Sunday, 21 November 2010

Final Farewells

Having postponed it so many times, we would not blame you for thinking we may never leave Uganda. But we are now on our way back to Blighty having had an emotional few weeks saying goodbye to all the good friends that we've made here.
On our last night we'd planned a few quiet farewell drinks at our regular Friday evening haunt, but unbeknown to us close friends had arranged a big party complete with speeches, slideshow presentation of our time here and topped off with an African band and dancers. It was a fitting end to a fantastic 17 months.

We're now very much looking forward to seeing you all back home

Party on...!

As promised, here is a link to a short film of the children's party we held for the Namuwongo community a few weeks ago. Thank you again to all those who contributed in terms of their time, money and party paraphernalia! Thank you too to Lucy and her team from Childs i Foundation who produced the film.

Monday, 15 November 2010

'I now declare this building open...'

It's not every day you get to open a new building complete with a plaque with your name on it, so we felt very privileged and proud to be able to attend the annual parents' day at the Royal Pride Academy, at which we were guests of honour. One part of the celebrations included the official opening of the school building funded by your generous donations.

The teachers and pupils had put a huge amount of effort into making the day very special. There were various songs, dances and even a fashion show with clothes made from newspaper! There were speeches from the headteacher, a parents' representative, politicians and an emotional farewell and thank you from Alan. A special mention was given to our friends and family, whose invaluable support made the whole project possible.

The day also encompassed a graduation ceremony from the nursery school, where 'Dr Alison' was responsible for handing out the certificates.
We feel very honoured to have been a part of such an inspiring and committed group of people, and are very sad to say goodbye. We know that they will continue to flourish and undertake the great work of educating some of the most underprivileged children in Uganda. We will never forget them.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Adding an Appendix to our Stay in Uganda!

With just a matter of days remaining of our stay in Uganda, we thought it remiss that our medical exposure here be limited to Alison’s involvement within IMG, so with that in mind, Alan selflessly underwent an emergency appendicectomy on Friday at IHK!! As Alison elected not to join them in theatre (much to the surprise of the team?!), the surgeon felt it necessary to bring the offending organ out for her perusal, as featured below!

There had been a lot of debate as to whether or not to operate - a decision that is not taken lightly out here as you can appreciate!! - with the preference being a more conservative approach where possible. Alison was not that patient and Alan was under the knife just over 24 hours after his first twinge and apparently just in the nick of time judging by the state of his appendix. Thank you to you all for your advice and support on the 'To operate or not to operate' debate - it was really appreciated!

Alan is now recovering well in hospital and has been receiving excellent care from the staff at IHK.

As a result of this surgical setback, our return to the UK will be delayed...again, but hopefully only by a few days! Thanks again to everyone for your get well wishes. Above is Zoe's Get Well Soon card, which somewhat morbidly turned into a 'Fairwell' card, but looking at Alan in the picture you can't blame her for that!!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful!

We rounded up the VSO Kampala group and took them to Royal Pride school in Mutungo slum for a day of painting. Despite having barely drawn breath from the children's party, Jonathan and Siobhan were still happy to pitch in again, exchanging party hats for paint brushes. They will be going back to work in the UK for a rest!

With funding from VSO, REAL and again your personal donations, the parents of the school had made up some school benches and tables from recycled wood ready for us to paint. We had also collected up some old car tyres for painting, which supplement the playground equipment that our friends, Rob and Nancy, had previously donated to the school. A lot of the pupils, parents and teachers also turned out to lend a hand, so we ended up with many hands making light work, although paint brushes were in short supply. As you can see, Bella was happy to demonstrate how to paint without a brush!
Alison was given the task of painting the school sign. See if you can spot the deliberate mistake on the email address. Apparently this is the 'local' spelling and it is the correct address so do feel free to drop a line- Godfrey, the Headteacher, would be delighted!

A party to remember....!!!

