We were all up pretty early this morning (everyone’s still feeling the jet lag) and ready to go by the appointed time… but our driver was later, caught in the snarl of Monday morning traffic as he drove across town (actually from Entebbe) to meet us. Breakfast this morning ran the gamut from the $2 lemon pancakes to yoghurt and granola ($3) and bacon and eggs… all were deemed excellent!
After our morning briefing and a few extra minutes of R&R before Patrick arrived, we were piling into the van and heading for our destination for the day – Sawaworld – (http://sawaworld.org) an NGO founded by a Vancouver woman and focused on finding solutions from within to extreme poverty and other social ills.
Our day started with a quick introduction to Sheila – the country director in Uganda – followed by an energizer and then back to their classroom for a history of the organization and the work they do… it is truly inspiring. Basically, Sawa acts as a hub for people with skills/talents/ideas that can be taught to others and that can help lift people out of poverty or reduce the spread of HIV or in other ways improve the lives of people in difficult straights. Their offices radiate positivity and their staff are young, hip and with it (technologically, socially, etc). One of the really interesting projects we learned about was a sexual health and female empowerment and economic independence program where they select young women to receive training and vlog (video blog) their progress… it’s captivating to listen to these young women talk about how being able to make money of their own by selling cookies or candles or paper bags translates not into economic independence but empowers them to stand up to their male partners to require condoms and HIV testing. Sawa presents this really effective mix of new age business approaches and boots on the ground work in the trenches and it’s really effective… had they asked for donations, we’d have emptied our wallets in a heartbeat but that’s not what they’re about. Sawa seems to embody the idea of a “hand up not a handout” and while they depend on donations ( to some extent for their technology and whatnot, their model is predicated on social enterprise (business with a social conscience) as opposed to charity.
After our introduction to Sawa’s approach and philosophy, it was time to get our hands dirty – literally! Our job for the day was to help rebuild their tower garden that provides food for the staff and serves as a model for people wanting to grow produce in very limited space or with poor growing conditions (ie. the slums of Kampala). Basically, a tower garden is a series of pipes driven into the ground in a circle about 8′ in diameter and about 3′ high… the pipes serve as the support for chicken coop wire that is wrapped around and around the circle created by the pipes and then secured in place. In the centre is a tower (hence the name) of rocks and pipes for drainage and water distribution… even in Canadian dollars the whole thing could be built for less than $20 and provides a huge area for growing produce, etc.
Our job was to mix the soil, sand and compost under the exacting of the “grandmother” who runs the whole farming operation. We started out a bit tentative… oh yeah, I forgot to mention we were also given cameras and asked to record our work during the day to create a 3 minute vlog of our experiences at Sawa… at first we were more focused on the filming than the working but eventually we put our backs into it and started to work up a sweat… Except Marie who basically kidnaped Sheila and peppered her with questions while the rest of us worked… some things are the same the world over… the workers work while the managers stand around talking 🙂
Eventually we took a break for lunch at a nearby restaurant that Patrick recommended. We ordered enough food for a small army (even our teenage boys were defeated) and chowed down on matoke (mashed plantains and a staple of Ugandan food) along with rice, fried pumpkin, g-nut sauce (ground nuts or peanuts), beef stew, chicken stew and yams… it was all delicious… although the meat did fight back a little… in the end we had enough leftovers to fill a bunch of takeaway containers that we brought back to the staff at Sawa…
Back at Sawa it was time to fill the tower garden with the soil we had mixed. Energized after our huge meal, we put our backs into it and the tower filled in no time. Then it was time to plant the spring onion and spinach seedlings, water it all and snap a few photos of our day’s work. Then it was back to the classroom for a debrief and a check-in and then it was time for us to learn a skill… how to make paper bags… they’re a lot tougher than they look let me tell you!
After learning how to make paper bags and a final round of questions, it was time for us to bid adieu to Sawaworld and head back to the Red Chilli… a long and arduous trip through soul-crushing traffic… Patrick was a marvel as he kept us moving through seemingly endless walls of cars, bodas and people… it took us almost two hours to get back to the hostel where we had about 1/2 an hour to cleanup and change for dinner… a fancy dinner in town to celebrate yours truly’s birthday… the traffic on the way into town was definitely better and we made decent time to a restaurant near Acacia Mall (the really upscale one we’d been to on our first day in Kampala) called Cafe Javas. We all dined on fairly typical western fare (quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches, etc) and fancy juices… we were also treated to the bulk of the restaurant staff singing happy birthday to me (definitely more energetic and rhythmic than the usual Spaghetti Factory style we get back home) and a piece of very yummy Black Forest Cake. We also got to have dinner with our daughter Caitlin and her friend Claire who are here studying and interning at local NGOs and to meet the in-country Insight Staff… a good time was had by all but by the time we were done heads were definitely nodding after the long day. So we made our way back to the Red Chilli and called it a night. Definitely a rewarding and enjoyable day and very pleasant way to celebrate my birthday!
Tomorrow we will be doing some sightseeing in Kampala for the morning before making the 3-4 hour drive to Masaka for the next leg of our journey.