Volunteer Blog

1-7-2017, Great Start To 2017 Visit

As is always the case, arriving back in Uganda has been like a home coming. Seeing family, Suubi staff, ladies, students and members of the wider community is always such an exciting time when I first arrive back. Everyone is so happy and eager to show me what has been happening since my last visit.

It was lovely to have Hellen and little Dalvin waiting for me at the airport with David. Dalvin was happy to see me in real life after having spoken to me so much on Skype with David…perhaps he thought I lived in the computer!

Spending a night in Entebbe and then another at Elite Backpacker in Masaka (David and Hellen’s business) was a great way to recover from the flight and settle in before heading out to Suubi.

Our first stop off, having reached the village, was at Suubi Secondary School. I was gob smacked by what I saw. Everything has grown so much: the trees, the number of structures and the number of students. All of this makes it feel like a thriving school now; one that is a hive of activity! It is so exciting to see more and more students learning so many new skills and benefiting from having Suubi SS in the village.

With the new dormitory having been constructed since I was last here, the structures and compound at Suubi SS now make a very impressive sight.

Next we headed down to Suubi Centre and Clinic where the staff and ladies were waiting to greet me. As has become the tradition, there was lots of HUGs and then singing and dancing to celebrate being back together again.

The ladies were in fine style with their drumming, singing and dancing. They always get a good laugh out of me trying to keep up with them!

With the celebrations over I soon settled in to banda 1, which is my home a way from home. With the following day being the weekend it gave me a good chance just to catch up with everyone.

It was lovely to have a visit from Ishmael's little boy, Katende. He was a little scared of me at first but eventually came around and was soon running all around the place. As you can see, he is the spitting image of his Dad - very serious!

Monday morning was spent catching up with the Suubi Clinic staff and interacting with the steady stream of mothers and babies that were coming for immunisation, weighing or ante natal check ups. The clinic staff are also being kept busy with an influx of patients with malaria. When I think that all of these people would have had to travel long distances to get treatment and/or various medical service, before Suubi Clinic was here, it certainly makes me very happy to know we have been able to make their lives a little easier.

The mothers and babies lined up so that Elias could weigh the babies in the scales strung from the shady tree at the front of the clinic.

Monday afternoon found us back at Suubi SS, this time installing the new volunteering opportunities sign. With so many international visitors coming to Suubi now, we really want them to easily see the ways they can get involved at the various projects Suubi is running.

The new sign is an impressive sight when you walk into the administration area at Suubi SS. Browny would be proud of our installation skills; the bottle tops that help hold it in place definitely give it that special touch!

Tuesday saw the beginning of a three day permaculture training at Suubi SS. The local team from Scope, which is connected to The St Jude Farming Institute that our students visited last year, were on hand to co-ordinate the activity. Students, teachers and parents spent the first day learning about the philosophy behind permaculture and the following two days planning and planting out the school compound with fruits trees and vegetables. It is exciting to think about what the compound will look like next year when I return; I am sure to see the students and teachers enjoying the food from all their hard work this week.

The vocational training hall was the ideal place to hold the theoretical component of the training. Mugagga, from Scope, was inspirational as he explained the permaculture principals to students, teachers and parents all together.

The students and teachers were very keen once the practically component got underway. Firstly the paths leading in to each of the class rooms were set out so they will be easy accessible once the gardens become established.

The students and teachers were then broken in to various groups to work in different areas of the school compound. This made the two days of practicals like a competition to see who could develop the best gardens. What a great idea.

Small gardens were developed outside the dormitory where vegetables were planted for easy access for those staying in the dorm.

A mixture of fruit trees, pineapples and yams were planted at the front of the classroom structure.

Head master, Robert, planted a jack fruit tree and mangoes, paw paws and oranges will also be enjoyed by the students in the future.

One group of students worked together to develop a mandela garden.

Manure from the Suubi goat project was used on all of the garden beds to add nutrients to the soil.

Garden beds were then mulched and small water bottles added to make sure the newly planted seedlings don’t dry out.

And finally the students enjoyed watering in all the plants as the parents watched on.

The only challenge now will be to have enough water to make sure the plants can be well cared for while they are still young. Hopefully the ground water tank, which was donated by the 2017 Uganda marathon, will be finished sooner rather than later. After having dug to over 110 feet (by hand!) the team is finally bringing up damp soil, which they tell me means they are getting close to the water table.

The team of 4 men have been taking it in turns down the hole digging, while the others remain on top to wind up the soil. It is truly frightening to look down the hole; pitch black dark and they are also having to pump oxygen down to the person at the bottom. 

With all the activity happening at the school, a small group of the Suubi ladies and Hellen from Smiling heARTs and myself set off to Kampala to try to find inspiration for some new craft items for them to make. The trip was a big adventure for everyone, but even more so for Maria, who has never in her life been to the city! In fact it was only just a couple of years ago that she left the village for the first time to go to Masaka Town, less than 30 kms away!

