Rachael’s volunteering (Part 5 of 7): Belated Greetings

Dear All,

Apologies for the very belated greetings from Patongo! Power and internet have been even worse than before as we were in the rainy season, and for a stretch of 12 consecutive days we went without any power, which was a little miserable generally and pretty much devastating in terms of trying to get any work done.

The rainy season is coming to an end now and things seem to be getting a little better, although an electricity pole was damaged last week so we went another 5 days or so without power! It was at a particularly bad time when the water tank at the guest house (where we stay) was almost empty, so with no power to pump water to refill it, it was 5 days of washing with cold water from a jerry can, a plastic bowl and a jug! At least we did not have to walk for several kms to fill the jerry cans like the local women do (one of the guest house workers collected them using a wheelbarrow).

After returning from a 2 week visit home to London, what struck me most about the trip to / from home was not the difference between Uganda and England but the difference between Kampala and Patongo.

The centre of Kampala is so developed with skyscrapers, air-conditioned shopping malls, nice coffee shops with wifi and pleasant tarmacked roads, that it’s hard to believe it’s in the same country as Patongo.

The high poverty levels in Patongo mean that most people in the town have barely been to Gulu or Lira, (the 2 largest towns in the North), so I’m not sure what they would make of it! It really feels like Patongo and the Agago District are parts of Uganda that everyone forgot about as they were developing the rest of the country.

Just before I left for London, there was a sad story that is unfortunately not rare in Patongo, where a teenage boy caught for stealing was locked in a tukul (local hut) while the police were called, but hanged himself before they arrived. Apparently, he had been caught stealing before.

He was depressed, had no education, no skills to get a job and no hope for the future. Sadly his father said he felt it was “for the best” since he did not know how to help him.

The police wanted to send his body for a post-mortem to Kalongo, a town 40km away which has the only hospital in the district, but his father was begging them not to as he could not afford to pay the transport fees.

Agnes, the youth centre’s psycho-social counselling co-ordinator was on the way to the tukul when she was upset to hear, as were the rest of us, that he had killed himself before she arrived.

Sadly this sort of desperation and lack of hope characterises many of the young people in Patongo who the youth centre are trying to help.

I do have some good news though, because construction of the new youth centre building will hopefully be complete in the next 3-4 weeks. I only have 2 months left, so I really hope the new building is up and running before I go.

In the office, I am working with David the director on implementation plans for the new centre, since this will mean a substantial uptick in the organisation’s activities, and the rest of the team is busy with field activities.

Two new members of staff have also joined us over the last few months – Joseph, a very experienced trainer whose main responsibility is training youth in IGA (Income Generating Activities), including how to select and set up new businesses and VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Associations), a financing programme less sophisticated than micro finance and generally utilised by the rural poor in developing countries).

Our second new team member is Godfrey, who joins Janet, as a second counsellor for the centre. There is still a lot of trauma amongst youth in Patongo who were former child soldiers / abductees, so the centre has a high demand for its counselling services. Also, some male clients were uncomfortable with a female counsellor, so now Godfrey is on board it is easier for them.

Well that’s about all for now -hope everyone in the office is well! Until next time!

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