Project Progress

I guess I should start by giving a quick project update. Things have been going really well and we have successfully handed out 20 goats in the last week to hard working, deserving women. I can’t tell you what an inspiration these women have been to us. Most of them are caring for grandchildren, orphans and some of their own children, which can total into the double digits. They work relentlessly to provide them with food, shelter and school fees. Most of them, not all of them, know that the only way out of poverty is though education. Unfortunately, school fees, uniforms, books, pencils and pens add up and keeping children in school becomes difficult. I would say to any of you at home that are thinking about sponsoring a family from a developing country that providing school fees is the MOST important factor to ensuring them a better life.
Anyways, back to the goats….our interns: Eric Lawrence and Annelie Crook fundraised all year to provide money to buy goats for these women. It was a great feeling to give them a potential source of income and all of the women were incredibly grateful. Eric and Annelie- I ‘m sorry that you couldn’t be there to see the women but we made sure that we told them that you were the ones that donated the money for the goats and they gave you a standing round of applause:)

We have also picked 12 paravets to train- paravets will provide basic animal care to the women in their parish. We will spend the next week training them about proper husbandry, disease prevention, disease treatment, and basic skills like castration and hoof trimming. The women that we picked are examples to the rest of the beneficiaries because they all showed commitment towards the project and an enthusiasm to become more involved. The idea is to give these women an education in goat husbandry and provide them with medical supplies and medicines to start. They are to charge for their service- so it becomes a source of income for them and also allows them to replace the medicines once they are finished. Independence and sustainability are the major goals- as Laura puts it “working yourself out of a job.” I am sure most of you know that reliance and dependence on foreign aid is a huge problem in development work so that is something that we are trying to avoid by giving them the tools to start and hoping that they will work as a group to take it further. This has worked amazingly in some of the old parishes but has been disastrous in others. Some of the paravets are very successful and work well within the community, whereas others never get paid for their time and don’t refill the medicines. Some of the beneficiaries don’t understand that having goats are an investment and that some input is required to maintain health. Our only suggestion to prevent this from happening in other parishes is to provide the paravets with a fee guide that will allow them to make a small amount of income while ensuring that they are charging enough to be able to replace the medicines.
I am looking forward to spending a week training these women but I am not thrilled that we only have 2.5 weeks left! Can’t think about it:(

If only time could slow down

The weeks are just flying by. I can believe we have already been here for 2 months. There is just so much work to be done still and so little time to do it. I do really think that this project could benefit from having some here year round (hopefully that will be me one day).

This week, we managed to attend several group meetings for the numerous parishes to assess and discuss their problems and help them with sustainable solutions. One of the problems many of the groups are having is receiving fair market prices for their goats. Often times, the goats are being sold at times when school fees are due and buyers give a very low price, knowing that the women are in need of the money. Many of our beneficiaries are often receiving less than half of fair market price for an adult goat. We have encouraged women to sell their goats prior to when school fees are due. We have also provided 2 groups with scales so that these women can weigh their goats to prevent the buyers from lying about the weight of their goats. If these groups find the scales helpful, we will provide the other groups with scales. Hopefully this will be a stepping stone towards a fair market price.

This week we also went to many beneficiaries homes to ensure they met the necessary requirements prior to receiving goats during the planned goat ceremony later this week. We were so incredibly impressed. Some women built beautiful goat houses in less than 2 weeks. One lady built her pen in 1 day. They were all so eager to receive their first or second goat that they wanted to make sure they met all of the requirements. As a result, we were able to hand out 20 goats in 2 goat hand-out ceremonies. One of the ceremony was in very isolated area far from town called Kahenda. The women were so appreciate of our help and were really grateful that we had chosen to come to their parish all the way from Canada. During the ceremony, the local council, FAOC staff and us gave speaches and then we handed out the goats to each excited member. We were also provided with an amazing meal as a sign of appreciation. The FAOC members also performed a traditional song and dance for us which was very special.

There were also some other very memorable moments of this day.

