Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28, 2012 8:00 PM--Mail Call

Getting mail here is not exactly the same as it is in America or many other first world countries.  For the most part there is no such thing as a street address.  In big towns or in Kampala there are street names and sometimes specific buildings will have plot numbers (addresses) on whatever street they are on.  However, NO ONE gets mail delivered to their door.  Everyone who wants to get mail has to have a P.O. Box.  Most of the time organizations have their own P.O. Box and anyone who works for that organization will use that as their P.O. Box.  That is why I use my school’s P.O. Box.  If I wanted my own I would have to pay an annual fee in order to have one.  I don’t actually have a key for the P.O. box so to get my mail I either rely on the school to deliver it to me or I have to go in the Post Office and ask for it.  And if I have any packages I always have to go in to the post office and ask for them.  For these reason, I’ve become well acquainted with the post office lady in the Mbarara Post Office who is always there.  She knows exactly who I am and she knows my P.O. box.  Many times she doesn’t even have to check if I have packages, she just knows whether they are there or not.

Most Ugandans don’t even seem to get much mail.  I would say at least half the mail that comes into my school’s P.O. box is mine.  And usually the rest of it is for the school (not other staff members).  I don’t think people here even know what junk mail is.  I guess people just don’t think of the Ugandan postal service as very reliable and therefore they don’t use it much.  Despite being skeptical of its reliability, I can safely say I’ve never missed a package.  I actually seem to have more trouble sending things to the U.S. than getting things from the U.S.  For example, I’ve sent letters to the states with something small in them like a necklace and the letter will make it but the necklace will no longer be there.  I would think that someone would want to steal things coming from the U.S., not things coming from Uganda, but I guess not.

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18, 2012 12:30 PM

I’m going to Kampala tomorrow for my mid-service medical exam.  This is just a medical check-up that everyone has to get halfway through their service.  I should be there for a few days and I can’t wait!  This may not sound like the most exciting thing, but it is much more exciting than it sounds.  First of all, Peace Corps pays for me to go.  So they pay for my transport, they pay for my accommodation, and they pay me a per diem just for being there.  On top of that, I haven’t really been away from my site since I got back from vacation about a month ago.  And Kampala just has more options for me than being out here at my school.  For one, I can get almost any kind of international food I can think of, so the diet goes out the window.  And two there are plenty of forms of ex-pat entertainment (bars, movie theaters, over-sized supermarkets, etc.).  So this is really like a free mini-vacation.  Not to mention the fact that I’ll be there with a couple of friends of mine who have conveniently signed up for their mid-service medical on the same day as me (coincidence…I think not!).

Kampala is generally off-limits for Peace Corps volunteers to go to and this is usually really frustrating because sometimes you just need a break and, although you can go somewhere else for a weekend, you just don’t get the amenities of western civilization that you all too often want.

So needless to say, I’m really looking forward to the next few days.  Let’s just hope I don’t come back 10 pounds heavier and broke!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14, 2012 5:30 PM

It fascinates me how much I learn about myself and America simply because of the questions that people ask me or at least how much I can now look at things with a different perspective.

Yesterday, as I was sitting in the staff room before lunch, some of the other teachers were having a conversation, mostly in Runyankore, so I wasn’t really paying much attention until they turned to me to ask me a question.  They asked me what my clan was.  I didn’t fully understand the context, so as I tried to clarify I came to the conclusion that they were asking me what my tribe or clan was in America.  So I told them I don’t have a tribe.  This thoroughly confused them because as it turns out they were talking about American Indian or Native Americans.  So I found myself trying to explain to them who the Native Americans are.  I’m pretty sure they were totally mind-boggled by this because what they think of as Americans (aka white people) is not the native people of the United States.  So I, yet again, found myself explaining to them that Americans can be Asian-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Native American, or Caucasian/European (which is what many Ugandans think that all Americans are).

