Here’s a quick update regarding my first five days in Uganda. As I write below, sending e-mails is difficult. At the school where I am staying, I only have electricity for a short time and the internet is incredibly slow. It takes me 15 minutes from pressing send on one message to where I can open another message. Here’s a brief description of what I’ve done so far.
I’m working in a small school, pre-k to grade 7, developing sustainable resource systems and teaching about sustainability, so I’m part engineer, part educator. I spent all of yesterday designing a rainwater harvesting system, including meeting with a contractor to design a gutter system (who didn’t consider that at one point he had the water running uphill; I want to see his final plans), shopping for pumps (we found one that kids can stand on and pump by moving their legs up and down. I think they will enjoy doing it), ordering a 5,000 liter plastic water storage tank, and tubing to get the water from the gutters to the storage tank and then from the storage tank to an existing tank 20 feet above the ground. When school is in session, I’m teaching them about photovoltaic systems, energy, sustainability, and the energy cycle. However, I think my hosts are more impressed with my engineering than teaching ability!
Not surprising, the inequality and poverty here is incredible. Most people seem to live by selling goods on the street. Most travel either by taxi (15 people in a mini-van) or by motorcycle (5% wear helmets). The cyclists and cars weave in and out of the traffic, which is worse than anywhere I’ve seen, the potholes have potholes, and it’s amazing that I haven’t seen any accidents. However, I’m told that 85% of the patients in hospitals are cyclists. I believe it.
There are basically three school systems here: a private one for the few wealthy, a public one for everyone else, and private schools run by missions or, like my school, run by people who just really care. The school I am in is private, but 30 of the 200 students live at the school because their parents have died from HIV-AIDs, and the others come for whatever they can afford. Essentially, it is because the teachers work for almost nothing that their students are able to attend. The school has few resources. It is only because I came with a suitcase of supplies that the school now has crayons, pencil sharpeners, mirrors, and some more books.
Because the school can’t afford electricity purchased from the city utility (I think the rates are several times what we pay in Rochester), several years ago they installed with the help of AHEAD Energy (Ben and MJ Ebenhack from UR engineering) a solar powered electrical system. However, it is inadequate for their needs and they can only run electricity at night, so no refrigerators or running hot water. My bedroom has no electrical outlets and one overhead light. They heat hot water on the stove for my bath and I can use my computer during the day for only as long as the battery lasts. It’s one thing to talk about global inequality; it’s another to experience it.
However, the people I stay with are wonderful, they take care of everything, including hand washing my clothes and ironing them with an iron heated by charcoal. I’m awakened around 6 A.M. by the roosters that live on the school grounds.
I did discover two days ago that only a half mile down the road, the old US embassy was turned into a hotel and recreation facility for visiting Americans, and ex-pats. Membership is only $20 per week, so I joined. I have my computer plugged in and am writing and will send this document from there.
The first night I stopped at the bar to watch the French Open (TV!) and got into conversations with lots of people who are interested in the project. I have a dentist stopping by the school on Monday, who wants to see if he can help out on future visits to Uganda. I returned last night to send e-mails, work out in the gym, and, again, watch some tennis on TV. Today I played several sets of tennis on the clay courts. It is entirely weird to go from living at a subsistence level at the school and walking a short distance down the road if you are an American having access to hot showers, television, and clay tennis courts. On the one hand it feels hypocritical to be here enjoying European standards of living. On the other, it’s good to take advantage of using my computer for an extended period of time (it’s almost recharged!) and sending more than two e-mails in half an hour.
Tomorrow, it’s back to teaching in the school (grades 3 and 4) and planning lessons for the rest of the week. If you would like to help out in any way (additional supplies, money, volunteering at the school), contact either me or MJ Ebenhack at AHEAD Energy (585-275-7429-7429).
To read more about my previous blog in this series on Uganda, please visit the following web link: http://warnerperspectives.org/?p=659