It seems that each year we have a break down with the car. This year was no different and this found the ladies and I sitting on the side of the road even before we had even reached Masaka town.

Apparently the radiator had split on the way in to town which meant the motor over heated. This saw the Delica being towed off to the garage to have a new gasket fitted. Thankfully we had planned for David to drive us to Kampala in the Land Rover so it didn’t hold us up too much.

Lucia, Madelena, Stephanie, Maria, Hellen and I had a great time at the craft markets in Kampala and came home with lots of new ideas for the ladies and children to make.

Back in the village on Friday we meet with the ladies group to show them what we had found. We discussed which ladies will learn each new craft item. When they have perfected it they can pass the skills on to the rest of the group.

So all in all it has been a great start to this years trip. Loretta Lilford and her husband John, daughter Beth, her friend Aaron and Steve and Joan Ritli are due to arrive later today, which I am really looking forward to. I am sure they are all going to have a wonderful time and will be blown away by everything happening at Suubi and Smiling heARTs. I look forward to sharing their reactions as they arrive and adventures while they are here in the next blog.

Until then HUGs from Helen

14-11-2016, MDD Finals And New Dorm At EBS

What an over whelming day the final of Suubi’s annual music, dance and drama was! Having seen so many past MMD events from Australia, via photos and Skype, I found it hard to believe that I was actually sitting in the crowd watching the breath taking performances of all the schools that had reached the finals. To see so many students, teachers and community members having such a great time was really an emotional experience for me. 

Every single performance was filled with an amazing amount of energy and passion and each of the schools did an outstanding job of following this years theme of 'Integrated Education And Lifeskills For Sustainable Development.' This certainly highlighted that the participating students had learnt the importance of combining academic, vocational and lifeskills to create a better life for themselves in the future, but it was inspirational to watch them passing on this important message to the huge crowd that had come to enjoy the event.

While we are all used to seeing Elias as the MC of Suubi events, it seems he may have some competition in the future! Dalvin, David and Hellen’s young son, loved having the microphone in his hand and being the centre of attention.

Kiswera Primary School had the best results for the day taking out 2 first places and a second place across the five categories.

The tiny students from Lubanda Islamic primary school stirred the crowd in to a frenzy as they shook their little bodies in perfect unison during the traditional dance.

Everyone agreed that Bright Light Primary School did an outstanding job of passing on the theme via their poem and play.

The winners and runners up in each category were thrilled to receive a drum, of different sizes, for their school as their prize. We also distributed dance costumes to all of the 14 schools who had participated throughout the earlier rounds, to recognise their efforts and all the hard work they had put in. We believe this will encourage them to continue to participate and strive toward even better performances in future years.

Results of 2016 event:
Poem - Winner - Bright Light Primary School. Runner up - Kiswera Primary School
Composed Song - Winner - Kiswera Primary School. Runner Up - Kawerimidde Primary School
Play - Winner - Bright Light Primary School. Runner Up - Namugongo Primary School
Creative Dance - Winner - Kiswera Primary School. Runner up - Kawerimidde Primary School
Traditional Dance - Winner - Lubanda Islamic Primary School. Runner up - Namugongo Primary School

The joy could be seen on the students faces as they received their prizes. They were all extremely proud of their schools efforts. It was fabulous to hear them celebrating together afterwards, from the surrounding schools, in true Ugandan style by drumming, singing and dancing.

Another very important component of the MDD event was also recognised at the final. Having previously sent a team from Suubi to judge the school gardens and sanitation, the winning school were announced. Sharon Primary School took out the best school garden and Kembazzi Primary School the best sanitation.

Sharon Primary School proudly excepted the perpetual school garden trophy that they will now retain until the 2017 event.

It was a real thrill for me to be here in person for this years MMD event, surrounded by thousands of people enjoying the performances. I especially loved celebrating with some of the Suubi ladies afterwards.

On a completely seperate note, it has been fabulously to see another exciting step forward at David and Hellen’s business, Elite Backpackers. With an increasing number of bookings, a new dormitory is now being added to the two cottages already available at EBS. The dorm will be finished just in time to house a group of 36 Spanish visitors, from Medical Teens International, that are due to arrive on January 5th for a two week stay. As this will be the same time frame as our annual visit to Suubi Clinic from the Australian TeamMED group, we are hoping that we will be able to link the Ugandan, Australian and Spanish medics at some point. It is exciting to think what may eventuate from this. 

With 20% of money raised from people staying in the accommodation being donated to Suubi projects, it is great to see Elite Backpackers developing so quickly; the more people that stay there the more Suubi will benefit!

The builders thought it was very funny to see me swinging a pick when David asked me to turn the first sod as the construction began.

The builders took over and the foundations could very quickly be seen.

The fact that the water tank needed to be relocated didn’t even slow them down - they simply built around it while the new tank based dried.

