She is Quick to Praise

I’m beginning to get a picture of the sprawling, haphazard village of Kabubbu. Tall banana plants and healthy cassavas grow abundantly in this tropical Ugandan  climate. It is very humid. My washing from last night is still not dry at midday. In Nairobi it would dry in a few hours.

Houses of varying quality appear all over the place, with no apparent plan. I point out a large mansion under construction, growing through the lush vegetation, and ask what it will be used for. The answer is a shrug. It doesn’t belong to the Project.

Now that they have electricity, businessmen from outside are attracted to the area. But the families I visit on my first day with Geraldine and Resty have no electricity. Project and non-project -sponsored people can be found anywhere. We walk about 50 yards along a sleepy, dusty “street”, lined with tired shops. One or two men lounge in doorways. The occasional child scrabbles in the dirt.

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“Not at school?” I ask.

No, it is a problem persuading the villagers to send their children to school.

There is a distinct absence of men in the village. They go to the towns to earn money, and impregnate women, I am told. Or they buy a boda boda and transport goods and passengers.

CIMG1971 (575x1024)Geraldine is much loved and respected. She is well organised, and conducts her follow-up assessments of sponsored candidates with fairness and tact; she is quick to praise when someone has been tested for HIV, presents a tidy home, or has chosen not to have more children.

We visit the grandparents of Marian, whose mentally stricken mother has disappeared; they live in a dark 4-roomed house. We sit on the bed, which is shared by two children. It is damp, and a smell of urine pervades the air. Beds are a new concept for the villagers, and several of them use donated beds as a wardrobe or place to hold junk.

Marian’s grandparents sleep on the bare floor. They look after the house for a friend, but have no land. He is a veteran from Idi Amin days, who rejoices in the fact that he and four others survived a massacre while serving in the army. He works as a night guard at the piggery, is intelligent and positive, and when young was sponsored to secondary school by a priest. He speaks English, but screws up his eyes and can’t read Geraldine’s leaflets. She asks a few questions and determines that he is short-sighted. She makes a note to find some spectacles for him. It isn’t usual for the husband to be present at such meetings.

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The grandmother is shy, but her eyes are alive and she responds well to searching questions from Geraldine, who gathers structured information about the family to pass on to the sponsors. Her best memories are when her husband told her he loved her, and when they heard about the sponsorship. She works in the quarry cutting stone, the most arduous and degrading work in the village.

Elsewhere, a young mother with four children lives in a pleasant, airy house. Donated beds, mosquito nets and mattresses, shared by the children, fill the rooms. The husband is “a lazy boda-boda man”. He feeds the family, but contributes nothing else. We examine a half-built long-drop, and two under-nourished piglets in a corner of the well-swept area outside the house. It is owned by them: she shows us a boundary peg. (A few years ago an absentee landlord turned out his tenants before they could enjoy the benefits of Project assistance. Now, the KDP is careful in their research.)

The area could be better used for planting, says Geraldine, and advises the mother to seek advice on growing maize and beans from the agricultural section of the Project. The mother earns money by washing clothes; she looks listless, downtrodden and lacking purpose. She came from a more well-off family, she tells us, and her greatest fear is being beaten by her husband.

The villagers willingly come out for photographs to be taken. Your sponsors like to see updated pictures of you, Geraldine tells them. They like to know how you’re getting on.

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