When I got the offer for the EUAV positions a Senior Volunteer in Resilience Building and Project Management in Kampala and Gulu in Uganda, I was over the moon. I felt proud and challenged to have the opportunity to share my skiils and knowledge with members of a community so far and different form the ones I had lived in until that moment and thrilled to challenge myself in a new environment, hence getting out of a more or less comfort zone. And for a good cause.
I did not know much about Uganda and Africa in general but I did know my sending NGO, Mondo and I had always appreciated their needs and activities in cooperation and development all around the globe. Mondo staff members had that plus aspect of having being directly involved in the field,- they are still very active, before embracing the EUAV Project.
In Uganda more precisely I will be working with three local organizations: -KDI, Kampala Disabled Organization - a tailoring group composed of women and men with disabilities - Trust Future Uganda - a nursery and primary school for vunarable children, active also in social empowerment fro vulnarable young women- and KIFAD Uganda, about whom I will talk longer later - in Kampala , Ugandan capital, while I will be spending a month in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, supporting another tailoring group called "Logoro Tutte". Being my skills stronger in photography, videography and design, the project was slightly changed and focused rather on social media marketing and in providing visual materials for them to use to market themselves and grow as organizations.
I arrived to Uganda on September the 4th. The first days were immediatley pretty intense. And from now on I switch to the present tense. Our apartment is in Nansana, a growing hub town in Wakiso district, just out of Kampala’s northern bypass. It is located few hundred meters from the main road, Hoima road, which leads north to Wakiso and then Hoima. It is a crowded and dusty area with a proliferating market life, many shops of all kinds and nice and less nice pubs and clubs.
The most shocking experience at the beginning was entering a matatu, or taxi, as they called it officially here. They are local minibuses, the cheapest way of transportation but also the slowest one, because of the continuous stops and the big jams Kampala suffers from. Because of my claustrophobia I could not board one the first time, since the only free place was in the back, with no access to any window or door. Only few times I managed to be in one without almost having a panick attack; they also love to fill them up beyond immagination and most of the times there were more than the allowed fourteen passegers. Boda bodas, the local transportanrtion on two wheels are everywhere and they are faster, less safe and more expensive. Nonetheless since few years both Taxify and Uber offers a safer boda service, and moreover Safe Boda App, a new startup initiated in Nairobi, offers a cheaper service and safer drivers, providing you even with a nice plastic orange helmet.
Nansana is full of nursery and primary schools and thus of course of children. Being called a Mzungu- "white man" in swahili, has soon become part of my daily life. Our apartment is surrounded by local families with children who love to speak to us and ask for flowers or guavas fruit from our trees. It is still hard to get all of their names, but Melanie and her friends are among the smartest and sweetest ones. It is always a pleasure to come back home and being greeted by them in English, while from time to time they try to teach me some Luganda language. Native Lounge a nice place with amazing Congolese -Lingala- live music on Fridays. Precious, one of the waitress, already confessed she loves us, the first time we visited the place.
Already the first weekend I managed to visit the Nyege Nyege music festival, one of the biggest festivals in Africa, in Jinja, Eastern Uganda, about 70 kms from Kampala. It is held since four years Amazing location near the source of river Nile, a spacious and green place with amazing vibes, floods of dances and twerking, African music from Ghana, Uganda, Congo, German minimalistic techno and even a Latvian band.There I started appreciating the beauty of Uganda and Ugandans, I learnt how to drink the local gin, unflavoured or coconut flavoured, making a version of Gin tonic together with tonic or krest ( to be avoided), managed to eat chicken bones at 3 am under a tent and fell asleep in the middle of the food square, offering my body to the mosquitos,drove back on a boda boda with a friend avoiding the morning jam. And there I Iearnt that lifting the eyebrow does not mean flirting at all, it simply means yes can even be a greeting.
You oughta love Uganda.
Among the many activities I have been involved through the project and beyond it, I'd like to highlight the empowerement programs KIFAD (Kiyita Aliance fro the Family) Uganda carries out in the district of Wakiso and Buikwe. I had the pleasure to document succesful stories of vulnarable women, men anc children helped out by the local NGO and hence to visit the villages around Kampala to get to know how these vulnarable people managed to ameliorate their life abd boost their self-confidence and position in the society while becoming also a model for the others.
