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Archive for August, 2008

Bye Mzungu

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Hello for the last time,

So this will be my last blog. I am flying away from Uganda this evenining with layovers in Dubais and London on my way back to Calgary. What an experience it has been. One I cannot even begin to describe. I do want to take a moment to thank Ken Sanderson who assisted with every blog Ssubi did. The internet in Uganda is quite tempramental and I’m certainly no computer genius so I had a lot of trouble with the pictures. I ended up sending all the pics to Ken who inserted each one in each blog. Thank you very much.

The final touches of the school are nearly complete. The final coats of paint have been applied and a gate has been installed to match the fence. We have no pictures at this time but I am sure Philip and Tracy will get some on the website soon. This morning, when I last saw the site, some of the workers were putting together a play area for the kids where a slide will be added very soon. Electricians had also arrived and were in the early stages of installing the solar panel lights, which have been a great success in Gulu. I believe there are also plans to build eavestroughs that will flow into a large water tank, providing a consistent water source for the school.

As for myself, I am sad to go but look forward to more work with Ssubi in the future. It’s impossible to summarize my trip in one blog. The other night, Tracy’s friend Julia (who has lived in and contributed to Uganda for a decade) asked me to list my top five favorite things from my trip. It was a great request but hard to answer. Tracy pointed out how much I enjoyed the first football match in the rain. It definitely made the list. I have also had the time of my life riding bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) around town. Third was both trips to Gulu, first by car and then by plane. Each was incredible in its own right. And fourth, undoubtedly, is the Ugandan people. They are the friendliest, happiest and most welcoming, hospitable people I have ever met. The last took me a moment to think of but I recalled the afternoon of my second day here when I was riding around with Dusman. I found myself in the middle of a small village in the middle of Kampala. It was my first experience with Ugandan children. I saw them pointing at me from a distance, smiling and whispering, “Mzungu.” Mzungu means “white person.” Many times while I was here, I felt like it was my name. I waved them over and began taking pictures and even let them push the button. They giggled at the flash and laughed when I showed them the pictures and took turns shaking my hand. Two children multiplied into more than a dozen in a moment. When Dusman and I drove away, they ran alongside the car, waving and shouting, “Bye Mzungu! Bye Mzungu!” I explained to Julia that it happened many times after but that first experience was so specialand so magical that it stands above the rest. After that it became normal. She corrected me, saying that it never becomes normal. And thinking about it now, she was right. Even after that first time, it was always special. It just happened more often.

I can never thank Ellie, Philip, Tracy and Dusman enough. They are exceptional men and women who will forever have my deepest admiration and respect. What they do is extraordinary and I was so thrilled to be a part of it. I will cherish it, and them, always. Thank you, Ssubi.

Shaun

Return To Gulu

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

On Saturday, August 9th the Ssbui Foundation team, consisting of Philip, Dusman, Tracy, myself, my sister Laura, Shaun, of course and Clay headed to Gulu, northern Uganda to meet with Mrs. Openie and to see the location of the Lelobarro community.

Reception

Shaun and children

We arrived to a sea of smiling faces and to a chorus of singing and clapping – there isn’t too much else that can make me feel so good. Mrs. Openie showed us the gardens that each of the classes had planted with tools that the Ssubi Foundation had donated the year before. The gardens were large and represented a healthy future for the kids that they themselves had created.

Once Mrs. Openie had guided the children back to their classrooms, we were seated under a tree where we would watch a series of poems, performed in both English and Lou(Acholi). The poems were about the pain and hardship many of these people have suffered. At one point I looked over at the driver of our minivan, a local Gulu man, and he was crying. I can only imagine his story to cause such a reaction.

Choir and Band

The highlight of the performances was the school choir and band. They played together with instruments bought by Ssubi Foundation. As I sat and listened I realized that the talent of these children would be appreciated anywhere in the world. In particular, there was a very young boy who played the wooden xylophone with such passion that he rendered all of us awestruck.

Presentations

At the conclusion of the presentations, a small group of older children sang a song to me. How do I describe such a gift? I began to cry and again I was struck by the selflessness of these people. As they sang of their gratitude I felt I should be thanking them as nothing else I have done in my life has ever brought me such happiness.

Ellie and Dusman

Ellie

The Hand Over Ceremony

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Friday, August 8th, 2008 would mark the opening of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. But in Kampala, Uganda, it would also mark the beginning of hope for the children and teachers of the Lilly Kindergarten. It was the day when the Directors of the Ssubi Foundation would hand over the highly anticipated new school to the St. Stephen’s parish.

Lily Kindergarten Before

Lily Kindergarten After

The day started out cool and cloudy with a hint of rain and by the time the marching band was assembled at the local police station, located about 1 km up the road, the rain had created a mist that would see us all the way to the Lilly Kindergarten.

Marching Band

To the ceremony

The Bishop arrived on time at 11 am and along with the Boys Brigade marching band, members of the St. Stephen’s parish, all of us from the Ssubi Foundation and some of the attending Lilly Kindergarten children, we proudly walked down the road, smiling and waving at all the people watching. It was magical and a moment of great honor and success for all of those who worked so hard to build this new and wonderful school – especially Philip and Dusman.

Shaun, Laura and Ellie

Once we arrived at the school, everyone was quickly seated and the speeches began. Members of the parish spoke of the miracle of a new school and how it would change the lives of so many children. After a few words from us, thanking those key people who were involved in the building, the Bishop spoke of Philip returning to his native Uganda to help his brothers and sisters. Calling him the “son of the soil” he referred to Philip as an inspiration to all Ugandans living abroad and praised his efforts.

