Travel Journal I: ‘From Groenlo to Soroti’

Blogger: Dirk Naaijkens*

Day 3 – 23rn of May 2016

 ‘You want boiled eggs?’, Johnson asks me. It’s Monday, about 7 in the evening. It’s starting to get dark, and because of the growing number of mosquitoes we decide to move inside. ‘We can eat boiled eggs, if you want’. We are having a drink at a guest house, ‘but here, sleeping is really expensive’, he tells me. This afternoon we discovered Soroti on foot; we visited the famous rock and went to the local market. Of course, every 50 meter we had to stop to greet and talk to family, friends, friends of friends and far relatives. ‘Welcome in Uganda, we are very welcome to have you here’. Or ‘Nice meeting you, God bless you’. The market is a colourful mixture of different stands, selling comparable goods: big chunks of salmon (often covered in flies), fruit, grilled chicken, different kinds of exotic spices in ten-kilo bags, dried fish, and many other things.

After three days I am starting to get used to being stared at all the time, which can be quite intimidating. I cannot take two steps outside, close to the market, or many eyes turn my way and stare at me. Children have the tendency to stare without holding back, smile, or to call ‘mzungu!’. Others stop walking, look at me, and greet me in a way that balances between extreme friendliness and homosexual flirt. I try not to think too much of it

.foto Drik Naaijkens

This morning I visited the project where I will be doing my internship for the upcoming nine weeks, RICODE : Rural Innovation for Community Development (website: http://ricode.org). We had an office meeting, where we discussed the program that will be laid out for me. The idea is that I will take a look at currently running projects: HIV/aids infected teenage mothers, the Food Security and Income Generation Program (a form of microfinance), Village Savings and Loans Associations (where ‘small-scale’ farmers put money together and create a form of banking where they can borrow this money from each other and pay it back –  with interest), and last the project that focuses on the protection of vulnerable (street) children. This last project started in 2014-2015, but because of a lack of funds this pilot was forced to stop. ‘Because’, as the project coordinator explains to me, ‘when you run a project focussed on street children, a lot has to be taken into account. You can offer them psychological support, but if they still walk around without clothes on their back and food in their bellies, it won’t help much’. This is the problem: a well running, long term project costs a lot of money – and time – to offer shelter, food, medical costs, clothing, tuition fee and schoolbooks. Therefore RICODE is working hard to find extra sponsors, to be able to offer these children a steady base from which they can develop and grow. These children, who have to get by with just bananas as food, and the girls who sleep on the streets every night while fearing to be raped. With the help of RICODE they might be able to go to school, work, start their own small business, those kinds of things. Or they can go back home, back to their parents. But also this guidance (for both parents and children) costs money.

Many hours later I watch the news on TV. There is an uprising in Kenya and I see many shouting people and awful images. I sit next to the field officer from RICODE, Johnson. He is a man full of humour and smiles a lot, he reminds me somewhat of my uncle Wilfried. I tell him about the resemblance. ‘So I have a brother in Holland?’ he answers with a big laugh. A couple of minutes later the waiter arrives with a little bowl of eggs. Four of them, hard boiled. ‘It is common here in Soroti’. It is a strange combination with the local beer, but my rumbling tummy thinks otherwise. After we pay, we take a boda boda, back to my place. If you don’t mind risking your life a bit, this small motor that is used as a taxi will  take two people on the backseat  for a small fee. I still see people looking and pointing when they see a mzungu like me on the back of the motor. No doubt this must look strange. Nor I, nor they, will probably ever get used to it.

For those who would like to contribute: donations can be made to MamaWatoto, the organisation that supports RICODE financially. They will make sure that the money gets to Soroti for those who it is intended for (by using Western Union). With this money you contribute to the permanent return of children to school or their parents, and/or a visit to the hospital (many children have infections that need to be treated).

Bank account number: NL92 INGB 0003 4247 92 to 'Stichting Mama Watoto', concerning 'Street children Soroti'. With €12,- a group of approx. 15 street children/young adults can have a decent breakfast. With €60,- they can have breakfast the whole week. Please support us, as there is a serious need o funds at the moment.

*Dirk is a student from Utrecht University currently doing his internship in Soroti / Uganda.

Translation: Akeo Veerman