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La Serenissima

La Serenissima

Just back from Venice (significant birthday gift, many thanks to family). and the Architectural Biennale: ‘Reporting from the Front’. A huge exhibition with much about poverty, refugees, rapid urbanisation and the developing world, all relevant to our time in Uganda and our time back in the UK.

Venice, Architectural Biennale 2016

Venice, Architectural Biennale 2016

For example Solano Benitez from Paraguay: “Working with two of the most easily available materials – brick and unqualified labour – as a way to transform scarcity into abundance”. All those mud bricks and blue skies took me back to being VSO volunteers on a DFID sponsored vocational training programme in Northern Uganda.

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale 1

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale 1

There has been a lot in the press recently about foreign aid, the Guardian ran a very good editorial recently showing the benefits of foreign aid. But it is the Daily Mail and their petition for a debate in the Houses of Parliament on 13 June that is more worrying. The debate itself was surprisingly measured and supportive, despite those trying to demonize Palestinians our MPs were, mostly, a long way from the distortion and untruth that characterises what we read every day.

Digging, drying and stacking the bricks on the plot

Digging, drying and stacking the bricks on the plot

Brickmaking was everywhere in Northern Uganda, it is a relatively unskilled process. Bricklaying and Concrete Practice was a standard course in our vocational colleges and heavily subscribed. The resultant buildings were simple and quick to put up but often unsuitable for the climate or their occupants and never innovative.

Earth Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Earth Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Many exhibits at the Biennale concerned these traditional methods of construction and what could be done with them, along with mud bricks, rammed earth or ‘pisé de terre’ was en vogue throughout, eg the Renzo Piano Paediatric Centre in Entebbe).

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Benitez uses simple formers to pour mortar and place the bricks in sections. Low skilled workers use these modules to make high quality buildings relevant to them, the possibilities seemed endless, that high roof would keep the heat down for example and keep down the need for timber. A flexible building method that can be ‘owned’ and developed by its users, no need for imposed solutions that collapse once the Westerners have gone.

The sustainable simplicity I saw in some (but definitely not all) of the exhibits at the Architecture Biennale, made me think of some of the people we worked with in Gulu, and wonder how they are getting on and what they might have been doing had our programme had not existed.

Margaret Atoke

Margaret Atoke

Perhaps the most impressive was Margaret Atoke from Koch Goma. I made a film with her, showing the impact of our programme. Margaret had not been to school, she was a girl and no one would pay for her. But after our training she was able to set up her own business and employ others, training them herself.

Margaret and staff outside her hoteli

Margaret and staff outside her hoteli

I remember her saying that the day she put on her college T shirt was the proudest of her life, the thought that she Margaret could actually go to school was what inspired her to make her a subsequent life a success.

Margaret Atoke 2

Margaret Atoke 2

This is why UK aid matters. UK aid was leading the way in Uganda, and East Africa, developing aid programmes that delivered tangible results. Previous programmes by others made little substantial change. By contrast, the DFID programme was carefully planned, monitored and evaluated. It not only trained 15,400 students in employable and relevant market relevant skills, but the accompanying psycho-social and life skills programme, the in-depth entrepreneurship, literacy and numeracy training and six month post training support, meant that the training would last; a first for the area.

Margaret's Hoteli

Margaret’s Hoteli

It is not only the 15,400 students directly trained that benefited from the DFID programme, (50% female by the way, unusual for this sector). Their families, their dependents, the local and national economies will all benefit, this was a graphic I saw in Venice pointing that out.

7 - 12 people supported by livelihood at Venice Architecture Biennale

7 – 12 people supported by livelihood at Venice Architecture Biennale

Apart from the great goodwill towards Britain, we benefit too, making people healthy, financially independent and responsible for their own lives will help prevent the sort of violent collapse of order that caused such problems in the first place. Ebola for example was first identified amongst Ugandan soldiers in Gulu, the programme’s centre. Virulent disease, violent systemic disorder, destructive ideologies, mass migration, all these problems can now be quickly exported across the world. But carefully managed, well designed and monitored programmes such as the one delivered by DFID and VSO volunteers in Northern Uganda over the last three years, can make Britain safer and happier too, safe also in the knowledge that we have helped humanity and ourselves.

