“Crash” – down goes the dunny

Usually things go down the toilet. Last night the tables turned.

I awoke at 1:00 to a massive “crash” outside. The sound seemed so close, just outside our window. I was terrified that our mahogany tree had come down and hit Lucy’s house, but I looked all around the compound, and found everything as it should be.

In the morning I walked just outside our compound to find our neighbours’ pit toilet collapsed on the ground. It was 15 years old, and made from mud bricks. I had a few earthquake members flash through my mind, but luckily no-one was inside. They’ve already started digging a new pit. I don’t want to know where they’ll go in the meantime!


Usually things go down the toilet. This time the toilet went down.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Real life Friend Request

Tessa has only had “friend requests” on facebook before. Until today. And this from someone we don’t even know.

Friend Request.jpg

We can read between the lines and think know what this really means. What do you think might be the meaning behind  this?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Rescued – twit twoooo

“Its a big bird” was the best the kids could do to explain their excitement. The velociraptor impression gave it away though. They led me to a mango tree stump


Notice the string on its wings at the back of the photo – They were tied up!


The poor thing couldn’t fly, its wings had been tied up. I really don’t know why. We had a meeting, and decided to snip the string and free the glorious creature


After being freed, it wandered back to the stump, and when we checked 10 minutes later, it was gone! Fare thee well my fawny feathered friend (apologies).


Twit Twooooooooooooo


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Recipe for “local ownership?”

group photoBack in New Zealand over the summer, I remember proudly boasting that our community organizing group was ploughing ahead without me. That’s supposed to be the test, right? To start something that takes on an energy of its own, driven by motivated local leadership? Our chairperson reported that the group had successfully pushed the Chinese road company to add speed bumps outside our local hospital where trucks sped by on their way to Juba, occasionally crushing the odd patient or hospital staff. Thousands of kilometers away, I glowed with pride.

I arrived back in Uganda, congratulations ready on my lips. Sure enough, there were the speed humps. But every time I bumped into our members:

Angee: “Its been so long since we’ve met!”,
Florence: “No one ever called me to a meeting,”
Omona: “Is Wakonye Kenwa over?”

Group money had been spent by just one person. I’m still not sure if the speed humps would have happened anyway. Lack of action had festered into discontent. There was a resurgence of demands for things we’d previously operated happily without. Why not have snacks and drinks at meetings? Couldn’t we get more funding? What about an ‘allowance’ for this, or that?

While these questions only came from a few members, I felt waves of doubt. Had any of it been real last year? Had our members truly been fighting for change, or were they hanging around hoping the personal benefits would start flowing? When I thought about the sacrifice of personal time and the passion I’d seen, I do believe many of our members want to be change makers. That doesn’t mean many wouldn’t also happily receive a benefit here or there! But the real point was that our structures fell apart when I was away. That thing called ‘ownership’ wasn’t strong enough. We needed to try something new.

So heres what we’ve done.  Last year we had one big group with members from all over this map. We met once a month at church to discuss our one big issue and action plan. Now we’ve divided up into 5 village based groups:

Final locations

Three key ingredients

Geography In a largely vehicle-less community its incredible the difference that a few hundred meters makes. Our groups now meet frequently in each other’s nearby homes to plan their next steps to solve a local problem. This has already resulted in:

  • Member’s neighbors can swing by to check out the meetings and end up joining
  • Women talk more, perhaps because the meeting feels less formal
  • Meetings start faster because its easier to round up the key people needed
  • The more localized the problem we pick, the easier it is for our members to feel that winning the fight will directly help them and their families.

 Simplified leadership Instead of our old classic Ugandan ‘executive committee’ with many positions with vague responsibilities, each village group has elected a single key leader who calls their members to meetings, guides discussion and coordinates actions. The key points:

  • The key leaders (not me!) that call and rally members to meetings
  • All our members have a focal person they can look to for direction who lives within walking distance from their home
  •  Having fewer ‘official’ executive leaders leaves us freer to build up the leadership skills of ALL our member

My emotional detachment from success This is a funny one. Let me try and explain. When Wakonye Kenwa was working on just one big issue at a time (e.g. the alcohol sachet ban law), it was all too easy for me to feel like the validity of my presence in Gulu was tied to the objective success of our group’s work. It was all too tempting for me to take too much control. Accordingly, I’d do way too much for the group to try and ensure results. Its possible to know the real point is to grow a community’s ability to create change and still fear lack of tangible results.

