May 11

We visited the first OrphFund project today.
50 kids between 12 and 19 years old.
Steve hinted at the selection criteria today, sometimes the difference between being selected to live in one of the orphanages could be whether someone gave them some old shoes a few weeks before, whether they have anyone who cares. Brutal, but necessary.
There are limited places and really the conditions are extremely, extremely basic - but very supportive, thorough and personal. All the kids, all of them, appeared happy, healthy and open, which has understandably been a long hard road from when they first arrived at the orphanage. There were tears, our greeting was beautiful! I met some very bright kids whose lives have been transformed by the opportunities allowed by OrphFund. I think one of the things I'm going to try to help facilitate is vocational training, as the
kids are getting older and preparing to enter the world. I'm spending some time investigating costs involved. Medical school, law school and engineering come it at $2-2500 per annum, plus ongoing life costs, and nursing perhaps $50 per month. As an ex-nurse, I'm going to research this more accurately, as I intend to support a young girl called Sowder through nursing college. Let's all think about how we can support these brave, smart wonderful kids to support their communities in this way. They have come so far already. Sowder is now going to a good school, but has a lot of work to do to catch up after attending a not so good school.

May 12

I have just become an education patron for 17yo Felestus who has a couple of years of school left ($30 per month), then 3 years of medical school ($45 per week). She is super smart, motivated, fun and loving. She cares deeply for her orphan family and has come from nowhere, rising above the impossible. A common story.
I never cared to adopt a child, rather preferring to give and allow the funds to be distributed by the charity. But, it means so much to these kids that somewhere, someone cares for them. Know how that feels?
OrphFund is an incredible grass roots organisation, with huge 'effective altruism' bang for buck.
I'm in. Anyone else?

May 13

Exciting day... 5 generous Australians donated trumpets for the orphanage. The tactics were to start with the drums, which these kids are familiar and totally rockin with. Then pull out the horns, work out how to play a note, work on rhythm and gauge the interest. I was stunned. Probably 20 kids had a bash, and 18 could make a good sound, rhythm a given in most cases. And then there were the naturals.
After 2 hours I had 5 of them, Zonas and Emmanuel in particular, playing the first bit of the Ugandan national anthem and the riff from uptown funk. I'm not saying they were Miles Davis, but I don't remember ever being so clever. And they could be Miles with the right nurturing. There was a marching band in town today for a motorbike race - The plan? Employ one (or many) of the band players to teach the kids weekly or more. We have a band on our hands... I am a bit blown away. (Like that one?)

May 14

There are numerous angels on the OrphFund team. Alphonz and Henry are 2 Ugandan managers. Today we went up to a place called Kotholo, under the hard working reverend Alphonz's wing, high in the mountains a stones throw from The Congo. OrphFund is just completing a new orphanage, doubling the size of the adjoining school, and building new amenities. 8 of us volunteers converged on the place and painted the whole thing, and enjoyed the glory of the kids gently opening up over the course of our time there. When we were there Henry and Steve were conducting basic interviews with the kids, a very careful and sophisticated process that needs to happen to ensure that the kids in residence truly are the MOST vulnerable and alone kids, with nowhere else to turn. Watching Henry choke up was unexpected. No-one is immune to the strength of these little people enduring the most horrifying events. Today I saw what grassroots charity is really about. I'm tearing up as I type. So joyful, thoroughly horrifyingly revolving and optimistic at the same time. In 5 days here, watching and being involved with how this little mob achieve so much, has been exactly what I thought it might be, and why I came. So much more than bricks and mortar and housing, more than education and health care, these people have found a way to do what I think all of us want to do.... these kids are no longer the most desperate kids in the world but now, in a really basic and realistic way, some of the most fortunate kids in Uganda. They will enter many different levels and layers of their society, with confidence and having been rebuilt by love. They will spread this message into their various communities, and this exponential message will gain power and possibility for all those who contact them. This is about building a better world.

In the dust tonight on the back of the motorbike rolling down the most beautiful hill you could hope to travel, speaking with the 23-year- old rider Xavier, he told me that Uganda was in despair. At that moment we passed a group playing a recreational board game on the side of the road laughing their heads off. I said, that doesn't sound like despair. We laughed at my dumb joke, but it showed me the strength of these people.