DFID students and teacher at Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute Gulu, climbing the ladder to success

DFID students and teacher at Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute Gulu, climbing the ladder to success

Please believe me that British aid works, I have seen it doing so and have many films, stories and pictures to prove it. Please support the British Government’s successful, and much envied by the way, aid programme. Try contacting your MP, it’s much easier than you might think. Remember Margaret and many like her, it’s your money (in a way) that helped her, be proud of that. And start shovelling that mud in the garden to make some bricks, who knows what you might build yourself?Burning the bricks

Youth Development Programme: ex Carpentry and Joinery students working on a roof at Awach

Youth Development Programme: ex Carpentry and Joinery students working on a roof at Awach

It was finding this photo again recently that brought it all back; it shows some of our ex-students working on a roof. The building will be a new classroom for teaching Motor Vehicle Maintenance, the students were all graduates and skilled enough to be employed by their old college. They have kept their college overalls and wear them with pride as they bounce sure footed about the growing roof, notice their flip-flops on the ground by the dancing youth. The colours are strong, new and bright, the shadows sharp and deep; three degrees north of the equator you would expect nothing less.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Is this where I write a roundup of the year just gone? Maybe a self-satisfied description of the unbelievable successes of our over-entitled offspring? Their nationally important roles as cupcake sales persons, hand car wash operatives and niche website facilitators? Perhaps I should dwell at length on the overwhelming successes of our semi feral grandchildren and how little Ptolemy’s performance as a carrot at the Nativity ‘literally’ stole the show?

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Or maybe not, because none of that would be true. In reality Storm Frank is still thumping into the side of our rented barn conversion in a farmyard on the edge of Dartmoor.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Even the sheep with fortnight old lambs have been brought in to their barns, so the weather must be awful. In our own warmer and sheep free barn, (unlike the imaginary Ptolemy we have not recreated the nativity ourselves) we can at least reflect on where we were this time last year.

The food spot, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

The food spot, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

As far away as possible, in Kidepo National Park, north-east Uganda looking forward to vegetables and rice for lunch and again for supper.

Waterbuck, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

Waterbuck, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

We have, I suppose, made the change from one continent to another, from one world to another although we miss our colleagues, the warmth, the light and the sense of purpose that comes with volunteering.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Down here in Devon, the sun wearily struggles above the horizon, occasionally sighing for a while above the hedgerows before slowly plodding downwards again. All of the tones are muted, edges are soft and one form bleeds into another. All is indistinct and unclear, a range of grey washed out earthy greens that feel old and worn.

St Ives, New Year's Eve

St Ives, New Year’s Eve

A quick trip to St Ives further down into the South West for New Year’s Eve, the town a riot of fancy dress at night.

Gurnards Head from Zennor Head

Gurnards Head from Zennor Head

Then Zennor Head for the New Year’s day walk, storm bound; wet and windy but the wind blew in enough vigour to start the new year we hope.

Goodbye Old Year: driving into a bright future?

Goodbye Old Year: driving into a bright future?

 

Todays forecast is for low cloud and rain, again

Todays forecast is for low cloud and rain, again

If the past is another country and they do things differently there (O Level study of ‘The Go Between’, sorry) which aspects get changed in translation?

Local firework display:: The Battle of Waterloo

Local firework display:: The Battle of Waterloo

Between the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, the serving out of the sausages and the filling of the charity bucket in the firework display at the small north Dartmoor village we find ourselves in at the moment, they played music. We got used to cultural dislocation via bizarre musical combinations while we were in Gulu. Cliff Richards’ ‘Congratulations’ was played at every opportunity, more Westlife songs than is necessary (any more than none obviously), ‘’Islands in the Stream’ whenever possible along with the usual Celine Dion, local pop music and Acholi traditional songs.

Wet Devon

Wet Devon

But what surprised me in wet Devon as blond children rushed around with glow sticks and we stood around in the mud, was a Country and Western version of Patti Smith’s version of Springsteen’s song: ‘Because the Night’. Patti Smith’s raw singing made it an iconic song in Leeds in the early punk days. The only night club in town then (imagine that) had the single (imagine that too), we would demand it endlessly, would leap onto the dance floor as it rapidly cleared; that style of music was loathed by everyone else. And here it was thirty nine years later, a milky version that nonetheless accurately copied Patti Smith’s vocal styling, passing entirely without notice as the mix segued into some other anodyne American something or other, Celine Dion probably.

More wet Devon

More wet Devon

Elvis Costello is reading his autobiography on Radio Four at the moment, heard him describing his ecstatic reaction to The Clash’s ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ yesterday morning and he played the song too, all before ten ‘o’ clock in the morning.

