1-4).   Having grown up in a comfortable home in a rich country I’ve sometimes struggled with this verse, as well as wondering about what the widow did the following day? 

As a development worker I read books by Economists who tell us that people generally make decisions based on their rational self-interest.  To me it seems common sense that this is simplistic because people don’t always act rationally.  Furthermore, as a Christian, I know that this isn’t always true because I keep seeing people sacrifice their own interests in favour of others. 

This week I have been astounded and profoundly challenged by an example of this.  As many of you know, we started a Daycare for the vulnerable toddlers of Acholi Quarter, which is still running 9 months after its official funding finished, but which faces an increasingly unlikely future as its running costs (about £150 per month) currently far exceed its income from parental contributions. 

Some of you also know that Pastor Alfonse has been doing an excellent project with street children in Kasese.  With very few resources he has been helping these young boys to fry G-nits (pea-nuts) and sell them around town and also to farm a hired plot in order to sell beans and tomatoes.  Every week the boys meet to pool their earnings and then decide how to use them.  They’ve amazed us before with their generosity to each other, supporting a boy to resettle to his familial village, or chipping in for expensive medical bills for another. 

This week, however, Pr Aflonse announced at the monthly Development Committee meeting that the street boys had sold some crops and had decided to give 20,000 Shillings (£5) to Daycare.  He explained that many of them had previously lived in Acholi Quarter, before finding themselves on the streets, and they wanted to help the next generation of young children growing up there.

Let’s be clear about this.  We’re talking about children aged 8 – 15 who sleep in storm-drains, under bridges or trees or against the side of buildings, who eat whatever they can, and who rarely own more than the tattered clothes on their backs.  People with no social status, little or no education, and often with no family.  They haven’t just been moved into a shiny orphanage in Jinja and they haven’t been given Child-Sponsorship from a big American church.  They haven’t really been given anything.  Rather Pastor Alfonse has shown them respect, love, compassion, an excellent personal example, and the means to start making an income through their own hard-work.  But despite the countless things they could do for themselves with this small income, they chose to pay some of it forward to help other vulnerable children 5 – 10 years younger than themselves.

Is this an isolated case?  No it isn’t.  The three women at Jambo Café work long hours for a very modest income.  They all have their own children with school fees to pay, and yet as well as tithing their profits to the church they are also pooling their tips to give to other women who want to start their own businesses.  They are grateful that they were given an opportunity to start their own business (thanks to many of you!), and are paying that forward by helping other women.

Of course, £5 from the street boys will not keep Daycare running for more than a day, but that isn’t the point.  Jesus’ Ministry made it abundantly clear that whatever we can give or do on our own is never enough, and yet when we give freely and whole-heartedly it can still have a massive impact – an obvious example being the little boy who gave up his tuna sandwiches (well 5 loaves and 2 fish to be precise….), which fed five thousand.

I realise that charity fatigue is a growing problem, and many are tired of endless requests to send money to Africa or yet another place afflicted by war or flooding.  But paying it forward isn’t just about money.  It’s more personal than that.

I challenge all of us to look back over the last ten or twenty years and think about which people really made a difference to our lives.  Then think about what it was they did which made our lives better.  Now think of a way to provide that same benefit to someone else.  It might be financial – for example my Dad has spent 16 years using his garden model railway to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer care after their excellent nurses cared for my Mum in her last days.  So by all means do pay your taxes, and give your tithes – to whichever causes you believe in.  But it might well not be financial.  It might be the volunteer scout leader, music-teacher or sports coach who inspired you, the person who cared for your children to give you a break, the person who gave lifts in their car or who helped your elderly (grand)parents.  It might be someone who encouraged or mentored you when others doubted your abilities.  Whatever it was, the best way to repay that kindness is to pay it forward and do the same – or something even more wonderful – for others.

Of course, if the thing that most transformed your life was someone sharing the Gospel with you then that is no exception.  Find someone else whose life has gone astray and show them the Good News, preferably with actions as well as words.

The street children of Kasese have profoundly challenged me, and I’m thinking about how to respond to it.  Meanwhile I’m passing on that challenge to all of us.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Jambo’s Biggest Order… with more good news to come!

