January 24th, 2022
Celebrating 3 years of KEGS
It’s Monday, January 24th and there’s excitement in the air. If you’ve read the website, www.empowerkitojo.com you will learn that Lucky’s dream began in 2016 with a vocational school for older girls to give them options in this area for a better life. Most women end up working in the rock quarries which is back breaking work for meagre financial return. The women that resort to doing this awful work due to lack of opportunities, each receive about 300 shillings a tub and can fill 4 to eight tubs a day – that’s less than a dollar a tub.
Kitojo Vocational School began with a few sewing and knitting machines and gave young women another option. In 2018 the dream of a primary school began and it opened January 2019. Today was the celebration of third anniversary of this achievement. Nearly 140 girls from primary 1 through 6 are learning English and the government curriculum and many life skills.
Sidebar: since we arrived in Uganda, we have been unable to connect to FaceBook or receive Messenger messages. After a few hours, Fran googled it and it turns out it was blocked back during the last elections but if we turned a VPN on, we could access it.
The day started cloudy but as we made the 25 minute drive from Kabale to the school up in the hills, the sky cleared and we were above the clouds.
While waiting for things to get going, Doug brought out his balloon bag however, he does not have enough balloons for 200 girls so he asked Deborah to have some girls come over and he taught her to play “Deborah says” (like Simon Says) and the winner of each round would get a balloon.
Before the “event” began, Frank and Antje, the other international sponsors, from Germany, arrived, and we met them for the first time. They become involved last year and are currently assisting with the building of an orphanage across the road from the school. They too, believe in Lucky and his dream.
A marching band had volunteered to help celebrate and they lead most of the girls (some were too young to walk for 4km), some parents, the teachers, us four international guests and other staff in a two hour parade.
Lucky had arranged for two police officers to lead and watch over the parade as were taking up the entire width of the narrow dirt roads.
As is common in Africa (much like Latin America) things started about a half hour late. We had arranged for a videographer including a drone to film the festivities and look forward to seeing the finished mini documentary Jacob will create about KEGS. He will do some background filming as well as interviewing us, the Germans (Frank and Antje), Lucky and some of the girls to complete the story.
Upon returning to the school after the 4km parade march, a light breakfast (bread, boiled eggs and tea) was served to the VIPS (a few community and church officials had arrived by this time) as well as the four sponsors, in the new primary 6 classroom that we had fundraised for.
By 11:30 we were all invited across the road to the orphanage property where the rest of the events would take place. First thing was a ribbon cutting ceremony with Doug, Lucky, Frank and five other VIPS all holding a pair of scissors, cutting a ribbon beneath an archway to signify the opening and all the guests were seated.
There were several more VIP’s by this time, representing local and district governments, PTA leaders and the Board of Directors and the guest of honour, a female politician. We all sat beneath one tent cover and there was another tent for “lesser” VIPs, two for the parents and the children all sat in the open.
The ceremony had an MC – a woman from a local radio station who spoke very well and did some translations throughout the day. There were loudspeakers, microphones and DJ’s.
Many speeches and prayers from various religious leaders (most of which we couldn’t understand) were given and children performed songs and dances between every second speech.
The Head Girl of the Primary school spoke as well as the Head Girl of the Vocational School and our university student, Deborah spoke with much poise and confidence – withoutnotes!
Lucky gave a very emotional speech which he cut short due to time; Doug gave one addressing students, parents and what he called the “facilitators” (board members, community members, staff etc.); Antje gave one on behalf of her and Frank.
A tree of hope was then planted:
There was a “cake dance” around the table with the cake on it and it was cut – again with several people’s hands on the knife.
Afterwards, the cake was cut into many small pieces so everyone got a couple of bits.
The festivities ended at 3 pm (instead of 1:30) after a second song from the Parents’ choir and a dance began where many of the guests joined in.
It was now time to head back to the school grounds for a huge celebratory lunch. A cow and other food had been donated and everyone ate too much!
After lunch Jacob wanted to do film some interviews with the international sponsors, Lucky and some of the girls for his video. He took us off school grounds so there was no background noise.
We drove Deborah back to the university and she showed us the room she is renting where other students also live. She has a decent sized room with a twin bed, shelving and a gas burner to cook on. The bathroom facilities are shared, much like a dorm would be and she told us she has everything she needs.
Tuesday began with a meeting amoungst the international sponsors and Lucky at our hotel regarding lessons learned from the previous week and some plans going forward. Doug had to leave for a half hour for a dental appointment for cleaning and then rejoined us.
We all separated after the meeting with plans to meet for dinner. We went back to the school where Doug lead a Mindfulness Training session for the teachers (they will begin this with the children in due time) and one of these teachers has offered to teach the teachers who were unable to attend.
Fran taught the vocational students (there are 20 of them) to make friendship bracelets with supplies she bought in town previously. These young women then helped her teaching the Primary 5 and 6 classes to do the same. The purpose of the bracelets was to have a reminder of yesterday’s celebration, to let them know we are their friends and will continue to support them.
Before we left that morning, the solar installation team arrived and the two panels, batteries etc. Doug ordered began to be set up. One of the great things about this property here, is it is atop a hill with no obstructions for the sun; no tall trees or buildings and it’s near the equator so days do not get shorter or longer – there is a consistent amount of daylight year round. The biggest challenge will be not letting the batteries run down. This too, would be a part of the IT person’s responsibilities.
We left when it was lunchtime and found a place to try out a Ugandan specialty: a rolex. This is street food; they mix up an egg with some veggies (in this case it was onion, carrot and green pepper) and made a sort of thin omelet – this is placed on a warm chapati (like a wheat tortilla only a little thicker). It’s really cheap and filling. We met Lucky back at our hotel and……
The Ugandan Rolex, commonly referred to as Rolex, is a popular food item, combining an egg omelet and vegetables wrapped in a chapati. This single-portion dish is quick to prepare, and can be eaten at any time of the day, from breakfast to a lunch or supper meal or snack. The name “rolex” comes from its method of preparation, with the chapati and the omelet rolled together (“rolled eggs”).
This idea originated from a chapati seller’s creativity in the Busoga region, east of Kampala; “the basoga” then the idea spread to the Makarere University in Kampala, fueled by students who needed a quick meal because of time and budget limitations. The delicacy soon spread throughout Uganda. It became a popular food choice for its combination of convenience, low cost, and taste.
In the afternoon Doug conducted an interview at our hotel with the brother of the videographer from yesterday for the IT position that is needed at Kitojo. Jacob had told Nicholas about this job and he was interested however, it turned out that although he would be a great candidate he was already working part time at the radio station and did not want to give up that job. He was more interested in supporting the fund raising efforts online. He felt maybe he could be a part time person and they could hire and train an “assistant” for him that could be onsite full time. This is not out of the question, but not ideal either.
Doug later met with Deborah one on one and gave her mindfulness training – she had been unable to attend this morning’s session due to her class schedule.
That evening Frank, Antje and Lucky joined us at our hotel for dinner. Fran arranged with the hotel chef to make us a vegetarian meal of rice, vegetable soup/stew to put over the rice with sides of spinach and chapata. It was very filling; the only disappointment was the restaurant had no beer tonight! We had two cold ones and a cider left so Frank and Lucky (who doesn’t drink anyway) had soda. We had a pleasant meal before really getting down to discuss the future of Kitojo. It seems the most urgent needs at this time are latrines, staff quarters and hiring Lucky full time. He has a job as a teacher on weekends and does not get paid any salary from Kitojo. He would like to quit his teaching job and devote all his time to this project. This must be presented to the board (we all agreed it was a great idea) and funding must be found to make this happen. The other concern along the same line is: what happens to KEGS should something happen to Lucky. While his wife is the co-director, she does have two small children to care for and he really needs a second in command.
We said our goodbyes to our new German friends (they are leaving Kabale before we are) and they have invited us to visit them while we are in Europe. We have been sleeping better now that we are in good conditions. The hotel is never busy and the staff is attentive. There is a young woman named Tash who seems to be like a manager; Dennis is the chef; Mabel does just about everything else from cleaning the rooms to attending the dining room. She does our laundry at no extra cost and refills our Wi-Fi router (data seems to run out every second day!). Getting internet in homes and business is very expensive in Uganda so most businesses just buy data for their “mi fi’s”. Don’t think they realized what they got into when they responded to our question: “do you have Wi-Fi here?” as they had to refill it four times during our stay. Doug needed some documents printed and when he asked if they could do it, Tash (about ten minutes) and got it done; upon returning Doug asked for the flash drive back and Tash realized she’d forgotten it so back she walked! We met the owner last weekend and he asked us to give him suggestions for improvements; we told him we like to prepare our own food and it was then that the stove made an appearance.
Wednesday was yet another busy day; we were at the school by nine bringing all our electronics (Frank and Antje brought theirs yesterday), putting them somewhere secure and checking out the new solar power system.
Today Fran and six of the vocational school ladies got the primary 3 and 4’s making their friendship bracelets. To thank these kind young women for helping we passed out more flag pins amoung them and Doug also made sure all the teachers got one as well. Fran also passed out hair ties to the Primary 1 and 2’s who used them as bracelets!
Doug had purchased notebooks for the girls to use in connection with their upcoming mindfulness training and we wanted to have the girls cover them and personalize them. We bought craft paper in three different colours in town and did the ol’ paper book covers like we used to do in elementary school with the girls in primary 5 and 6 and next week, they can help the 3 and 4’s get theirs done. We brought a whole whack of coloured pencils and the girls had about 30 minutes to write the names on their newly covered books and decorate them. They will then return them to their teachers to hold on to until their training has been done.
Then the visiting began. We went to see the homes of the two girls, Rebecca and Vanita, that we sponsor brining each girl a new dress and the family a big bag of rice. We had briefly met Lucky’s mother at the celebration on Monday but wanted to meet her one on one to let her know how special her son was and how much we supported him. Last visit was after picking up Deborah to have her take us to her family’s home to do the same.
The two girls live within walking distance of the school but there are no roads to their homes. Even Lucky wasn’t exactly sure where they lived but two young boys we came across after beginning to walk the trails amoung the homes, did so they lead us to each of them.
The people here live in mostly simple mud huts, cook outside and have no power or water (the latter must be brought in daily on foot) but they do have million dollar views! All around the homes are fields of vegetables, chickens and goats roaming and the lucky few may have a cow or two. We are so happy to support these two girls in the hopes that they can have better futures than their mothers.
After returning to our car parked alongside the fields, we drove back to Lake Buyoni and parked part way up the hills in a lot owned by a safari company for safety. It was an uphill walk to where Lucky’s mother lives up a narrow, rough trail.
First we stopped at his grandfather’s house and then went further uphill to find his mother’s home – but she wasn’t home! Lucky called her and she was in town. We left her a gift of a sweater that we’d purchased for her and made our way back down the hill between the fields of banana trees and vegetables. But boy did she have a million dollar view of the lake.
Upon returning to Kabale, we picked up Deborah and she directed us to her village – it’s about a half hour drive past Kitojo (which is 25 minutes from Kabale) and her mother and father invited us in for a cup of the local “brew”. It is called “obushera” which means porridge and is alcoholic and quite bitter and is quite grainy; not to our liking. Fran might have been able to finish us except for that. It felt somewhat rude not to finish it but as Lucky also did not, we felt a bit better. We gave them some rice and some Canada flag pins and told them (through Lucky) how happy we were to meet them and how proud we were of their daughter.
All of these visits were short mostly due to the language barrier but we did feel they all felt glad we’d made the effort and it was nice for them to put a face to their daughters sponsors. We drove Deborah back to her “dorm”, dropped Lucky off at school and made our way back to our hotel after stopping to buy more beer.
Upon returning to the hotel, Doug mentioned that we seemed to be missing one of the Kindles we’d brought. He checked for his and it turned out the one he thought was his, actually was one of the seven and we couldn’t find his (both had similar cases). We checked through everything with no luck. Then it occurred to us that maybe he had either left it on the plane on our flight from Nairobi to Kampala or in the first AirBNB we stayed at upon arrival in Uganda. Doug reached out to Kintu at the AirBNB and later that day he responded saying he’d found it between the couch cushions! So we’ll have to stop by before flying out.
Here in Kabale (and probably in much of the country), the power can go out often and it seems to daily in the afternoon and sometimes during the night. Our first day here at Riverside Resort, we did have no water for a couple of hours but that may have been a hotel issue as they are working on expanding the place. So far it hasn’t affected us too much. We just make sure to plug our phones in whenever we can! Luckily we have rapid chargers and of course, can charge them while driving.
Every evening here we have had a cold beer sitting on the terrace before dinner. It’s been a great way to chill after these busy days. We still get our minimal Spanish lesson done, mostly get our steps everyday but never get the chance to sit and read. We don’t mind as the things we are doing, are helping to make these girls’ lives better.
If you recall, we’ve been travelling with two large duffles for luggage; one of these had a strap come unstitched on our very first flight from Buffalo to JFK so Fran dug through them to find needle and thread and hand sewed them back on. There were also two holes on the bottom which she mended. The bags made it through the next two flights but since we had access to some seamstresses here at Kitojo, we asked them to re-stitch all the straps to reinforce them as well as resew the holes. We asked Monica the instructor if the girls could use any supplies like fabric or something, and she said they are always needed thread.
That night Fran planned to make us a spaghetti dinner using the hotels newly careted kitchen only to find the stove was no longer in that room. Tash told her someone had rented it and we could use the one gas burner but as she needed two burners we passed. Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll have access to a kitchen once again. So we had cereal, fruit and PB sandwiches for dinner with a Nutella sandwich for dessert!
On Thursday morning, Lucky brought over Doreen and Mercy each with their mothers and they made the three hour drive to Mbarabara to see the eye doctor. As the car couldn’t take any more passengers, Fran stayed beyond which worked well so she could run a few errands as well as catch up on blogging and sorting photos. Despite the power outage that afternoon, she got a good amount done.