And now Siouxsie Sue is on the radio talking about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, eh? What has happened while we were away?

And yesterday I went to the London premiere of a film (The Revenge of the Mekons) about the band I used to be in way back when. Another form of the group is still going (a Country and Western version). The film is mostly about the newer group and certainly had a bigger audience than we ever did way back etc; curiouser and curiouser.

The sun: briefly

The sun: briefly

You couldn’t get further from the febrile urban atmosphere of the late seventies than the sodden fields and moors around us now, it has stopped raining since our arrival but only briefly.

The distant past: stone circle

The distant past: stone circle

The past we have been approaching here is very distant, stone circles, clapper bridges,

The distant past: clapper bridge

The distant past: clapper bridge

worked out mines and tiny lanes made for people on foot or pack horses.

The project: caravan on the hill

The project: caravan on the hill

Have we made any decisions about where to live and what to live in? A project? Living in a caravan while we struggle with ancient building techniques?

The project: all it needs is a little bit of tidying up

The project: all it needs is a little bit of tidying up

As Grace Slick sings ‘go ask Alice’ on the radio I’m reminded of the very different role of the past in Gulu. We worked and lived amongst astonishingly optimistic people, very few old buildings, a non-literary culture, no real evidence of the deep past and no wish to remember horrific and violent recent times.

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

On Dartmoor, as the rain sheets by, the past or rather a curious translation of the past, is threaded through everything we see, think and do. How that past will govern our next choices still seems to be placed in the future.

Or just fly away?

Or just fly away?

PS

‘Hold Back the Night’ was another important song, this time by Graham Parker and the Rumour came out in 1977. The drummer, fact fans, is now drummer with the current Mekons.

The road in front of us: from one continent to another

The road in front of us: from one continent to another

“The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline. Suddenly we looked down into a cuplike depression, patched with stunted oaks and firs which had been twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm. Two high, narrow towers rose over the trees. The driver pointed with his whip.

“Baskerville Hall,” said he.”

From “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published 1901-2

The road in front of us

The road in front of us: bleak and wild?

Probably the most famous story set on Dartmoor, where we now find ourselves,  back to getting the usual skewed view of Africa by watching wildlife programmes on TV (the new Attenborough is very good though, we can jump up and down on the sofa and say: “we have been there”).

The road in front of us: Wildebeest and our own Attenborough moment

The road in front of us: Wildebeest and our own Attenborough moment

Are we staying in a high, narrow tower? Not quite, it’s a barn conversion on a working farm.

The road in front of us: we're in the barn on the left

The road in front of us: we’re in the barn on the left

Ugandan subsistence farming meant hours of digging with a hand hoe. Farming here seems to involve rushing around in big machines through narrow farmyards and much moving of mud from here to there.

The road in front of us: mud waiting to be moved somewhere

The road in front of us: mud waiting to be moved somewhere

I remember, when we came first came back from our two years and nine months in Gulu, my eye kept being drawn to the skyline, Gulu was low rise and flat.

 

The Kitgum Stage

The dramatic height changes of London were mesmerising at first, although like so much of the once so familiar that had then become strange, it quickly became familiar once more.

The road in front of us: London skyline

The road in front of us: London skyline

Our new situation? Yes it is in a bowl, or ‘cuplike depression’, as most farms seem to be; “muddy bottoms” Mary calls them.

The road in front of us: muddy bottoms

The road in front of us: muddy bottoms

It is a world of mists, soft light across undifferentiated fields leading to a clearly differentiated skyline; what appears to be a relatively close horizon. Some sort of metaphor for our quest to find a new life? No, it’s just quite misty.

The road in front of us: what have we missed?

The road in front of us: what have we missed?

Big tractors running through the yard again with dogs snapping at their heels, many dogs, also quite undifferentiated, they never quite seem to get out of the way of the vehicles. Our dog, clearly designated as pet, lies in her basket looking puzzled, as indeed do we (appear puzzled that is).

The road in front of us: play misty for me

The road in front of us: play misty for me

“Through the gateway we passed into the avenue, where the wheels were again hushed amid the leaves, and the old trees shot their branches in a sombre tunnel over our heads. Baskerville shuddered as he looked up the long, dark drive to where the house glimmered like a ghost at the farther end.”

