I recently travelled through Uganda with my fabulous friend Amanda Weller and The Gorilla Safari Company. We covered much of the south west of the country – from Entebbe to Lake Mburo, down to the gorillas in the mist at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, up along the Congolese border and the Western Rift Valley, through Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Kazinga channel, further north to Kibale and Fort Portal and, finally, a long and very bumpy 7 hour journey back to Entebbe. It was an awesome road trip and an experience that has truly got under my skin; Uganda has both inspired me and left me wanting more (for which I will soon return ☺).
All over Uganda are signs quoting little pearls of wisdom – ‘Live for now’, ‘Don’t smoke here, people are breathing’ and a particularly funny one ‘slow slow men at work’ (sorry chaps). They are displayed on the front of the ‘matatu’ (minibuses), hand painted onto buildings or, as I noticed the most, painted on the rear mudguards of small trucks.
It might have been a message sent for me but I noticed on many occasions the phrase ‘Patience Pays’ and throughout our travels and treks and among the people we met I saw that this was indeed the case.
It rang true most pertinently during my visits to three different initiatives; the first to Bwindi Plus Primary School. Here a school was finally built off the back of the ambition of a Bwindi orphan who had, as a child, lost his best friend to the river they had to cross for school (during the long rains). The school (now safe to reach for the primary age population living this side of the river) is evolving slowly over time, largely dependent upon foreign contributions; they are patiently raising funds for a new playground (currently a mud pitch), flushing toilets for the 62 kindergarten children and a school library (at the present time a small room with no more than 100 books) with a computer lab. They are energetically ambitious, it’s infectious… and there is no sign of frustration, sense of injustice, blame or criticism; you simply see aspiration, commitment and patience.
The school boldly states in their reception area: ‘We cannot settle for the good when the best is a possibility’ (I couldn’t agree more). The whole place exemplifies good planning, ambitious goals for the future (openly shared), clear working structures and processes, positive thinking, team work and peer respect – great values for a strong future for any initiative I’d say.
The second place to mention is Ride 4 a Woman – an initiative set up by Evelyn Habasa to help empower local women struggling with domestic violence, the impact of HIV AIDS and poverty. Inspired by her mother who sacrificed much to educate her 8 children and who was known as the ‘lady with one red dress’ (worn and washed daily), Eve and her husband Dennis have been working hard and patiently since 2009 to create a place where 300 women now gather together to learn new skills, build small business enterprises, entertain the guests lodging at the onsite homestay or find refuge as a safe haven while trouble at home settles. There is much still to do – a shop to build, the homestay to regularly fill, sewing machines to buy and much more but Eve and Dennis have the commitment and drive to fulfil this ambition; energy abounds among the whole team there. It’s awesome.
And finally to the Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group where elephant dung is made into paper! In two small rooms and a covered yard exists an enterprise that collects up and dries elephant ‘output’, mixes it with water and turns it into textured paper which is then used to create beautiful notepads and other paper products. It is simple and brilliant and the motivation for it is once again, to provide work and income for women living in and around Queen Elizabeth National Park, and at the same time support the wildlife conservation work going on there (the farmers no longer shoot the elephants that leave ‘gifts’ in their fields as they able to generate income by supplying it to the project). As I listened to their excellent and energized introductory talk, I glanced up at the walls and there, once more, I noticed among their stated values the word ‘patience’….it is everywhere.
Underpinning this Ugandan patience is a formidable strength and resilience. The tribe of south-west Uganda is the Bakiga, who are justifiably proud of their long held reputation as strong people. We had the honour of watching both the children of Bwindi Plus and the women at Ride 4 A Woman perform a selection of tribal dances for us demonstrating this very fact; what an earth pounding, dust disturbing show of stamping strength.
I came away from Uganda with refreshed focus and energy and a mind to at least attempt to bring greater patience into my own business and personal life…we will see how long it lasts but, regardless of that resolution, we at SHC are now firm supporters of these three great enterprises. If after reading this you are interested to know more, have a wee look through the links below or give me a call.
Find out more about each project here: