Thursday, October 9, 2008

Return to Ulungu

The last three days, I have been in Ulungu, which is about 4 hours east of Nairobi. It was a treat for me, because this is one of the communities I visited last year when I was here on the HIV/AIDS learning tour. It was nice to go back to see familiar faces as well as the developments that have happened in the community over the past year. There were 12 of us who went from Nairobi, Mombasa (Kenya) and Uganda as part of an evaluation team. CRWRC started working in this community over seven years ago, and at this point in time, are assessing what the next few years will look like and if it is time or not to move on to another community. Ulungu has been paired up with a group of churches in Canada, and have been working together on projects like building a borehole for clean water, a nursery school, and a health clinic. (The picture above left is the current church and health clinic and the foundation for the new church they are building.)

I love the work they are doing because it is not just for the church, but it is for the entire community. On Tuesday, we had the chance to spend the entire day in the community.
They built a series of water kiosks where the community can access clean water. The photo on the right is Carole, my boss in Uganda, and I in front of the windmill they built that enables the water to be sent out to 12 water kiosks. A huge issue in the community pre-borehole was that people were having to spend all day walking to clean water and carrying it home. Can you imagine having to spend 7-8 hours every other day just trying to access clean water? The water kiosks, even though some are not working, have been a huge blessing to everyone. When the community realized the water was for everyone, not just church members, it made a big impact on the them in seeing that the local church cares for everyone, not just their own members. So the church has seen a huge rise in attendance, so much so that they have to construct a new building big enough to hold everyone.
Many people are contributing to the new building. People are giving what they can, even if it's not money. This picture is of a woman who was bringing bags of sand from her land to contribute to the foundation of the church. People donate whatever they have - sand, bricks, wood, even their crops that can be sold to pay for other materials. The church in Ulungu is such a
beautiful picture of what the church should be like: a church that is reaching out and caring about their community members, not for the sake of high attendance, but for the sake of loving people like Jesus commanded us to. They care for many Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC's) and the health clinic has benefited so many in that before, people were having to walk 50KM to the nearest health center, which is a challenge when you are healthy, and impossible when you are sick. It was a beautiful day spent with people who are working collaboratively to change their community for the better and was a blessing to all of us. On Wednesday, we spent all day assessing the work we had seen and began the process of making some recommendations to Ulungu and their partners in Canada about next steps.

During our time on Tuesday, we were split into groups of two and matched up with caregivers of local OVC's and sent out into the surrounding area for home visits.
One of my favorite things to do in Africa is to spend the day walking through the countryside visiting people in their homes. The landscape is always so rugged and often times we travel not on roads but small footpaths through farms, dried riverbeds, etc. It's just good to spend time with the people who live there, travel by foot as they travel, see and smell the surroundings they see and smell everyday, eat meals with them - just live life with them. It really is a gift every time I have a chance to do this. Another one of my favorite things about Africa is spending time with the local children. They're shy at first, but an easy way to break the ice is by taking their photo and showing it to them on the screen of the digital camera. Thank God for digital cameras! There's nothing like seeing the smile on a kids face as they see themselves on the screen. After our field visits on Tuesday, a group of OVC's (photo on the right) from different houses followed us back to the village center, and quickly became my new best friends. They couldn't get enough of having their photos taken,
and before I knew it, they had organized themselves into a line to have their individual photos taken. I've included a couple of pictures here, but encourage you to check out my flickr site, which you can access it by clicking on the flickr logo to the right of the screen. I don't know if it's because I had spent time with these kids, or what, but these are some of my favorite photos I've taken so far and can't help but smile when I look at them.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Kenya which is a nice surprise. A couple from Canada, Dave and Crystal, have been with us since Saturday evening, so I think the three of us will visit the Nairobi National Museum tomorrow which will be fun and a nice break. Crystal works for CRWRC in Canada and Dave is just traveling with her for fun. On Monday, we leave for Mombasa along with Amy, the bridger from Kenya, where I'll spend some time with Joyce, who is the HIV/AIDS coordinator for that area. She was at the evaluation in Ulungu this week and I had a chance to talk with her some about our time next week and am looking forward to seeing some kinds of HIV/AIDS programming I have not yet seen. I'm also excited because we'll get to spend my birthday on Monday next to the ocean. There is no place I would rather be than next to the water, so this will be the perfect place to spend my second birthday in Africa. Then Thursday, I'm off to Zambia for a week and then back to Uganda before I return to the U.S. As always, thanks for reading!

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