by CHARLIE SCHULER
This all started when our daughter-in-law was offered a buyout from her company. Donna and her husband, our son, Brent, wanted to do their part to make the world a better place. They decided they would take the money and go to UGANDA for a couple of years. Donna was very good at managing people and handling money and, among other things, Brent was a math teacher.
Just to give you a little background on Uganda, it is a landlocked country in Eastern Africa just west of Kenya. It has a huge body of water called Lake Victoria, all sorts of wild animals and National Parks. Because Uganda is on the equator, there are only two seasons in Uganda – the rainy and the dry. It was dry when we were there.
Recently, Uganda was ranked the second youngest country in the world because over 79% of the people were under 25 years of age. I believe this, because the life span when we were there was only 45 years. It’s also due to the many children that most women have.
Brent and Donna got themselves established; Brent teaching math and computers, and Donna running a microfinance non-profit, HOFOKAM. This was a large and spread-out operation that made very small loans – around $100 to $500 dollars. HOFOKAM loan officers would teach the borrowers how to run a business. They also formed them into borrower groups to facilitate peer pressure to ensure repayment. The borrowers learned to hold meetings, write minutes, keep records, and make periodic scheduled payments. All this worked well – not without challenges though – and is still functioning today.
Donna and Brent’s travels to the many field offices led to the discovery that one of the primary staples of all meals was cassava. This is a starch made from the roots of a plant. The women had to pound and grind this many hours a day to have enough for meals. Brent & Donna worked with the community and figured if they had a diesel engine-powered grinding system they could save the women a lot of work. The women would also be freed up for more productive and creative work.
Together we formed a non-profit — Uplift Uganda — and raised enough money to buy and install the diesel engine and grinding system and got it installed. We were invited to come to Uganda and attend the grand opening.
After many vaccinations, we were in Uganda and at the grinding mill location in a very remote village. They made the final connections and powered up the mill. They ground more cassava in the first few minutes than they would normally do in a whole day!
Success in Uganda is always followed with a party. They definitely know how to party – they sing, dance, make speeches (lots of speeches) and share gifts. I walked away with an honorary King’s seat and a spear. I felt incredibly honored and humbled by these beautifully hand-crafted gifts from these people who had so little.
We also got to visit the school where Brent was teaching. It reminded me of the one room schoolhouse in the country. Brent & Donna and Uplift Uganda made sure that they had the materials they needed as well as computers. Their education system is very different from what we have in the States. The good news is that Brent and other teachers at the school were able to start a program to teach the students about computers.
We did get to meet the people in their homes, typically in one room with a thatch roof and mud walls, but they were neat and clean. Water, especially drinkable water, is a problem there, or lack of it. The natives must walk great distances to get the water, and then they usually have to boil it to make it safe to drink.
We also saw lions, giraffes, gorillas, monkeys, hippos and birds that build their nest upside down (Weaver birds). In addition to that, we took a boat trip up the Nile, which passes through Uganda, and saw unbelievable wildlife and amazing waterfalls.
I could look out at Lake Victoria, which is a huge lake, and wonder why you can’t swim or drink from the lake. I found out that it’s very dangerous due to pollution as well as crocodiles and hippos polluting the water, and it can kill you if you drink it. Uganda is an amazing country and has much to offer. I feel we haven’t even scratched the surface and we have so much more to share. So, we will continue this story next month as UGANDA Part 2. Pray for Uganda, they are a lovely people and have many economic and health challenges and the curse of a self-appointed President-for-Life.