September 28

Changing Communities

Hello from Northern Uganda! I am currently in Moyo, where the temperature is sweltering 30+ °C and it is not even summer yet!

I have been here in Moyo for over a month and I am amazed as how well the local community have welcomed and embraced over a million refugees from South Sudan; where frequent skirmishes are still common despite ‘peace’. I have met and learnt from so many people doing wonderful work to improve the lives other people despite risk to their own personal safety. For some of these people it is a job that someone has to do, they are seasoned “humanitarians” with fascinating stories of providing emergency relief in war torn countries. The best anecdote so far is from a Philippine gentleman who had to get a bus to Kandahar (Afganistan) wearing local clothes and a false beard…. what a hero !

I have now visited a number beneficiaries (people with disability enrolled with Cheshire Services Uganda (CSU) which is a member of the Leonard Cheshire Organisation) in the remotest of villages. Just to put in context their hardship and remoteness; so far, we’ve had to abandon visits because the road was inaccessible due to flooding; on our second attempt the vehicle got stuck in deep mud and only with the help of locals (of course, a great source of income for them) did we manage to move on! The team at CSU are not fazed by situations like this they just carry on regardless, and there is me fretting over where will we spend the night as there are no guest houses! My first response to the situation was ‘I don’t have my mosquito net of course this was received with guffaws of laughter!

Some villages can only be accessed on motorbikes, which are more like off road trial bikes. The rider and I set off; me with my bike helmet (which is a childs size.. with Kung-Fu Panda stickers) and the rider with no protection! Dodging potholes and riding over cervices and gully’s in the road, weaving in and out of the trees.

Clearly, I attract a lot of attention on the way being a ‘mzungus’(a westerner) and wearing a panda helmet. Children running out of the huts waving and shouting ‘How are you?’ ‘Welcome’.

When I finally arrive, I spend some time greeting a gathering of crowd who seem to appear from nowhere. The children are the most curious and adorable, I am constantly distracted by their open-mouthed smiles and big innocent eyes when my fellow interviewer reminds me that we have a job to do!!

Here in Moyo the number of people with disability is high due to land mines and other war related injuries. CSU currently have a project ongoing for improving the livelihoods people with disability by providing them with vocational training and start-up kits or grants to run a business. My role with CSU is monitoring and evaluation coordinator I can see the positive impact CSU are having on improving the livelihoods of people with disability and changing the attitudes towards disability in the community. In GSK terms I come face to face with the person at the end of the supply chain, which in this case is the person with disability.

I am amazed at the resilience of the people here. Everything is possible as long as you are prepared to be VERY patient!

In the field I conduct interviews with Emmanuel (Emma) my interpreter; we form a perfect partnership. Emma is multi-lingual and although he has visual impairment he is incredible at moving around the roads which are full of pot holes and trip hazards, without an assistive device, except for me being over protective and holding his hand all the time (much to the amusement of the villagers). When I lost other team members in the nearby fish market, Emma came to my rescue. I realised then that I need Emma more than he needed me!

I can truly see the shift in the attitudes of the communities towards people with disabilities and empowerment of people with disabilities.

Good bye for now as I prepare for yet another journey packed full of wonderful memories of learnings and more challenges.

I hope the laughter and sense of fun comes across in this blog, my personal point of reflection here is that……

Laughter is the main thing that I will really miss when I leave this place, I thought I laughed a lot at home but my colleagues and many of the people I meet laugh really freely and in some of the darkest circumstances, what is strange is that, in the main, it feels like victimless humour, and if there is a victim they are the ones laughing the loudest… Where has all our happiness gone?