Thanks to so many of you who donated party goodies, time and money, we managed to give 400+ of the local Namuwongo kids a day to remember. The afternoon began with us arriving at the wooden church venue at 2:30pm to blow up a few hundred balloons, only to find that a good proportion of the guests were already there, despite not being due to start until 4pm! We managed to hold back the party hats and blowers until the official start time, from which point it was face painting, party games and dancing galore, rounded off with a feast, sodas and a delicious 4 tier chocolate cake. We finally left the party at 8:30pm, but could still hear the blowers sounding long into the night and the next morning.
Our friend Lucy, who runs Childsi Foundation here in Kampala, lent us her film crew to capture the event, so as soon as we have the edited version, we'll post a link.

 Thanks again for all your support, it certainly made a big impact here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Rwandan Birthday!

Alan's 38th year was heralded by a beautiful birthday breakfast on the banks of Lake Kivu in Rwanda, marred only slightly by the slaughter and subsequent dismemberment of a cow on the shores behind us! If you look carefully at the photo below you may be able to pick out some bovine body parts over Alan's shoulder!?! As you might expect Amy did not appreciate this and entered in to another phase of vegetarianism...!
Despite being in the depths of the Rwandan countryside, we still managed to produce the birthday hat and a cake to mark the special occasion! The excitement was all too much for the girls who fell asleep whilst waiting for birthday dinner!!

We could not return back to Kampala without stopping at our most favourite spot in Uganda - Lake Bunyoni. We spent a lovely couple of days there relaxing and swimming in the lake.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Rarer than the mountain gorilla.... the Coventry City supporter! However we managed to track one down in the wild bush of South Western Uganda. Here he is spotted with a very pleased Alan:

Off into the wild...

Together with Alison's brother and his girlfriend, we headed out to the West of Uganda towards Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, one of the few remaining habitats of the rare mountain gorilla. En route, we encountered the tree-climbing lions in Ishasha, one of the few places in the world where they exhibit this behaviour.

The girls are too young to actually track the gorillas, but they were able to join us on a walk through the Impenetrable Forest, which they attacked with gusto. Armed with a walking stick and a backpack containing lunch, a waterproof and a dry change of clothes, they hiked for 5 hours each way on 2 consecutive days. Admittedly, Bella did get rather attached to her guide (physically and emotionally!) for sections of the journey, but it was thoroughly enjoyable and we avoided the rains for the most part.

Since someone had to stay with the girls, we split up to track the gorillas. Jonathan and Siobhan visited them in Buhoma on one side of the forest, and Alison and Alan visited them in Nkuringo. On both trips we got up very close and personal to the big fellas and it was an amazing experience all round.
Visiting a rainforest in the wet season does bring certain challenges. We hired a vehicle to take us the last part of the trip to Nkuringo as it was too far for the girls to walk the whole way. The driver duly turned up in a saloon car and struggled to make it up some very steep and slippery mud roads. After a rather hairy slide towards the road's edge we exited the vehicle shaking and watched as the driver over-revved the engine and blew up his radiator.

We were grateful to arrive unscathed in Nkuringo and enjoyed the amazing views from there in to Rwanda (our next destination) and the Congo. We were also entertained with some fabulous cultural dancing by the local children, including some scary gorilla dancing to get us in the mood!

Dragon's Den- African Style!

As part of the income generation project with the Touch Namuwongo Community volunteers, Alan organised a Dragon's Den style forum for the volunteers to pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts. On the panel were Alison' brother, Jonathan who is an investment banker in London, Kevin the CEO of International Hospital Kampala, our friend Amos who runs a tour company in Uganda, and Rita, a lawyer from the hospital with experience in similar microfinance schemes.
Using funds from donations and some of the 'dragons' own money, we are distributing loans to the ideas deemed most innovative and likely to succeed. In the first session we had ideas ranging from a fish mincing machine to an ID card business. The other volunteers watched on and hopefully learnt some valuable business skills for their own ventures.
Once the loans are paid back over a 6 month period, the process will start again and the money will be ploughed ino the next winning entries.
This guy is pitching for funds to expand his onion selling business. The dragons are sat on the right.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