May 15

Today was joyful.
Hung a netball ring, had a 2 hour meeting with a Ugandan MSF nurse who explained the whole Ugandan health system to me, and had stacks of trumpet time! These kids are practicing, and making remarkable progress, meanwhile inspiring interest in the rest. The plan? I have met with members of 2 local brass bands today! Unbelievable. One is a young dude Dizzy, (yes) who runs a recording studio and through that supports 10 kids. He brought along 2 band members, one of whom is hot on trumpet, which doesn't necessarily make you a good teacher. I will see how he works with the kids, and check out the band (hopefully join in!) Wednesday night. The other is a fellow called Elijah, who 20 years ago brought brass instruments into Kasese and has been teaching them ever since. For tomorrow, we are heading into the third Ugandan Orphfund orphanage and farm. Yes, I'm taking the trumpets... one of these 2 options I will fund to teach 1-2 times a week, and maintain the gear, for a year, then return next year to see how goes it. Back to the health system... found out enough to be Minister of Health. There is a huge gap between the idealistic and expensive teaching for the two levels of nurses, and the rather grim conditions on the ground. Public hospitals have all the extreme cases, and two nurses per 50 patients. I cried. The private clinics are expensive and weirdly less qualified. Thousands of people apply for nursing jobs. The trick is to stay healthy… Good news? MSF (Doctors Without Borders) look after children between 10 and 19 years old for free. The trick is to stay young.... it is hard to wrap my cushy western mind around the brutal hardships these people must accept. Still amazing how many people wave with their faces lit up
as they see you ride past on the back of a motorbike.

May 17

Eventful days in this beautiful place. The third orphanage ‘Karasundara’ greeted us with music and dancing, lots of it. We enjoyed welcome performances from all 7 primary levels, which were generous and heartfelt from these more rural and shy kids. They live in a real form of paradise in the bush, with the farm which supports them and good clean air. There are still many gaps in the system, with 400+ children in the school, it has grown by 30% in the last year. The teachers are feeling the strain, though for the last three years it has been officially voted the best school in the district. They have needs, around accommodation and resources in the school. I'm trying to work out best who to ask for help to raise the funds to do this... Orphfund are working with the local director Christopher.

It is real trouble balancing the needs of the many projects: Karasundara has good food cheaply, and needs to share with the more urban projects, while they have less of other resources abundantly available 40 mins away in another world in town. There is more... I have found 4 trumpet teachers, who can play in a wild, shabby and exciting way, and I have trialled them with the kids. They were GREAT. After an initial awkward moment, where they expected the kids to come to them. In the end they were gentle, accurate and
entertaining teachers, as well as their main attributes that they are older guys absolutely endorsed by the local manager Alfonze. The four teachers are Baptist foot soldiers alongside the angel Alfonze, and I have explained that this is not an opportunity to preach, but to teach trumpet. I think one of the very important things is to make sure these kids are safe, and any musical teaching ability is secondary, though these guys are great. Feels great to hand the trumpet project to good older will remain appropriate with the young trumpeters.
In the meantime, I have been managing health checks for the orphans through MSF (doctors without borders) who supply free health care for children between 10 and 19. More angels… I bitch with a supervisor and a Doctor who have met with OrphFund aristocracy and are seeking a collaboration. Good stuff. Let's work out how to make this project in Karasundara an international model for successfully extracting the most vulnerable children from extreme poverty and helping them excel, which is a natural progression for them. It seems that they place more value on their education and opportunities than we lucky ones...

May 17

Today I am ferrying more of the children to MSF for routine check-ups. Yesterday we connected the MFS doctors with kids in extreme need, it will change their lives. This really is the most amazing way to transform poverty, because so little to us truly saves lives and renews society over here. In an interview with the MSF supervisor yesterday, we were reflecting on how the abrupt introduction of the European education system was difficult. Kids used to spend their time with their family, and watch parents going about their daily lives. They learnt how to survive off the land through osmosis, as they learnt their language. It is important not to glorify too much this existence, as it was extremely basic, but when faced with the poverty and extreme needs we see here, we have to ask questions. In one way, the more education and child receives the less likely he or she is to get work! I wish I could bring you all over here to see for yourself. Such a fertile magnificent country, such joy, such a confusing situation.

May 18

My 2 little buddies came out of hospital (one with malaria and one passed out with dehydration). The hospital was ok, but from the 50's. Clean enough, but with no privacy and no interpatient infection control, no sign of a hand washing sink. Also, bought and planted 8 jackfruit trees and 4 avocado trees in the Kasese children’s village. So excited. There were only 4 paw paw which are still to young to produce... AND... The band... My new best friends, playing a descant over such a cool n bitey brass sound. Heaven (for me at least!).

May 19

Saw a lion in the wild today. If I was a better photographer I could prove that... Also, elephants, many antelope types, buffalo, warthogs (!!!! Extremely buff), some huge, grand dignified elephants, heaps of fish, all sorts of unlikely birdlife (one in particular which was tiny
with a huge fluffy tail, looked more like swimming than flying), crocodiles, and many many many bloats of hippopotamus (I didn't know what happiness was til I saw a hippo).... the real Uganda...

May 20

Many difficult decisions today.

In order to ensure that the OrphFund orphanages are supporting the most vulnerable kids, it is a fine line. A dear HIV positive boy with no parents, didn't get in because he had a wealthy uncle. We constantly are assessing. So today is party day! 200+ kids from the 3 Ugandan projects get to meet, eat, perform for each other, play games and kick on for the arvo. In the mean time George (another of the 11 volunteers) and I are running the kids from the new orphanage in Kitholho through MSF for their initial health checks. They are staying at the city orphanage now, which is super busy and fun! On Monday I am filming a brief interview with a doctor and supervisor here at MSF, acknowledging our relationship. OrphFund is exactly what MSF Kasese needed, and they are very grateful for our existence. It will be important for these David and Goliath organisations to publicly acknowledge how important each is to the other. In breaking news, I'm going to church on Sunday! I am going to address up to 3000 parishioners at the wealthy Anglican cathedral up the hill and appeal to their charity and compassion and donate their unwanted clothes. I will be quoting from the bible... this would relieve the great financial burden to OrphFund of importing donated clothes, freeing up those resources for more core purposes. Party, party, party..

May 21

I addressed a congregation of 1800 people today with three good results... we will have a weekly collection of clothes and shoes (which are very expensive) on an ongoing basis. We will also be able to put a fundraising box on the wall in the church. And, some of the orphans will be able to go into this Cathedral, and perform for money, next weekend. This Sunday a blind boy sang AMAZINGLY (see film) and made 260,000 shillings, a lot of money, enough to put him through school for a semester, about $220. A great result, hopefully matched by the orphans next weekend. Getting unwanted clothes from the wealthy parishioners will take a huge financial load from OrphFund importing clothes, and allow that money saved to be spent on more of its great work. It doesn't take much to make a great difference over here. This 'high church' was very impressed by the work OrphFund do, as is MSF. These organisations have not come across anything like OrphFund before, a group dedicated to the most desperate children who are normally forgotten. This weekend we have uncovered two cases of typhoid fever and two cases of malaria. The mortality rate of malaria in Uganda is 78%, but thanks to the great work of organisations like OrphFund and MSF, kids are surviving with the easy treatment necessary. Please sponsor a child…

May 22

Last full day in Uganda! I will miss these brave, smart, fun kids and all the great folk I have met. This place is desperate, but has a big heart. I look forward to telling you about it when I get back, and look forward to returning next year. Finally going to conquer the netball ring which has been failing to stick to the wall. Then a 20 hour van trip in to Kenya. Act one, scene two... check out the mixed business on this truck!

May 23

Said 'au revoir' to the kids today. Very emotional. Too hard to leap in to people's lives so deeply then leave. Already aching for next year. Broken down 2 hours in to a 20 hr trip, next door to a coffee shop!


Next stop, Kenya! Continue reading Mark's Africa trip here.