Although I’ve explained the diversity of America and Americans many times before to different people, this was the first time I realized how bizarre this must seem to Ugandans.  And it gave me a whole new perspective on the fact that America is not based on tribes, but Uganda is.  So, as you can see, I learn a little more about my own culture every day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Help Kinoni Girls’ Secondary School in Uganda!! -- June 13, 2012 9:30 AM

So far we have collected $2185 for my Computer Lab Project here in Uganda!  I want to thank everyone who has donated so far.  As you can see everyone’s small donation can add up to a lot of money, but that is only about 30% of the total that we need.  So we still NEED YOUR HELP!  Remember that any donation you make is tax deductable.  Not only am I trying to encourage you to donate, but Uncle Sam is giving you his incentive as well.  So CLICK HERE to donate now!

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012 9:30 PM—Western Camp GLOW

West Camp GLOW is a GO!!  We finally got our grant approved for the Western regional Camp GLOW.  Camp GLOW is a girl’s empowerment camp that has been recreated by many Peace Corps volunteers in many different countries around the world for more than 15 years.  GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World.  The West Camp will host 80 campers ages ranging from 12-15 and 8 female Ugandan counselors.

Camp Glow is designed to empower girls to become leaders in their communities and to become more educated, healthier citizens.  Girls will participate in a wide variety of activities, including health education, team building activities, arts and crafts, and sports.

In Uganda and many other developing countries of the world, education for females has not always been a priority.  The countries that do provide education for females only provide the minimal service, which normally does not include secondary education.  Over the years the issue of female education has been addressed in multiple ways.  In Romania in 1995 Camp GLOW was formed to encourage young women to become active citizens, harness self-awareness, and strive for their goals.  This camp was seen as a huge success throughout the international community and it was copied in many other countries including Uganda.  Two Decembers ago, in 2010, Camp GLOW Uganda was born and hosted 150 young females.

Even with the help of multiple organizations and Camp GLOW there are still numerous amounts of girls that are at high risk for teen pregnancy, early marriage, lack of school fees, discrimination towards proper education and jobs and pressured into sexual relationships.   In all regions of the country, men have a clear advantage over women in access to and control over resources while cultural practices also bestow men with more power than women in different aspects.  The view of women in Ugandan is mostly that they’re inferior and their role is to provide care of the home and be submissive to their husband.  Times are slowly changing and this of course, is not true for every Ugandan. But it is still a struggle for Ugandan girls to become empowered in their society, and at times even in their own homes and relationships. Young women especially have a difficult time breaking from these traditional female roles and lack the confidence, leadership skills and initiative to make good, healthy decisions for their future. History has proven that an empowered female is an integral part of development of a community and country.  Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls. 

Our Western Camp GLOW is going to be held from August 5th to August 11th in Fort Portal.  That gives us less than two months to plan.  We’ve already started but there is so much to do!  With any luck, our regional camp will be just as successful as the national camps have been 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9, 2012 9:15 PM--Missing America

After being here for about 5 minutes I could start naming things that I missed.  Most volunteers would say there are certain things you get over.  I’ve now been here almost a year and a half and I think I can truthfully tell you what it is I’m really missing.

Things I Miss

1. Christmas time
                I miss especially all the commercialization that happens in America.  Uganda is 80% Christian and they definitely celebrate Christmas, but it just isn’t the same.  Most people here don’t even have Christmas trees.  What kind of Christmas is that?

2. Phillies Games and Hot Dogs
                These two definitely go together.  Dollar dog night is definitely the best night at the Phillies game.  I have had a hot dog or two since I’ve been here, but they are definitely few and far between.  However, I don’t think I’ve seen a single baseball game since I’ve been here (minus seeing the Peace Corps volunteers play the Japanese volunteers at the Uganda little league complex).  At least I’m not missing much considering the Phillies currently stink.  And luckily, I’ll be home in time to catch most of next season.

                There isn’t too much I miss more than my dog.  There is nothing like having her greet me when I come home with her total and unconditional love.  I miss the funniest things about here.  I miss how she would nip at my fingers when I would come home to get my attention and I miss waking up next to her sprawled out in my bed.

