Monday, August 30, 2010

Safari to Queen Elizabeth

It's not a trip to Africa without a safari so a few weeks ago we loaded into a mini bus and headed off to Queen Elizabeth.  Our vehicle of choice (i.e. we had no choice) was called the Dream Shuttle.  If your idea of a dream is no suspension, constant petrol fumes and heart printed seat covers for a 9 hour journey each way then hop aboard!  Laura and I thought being backseat bandits would let us relive our youth (well, my youth as Laura is still only 20).  The first few bumps made us airborne and caused some hilarity as the competition ensued as to whose arse could suspend in the air the longest.  The fun did not last long as we realised that Ugandans feel the need to place speed bumps every 20 metres and the driver seemed to mistake our cries of pain for cries of laughter and endeavoured to drive over them at breakneck speed.  Insert several profanities HERE.

Before the bus trip began which is why we are all smiling

Ian simulating the art of being airborne.  The word 
'bollocks' was mentioned a few times 

To mask the smell of the petrol I smelt wet wipes.  
Bear Grylls, you can use this tip if you want

After a well deserved sleep at our lodge, the next morning we boarded a boat to cruise along the Kasinga Canal for some animal spotting.  Even though I did a lot of safaris last year you can never get sick of seeing elephants in their natural environment.

Ian and I, he's too cool to wear sunnies on his face

We were so lucky to see so many animals on the banks of the canal.  A cheeky hippo thought it would be funny to surface / snort right next to the boat.  Note to hippo:  Not funny and makes men scream like girls.

Baby hippo, so ugly they are cute

Buffalo, so ugly they are ugly

Elephants playing in the water, magical

The elephants were out in force and one huge male was making the most of the sunshine and watching the other elephants frolic in the water.  But he had other ideas as to how the spend the afternoon . . .

Our media volunteer Katie thought it was so sweet that he decided to 'dance' for us, not noticing that the said 'dancing' consisted of rubbing his 3 back legs together and was making him very happy.  Ah Katie, so sweet and innocent!

Happy to see us Mr Elephant?

The warthog - so lazy it kneels down to eat

After the boat ride it was off to lunch at a ritzy hotel which looked down on the canal and Lake George.  Ritzy = beers are $2 instead of $1.

Questionable pizza - pineapple, capers, 
anchovies, bananas & tuna. Sick bag anyone?

An afternoon game drive followed lunch but animals didn't seem to want to play ball.  Lions were our target and coincidentally our guide managed to spot a lion 27 kilometres in the distance.  Binoculars could not confirm or deny that it was indeed a lion.  After some persuading of the guide we drove closer.  Imagine her feigned surprise when it was a large rock and not the revered lion as promised.  How to make tourists think they see a lion? Lie.

Animal spotting (especially of imaginary lions) is tiring so it was back to the lodge for dinner and a few quiet beverages. Animal spotting also makes you dirty so Katie innocently grabs her blue travel towel to have a shower.  Mistakenly she has taken Ian's towel as she has a similar one, luckily he stopped her (i.e. snatched it back) just in time.  Embarrassed by her error she pulls out her new towel, still in its wrapping which was kindly donated by a friend of hers. Drying off after her shower that night took longer than expected.  

Size does seem to matter when it comes to towels

After a fun-filled weekend we packed up the Hell Shuttle with our travel towels and cameras filled with photos of rock lions and aroused elephants.  But not before one group photo as a memento of our trip together.  Pete offered to be the photographer, promising a great group photo with all the bells and whistles.  You decide.

First Steps

Babies have so many milestones and I have been lucky to be here when two of little guys have taken their first steps.  

We had been waiting a while for our first little man, encouraging him constantly but he wasn't quite getting there.  On her first night in Kampala Laura (one of our volunteer carers) vowed that if she had one mission during her time it would be to make him walk.  Of course we were all supportive but in the back of our minds very skeptical.   As luck would have it he decided to walk on her first shift (insert jealously and a dash of guilt at being so cynical!)

Laura, feeling very proud of herself

Can't stop him now!

And last week another success!  This little one was constantly pushing the car around at breakneck speeds so it was only a matter of time.  See his first steps in the video below:

I have been trying to promote the fact to the babies that Bec is probably the easiest name to say, only one syllable and they have mastered the B already.  As simple as that . . . I will keep practicing! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Day In The Life

I had so many grand plans with my blog . . . but Uganda has a magical way of making the weeks past quicker than you can say “TIA” (definition: abbreviation of “This Is Africa”, a commonly used phrase mainly used in times of frustration e.g. when policeman ask for a $100 bribe for standing still too long, when only one thing on the menu is available that day but you don’t feel like a boiled egg with a goat kebab).

