Ignore the fake News – Let your kids be vegetarian!

Sloppy reporter Esther Taunton should be reprimanded by Stuff for quoting the quack dietician “Sylvia North”, and said dietician Sylvia North at least re-educated for spouting this distasteful misinformation (let the food puns begin). It boggles ones mind that in 2020, these false ideas about vegetarian diets not only exist, but are cooked up by a supposed dietician, then fed to the public by a mainstream reporter.


I’ll say it straight up. Vegetarian diets can be 100% fine for children. In New Zealand. In India where almost half the population is vegetarian. In Uganda. Anywhere.

Dietician Sylvia North, who is registered with the New Zealand council of dieticians somehow decided that some year 7 or 8 kids who made the wonderful decision to go vege for their own health, and to save the planet was “hugely concerning”. She then backs up her vegetarian hating with a combination of extremely poor logic, and straight up lies. Let’s start with the lies.

“”Plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, rice, quinoa have lower protein bioavailability and are incomplete sources of all the essential amino acids needed to support life.”

WRONG – Rice and beans eaten together have all the amino acids that you need. If she is trying to say that individually these foods don’t have all the required amino acids that’s technically true, but then her argument is meaningless because no-one eats only one type of food.

“Children could also miss out on necessary iron, zinc, essential fatty acids and B vitamins if meat and dairy was removed from their diet.”

Again, just wrong for half of these. The article states that kids are become vegetarian not vegan. Don’t burn strawmen! I’ll set veganism aside for simplicity, and am happy to say (backed up by real professionals) that any vegetarian kid eating a halfway balanced diet aren’t at any more risk of iron or zinc defficiency a meat eater, probably aren’t at risk of clinically meaningful fatty acid deficiency, but yes unfortunately are at risk of B12 deficiency. She got one out of four right for vegetarians at least.

In New Zealand, we don’t have a swathe of vegetarian kids with nutrient deficiencies. That’s not our problem. Our problem is that 1 in 3 of our children are overweight or obese, fuelled by diets with way, way too much animal fat in them. For Sylvia to focus on the unlikely problems of nutrient deficiency on a vegetarian diet, while ignoring the enormous protective effects of a vege diet in reducing the risk of death from the real killers Heart disease and Cancer, is completely ridiculous.

Now for the inane lack of logic

“North said children were less likely to eat dishes like lentil casserole and quinoa salad, which adult vegetarians would do to ensure their diet was well-balanced.”

Children will eat what they are used to and what their parents eat. Kids brought up on lentils in India eat lentils. In Uganda, you won’t find one kid who refuses to eat beans. In addition, kids in this article decided to become vegetarian. Kids who make the fantastic decision to go vege, are unlikely to then refuse staple vege food. Scaring parents that feeding their 10 year old kids actual healthy food might make them have a less balanced diet is straight up irresponsible.

kids blog reading

Many Ugandan kids are perfectly healthy with next to no meat.

Children making the bold decision to go vegetarian is not “deeply concerning”, but a fantastic step both for the planet and their health. Don’t believe everything you read in the news!

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Well done USAID! Allowances goooooone.

This seemingly small announcement in a minor Ugandan newspaper, might herald one of the most significant changes in the future of foreign aid in Uganda,

“The US government will also never support facilitation, participation, or sitting fees for any event,” – US Ambassador Deborah Malac. WOW WOW WOW. This is fantastic for so many reasons, but here are three.

1) There will be less meetings in general as not having a huge cash bonus assoiciated will remove the incentive to hold so many of them. I’ve mentioned this before in a ranty blog about NGO trainings/meetings.

2) More relevant people will be at meetings. There’s no reason why random government officials need to be a major distraction at every health, education and agriculture meeting.

3) Maybe this will spark a local mindset change. Perhaps meetings will become more about the thing they are supposed to be about, not the allowance you get and whether the important politician attended.

Call me optimistic, but this could be huge. I hope that this other foreign aid agencies (DFID, GIZ etc.) and large NGOs follow this lead and ditch the allowances!

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OneDay nurses discuss how to deliver quality care deep in the village – A meaningful meeting!

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Still powerless! a local perspective.

By Akwero Fiona!

Umeme Gulu. So frustrating!!!