Both Doreen and Mercy have issues pertaining to one eye and it needs to be determined what, if anything can be done; do they still have sight in them etc. Doug managed to get both girls seen and both girls got glasses so as to protect their good eyes. Mercy needs a prosthetic eye as she has no vision in it and the socket is failing and while we are prepared to pay for such, the issue is getting Mercy back to the hospital and for the MANY follow up appointments. Doreen actually needs a corneal transplant but that is not possible in Uganda.
Here’s Doreen with Lucky wearing her new glasses:
Here is a photo of both girls:
We had received our newly mended duffle bags back yesterday, so Fran spent a couple of hours repacking our belongings. Now that we are without 3 extra laptops, 7 kindles, their accessories and a bunch of school supplies, we are hoping to get away with just one duffle instead of two; if we use the expanding part of our roller board luggage, we hope to fit everything in. Fingers crossed!
The weather the past week has been pretty pleasant, most days are partly cloudy and we’ve only had rain the once although it has threatened a few times. Most days have been pleasantly warm, hotter if you stay in the sun but nothing unbearable. Nights could be a tad cooler but at least they do cool down. Daytime temperatures tend to be in the mid 20’s C / low 70’sF and at night time it drops to the mid teens C high 50s/low 60’s F.
Sidebar: as most locals cannot afford cars, there are many motorcycles like in Latin America. There are a few taxis that are cars but for the most part people get around on “moto taxis” which they call “boda bodas”. You can flag them down or pick one up at certain street corners. They are super cheap.
Friday the 28th came quickly and we had our last day here at KEGS. On our way to Kitojo today, we stopped at some of the quarries and made some small donations to the women who had children with them while they worked in the quarry.
On arrival at the school, during their morning break, Doug did a few more balloon games and Fran found Vanita and Rebeccca to give them the gifts they’d missed out on the day we went to their homes. She also visited the vocational girls building to give them a number of large spools of thread that they need that she was able to get in town the day before.
Doug held an “Objectives and Key Results” training with the administration staff and then had two more interviews for candidates for the IT position. Both of these candidates were woman and Doug offered one of them a job but at a lower salary than she was asking. He told her the library and her living quarters would be built over the next two weeks through our donation and she only asked that her transportation to and from the school during that time be covered to which he agreed. Unfortunately, she had to leave right away as there was a funeral in her family that day.
After the children’s morning break they all gathered outside and there was a ceremony with songs and a short speech by Lucky after which he asked us each to say something. This was a very tearful half hour.
First, it was the anthem:
Then Lucky asked us to join the girls and he lead us all in a dance. That was great fun – but as everyone was involved, no one took video!
Fran then left to run some errands as we were leaving tomorrow. Doug stayed behind and helped set up the laptops and took some photo with the girls.
When they were finished at the school, Lucky and Doug met Fran while she was running her last errand: a car wash. While at the car wash, Fran received an email from the RV place in France – finally, we’ve been bugging them for over a week to get some idea from them as to when we should book our flight. As of now we have no ticket out of Uganda and are not sure when we should fly to France and if it’s a few weeks away, should we go elsewhere.
The same day Doug from the accountants that everything on their end was done; our “civil society” called EU Escapes was created and everything was in order to register the vehicle.
Eurocamping told us that they had some major delays due to COVID – in fact the contact we have been dealing with was down with it herself but luckily a mild case but some of their repair staff had been out as well. So she told us that the RV would be ready February 23rd. So still over three weeks away; later she wrote again and said she’s actually on holiday that week so if we’d rather deal with her, we should wait to come on March 2nd! Boy is this stretching out way longer than we thought. One of our big concerns is we want to be OUT of the Schengen region by March 15th so we can come back June 15th and have a full 90 days so our plan would be pick up the RV and head to the UK. We’d leave it there while we go back to Canada for several weeks in May/June. So now we asked them about how to insure the vehicle and how final payment must be made. Unfortunately this woman only works Wednesday to Friday so getting emails back, can be tedious.
On our way to Kitojo today we stopped and Doug gave money to some women working in the quarries – mostly those with small children who have to spend the day there with their mothers
In the afternoon Doug made a visit to meet Michael, from another non profit that works with albinism in Uganda – Frank and Antje had also met with him during their visit. While this is a serious issue in Uganda, our focus is KEGS.
On his walk he got a hair cut and shave, got some signs made for the school and purchases some power adaptors for the laptops. In the late afternoon the newly hired IT woman was supposed to come by our hotel for Doug to show here some functionalities of their newly acquitted laptops but she never showed up. Instead he spent some time with Lucky doing this.
We said our goodbyes to Lucky and wished each other well.
We hope you enjoy the video below telling the story of this special life changing video and Kitojo will appreciate any support you can give:
You can sponsor a girl, give funding for teachers, help build classrooms, give funding for feminine products, help build new staff housing, and much, much more. Any amount helps!
Please go to:
Asante sana! / Thank you very much!