The road in front of us: the avenue up to Castle Drogo

The road in front of us: the avenue up to Castle Drogo

How will the story end?

The road in front of us

The road in front of us

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

Have we been busy singing “Ain’t got a home” like Clarence Frogman Henry?[1]

Have we been cast out into the world committed to wander the face of the earth?

“cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken”

(Genesis Chapter 3, verses 17 – 19)

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

We have spent a week in a classic thatched cottage in West Dorset, searching for our final resting place; our promised land? Views and walks across Hardy country from the Iron Age fort at Eggardon Hill. Low grey clouds, so  different to the huge skies we have been living under; bright sun and open savannahs.

Returning unto the ground: from the top of Eggardon Hill

Returning unto the ground: from the top of Eggardon Hill

Coffee and cakes in small country towns, what is the optimum number of mobility scooter shops for our future Eden?

Returning unto the ground: West Bay

Returning unto the ground: West Bay

Visits to the coast, nice to be by the sea after three years in a land locked country. A growing wish to write and make art about an ingrained sense of place

Autumn Return part two 4

(cf Robert Macfarlane of course, who wrote about the hollow ways of Chideock in West Dorset amongst other places; somewhere we have visited often.) Interesting by the way that the curious and savage late thirties thriller, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, is cited by Macfarlane

Rogue Male: Geoffrey Household, 1939

Rogue Male: Geoffrey Household, 1939

and has also been claimed as part of the Neo-Romantic movement, the art that best illustrates this area. For example in a recent article in Yarn magazine about Rena Gardiner.

Liz Somerville: 'Corfe Past Over Present' Linocut, 800 x 400 mm

Liz Somerville: ‘Corfe Past Over Present’ Linocut, 800 x 400 mm

Liz Somerville, also mentioned in that article, is still carrying on that tradition of “Ravilious, Bawden, Nash and all that lot’” as she puts it.

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

Returning unto the ground: West Dorset

Small country lanes? The hospital years are coming; age and infirmity. Do we want to advance in age and decrease in confidence behind the wheel, marooned in the tiny lanes of a rural paradise as our personal sun begins to set?

“Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth.”

(Genesis Chapter 4, verse 14)

Where should we vagabond to next?

Murchison National Park: Elephants

Murchison National Park: Elephants

 

[1] “Ooh ooh

Ain’t got no home

no place to roam

Ain’t got no home

no place to roam

I’m a lonely boy

I ain’t got a home

 

I got a voice

I love to sing

I sing like a girl

And I sing like a frog

I’m a lonely boy

I ain’t got a home”

Autumn Return

Autumn Return

Autumn, a non-existent season in tropical zones, tricky to explain I remember:

“So Mr Mark, leaves die and fall off, like ours do in the dry season. But that in the West dying leaves are so beautiful people look at them? You travel to look at dead leaves?

Autumn Return

Autumn Return

And the sun you say, it is up far later than six and is dark by the afternoon?”

Polite smiles of disbelief; outlandish information that was never quite believed. Seasonal change is hardwired, hard to dislodge and now we are back to our own again. The placements are finished, we are back in the UK and have that uncertain, Monday after the weekend party feeling.

Autumn Return

Autumn Return

It would be difficult to go back to our old life in the South East of England, we need somewhere else to live and somewhere completely different to the last three years too; Dartmoor it is then. At the end of the month we move there for a pilot programme (I don’t think development vocabulary will ever leave us).

Autumn Return: London

Autumn Return: London

Other returnees have said much the same thing: that (unsurprisingly) your interest in your adventures lasts far longer than the attention span of those at home. Once the returnee answers some fundamental questions and establishes that they didn’t live in a mud hut, that it was very hot, that they had seen some of the wild life also seen on TV, interest quickly fades and its back to Bake Off, Jeremy Corbyn or the price of housing. Which is as it should be, a shared communal conversation, few in Gulu would sustain discussion about countries far away either.

Autumn Return

Autumn Return

Main question (after the mud hut etc): What is it like being back? Impossible to answer, there are no real points of comparison

Points about being back that stand out (in random order and probably of no real significance)

Autumn Return: Kirombe Skies

Autumn Return: Kirombe Skies

Aeroplanes: apart from the bi-weekly plane from Entebbe and the training jet that went round and round clockwise like a child learning to ride a bicycle, there were no other planes to see or hear (despite being the noisiest place I have ever lived). In the South East the sky is full of trails and planes, and small clouds. Gulu skies were either empty or dominated by vast cloud dramas bringing intense tropical storms.