It is hard to describe in words the joy and overwhelming appreciation these people have for this new school. Education is everything to them and the value of learning is instilled from the moment they are born. It is the only way to a better life and they know it.

Students

Ugandans are known the world over for their overwhelming hospitality. But they should also be recognized for their profound gratitude – never in my life have I felt so appreciated; never have I been so thanked.

Dancing

Following the Bishop’s speech, the school children performed traditional Ugandan songs and dances with passion and grace. They were wonderful to watch and I marveled at their beauty and the strength of their voices.

Ceremony

Ceremony

As the ceremony continued, the Bishop cut the ribbon, allowing all to see the plaque commemorating the gift of the school from the Ssubi Foundation to the St. Stephen’s parish. And while it was hard to imagine a better day, Philip put the icing on the cake when he jumped up on stage and played with the marching band – something he hadn’t done since he was a child.

Philip on Stage

Ellie

Ellie’s Arrival

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Hello, olyotya,

The football match was a wild success! Most of the workers along with myself, Tracy and her son, Clay (who was a force to be reckoned with) headed to the field at the church across the street from the school. It had finished raining moments before and somebody was slipping and falling every few moments to a chorus of laughter. A member of the church’s Board of Directors joined in along with some children from the community. It drew a modest crowd and turned into quite an event. Philip took on the role of photographer, perhaps not wanting to damage his lovely pink shirt (the guy is a 4th degree blackbelt in kickboxing and a 2nd degree blackbelt in tae kwon do – he can wear whatever he wants). Tracy, Clay and I played on the same team which, evidently, one the match two – nil. Tracy even got an assist on the second goal and me… well I spent a lot of time on the ground. Keep in mind of course that I’m Canadian and we play hockey, am I right? It was a wonderful evening and the most fun I’ve had in quite some time. The football match has become a nightly occurence. We’ve had two more matches since and one more in the works for this evening. As it stands now, I am undefeated.

Football

Football Players

Ellie at last arrived early yesterday morning followed by Laura later in the afternoon. It was a strange deja vu going to the airport twice and waiting for Philip as he went past security as a VIP and came out with identical blonde women. Ellie went to work immediately, installing the plaque on the outer wall noting Ssubi’s donation of the school. Fending off her jetlag, she jumped right into the mix with Philip, Dusman and Tracy. Her and Laura were up early this morning and we all pitched in painting the fence at the front of the property, white and Ssubi orange.

Ellie and Dedication plaque

Ellie, Philip and Dusman

When the fence was complete, Ellie, Laura, Dusman, Philip, Tracy, Clay and myself walked to the temporary site where the school’s students are currently being taught. We were welcomed by a roaring ovation of children cheering and clapping. Each of us was swarmed by a tiny tornado of kids from the “baby class” (kindergarten) through to the “top class” (primary 6). The teachers finally managed to settle the children down and gave us all a quick tour of the makeshift facilities. Credit goes to the wonderful head mistress and teachers who have continued the kids’ education in less than ideal conditions. After the tour, we were treated to a number of song dance performances, some of which were written specifically to thank the Ssubi Foundation. I think it’s safe to say that we all could have stayed the entire day if we didn’t have plans to go shop for some books for Madame Openy and the school in Gulu.

Some finishing touches are being taken care of on the site and some temporary tents and seating arrangements are being prepared for tomorrow. The Opening Ceremony is upon us. While some minor details remain to be completed, the school is essentially finished and ready to be handed over. Ssubi’s excitement is matched only by that of the Board of Directors and the students and teachers themselves. We are all looking forward to what should be an amazing day.

Shaun

Approaching the Climax

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Ssubi is fast approaching the Opening Ceremony, scheduled for August 8th. Behind the scenes, Philip and Dusman are attending to all the finishing details. On site, the crew have finished construction and are beginning the final coats of paint. New fences of varying styles have been built, surrounding the property. The landscaping is nearly complete. In the blink of an eye, two beautiful retaining walls have been erected and the leveling is almost finished. The multi-level ground coupled with a sweeping tree that is only found in fairytales will surely result in a perfect property for the children of Lily Orphanage.

Lily Orphanage

In a way, the approaching completion is sad. It will mark (for now) the end of our time with the engineers, masons, builders and porters, totaling in 38 hardworking young men. I cannot describe the respect I have for each one of them. They work at least ten hours a day, six or seven days a week, breaking only for breakfast and lunch. Most of them sleep on site to cut down on traveling costs and their jubilation never wavers. I’ve observed that part of their stamina is due to a system of fair rotation and efficient delegation. Of course, to say that they are strong and fit is an understatement. Sometimes the sight of the Spartan-like crew makes me feel more like I’m working at an elite gym than a construction site. Needless to say, I am very fond of them all and each has found a place in my heart.

Workers

We’ve learned much about each other’s cultures. As they’ve taught me how to manage plastering, laying bricks, pushing, leveling, painting (as well as Ugandan pool and playing cards) I’ve taught them how to play rock, paper, scissors and blow bubbles with chewing gum. It may not seem like a fair trade but when it comes to blowing bubbles, trust me, they needed the help. Many a piece of gum was accidentally spit upon the red soil before any bubbles came to be. Even then, calling them bubbles is being kind.

Shaun and Friends

We are all looking forward to the arrival of Ssubi Director Ellie Siebens and her sister, Laura which is days away, including the workers themselves. They’re sure to hit the ground running with many tasks still incomplete. A football match is scheduled for this evening between the porters and the builders (I’ve told them that a representative from each will play rock, paper, scissors – the winner getting Tracy and the loser settling for me) but aside from that there is much to be done to ensure a joyful Opening Ceremony for the children, the community and the Ssubi Foundation.

Shaun