It really has been a lovely addition to my stay in Uganda this year to be able to spend my weekends in town at EBS. Not only has it given me a chance to have a warm shower, access reliable power and internet, but I also have had a chance to relax and enjoy spending time with Dalvin, Hellen, David and the EBS team.

Dalvin is such a typical little boy; he wants to be part of everything. Last weekend he got in to Hellen’s art supplies - maybe he will be an artist instead of an MC in the future!

Or maybe the pink of having his mzungu JjaJja hanging around so much is just rubbing off on him!

So as you can see, the last week has been another very special one for me. With only ten days remaining of this years visit I am certainly going to make the most of it before I sign off with my final blog next week.

HUGs from Helen

7-11-2016, Making The Most of Tough Situations

Every week I am inspired by the amazing Ugandan people, but this week has been exceptional. I had number of different situations where I saw the true Uganda spirit - the ability to make the most of tough situations and with smiles on faces!

Firstly on Monday I was lucky enough to spend time at our newly established Smiling heARTs project at Kakunyu Primary School. It was heart warming to watch Mbabazi Hellen lovingly passing on a variety of art skills to this very special group of children. Each of the students has some form of disability but they are certainly not letting that hold them back. Hellen started working with the group in May this year; it is unbelievable to see the progress they have made and the beautiful paintings, woven brackets and other craft items they are now able to produce. Hellen says their confidence has grown enormously in that time and I could clearly see from the smiles on their faces that they love what they are doing. 

The group was busy producing beautiful items that I will return home with. These pieces will be sold in Australia with the money raised helping to support the children and their art program. Just as importantly though, the children will get to know that they are very capable of producing items that people in Australia love and are willing to buy. If you would like to know where you can purchase some of their craft or learn more about Smiling heARTs please contact Loretta Lilford.  

Our amazing art teacher, Mbabazi Hellen, patiently works with each of the children, giving them the confidence to believe they can also achieve something worthwhile in their lives. She is busy here showing the boys how to finish off their woven bracelets.

Sylvia, Justine and Nicholas where having a great time painting,

while Gertrude and Derick were busy making rosary beads.

Although all the children have challenges, they are all happy and making the most of their tough situation.

They very proudly sang me one of their school songs.

On a different front, I was also inspired by the spirit of the students and teachers of Save The Child Primary School. We visited their school last week for the inspection of the school gardens and sanitation, which is carried out at all schools participating in Suubi Centre's annual music, dance and drama festival. When we reached there we found students learning in classrooms made from papyrus mats! While the conditions are obviously unbelievably difficult, the students and teachers simply deal with the situation - it was amazing to see them happily learning in class. No woe is me attitude there - their school gardens were one of the best we visited! 

While the classrooms at Save The Child are definitely challenging,

teachers and students didn't let that stop them from producing one of the best school gardens we saw.

Then on Friday, Save The Child was one of the schools participating in the second round of our music dance and drama event. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them arriving at the event location, having walked from their school, with an aeroplane! They had built it from small sapling branches and covered it in manilla papers. This again showed that although they have very little facilities at their school they are certainly not letting that stop them from aiming high! They used the plane as part of their play performance, with one of the students dismounting as President Museveni. 

The plane the Save The Child students built and use in their play performance.

Check out the amazing energy and enthusiasm they showed during their creative dance performance.

During the week I also spent time in a computer class at Suubi Secondary & Vocational College. This was another incidence where I found myself thinking, "how would students back in Australia cope in this situation?" We currently have 7 laptops that the students share between the entire class. Four of these have no battery life, so the fact that the power was switching on an off every 10 mins or so meant that the laptops would simple close down each time. Never once did I hear a student complain, they merely switched the machine back on and went on with the work they were doing! 

The entire class gathers around the available laptops. Students feel fortunate to have access to any computer at all. They truely value education and as you can see on one of the students t-shirts they believe that knowledge is treasure.

Shadia, Bukenya, Syrus, Joseph, Richard and Tiggo were happy to share a laptop to work on even though it kept closing down when power went off.

Finally, I have seen the SSVC students doing amazing work in both academic and vocational classes since I have been here. The reality is though that many families are struggling to pay the small amount of school fees we ask of them. I was therefore happy to be around this week when a further six piglets were distributed to Suubi Secondary students. We are doing this to assist students to be able to raise money to pay for their own school fees in future. Each student will be required to return two piglets from their first litter to the school so they in turn can be passed on to future students, or sold off to raise money for other projects or things happening at school. 

George William and Vincent were two of the six students to receive piglets this week. These two piglets were bought as a birthday gift for someone in Australia - as you can see the boys were very happy to receive them. Vincent is one of the brightest students at the school but his family is really struggling to pay his fees - receiving a piglet will certainly make a difference to this family by helping him to be able to stay in school.