  1. The chairperson Katrina received a buck during the pass on ceremony but because she was also trying to prepare lunch for us, she needed to rush home once the ceremony was finished. Instead of walking the buck home, she threw him over her shoulders as if he was weightless and walked home briskly (it was not a short walk).
  2. We provided rides home to some of the very old beneficiaries who had to walk far distances. Two of the ladies had never been in a vehicle and they had to be shown how to open and close the car door. That was very precious to see the confused and surprised looks on their faces when they were in the car and also to allow them to experience a car ride.
  3. One of the members receiving a goat on this day was the most excited and appreciative member thus far. This young lady is the daughter to one of our very elderly FAOC beneficiaries. This lady worked very hard to build a goat pen and we had helped her along by providing her with nails initially and a lock once the pen was complete. Every time we came to her place she provided us with tea and mondazis (baked goods) and sent us home with fruits. She was so happy for our visits. Furthermore, because I knew she had such a far distance to walk to come to the goat ceremony, I provided her with a pair of running shoes. The next day she came walking so proudly in her new shoes. After the ceremony, we drove her and her goat home. The whole car ride home she was so happy to be in a vehicle with us, to have received a goat and to have received new shoes. The FAOC staff said that they have never seen anyone so happy! When we reached her home, she gave us a sac full of avocados (well over 100). We tried and tried to get her to keep them, but she insisted. Now, all of the FAOC staff, family and friends have enough avocados to last them a long time!

It was just such a good feeling to brighten so many peoples’ day that much. This could not have happened without the generous support of those who donated to VWB/VSF, so I am so very grateful to all of you for your contributions! It has really made a significant impact on many families lives.

All the best,

Laura &  Jessica

Happy Canada Day from Uganda

I cannot believe that July is already here. It feels like we arrived yesterday. I am no where near ready to be over half done the project. Uganda feels like home to me and I don’t know how I am going to leave in August. There is just so much work to be done but I am enjoying every single moment of it.

We had quite an interesting week this past week. To start, the weather has been extremely variable. Every day, the weather would change from blue cloudless skies to black skies that were lit up by lightening and thunder so loud the ground shakes followed by torrential rain showers that lasted for hours. Although the storms have been very beautiful, they have been very powerful. The lightening this past week killed over 60 students in schools (the schools here are not well protected from lightening) and injured hundreds.

The storms also made the driving conditions quite bad. Once the rain had stopped on Tuesday, we headed out to do some field work, only to get stuck on the muddy roads. It took us quite a long time to dig our way out, but the little Suzuki we drive sure did impress us!

We accomplished many things this week. We purchased 17 goats that we will hand out in the upcoming weeks (likely during a celebration). We also found suitable candidates for our para-vet training in all of the new parishes (Para-vets are members in the FAOC groups that are trained in animal health and management and provide care to animals in regions were veterinarians are not accessible). We were also able to distribute nails to many worthy members and assess many other members to ensure they had a goat pen built prior to being able to receive a goat.

We also visited 2 of the old parishes (more established groups) and carried out monitoring of their households and their goats. The members of Nyamuyanja are very hard working. Some members have to travel over 3 hours a day just to collect water. As if they didn’t have enough work to do! Even still, many members have goat pens, use their para-vets regularly and are working hard to ensure they can pay their children’s school fees. It is extremely important to them that their children are in school which is so nice to see. They sell off their animals or borrow money. They will do anything to ensure their children get an education. Two of the members have daughters that just recently graduated university! Some of the things that we will be working to do in the upcoming weeks is provide training to this group on disease prevention in their goats (especially through vaccination),  and arrange a revolving fund or loan scheme so that members can start to purchase and build water tanks!

I wanted to share with you the story of one of the beneficiaries that I met in Nyamuyanja. She is a widow with 3 children. Her husband passed away 10 years ago and left behind her and her children as well as another wife (the first wife) and their children. After the death of the husband, the step-children came and destroyed this ladies kitchen, took all of her belongings and tried to kill her. They blame her for the death of their father. For the past 10 years, they have been taunting her, coming to her house at night and threaten to kill her. She cooks inside her house (which is dangerous and hazardous to her health) because she fears being killed or poisoned. She said the step children are now old and are now trying to sell her land because they claim it is theirs. At first, I thought that there is no way this could be true. However, after talking with her and other members in the community and members of FAOC, it apparently happens in the villages, sometime too commonly. Some people who want to seek revenge continue until they get it. Even though 10 years have passes, these step-children are still causing this poor lady daily grief. FAOC will try to do what they can to help protect her but I fear it will not be enough. Unfortunately she is too impoverished to shift to a new plot of land and relies on her land to generate income (with matoke aka plantains, fruits and vegetables). We did inform her of her rights to her land and told her to contact FAOC if she runs into any problems (for example if the step-children try to sell her land). We are also helping her to build a secure goat pen by providing her with nails and a lock one the pen is done so that she can keep her goats safe. I hope things work out for her!

There are so many stories that need to be shared. They are different for each member but most of them share the same theme: lack of rights and poverty. We will continue our work each day to try to make a dint in some of these problems, one household at a time.

I hope all is well with everyone! We are off to Lake Bunyoni after work tomorrow to celebrate Canada Day at the Lake.