Autumn Return: Skies above Kirombe

Autumn Return: Skies above Kirombe

The dim light and the cold, obviously, but really it’s the damp: arthritis and rheumatism waving to say hello.

Autumn Return: Kampala Traffic

Autumn Return: Kampala Traffic

So much traffic: so few people in each new car; so little carried; no motorbikes; no broken down charcoal trucks.

Autumn Return: Charcoal Truck Loading

Autumn Return: Charcoal Truck Loading

Every Ugandan vehicle was always full beyond its limits, now we see shiny vehicles with a single occupant in well behaved queues.

Autumn Return: Loading a Matatu

Autumn Return: Loading a Matatu

Roadworks: an international feature approached with national characteristics, no one in Uganda would dream of doing anything but driving straight through it all.

Autumn Return: Roadworks on the Gulu to Kampala Road

Autumn Return: Roadworks on the Gulu to Kampala Road

In the UK we wait fretting slightly, moaning that no one is actually working, but we wait nonetheless.

Autumn Return: Waiting at the Roadworks

Autumn Return: Waiting at the Roadworks

Conversations in shops: we have learnt to ask people how they are before starting any transaction, to ask how the night had gone, about the health of the family and so on. Try that in Tescos and you would be arrested.

Houses are full of digital machines that harass you with alarms.

Worrying whether the (enormous piles of) laundry you seem to have brought home will ever dry on the washing line, realising that you will have to go back to doing your own washing again, hoping your Gulu washerwoman (and all the other people you ended up employing without really trying) will have found new clients, hoping that she/ they will have spent the money you gave her/ them for school fees on her/ their children.

Autumn Return: another Gulu lizard waving goodbye

Autumn Return: another Gulu lizard waving goodbye

Cheese eaten in the last three years: Parmesan (or so the label said)/ Gouda (ditto)/ something vaguely cheesy from the dairy at my placement college.

Cheese eaten in the last fortnight: Cheddar (Scottish and English and of various ages)/ Brie/ Cotherstone/ Feta/ Goat (hard and soft)/ Roquefort/ Swaledale (sheep)/ Wensleydale.

Autumn Return: Wild Life like on the TV, a Tree Climbing Lioness In Queen Elizabeth National Park

Autumn Return: Wild Life like on the TV, a Tree Climbing Lioness In Queen Elizabeth National Park

Goodbye to Gulu: a last monitoring visit

Goodbye to Gulu: a last monitoring visit

Still packing, getting ready to leave Gulu after two years and eight months on our volunteer placement.
“Will I really need these light coloured trousers again? Probably not.”
Saying goodbye seems a feature of volunteer life, you are always bidding farewell. Saying good bye to good friends at VSO and good colleagues in the colleges, well it doesn’t get any easier.

Goodbye to Gulu: feeling like a beetle on it's back

Goodbye to Gulu: feeling like a beetle on it’s back

A last minute hiccup. My passport was ‘mislaid’ by immigration services. Sudden panics and setting up of consular appointments for emergency travel documents, planning how to make the instant eight hour journey to Kampala and eight hours back to carry on packing.
“Can we get all this Congolese fabric in our bags? What’s the weight limit again?”

Goodbye to Gulu: Chameleon in the greens

Goodbye to Gulu: Chameleon in the greens

Intervention by senior management and lo – a document that had been ‘completely lost never to be found’ is miraculously found again, and for free. A bit last minute, but somehow I am ‘used’ as they say here.

Goodbye to Gulu: because you can never have enough photos of Giraffes

Goodbye to Gulu: because you can never have enough photos of Giraffes

We return to cold wet England, “Will I want to wear these broken sandals on our return?” Our askari (gatekeeper) leaves each morning staggering under the weight of unwanted summer gear.
A last all day workshop to remind me of some things I won’t miss. After the usual list of problems we are more positive and there is much to be positive about. Fifteen thousand four hundred students trained, (an equal number of male and female too which is unusual in this context). Thirty seven colleges involved across Northern Uganda, many, many students in employment, so many new businesses started. We talked about what we had learned: how much good teaching depends on good leadership; how psycho-social support was probably just as important as skills training; the role of literacy, numeracy and business lessons; the importance of raising student self esteem, hence all the graduations, cultural events and open days.