Although families are struggling to cover school fees we are working together to find solutions to yet another tough situation.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I have been truly inspired by the spirit of the Ugandan people this week. Each of the situations I have written about are challenging, but don't for one instant feel sorry for the people here - they simply deal with these and many other tough situations, but always seem happy. Something we in the western world could certainly learn from!

HUGs from Helen

31-10-2016, Suubi Music, Dance & Drama

Last Friday saw the first round of Suubi’s annual Music, Dance and Drama Festival. I have been trying to attend this event for a number of years now but something always cropped up which meant I was never in Uganda at the right time. It is a real buzz to actually be here this time around!

The first 6 of the 14 participating primary schools gathered at Namagongo Primary School to perform in the five different categories of creative dance, poem, play, composed song and traditional dance. Each of the performances needed to reflect the theme that had been chosen for this year: ”Integrated education and lifeskill for sustainable development.” All six schools did an amazing job of passing on this important message to their fellow classmates, teachers, parents and community members who came along to watch and enjoy the event.

All schools presented their pieces in very different ways but all were filled with energy, colour and excitement - the perfect way to educate people in an entertaining way.

Namagongo PS opened the day by performing their poem, then other schools followed in this category.

The next to be showcased was the composed songs. Children from Bright Light PS sang and performed beautifully.

The drummers from Lubanda Islamic PS ,who supported their singers, needed to be seen to be believed!

The play performances were an enormous hit with the huge crowd that had gathered.

Although I can't understand the lunganda language well enough to follow the messages of the plays, I certainly enjoyed watching them. Suubi staff told me that each school did a fabulous job of passing on the importance of having both academic and lifeskills.

I got as much enjoyment from watching the crowd enjoying the performances!

The creative dance was much easier for me to follow as no word were spoken; instead students dressed in very clever costumes and used props they had made as a way to convey their messages.

The highlight of the day for me though was definitely the traditional dance. Each schools brought different colour, amazing drumming skills and a power of energy to the stage.

Namalanda PS put all their energy in to their traditional dance performance.

Many of the children that performed for Namagongo were children I have watched grow up surrounding Suubi so that was particularly special for me. 

The costumes of the Nakawanga students certainly couldn't be missed.

Having heard the drumming from Bright Light PS ringing out in Luanda Village, as they practiced in the weeks leading up to the event, it was fabulous to finally see them in action.

Luanda Islamic students were definitely the smallest to perform but boy could they move.

This tiny little girl only looked about seven or eight years old but boy could she shake; she stole the show! 

Check them out!

From Fridays round the best two schools from each category were chosen to participate in the finals that are due to be held on November 11th. The schools going through are:

Poem - Bright Light PS, Namagongo PS
Creative Song - Nakawanga PS, Namagongo Ps
Play - Bright Light PS, Namagongo PS
Creative dance -  Lubanda Islamic PS, Namagongo
Traditional dance - Namagongo PS, Lubanda Islamic PS

The second round is due to be held next Friday at Kawerimidde Primary School, where the remaining 8 schools will be vying for a place in the final.

I really was heart warming to see how much happiness this event bought to everyone who attended last Friday. It is exciting to know that a whole new group of people will be entertained and educated in a similar at next weeks round and on finals day at SSVC. I can’t wait to be there and look forward to updating you as the event progresses.

HUGs from Helen

24-10-2016, Primary Seven Leavers Party

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be part of a hugely successfully primary seven leavers party that was held at Suubi Secondary & Vocational College.  All students who are currently in primary seven in Uganda will sit their final exams on November 3rd and 4th so their individual school usually organises a leavers party for them to celebrate completing their primary education. This year, as part of our marketing plan, we decided to invite all of Suubi's partner primary schools to join together for their leavers party at SSVC. This gave us an opportunity to showcase everything that our school has to offer and to highlight the things that set us apart from other secondary schools.

We were thrilled to have 16 primary schools turn up on the day, bringing with them a representative teacher and 262 primary school leavers. Each of these students and teachers were able to see with their own eyes, not only the impressive standard of the buildings but more importantly what the current SSVC students have been able to produce. Each of our five vocational subjects were on display. This certainly inspired everyone; students were talking about wanting to join SSVC in 2017 and teachers were planning to return to their respective schools to tell parents and future leavers about all the positive opportunities on offer at the school. 

Our current SSVC students were also excited to be part of the day. They proudly set up displays to show the progress they have made in each of their chosen vocational subjects. 

Tailoring students displayed the first items they made from cement bags, right through to shirts, dresses, skirts and gomezi that they are now able to produce.

Knitting students displayed the front, back and sleeves of jumpers, which had lead to them producing whole jumpers and scarves.

The welding team showed different stages of the desks they are currently producing. These will actually be used by 2017 intake on students. 

The carpentry boys showed the seats and tops for the desk they have been making and also tables they had produced for the vocational training hall.