3/7 days power presence, thanks for trying but I expected more from you guys than this

Because of the fani power issues, know that

1. People have failed to perform along their duty line as a result of 2/5 days power presence on weekdays (of coz weekend is a must power off).
2. Some bodys daughter or son out there failed either a paper or so because of this annoying power absence
3. Some body out there could die/ has ldied because of your half day half night or even 1 or 2 hours on n off power. So disheartening.
4. Business people are stranded in all corners, don’t know whether you people are able to provide food for all their families members since they can’t work because of power.
5. For leisure we can’t follow to the dot the amazing series on telenovela (South American soap) peacefully. Before you sit for 20 mins on the couch, boom power is off. Goodness.
6. Alot of insecurities at night because of nooooooo poweeeeeer. Lord have mercy.

Now what I have failed to understand is if this main power line having fault n technical team working on it as always said can’t be corrected at once or so for some good time. because this line gets problem like ten hundreds thousand times a year (if it exists) both in dry n wet season?. Or is it the so called technical team not technical enough? Or is it some intentional arrangement to fastrate people? Or what’s going on……………………………?

Some customer care issues with this team(umeme guys)

1. These guys are never moved with customers complains. Apply for connection and then wait for the wrath of time they take to come n connect you and then finally when they come they behave like they just dropped down from heaven( real angels from heaven are more humble) n they think they are only guys who went to school. You need to do some kind of community dialogue otherwise people have lost hope in umeme a great deal.

2. When removing power for some reason they are so timely but returning it back takes forever years

3. Speed at which they come to disconnect you is for World Cup (if this was the same speed they use to sort out the things people complain of, this Gulu area would be a better place but waa ) but go to their office n pay their reconnection fee. Goodness it’s another night mare to be reconnected back let alone the arrogancy.

We pray that you improve at least in some what way with your service delivery otherwise it’s won’t be pleasing at all. For some reason one time surprise your best power users by rewarding them just out of no where.

Anyway in the end, “who cares for the fish when the sea dries up”



Fiona with the American ambassador to Uganda

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Making Gulu Powerless. A conspiracy?

Every modern society needs constant electricity. It’s a necessity, not a luxury. Electricity drives development. If you run a photocopying business, without power you can’t feed your kids. If you are a student at a boarding school you can’t study in the evening. If you are a midwife at a health center you can’t delivery a baby at night. Labour waits on no woman.

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Our Health Center Oberabic now delivers 30 babies a month helped by a generous solar donation

Gulu is the biggest town in Northern Uganda. It is a hub serving a wider population of over a million people. Gulu has been powerless for 5 out of the last 10 days. This is an unmitigated disaster for business, education, health and anyone who wants to use a computer, a phone or a light. I write this from the lap of luxury, in a solar powered super-hut which keeps my computer running despite almost 72 hours without mainline electricity.

Today was hot and I wanted my daily cold soda (#confessions). No chance! Power cuts cause first world problems here, as well as serious ones. Brian the soda seller thought that sinister forces were behind the power cut…

“They are ruining our children’s future. Last week our students were sitting senior exams, and the government turned power off. This week the primary final exams are on, and they want our students to fail. How can they study minus light?”

Brian believes there is a conspiracy against the North. He thinks the government has cut power to the North to prevent kids studying at night, so they will perform poorly in their exams. They are trying to further weaken a traditional area of political opposition, which has already been developmentally delayed by war and economic stagnation. I’m not sure if this conspiracy is true, but when Brian is running a shop selling warm sodas in 30 degree heat, who am I to argue?

Power in Uganda is a ridiculous monopoly, run by one company called “Umeme”. Since 2004 they have build infrastructure, repair the lines, manage distribution, everything. But from the beginning Umeme has been plagued with problems. With constant power cuts around the country, rife electricity theft and extremely poor service, it’s hard to call their time in ‘power’ anything other than a failure. The situation is exacerbated as the government saving scheme NSSF owns 23% of the company This means that the government is in bed with the company, so is unlikely to pull the plug or they will also suffer. In 2011 the Ugandan electricity authority did consider throwing them out, but corruption, poor decision making, an unfavourable contract or a combination of all these factors led the electricity authority to renew the contract, facilitating another 10 years of Umeme failure. 

Conspiracy or not, the problem is especially bad in Gulu and the people aren’t happy. A year ago hundreds of businessmen and local politicians protested in the streets and brought the central city to a standstill.

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Buisiness and Politicians protest. credit Polycap Kalokwera

Just a couple of hours ago, some local residents decided to burn an Umeme truck, probably out of frustration at the ongoing power cut. Burning a truck which may have been on its way to repair a pole may not be the wisest decision, but you can understand the anger. If Umeme don’t sort this power cut soon, I’m sure the unrest will worsen.

For the moment, there is no obvious solution. We remain underpowered, and overfrustrated. Until Solar batteries become cheaper, some genius cracks cold fusion or Bill Gates’ funding produces a magical new energy generation method, Gulu’s development is at the mercy of an incompetent business, and the way forward isn’t clear! “Umeme peke!” (Power is not there).