Today I spent the afternoon at Jambo Café with all three ladies (Eliza, Alice and Moreen).  I had been called in to help with the gigantic order of a three-tiered ‘Give-Away’ cake with six smaller cakes as part of a nine-cake set selling for £75, a phenomenal sale for Jambo. (A give-away is just that: the woman’s family gives the daughter to the man’s family and it is a precursor to a wedding, which may happen any time in the future).   The first thing to note is that I had a wonderful time with the three ladies chatting and laughing and working like clockwork together.  The reason that this was so wonderful was that, for those of you who remember, not too long ago the atmosphere in Jambo was particularly icy as two of the women were not speaking to each other.  Praise the Lord, those relationships have been healed and Jambo is now a friendly and warm place to be!

While we were working on the cake icing, a man phoned Alice’s phone and she handed it to me saying “You talk to him, it’s Tony!” I cringed.  I hate talking to Ugandans on the phone as I struggle to grasp what is being said, and I don’t know a Tony!  Alice shoved the phone in my face and I started to find out who Tony was and what he wanted.  It turns out that Tony runs a tour company called Speke Ugandan Holidays ( and is trying to organise a coffee-farm tour that he can put on his itinerary to take his tourists to a coffee farm, talk with a coffee farmer and find out about the whole coffee business.  Tony said he had read my blog and seen that there is a wonderful café with a good testimony (he’s also a Christian) and that he would like to bring his tourists to Jambo for lunch after the coffee tour!   This is an answer to prayer because business has not been so good recently as a lot of ex-pats who have been living here for the last year or two have now gone.  And if one tour company is getting Jambo on its radar then we hope that others will follow.  This was our aim for Jambo’s business side: that tour companies would bring their clients to Jambo as they travel through the country visiting Uganda’s beautiful National Parks.

After this good news we continued with the cake, which came on nicely with the chosen colours of blue and yellow (we can only get garish food colours here, and bold colours are very popular so this is perfectly normal!).  I used this opportunity to teach the women some new icing piping techniques.  I am by no means a professional cake decorator but I’ve iced a few cakes in my time, including our wedding cake, so I have a few creative tips to share.  The only downer was when the person who had ordered the cake came to see it and, despite liking what we were doing, reminded Alice that she had also ordered red to be on the cake!  So we started to pipe red flowers dotted around the side but Deb Benn, our colleague who was looking after my boys, called me to say that Jonah needed me to come back as he is not feeling well and was having a melt-down!  However, it was so lovely to spend a joyful few hours working and laughing with the Jambo ladies and I am grateful for your prayers for the ladies’ healed relationships.

Finally, I am trying to organise lunchtime ‘life-seminars’ at Jambo every week in October with a different speaker each week.  Subjects to be discussed are: family planning (a hot topic in Uganda!), financial planning (which many people don’t manage), sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV and AIDS) and women’s health.  Each seminar will end with a short discussion of God’s view on each subject and how to put advice into practice.  Please pray for this endeavour as it takes some organising and we really want Ugandans to come and learn things that aren’t taught in schools, are rarely talked about in churches and are generally not even discussed in families.

Friday 29 August 2014

Adventures on the Swahili Coast.

Western Uganda is truly beautiful and I love living and working here, but for this ex-sailor it’s much too far from the sea, and for our two boys, who share their grandfather’s obsession with trains, then the absence of trains is also an issue.  We were all very excited therefore when we embarked on our once-in-a-lifetime family holiday.