4. Snow
                Most people probably wouldn’t miss battling to get to work because it snowed last night.  And they wouldn’t miss their feet freezing off because you had to walk outside.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss those aspects of snow, but I miss snow falling and how pretty is looks.  I miss there being snow on the ground for Christmas (when we get that lucky).  I miss playing in the snow.

5. The Change of Seasons
                This kind of goes along with snow.  I miss the crisp air of fall.  I miss the snow.  And I miss all the cold miserableness of winter melting into spring and then summer.  Spring and summer are the most exciting parts of the year, but having an eternal summer takes away the thrill of it all.

                I don’t always have something to do.  Maybe I work at most about 20 hours a week and that might seem fabulous, but it’s no good not having anything to do.  Also, being here and working toward cultural assimilation makes being at my site like being on-call all the time.  I miss having a job where I only work certain hours of the day and when I go home I’m done.

7. Bagels with Cream Cheese
                Cream Cheese is one of those things I never thought I would crave so much, but I do.  In fact, I had my parents bring me a bagel and cream cheese when they came to visit.  Need I say more?

8. Processed Food
                I miss things like cheese wiz.  Having fresh fruit and vegetables all the time is great, but sometimes you just need something that is really bad for you and oh so tasty at the same time.

9. Driving
                I don’t think it’s the driving I miss so much, but the freedom that comes with it.  I also hate having to deal with public transportation, especially here.  If I had to give up driving in America, it wouldn’t be so bad.  I miss having total control over where I go and when and how fast.

10. Hot Showers
                There are some people who would opt for a cold shower occasionally (like after working out).  For me, I NEVER like a cold shower.  This was one of those things that many volunteers told me I would eventually get over.  And after 17 months…I’m still not over it.  I love a hot shower!

11. Meat
                I don’t usually eat meat here, because, frankly, it’s terrible.  Even when Ugandan meat is prepared properly (which it almost never is by Ugandans), it still isn’t very good.  I’m probably going to eat a lot of steak when I come home.  MMMMM!!

12. McDonald’s
                This one goes along with meat and processed food.  Most volunteers will say the first place they are going to when they get back to the first-world is McDonald’s.  I feel like most Americans would consider meat from McDonald’s to be on the lower end of American meat, but compared to what we can get here it’s amazing!

13. Kitchen Sink
                I wish I could have brought everything, including the kitchen sink.  I miss having running water.  Washing your dishes in a basin just isn’t the same.

14. Gym
                I miss being able to workout how I want.  I gave up a while ago on running, because it’s just too stressful.  There are too many people here that just don’t understand.  Running should relieve stress, not cause it.  I miss having all my options open at the gym.  I miss swimming laps too.

15. Washer/Dryer
                I miss having a machine that washes and drys my clothes.  I do like having something to give me a sense of accomplishment some days when I don’t have anything else to do.  However, it is very nice to not have to wash your own clothes.  And it’s also nice to not have to wait for things to dry, which can take all day.  Sometimes it even takes more than one day if it’s cloudy or raining.

16. Beach
                This one should be obvious.  I’m currently living in a landlocked country and I love the beach.  This is another thing I’m looking forward to doing when I get back because I’ll be just in time for summer.

                I miss watching the news.  I miss reading the news.  I miss all the news in the world being up in my face.  In Uganda, you can only really get local news and African news.  Most other international news just isn’t there.  I miss always knowing what’s going on.

Along with all these things that I miss there are some things that I don’t miss.  However there are nearly as many things that I don’t miss, because really…who doesn’t love America!

Things I Don't Miss 

1. Stupid Reality TV Shows
                There never seems to be a shortage of these.  How many times do we need to see the bachelorette fall in love with some guy she’s never going to stay with?  This is one thing that could disappear forever and I would never miss it.

                This one is something I miss and don’t miss at the same time.  I like being able to have all the time in the world to do exactly what I want to do.  I have the freedom to decide my own schedule and until I get bored, it couldn’t be better.