Goodbye to Gulu: the metalwork exam at GDPU

Goodbye to Gulu: the metalwork exam at GDPU

“I want to give this to someone, can we get a three foot mirror on the back of a bike?”

Goodbye to Gulu: a last sunset

Goodbye to Gulu: a last sunset

We empty the house tomorrow and, really difficult this one, give back the motorbikes. After nearly eleven thousand kilometres, like the policemen in Flann O’Brien’s book who become part of their machines through a combination of Einstein’s theory of relativity and very bumpy roads, I think my bike and I are also going to find parting very hard to do.

Goodbye to Gulu and the bike

Goodbye to Gulu and the bike

My last graduation. Over the last two years and eight months of my VSO volunteer placement in Gulu, Northern Uganda I have attended many many graduations, open days and cultural events. This last was with a college we have become very close to: Gulu Disabled Persons Union.

I might just have mentioned before that volunteers are warned to expect the unexpected. Working with the disabled is certainly not something either of us has done before, but is certainly something we both want to continue on our return. GDPU was one of the most inspiring institutions on the Youth Development Programme and the instructors amongst the most inspiring for their students. This graduation was a typically warm family celebration with a lively presentation of another great student song; ‘Stand for Hope, (Disability is not Inability) performed by its writer, a welding and metal fabrication student, one BSG Labongo. He is already working with a group of fellow students and their instructor in a new workshop in town, very busy they are too.

I hope this short film captures some of the spirit of the occasion.

 

This is a short, rather abstract film I have put together about life in Gulu. Opinions welcome.

 

Africa's 2nd best town

Africa’s 2nd best town

I spent the last week in Arua ( Africa’s second best town ) delivering training on Performance Management : how to use Excel; working a management information system; helping Arua Technical Institute start developing their strategic plan.

Elephants Crossing the Road

Elephants Crossing the Road

Our drive there was made more enjoyable by seeing 2 elephants crossing the road in front of us on the main Kampala – Arua road. Where else in the world do you regularly see elephants crossing by the side of the road as you are going past?

The Bongo Traders minibus at 7am on its way to Gulu

The Bongo Traders minibus at 7am on its way to Gulu

The training was all quite intensive especially the session on data management, some of the participants don’t have access to computers, their Excel skills were rusty and everybody had different versions on their computer.

New mechanical engineering block - funded by S Korean Govt

New mechanical engineering block – funded by S Korean Govt

As ever the Principals and instructors in West Nile enjoy detailed discussions and we veered off at one point into a discussion on why there were more student strikes in secondary schools than technical colleges. Strikes are a common feature in Uganda and can be very violent, attacking teachers ‘chasing them away’ and damaging property (usually the student dormitories or administration blocks ). One theory was that, in technical colleges there was a closer connection between staff and students, but we could have gone on all day!

The new crèche at Arua TI a legacy of YDP

The new crèche at Arua TI a legacy of YDP

On our programme there have been, to my knowledge, several strikes about food /lack of and poor quality, there is always the worry that if food is not produced the students will riot.

As ever the feedback from the training was that participants wanted more time, that more people should get the training. This is tricky, our programme is coming to an end, but the wider point is that staff in technical institutes (these are from public schools where it is a requirement to be teacher trained) do need a lot of capacity building and our intervention has only scratched the surface .

Pool at White Castle Hotel

Pool at White Castle Hotel

It wasn’t all work . Winnie and I managed to get to the pool at a local hotel for a couple of hours on our last day and she enjoyed practicing her swimming.

Christopher and me at the pork joint

Christopher and me at the pork joint

We also went out to a pork joint with our colleagues. Arua is noted for its pork and it’s a tradition that when we go there we have to visit at least one.

The swimming hole on the golf course

The swimming hole on the golf course

I enjoyed some early morning walks around the old golf course which is now used as a green space for football games in the evening and a swimming place for the local kids.

Morning rush hour in Arua

Morning rush hour in Arua

Arua is really developing there has been a lot of work on the roads in the two years I have been coming, buildings going up all over the place although a number of older buildings remain, I presume from the colonial era. The hotel we stay at, Desert Breeze, is a large 4 storey building always full during the week with people from NGOs, missionaries and government departments visiting for work . We arrive on a Monday and then depart back to Kampala or Gulu on a Friday.

Desert Breeze hotel - there's no desert

Desert Breeze hotel – there’s no desert

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work

Whitemarkarts

From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container

Here

A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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