If you can think of a better way to power Gulu, let us know and become both a saviour and a millionaire!

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Stop giving money to World Vision!

Please stop giving money to World Vision. They are misleading you and they are misleading the people who they are trying to help. At the ripe old age of 32 not much blows my mind anymore, but this revelation did.

World Vision do not sponsor children. Yep, you heard that correctly. World Vision do not sponsor children. Although this might seem ridiculous, allow me to man-splain.

Misleading the donor – No sponsorship
The bedrock of World Vision is child sponsorship. The concept is simple and it makes sense. A donor pays a monthly amount of money, which pays directly for the child’s education and other important necessities like uniforms and healthcare.

So when you ‘sponsor’ a child through World Vision, do their school fees get paid? Do they get uniforms? Do they get health care?

The answer is a clear NO. The kid writes you letters, you send them cards, but none of the money you donate benefits that child directly. This might seems absurd, but it’s true. World Vision don’t publicise this clearly, but when you dig a little, they admit it outright. World vision do not sponsor children

We believe true community development is not about providing money or even services. It lies in helping people discover their God-given potential as human beings, and working together to realize that potential.” 

So instead of sponsoring a child, they instead run community projects involving water, education and development.

So why is that so bad?

First it is misleading. Child sponsorship sells and World Vision know it. They are raising money through selling the attractive vision of the donor transforming the life of the individual child they are connected to, but they are not delivering what they sell. They are downright dishonest.


Some of these children benefit from real sponsorship. Their schooling is paid for

Second, the community development work that World Vision do under the veil of child sponsorship, is unlikely to be effective. Here in Northern Uganda, rich World Vision workers drive expensive trucks, deliver trainings at fancy hotels and write reports espousing the great work they have done. There is little accountability, and no meaningful way to measure the outcome of their work. It is possible that many World Vision programs worldwide do close to zero good. The idea of focusing holistically on a community in order to bring sustainable transformation sounds and feels amazing, but it just doesn’t work.

And this comment just made me angry

“The goal of sponsorship in a community is to help break the cycle of poverty so children and families can step into the future with well-founded hope. When these goals are met, World Vision can move on to serve children with great need in other communities.”


The idea that an NGO can walk in, meet some development goals, fix the communities problems, celebrate and then move on to the next disadvantaged community is ridiculous. The deep seated socioeconomic issues In Northern Ugandan communities can’t be fixed by any NGO, even those far more effective than world vision. Of course we can make a difference and help people’s lives become better, but you can’t ‘fix’ a community in a few years. If you visit communities here that World Vision has been working with for years, you won’t find any objective difference between them and the next village over

Individual child sponsorship on the other hand works.

One study of children properly sponsored by the NGO Compassion, showed that “sponsored children realize 1.38 more years of schooling than their unsponsored siblings and 1.79 more years of schooling than their unsponsored peers”. Sponsored children were also more likely to get jobs. Other studies have shown similar positive results.

When 16 economists were surveyed, child sponsorship ranked 4th on their list of most effective interventions. I am not claiming that child sponsorship is necessarily the best way to spend money, but real sponsorship is effective, and transforms children’s lives.

Misleading the children – Exploit the most vulnerable
World Vision are piloting an ‘exciting, innovative new system’. Instead of the sponsor choosing the child, the child chooses the sponsor! They select the “most disadvantaged kids” in the community, put them in front of a photo board of smiling rich white people, and they select their sponsor. It seems like a great idea. Disrupting the system, turning the tide, shifting the power balance from the rich to the poor and all that.

Except that the process is a farcical and twisted public relations exercise. After the child chooses their ‘sponsor’, they do not benefit directly. It is not fair to pair a rich white Westener, with a poor Ugandan, when the poor Ugandan doesn’t get anything meaningful from the relationship, except a few letters. The poorest children are therefore exploited to raise money for a program which doesn’t directly benefit them. This makes me sick inside.

So World vision doesn’t sponsor children. Both the donor and the children are misled, and the money instead goes to unproven, money sink ‘community development’ programs

 So what could World Vision do to change my mind?

  1. Get rid of the word sponsorship. Change your marketing. Start promoting your community programs, because that’s what you are doing, not sponsoring children.
  2. Allow external organisations to do meaningful research on your community programs and prove to me that they are doing more than zero good.
  3. Perhaps just go back to actually sponsoring kids. Nothing wrong with that!

