I don't know where to start. The Kasese kids are amazing! I fell in love with them the first day. When we entered the gates we were bombarded with a stampede of excited, smiling, screaming children with arms open and were nearly bowled over by a hundred hugs. They are funny and sweet and loving yet they have been through so much.
Kasese is nestled amongst beautiful green hills and the Rwenzori mountains which I was in awe of every day. At different times of the day the light would illuminate them differently. Kasese is not far from the Congo border and on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The town had everything we needed right at the doorstep and it took a short boda boda ride (motorcycle taxi) to the closest Kasese orphanage were we spent most days.
There were 12 of us volunteering in Uganda for Orphfund and I had not met any of the other volunteers before. Luckily they were an awesome bunch of people that I can now call my friends.
There was a lot of work to do in a short period of time. We had 10 days before we needed to head to Kenya and there are three Orphfund projects around Kasese with a total of roughly 150 kids. I was tasked with helping update the profiles of each child by taking their photos and completing a questionnaire with them to put information together for their sponsor. I also contributed to posting updates on the Orphfund social media channels and helped with administration, sorting of donations, sponsor letters, escorting kids to get health checks and some painting.
Through this experience I could really see first hand that what Orphfund have done (and continue to do) is incredible and it has given me an understanding of the challenges and realities that these kids face as well as that of the people trying to help them. Orphfund is a small charity, completely run through donations and volunteers, yet have a huge reach and have made a big impact on lives.
The kids were provided with new beds and mattresses, shoes, clothes, new school supplies, musical instruments and sporting equipment. The handymen volunteers provided general maintenance around the facilities and we all spent quality time with the kids getting to know them personally through art, music and sports.
One of the girls, Marion wouldn't leave my side since I arrived. She was always the first to run up to me and give me a big hug when I walked into the centre. One day she didn't, and was sitting in the corner looking unwell. When I felt her head she was burning hot. Marion needed to spend a few days in hospital after that for the treatment of malaria which is unfortunately very common and the leading cause of death, illness and school absences in Uganda. This highlighted the importance of Orphfund's fundraising initiative for replacement mosquito nets in each project. Sponsorships and one off donations are so essential for this organisation to be able to do what they do. Thankfully, Marion was back to her bubbly old self soon enough.
I got to visit Marion while she was in hospital which made her very happy and gave me a glimpse of what a rural Ugandan public hospital is really like. It’s hard to explain, but very different to our western hospital standards. It was made up of a series of small blocks nestled in the hills, surrounded by lush greenery. Each block was connected by paths and housed different units. The womens block was a large room packed with beds side by side with mosquito nets hanging over them.
During our time we had one day off to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our safari started with the spotting of a lion in the distance, wildebeest, impala, warthogs and a few elephants. We stopped by a fishing village and saw a salt lake farm. We then had a boat ride along the Kazinga Channel where we saw hippos, crocs, buffalo and many different birds. This was a welcome time out for the group to spend together on an activity not related to Orphfund.
I felt like I could have spent much longer in Uganda and didn't want to leave! We were looked after so well at our accommodation and made some close connections with the locals as well as the kids. It felt like just as I started to properly get to know each child I had to leave!
Before we left we had a party with all the kids from each of the three projects. There was a DJ, speeches, singing, dancing, glitter, food and soccer. There is something about those kids' dancing that is infectious and I had never danced so much outside, during the day, sober! It was so much fun.
Before leaving, Henry (the amazing Orphfund local coordinator) took us out to get a taste of Ugandan nightlife which started with some competitive games of pool and ended with hours on a steamy hot dance floor. Africans sure CAN dance but my lame dance moves didn't deter me from giving it a good nudge.
On the last day, saying goodbye to the kids was heartbreaking and there were tears and lots of hugs. I want to go back already!
These kind of experiences leave you incredibly grateful, motivated, emotional and inspired (and exhausted). I’m so glad I got to see this part of the world in a way that felt authentic and meaningful while meeting wonderful people - and the best kids ever! Kasese - I will miss you but I will be back for you!
So, it came time for 8 of us to head to the next project in Kenya - the Heartspring children's village. What was supposed to be a 15ish hour drive turned into 24 hours in a minivan. We were aware of the concept of everything running on "African Time" ie always late and excruciatingly slow, but this trip was just really really long - even by African standards! We joked that "24 hours in a minivan" could be our new album name with hit tracks such as "broken down again”, “legroom blues”, "no more speed bumps please", "3 hours at border control", "Kenyan police stops us again”, “6-minute naps”, “3am ghost woman on the road" and "lost-in-a-remote-village-at-4am". Kinda sums up that drive!
Captains log notes:
10/05/17 - The kids love being in front of the camera!
11/05/17 - Must learn to make rolex.
11/05/17 - Had an in depth conversation about tapeworms with fellow volunteer.
12/05/17 - Tried grasshopper. Tasted like rice crispy snacks.
12/05/17 - Ugandan sherry is nice.
12/05/17 - Went to a local music festival but got tired before the headline act came on (they were running on "African time”) so went to bed.
13/05/17 - Rode on the back of a motorbike along the Congo border at sundown.
14/05/17 - Brought nail polish to the centre and had a line up of kids (including the older boys) for sparkly pink pedicures.
14/05/17 - Some of the kids love gangsta rap and others love gospel music.
15/05/17 - Today I discovered the horrifying reality that things such as "Jiggers" exist - a foot parasite that burrows into your foot and lays eggs. I'm not scared of much but creatures that invade your body gives me the ultimate creeps/paranoia and listening to how Steve had his removed via toothpick (the creature, its eggs and all) was enough to make me paranoid that I could feel something in my foot for the rest of the day.
18/05/17 - Don’t expect anyone to have change. Don’t be in a rush.
19/05/17 - Trying to find pairs in a giant pile of shoe donations is a funny game, and strangely satisfying when you find the other shoe.
22/05/17 - Ugandan sherry + hot day = nasty hangover.
23/05/17 - Eating rolex on the way to Kenya. I'm going to miss eating rolex everyday - Ugandan street food which is eggs (omelette) rolled up into chapati/flat bread (costs about 20c AUD). I've learned the recipe so will be making it at home for some throwback nostalgia.