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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A rather grey day in Kampala

I woke up this morning to a slightly grey and drizzly day but figured a lazy wander, a massage and a chill out were well overdue.

After brekky (a generous American style buffet) I headed back to my room to sort through the spa menu and book my relaxing Swedish massage.  That done, settled down to read the local paper… and the confrontation for me began.

I had some giggles at the local celeb news and some lost in translation moments, noted an announcement on page 6 that David Cameron was re-elected in the UK, and read advice from Dear Abby (actually Penny) to a wife put more ‘space, time and aroma’ into her sex life so hubby won’t be so hooked on porn (leaving me a little baffled.)

I then came across the Children section.  This area of the paper is much like we’d use for the loss of our dearly beloved pets, notices of abandoned or found animals, the RSPCA begging for homes for those less fortunate… only with real live people.

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A baby had been abandoned in the rain, a five year old was searching for his folks and thirteen and fifteen year old kids had been turned over to the local police hoping to be reunited with their parents.  A childcare centre in Mbarara (a district we head to on this visit) is seeking good Samaritans to take care of the babies they’re currently housing as their parents are too physically or mentally ill to raise them.  Others are orphaned, many abandoned.

Knowing the steps many friends have gone through to become parents, and not always successfully, it reinforces again how antiquated the Australian adoption laws are and the amazing work some people do everyday to bring a little joy and stability into the lives of others. It’s so easy to take so much for granted.

Even the local classified section runs notices from lost log books to abandoned babies.

imageI confess its left me rather flat and even being basted from head to toe in olive oil for my massage didn’t help me recover.  I feel like I should be stuffed with garlic, covered in spices and baked as ‘the other white meat’ for someone’s dinner.

Anyway, I guess this is just the beginning of what’s ahead for the coming week.

The remaining Trippers all arrive in the coming couple of hours, so it will be great to catch the rest of the crew.  In the meantime, I think a walk through the grounds may just do me some good.

The Countdown is On!

Well it’s only a week til I board the plane and head off to Africa to participate in the Business Chicks Immersion & Leadership Program.

Yesterday saw me in ‘freak out’ mode with a missing passport and cancelled flights, but all’s well that ends well.  Passport found including Uganda visa and yellow fever certificate, flights rebooked and all back on track.

A lovely little parcel arrived today too with a handmade notebook by the village partners to use as our journal on our trip along with the details of our Immersion Program and introductions to all the gorgeous girls who will accompany me on our adventure.

Business Chicks, like those going on this trip, and The Hunger Project believe that by supporting developing women leaders and creating a space for them to connect and stretch, they can make a difference in the world.  Empowering women to be leaders in turn can help solve one of the biggest humanitarian issues of our time, hunger.

Hunger isn’t just a problem for those suffering from it, but a global issue that requires new ideas, thinking, partnership and ways to solve the underlying issues.

I’m so looking forward to being part of this journey, lending a hand and learning from each other, being part of something bigger, and finding a place where it’s safe to give anything a go!

I’m sure I’m going to learn so much more than I can possibly bring to the table on this trip.

Bring it on!

“Have Courage and be Kind”

Well my teenage daughter went and saw Cinderella with her girlfriends, shed a little tear over the magic and was determined to drag me off and see it for myself.

I wasn’t sure really what to expect.  This is one of those tales that you just don’t remember the first time you heard it, you just always have known the story and grown up with the romance of it. And it’s magical!

Right up til you’re bullied and bitten in kindy and no fairy godmother shows up, or your manic depressive mother drums into you that life isn’t easy, there is no magic, no handsome prince or happy ever after.  A wedding is just dress ups for one day and marriage is shit.  But still, there’s a part of you that hopes, that wants to believe… One day…

I fell in love with Helena Bonham Carter (and her eyebrows) playing a young Serena in a Hazard of Hearts, alongside the very dashing Justin Vulcan of Mandrake (a terrible Barbara Cartland romance that still appealed to my hopeful 16 year old soul) and thought she was a great fairy godmother for Cinderella – I’d have her any day!  And the fact that she’s a wizz at shoes is a definite bonus!

Cate Blanchett, another favourite, is spectacular in taking on the role that ruined life for stepmothers everywhere.  Beautifully elegant, yet bitter and twisted and the reminder that life isn’t always easy.  You can choose to be cruel and manipulative… or not… But it’s Cinderella’s choice, to ‘have courage and be kind’ despite all adversity she’d faced, that is the beautiful theme that shone throughout this movie.

For Cindy, the magic ended at midnight after the ball; life was still more than a drudge but there were choices to be made.  To live in joy with the memories, enjoy the company of friends, and sing, just because you can… or not. And hey, who knows? Some days, things just do go your way!

I do hope her prince doesn’t snore and fart loudly and leave grubby hunting gear and undies on the floor, but if you can be happy in the face of adversity, I guess it’s just as easy to be happy in the palace…

A little bit of life… according to Amanda