It started as most of our trips do, with the now routine 6 hour drive to Kampala, followed by a chance for the boys to let off steam at the “softplay” at the shiny new acacia shopping mall.  As it was our holiday we also treated ourselves to our first ever family cinema outing – to see “Planes 2: Fire & Rescue”, in 3D.  Jonah helpfully slept through most of it, leaving the rest of us in peace to enjoy the film through 3D glasses (a new experience for us technologically backward rural dwellers!)  Then a morning taxi trip to Entebbe airport to fly to Nairobi, the capital of our larger eastern neighbour, Kenya.  The flight was delayed by several hours.  The notice screen kept cheekily reporting “On Time” next to the ever changing departure time!  By the time we arrived in Nairobi we were under pressure to reach the train station in time for the next stage of our journey, which made the taxi through the crazy Nairobi traffic jams more stressful.  We needn’t have worried.  Our 7pm train to the Kenyan port town of Mombassa was running late.  The train was there and we could see all the carriages, but there was no engine to pull it.  The first few hours were fine.  We got some food and the boys were so excited about being on a train station and hearing the horns of, or seeing other trains coming through the station.  There was no information, however, and when people tried to enquire the station master was found hiding locked inside his office!  We were pretty fed up by the time the train finally departed at 12.15am, but we put the boys to bed in our sleeper compartment and then alternated eating a late supper in the dining car at about 1.30am before turning in ourselves.  We got up to the dawn at around 7am and discovered we still hadn’t come very far.  The timetable has the train passing through the massive Tsavo National Park in the early morning light, potentially glimpsing the notorious Man-eating lions of Tsavo, who acquired a taste for the British and Indian workers who laid the railway tracks at the turn of the last century.  However, we didn’t reach Tsavo until gone midday when the searing afternoon heat drives all the animals under cover.  We saw a straggle of elephants and tow zebra from a distance.  An 18 hour train journey with numerous random stops amidst straggly bush is a bit of an ordeal for a young family, but the boys coped very well with their seemingly endless fascination for staring out of the open windows and screams of delight whenever we passed another train or vehicles at a level crossing.  Although again, there was no information from any of the train staff about our delays or arrival, they were very helpful at providing a free lunch as well as the allocated supper and breakfast.  On disembarking the train at 6.15 pm as the sun was setting, there was further excitement for the boys as our taxi embarked onto the Likoni ferry to cross the busy deepwater Mombassa harbour (into which most of Uganda’s imported goods arrive) and pick up the coast road that heads south towards Tanzania.  We arrived at Stilts backpackers, Diani beach and ate and went straight to bed, tired after our 35 hour journey from Kampala. 

It was all well worth it.  I’ve swam in the Indian Ocean before, but Diani beach has to be the best beach I’ve ever been to:  Perfect white sand lined by coconut palms on one side and a clear blue-green ocean on the other.  It was bright and sunny but not too hot with, a refreshing breeze but not so strong as to blast your skin with sand.  Stilts backpackers was a relaxed and friendly place with good food and friendly service and we soon befriended a German couple who were expecting their first child and seemed keen to spend time with our two boys and to seek protection from the persistent beach-hawkers through our ability to politely decline their wares in Swahili.  I’ve been fascinated by boats and the sea since I was about Sam’s age, so our five days on Kenya’s beautiful south coast were one of the best holidays I’ve ever had.  We took a (motor)Dhow trip from Shimoni to Wasini island and saw dolphins on the way there, snorkelled off the island and then visited the bizarre coral gardens and feasted on delicious fresh fish cooked in Swahili spices and coconut milk.  We also took a trip on a glass-bottomed boat passing over star-fish, sea urchins, moray-eels, sea-spiders and many types of colourful fish.  Whilst snorkelling over the same spot I also spotted a white and brown sea-snake, which thankfully wasn’t disturbed by my presence!  Bethan doesn’t share my enthusiasm for swimming in the Ocean, but she and Sam enjoyed a camel-ride along the beach, padding along in silence and admiring the scenery from a greater height.  Diani beach also offers kite-surfing and sky-diving, so we enjoyed watching other people float out of the sky onto the beach or rip through the waves behind a billowing kite.  Sand-castling was more suited to our age-range and budget however, so we kept busy digging big holes, making sand walls and collecting pretty shells, while others leapt from planes!

