August/September 2002 Online Publication       

We had high expectations in coming here and they have all been exceeded. There is so much to love and so much to abhor about Uganda.

WASFAA Happenings ...
by Paul Phillips

In April of 2002, after I retired as Financial Aid Director at Cal State San Marcos, my wife, Jean, and I embarked on a three-month adventure as volunteers at AIDS Orphans Education Trust (AOET) in Uganda. This has been a most rewarding and fascinating experience, and I would like to share some of it with you.

The trip to Kampala was characterized by sensory overload: hundreds of people walking and biking along the road, and shack upon shack of small businesses selling everything imaginable - front doors, various kinds of furniture, caskets (unfortunately, a thriving business as a result of AIDS), fresh fruits, chewing gum, etc. The small businesses manufacture the products, such as the furniture, in the shacks, then sell them along the road in front of their "factories".

Traffic was crazy: there seemed to be no traffic rules. Also on the trip, we saw close-up the lushness of the countryside. Kampala is near the Equator, at about 4,000 feet elevation, the soil is fertile, and it rains a lot. As a result, everything, (including bacteria and viruses), thrives. All along the road, men seemed to be fighting a losing battle with the growth of grass with machetes. We also saw many women walking with massive loads on their heads. The men carried similar loads on the back of bikes - wimps!

Our first six days were spent in Kampala, enjoying ourselves and beginning to acclimate ourselves to the culture. We began our volunteering on April 24, and it has been a remarkable experience.

We had high expectations in coming here and they have all been exceeded. There is so much to love and so much to abhor about Uganda. Above all, we love the people. Their friendliness, honesty, appreciation for even the tiniest thing that is done for them; and most of all, their courage, strength, hope, and perseverance in the face of incredible adversity are amazing. We also love the lush environment, the low cost of living (for an American), and the simplicity of life (for the healthy). We hate the seemingly insurmountable health problems, the extensive poverty, and the corruption of government officials that pervades everyday life here.

We are so fortunate to have found AIDS Orphans Education Trust (AOET). The needs are so great, and the dedicated AOET staff is doing so much with meager resources. They are aiding AIDS orphans and widows in several villages around the city of Jinja. Jean, one of two nurses, is quickly learning about AIDS, tropical diseases such as malaria, and other serious illnesses - sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, syphilis, and diarrhoeal diseases. She is feeling very fulfilled, and, in my unbiased opinion, is doing a terrific job. Her nursing skills and her compassion are a great combination. Already the word is spreading that the mzungu (white person) gives good examinations.

My title is Office Administrator. Among other things, I am handling all of the bookkeeping, supervising most of the department heads, developing new administrative and accountability systems, training my successor, assisting with fundraising; and with the assistance of a really good computer technical person, am initiating an administrative computer system.

Our living arrangements are much more comfortable than we expected. We are staying in the home of the AOET Director, Sam Tushabe, his wife, Nancy, who is the permanent AOET nurse, and their cute and precocious two-year old son, Julian. We sleep soundly under mosquito netting, share a kitchen and bathroom; and are really enjoying Ugandan food, especially the tropical fruits and the peanut sauce they put on several things. It is not unlike eating in a Thai restaurant, African style.

We are currently at the end of one of two Ugandan rainy seasons. This one is referred to as "the long rains". Because most walkways and roads are dirt, red mud is everywhere. Therefore it is customary to take off your muddy shoes before entering a building. We are told that in the dry seasons, the mud is replaced by dust. Planting of crops and harvesting are done twice a year, with the planting occurring at the beginning of the rainy season. Most of Uganda has ample rain and fertile soil for a robust agricultural industry. We have really enjoyed the young children here. There are very few whites around, so we are an oddity. Invariably, when children see us, they get very excited. Our initial arrival at a village is accompanied by yells from small children of "mzungu, mzungu!", which is a term used in several African countries for a white person. Those children who are somewhat brave will then say "hello", "how are you", or "bye-bye"; although few know what these words mean. The really brave ones will come up to us to shake our hands, often accompanied by kneeling on one knee. We have observed that children kneel to teachers, the AOET staff, and others, as a sign of respect, regardless of color.