Laura & Jessica

What a great day!

Today was the best field day yet. Jess and I started out early, picked up the FAOC team and were accompanied by Tugume and his mother. We were going to their home village Kahenda so they wanted to come. Tugume wanted to sit in the front with me (he loves having a good view). Even though the drive to Kahenda take some time, our journey was great. I payed Ugandan music on my ipod and so the whole trip, Vivian, Alice and Mama Tugume were singing in the back while Tugume was dancing on my lap and Jess was driving. Children here are born how to dance. This eight year old sure knows how to move his body!

Once we arrived, we left Tugume and his mother and proceded with our day of beneficiary monitoring. The landscape here is beautiful. We spend the day climbing hills, walking through beautiful pastures overlooking the valleys below and being greeted by very wonderful people. This parish is very isolated. The roads to get there are very steep, rocky and narrow and would be almost impossible to get up during the rainy season. There are no medical centers in the area and there are only some primary schools for the children. Most of the members here are widowed grandmothers caring for orphans and their grandchildren (their children have either left or have died). Some members didn’t even have enough money to put a house on their door let along pay for the school fees to send their children to school. Many others are working (at even 70 or 80 years of age) very hard to pay for their grandchildren’s school. Some are also working very hard to care for their goat that they have received from FAOC. Not all members have a goat pen yet, so as a way to help some of those struggling, Jess and I provided enough nails to either build their goat pen or complete their pen. The grandmothers who were provided with nails were very deserving and very very grateful! Once these members have a sturdy pen, we will also provide them with locks as well to keep their pens secure.

We are also going to be providing members (new and existing) with goats in this parish. There are so many members here that women have been passing on many of their goat’s offspring to other members to ensure they all have goats. However, members are not profiting from the goat because they are being passes on to others. We will address these problems by changing the pass on scheme and providing more goats to the parish so that more people’s needs are met.

As our day in the parish came to an end, we met Mama Tugume and her family. They had prepared a large meal for us (Matoke, G-nuts and rice). Some of her children stay in the village and we had brought some running shoes for them. They were so grateful for their nice new shoes!

We headed back to Mbarara and arrived late in the evening with Tugume and other’s singing on the car ride home. It was a great day!

Time is flying…

Time is flying at lightening speed. With many goals we hope to accomplish before we leave we are starting to worry that 3 months is not nearly enough to address all of the challenges of the project. This week was a little disappointing as both Laura and I caught the flu and had to take a day off work, combined with the fact that our guide was tied up with other FAOC activates which left us spending most of the week just trying to find our way around. We have high hopes for a more productive week ahead of us and have tried mapping out how we can accomplish our goals with only a month and a half left.

This week did consist of some perks though, so it was not a complete loss. We had the fortune to attend a “passing on ceremony” in the Kyera parish. This involves members of the community passing on money or household goods to another member that is need. It was really warming to see how the community comes together and supports one another. Each member gets his/her turn at receiving the donations. The members contribute what they can at that point in time. The ceremony also came with a huge feast, music and dancing! When you give the recipient money you have to stand in a line and everyone dances and you have to do a little solo dance before you pass the money on. It was great fun and pretty incredible to see a 70 year old man shake his booty like he was in his 20’s! Ugandans KNOW how to dance
I also need to back up and mention that we handed out 7 goats to the community last week through the generous donations from Dr.Nazarelli (the pharmacist working on an HIV/AIDs awareness project) and Eric Lawrenece and Annelie Crook
(the Global Vets students who were with us for 3 weeks). The ladies who received the goats all fulfilled the requirements of having a pen, proper nutrition, proper husbandry and a successful operation. The ladies were extremely grateful and deserved it after all of their hard work. They also provide as an example of what it requires to receive a second goat…we are hoping that other members of the group will realize that they can also have a second goat if they work hard.
We have been going around to the old beneficiaries lately and looking at some of the challenges that they are facing. Our findings consist of Brucella outbreaks, Clostridial disease, high death rates and diminished revolving funds (funds that all the members have access to and can borrow money for school fees etc.; to be returned with interest). We have been Brucella testing some of the worst hit parishes and are hoping to reduce disease outbreak by replacing positive goats. We have also decided that having a closed FAOC herd would be the best option until a vaccine is sorted out. Dr.William (the district vet) has been looking into finding out about importing the vaccine. The trouble is that we are having a hard enough time trying to implement yearly Clostridial vaccines that we aren’t sure that the route of the vaccine is going to work. We are planning to do a vaccine day with the paravet in Kyera ( a parish that has been hard hit by sudden death) which will hopefully be held on the same day every year. We aren’t sure how well compliance will be but some farmers are motivated to vaccinate because they are frustrated with high death rates in seemingly healthy goats.
Lastly, we have come across issues with theft. Widows are targets because people in the community know that they are alone and have no means of defense. One lady had 4 goats stolen, even though they were locked in a separate room overnight- the thieves broke down the door (it only had a small lock on it) and took them all and even her matoke! We aren’t really sure how to address this issue because the women fear having animals because they know that they are targets. Some women keep the goats in the room with them at night…which is a hygiene nightmare, but really, who can blame them! It is really sad to see these women, who have been through so much, to be taken advantage of.
On a lighter note, Laura and I have been enjoying our new residence, and learning to cook Ugandan food- with some hits, and defiantly some misses! We found a local dairy outlet that sells feta cheese and yogurt! Sooooo exciting!!! We went to an outdoor dance club last night “the heat” which was super fun, but we were ashamed with our dancing skills compared to the Ugandan women who shake it!
We hope everyone is doing well at home and have recovered from the embarrassment that was seen in Vancouver this week (referring to the riots, no the game loss). We also wish everyone else lots of luck and excitement with their VWB projects!