SSVC students preparing their displays

While many of the schools that attended were within walking distance, a number of them travelled from quite far away. Teachers from these schools explained that some of their students are very keen to join SSVC but were inquiring when we planned to add a dormitory section for boarding student as it is simply too far for them to walk each day. This certainly solidified my belief that we have made the right decision to be currently fundraising to construct a dormitory as the next phase of construction.
Some students from one of the distant schools arrived for the party in the back of a truck.

The day began with an assembly of schools who attended and the singing of the national anthem. 

Proudly singing the Ugandan national anthem

Each school lined up for the assembly to create a colourful sight.

Then all students and teachers from the visiting schools had the opportunity to look at the vocational display. Representatives from each subject manned their respective exhibition and explained to the primary leavers, their teachers and other guests about their work.

The guest filed along the verandah of the main classroom block to check out the vocational display.

SSVC knitting students were happy to show the primary students their work and explain how it is done.

The tailoring group explained they are now capable of producing school uniforms for next years intake of students.

The primary students were impressed with the welding work, especially when SSVC student, Vincent ,showed them how the grinder works.

Teachers and the local chairman were suitable impressed by the items the wood work team were displaying.

As was the case when they visited the bricklaying and construction display.

With the vocational exhibition complete, students headed to the vocational training hall, that had been completely cleared out in preparation for dancing. It was now their time to really celebrate! 

Each school lined up and every primary seven student was given a stamp to be allowed to enter. 

Once inside each school was presented with a card to say thank you for coming and wishing them luck for their up coming exams.

Then it was time for the real party to begin. The music doomed throughout the afternoon; the primary students were joined by SSVC students - they all had a great time dancing right up until the last note was played!

Having promised some of the SSVC students I would dance with them, I briefly ventured in to  the crowd of close to 350 students..... it didn't last long though as their dancing skills far outshone mine!

What a party!

As I mentioned at the beginning, this really was a hugely successful day. It was amazing to see how far the current group of SSVC students have come and it was wonderful to see all of the students having such fun.

I am very sure everyone who attended will be talking positively about SSVC for a long time to come. What perfect word of mouth marketing!

16-10-2016, Celebrations and Farewell

I mentioned at the end of my last blog that we had been planning to hold a party to celebrate my 10th visit to Uganda and to farewell Browny. What a great event it turned out to be! The majority of Suubi staff, from all our various projects, and the Suubi ladies all attended. The goat the boys had specifically bought for the party from the market the previous Friday was roasted and enjoyed by everyone. As is the usual Ugandan way, lots of speeches were made with everyone reflecting on how far Suubi has come since our first visit here in 2007. It was so great to see everyone so happy as we danced well in to the night.

The preparation for the party was an adventure in itself though! As we waited for the PA equipment to arrive and for the goat to be slaughtered Browny and I took the opportunity to relax and chat with the mothers who had brought their babies to be weighed and immunised.

Browny set up the hammock from the trees in the compound that have now grown very large – a perfect place to relax!

It was lovely to see the mothers gathering and chatting with each as they had their babies weighed – this is now also done under the shade of the trees.

Suubi Centre manager Ishmael’s son, baby Jeremiah, was one of the babies who came to the clinic to be weighed that day.

Once the PA system arrived we quickly realized that no one that was around on that day actually knew how to set it up. No worries though – Browny to the rescue!

Browny did some much needed rewiring before working out how to link the sound desk, amplifier laptop and speakers. Bren, you would have been proud of him!

At the same time Peter was hard at work making sticks while the cook was busy threading the goats meat in preparation for roasting.

Once everything was set there was time to play with some of the kids that had gathered before the adults started arriving.

Browny also had a chance to add his hand print to the Suubi family wall in the training.

Elias did his usual fantastic job of being MC for the night and translating from Luganda to English and visa versa as speeches were made.

With the party over, the next day was filled with goodbyes before Browny was to fly home on Wednesday. Of course this included going to Jja Jja’s to say goodbye. When we arrived at the house we found a hive of activity. Jja Jja is one of the 14 Suubi families who have take up an opportunity being offered by the Caratas’ Masaka Development Organisation (MDO) and being co-ordinated by Suubi Centre. They are able to purchase a cow at a subsidized rate and will then be provided with a market to sell the milk they will get from it as MDO also produces dairy products. 

To be part of this project participants must have some land, agree to construct a house for the cow, dig water trenches to trap water, grow grasses to feed the cow, have a pit latrine, drying rack and tip tap at their home and to make a small garden for growing vegetables. Although this seems like a lot of things to agree to do, this shows that the participants are committed to improving the living situation of their family. This not only helps to teach them how care for the cow they will be provided with but also improves the hygiene standard at the home and diet of the family by including the vegetables and greens they will grow. It really is an inspiring project and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

Browny was very impressed by everything that was happening at Jja Jaa’s place when he went to say goodbye.