...last patient of the day

We figured it was time to update you on the progress of the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) programme which Alison has been helping to develop for the Touch Namuwongo community project based at IHK, particularly as some of you very kindly donated funds to get it up and running. The clinics are now well under way, with around 20-30 patients per clinic coming through for advice and testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and cervical cancer screening. The clinics are free of charge and are targetted at the members of the community that cannot afford to pay.
There has been a very high uptake which is likely only to get higher as more people learn about the service on offer. Alison has worked closely with the Ugandan medical staff who will continue to deliver the service and raise the profile and importance of sexual and reproductive health within the underpriveledged communities in Uganda once Alison has left.
Your generous donations helped to launch the service and the funding which allows its continued delivery is largely coming from Oxford University in the form of a research grant. The objective of the research project is to develop a risk tool to identify those members of the population most at risk of contracting STDs. This is being achieved by testing all patients currently presenting at the clinic for a range of STDs. Once developed, this tool will subsequently be validated and put to use in the local community and further afield.
We are currently working on raising funds to allow this much needed service to continue for the community once the research is over. As this service is also lacking in the private sector, Alison has helped develop a similar package for the hospital and we are in the process of developing a model which uses the profits generated from this private service to subsidise the service offered to the community. This model of using the infrastructure and resources provided by the private arm of the organisation to help the community, is at the heart of IMG and helps sustain many of our community projects. That said, this model can only provide a part of the solution to meeting the unending health needs of the community and as such we still rely on and are very grateful for any charitable donations through the Suubi Trust (
Alison has really enjoyed the community work and has found it the most rewarding job she has ever done. The people with whom Alison works have continually impressed her with their willingess to learn and take on these new challenges and she has felt priveledged to be a part of such a dedicated team.
Inevitably, this line of work, although rewarding, can be emotionally draining, especially with the high number of HIV positive diagnoses and the high rate of non-consensual sexual encounters at such an early age. This could never have been more apparent than the other week as Alison's last patient of the day stepped through the door. Her sad story has really touched a nerve both personally and throughout the organisation. Appreciating that her story will not be appropriate for some of the younger followers of our blog we will not go into the detail here, but if those of a stronger disposition could spare the time to read more about her story and help in any way through the Suubi Trust ( then please follow the link to Last Patient of the Day

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Mucking Out...!

Kampala is filthy! Almost everywhere you look there are piles of rubbish. The drains are clogged with plastic bags. You often get wafts of sewage whilst out and about. In the slum areas, which are located at the bottom of the hills near the swamps, this is magnified, as everyone's waste (including personal!) gets washed down by gravity towards them. There is no council-sponsored waste collection so it is down to the communities to keep their environment clean. From what we can see this does not always happen. In neighbouring Rwanda, the government has taken more drastic steps; plastic bags are completely banned and community clean-up days are organised every month to keep the waste levels to a minimum.
On Saturday, we helped organise a similar clean-up day in our local community in a deprived area called Namuwongo. VSO gives a small budget to the volunteers clustered in any given area to spend on a local project, which will in some way help improve the lot of the local community. It was a case of opportunity meeting need, as the Touch Namuwongo project in which Alison is involved has been looking to start a clean-up programme and we had some funds to buy the equipment needed. So we joined forces and purchased wheelbarrows, shovels, wellies, gloves, etc. The community were 'mobilised' to attend on Saturday morning and over 400 people turned up and duly collected their gloves and tools and set to work collecting the rubbish and digging out the ditches. Amy, Zoe and Bella joined in for the 'light cleaning' and seeing little white kids helping out swelled the numbers of locals further. Those with a keen eye may spot the girls wearing their Monkey Lou superhero t-shirts (donated by Laura Bramswell-thank you!) in a bid to save the planet
After a couple of hours of mucking out before the midday heat, everyone was rewarded with a specially commissioned t-shirt and a chapatti each. We then enjoyed some Ugandan dancing and speeches by the community leaders, before distributing some mosquito nets and delivering some health education and income generation training. It was also another good opportunity to sensitise the community to the sexual and reproductive health service that Alison has developed for them, although with numbers already at 20+ per day, there is some concern that the service may become quickly overwhelmed.
The day will hopefully now kickstart regular cleaning sessions around the different parts of Kampala and having cleared up some of the mess, people may think twice about dumping their rubbish in public.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Who needs Barbie...