Briefly KIFAD (Kiyita Family Alliance for Development) is a local Ugandan non-governmental organisation which supports local communities, mainly in rural Uganda, especially the ones exposed to HIV and AIDS in Wakiso District. KIFAD was established in 2001 with Headquarters located at Bulabakulu Village, Banda Parish, Mende Sub county, Wakiso District Uganda. Its birth was in light of the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS and its adverse socioeconomic impact with the aim of contributing to increased access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care and Support to People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and Orphans Vulnerable Children (OVCs) in Wakiso District.
Kifad has opearted at the beginning through home visits & counselling, condom distribution, free HIV testing, while later developping more long terms projects of local rural cevelopment and community empoweremnt, offering courses in tailoring, design and carpentry, and much more. Nowdays KIFAD run 7 key programmes which are: Health Care programme, Socio-economic Strengthening programme, Food Security and Nutrition programme, Child Protection programme, Psychosocial Support programme, Early Childhood Development Programme, Youth and Adolescent Programme.
In the past months KIFAD has positively developped a programme together with the Buikwe Local Council and Health Center. Buikwe is a very problematic district due to the increase of HIV cases and Early Pregnancies. Poverty, lack of education and the presence of commuting and seasonal workers in the plantations are the main causes behind it. Among the many case I heard of and the households visited, one still resonates in my mind, and it is the case of Joan.
First time I visited Joan at the beginning of December, I was supposed to take a short interview and film her, but she was not feeling very good, depresions and insecurity for the future were oppressing her and she burst into a cry, soothed only by Judith, KIFAD project manager in Buikwe. Joan is a 15 years old pregnant woman, leaving with her alchoolic mother and left behind by her biological father.
Here her story through her own words:
"My name is Joan, I live in Buikwe, I got pregnant when I was out of my home. I was working in town together with my friend. What made me to go away and to work away was that I had an argument with my mother...It was hard to get school fees from my mum, she would give themn at time, some other times she would say she does not have anything, she was not taking care of me.
Than I started working and the type of job I was doing was from 5pm until late late evening I had nothing to do but to work, I would wake up at 5am and go to school. I started dating a guy, I spent sometime loving each other, I told him all my problems, he was a student himself in Senior 6. I told him everything concerning my home, we lived together, tha 8th of may last year, I slept with him and I got pregnant, I was supposed to go back to school in June. My mother continued me to search for me and called me, so I stopped working and I decided to go back home. I did not know yet I was pregnant.
Once home I started not feeling well,so they took me to the hosital. They checked me and found out I was pregnant. They tried to tell it tomy mother in law. She just quarrelled that her son is still young and that his father, once he will know about the pregnancy, will refuse to give him school fees. She advised to take me for abortion. Than I refused to go for abortion and it is when all the problems started. They said that if I refuse to abort than it means the child is not ours...."
Her soft voice betrayed the suffering she has gone through, yet this experience, although painful in many respects, has given her greater confidence in herself. KIFAD has been close to Joan from the beginning, supporting her economically and psychologically. It should not be forgotten that an early pregnancy is socially stigmatized and the supporting intervention should not be limited to "simply" economic, but also to focusing on reconstituting the beneficiary's position in the social fabric and on the individual psychological situation.
Soon Joan will also be able to retrain her passion and take time to improve her tailoring skills so that she can have a future job that would support her. and her family. I met Joan again in March, a few days after giving birth. The smile had reappeared on his face. Just like on the faces of many women, men and girls and children who find themselves in situations of extreme vulnerability.
There is so much to do, but also many people who are actively committed to breaking the poverty- loop that unfortunately continues from generation to generation in Uganda. I was very lucky and glad in having the opportunity to get in touch with committed people, to challenge myself in a new environment, to understand what I can do and what my limitations are; certainly this experience represented a strong point in my personal and professional life, a stephold on which to build further.
First months of my deployment at KIFAD were definitely full of experience and challenges. They all allowed me to challenge my previous working experiences with the context of a developing country as well as learn a lot about Uganda itself. The women and men and children I had the pleasure to meet and spend some time have really stayed with me up to now and gave me a deeper understanding of the reason why visual documentation and storytelling can be so powerful."