Monday, November 17, 2014

Visiting Refugees from South Sudan

Recently I visited two refugee settlements in Northern Uganda to report a story - Adjumani and Arua's Rhino Camp. This shot is from Adjumani's Ayilo settlement camp in North Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled from South Sudan -- the world's youngest nation (formed in July 2011) -- after violence erupted in Dec 2013 and early 2014. Around 60,000 live in the Adjumani settlement which is unlike a traditional refugee camp in that they live on land donated by nationals (Ugandans) and have land to grow crops and build temporary homes. All photos Copyright (c) 2014 Wendee Nicole

Young girls from the Ayilo settlement.
Big smile!
Love this shot of this young refugee boy.
I turned around as we were walking and a line of boys were following!
Boys will be boys!
Getting water from a tap stand. The yellow plastic jugs are called "jerry cans" and they are what everyone in Uganda uses to collect water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Me and some of the sweet refugee children at Adjumani.
A "tippy tap" is a contraption made for making it easier for people to wash their hands!
The Baratuku settlement camp is in a beautiful spot.
A colorful lizard on the rocks
The River Nile from Baratuku
This boy was perched on a boat on the River Nile, which we crossed by ferry going from Arua's Rhino Camp (pics below) to Adjumani.
After he jumped in! 
The sunset was beautiful over the Nile.
When I arrived, the first place we visited was actually "Rhino Camp" near Arua. There are no rhinos anymore, they all went extinct! Here they were celebrating Global Handwashing Day at one of the "child friendly spaces" with songs, dance, and a march.
Girls performing a song about the importance of washing hands to change their lives for the better.
Kids checking out the posters.
Kids watching the performance.
Breastfeeding is encouraged in women for healthy children!
The boys seemed more "worldly" than the kids in my area of Uganda. They all made hand signs when I'd photograph them. I got them singing songs in their local language for me right away! It was fun. I got some cool videos.
More of the refugee kids making signs for the pictures.
This woman is so picturesque! She and the boys played drums. It was a really wonderful week, and Oxfam, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) & the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) have done a lot for these refugees since the chaotic beginning early this year. It hasn't received a lot of media attention in the U.S. but it was a major humanitarian crisis, which still hasn't stemmed in South Sudan. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rugando Parent's School - empower these girls!

Three young girls attending Rugando Parents school in Uganda in primary level 3 sing a song they wrote themselves when I visited. Joan, the tallest is one of the brightest in her class, according to the Director David Matsiko. Her family cannot afford a uniform, which isn't required to attend, but the Redemption Song Foundation purchased her a uniform as a one-time gift to support her, because of the initiative she showed in singing the song for me, as an unexpected visitor. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Getting settled in Uganda...

"Stubborn gladness doesn't come out of nowhere; you fight for it. You push back against despair. I look hard for miracle and beauty and joy every day.” - Liz Gilbert

Some updates from my life in Uganda so far... These are from emails I've sent to friends and family. To give some background in case you are new, I visited Uganda in Jan/Feb, and felt God calling me here to serve and love the people, I don't know completely why or how, but I know I felt His strong call, and so here I am. I raised 2 amazing young people, my Sam and Savannah, who are now in college, and am here starting a nonprofit, the Redemption Song Foundation (which is officially now registered as a 501(c)(3) [pending status] charitable organization - and all donations will be tax deductible!). I arrived in the country mid-Sep and stayed in Kampala/Entebbe a few days getting supplies, and then came to Buhoma Village, near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (home to half the world's remaining mountain gorillas!) where I've rented a house that will be my home and RSF office. My vet friend Ben came to help me get set up, and would work with us but is going to Israel for further studies very soon. But he's helping so much! David is another local friend who is helping. Please "like" our Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (we are slower to get the Tweets coming, but soon!) In fact, if anyone wants to volunteer and do some social media, accounting, legal work, t-shirt/graphic design, or anything else let me know!

Sep 24... I went running this morning - very different at elevation compared to at sea level!! My chest is still heaving, hours later I have a massive headache today too that wont go away.

