Rwenzori Gardens Guest House, Kasese, Uganda
We arrived in Kasese yesterday at Mama Stella (everyone calls her that) and Bishop Masereka’s house after a very, very long drive-- we left Entebbe at 9am and were told that the drive might take ten hours.
It’s 250 miles.
As it turned out, the drive took 8 hours and 40 minutes, due to the extraordinary caution of our driver and, perhaps, extreme fragility of the vehicle. When we arrived the bishop said it usually takes 5 or 5 ½ hours, so I am not exaggerating that we took our time. In any case, it’s good to be here.
Last night many of the staff from the BMCF (Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation) joined us for dinner, as well as a Swedish intern who’s staying with the Maserekas but working with a local group through a Swedish program. Small world! I even got to help translate. There seems to be more NGO activity here, but that might also just be because the signs are in English and not Swahili as they were in Tanzania.
Uganda is very linguistically diverse, with Luganda, the language spoken in the central region and around the capital as having a slim majority but with other related, but distinct, languages dominating in different regions. St Peter’s, Christ Church’s partner congregation. is composed mostly of folks who speak Luganda, so I have to keep reminding myself that this is a different place. Where we are the language is called Lusoga. Swahili is spoken in the north, somewhat, but because it’s also associated with Idi Amin, it’s not too popular otherwise.
The Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation is the project of Bishop Zebedee Masereka, who was bishop of the Rwenzori diocese, where we are now. Health issues had always been an interest of his, and his inspiration for starting the clinic was from a time when he was looking for medical treatment for his grandson but couldn’t find anywhere to take him. His wife, Stella, has many projects as well—she runs the guest house that hosts visitors to the foundation and others, as well as agricultural projects. She is an amazing cook and has something like 40 chickens AND grows her own vegetables and mushrooms. Power couple!
The BMCF’s mission is work on behalf of maternal/child health and orphans and other vulnerable children, which they do through two major programs: their health center and their children’s program. They are currently in the final stages of raising funds to build a hospital on the Western part of town (breaking ground in late summer 2013, hopefully), where Kasese is rapidly expanding. This will enable them to serve more rural populations as well as to substantially upgrade their facilities.
Touring today, it’s astonishing to see how much the clinic can accomplish with the resources they have. The incredibly talented Dr Daniel has been with the foundation for more than 6 years but is leaving soon to continue his studies in reconstructive surgery in South Africa, so they’ve recently taken on another doctor to catch up before Daniel leaves. The clinic has one incubator and have saved premature babies as small as 2 ½ pounds, and deliver healthy babies pretty much every day. They are able to do some lab work. but samples to be tested for rarer infectious diseases (you know, like EBOLA) have to be sent out to South Africa or Kenya.
The other astonishing part of their work is the children’s program. With her staff of 3, Ann provides nearly 360 degree mentoring, tuition relief, and tracking of students for year and years. Tomorrow we’re going on home visits with some of her outreach workers, so I’ll say more tomorrow. Today we talked to some of the teachers in the schools where BMCF works and we were all brought to tears on several occasions in hearing from these incredibly courageous young people who, with the deaths of their parents, seem to lose everything only to be picked up and nurtured and set back on their way. The tenacity with which Ann and her staff simply do not give up on the kids is, no exaggeration, a miracle.
Today during a meeting with stakeholders we heard from Caroline, whose parents both died of AIDS, leaving her and her two sisters alone. Her older sister had made it through school, but BMCF found her and got her back into school and encouraged her to study nursing. Having lost everything, she came for a while but then got frustrated and left. Even during the year and a half she left school, Ann and her team still kept calling still kept after her to come back. Finally, she did, and now works as a field officer for HIV counseling and testing. We heard story after story from teachers and students about how lives had been changed. Hardest to hear was about how they had to end the support for 55 students because one of the major donors (us—the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts’ Jubilee committee) cut funding. Because the Alewife deanery didn’t do the annual dinner and auction. So they described how they chose the students who were doing poorly and also had more advantages than others. They left the most vulnerable ones (even those who weren’t as successful) because they understood that they would have a harder time. We will work a lot harder this year.
Another thing we talked a lot about was transparency. Uganda is notoriously corrupt—Transparency International rates it a 2.4 (with 0 being the most corrupt and 10 the least). Every dollar here, though, goes where it’s supposed to go and goes as far as possible. Everything is accounted for and even, according to friends of the foundation, the corrupt politicians are afraid of Bishop Zeb!
More to come tomorrow—site visits and more learning about the children’s program. Good night.