Notwithstanding these modern attractions, this coastline is in many ways unchanged from its long history.  Beautiful lateen-rigged sailing dhows still grace the coastline catching delicious fish in much the same way as they have for centuries, using the same boats and methods as Peter, James and John would have done on Lake Galilee.  The Swahili coast has its own strong cultural identity too, infused with the influence of Islam, and the complex legacies of the Arabs’ East-African slave trade (which although less talked about, preceded and exceeded the Europeans’ Atlantic slave trade).  It was a real pleasure for us to be able to talk to locals in their own language.  Our three years of studying Swahili in western Uganda has been frustrated by the fact that although many Ugandans use Swahili, they don’t much like it and rarely speak it properly, (the Congolese version prevalent around Kasese is notoriously poor).  In contrast, on the south Kenyan coast, we found that the “Swahili sanifu” (clean Swahili), we’ve been taught is what everyone speaks, and they love it when others speak it too.  Encounters with beach-hawkers, drivers etc, which could otherwise have been an ordeal or a haggling marathon became simple, friendly and even enjoyable when conducted in Swahili.  Whereas French people will often scoff at a Brit’s attempt to speak inaccurate French, no-one expects Brits to be fluent in Swahili, and so our efforts were encouraged and rewarded. 

We were relaxed, rested, well-fed and happy therefore when the 7pm train back from Mombassa to Nairobi departed bang on time.  Alas, it was too good to be true.  After half an hour we stopped and waited two hours for another engine to pick us up.  This second engine duly broke down at 7.30am in the middle of a sparse clump of scrub-bushes in the middle of Tasvo national park – not an ideal place to be stranded.  At 11am a third engine finally arrived to continue pulling us towards Nairobi.  At this point we were becoming concerned about catching our flight to Entebbe, as the apparently ample 12 hour gap between train and plane was rapidly being whittled down while we continued to stare at the same bushes.  No-one was telling us anything but we managed to find the train manager and he advised us to get off the train one stop before Nairobi, at Athi river, as the airport is on the South-East side of the city.  This saved us another hour and a half on the train, plus the time it would have taken to drive through Nairobi traffic back to the airport.  He also helpfully booked us a taxi to collect us from Athi river.  Nonetheless it was gone 8pm when we got off the train at Athi river, 25 hours after leaving Mombassa and with only 2.5 hours until our flight to Entebbe.  Another stressful taxi rush to an airport was then followed by another delayed flight leading to our eventual return to Kampala at gone 2am –  again 35 hours after leaving Diani beach.


So, would we recommend the Kenyan coast for a holiday? 

Definitely.  It’s beautiful, exciting, much more affordable than other tropical beach holidays, and more culturally interesting.  However, there is considerable political instability and some violence North of Mombassa as you head towards Somalia, so pick your location carefully and check the FCO website for current advice.    

Would we recommend taking the historic “Lunatic line” between Nairobi and Mombassa? 

Sam and Jonah would say yes, Bethan would say no, and I guess I would say maybe, but only if you’re in no hurry.  It’s certainly a memorable adventure, and you get to see a lot of Kenya in more comfort and safety than from the buses which hurtle at breakneck speeds.  The Chinese are currently constructing a new 1.5m gauge railway which will connect Mombassa to Nairobi and eventually Kampala, Juba (South Sudan) and Kigali (Rwanda), so maybe that will offer an improved service one day soon?

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Sinking hearts and shiploads of good intentions

Sometimes my heart sinks.

Like when my laptop computer refuses to keep up with my typing or freezes in the middle of a large upload (like it is now!); or when I get followed by a group of secondary school kids on the road who start annoying my boys; or, let me be honest, when I see our gate open and a stranger comes in and you know it is going to involve a withdrawal from the Shrubsole ATM!

But sometimes my heart doesn’t sink, and that is what concerns me.

Like when I was with my dad and mum in the government integrated school where I work and dad saw about 5,000 books sitting on shelves not being used, with another four huge boxes of books in Spanish waiting to be bunged on the shelf with them.  My response was to shrug and say “that’s how it is and has been for the 18 months that I’ve worked here.”  Then dad became outraged at the waste and how much these books could actually be used rather than gathering dust and my heart began to sink twice: once for the fact that yes, it is a waste and these books should be used, and twice because perhaps I no longer cared whether the books were used or not!