There have been so many stories that Jean and I have been a part of, which have elements both of despair and hope. One of them involves a widowed grandmother in her late 70s who lives in Mbiko, a village just outside of Jinja. Three of her four children have died of AIDS, and when we visited her, we met her one remaining son, who is in the advanced stages of AIDS, and will probably die within the next few weeks. The grandmother is raising her five grandchildren on her own, with her only sources of income being the sale of bananas from the few plants that she tends, and some funding from AOET. Four of her grandchildren are in school, only because they are being sponsored by AOET donors. Jean and I met the fifth child, Betty, a beautiful little five year old. We are now sponsoring her, so that all of the five children will be able to go to school. The grandmother was so grateful that she gave us two bunches of bananas from her meager supply - there was no way we could refuse such a gift.

We will soon leave Uganda. Jean and I have learned so much and have gained a much greater appreciation for how fortunate we are to have our health and our financial resources. We will be changed forever by this experience.

How you can help
There are many other AIDS orphans, like Betty, who have asked AOET for assistance, but who are not in school because of lack of funds; and many AIDS widows that AOET could help if it had additional funding. You may wish to consider making a tax-deductible financial contribution to AOET to assist in the vital work that is being done in the villages it serves. If so, here are some opportunities that may interest you:

$25 a month, or $300 a year, will support an orphan in school. $60 a month, or $720 a year, will allow AOET to hire another teacher for the primary school run for orphans and children of widows. $100 a month, or $1200 a year, will allow AOET to hire a physician twice a month, to augment the nurse, and provide village health services that are otherwise unaffordable.

$300 will buy a computer monitor. Two more monitors are needed in order to place into service two computers that Cal State-San Marcos donated.

$233 will allow AOET to expand their computer training room and double their training.

$200 will buy a sewing machine plus pay the first month's rent of a small shop to assist a widow in becoming self-sufficient.

Of course, AOET also welcomes undesignated gifts that allow them to determine where the greatest needs are at the time the gift is received, and to develop a much needed contingency fund to care for unexpected emergencies.

With the support AOET has received from many individual donors, they have accomplished much over the past year. However, they constantly see tragedies that could be avoided if they had greater resources. Additionally, although they have a very efficient and lean organization, annual pledges would allow them to plan better and be even more effective.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please make your check payable to AIDS Education Outreach-Uganda, a newly established American 501©3, indicate if you want it designated for a specific need, and mail it to:

Mary Ann McCoy
Director, AIDS Education Outreach-Uganda
4456 Deer Ridge Road
Danville, Ca. 94506

Thank you very much for any support you can provide.

How does AOET help?
Here is an overview of how a person afflicted with and affected by AIDS are being helped by AOET:

In 2001, AOET opened a school for preschool and first year elementary children from the village in which AOET is headquartered. The school children are AIDS orphans, children of AIDS widows, and a few other local children who live in extreme poverty. Without this program, these children would not be attending school. With it, they are preparing themselves for regular school, are building pride, and are interacting with adults who provide them with encouragement, despite the children's bleak circumstances.

Medical services are provided to several hundred AIDS widows and orphans, many of whom are HIV+. Currently services are delivered by two full-time nurses and a doctor whenever enough funds are available.

Medical services are accompanied by counseling, which includes AIDS prevention, encouraging AIDS sufferers to prepare their children for the parent's death, attempting to convince villagers to be tested for HIV, and spiritual counseling. Older orphans and some widows are taught computer skills. All receive basic computer instruction plus WORD and EXCEL, and advanced students learn additional software applications. Currently 48 students are receiving instructions and an additional 48 are on a waiting list. Our computers, which were donated by Cal State-San Marcos, have provided excellent training for the orphans, given a sense of pride and professional development to the AOET staff, and are a source of income to AOET through computer training to the surrounding community for a fee.

Skills training is provided to AIDS widows. Currently 48 widows are receiving sewing training and another 140 are learning to produce traditional African crafts for sale. This gives them skills to become self-sufficient.

School fees are paid for 85 AIDS orphans or children of AIDS widows, who would not be in school were it not for this support. Most of the children are at the elementary level, with a small number in secondary school. Two are supported in postsecondary education. Many, many additional children could be in school if the funding were there.

A Bible dinner is held weekly, attended by over 200 adults and more than 200 children. After a worship service and music from "Predestined", the AOET musical group, all in attendance receive tea with milk, bread and butter, and popcorn. For many of the children, this nutrition is very important. For all in attendance, the spiritual message gives them hope.

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