Gorilla Trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Our drive from Lake Mburo took around 6 hours and is mostly due to the appalling state of the roads in most of rural Uganda. Some appear to have never been graded and most are deeply rutted and potholed. Even surfaced roads are covered in multiple speed bumps and allow little respite from bumps. (Ladies, a sports bra is a must, or you’ll spend most of your time clutching ‘the girls’ as they’re jolted mercilessly on your travels!)

Thankfully, our 4WD Landcruiser handled everything and our driver Baker was amazing at getting us everywhere safely.

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A Visit to a Child Bride in Mbarara

The Mbarara Epicentre was our next stop on our tour with The Hunger Project (THP.)

Set in lush green hills flanked by towering mountains, it’s a spectacular backdrop for the centre.

Daisy, the Country Director of THP told us that this was where God sat when he made the rest of the earth. I’m inclined to agree.

After a winding walk through magnificent country not far from the Epicentre, we found the home of Rosette (now 34) and her husband Christoph (41.)

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Rosette was 15 when she was married to the handsome businessman, then 21. She is a strikingly attractive woman, dressed in a matching blue top and skirt and was obviously quite house proud and not shy to share her story with us. A dowry of 750, 000 shillings changed hands (about USD$250, or the value of a cow.). Her first child Edith, was born when she was 16 followed the next year by Victor.  Asked if she was afraid of marriage so young, she said that she wasn’t really as she viewed it as the end of her childhood and the start of life as a married woman.

The legal age for marriage in Uganda is 18, but child marriages are still common, especially in rural areas.

They now have 6 children, having added Darius, Owen, Jonan and another to the family. Edith is now 16 in P7. She likes maths and wants to be an accountant. Victor wants to be a Doctor.

When asked if she’d like Edith to be married young, she replied that no, she wants her to wait til she’s finished her schooling at 28!

Happily for Rosette, things have turned out well. Christoph sells coffee beans to a factory and can provide a basic lifestyle for his large family. They have a modest but clean home and raise poultry amongst the banana and coffee plantations lining the hills. When asked if Christoph loves his wife, he replied ‘too much’ leaving us to all awwww at his admission.

Another woman seated in the crowd there to welcome our arrival was Caroline. She too was a child bride, married at 14 and is now 24. Her husband is four years older than her. Her first child was born when she was 15 and she was nursing baby Henry, her 4th child, while we spoke. Like Rosette, she too was excited to be a married woman.

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These concepts that seem so foreign to us are ‘just another day’ stories here.

Thankfully THP is in the area now, and providing Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) classes, a health centre, food bank and Microfinance for those also looking to improve their lot. Rosette and Christoph are thinking of joining soon.

The Moth and the Cocoon

The Moth and the Cocoon

A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth and he took it home to watch it emerge. On the day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Deciding something was wrong, the man took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily, but it’s body was swollen and wings small and shrivelled.

The man expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body in its natural beauty, but they do not. Instead of developing into the creature free to fly, the moth spent its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings.

The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. The merciful snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes struggle is exactly what we need in our life.

Author Unknown

This story I first discovered in my handbook for my Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program to Uganda with The Hunger Project and I found it really resonated with me.

In the context of this trip, I feel that it relates to the struggle that takes place when The Hunger Project first heads into the villages to meet with the elders and discuss the work they do. For two years they work to create a vision of what is required for that community, with a huge shift in mindset being required.

The local villagers need to take complete ownership of what they’d like to create and THP helps facilitate. To get people to shift from generations of chronic, persistent hunger to believing better things are possible, is monumental, and not embraced by everyone.

Each of the lovely ladies, or Trippers, too on this journey have their own struggles. Each has a unique family, personal or work situation that requires energy and focus.

Like the moth however, we too need to recognise that often freedom and flight will come after the struggle.

A great lesson and really fitting on this journey.

Visiting villages in Kiruhura, Uganda

Our afternoon saw us invited into the homes of some local villagers not associated with The Hunger Project (THP.)

Our first host, Jane was a widow with three children. Since her husband died, she works doing casual labour to provide for her family, surviving on less than $1 per day.

She invited us into her home, a mud hut with two small rooms. The first room, a dark sitting room ended up hosting around 16 people as she answered our questions about her difficult life.

We passed through her bedroom, which consisted only of a filthy mattress where the whole family slept. I seriously would not let my dog sleep in such conditions.  Her children were dirty, clothed in rags, clearly malnourished and unwell.

Out the back, by the cooking pit, we were joined by Margaret who had 7 children and told us her story. Children were shelling peas at her feet and a small pig was caged behind the kitchen area.

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Each day is a struggle, with hard labour and childminding, with no assistance and no respite.

Mary next asked us to visit her home. She and her husband had six children with one of her sons in boarding school. She told us that they will often go to bed hungry to ensure they can pay the school fees.  The focus and priority placed on education is outstanding.

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Her home was a little larger than Jane’s and she was a hospitable host, offering us refreshment tho she had little to spare.

After another bus ride to an even more remote area, we came to Evaline’s home, and her story profoundly impacted many of us.

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Evaline’s husband abandoned her when their third child was 9 months old, even selling their mattress for cash before he left. In the understatement of the day, she told us, ‘he wasn’t a very caring man.’ She hasn’t seen him since. She has now been diagnosed with allergies, tho she’s not sure to what, but her skin is often itchy and sore. She also has been diagnosed with syphillis but can’t afford the tablets that cost $1 each, let alone transport to the distant clinic where they’re supplied.

Evaline also stays up many nights to do a local brew to supplement her income which she can sell for $3. This can take up to six hours to complete so she is often exhausted also surviving on little sleep. She’s thinking of not sending her children back to school next week as it’s just too expensive to buy the pencils and books on her limited income.

