Friends of St. Michael’s Girls Primary School Busembatia Uganda

Vicki & Nick's trip February 2014 - what a good one

Departure Thursday 6th Feb. 2014

Left home with 6 suitcases within which was only 1 sewing machine this time! Just the 2 of us this trip as Sue had to cancel at the last minute. The journey was easy and we arrived at Terminal 5 about 7.45 a.m. and after checking in and through security we had about 2 hours before our on time take off.

We landed early about 10pm local time and were collected by the Colonial Residence, then to bed. In the morning we met Paul (Dutch joint owner with his Ugandan wife Claire). Just chatting to him he told us he paid his gate keeper/ watchmen 160000 Ug. shillings per month plus food i.e. about £40 per month – a normal wage for this job, highly sought after.

Sister Teo and driver Batt collected and chaperoned Vicki and I on the rest of the journey. Sister is still the vivacious and bright person we have known, what a lady - yet sadly no longer the Headmistress due to the fact she is now over 60. She now looks after aged nuns in a care home for elderly nuns an hour off the tarmac in rural Uganda along dirt roads.

The journey to the school through Kampala was the easiest we have had. That is entirely relative however, the traffic was intense, the jams everywhere but better than previous experiences - it still took over an hour to get through! There are no traffic rules seemingly, a chaos prevails but a chaos everyone recognises and sort of respects which means we saw no bad temper or intentional bad driving - it just happens and no one gets worked up about it. A patient “when it is my turn I will get through at speed no matter what” attitude applies. Without wishing to appear rude Kampala resembles an anthill turned upside down.

Allowing for stops at the bank in Kampala and in Iganga we arrived at the school 4 .5 hours later, not bad, around 2.45 pm on Friday.

The journey is unfailingly interesting. People are teeming everywhere, at no point in our entire journey was there any view without someone somewhere. It was either boys and girls collecting water in the ubiquitous yellow jerry cans, people walking along the road or just lazing around of which there were many but unsurprising considering the lack of employment, men in groups, children playing and motor cycles, matatus, cars, and lorries all powering along with great intent. This was a constant occurrence along the entire route. People, busy, vehicles, movement without hardly a breath. The countryside is green, mainly scrub but much sugar cane, some tea and a stretch of jungle - about 2 miles. The houses are mainly brick with corrugated iron roofs. The brick is baked from the local earth mixed with water and ones does see piles of these bricks and the kilns used to bake them. Most houses have a couple of rooms and outside long drop, some are made of wood and straw. A most noticeable feature is the absence of any roadside/street hoardings or billboards advertising anything other than cell phones, airtime, Coca cola and paint eg Sadolin and a few extolling the virtues of Nile beer. That is not to say we saw no advertising, quite the contrary, it is everywhere, everywhere but food is not advertised (no point, it is not available, people are poor and have no money anyway, and just everyone eats a diet of boiled or mashed maize or steamed bananas). There is no advertising using the human form either for this is an old and conservative society. No cigarette or billboards advertising spirits - no one smokes anywhere and when a teachers salary is 300,000Ug. shillings per month(£80) and a very small jar of coffee is 16900 Ug. sch (£4) one can understand the complete unaffordability of buying spirits- so there is no demand and no market.

What else? Many churches of every Christian denomination, some mosques and at rest stops dozens of brightly clad vendors in tabards of their bosses chosen colour trying to sell you bananas, any type of fruit, water and cooked meats which to me seem to guarantee something unpleasant if entering our delicate European stomachs. We pass through Jinja on Lake Victoria close to the source of the Nile (so they like to tell you), across the Nile itself and on to Iganga and then home - the school.

Community Tour

One day we went with Stephen (h of Irina) in the pickup. Visited the local health clinic, chatted to the nurse who said they are a grade 2 and have put in to be a grade 3 clinic, saw the boys making bricks from the local earth (they do this in the holidays) for 100 Sh (£0.025p) a brick. Went to where they de-husk ground nuts in a local village by machine and then to where they do the same for rice with the husks being used in fires, the man can employ up to 20 people when busy. Then on to see the local goat breeder (200,000 Sh a goat) and later to the river/swamp area where some fish and many grow rice. We were treated to lunch at Stephens home and met Irina whose plan is to introduce organic farming methods to the community, she has already prepared raised beds behind her home, they plan to get a cow as well.

Visit to Nkokonjeru

We travelled with Sister Teo to the original Mother House of the Little Sisters of St. Francis along red dusty dirt roads which would be an absolute nightmare in the wet season, probably impassable. Once off the tarmac main road you are plunged into deep countryside, with mud- brick houses and simple mud houses here and there in the sugar cane and general bush. There is no electricity and water only from the bore holes found locally. We passed through a few small villages and several schools, in fact many more schools than villages. The spotless turn out of the school children in these conditions never fails to amaze us. Their uniforms are so clean and smart, colourful too.

