Friday, April 12, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—April 12, 2013 (Day 24)

Name: Chris Peterson

Age: 42

Home State: Iowa originally, Mississippi more recently

What he did before Peace Corps: Research for the US Forest Service

Program Sector: Community Economic Development

Number of months spent in Uganda: 11

Host Organization: BKB Uganda Orphans

Site location: Central region, Wakiso District, Nalugala Village

Language spoken at his site: Luganda

Tangerines growing on the demonstration farm
Chris is working with BKB Uganda Orphans, which was started by a Ugandan woman in 1999 to provide income generating opportunities for families caring for orphans. The idea was to keep orphans in their home communities where they can retain links to their language, culture, and better defend their claims to rightfully inherited property from land grabbers. BKB expanded to include water projects (protected springs and boreholes), sponsoring school fees, a mobile medical clinic that gives out free preventive and curative medicine, and most recently an organic demonstration farm. “We want the farm to be our money maker, so we can decrease our reliance on donor funding. Gate fees for school and grower groups will fully fund the farm, and the excess will be funneled into our other projects. Officially my role is ‘business advising,’ but most of my work involves incorporating organic and best practices growing techniques on the farm. I introduced contour rows to control erosion and hold water, a flower garden to increase bee habitat (we have five beehives) and to encourage cut flowers as an IGA [Income Generating Activity], and a dry season garden of drought-tolerant crops to show that you can grow things all year round and not sit idle during the dry season.”
Okra, one of the crops that can be grown in the dry season

Chris has also worked on a few secondary projects so far in his service. He wrote a booklet on the prevention of termites in Ugandan buildings. “The site where we had our satellite language training was eaten up with termites, and the builder made several mistakes that would have prevented the damage. This is based on a similar booklet I wrote for the Forest Service in my previous job.” He is also working on Peace Corps Uganda’s Malaria Think Tank. “I’m devising projects my site can do to increase malaria awareness, such as a Malaria Open House on World Malaria Day in April. I am also helping to design a project with another PCV on the benefits of social communication the acceptance of bed nets. In short, if one person gets a bed net, what’s the likelihood that his neighbor buys one as well?”

Chris is able to get most of his basic necessities locally at an Indian supermarket and the local dukas (small shops). There is even a fish market nearby every evening “where you can get fish so fresh it’s sometimes still flopping.” However there are some few things he needs to get in Entebbe Town, which is a short taxi ride away. Chris also has running water in his house, which works most of the time. Otherwise he can get water from his organization’s rain tanks.

Chris’ favorite things about his site are its location and the opportunities he has to work on various projects. His site is close to Entebbe and close to Lake Victoria and is well developed, which means he has plenty of time to experiment with projects or work on secondary projects.

So far, Chris’ favorite moment at site was when he took the time to cook Thanksgiving dinner for people at his site, which turned into an interesting cross-cultural exchange. “The only turkey I could find in Entebbe cost $100, so chicken it was. They doubted that you could cook sweet potatoes in foil in a Dutch oven without water, and didn’t believe you could boil sweet corn on the cob. I explained the history of Thanksgiving, and how all the foods we had except the chicken and green veggies were originally American: beans, pumpkin, potatoes, and maize. ‘No,’ they said, ‘these are local pumpkins and we bought the potatoes to plant in Abayita.’ I love my Ugandan coworkers, but their sense of history only goes back about 100 years. Unless it’s the Bible.”

He has found that his biggest challenge at site is communication and communicating ideas to his fellow staff members. The staff are mostly willing to take risks with new ideas, but being able to communicate what he wants to do is not so simple. “I only recently learned that ‘droppings,’ ‘dung,’ and ‘manure’ are different things here.” He also struggles with his lack of privacy. “I like to just go about my day, which is hard when you glow in the dark.”

What makes Chris’ community so unique is that it is NOT like a normal Ugandan village where most volunteers live and work. “Being between Kampala and Entebbe, we are a very developed community with very little ‘village’ atmosphere. People are pretty familiar with westerners, although I wonder if the children have a game of being the first to spot the muzungu.”


This morning Mary and me got up pretty early so we could get to the primary school where she had to do school observation. So after bathing, getting ready, and having some breakfast we made our way to Pic Hill Primary School, which is about half way to Jinja Town from Mary's house. I hadn't spent much time at any primary schools so I wasn't too sure what to expect, but this school definitely shattered any expectations I did have.

PTC student teacher teaching vocabulary
P2 student demonstrating the vocab words
When we first arrived Mary said to me “Is this really a primary school? It looks like a nursery school.” We went into the administration block and sat for a few minutes while we waited for the PTC students to compile their class schedule. Once we received the schedule we made our way to the first classroom. We started in a P2 class. This is the second year of primary school, so these kids are pretty little still. I always thought that in every primary school the students learn in the local language until P4 and then they start to learn in English. However, in this school, all the kids learned in English because it is a private school. And especially in the lower levels at this school, the kids respond in unison in a very sing-songy manner to every question. It was really cute, but really unusual to me to hear all these kids speaking English and also not really staring at us.  There were also only about 20 kids in each class and opposed to the normal 100-200.  Another thing I thought was so funny was the interaction we had with the kids upon arriving in the classroom.

Mary reading through the PTC student's teaching file
Mary: Thank you. Good morning P2!
Class (in unison): GOOD MORNING VISITORS
Mary: How are you?

This is the banter back and forth that we had in every single class we went into. Nothing changed except the class we were in. Even Mary thought their answer to the question “how are you?” was funny and unusual.

Demonstration in P6 class
So throughout the morning we continued moving from class to class to observe the different student teachers. We started in P2 with English class. Then P4 and P6 for Math classes. On to P5 for science and finally back to P6 for Science. In the final lesson I observed, the student teacher even did an experiment with some string and two cups and she made a “telephone” to demonstrate the movement of sound through a solid. By the time we were approaching break time at 10:30, Mary walked me to the road where I could get a taxi to Kampala. I had to make my way to Chris' site in Entebbe before it got too late.

Piglets at the demonstration farm
After leaving Jinja at 10:30, I arrived at Chris' site at about 2 PM. When I first arrived, one of his co-workers got me some lunch, because it was a little after lunchtime. So we chatted about his site and what he does here while I ate. Then when I finished eating, Chris showed me around the demonstration farm, showing me all the different things they have growing here and the different experimental areas they are trying. The farm is definitely a unique place where they are growing things and doing things that many Ugandans would never think of doing.

Once the tour was over, we stopped at Chris' house so I could drop off my stuff and then he took me to show me the trading center. There isn't a whole lot there so eventually we got a taxi to Entebbe where we ended up eating dinner. We went to this awesome Ethiopian restaurant just before you reach the airport. It was interesting being so close to the airport. It made me feel like I'm leaving today. Luckily I only have about 1 ½ weeks before I actually do leave.

We got to see the sun set over Lake Victoria as we were walking to get dinner
So tomorrow I'm heading back towards my home, the Southwest!! I'll be going out to Bushenyi tomorrow and visiting some volunteers out that way on Sunday.


  1. Sounds like quite an unusual school. Only 20 children per class, European teachers dream of classes that small!

  2. Wonderful post. I'm impressed by the work that's been accomplished and ashamed I'm so ignorant on other parts of the world.