3. Fast-Paced Life
                I don’t miss how everyone is in such a hurry.  I don’t always like how Ugandans are never on time, but I don’t think we need to be always running from one thing to another so quickly.

4. Cold Weather
                I do miss snow, but I don’t miss be cold all winter.  Sometimes I think spring will never come.  If I could have snow without cold weather, life would be perfect.

So, it looks like there are plenty of things to look forward to in 10 months.  Sometimes it seems like 10 months can’t come quick enough, but then I think about what I’m really doing here and I realize it’s all worth it.  I only got 10 months left to change the world!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Help Kinoni Girls Secondary School in Uganda!

Empowering the students of Kinoni Girls’ Secondary School to become computer literate and improving their chances for a brighter future is easy!
CLICK HERE to see the project page on the Peace Corps website and make your donation. 

The website for my computer lab grant project has been live for two weeks accepting donations, but WE STILL NEED YOUR HELP.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with what I’m trying to do with this project, I would like to tell you more about it.

I have been teaching computer classes at Kinoni Girls’ Secondary School (Kinoni Girls’ S.S.) for over a year now.  Kinoni Girls’ S.S. has a fairly large computer lab space which has recently been furnished with new desks that can accommodate at least 30 computers.  Currently there are only 6 working computers in the lab – this is a problem because most class sizes exceed 40 students.  We are trying to raise funds to purchase an additional 20 computers for the classroom.  This is where we need your help!

Every dollar that is donated goes directly to purchasing computer.  None of the money is used for any kind of administrative costs and it doesn’t get lost anywhere between Peace Corps Washington and Kinoni Girls’ S.S.

Again, 100% of the proceeds go toward the purchase of new computers.

We need more computers for the students so that they have a chance to truly learn and develop the computer skills they need to succeed.  The entire project will cost 24 million shillings (about $9600).  The community will be providing 25% of this money or about 6 million shillings ($2400).  This money will come from various sources with the school, including the Old Girls Association (alumni) and students’ school fees.  But it is not enough – we still need to raise the other 75% of the funds.

Kinoni Girls S.S. is very dedicated and invested in this project.  Before this project was conceived, the computer lab was once the staff break room.  Since the proposal of this project, the school has been active in preparing this classroom space by having new desks made to accommodate new computers that they hope to get and turning it into a suitable place for the girls to learn.

Students are required to take computers during the first two years of secondary school.  Those students in their third or fourth year have the option to take computers, but very few of them actually do.  Computers is now also a requirement in Senior 5, which is the first year of Advanced Level.  Those is Senior 5 are required to take either Math or Computers as a subsidiary subject.  Most of these students have opted to take computers, giving us about 50 girls who are taking computers in Senior 5.

More computers are a necessity for Kinoni Girls’ S.S.  Having enough computers in the classroom will not only encourage more students to take computers voluntarily, but it will also greatly enhance learning in other classes which require the use of computers.  Computer skills are also necessary for those students who intend to go to University.  This project will allow the students to get much more practical time on the computers during their computers lessons and outside of class.  We also hope that having enough computers in the lab will help students achieve higher marks in their computer classes since they will be able to spend more time using the computers hands-on.

Additionally, if we get more computers in the lab, more teachers will incorporate computers into their everyday lessons and we will also be able to use the lab to help many of the teachers further their own computer education as well.

This project is sustainable because there are three computer teachers at Kinoni Girls’ S.S. who will maintain the lab and make sure it is continued to be used for empowering the students to  choose to take computers and to continue to teach other school staff members more about computers.

Empowering the students of Kinoni Girls’ S.S. to become computer literate and improving their chances for a brighter future is easy!  CLICK HERE to see the project page on the Peace Corps website and make your donation.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or email me directly.  Remember, every dollar goes directly to buying computers for Kinoni Girls’ S.S. and no donation is too small!  Thank you for your generosity.