We weren't sure what to expect from our volunteering time in Kamwenge with Toro Integrated Childcare (TICH). I will say that Toro is doing amazing work in its community, and it was incredible to see the real life manifestations of an NGO. However, TICH is not set up for volunteers. Especially not international ones. And that makes perfect sense. It's doing community work and empowering the community to help themselves. I am not part of the community - how, therefore, can I be helpful?
It was a really hard two weeks for me. I am a restless person by nature, and so don't easily adjust to the African "poly poly" (slowly slowly) attitude. I also felt extremely uncomfortable being guest of honor for 2 weeks, given my lack of knowledge about community development, and also my lack of years and general life experience compared to the people we were meeting. In this area of Uganda it is customary to kneel as you shake hands (a very limp gesture on the most part here) to show respect. It was quite alarming to be kneeled at by 60 year old men and women as well as younger people. I also don't take to kindly to forced public speaking.
It's hard to sum up our time, but generally it went like this:
Catching a boda boda through the lovely countryside for any time between 10 minutes to an hour to arrive at group of waiting people. The amount of people varied between 10 and 100. Here we shake an awful lot of hands and get stared at an awful lot (okay so the staring is nothing new by now). Then we are escorted to chairs either under a tree or in a church building at the front of the waiting crowd. We are greeted by the leader of the group with a speech (which is translated to us) Thanking God for our arrival, our help and our existence. Then Bosco or Reverend (whoever from Toro has travelled with us that day) gives a speech telling the crowd who we actually are (interspersed by clapping from the crowd). We are from Australia, Tim is on the Australian board of TICH, the people in Australia give money to TICH etc. Sophie is Tim's wife. They don't have any children!
Then we are requested to give a speech. We started taking it in turns who would do which gig, but in the end demand was for both of us to speak so that is what we did. And then it would be translated. I am uncertain as to how faithful some of the translating was…
Then what often happened was that the person with us from TICH would explain a new embellishment to the micro finance scheme that they are rolling out. It was good that we were able to draw crowds for them to be able to explain to the most amount of people. But sometimes the talk would go for 2 hours, in a different language and we were obliged to sit gracefully in front of everyone while this happened. I was bored to tears!
We also visited a lot of the workshops that have been set up by tich in carpentry (for boys) and sewing (for girls). On several occasions we were given presents. Including a coffee table and cloth to go on it. The coffee table had to join the two of us plus our driver on the motorbike home! We also got given kilos of avocado, potatoes, mango, peanuts, eggs (!) and jack fruit! Another heavy load for the boda boda! We started off loading these food presents to others that travelled from their villages into town to see us and give us more gifts of hand woven baskets.
What else did we do in Kamwenge?
We were taken to meet the Bishop of the East Rwenvori diocese of the Church of Uganda (Anglican essentially) and also went to that church (a bizarre experience for another day).
We went to Bigodi wetland sanctuary and saw a huge variety of monkeys and birds.
Had dinner with the lovely British couple that were living next door to us, and ate Cadburys chocolate and different food to what we had been having every meal before. (rice and beans)
There is a gully, where the gum tree's hide the bright moon (when it is out) and the children aren't around, between our favorite pub (Tides Inn) and our "hotel". At night time fireflies twinkle magically in the long grass, and it is quite beautiful if you hold your nose to block the stench of the stewing rubbish pile that is smoldering there. On some nights there was no moon and it is completely pitch black.
Emerging from that gully to go up the hill to our hotel it was rare to not be bombarded by the local kids who took quite a shine to us, because we span them around in our arms and gave them our leftover slices of bread from breakfast. I tried to get them to say different responses to "owareyou?" other than "imfine" but to no avail.