These three women we’d met had all heard of The Hunger Project, but weren’t actively involved due to health and transport issues. They’re able however if needed to access the health centre and services provided such as Functional Adult Literacy classes and learn about Income Generating Activities, all available at the Epicentre.

The contrast between these three women and those who have embraced the principles of THP were startling!

Kiruhura Epicenter lays it on for the visiting Business Chicks

Well it’s not often you arrive to the energy, colour and fanfare of a brass band welcome but this is exactly what awaited us when arriving at the Kiruhura epicentre in South Western Uganda.

Despite the light rain, hundreds from the local community in the local catchment area of The Hunger Project epicentre, were there to welcome the Business Chicks from Australia, and more kept arriving throughout the day.

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Dancers from the Functional Adult Literacy classes sang their thanks to us for funding. Other dancers expressed welcome and joy at our visit. Small children clambered to sit on the laps of the visitors and quickly stole our hearts.

imageWe split into four groups to meet with committee members and be given a tour of the amazing work THP is doing for the area. This centre also has the added distinction of being the first to head to self-reliance, likely meeting this target in the coming twelve months.

A few years of the girls and I were assigned to the group to learn about IGA or Income Generating Activities and we discussed the 9 ways that are utilised to create profit, most of these being agriculturally based. The centre grows and sells food, seeds and is even planning a hostel to charge visitors who come a long way, a modest fee to stay.

The committee members all personally introduced themselves and explained the volunteer nature of the work they do at the Centre, as animators, and farmers. All were rightly proud of the part they’ve played in the area’s success.

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This centre is truly something special and their greenhouse, irrigation displays, piggery, grafting facility, milling rooms and farms were an example to all the area.

This centre also houses a rural bank for Microfinance and a health centre, food bank and meeting rooms.

Around 1000 from the local community turned out for speeches to farewell the chairman of the past 8 years and gift 20 animators bicycles to help assist them reach further in their work.

More celebrations, group dances and song wrapped up an amazing welcome for the visiting Business Chicks to Kiruhura.

A visit to the Namayumba Epicentre in Uganda

Well, today we started our trip on the road to visit the Namayumba epicentre, a couple of hours west of Kampala.

We jumped on the bus in high spirits ready to finally see firsthand the work that all our fundraising monies have been put towards, and it was really rewarding.

We split into three groups to tour the centre, first visiting the nurse’s quarters and the health centre. These lovely ladies assist with vaccinations, HIV counselling and basic treatments required. The centre itself is equipped with rooms for a children’s wing, male and female wards, treatment wings and counselling rooms. At present, one Dr Paul is on duty and the recruitment process is underway for more healthcare workers.

Our next stop was the nursery school, but many children are currently on holidays. Little Josephine was the only girl amongst all the boys but they were happy to break into song and do an impromptu dance as well. Their friendly faces and curiosity were gorgeous. We sang Twinkle Twinkle little Star for them to say Thank You.

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Tearing ourselves away from their epic cuteness and their 15 year old volunteer teacher, we next stopped at the rural bank to see Microfinance in action.

Four women had arrived at the centre for the first time, and we’re waiting for loans to improve their small businesses. The local branch manager Stella gave us a great tour of their small facility.

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We then met in the epicentre directors office, checked out the clean water facilities, viewed the crops on site and planted our trees, leaving our permanent gift to the Namayumba epicentre – mine was an avocado tree.

Next followed a fabulous welcome to their meeting hall with energetic dancing and music, where many local committee members, animators for The Hunger Project and government officials welcomed the Business Chicks in an official ceremony.

Focus groups were next on the Agenda and I landed Women’s Empowerment – and it was brilliant to see how proud the girls were of their accomplishments; share their hopes and dreams for their children and future and we especially loved how the men were so supportive of their wives efforts.

The other group covered HIV/AIDS and the Ugandans were surprised to learn the disease occurs in Australia too. Much is being done to promote testing, and provide counselling. Health & Sanitation was the focus for the final group which discussed its services in educating the community to hygiene issues, nutrition and maternal health.

Finally, it was time to cuddle some babies, board the bus and say goodbye before the epic ride of six and a half hours to Mbarara, our home for the next few days.

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The Gang’s All Here! Let the Adventures Begin…

Well, yesterday saw the arrival of all the gorgeous girls joining us on our adventure with The Hunger Project.

All have undertaken a personal journey to be here and have had to commit to raising the $10,000 in fundraising… No mean feat.

We shared a lovely welcome dinner last night and settled in for a big sleep prior to kick-off today.  A club over the road however blasted away til about 4 am making a full nights’ sleep a little difficult.

After another great breakfast and gorgeous sky started our day, and we headed off for our leadership program to begin.

Today started with a brilliant dance session by a talented Ugandan group who had us all shaking our tail feathers after receiving our gorgeous gifts of scarves and skirts.

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We then settled in to learn lessons in leadership, forged closer bonds with our fellow travellers, and heard from the local country director, Daisy who inspired us with the work done in the epicentres around the southern part of Uganda, some of those we’ll visit on our travels.

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We’ve been encouraged to dream, confront our fears, be mindful, respectful and challenged as to how we truly listen.

Making the most of this journey will involve being open to the new, letting go of past beliefs and future expectations and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

After the confront of yesterday’s paper, today’s ran a 20 page feature focussed on Mother’s Day – reminding some of us of the babies we’ve parted with to be on this journey and restoring faith that motherhood is a gift, and a usually, a universally appreciated one.

And we’re all completely loving the buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It seems so surreal that surrounded by such luxury and comfort that we’re actually here to visit some of the most marginalised people on earth… not that far away…

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