The Redemption Song Foundation met with local leaders today at my house/RSF office and it was great to meet them! Work is proceeding on the hot water system despite the random stray goats in the house (!) and yard yesterday (only in Africa!) and them stepping on the concrete LOL.

The family living out back, I gave the kids each new t-shirts and brought the mom/dad hot tea, and then a bit later the dad went around and got the avocados from way up high in the avocado trees and I now have 10 gigantic avocados! :) They also clean up around the yard. I took some photos of them and me holding the baby/toddler girl today, and will send sometime. They are so sweet. The two boys have a weird fungus one all over his scalp and I am going to get them to the hospital so they can get care.

Ben leaves tomorrow and it will be so much harder just me and Charity, though it will be nice to be in my house and able to settle in and get some work done planning and getting my house settled. I ordered a large table & chars to be made, a desk and a countertop/pantry. I am getting the toilets fixed and the hot water and the leaking roof fixed. Within 3 days I should have hot water – God willing!! Pray for that LOL! I have it here at the monkey house I stay at but have to leave here Friday.

Sep 25… Today I went shopping in the local market :) It is about 10 stalls with lots of veggies. I learned how to ask "how much is it” but I already forgot – I think it is nazengahi? Something like that. I went a bit overboard and bought a bunch of Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, a cabbage, several tomatoes, 4 eggplant, lemons, a pineapple, a huge bunch of matoke (green non-sweet bananas that when cooked taste like potatoes - there are a lot of carbs in their diet!), and a Ginormous jackfruit (the size of a watermelonŠ -- we ate half and I gave away a bunch and there¹s still a whole half left! They taste like Starbursts!).

Charity made lunch for me, David, and Ben today which was a cabbage dish with Irish potatoes (they call regular potatoes Irish potatoes) and it was really good; however, I discovered the "margarine" I thought I bought was actually lard. :/ Oops.

I bought some other random things today like paint for the shower/toilet rooms as they are kind of gross. The workers are still finishing up the plumbing work to get the hot water system working, and then we will add a big double sink as right now the only sink in the house is one small shallow porcelain one. We don't have any counter space at all in our makeshift kitchen so I had ordered something that will have counter space (wood) and pantry/storage space below. It isn't ready yet, as the same furniture maker is doing my desk which I thought more important because it will be where I lock up valuables like my camera and laptop. A different furniture maker is doing my 3 x 7 table and chairs.

Ben left this evening and is headed back to Kampala, though he may come back a few days before he heads off to Israel. He has been such a great help! If

David is also gone over the weekend so it will be just me and Charity for nowŠ and the family that lives out back. :) I give them food like boiled eggs and jackfruit and they help around with various things.

Sep 26… So my new android phone dropped (twice) and the screen cracked and so it is completely dead. I now have to use my old "dumb phone” for my Uganda #.

I am getting my bedroom set up as I like. Today, I got the 4 dining chairs I ordered, and I am spending way too much money but HOPEFULLY soon I can stop spending money on the house and start spending more on kids. Today I brought the mom and boy Posiano (living behind me) to the hospital because he has this terrible infected wound on his leg, and he had a fever and I worried it was becoming systemic but they cant give antibiotics without admitting him and it was after hours and he didnt have a fever despite his forehead feeling hot, so we will bring him and the other 2 in tomorrow (they all have worms and have a weird fungus infection on their skin). Actually Charity is going to bring them in and pay (my $) because I need to go to Kihihi with my hot water guy to get $ from the ATM!

Sep 27… Today was a stressful day. I had my first ride on a Ugandan "taxi" (more like a small mini-bus with several people) to go to Kihihi, the nearest town with an ATM (2 hours away) but it wasnt working... I am totally out of money and have nothing to pay everyone who I ordered stuff from with. I was with Charity (who helps me at my home) and James, who is doing my hot water system. No one seems to know when the next taxis come, or how to get from A to B. I wanted to go to the next town (Kanungu) to get money, but all these boda (motorcycle drivers) swarmed around me and it was very stressful. We missed the 2pm taxi back home though we met on the road at 145pm. James seems clueless how to get around even though he lives here... he doesn't speak as good of English as Charity does, but anyway the whole thing was a bit of a nightmare! We rented a private car for 100,000 shillings (about $40) to go to Kanungu only the 2 banks there only work for Uganda banks, and so we left home with just a couple of groceries and a toilet seat... And (TMI for the guys) having your period when there are only pit latrines with no toilet paper unless you ask 10 million people for TP is really not fun!! I guess today I have to be thankful for small things like safe travel, my new toilet seat, and Charity who is a total sweetheart and calls me “mum”.

The knob on my NEW propane stove broke (it broke earlier but we got it on, now it wont go on at all) so only 2 of 4 elements work (the black part of the element that was here the 1st day is missing since that day- where in the hell did it go??) And I cant get any cash, not even Western Union is working it sent from my bank, but I cant retrieve it on my mobile money account), and I am PMS and right now I am not happy!!

Sep 29… The family living out back has some health issues, so I paid for their care at the hospital (only 5000 shillings, a couple dollars) - for an infected foot, fungus on skin, worms. We’ve been feeding them extra food we cook and buy, and I’m trying to raise $ to put the younger son (Posiano) in school, its about 100,000 shillings including supplies (beans, pens, TP etc) which is about $40 US per term. If anyone wants to donate you can through the site, or send a check to mom/grandma: Redemption Song Foundation PO Box 876, Frisco TX 75034. The older boy, Justus, is so cute, he came and showed me his school book with his grades (some good, some medium LOL) and he only can attend because the mother works on the vegetable gardens for the school.

It rains every day but not all day. It can rain buckets, but then it stops. They’re putting a new tin roof sheet on now because there was a leak. Yesterday was a hard day emotionally as was the day before BUT I am putting things in perspective (thanks Tim! LOL) and learning patience (not my strong suit) and read some amazing words from my fave author Liz Gilbert… "Stubborn gladness doesn't come out of nowhere; you fight for it. You push back against despair. I look hard for miracle and beauty and joy every day.”

And even more so, David who is a friend of Bens (the vet helping me who is going to Israel soon) & has also been helping me get settled in, got a call this morn here at my house, and his 35-yr old brother in law had died after falling ill, leaving behind 4 kids and a wife. Very sad. Death is all too common here.

Oct 2... Yesterday, I went to the town of Kanungu on the back of David’s “boda” (motorcycle) which is 2.5 hours away (my butt was sore!) to try to retrieve the Western Union money I wired myself 3 days ago to my “mobile money” account (money that you can access through your cell phone almost anywhere – only the WU network on mobile money had been failing to work…). So we get there and they told me the system was down, and they were having trouble… are you kidding me? LOL. NOTHING WORKS IN AFRICA! So after some number of attempts he manages to get me my $200 US in shillings. Hooray for small miracles.

We then went to the town of Kihihi (which is actually closer to home) to open a bank account (their ATM was down Saturday for international withdrawals, and is still down and will be down until next week apparently). So I opened a local account in the hopes I can wire money there from my US bank account, only I left without an account number or any verification that I’d deposited anything… I insisted he give me this one piece of paper. I only put in 20,000 shillings which is like $8 so it’s not a big deal but I should be able to get money from all Uganda ATMs once I get money in there (mind you, Kihihi is the nearest ATM to Buhoma & is 1.5 hour by boda and 2.5 by bus…).

Driving on the boda with music in one ear (one open so I could hear!) was pretty cool, looking so closely at the African landscape that is so foreign and yet feels like home. All the children get so excited to see a mzungu (white person) and they all wave and say “Mzungu!” and laugh and smile when I wave back.

Before we went, I had gone to the Victory Primary School across the street to see about getting Posiano into a nursery class, but apparently theres only 1 mo left in the term before a 3-mo break (equivalent to our summer break) so they said it’s best to wait until next year. Im teaching him some English words like nose, ears, hello :) And tonight after I got back I was walking on the path to the back door (where I enter the house, usually) and I feel this little tug and it’s him – he adores me, it’s so cute. And then later I was inside and I heard dancing and drum beat (the mom Vastine tapping on a plastic “jerry can” - used for water) and went out and saw the 3 kids and Charity singing and dancing so I joined them and did some videos and I cant seem to upload them but will soon! It was super fun and they all giggle to see a mzungu dancing and carrying a bag of flour on her head (yesterday) etc :D I say to everyone I am a mukiga hahaha (mu is person, mukigas is a local, or bakiga is plural, like batwa is plural for mutwa the forest pygmies).

Some photos from recent days...all mixed up...

A baby pineapple in my front yard
The street running through Buhoma, where I now live
I have my very own "egg man" who delivers!
My home and office of the Redemption Song Foundation!
Miriam, Justus, and the legs of Posiano who had an infected foot. 
Matoke (green bananas) and jackfruit (a massive yummy fruit!) Both grow in my yard. 
We gave baby Miriam some millet porridge :) 
My amazing front yard!
Posiano by the building he and his family live in on our property. 
I rather like my frog laundry basket I bought in Kampala, you? :) This is my bedroom.
Elephants on the savanna in Queen Elizabeth National Park which we went through on the way here.
A big elephant in Queen Elizabeth! He was very close!
Ben holding baby Miriam! :) 
Me holding baby Miriam with the family. These t-shirts were donated by a friend to bring to the kids here.
Moving selfie on a boda from yesterday!
Boda ride!
Sweet Posiano and I yesterday

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hawaii, Ecotopia, Mongabay, Africa!

Pololu Point Lookout, Hawaii (the Big Island). Copyright (c) 2014 Wendee Nicole

Hello pumpkins! Soon I will post more photos and update about my week in Hawaii, where I visited my long time friend Elissa (who is a pilot for Mokulele airlines!) and traveled around Oahu and the Big Island (loved Volcanoes National Park!). The house I've lived in for the past decade, where I've raised my sweet children, goes on the market in a couple of days, and when my son goes off to University of Texas this fall, I am moving also, to .... AFRICA!! I am excited and nervous and melancholic all swirled into a bundle. But for the past several weeks, I have been prepping my house, landscaping, painting, fixing stuff (with the help of a dear guy friend - thank God for him!) and now the time has come. Houses are selling like hotcakes here, and I hope and pray it sells quickly and for what I am asking, as some of that money will be used to fund the nonprofit I've founded with a friend from Africa!

Check out our new website, which I designed, for the Redemption Song Foundation, and please "like" us on Facebook too! Our vision is "empowering youth through education, poverty alleviation, spiritual development and song" and we are accepting donations via the link on our website (or by check, but you have to send to me for now... I'm in the process of registering the "dba" and the other info for us before I move). We are providing school fees and basic necessities like food, clothing and hygiene /medical care information. We have plans for other exciting projects, like income-generating activities for older youth. One of the problems in the area is that the most impoverished girls and women can't afford menstrual pads, and they use leaves, dirty rags, etc, and we want to provide pads to these to girls, and create an income stream to those working on the pad project, making them using a cool machine made by an Indian entrepreneur (profiled on the BBC and in the new documentary, Menstrual Man). They often drop out of school when they start their periods. Some organizations provide hygiene packs to girls, but not everywhere - there is a big need. We will be starting an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for this soon.

I have had two more feature articles come out under my Mongabay Special Reporting Initiative Grant! Check them out:

  • Tipping the scale: How a political economist could save the world’s forests

    “[T]here’s a five-letter word I’d like to repeat and repeat and repeat: Trust.” Thus spoke Elinor Ostrom in her 2009 Stockholm lecture, when at age 77 she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. She’d spent a lifetime traveling the world and observing everyday citizens cooperating against all odds. Ostrom frequently encountered groups of people managing commonly shared resources, creating systems based on trust, such as peasant farmers in Nepal cooperatively managing simple irrigation systems, and people working to solve human-wildlife conflict with forest elephants in Kenya. Such collective behavior flew in the face of the longstanding theory of the day, which said that people will selfishly take whatever they can, ultimately causing a “tragedy of the commons.”

  • Ecotopia emerging: Sustainable forests and healthy livelihoods go hand in hand

    Callenbach's 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia became wildly popular among environmental-leaning folks, hippies, and progressive thinkers of the day. The rebels who founded Ecotopia believed human health and livelihoods can coexist with nature, and built their nation For a book that has fallen mostly off the radar, outside of a smattering of college classes and small-scale environmental movements, certain aspects of Ecotopian society fall remarkably in line with research by Economics Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, and more recently the work of Arun Agrawal, a scholar who studied under Ostrom. Research - described in this piece - discusses how decentralization of conservation policies and intrinsic motivations to preserve the environment are found in time-tested research, as well as the almost prophetic writings of Callenbach some 40 years before.

A green sea turtle we saw while snorkeling in Paradise Cove on Oahu. Copyright (c) 2014 Elissa Zavora. Love this image!! So cool! It was an amazing experience to swim next to the turtle, and another one showed up too! More to come. Love to you all!

Monday, April 21, 2014

I interviewed Jane Goodall - a hero of mine!

A young chimpanzee in the trees at the Budongo Forest in Uganda. Who is watching whom? 

Articles under the Mongabay Prize for Environmental Reporting grant I received have started coming out! This is a 6-month grant to report on tropical forest conservation that allowed me to travel to Uganda to report on some initiatives and projects there. Several more articles will be coming out, but here's a start!

If you have been following any sort of wildlife or science news, you may have seen that the legendary Dr. Jane Goodall turned 80 on April 3rd. On the Sunday before her birthday, I interviewed her by phone for Animal Planet's 80 Years of Jane online content. She was in Montreal about to fly to California, and it was so neat to hear her voice over the phone lines. Although mountain gorillas and not chimpanzees are my favorite animal, in high school I watched many a Jane Goodall National Geographic documentary, as well, and read her book In the Shadow of Man. I have the coolest job!

Here's a link to my Dr Jane Goodall Q&A for Animal Planet! I also did this longer piece for Animal Planet: 10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Love Jane Goodall! (If you scroll to the bottom of the first page there, you can click "show all on one page" so you don't have to click through one by one.)

But my favorite articles so far is published on CBS Smart Planet: How Jane Goodall’s legacy is alleviating poverty. This is about the Sustainable Livelihoods Project that I visited near Hoima, Uganda. Not long after I arrived in Uganda, I drove from Kampala to Budongo Forest Reserve with Peter Apell of the Jane Goodall Institute-Uganda, and got all those great quotes on that trip - he is a great interview. I spent a couple of days tracking chimps and such at Budongo, and then drove to the project in the field with JGI's Tomas Acidri, and interviewed one of the community villagers, Joram Basiima, whose photo appears in the article. I was impressed with the project and their approach. More articles from Uganda, and from the Mongabay grant, will be coming soon! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I've been productive!

The Habinyanja family group of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Park, Uganda. Notice the green lips! I guess mountain gorillas like their lipstick green. :) 
Photo Copyright (c) 2014 Wendee Nicole

Check out my first Mongabay blog post Reporter's Journal: The Forests of Uganda, posted today! I have pieces coming soon at Animal Planet Online, CBS, and Environmental Health Perspectives from my Uganda Adventures, but in the meantime several other articles on other topics have come out:

  • Pig Poop Power: Scaling up waste-to-energy technology could transform the hog farming industry. Discover Magazine, Mar 2014. (the full article will not be online until May).

  • BMW's Big Bet on Carbon Fiber. How carbon-fiber technology is transforming the auto industry, starting with the uber-cool BMW i-3! Solutions Journal (Rocky Mountain Institute). Spring 2014.

  • A Question for Women's Health. Chemicals in Feminine Hygiene Products and Personal Lubricants (may not be safe...). Environmental Health Perspectives. PDF version. Mar 2014.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

African safari wildlife

Took a day in Queen Elizabeth National Park on the way back to Entebbe from Bwindi, and saw many of the typical African wildlife and wanted to post a few photos!