And that’s why you should not give money to World Vision right now. There are so, so many other great ways to give and make a huge impact  so why give your money to a dishonest, ineffective organisation?

I would love any questions or feedback about this, and if you agree with me I’d encourage you to share this and get the message out there.

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Hippo roaming the streets – fake news?


A moderately reputable reporter has just broken exciting news. There’s a hippo loose in Gulu town. Surely not!. The facebook replies are even better than the fake news post….

Mwaka Patrick: “Why waste time going to Anaka (the national park), for otwoo (bush meat), the delicacy is just at hand…ojone (Oh my goodness)”

Eric Ochaya: “wat if someone drunk some serious mixtures of abysnn during Quiz nyt n saw a cow as Hippo”

And the best one, from the original reporter Chwoo Willy



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What does a refugee leader really think?

I’m a pastor. In my ministry the blind have seen, the deaf have heard and I saw 17 people raised from the dead”. Wow. A strong opening statement from Morris. It was the start of an enthralling bus buddy conversation with an incredible refugee leader*. He has lived for 3 years in Bidi Bidi, the second largest refugee camp in the world.

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The 12 tribes of Israel
The 10 languages Morris knows are eclipsed only by the number of his children. “I’ve only ever had one wife, and she produced 15 children. Unfortunately 3 died from illness, so 12 remain. But 12 is enough, like the 12 tribes of Israel are enough”. Morris is really concerned for the future of his children. He laments the school system in the camp. When I asked him about his education and how he learnt such good English I was surprised that he only finished primary school

“But Nick, the standard of education was much better in those days”

After a poor standard of primary school in the camps, secondary school is even worse. Few students get to attend and barely any pass their secondary exams meaning university is impossible. He felt that the high schools are there more to benefit the highly paid Ugandan teachers than the students. “There are no materials and no practicals. How can you do chemistry minus chemicals?”

He was proud that his eldest daughter was sponsored to high school in Kampala by his sister, who managed to reach America as a refugee. After successfully completing high school, his daughter is now back in Juba, the capital of South Sudan trying to get work to help the family.

Deep seated bitterness
“Any 2 year old will tell you, if you go back to South Sudan, a Dinka will kill you. Out of 1000 Dinkas you will not find one good one”

Morris is understandably bitter. He hails from the Bari tribal group, the fourth biggest in Southern Sudan. He first became a refugee in Uganda in the 1960s after being driven out of his home by Dinka armies in the 1960s. A Dinka army drove him out again in 2016. When I asked him if sometime the seriously christian Dinkas were ever good people, he thought for a moment then shook his head. “Not even them”.

“This thing is bad like the Israelis and the Palestinians. As long as the Dinkas are in power, there can never be peace in Southern Sudan”

A literal gold mine
Morris had two suggestions of ways that I might be able to help him.

1. A speaker system to attract young people to his new church
2. Investment in his gold mining venture

“With a bit of mercury and some simple machines, we can make serious money” Morris claimed he had discovered a rich vein of gold close to his home. He was quick to say that the vein was currently inaccessible due to conflict, but that we should be ready to mine as soon as it was safe. This might sound fanciful, but ‘artisinal’ gold mining is a way of life for many in South Sudan

We manage to deal with most of the problems before they reach the police”

Morris is a leader on his local council. His major role is mediating conflicts in his patch of the camp. The most common conflicts are within relationships. “Often the man will sell the family’s food allocation for alcohol. Sometimes he beats his wife.” Besides this, minor theft and tribal tensions makes up much of the rest of his work. He assured me that the community is well organized, cohesive and usually finds a way to resolve problems amicably.

A 5 hour bus trip was barely enough to scratch the surface, and I was sad to say goodbye to Morris. Will we ever meet again?

*Morris gave permission to both share his story and the photo we took.

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Measles, scabies and more. Nasty old and new diseases.

Some days at St. Philip, it’s all colds, arthritis and high blood pressure. On those days I wonder why I bothered coming to Uganda, when I could have managed the same conditions in suburban Christchurch. Today was not one of those days. Some nasty old diseases have come back to haunt us, while new ones catch us unawares.

It should be a thing of the past “Two anyongo”

 It didn’t take long to figure out what was making Rubangakene miserable. Sore red eyes, a whole body rash, dry lips, a sore mouth…. A bad case of the measles. His mum is fantastic, understanding that he needs to make sure he keeps taking fluids, and to keep him away from other kids for the time being. She says it’s the third case in their village, and she’s going to get the local chief to hold a meeting to discuss it. The outbreak in Northern Uganda though, is rivaled by the one in New Zealand. I could have seen a case of measles in suburban Christchurch.