Laura and Jess

We are becoming Uganda Women!

Hi all,

Jess and I have had yet another extremely busy 10 hour 6 day work week. We have been working the global vets students (aka “our interns) very hard as well. We spent the week continuing our work monitoring the beneficiaries and assessing their goats. We were also very busy preparing for a training seminar that we held on Saturday. Many beneficiaries had not met the standards that were required by FAOC and we wanted to ensure that they were well educated about our expectations. Mobilization of people is somewhat difficult here so we worked hard to communicated to each group about the event on Saturday. Providing food is always a sure fire way to increase attendance. 

On Saturday morning, we had several setbacks. The generator wasn’t working to power the computer and the projector wasn’t working as well but we managed to get it all sorted out. We arrived at the church where the training session was to be held. We anticipated 75 people arriving and there were only 11 people! Yikes. Most women have to walk quite a distance so we purposely told them the training session started at 9 when it actually started at 10:30. By the time we started the church was very full and we had 93 people come in total.  We spend the whole day teaching them on serveral topics: expectation of FAOC, the revolving funds, paravet requirements and extension workers, goat and pig housing, nutrition, breeding and diseases. We also had a beneficiary Saphina come and tell her story of how she become very successful through FAOC. She started as member with 2 goats and now has a poutry operation, has shares in a bank and is the local councilor of her town. Her children are all in university and she is thriving. Her talk was very motivational and inspiring to the woman and to us. It is amazing the changes that FAOC has made! The director of FAOC also gave a motivational talk and had the local council of the the town Kaberebere come and give a speech.

It is difficult to hold peoples attention for a full day but be had a break to provide the women with tea and chapatis and then another break to have a full lunch with matoke (plantaines), posho, beans and muchomo (goat meat). We didn’t finish up until 5 pm and most people were still there and very much engaged in our presentation. At the end we gave our vision for the summer which was well received and we there then showered with thank-you. All of the women shake their hands in the air and we have to move our hands towards us to accept the well wishes. The day was a true success and we are very excited to see the changes and the progress that these members will make over the weeks to come!

Currently there is an ebola outbreak but it is in north east Uganda and near Kampala (the city center). I hope it gets contained!  Other than that, everything is great here and we are really enjoying our time here!

Some random facts that we have learned in Uganda: Women “lose” their virginity if they walk too fast. Nose picking is VERY socially acceptable (eww). Punctuality is non-existance. Sometimes yes means no, no means yes, left means right, etc. Umm always means yes but really means “Im not really sure”.

Kind regards,

Laura and Jessica

What a busy first week!

Hi all,

Jessica and I have finished our first week of work! It sure has been a busy start to the summer. We spend every day out in the field learning about our beneficiaries (members of FAOC – the Foundation for AIDS Orphaned Children) and assessing the health status of their goats. While our main focus is the goat pass-on project, it is important that we look at the  big picture to get an overall idea about the struggles that each family faces. During each visit, we are interviewing each member to assess the health status of their family, their access to water (the distance they travel and whether they boil the water), the number of ophans they have, the number of children in school (or reasons for not being in school), their sources of income, their diet etc. so that we can educated them during our visit (ie, the benefits of boiling water) or help to initiate programs to help with their struggles (ex. revolving fund for loans or water tanks for groups that have to travel long distances for water). Some of the common themes across many households are not having the fees to pay for their children to go to school and illness (“flu” and stomach pains). Some women are grandmothers caring for their grandchildren (in many cases, their children have passes away, likely from HIV). Even in their 70’s and 80’s these women are working long days to support their orphans and grandchildren. One older lady was caring for a young child that she found on her doorstep along with 3 other grandchilren and suffered from severe arthritis and intermittent paralysis of her legs. These women are the hardest working people I have ever met and they are trying their best to care for their loved ones. We will do as much as we can to try to help these women in the most sustainable way possible.

The FAOC youth meeting have also been going well. Jess and I have been observing for the past 2 meetings. Children gather at the youth center to practice their craft making. They also perform songs and dances and talk with the leaders (Vivian and Alice who are FAOC directors) about important topics. This weeks topic was on HIV and sex. In our society, it would be strange for children as young as 4 years old to be talking about these topics but it is crucial here to help stop the spread of HIV.

Although the weekend is here, there is still more work to be done. Unfortunately, one of our super-trainers (a beneficiary trained with veterinary skills) Ibrahim has fallen very ill and I will be traveling to his parish tomorrow to take him to the hospital to seek treatment. He is the most valuable member of FAOC and I really hope that he gets better.

That is all for now.


Day 1 in the field

Today was the first day in the field. It started out a bit rough but ended up being productive. We got the jeep back yesterday only to find out that it didn’t start!…back to the shop:(
We arranged alternative transport and eneded up having a very productive day because all of the benificaries (villagers that are part of the program) were in walking distance of one another, so we got much done on foot.
The parish we visited today is very differnet from most of the parishes that Laura has said that she has been to. They are located closer to town and have slightly higher standards as compared to some of the other parishes that consist mostly of mud huts and limited access to water.
In the field we came across our first challenge….goats had been distributed in January and the beneficiaries were to build goat pens for them. They are provided with a revolving fund, which allows them to borrow money to implement proper goat husbandry, and which is to be paid back with a small amount of interest (all of this money goes to the parish, the interest is in order for the funds to grow). This has worked well in the past, but this parish consists of muslims, who don’t believe in borrowing money with interest attached. Therefore very few pepople have used the money, and few pens have been built and animals have not been dewormed.
This parish (and one other that is muslim) will be a challange in regards to addressing how these people will build proper infrastructure for the goats without borrowing the money from the funds.
Tomrrow we are planning on visiting another parish that have recently recieved goats and address their questions and concerns. We have the car back, and with fingers crossed we will be able to use it tomorrow!

Oh and No Ebola in this area yet!!


We have finally arrived

Jessica and I finally arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after 36 hours in transit (at least for me). My connecting flights were very tight and although I managed to get onto the Toronto flight with Jessica, we missed our flight out of Frankfurt and were diverted to Cairo. We had to spend the day there and I learned that it is very important to lock luggage since some of my clothes and my sleeping bag were missing. In any case, we finally arrived in Entebbe at 345 in the morning only to find out that there were planned protests in Entebbe and around the airport so we had to leave the city to avoid road blocks and any trouble that may arise from the protest. The presidential swearing in ceremony was the following day so we needed to be out of Entebbe and the major city Kampala. We endured 6 more hours of transit to reach our final destination of Mbarara, where we will be for the next 3 months. I now know what true jet leg feels like!

 I was in Uganda 2 years ago and it feels like I never left. I was greeted with the familiar smell of burnt air, red dirt and crazy traffic. The rules of the roads here are that there are no rules. The roads are also in very terrible shape which makes driving even more difficult. The boda drivers (motorcycles) weave in and out of traffic and cars are passing and turning in every which direction. Driving in town is definitely intimidating and frightening at times.

 The first few days were spent adjusting to the change in time and orienting ourselves with the most recent updates at the Foundation for AIDS Orphaned Children (FAOC). There have been so many wonderful changes and advancements since my last visit. In 2009, there were 8 parishes (villages) involved with FAOC and now there are 16 so we have a very busy summer ahead.

 Yesterday we attended a training seminar on composting and met the members of one of the new groups and discussesd their needs and challenges. We also joined in on the youth meeting today where children are taught how to make crafts, stools, etc for income generation. The children were all very eager to learn and were very good at making baskets and mats. One woven basket takes about a week to make and the average selling price for a basket is the equivalent of only 2-3 dollars. Other income generating projects will be taught throughout the summer to help provide the youth with as many skills as possible. I am very excited for the challenges and tasks ahead.



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The night before depature

Hi all,

I am finished packing and am ready to depart rainy Vancouver, BC for beautiful, sunny Uganda. I cannot wait to start my 3 month journey there and I am thrilled to be sharing our adventures with all of you. I will be enjoying one last sleep and one very HOT shower prior to the long travel ahead.


Laura McDonald