Materials had been delivered and Suubi staff member Peter was overseeing the building of the drying rack and the home garden.

Sematico and the other kids were keen to be involved in the hard work going on.

With the farewells in the village complete we headed back to Elite Backpacker for the night before taking to Browny to the airport the following day. The goodbyes were getting harder and harder as he said goodbye to Hellen and Dalvin and then finally to me. Yes there were lots of tears! It really was fabulous to have him here to see all the amazing progress that has happened at Suubi snce his last visit in 2013. Everyone here absolutely loved him and they are already asking me when he will be back. I am very sure he had a wonderful time and will back again soon. 

Browny had built lots of great relationships with many people during his short stay, none more so than with Hellen and Dalvin. They found it difficult to say goodbye to JjaJja Browny.

After dropping Browny at the airport David and I spent a night in Entebbe before heading to Kalangala, which is part of the Ssese Inlands in Lake Victoria. Spending time away from Suubi each year like this, in a relaxing environment, gives a chance to discuss, plan and work on many things with out the distractions in the village. This time around we also worked on writing the annual report for the HUG AGM that will be held very soon after I return to Australia in November. 

The ferry which left from Entebbe was delayed by more than two hours because they had to wait for more fuel to arrive! ...then it took three hours to sail to the Island - Actually Browny nearly reached Australia before David and I reached Kalangala! 

David was very envious to see a brand new Land Rover Defender, parked next to ours on the ferry....although he liked the look of it he said ours is far stronger!

We are now back in the village. The coming week will see the beginning of the Suubi Music, Dance and Drama Festival, which I am very excited about. I look forward to filling you in on this in the next blog.

Until then, HUGs from Helen

9-10-2016 - Busy Week of Craft, Signs and Livestock

It has been another exciting week being involved with many different Suubi activities. Working with the Suubi ladies and our Smiling heARTs special needs children, to pack up craft they have made to send back to Australia for sale, has been hectic but also hugely satisfying. Both groups are producing beautiful pieces; for the Smiling heARTs children they have made beautiful hand painted and mosaic cards as well as woven and beaded bracelets, while the Suubi ladies have a huge variety of brightly coloured paper bead jewellery and bags and aprons sewn from African fabric. All of these items will be available for sale in Australia in the lead up to Christmas, so buying a meaningful gift for your loved ones will be easy. Please get in touch with either Helen or Loretta to see where/how you can buy craft pieces that will also help to make a real difference to someone's life here in Uganda.

The students at our Smiling heARTs project, proudly displayed the beautiful art pieces they have been busy making.

Meeting the very special children that are participating in the Smiling heARTs project was an emotional and inspirational experience. 

Some of the beautiful pieces that the children have made!

The entire compound at Suubi was a sea of colour as the Suubi ladies gathered to sort and pack the colourful new beads that will be sent back to Australia in time for Christmas sales this year.

Necklaces, bracelets and earrings were sorted in to colour bundles for easy distribution to our dedicated group of sellers in Australia.

Bags and aprons also needed to be entered in to the computer so we can record when sales are made and pay the ladies directly for the items they have made.

Another highlight of the week was putting up all the replacement signs and a brand new sign at Suubi Secondary & Vocational College. Old signs have been replaced at Kinoni, Kabakosa, the wetland and Lubanda corner; people are already commenting that they can now easily see the services available at Suubi Centre and how to reach there. A huge thanks to Browny for designing and printing the new signs before leaving Australia and then for working with the SSVC students and staff to install them.

SSVC students keenly watched on as Browny lay the vinyl  for the new signs for Suubi. This is very different from how signs are normally produced in Uganda.

There was much excitement when the new school sign was fitted to the frame the students had helped to make the previous weekend.

Students eagerly participated in digging the holes required for the sign to be placed in the trading centre at the front of the school.

It certainly looked impressive once it was completed. Staff are extremely happy that everyone will now be able to easily find their way to Suubi Secondary & Vocational College. 

Friday saw Browny, David and Ishmael heading off, before day light, to the goat market to buy the second round of goats for Suubi goat project. They returned at the end of the day with a further 70 goats, taking the total donated to date by Uganda Marathon to 120! Once this income producing project is fully up and running it will enable ongoing wages and administration costs to be covered from money raised in Uganda, making the whole Suubi project self sustainable. Perfect!

The previous week at the goat market had a been a long day in the hot sunshine, hence the boys stunning head wear!

Once the selection of goats had been made and purchased they were loaded in to a truck to be transported back to the goat house.

The 70 goats were released in to the goat house, while other were still out grazing, so they could easily be identified for vaccination.

The local vet was assisted by Viviene and her daughter, who are part of the care taking team at the goat project.

While the boys were at the goat market they also purchased a very big goat that we will be enjoying at a party we are planing to have at Suubi tomorrow night. We will be celebrating my 10th visit to Uganda and all that has been achieved during that time, my birthday and also saying bye bye to Browny before he heads back to Australia on Wednesday. I'll be sure to include lots of photos in the next blog. 