...when you can make one of these!!?

Bella gets into the local crafts and seems quite pleased with her handiwork.

Seventies Revival!

Two of our good friends, Natalie and Sean, recently turned 30 and 40 respectively so they joined forces to make 70 and the obvious party choice was a 1970's theme! Through a combination of an extensive second hand clothing market, cheap tailors and an eye for bad taste, guests were able to cobble together some pretty impressive outfits. Not sure if you'll recognise a couple of familiar style gurus in these pics, but needless to say Alan took a while to prepare for the event with a rather fetching porn-star chopper moustache.
There were some luminous 70's cocktails and funky tunes to see us through to the small hours. Not sure Uganda in the 1970's was quite the same so there were a few bemused faces in the bar.
The girls are relieved that Alan has now removed the offending item from his top lip (although he's holding on to his sideburns for a bit longer!) and they have allowed a goodnight kiss again.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Reaching out to the community...

We recently attended one of the Outreach days run by the Touch Namuwongo project, which is part of the charitable community arm of the hospital where Alison works.
Members of the community can come along every other Saturday and get HIV tests and various medical advice for free through an extensive network of local volunteers. The outreaches are held within different disadvantaged communities around Kampala. It is a very impressive service and lots of people were taking advantage of the opportunity to improve their health and increase their medical awareness. Although they had their work cut out keeping all the children entertained as well...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

7th Heaven!

Zoe had some of her friends around to celebrate her 7th birthday. There was a treasure hunt in the garden, face painting and pizza making (the wine bottles pictured were used as rolling pins- honest!)

judging by the mess a good time was had by all...

...and then we got cleaned up in the bath...

Monday, 13 September 2010

Painting Kampala Red...

Our friend and fellow VSO volunteer Jan launched her career as artist in residence at our regular Friday eveing haunt, Fuego's. Jan is an art and design teacher back in the UK and runs a charity here in Kampala which sends disadvantaged children to school. She has also found the time to capture Uganda on canvass and we helped her set up her first exhibition, which was a resounding success. One of the sales of a picture called 'Butt Naked' was to Dorthe, pictured here with Jan.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Back to Skool...

All 3 girls are now back at school with Bella returning this week after Zoe and Amy returned last week. Bella was really excited about starting full-time, although the novelty may start to wear off!
8 weeks was a long holiday and Alan especially is looking forward to some 'me' time. We have plenty to be cracking on with as Alison starts her STI research project and Alan embarks on more building work at the Royal Pride Academy and some income generation projects. Only a couple of months left until we return to England- wow!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Then Alison's Turn...

2 days after Bella's birthday, it was Alison's turn to wear the birthday cake hat of shame! We travelled back from Jinja on the morning of Alison's birthday. Our friend Jan then offered to look after the girls whilst Alan and Alison went for a massage, before returning home to find a house full of friends and a birthday tea with cakes, sandwiches and other delights.

We even had room for dinner at a posh Italian restaurant in town. We weren't too sure where the restaurant was located in town in order to direct our taxi driver. He pulled over whilst we got directions on the phone, but one of Kampala's ubiquitous policemen didn't like where he had stopped, so got in the car and insisted on taking our taxi driver to the police station to charge him. Bad news for our driver, but turns out it was good news for us as the policeman knew the way to our restaurant and so could direct our driver on the way to the police station!

Fantastic rissotto too!