Before I delight you all with amusing tales of my days here I thought the best way to start is to describe my typical day (although there is certainly no typical type of day here i.e. TIA):

0300 - Wake up to the sounds of dogs fighting, roll over and think of buying a slingshot

0700 - Start the day with vegemite on toast, got to have a reminder of home

0800 - Wander down to Malaika Babies Home and try to avoid the pot holes that resemble craters and the drivers that treat the road as a Formula 1 racetrack

0830 - Detour into the babies home to say good morning to our beautiful babies.  Greetings from the bubs are mixed – some give huge hugs, others give a mouthful of saliva.
  I can’t explain what an amazing start to the day it is when the first thing you see is a gummy smile and a room full of gorgeous, but more importantly, extremely happy and content babies.

How could you not fall in love with this smile!

Cheeky grin

His thinking face

I love that our babies are always so happy

0845 - Dance off between Katie, Mary and I with our respective baby partners.  Disney songs are favourites on the play list and I sometimes wonder if we enjoy it more than the babies as we belt out ‘Circle Of Life’.

Katie, media volunteer and baby juggler

0900 - Retreat to the office which I share with Lucy and Katie, our media volunteer who makes the most amazing videos, showing all our supporters what we get up to here at Child’s i in Kampala.  

0905 - Begin reading emails which can range from ones from volunteers who are coming out in the next few months to enquiries from all over the world with people asking how they can get involved.  My role here is Volunteer Coordinator so I am the contact for all things volunteering here in Uganda and can answer almost any question you may have e.g. how do I get from the airport, where are the good places to eat, which prostitute bars should I avoid.

0910 - Marvel at the amazing support that this charity has.  I feel so privileged to be a part of it, especially now in the early days when I feel I can really contribute.  OK, it might only be with spreadsheets, email templates and fixing printers but that actually gives me satisfaction, being the office nerd that I am.  And I also provide the humour and comical banter.

1030 - Have a chat with our staff at the babies home.  If you haven’t seen them for a while they will ask if you have been lost.  It is literally easy to do here as I will purposely take a different road if I know one way has any type of birds walking around freely.  Our staff are brilliant giving our babies the best care possible.  I made a shonky deal with Olivia, one of the carers the other day.  She wanted me to show her how to use the toaster but I only would oblige if she tasted Vegemite.  We have a convert!

Martha, one of our carers.  She loves having her photo taken 
but will only let me take it if she has done her hair!

1200 - Lunch!  This varies each day and consists of traditional Ugandan food.  I will try anything once (except anything with celery) but with certain dishes I find it hard to go back for more.  A favourite in Uganda is matoke which is green bananas that are steamed and form a glue / porridge-like substance.  Surprisingly it tastes like steamed green bananas.  Occasionally we eat a sandwich, often questioned by the staff who ask why we are not eating ‘normal’ food.  

1315 - We have an amazing network of supporters, not only around the world but here in Kampala.  Not a day goes by when Lucy doesn’t introduce us to another supporter who has stopped by to see the work that Lucy and her team are doing.  Fostering and adoption outside your own family isn’t a common occurrence here in Uganda so showing people the home and telling them of the babies that Mary and the Family Placement Program have been able to place with families is the start of trying to change people’s perceptions.  

Lucy meeting with supporters from a local hospital

140o - Mary, our social worker, calls out from her office.  This usually means she has a computer question or she has broken a piece of equipment. Armed with blu-tack, scissors and chocolate I assess the situation.  The chocolate is to distract Mary so she doesn’t touch anything else. 

It is safer for Mary to hold a baby than a stapler

1545 - One of our new volunteers arrives, always exciting to meet a new member of the Child’s i family!  We have some amazing volunteers coming out in the next few months and we pride ourselves on giving each and every volunteer the best experience possible.  The way we do this is by giving each volunteer a role or project during their time with us.  Laura, one of volunteer carers, made a huge difference to two of our older boys during her stay.  They weren’t used to having a story read to them but because of Laura, all she had to do was hold up a book and they would run to the couch!  One of our volunteers, Emma, arrived this week and she is setting up our learning-by-play program, which we are really excited about.  Playing with play-doh this week was also a new experience for the boys but you know it is a success when the boys are shrieking with laughter because they are wearing a bracelet made of green play-doh!

One of my favourite photos.  Laura, one of our amazing volunteer carers, 
made such an impact on both the kids as well as the CiF team

Who would think sticky green dough would be so fun!

I love reading to the kids, they get so much out of it.  
My flat mate Phil sent me over with her favourite book and 
it is now the favourite in the home too!

170o - Help with dinner time, sometimes a messy and noisy time of day.  But also a really lovely time when you can feed one of our little ones and have some one-on-one time.   

Shelby climbed Mount Kimimanjaro for Child's i 
and stopped by to see us after the climb 

Such a great little helper!

1800 - Lock up the office and organise the night’s social activities. This can range from dinner at home, quiz at the local Irish pub (because every city has to have an Irish pub!), dinner out or a few drinks at our local.  Weirdly my social life here is so much busier than at home, funny what you can do when you don’t work in TV!

Night out with the girls, Rach and Em

Hopefully this gives you a good idea of what I am doing here in Uganda, it is certainly never dull!

Stay tuned for some other posts including my first reporting gig on the Ugandan Space Program and Rocket Man.  It's not one to be missed!