Until then.
HUGs from Helen

2-10-2016, Amazing To See The Changes

What an amazing feeling it is to be back in Uganda with all our family and friends here. It was fabulous to have David, Hellen and little Dalvin pick us up from Entebbe and then head to Masaka to spend our first night at their newly established Elite Backpackers.

Having heard so much about the establishment  of their new backpacker business, which will donate a percentage of the profits to Suubi projects, it was lovely to spend time with David and his family and be able to check out the high standard African styled cottages, restaurant and bar they have developed so far.

There was also great excitement when we arrived at Suubi the following day; the Suubi ladies and staff were all there for an emotional reunion and plenty of dancing to celebrate.


It has taken every bit of the past week, since we arrived, for us to wrap our heads around all the amazing progress that has happened since being here last.

For my husband, Browny, who hasn’t been here since 2013, the changes are remarkable; he is seeing Suubi Secondary College for the very first time. Last time he was here we were busy drawing up plans of a school that we were dreaming of building…. and now he is seeing structures that have been completed, academic classes running and vocational subjects being taught. He keeps saying to me that he feels like he is on sensory overload as he tries to take in all the different activities running so successfully from Suubi.

For me, seeing the vocational training hall at the school complete and the students actively engaged in the different subjects being offered is mind blowing. Of course I have seen many photos that David has sent through of the vocational training taking place since I left here almost 18 months ago, but to now see everything with my own eyes is quite surreal. Seeing welding and carpentry students working together to make desks that will be needed for the 2017 intake of students and frames for new school signs is amazing. Sewing and knitting students now have the ability to produce school uniforms, jumpers and other items that we hope to sell back in Australia, while our bricklaying students are learning skills that may very well see them involved in the next construction phase as the school. 

Carpentry students hard at work preparing timber
which is then joined together to make the seats for next years desks.

Sewing students perfect the art of using the treadle machines
before progressing to the electric machines. Sewing trainer, Karim is now busy teaching the students to produce laptop, ipad and glasses covers that we intend to sell in Australia. Students will use the money raised from this to help pay for their own school fees.

Syrus, Jacent and Carol practice the patchwork skills they will need to produce the covers, before they begin making them from African fabric.

Senior 2 student, Shannah, is now very capable of passing on the knitting skills she has learnt to others Senior 1 students like Jessica.
Nkuke Paul (L), who has constructed all of the Suubi structures, is now the bricklaying and building vocational trainer. He is seen here passing on plumb bob skills to Senior 2 student Tiigo Richard. (Chad)

The students continue to practice their brick laying skills by constructing small walls, then taking them down to rebuild again and again. By the time the next phase of SSVC construction is ready to begin we envisage they will be able to be involved too.

The metal work students were busy last weekend welding and making a frame for the new school signs that are currently being made.
Then helped out with painting them before the metal sin written panel is added.

It is absolutely unbelievable to think that in less than 2 years Suubi Secondary & Vocational College has come so far.  But when you also consider that the Suubi Clinic continues to thrive, the Suubi ladies craft sales have now expanded to be sold in the UK as well as Australia, their knitting partnership with I Like My Socks in Spain continues to grow,  the Suubi Goat Project has recently added the first 50 of 200 goats donated from Uganda Marathon and our newly established Smiling heARTs art program for disabled children has made a wonderful start, it really is no wonder that we are having trouble taking everything in! I look forward uploading lots more photos to telling you in more detail about all of these projects and activities and events that happen during this stay at Suubi this time around.

HUGs from Helen

26-8-2016, Action Packed Week

This past week has really been action packed, with activities happening across many of the Suubi projects. 

It started on Monday with a talent show at SSVC that was organised by the Setem volunteers. This was another inspiring experience for every one at school as students and some teachers exhibited talents that were not known to others before. Dancing, singing, poetry, acrobatics and keyboard playing were just some of the skills that were showcased. After the success of this initial talent quest we have pledged to continue on with this in the future, after realizing that it’s an amazing opportunity for students to reveal their hidden talents. Thanks Setem team for this fabulous idea.

Students, teachers and Setem volunteers gathered in the vocational training hall to enjoy the previously unknown talents of their peers.

Talents showcased throughout the day even included acrobatics!

Judges hand drew emoticons to give their feed back on performances.

Sashes were awarded to participates, with everyone seen as winners for sharing their hidden talents.

Also during this week, the volunteers had the water fetching experience and an opportunity to spend the day with various families in the village. These activities gave them a very real insight in to what life is like on a day to day basis for the locals. These experiences were really appreciated by all the team. 

Fetching water is a daily experience for the children of the village but something very new for the Setem volunteers.

 Alba, Gina, Agnus and Christina had a lot of fun trying to carry the water back on their heads, but all agreed they would not want to have to do it every day.

