Today is our last day in Uganda, and the official end of the trip. Tomorrow morning at 4am, Thomas and I will head to the airport and begin our respective long journeys home.
We spent our last day in Kampala interviewing Idah Mukuka, SLF’s Zambia-based Field Representative. Idah’s job is to visit potential projects before we fund them and to conduct follow-up visits to assess how organizations have implemented the activities we’ve funded. Idah is a perfect person for the job – a former counsellor and community organizer in Zambia, she is also an HIV-positive woman and is intimately familiar with the challenges facing communities affected by the pandemic. It is always a joy to spend time with her – she is a wealth of knowledge and one of the most lovely and vibrant people I know.
Yesterday, we accompanied Idah to Reach Out Mbuya, an organization that we’ve been funding since 2003. Idah had last visited the organization a year ago, and we were there to film a field visit. It was a busy day, and I was glad to get a sense of what happens on a typical visit. We followed Idah around as she met with the staff, went through financial information, audits and board meeting minutes, visited with beneficiaries and visited Reach Out’s various sites. It was a busy and exhausting day – and it made me realize how thorough and thoughtful the field representatives must be.
For me, the highlight of the visit was a trip to see Karmela Kasule, one of the grandmothers featured in the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s film Grandmothers: the unsung heroes of Africa. The last time I had met Karmela was during the Grandmothers’ Gathering in Toronto. She welcomed me warmly and we fumbled for words to greet each other. At the Gathering, Karmela had been able to sell much of the beadwork that she brought to Canada. The money she earned enabled her to buy the larger brick house next door, in addition to her previous home – the space was much needed, since she’s caring for her 29 orphaned grandchildren. Reach Out is supporting five of her children with school fees, and she is participating in their income-generation programme. But she still faces very difficult challenges on a daily basis: the pigs she was raising fell ill and all but one have died, and the family can only afford one meal a day. Although Reach Out is providing an important lifeline to Karmela and her family, I was overwhelmed by the fact that she must struggle so hard to eke out a living and put food on the table. The grandmothers of Africa constantly amaze me with their strength.
As this trip comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the experiences of the past few weeks. As difficult as it is to see how AIDS has ravaged communities across the continent, it has been a joy to see how the work of these remarkable grassroots organizations has brought real change to the lives of the people they serve. Whether it was seeing children come out of their shell through music at the Music Therapy Community Clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, or going on a home-based care visit in Durban with the staff from the Blue Roof clinic, or visiting with hundreds of grandmothers at PEFO in Jinja, Uganda, I have been awestruck by the resilience, determination and dedication of the people who make this work possible.