Let me explain.  Last week Save the Children sent a delivery of hundreds of large boxes of books for the school to use.  “Great!”  you say.  But alas, the books are in Spanish and there is nowhere in the whole of Africa (except Equatorial Guinea, I am informed by my husband!) that uses Spanish and I have never personally met an African Spanish speaker.  “Teacher, are you using these books?” asked my dad, innocently.  “Yes, the children take them home each week to read” he said.  “Is that why they are so dusty?  They look as though they are not used.”  I could feel dad’s blood pressure rising!  I intervened: “How will you use these books, sir?”  I asked one of the teachers.  “I will just translate them” he replied, matter of factly.  “Oh, so you speak Spanish?”  I enquired.  “No.”  Ah. 

Then this week I was in the dusty resource room and there was another table being piled with books from America.  They looked like pretty good English text books but I looked at one of the chapters entitled “What does it mean to you to be an American?”  Very culturally appropriate.  Speaking of appropriateness, my dad’s favourite book that he found as he nosed around the dust was entitled (and I kid you not) “Pub Walks in Yorkshire”.  So, let me ask you this: if you live in Kasese, don’t read English, don’t drink and have never travelled outside of the district of Kasese, let alone out of Uganda, is it likely that “Pub Walks in Yorkshire” is going to be of interest or use to you?

Why have these Spanish story books, tourist books of Yorkshire and the like ended up in Kasese?  Only ‘we’ Westerners can answer that, and I invite you to do so, because we are the ones sending these books to Africa and we have as much to answer for as the recipients who don’t really know what to do with the things we send!  So next time we want space in our attics and we want to rid ourselves of a few dozen kilograms of things we have not used for twenty years, we should take time to think about where they will end up.  Which organisation are we sending them through?  Will the organisation teach the recipients how to use them and make sure that they are used regularly so that they don’t sit in dusty rooms getting filled with insects?  Are they culturally as well as linguistically appropriate?  Are they of a correct reading/developmental age?  Most of us have never knowingly sent inappropriate stuff to Africa but have you ever found out what happens to the things in charity shops that don’t get sold in the UK?  Chances are they are offloaded to Africa along with out-of-date electronics that are dumped in huge piles for street children to dangerously pick through; along with factory manufactured clothes that are sold too cheaply and put local tailors out of business; along with children’s story books about things and experiences that children here can only ever dream about.

It is very difficult, as a ‘consumer’ (and when did we become consumers instead of thinking, loving human beings?!) to know where the things we have finished consuming go but I reckon it is not impossible.  I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone else here that can we become more aware of where our rubbish ends up? … Because more than likely I’ll be rummaging through it at school next week!


Thoughts about sending things overseas:

Before packing something off think to yourself “is this the best use of space in a shipping container, considering the cost of shipping to a landlocked country?”  Think of the journey it has to make.  Some poor soul in a dreary office in the West is ticking these objects off on his list before loading it onto a ship where sailors brave Somali pirates bringing them to the East African coast.  They are then hauled in the hot sun onto dilapidated trucks which will drive for four or five days and probably break down a few times on dangerous and bumpy roads, being stopped every hundred miles by a underpaid policeman who wants to know why this African truck driver is carrying “A Guide to Pub Walks in Yorkshire” or a pink bikini or some other random item to a school in Uganda!  We could really save them all the trouble!

But how?  We could read the small print for the charities that we send money or items to, finding out if they are paying huge shipping costs for inappropriate objects.  Let’s ask our local charity shop what it does with things that don’t sell in the UK.  We can ask our local council what happens to the fridges and freezers that are left at the special electronics dump site.  And finally – support the local economy that does, indeed, sell pens, pencils and pads of paper instead of sending stationary miles and miles around the world!

There are many things that can usefully be used here, with a little thought, and the charities that we know to be competent and experienced at bringing useful items are Tools With A Mission (TWAM) and READ International.  I speak to myself as much as to anyone else when I end with this: Let’s make do and mend; walk short distances; don’t upgrade every season, and show the world that Westerners are MORE THAN CONSUMERS!  (And let’s not dump our old, used rubbish in the developing world.)

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Not all Ugandans are...

All Ugandans are…….   All the Bakhongo (our local tribe) are…..   All politicians are …..

In three years of living and working in Uganda I’ve heard these three sentences  many times and with many different endings, including (in no particular order):  good humoured, lazy, good singers and dancers, very devout, never in their office, sexist, short, dishonest,  hospitable, homophobic, tough, hard-working, corrupt, generous, big eaters, always late etc.

Stereotypes of Ugandans are generally as inaccurate as those that all British people are stiff-upper-lipped toffs obsessed with the weather, or the growing opposite stereotype that Brits are promiscuous,  Godless, rude and often drunk.  When we look at the extreme examples we all recognise that stereotypes are not only inaccurate, but also often hurtful or even dangerous.  Yet in Kasese there is one stereotype I hear variations of repeated all the time, which is about government:  “these people are all dishonest”.  “These people have big words but empty hands”.   “They are lizards” (ie they nod the head vigorously but then do nothing). “These people only care about us when they need our votes” and sometimes just “These people…EH!”  followed by a tut and shake of the head.

Over the last 9 months I’ve had the opportunity to dig beneath the surface of some of these attitudes as we’ve been seeking some form of government support for the skills training project in Acholi Quarters, following the completion of the initial 2 year funding from BMS World Mission. 

In August 2013 the New Vision newspaper provided much fanfare to the announcement of  President Museveni’s new 265Bn Shilling Youth Livelihoods Programme.   This fund was targeted at projects which helped Uganda’s many young and unemployed (half of Uganda’s population are under 25, and most lack jobs) to be trained and equipped to start businesses and enter the labour force.  Perfect.   Except no-one could tell us any details.   Not the websites of the Ugandan Parliament, which ratified the fund in September.  Not our local MP who had voted for it in parliament, not the website of the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development which would administer it, - nor any of their Commissioners, who didn’t answer their emails.  We were referred to District Government in Rukoki, a few miles from Kasese town, but neither the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) nor the Community Development Officer (CDO) there could provide the exact details of how to apply for this fund, other than to tell us that it was designed for projects such as ours that provided skills to youth, and that we might apply for up to 25Mn Shs (£6,200).  They also referred me to the CDO for Kasese Municipal Government (in Kasese town), a lovely and helpful lady, but she couldn’t answer  our questions either.  These enquiries dragged for months, during which we completed all the official registration processes for Kasese Baptist Association of Churches – Development Committee (KBAC-DC) to become an official Community Based Organisation  (CBO   which is like an NGO, but only operates in one district, and requires slightly less paperwork!)   As we planned the final graduation ceremony for our skills training project, in early December, we deliberately invited as many senior local government officials as we could.   The Mayor of Kasese Municipality officiated at the graduation where he publicly promised to support us in the future.  Early in the new year we went to see him and he finally explained to us that the Youth Livelihood Programme was in fact a programme of revolving loans, not grants, and therefore of no use to us at all.  He told us however, about a different fund from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) known as the Luwero-Rwenzori Development Programme (LRDP), which was created to fund projects which benefit youth employment in those two regions which were worst affected by the Ugandan bush wars of the 1980s, following the ousting of Idi Amin in 1979.  We had two days from the Mayor informing us of the existence of this fund to complete a proposal for the 2014/2015 financial year, which we did, applying for 21Million Ugandan Shillings (£5,000).  The following week, Pr Alfonse was hauled into the Mayor’s office to answer questions about the project and to be informed that the budget had to be re-written as LRDP wouldn’t pay any staff wages or food costs, but only for capital and material costs.  We did this and re-submitted a material budget for 12M Shs.  The Kasese Municipality CDO assured us that this proposal would have the full backing of local government as they liked our project and had seen that we “are serious” – a great compliment here in Uganda.  An answer was expected by late February.

Once February had been and gone, I started visiting various local govt offices every fortnight to see if any decisions had yet been made.  At the end of April we were summoned to the office of the District Planner in Rukoki.  When he turned up the District Planner was a smart and helpful young man who explained that he was delighted to inform us that LRDP wanted to help our tailoring project and would provide us with between 5 and 10 pedal sewing machines, at a public ceremony to be held soon.   We thanked him profusely before politely enquiring as to why govt was offering us sewing machines but not any money to fund the running costs of our skills training project – of which the largest are vitenge (local waxedcloth) for tailoring, and timber for carpentry.  He explained that there was great concern about corruption and that previous govt funded projects had received cash which had gone missing and therefore that LRDP would only provide capital items, procured by themselves.  LRDP had already purchased some sewing machines for the 2013/14 financial year for which we would be eligible.  Pedal sewing machines in particular are very popular here and we didn’t have enough (our partnership with Tools With A Mission has mostly provided hand sewing machines).  However, I suggested to the District Planner that if they gave us machines but no cash there was a risk that the machines wouldn’t end up being used as intended if there was no budget to pay for a teacher or other materials.  He acknowledged this and encouraged us to apply for support from the Community Driven Development Fund (CDD), which, he assured us, did award cash.  CDD is administered by Municipal Govt so we drove back to Kasese to the CDO’s office.  The ever friendly CDO there explained to us all the criteria for CDD funding applications up to 5M Shs.  We discussed the various items on our budget that would equate to 5M Shs before she explained that CDD didn’t actually offer cash but could only buy capital items up to 5M Shs in value.  We explained that the only capital items we needed were sewing machines, which LRDP would provide, but that what we really needed was timber and vitenge.  “Ah” she replied.  “Govt can only purchase items which can be inspected a year later (such as sewing machines).  Anything that would get used up (eg timber, cloth etc) is not allowed, because otherwise how can we see that you haven’t eaten it?.   Anyway, if you’re receiving support from LRDP then you can’t also apply to CDD!”  She then explained to us that govt rules prohibit any one organisation from benefitting from two different funds at the same time, which makes sense, but once again contradicted what other officials had told us.

Isaiah and I had a discussion over some figures and concluded that without external support it would be impossible to continue carpentry training.  The cost of timber, plus varnish, glue, nails etc makes carpentry training cost more than twice as much per head as tailoring training.  We would use the extra sewing machines to put on a bigger class of tailors.  More students would enable us to collect more student contributions towards the costs of staff wages, materials, food & fuel, with the balance coming from the remaining 5M Shs from the original BMS funding, which BMS have generously allowed us to roll forward.  Having made a plan, we now had to wait for the handover ceremony.  As there was no news, I made a point of phoning the District Planner once a week to enquire after the exact number of sewing machines and the date of the handover.  At the end of May, Isaiah received a confusing call to say that there was political interference from the local MP and that the machines were being re-allocated.  We were summoned to Rukoki to re-plead our case for the worthiness of our project.  The verdict was, yes we would still get support from LRDP, but only 3 pedal sewing machines not the promised 5 – 10, and still no date for the ceremony.  We would be eligible to apply again for more machines (but still no cash) for the following financial year.

One night at 11pm Isaiah got a phone call saying that we should be at the Municipal Headquarters the following day at 2pm for a handover ceremony.  We gathered at 2pm round the rows of plastic chairs and young men fiddling with loudspeakers which are the hallmark of any public function.  At 2.30pm a Municipal dump truck turned up piled high with pedal sewing machines which were flung down to the workers below, mostly surviving intact.  By 3pm there were about 50 sewing machines in a row and about 40 people patiently sitting on chairs, trying to find some shade and waiting for something to happen.  The “Big men” appeared in pick-up trucks with armed escorts and announced that there weren’t enough people present for them to hold the handing out ceremony.  Nonetheless they proceeded to deliver speeches about how govt aid is too often misused and that too many people complain that govt never does anything for them, especially in Kasese which had elected an opposition woman MP in summer 2012 (despite clouds of tear gas and rubber bullets to try and persuade them otherwise), which is why more people needed to be present to see this government’s generosity to the people of Kasese.  We were instructed to all return at 8.30am the following day with larger crowds of members and supporters.  Before we left, the govt’s MP for Kasese Municipality read out his revised list of beneficiaries, publicly chiding local officials for having previously used any other lists.  The MP’s new list had a significant number of individuals on it, as well as various civil society groups, such as ours.  As we left at about 4pm I sought out a friendly official who rolled his eyes at how “this has all become politics”, and clarified that we should aim to bring 10 people the next day.  Isaiah and I spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Acholi Quarter and other parts of Kasese town mobilising some of our former graduates and our teaching staff.