Everyone spent an entire day with various families in the village. This gave them the opportunity to see and help out with everyday activities, such as shelling ground nuts.

With Suubi having many options to choose from and get involved in, the volunteers decided to divide themselves up basing on their interests; some worked with Suubi Clinic, some visited the Smiling HeARTs disable art project, while others focused their efforts at Suubi Secondary and Vocational college.

Some of the group spent the day with the disabled children at the Smiling heARTs project. They were very impressed with the beautiful art and craft that the children have made so bought pieces to take home with them.

Rebecca, from UK, who also joined the Setem team at Suubi Centre this week, did a great job of passing on english and public speaking skills to SSVC students. This was an amazing opportunity as we have been looking for someone to share these skills with the students all along. Thank you so much Rebecca. 

Also at SSVC, the Setem guys shared a lot with the students in career guidance and debating sessions.  Another highlight was when Dan, went ahead to conduct critical thinking lessons for both students and staff. This was another wonderful skill to share and we really appreciated all the efforts and activities organised by the volunteers at SSVC.

Rebecca's english and public speaking sessions gave the students skills and confidence they are sure to use in their adult lives.

The week ended with a Suubi Community Health outreach exercise that took place in Nakateete village. This was organized in partnership with PACE, a development partner of Suubi Clinic. Over 200 ladies were screened of cervical cancer and tested for HIV/AIDS. The Setem volunteers did a lot to help out in arranging for this three-day exercise and for those with the medical backgrounds, like Agnes and Kim, this was another great learning experience for them.

Suubi Clinic staff member, Alad, spoke to people in Nakateete about the importance of cancer and HIV screening.

The Setem team helped out at the outreach; this was another great learning experience for those of them that have a medical background.

Suubi Centre medics and the Setem team were happy to work side by side throughout the 3 day outreach in Nakateete.

So as you can see, it really has been a wonderful week. Our enormous thanks goes to the Setem team and Rebecca for all your ideas, enthusiasm and efforts during your stay with us. You are now a very special part of our ever growing Suubi family!

15-8-2016, Setem Volunteers Settle In At Suubi

The Setem team, from Catalonia, arrived at Suubi Centre on 6th August, after having spent a night at Elite Backpackers Services (EBS) in Masaka to recover from their long journey. Their arrival in the village saw them firstly dropping in to Suubi Secondary College. The timing of this worked out perfectly as a dance party was underway to officially welcome the Senior 1 students. This provided a great opportunity to also officially welcome the Setem group and later every one joined together for a great time on the dance floor.

The team enjoying breakfast at Elite Backpacker Services in Masaka.

There was lots of fun and laughter on the dance floor at SSVC.

Sunday 7th, was a day for the group to settle in at Suubi Centre. While they all were getting on well together, the local conditions were proving a challenge for some; the pit latrines seemed totally strange, as most of them had not faced this situation before! The team were very happy to join community members for a Sunday service at Lubanda Catholic church though. Later in the afternoon they made the long trek to the village water hole to fetch water. Although they will not have to do this themselves throughout their stay, this experience gave them yet another glimpse of the many challenges the locals face on a day to day basis. 

On Monday, a general planning meeting, including all Suubi staff, was organized at SSVC and a week’s plan of activities was made. Throughout the week the team spent time working on updating the Suubi Clinic’s patients filing and recording system, participating in the clinic's community outreach activities, holding career guidance and inspirational sessions at SSVC, joining in with the debating and also working in the school garden with the students.

The planning meeting at SSVC on Monday morning gave the team a chance to get to know all Suubi staff.

With some of the team having a medical back ground they were were keen to get the patient files well organised at Suubi Clinic.

And participate in the outreach sessions that the clinic held in the area this week.

While others were keen to been involved with activities at SSVC; like Dan who held career guidance sessions for the students.

And joined in with the debating session.

Physical activity was also well taken care of with the Setem team challenging the SSVC team in netball.

And joining the students to work in the school garden.

The week ended with a Safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park where the team had a an amazing experience of seeing a variety of animals. Everyone was extra excited when they a saw a very huge Lion.

The trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park gave the team an opportunity to get up close to animals like lions and elephants that they had only dreamed of seeing. The top of the Land Rover was the perfect sport for the game drive.

While the ferry ride enabled them to see plenty of hippos and birdlife.

For there 2nd week the volunteers already have plans in place; these include visiting the Smiling HeARTs project for disabled students today and spending the entire day, from sun up to sun down, with local families on Tuesday and Wednesday. This will give them another real insight in to the day of the life of someone living in rural Uganda. Perfect!  The entire group will then divide up into small teams (based on everyone's interest) and will spend time at Suubi Clinic, SSVC or visiting one of our partner primary schools. With 10 days now remaining for the group at Suubi, they are all sure to have lots more to tell their family and friends about when they return to Catalonia.

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