13th November 2008
The hottest topic is of course the American Presidency. There is a general euphoria at seeing an East African become President. Everywhere I go people say "Obama" and thumbs go up. It's widely recognised that Obama is as American as apple pie but at least he is very aware that a world exists outside the USA
It's still raining, my what a wet season! Talk is now of possible failed harvest due to too much rain... Nicola is a VSO volunteer specialising in fundraising at USDC, she's just been down to visit Masaka and see MVRC. Of course, we had to take her to Lake Nabugabu. The rain hammered down but in the end we decided to go anyway and by late afternoon the sun was brilliant and we regretted not taking our swimming costumes. The photos are Nicola's!
On Sunday, as Anne was leaving, we found a tiny puppy left in the compound. She was covered in fleas and generally in a dreadful state. She cried ALL Sunday night. Exhausted, Nicola, Apollo and I took her to the vet on Monday who dealt very effectively with all her pests. So, Coco is about a month old, can just about lap milk but certainly should still be with her mother. She needs constant companionship. This evening we have a breakthrough - she's fallen asleep on my foot instead of my lap. She'll need to come to work with me for a few weeks, much to the amusement of my work mates. What is it about Masaka and dogs I wonder? Anyway, Anne wants a guard dog for the compound but it will be a few months yet.
Nicola's visit went well. We spent Monday at the Centre looking at the facilities and meeting the students. On Tuesday we went to visit two schools which are supported by USDC. The first is a small school for children with learning difficulties. Mary, Chair of the Parents Support Group (and Friends of MVRC), has 4 disabled children, all with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. When she was unable to find schools for them she started her own, and it is excellent. Her eldest child is now 23 but still likes to be at school. The children sang for us, charming. They also liked Coco who, of course, had to come with us. The second visit was to a school for deaf children which is larger and very well organised by a committed head teacher. She has amazingly broad based funding and must spend a lot of time working with supporters and donors. The children all seemed very happy and pleased to see us. As is customary we were named - Nicola for her nose and me for my constant habitat of brushing hair from my face. I really must get a hair cut.
There are so many competing demands at MVRC I have been
really struggling to find a way forward. We decided that we must capitalise on
Vicky's work and prioritise selling our site as the perfect wedding venue. The
wedding season starts in December so no time to waste.
We saw two major hurdles. One was the scruffy and unappetising reception area. A student from RISK had already written a detailed paper on possible redesign/decoration and we modified this to fit a small budget. Having prepared a detailed project plan and budget we asked FoMVRC(UK) if they would fund the project. Yesterday I received their approval. We are delighted and start work next week.
The second hurdle was the bats! All our tile roofs are full of bats. Frankly tile roofs are not suitable here, corrugated iron is much more practical. But what could we do? We took advice from many quarters and found an excellent 'batman\ who would do the job at a reasonable price. This time funding came from a donation to FoMVRC in Uganda and 'batman' started yesterday. Bats don't fly during the day but they do make a terrific noise fluttering in their roost. Today, in Apollo's office, there was silence. Amazing. Today batman's doing the students dining hall which was, to say the least, unhygienic. Here's hoping it is now silent and s*** free! Later 'batman' will return to remove the bodies - perhaps that's too much information for you?
A second strand is employing more tutors, currently we are three tutors short. Tutors are employed by Masaka District Council (MDC) but they are very short of cash, as are many Councils. We asked about this recently and MDC said they would try to employ towards the end of the financial year (June here). Frankly MDC's record is not good, we've been waiting for a metalwork tutor since 2001. We started to think where we could get funds to employ more tutors ourselves - if we don't train disabled students we're finished. Then today, to our amazement, the CAO told us he had authorised recruitment of three tutors. Wow! We were gob-smacked. OK, we're not there yet but this shows a real and positive commitment to MVRC. This is a very welcome change from earlier this year and all praise to Vicky for starting the process and to the new CAO for his positive attitude.
The third strand is funding the students, all resident. MVRC do not charge students any fees as most come from poor homes where they are not valued and have been denied education. MDC give the centre 18m Ush per year (about £6000) but this is not enough for food and cleaning materials, the current shortfall is about 10m (£3300) on 28 students. If we get new tutors we will have 60+ students, so the shortfall will be huge. In the long term we expect to make up much of this through letting out our upgraded conference facilities and accommodation and by selling items made by 'advanced' students. But this may take 1-2 years, how do we cope in the meantime? Well, we're embarking on fundraising to tide us over - but at least now I feel much more confident that MVRC can not just survive but develop and become sustainable. More on fundraising and how you can help later...
Coco is doing very well, all her pests have gone (I think), she's eating well and likes playing with students at MVRC. But she still needs constant company and is sleeping on my lap as I write....