Sister Kevin (from Ireland) founded the Order in about 1930. She was looking for land to form a leprosy colony without much success. The King of Buganda had some ancestral burial land at Nkokenjeru which was supposedly inhabited by spirits, he gave it to her. In the middle was a tree which the villager used to worship and sacrificed white chickens to it. Sister Kevin vowed to remove the tree but only had a small knife. She made incisions over the years until the villagers were convicted to help her which they did and the tree was taken down. Nkokenjeru means “white chicken”.

The Mother House comprises the main church and various buildings for novices, for elderly nuns, for nuns who teach in the school and those who run the Order. It occupies a large site complete with kitchens, huge water containers, land, a visitors house (with flushing toilet and shower - forgotten luxury) and Providence which is a centre run by Sister Angelina for the disabled. We met the elderly nuns, now either physically or mentally infirm. Sister Teo cares for them, with help, about 8 or 9 in number. One was 101 yrs old. These are remarkable ladies whose company is a joy.

Providence is a centre for the physically and mentally disabled, some 85 or so. Angelina was helped by Simon in a wheelchair (deformed tiny legs but indomitable spirit) who had been in the centre but now was on the staff. Also there were 2 German girls in a gap year on behalf of the Red Cross. The proportion of able bodied to disabled is 7:3.

They make shoes, Simon is an excellent cobbler, and clothes as they have the machines and beads, ornaments etc. Their major problem is that they lack for raw materials, whether leather or cloth because they have no money, and so cannot sell. It is an inspiring place and one cannot fail to be uplifted by the optimism and love in the human spirit epitomised by Sister Angelina - a latter day Mother Theresa.

We are hopeful of placing Gerrard there, a dwarf of about 20 who comes to St. Michaels where he is loved - his father does not. If not at the school he scares birds in the local fields for nothing. His future is bleak, desperate. The fees are 200,000 Sh. a term and Sister Teo will see if he can go to learn a skill, have companionship and being in a supporting and loving environment.

The Mother House has a new Massey Ferguson tractor through foreign aid but hardly use it as it costs 120,000 Sh. an hour to run (£30) which they cannot afford. Neither can they afford solar heating, the list goes on.

Orphans & children

At St. Michaels the orphans help in the convent and do some general duties. In the holidays they dig/play/help and study.

Father Vincent looks after 27 orphans at the priests house

This is a young population in Uganda with children far outnumbering adults. At the party for Johns graduate children the village children outnumbered the adults present by 5:1. Travelling around one sees this disparity everywhere. One reason has been explained to us - “a man is not a man until he has a son”. Another is the view that the more children one has the more to look after you in old age, the more daughters there are the more to do the chores and the fields. Another is ignorance and seeming unavailability of birth control.

School Garden

Irina (wife of Stephen who is on Board of Management) and Wilson work on it, together with the boy John until he moves on in education.

Grown are tomatoes (200 Sh. per tomato if sold), aubergines (200 Sh.), carrots, Chinese cabbage, many varieties of greens. Aubergines particularly successful (with water half a sack every 4 days), supplement girls’ diet significantly in season. Key hole garden in situ, looks good as do raised beds and organic sacks for growing. They are double digging hence the good looking carrots. Manure is now collected and used.Wilson says he is very motivated, more so than before his Organic Course.

The change since 2012 is impressive; there is motivation at the moment and a good crop.

Problems are twofold. First stray chickens eating plants and cows & goats doing the same - the cows got in on Monday night and destroyed the cabbage plants - all gone. The goats had jumped their fence the day we arrived and had done some damage.

Secondly the electric pump had broken and water had to be transported from the hand pump to the garden which was hard work and volunteers not exactly thick on the ground. It was fixed later on and irrigation was much much easier, an absolute necessity in this dry season.

The larger “original”garden remains with some bananas, mangoes, avocados and the odd coffee plant and the odd pineapple. This area would benefit from some planning as it has fallen behind somewhat.


There are 2 areas with 47 and 71 plants respectively. The former were planted in exhausted soil and it shows, the latter in much better soil. These trees are looked after by Jude who has some knowledge and will harvest, prune and so forth. He needs more land and it has been agreed to let him plant outside the fence beyond the small gate. He knows of the nutritional benefits and will seek to add to the school diet. With the onset of the rainy season he will begin harvesting, new planting.


Useful agricultural report provided. 3 cows & 1 heifer produce some milk (perhaps 1 -1.5 buckets per day) but report says enhance the diet, enhance the shaded area and make better the troughs and consider making silage.

The goats are good, Max very content now. 2 kids born whilst we were there and total numbers easily in double figures. Report says replace Max to stop any more inbreeding, and introduce new breed of goat.

2 chicken houses, about 30 hens, about 4/5 cockerels and 11 x 1 mth old chicks. Approx. 7 eggs per day. Both Irina and John work there.

Pigs - 1 boar and 2 sows and 13 + 6 piglets, all seem in good condition