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Strange times…

The old Itch – “Two gwenyo”

Poor Ochola was vigorously scratching his arms. I knew the problem before he even sat down. Ocola was the 20th poor soul we saw at St. Philips to be infected with scabies this month. Some people in Gulu have never seen Scabies, and the pesky mite hasn’t shown it’s ugly face in Gulu for at least 5 years. We don’t’ know how it got here. Some say it came from the refugee camps, but who knows? The only anti-scabies cream has been out of stock in Gulu pharmacies for a week, as the town adjusts to this new, yet old disease. Luckily we snaffled up some of the last drug delivery last ewek, so we can still treat Ochola. He’ll be all better soon.

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A new stroke of bad luck

Aged 60, Bongomin had never checked his blood pressure or blood sugar. They were both sky high this morning, and probably had been for years. This isn’t uncommon here, as the idea of a ‘check up’, coming to the doctor when you are not sick is a new paradigm. It seems unfair that a land struggling with malaria and HIV now also has our western diseases to deal as office jobs, fried food and sugary treats clog up arteries.

Bongomin’s family were terrified when last night he suddenly became weak and started slurring his words

This morning Bongomin struggles to slur a few words together, but thankfully there’s no body weakness and I tell his family there’s a good chance he’ll recover. In New Zealand, we’d do a CT scan to see if the stroke was caused by a blood clot, or bleeding. In Uganda though there’s no scan north of the Nile, an incredible anomaly that thankfully may be rectified soon. This means I can’t even start him on aspirin yet, as it would be too risky in case his brain is bleeding and I make it worse. Luckily he lives close by and has a little money, so he can come back every couple of days to monitor his blood pressure and sugar, and we can even test his lipids. Small mercies.


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The best hotel deal on the planet?

I arrived in Kampala at 9:00pm, ready to crash in some cheap dive. Little did I know that New Comrades horel was ready to surprise me with so much more. I hope you enjoy the hotel room tour!

I forgot to mention the towel, functional lightbulbs and power socket…

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Banana prices go… bananas (sorry)

When we landed in Cambridge I looked forward to eating plenty of apples, that classic British fruit. Isaac Newton even figured out gravity in this hallowed town when one dropped on his head. I expected apples to be cheap as chips but was in for a rude shock. One apple cost a whopping 20p! A Banana on the other hand cost only 8p. In the land of apples we ended up eating a lot of imported bananas, our consciences massaged by the glowing fair-trade stickers.

Fast forward to the Gulu market. Today I bought 3 smallish bananas for 1000 shillings, about 7p a banana. Wait a minute. That’s basically the same prices as a banana in England!  What is this madness? How can be? Uganda is banana land. The tourist shop in the capital is literally called ‘banana boat’. I tried thinking hard about it but it just made me go bananas given that this Banana republic…

1. Has tiny margins on food and retail goods
2. Has farmers who earn only $2 a day
3. Grows shedloads of bananas. They are everywhere


Credit Charles Akena

So what’s going on? How can prices in England and Gulu be the same?

Bananas are imported to England in enormous quantities mainly from South America, from efficient banana plantations which where they are grown at lower cost than in Uganda. Growers are paid peanuts. Bananas are then sold in England at tiny margins or even as a ‘loss leader’, to bring customers to buy other things in the supermarket. I may have bought my 8p banana for less than it cost to grow, ship it 20,000 miles and sell it in Tesco. As a side note, the carbon produced by transporting bananas this huge distance wasn’t paid for by anyone. Except the planet. And our grandchildren.

There are two major factors which (I think) drive up banana prices  here in Northern Uganda

  1. We import our bananas from other parts of Uganda. The climate isn’t great for bananas, with a 3 month dry season causing great stress to the plants. Bananas traditionally weren’t grown here. NGOs have tried to help locals set up banana growing businesses, but I haven’t yet heard of a successful project.
  2. The supply chain is inefficient, as the bananas run through a lot of hands who all take a cut before I pick them up at Lacor market. This diagram shows all the potential hands bananas could go through before arriving in Lacor market. Incredibly across the Nile just 90 minutes drive away bananas can be less than half the price of in Gulu! Lot’s of locals buy them on the bus on the way up.


Even after all this rationalisation, I feel I haven’t really solved it. Bananas shouldn’t be the same price in England. In the land of apples, we ate bananas. In the land of bananas what then shall we eat?

Who am I kidding? In this wonderful place where I can buy an avocado for 8p, a passionfruit for 5p or a watermelon for 20p, what am I doing worrying about the price of a banana?

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