The following day we kept our word and were there at 8.30 with a dozen project staff or graduates, plus Bethan and Jonah to bulk out the numbers further!  An hour and a half passed and the numbers were beginning to grow, but then it started to rain heavily and some people dispersed.  The ceremony eventually started at about 10.45 with more speeches extolling the generosity and leadership of the President, the national government and Kasese’s local government, and reminding people, that votes for the opposition are wasted votes, because “NRM is in power, and people should accept that fact.”  The names were all read out again at which each beneficiary/group had to stand up.  At this point my neighbour explained to me who the individuals were – Local Counsellors and campaign staff for the MP.  There was a big photo taken with the dignitaries and all the beneficiaries gathered around an array of sewing machines.  Then we all sat down again and each beneficiary was called forward in order to collect their machine(s) and then load them onto the car, pick-up, motorbike or bicycle which they had come with to carry them.  It quickly became apparent that those at the bottom of the list risked getting the machines which had been damaged in transit, so very soon everyone was on their feet herding their sewing machines on to their various forms of transport and signing the contracts with LRDP which guarantee they will be used for their intended purposes.

I realise this is a long story and you may be wondering at the point of it.  It comes down to trust, or the lack of it, within Uganda’s political system.  It is not for me to allege widespread corruption, my limited experience is that the majority of the local government officials I’ve had direct dealings with are trying their best in difficult circumstances.  No-one likes delivering bad news, so sometimes expectations are mismanaged, but most local officials are glad to see organisations on the ground providing needed services and want  to support them.  However, they are hamstrung by the corrosive effects of corruption in other offices or in past times.  Transparency International ranks Uganda 140th out 0f 177 countries in its Corruption Perception Index (Denmark is first, Somalia is last).  Any Ugandan newspaper on any day will tell you about allegations of corruption by officials at local or national level.  Today’s “Daily Monitor” headline says the President has decreed that Army Officers will oversee all agricultural projects administered by NAADS ( a large govt agricultural department), because “NAADS people have eaten enough money.”   Yet the army, although undoubtedly loyal to the President, also have a shady record with regard to alleged illicit sales of fuel and rations provided by donor nations for missions in Somalia.  

Those who are honest, and I believe that the majority are, have to work extra hard to prove their innocence in a culture of assumed guilt.  This lack of trust works both ways.  Because the people don’t trust their leaders their leaders have to go to great efforts, some more legitimate than others, to make them vote, as many people have become cynical.  Because leaders don’t trust the people, or their subordinates in lower levels of government, they create more and more rules and procedures to govern the distribution of govt funds.  These rules are supposed to prevent corruption by providing physical accountability, by ensuring that multiple signatories are required for anything and by requiring any groups that seek government support to jump through ever increasing bureaucratic hoops to prove their legitimacy.  The people who find it hardest to fulfil all these requirements are often those with the most needs, such as the illiterate flood-ravaged farmers in Congo Quarter, whom I’ve also been registering for govt support through NAADS.  Yet, as an official admitted to me, if the rules say govt can provide a tractor, generator or a sewing machine, which can be physically checked a year later, but don’t allow any funding to provide for instruction, maintenance or fuel/spare parts, it is highly likely that within a few years the item bought may no longer be in use, or even usable.  Furthermore, if an MP can still over-ride decisions made by local government, and award govt resources to his own supporters, then the system is probably still not water-tight.

This is not a time for other nations to think we are above such concerns.  As voter turnout continues to plummet in the countries which first established democratic systems and then exported them all over the globe, and as scandals such as the UK’s MPs or MEPs expenses continue to make headlines, we should all be aware of the damage caused by corroding trust between the people who make decisions and the people on whose behalf those decisions are supposed to be made.

We are grateful for the sewing machines we have received from LRDP and will work our hardest to ensure that they are used to best effect in impacting youth unemployment in Kasese.  We can only pray that others do the same.