Bec xx

PS - One of the main aims of Child's i is to keep supporters updated as much as possible with newsletters, photos and videos.  If you would like to be on the mailing list for the monthly newsletter go to the CiF website to register -  You can also join our Facebook groups to get the news a little quicker!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Picnic Time!

One beautiful sunny day we decided that the older boys needed a day out! So we bundled them all up with some of our Malaika carers, grabbed the bags with everything needed for 5 babies (thanks to Jo who knew what to pack!) and we set off for the day.

Despite a quick stop along the way to deal with some car sickness (car was cleaned up in record speed!) we arrived at one of the gardens of a local hotel.

Anyone for football? Mmm, do you think we
need to be able to walk before we can kick?

Is there a time when you don't have a camera?

Happy to be here? You bet!

Before heading out I had visions of screaming children, fighting over toys, refusing to eat lunch and hiding in the bushes so we couldn't find them. Basically a picnic like you would go to at home that had children at it! But the boys were brilliant and so well behaved. No crying, no whinging, playing nicely with each other, gave us no problems whatsoever. We were all very proud of them, our little guys from Malaika!

Picnics can be make you very thirsty

Snack time!

Tired now, ready to go home for my nap!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saving Joey's Life

The hardest, but also the most amazing time in Kampala was the journey with Joey and his family. After only being open a few months, the social work team found a beautiful family and Joey was the first baby adopted from Malaika Babies Home.

Excited Lucy as George arrives to pick up
Joey to take him home to his new family

Proud new dad

Desire & George with their new son Joey

Not long after Joey went home we received a phone call from Joey's parents with the news that Joey had a heart condition and would need a life saving operation within the week. I have never witnessed such an amazing group of people spring in action immediately. An appeal video was made, a donation page was set up, a hospital was found and all in the space of a day.

Working overnight Katie and Lucy made an inspiring appeal to all of the Child's i supporters to help save Joey's life:

As soon as the appeal video was posted we were overwhelmed with the immediate response from people all over the world, all with the common goal of saving the life of a little baby called Joey. I was touched by the amount of people that I knew who donated even though I may not have spoken to them for years. It's funny how something so important can transcend everything.

A day later, on my 32nd birthday we were all glued to the Just Giving page where the money was still escalating at a phenomenal speed. And then it happened . . .

Couldn't have asked for a better birthday present. Because of generous people all around the world a special little boy would get a third chance at life, his second chance was arriving at Malaika and being adopted into a loving family. 10,000 pounds in 38 hours, unbelievable!!

Joey travelled to South Africa with his mum and went through the long operation of life saving heart surgery. His recovery was quick as he is a little fighter and must have been wanting to go back to his new dad as well as his new brothers and sisters who were all missing him terribly.

Joey's family were so overwhelmed and touched by the kindness of strangers and upon arriving back in Kampala with a healthy Joey, they wanted to thank everyone from the bottom of their hearts.

What a whirlwind of a week, there were daily tears as everyone took turns but the end goal was always in sight. And now, as we can see Joey grow and thrive we know his future is bright. And all thanks to people who knew Joey was meant to be here for a long time yet.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Max - The Best Taxi Driver Ever

Put aside all of your stereotypes of taxi drivers and meet Max!

Whether the trip is short, long, bumpy or at 4am in the morning, Max will always greet you with a massive smile and a "Hi baby, what's up?".

But beware . . . his van is fitted with numerous sub-woofers which will vibrate you to your core and speakers which tell your neighbours in a 3 kilometre radius that you have arrived home.

"That's how we roll baby"- Max, 2010

With all of this elaborate equipment you would be expecting some hard core music. Well, you would not be disappointed. Among the favourites in the Max-Mobile are 'Eye of The Tiger', 'Karma Chameleon' and no trip would be complete without the infamous 'Breathless' by The Corrs.

The Party Van

But upon entering the van we would all be quivering in anticipation as to whether we would be lucky enough to hear the signature tune of the Max-Mobile. Sure enough the blonde and shoulder-padded Bonnie Tyler would be appear on the screen, gazing out of the window . . .

Turn around . . . Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never coming round . . .

Screams follow the opening lyrics but then it's down to business. Max takes the lead vocal with us girls (and Ian singing in his falsetto) singing backup. With the sub-woofers pounding and Max swerving in and out of traffic we are home in no time.

The gang with Maxy

Max is also a qualified hairdresser but we think he should stick to carting us around. Max, we salute you for your pro-active driving, your singing ability and persistence to find a wife. In your own words "Enjoy Life"!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What are you doing in Uganda again?

I have been finding that people still aren't sure what I am doing over here in Uganda! The word 'orphanage' floats around a lot and that is the furthest term from what Child's i and Malaika are about.

Below is the Child's i Mission Statement which shows exactly what Lucy and her team are doing over here in Kampala and the amazing services that are offered to vulnerable mothers, families and their precious babies. I have been so lucky to be a part of it - I dare you not to feel something when watching this video!