The wind and wonder of discovery engulfed me as I held on to my motorcycle taxi driver, Kacumbe, the consensus king of boda boda drivers in the Kabale square where I had travelled in southwestern Uganda. We were on our way to Lake Bunyonyi, a mystical highland lake that would capture a decade of my life with its people and majesty. We navigated barely scalable muddy stretches, passing kids colourfully clad in school sweaters and smiles, surrounded by the deep green hillside terrace homeland of the Bakiga Tribe. Women on the roadside smashed rocks with hammers to make piles of gravel. “They make small stones,” explained Kacumbe, “to feed their children. They earn USD 2 a day.”
I noted Kacumbe’s efficiency, talent and warmth — and for my seven-week deployment in these hills building volleyball courts, making videos and writing pieces for today’s Gorilla Highlands Experts team, he was my man for all means of transport. A year later, when he aspired to purchase a vehicle of his own to rise in the tourism ranks, I loaned him some money to do so. In the decade since, Tioga the Toyota has carried him and hundreds of travelers on trips of discovery similar to mine. He now owns a home overlooking Lake Victoria in Entebbe in central Uganda, and has nearly paid off his original loan. And his new daughter, Scarlet, is a cutie.
It’s not always clear how to best support people in different cultures, but at least a hundred kids in Kabale have had lessons and can now swim, combating a lethal threat in this land of lakes. I’ve helped others, but below is the story of a recent project Kacumbe and I collaborated on, a grassroots kind of real impact, that may animate the educational growth of a few hundred kids in a far-away land. No middlemen or bureaucracies to dilute the degree of actual support, and I like that. USD 100 can actually make a decisive difference in people’s lives, or it can just pay for a night out with my wife in California.
Now, if I can just figure how to help those mothers with babies slung from their shoulders, who are “making small stones.”
A WORD ABOUT GIVING
From dust-covered women banging rocks with little hammers in Uganda to men stuck in yellow metallic boxes selling a few cents worth of phone airtime on the streets of Rwanda, everybody in our region is trying to make ends meet. The ones most hit by the Covid-19 crisis are certainly those who depend on the tourism dollar to get their children to school or put simple meals on their family tables …
Plain and simple:
• Norah has nobody to share her forest knowledge with
• Olivier is not collecting tourists for bicycle trips
• Gerald and Jackline have no visitors to host at their homestay
• Rukundo’s stories of Lake Burera go unheard
• Brenda is not cooking delicious meals at a campsite anymore
Africans don’t have the social security system that you might be familiar with where you live, but they are resourceful. If they’re lucky, they will have land they can live off.
If they’re fortunate enough, they will have relatives who can bail them out, but living on handouts from family members (who our unemployed guide or chef may normally support) or adjusting to the basic life as a farmer isn’t easy. Some people simply don’t have these options either, especially in the remote communities that we specialise in promoting.
The Gorilla Highlands Experts team is thus attempting to raise a budget that would help our partners survive through the lockdowns and travel restrictions, as Miha explained in the recent post. We would far rather create jobs, and we will do that again — but at this point in the pandemic, people need help buying everyday essentials. Will you take part?
The Kagarama Kid Comes Home
by James Kacumbe
The lovely sunset entertained me on the balcony of my house in Entebbe. My very good fortune was on my mind, and so were the faraway friends and family in the town of Kabale where I had grown up, six hours to the south. The dinging of my email brought me a blast of good news, from a world away in California, USA. Jon Lee, known to me as Oruhindu, was calling. He is a retired teacher and volleyball coach, who came to Uganda a decade ago. He’s become a benefactor and friend who is good at weaving families, people and communities together, and providing education services here in Uganda.
The news was that his friend had given him a few US dollars that could perhaps change people’s lives. A wonderful goal, but how best to do that?
The quick idea that came to mind was my former school, Kagarama PS, on the hilltop above Lake Bunyonyi a short drive out of Kabale. I still knew teachers and parents there, who had been schoolmates of mine. Hundreds of kids were now returning after a long absence due to the Covid pandemic. I envisioned them playing sports as a way to help them recover the joy of school once again.
After receiving the money through Jon, a shopping trip to Kampala enabled me, Kacumbe, to buy some footballs, books and other school accessories for the far distant school that needed them badly. I would also be able to obtain the wood posts and supports for football goals for the flat green grass pitch near the school buildings.
So, off I went, to my boyhood home, with the welcoming lush green fields out the minibus window, and good crops growing by the sides of the road. Clear views of Mount Muhavura and Mount Gahinga, two huge volcanoes, could be seen in the distance. A good welcome to the Gorilla Highlands.
On a sunny morning, I was at the school. I brought goal posts, pens, pencils, and writing books, along with new footballs and other accessories. With the help of older boys, four parents and the sports teacher, the goal post holes were dug and we joined and put them in together. Soon the football pitch was now in full shape.
The Kagarama students performed a parade of thanks and I was introduced to them as a graduate of this very school. It was time for me to give a speech to their assembly of young smiling faces. I encouraged the kids to have education as first priority. Also to focus on their dreams.
Then time came for the school management and the kids to thank Jon and friends over in Santa Barbara, California, America, a land they see only in movies played in shack-like mini cinemas.
Then each student received a book and pens. Other books were stored in the school office to be given to kids with perfect attendance, who are active in class, and those that always do their work on time.
But many of the kids were thinking of the new balls and goals that would give them one of the best new sports fields around. The last request from students and management was to have Jon and his friends come to play volleyball and football with the kids when they visit the school. From that email on the balcony, a big change had been made in many many lives.
I left the school feeling very happy, and went on to see my relatives. It was nice again being in a green, noise free, clear sky village chatting with family, sipping Obushera and tasting the local food of my homeland. It was time to reset, and reflect on my good fortune yet again. The Kagarama Kid was home.
Batwa mother and child photo by Marcus Westberg