Ideally I’d be wise/strong/balanced enough to not need results for my own validation whatever our group structure (!)  But I guess I’m a work in progress. Now we have five new issues to tackle, its certainly easier for me to emotionally detach from the success of any one of the group’s projects. By stepping back, each group has room to struggle, experience failure and learn. I can agitate, challenge, ask critical questions, even offer advice or new ideas. But if the group doesn’t act, nothing will happen. I have to be OK with that. Anything else defeats the entire purpose. Its up to them.

These new changes are just that- new. Time will tell if we have a new recipe for local ownership, or at least, a few more crucial ingredients.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Sachet ban: Where are we at?

Anyone remember these? The 40% spirits packaged in a convenient little 100ml plastic sachet available in every single local shop for only 25 NZ cents?


Unfortunately, they are still everywhere. I biked to a meeting yesterday and the road was littered with them. I spied a 10 year-old sucking on one in her school uniform at 9:30am.

We began our fight to ban them at the beginning of last year. Our community organizing group Wakonye Kenwa campaigned on the radio. We presented our research to Gulu District Council. We lobbied Councilors and found them NGO funding from 8 different groups to fund their law making process. We found them a pro-bono lawyer to draft the law. We helped organize and pushed through all 6 law making meetings. When progressed stalled we collected over 10,000 signatures in support of the move to ban sachets, and organized our religious leaders to lead a public march to present the petition to Gulu District Council as a public statement of support for the process (and a wee nudge- kindly get on with it!).

This is Rose, one of our group. Last year she lost her son to alcohol. She has arthritis and HIV, but personally collected over 400 signatures. Here is one of her collection sheets

In January this year, Gulu District Council voted to pass the Alcohol Ordinance. It not only bans sachet alcohol, but introduces a whole host of alcohol restrictions. It will restrict drinking hours in bars..so that as Rose puts it ‘men actually go and do some work before they start sitting around drinking.’ It will restrict alcohol sale licenses to reduce the number of places that sell alcohol, stop under-age drinking, restrict marketing and advertising and much much more. In March, our law was sent to Kampala for the last step: the approval of the Attorney General:

ordinance snippet blog

But over three months later, still nothing. Our law is stuck in his office.Why?  We are still trying to find out if its sitting forgotten about at the bottom of a large pile of papers, or if its provocative content means they’d rather just forget about it. Central Government sees alcohol sales as a lucrative tax collecting method. So right now we are asking some questions…

Why is our law being delayed? Who do we know with the right influence to find out? Who can advocate on our behalf in this Kampala office? How can we influence the right advocates to take action? 

There is still a long road ahead… watch this space!

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Domestic Delights

Its just been over a year since we moved in, so we thought its high time to show off how things are growing…..

  1. Outside with our noble steeds. Note our glorious climbing vine tess outside
  2. I think we grew a mutant yam:Nick yam
  3. Flowers! (and Sir. Edmond)tess ed flowers
  4. A lush layer of peanut grassTess peanut gress
  5. Basil, rocket, Bok Choi and lettuce! Sir Edmond and Lucy’s cat Carlos are impressed. Kitties garden
  6. Edmond and Carlos have become best friends: kittycouch2
  7. Sir Ed. still enjoys his hammock. ednet2
  8. But he is a bit heavier now and sinks so low he is practically sleeping on us:ednet19. Whats Nick growing??Nick mystery10. Our bible study group comes to visit: visitors
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Health Center meets Flying Food – Video

This title could have many meanings. Oberabic is a top performing health center at the moment, and its deep in the village amongst the Lamogi tribe. Lamogi are famous for eating bats, but that’s not the flying food here.

The name “Oberabic” means “5 mosquitos”, so it could have been a play on words. But the flying food here is White Ants, a delicacy in Northern Uganda. This is the biggest loot of White Ants I have seen yet, and in addition to the creepy crawlies, you get a taste of the environment in Oberabic.


Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments