When we decided we wanted to travel to Africa we first booked the 24-day overland camping tour in Southern Africa. We knew we wanted to do something else in Africa and I was really hoping to get back to East Africa. We weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to do but we were hoping to do something that didn’t involve just being tourists.
We wanted to meet local people, understand how they lived and the challenges they faced everyday. My Uncle Dick and our great friend Sr. Toni strongly encouraged us to travel to Uganda and visit some of the many project that Microfinancing Partners in Africa (MPA) are involved in. This is an organization that is near and dear to our hearts and that we have been involved in for several years. MPA helps fund microfinancing projects in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. They put us in contact with Fr. Peter, a priest who works for Carritas MADDO in Masaka, Uganda. MPA works directly with Carritas MADDO and helps fund several of their projects. Fr. Peter wrote us back and said that they would love to welcome us in Masaka. We didn’t have much further communication, except that he would personally pick us up at the airport and we would stay at the MADDO Social Center. Therefore, we headed to Uganda without knowing exactly what we would be doing for the next 3-weeks or what our accommodation would be like but we trusted it would all work out.
And everything has worked out wonderfully. Fr. Peter welcomed us at the airport with a huge smile and a contagious laugh. It was much appreciated since Wes’s bag had not arrived and we were already dealing with the sometimes complicated African way of doing things. We arrived at the Social Center at almost 1am (after an interesting 4 hour drive) but were greeted the next morning by all the staff members. Everyone kept saying, “you are most welcome.” This is a phrase we have heard repeatedly throughout the last two weeks. We love the Social Center and all the people here, they go above and beyond to take care of us! We have our own private room and bathroom, it’s not luxury but it meets all our needs. We eat breakfast here every morning which consists of eggs, white bread and tiny sweet bananas. I can always count on breakfast being good and I know it won’t hurt my stomach. We sometimes eat lunch and dinner at the Social Center as well, depending on what we have going on. It took several days for our stomachs to adjust to the food (Wes had two REALLY rough days) but I think we are pretty accustomed at this point.
When we first arrived we had a meeting with several members of MADDO and Fr. Peter and Fr. George had drafted a schedule for our stay in Masaka. We went through it and made some changes based off of our specific interests and also added a few fun things such as a wedding in Kampala (this Saturday, stay tuned for pictures of our traditional outfits) and a trip the Lake Mburo National Park. So basically we have something scheduled everyday that we are here, which is fantastic for me because I love schedules and to be busy! Our main focus is seeing all the aspects of the two projects that MPA has helped fund, the cow project and the new piglet project. So we have spent several days driving all over the place into rural villages visiting women who have already received a piglet and then also delivering piglets. The women receiving these piglets are women who have had surgery to repair fistulas, which they developed during traumatic labors. These women have gut wrenching stories that will break your heart into pieces. Wes plans to share more about their stories in the next post. They have often lost their baby during the birthing process, many of their husbands have left them and they are often rejected by society. But with the help of the surgeons at Kitovu Hospital, their fistulas have been repaired and now they are receiving the hope of generating some income from their new pig! The woman who is given the pig is instructed to form a group with two other women. As a group they raise the one pig. Once their pig is old enough it can get pregnant and then the original woman gives one pig to each of her group members and then can sell the remaining babies. Once the group member’s pig gives birth they are each required to give one pig back to MADDO which successfully pays off the loan of the original pig. We have seen mixed emotions/reactions when delivering the pigs. Some women are very timid and soft spoken and others are clapping, smiling and kneeling on the ground to thank us! Many women have also wanted to give us gifts…we have received pumpkins, oranges, apple berries, papaya, woven bowls and one woman even used a machete to cut down a banana tree for us so that we could take a huge bunch of bananas. It’s hard to accept these gifts because we really haven’t done anything, but we accept them on all the people of MPA’s behalf. These trips have open our eyes to conditions that these women are living in and the many challenges that they face everyday! I have gone through a range of emotions and am still processing all my thoughts.
The second part of our time in Masaka we will be learning more about the cow project. Currently MPA raises funds to buy a pregnant cow. This cow is then given to a family in need to generate some income. Through the sales of milk and other plants, which the fertilizer stimulates, they will earn a respectable income. They in turn give the calf back to MADDO, and the process continues to other families in need. Talk about sustainability! So far we have visited the MADDO dairy where they collect the milk (from the farmers whom they have given cows to), pasteurize, package & distribute milk and yogurt. We have also visited one of their other collection centers and the breeding farm. The whole operation and way of “giving loans” is a very impressive way of giving to those in need. Today we visited four different farmers who have been given cows and a biogas system. It was extremely interesting to learn about and to see how it has impacted their lives! The biogas allows the family to have one gas burner and one light for their house. Prior to having the biogas the women did all of their cooking over a fire outside (can you imagine). Having a gas burner saves them so much time when preparing food. They don’t have to collect fire wood everyday or wait for their fire to burn well before they can start preparing food. These women seemed so happy to have their biogas burner. I used to complain constantly about my 1940s stove/oven but tonight I am very grateful for that stove and can’t wait to use it when I get home! We have much more to learn about the cow project and I plan to share more about it once we seen a bit more in the next couple of days. So all and all our time in Uganda so far has been wonderful, we are learning so much and our hearts are growing more than we ever imagined!