Monday, 28 January 2013

Koboko Is Now Home

We have arrived in Koboko which will be our home for the next 6 days.  What was supposed to take 8 hours took approximately 10 hours.  This is not bad considering you have to factor in African time.  What surprises us along the way is the amount of people out walking on the roads or sitting and visiting under big trees into the late hours of the night.  All that they have is the moon to light their way.
The first thing we learn about Koboko is that the power supply has not yet reached the town.  There is either generator power or solar power.  So people either go without power or you will get power for a few hours a day based on what the generator can supply.  We have to remember that the generators run on gas and the cost is very high.
Our hotel is basic, but clean.  We have running water but bathing will be done in a plastic basin with either cold water or hot water that arrives in a container to the door of your room.  The choices for lunch are Chicken, Goat or Beef and a side of rice or fries.  I thought not bad at least there was options.  When we went for dinner and my partner asked what was available the answer was "chicken or beef with rice or fries".....his face fell when he realised that these were his only options for the next six days.  I quickly realised that what was left from lunch was what was available for dinner, so the smart thing to do was to eat what you wanted for lunch and hope you were lucky for dinner.  I know |I am pretty smart.
Koboko is a small town of red dirt roads and bustling people.  Everywhere you look you see women walking by with buckets of fruit or vegetables on their head, kids walking goats, men riding their bikes with packages on the back and Boda bodas (Ugandan motorcycle taxis)flying by.  There is drug shops, phone charging shops,  simple shops that sell some clothes, shoes and a few accessories, and shops that sell basic food needs.  On the sides of the road you can easily pick up fruits, some vegetables, and eggs.  What is hard to imagine is that the people selling their goods  have walked miles  from their home just to sell a bit of produce from their garden so that they can have money to feed or school their children.
There is also something else we realised very quickly and that is we stand out like a pair of sore  thumbs.  Not only are we white and let us not forget we just left winter in Canada, so white is an understatement, but me and my partner stand about 5'10 or taller.  We are the subject of lots of staring and many conversations.  To bad we don't speak the local language as I bet you they would be saying "what happened to those people they look dead".

Koboko is home for the next 6 days and we are slowly absorbing it.   Stay tuned next post will update you on our visit to our first Sacco. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The How and the Where

So as mentioned in my previous post this journey is taking our team, which we have dubbed Team Uganda, I know very original,  to as you guessed it Uganda.  Winston Churchill called Uganda The Pearl of Africa.  It is a country that offers so much natural beauty such as one of the main tributaries of The Mighty Nile flows straight out of Lake Victoria, the continents largest lake. The tallest most majestic mountains in Africa, called the Rwenzoris, are located in this small country, and it is home to the highest concentration of primates in the world. Uganda is  beautiful but it has had many struggles.

Since the late 1980s the Republic of Uganda has rebounded from the abyss of civil war and economic catastrophe to become relatively peaceful, stable and prosperous.
But the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the north remain blighted by one of Africa's most brutal rebellions.
In the 1970s and 1980s Uganda was notorious for its human rights abuses, first during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin from 1971-79 and then after the return to power of Milton Obote, who had been ousted by Idi Amin.  This is just a small portion of history full of civil war and rebellions.

Team Uganda, made up of 8 Canadians from different co-operatives across Canada, arrived in Uganda on Sunday January 20th in the early morning.  A warm breeze and the rich smell of soil, and flowers greeted us as we exited the airport.  I had to stop and take in a big deep breath of that so familiar but forgotten smell.  I don't know what it is about the wonderful earthy smell of Africa it just becomes a part of you.  It had been a long journey and it took us to many countries and some we weren't expecting to see.  Our trip to Uganda for the last 2 years was to take us through Rwanda but again this year it wasn't meant to be.  This year like last we had to be rerouted due to flight delays and we had the chance to unexpectedly visit the Cairo Airport.  This led to a big discussion amongst all of us as to whether you can consider that you have been to a country even if you have only seen the airport.  Maybe you can let us know your thoughts on this debate that raged through 2 countries.  Our final consensus was that you can consider that you have been to the country if you have put your foot outside of the airport.  Well to make sure we could count Brussels as a city we have visited we held a snowball fight just outside the airport.  Luck for us there was no arrests.  Cairo we could not count as there was little bit more involved in leaving the airport, but it did provide wonderful shopping.  As we arrived in Uganda there was some tense moments as we waited for all luggage to  be spit out on the carousel but a huge hurrah was heard when the last suitcase was delivered.

On Tuesday we will split from our team of 8 to 4 teams of 2 and we will all travel to different parts of northern Uganda.  My partner and  I are travelling the furthest north to the Koboko region where we will visit and work with 2 Saccos.  One being Midia  Farmers Sacco and Koboko United Cooperative Savings & Credit Society.  Koboko region is found in the northwest of Uganda on the Congo and South Sudan border and had suffered greatly during the campaign  of terror inflicted by Kony.  As the rest of Uganda they are recovering and prospering and we look forward to seeing what we will learn and what support we can provide.

I look forward to updating you on our travels north and what happens along the way.  Please let me know your thoughts on whether you consider you have been to a city even if you have only landed at the airport.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Who and the Why

It has been a while since I have update my blog, but I am about to leave for an amazing and rewarding journey with The Canadian Cooperative Association as a volunteer to help support credit unions in Uganda, and I thought it was time again.  The Canadian Co-operative Association is a national association for co-operatives in Canada, representing more than nine million co-operative and credit union members from over 2,000 organizations.  CCA is very involved internationally and it works with its partner organizations to strengthen credit unions and co-operatives in Asia, Africa, Americas and more. 
It's all about people.  In 2012 many Canadian volunteers travelled overseas to share their skills and experience with a host of co-operative partners.  Some do this work in their own credit unions, hosting and training credit union managers from around the developing world.  Others sign on to deliver technical aid to CCA partner credit unions and co-operatives to help strengthen their capacities to meet the needs of their members.  In every case, these activities change the lives for the better on both sides of the relationship.
The strength overseas, as in Canada, is the Canadian Co-operative Movement, and the fact that so many people are willing to volunteer to work hard under circumstances that can be difficult.  It is a testimony to the commitment that co-operatives across the country have to this work.
As I mentioned my volunteer work this year is taking me to Northern Uganda where I will be working with 2 credit unions.  It is not only about assisting the credit unions and giving them the skills that helps create a strong foundation but learning and remembering what it is to be a grass roots community credit union.  As a Canadian credit union sometimes we forget how and why we were established and how vital we were and in many ways still are to our communities.  The credit unions (Saccos as they are called in Uganda) are quite often the life blood of the towns and villages they are established in.  The people of these communities cannot prosper or slowly move out of poverty without their Sacco.  These Sacco's provide a place to safely put the small amount of savings that they are earning.  Without this option people would place their money under mattresses or in pots in their homes that are unsecured and easily robbed.  Their whole life savings gone in a moment.  Members are also able to get small loans that help them plant a crop or to buy a few bricks to start building a home.  Little steps can help them stop living hand to mouth and start help feeding their family for a planting season.
This is a little bit about the who and the why of my trip,  but I promise that the where and the how will be in my next instalment. So please stay tune to hear about the good work, the adventure and the stories along the way.