By Lori Taetz

During my stay in Uganda, I learned some useful facts.  You might call them TRIVIA. I prefer to call them USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW. Here is my non exhaustive list. Some of the information was told to me by my Ugandan friends, and some information is a product of personal experience. Feel free to use it when planning your next trip to East Africa.

  1. Ugandan shillings have pictures of Gorillas on them. Don’t be concerned when you have to spend 3,000 shillings on a soda. It equals about $1.50.
  2. ‘Apwoyo’, the Acholi word for ‘thank you’, sounds very much like their word for ‘bunny’.
  3. Ugandan baboons are not the same as chimpanzees.
  4. Ugandan rats are NOT geckos.
  5. Duct tape is a great way to fix mosquito nets – or 1,000 other uses.
  6. Three lines through a speed limit sign mean you can actually resume the original speed.
  7. Ugandans drive on the left side – or wherever there is a narrow opening.
  8. A boda boda (moped) can hold up to five people at the same time…plus a chicken.
  9. Elephants will kill you for alcohol.
  1. If you throw a rock at a monkey in a mango tree, it will throw a mango back at you.
  2. If you admire a mango in a tree, a young boy will most likely climb it and throw several down to you.
  3. A toilet can be a hole in the ground.
  4. Ugandan women can carry a baby on their back and a jug of water on their head while walking barefoot through deeply rutted streets.
  5. Wave at a Ugandan and you will receive a huge smile in return and the greeting of ‘You are welcome’.
  6. Chicken tastes better when cooked over an open fire pit.
  7. The presence of light switches doesn’t always mean there are lights.
  8. Be sure to eat an avocado every day!
  9. The best modeling clay is found in a swamp.
  10. One small library can provide the only source of books for an entire village.
  11. It can take 2 ½ hours to drive 70km over a red rutted dirt road.
  12. Don’t expect anyone at the medical clinic to know where the toilet is, and when you find it, don’t have any expectations at all!
  13.  It is possible to keep 12 adults at a staff meeting fully engaged using the book ‘Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
  14. Big scary spiders like books, too!
  15. If you meet someone in Uganda for the first time who has the same name as you, the younger person has to buy the older one a chicken.
  16. When a guest comes to your home, give them the best of your food, no matter what it costs you.



By Lori Taetz

Trespassing.  Stealing.  Finding themselves away from parental support. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are some of the reasons the 50 or so young people are residing at the Gulu Remand Home in Uganda.

We arrived at the jail to find approximately 47 young men and 3 young women, between the ages of 13 and 20, sitting side by side on wooden benches. They were in two different classrooms, separated by a wall. The wooden enclosures were unadorned, as the students sat with bare feet touching the concrete ground. A lone chalkboard, much like those used in the 1970s, covered the front partition. There were no books in sight, aside from the few they shared between them with the day’s math. In Uganda, most of the teaching is done by rote, with the students echoing the teachers’ statements.  We were privileged to see a small spark of creativity and life as the students welcomed us with a special clap designated to honor visitors.  Karine responded with a heartfelt statement of our maternal love for them and concern for their welfare, reminding them of their worth as human beings.

We could not help but notice that all of the occupants wore the same plain green outfits. Apparently, this is the only outfit most of them have with them in this place, despite the fact that they must wear civilian clothes to approach the government officials when they finally find themselves with a court date. In addition, they must come up with the funds to get to the court when they are called, after waiting several months to a year to be heard, even though the system boasts a wait time of 6 weeks.

On approaching the occupants’ ‘living quarters’, we felt an immediate dread at the lack of anything that might bring some joy or hope into their drab existence. The rooms were small and dark, devoid of electricity. They were made of concrete from floor to ceiling, and the pervasive smell of urine mixed with dust and grime filled our senses. The bunks were stacked on top of each other, with one dirty blanket on each. In between rooms was a locking door that led to a small, dismal bathroom, consisting of a hole in the ground and a shower stall, whose grimy surface conjured up endless stories of darkness, despair and a thousand bad dreams.

Was there anything we could do to brighten up their lives and bring some sense of hope? Although we came with limited resources, we did have something that could transport them to another place. One full of hope, joy, adventure, friendship and discovery. A chance to learn and gather knowledge for their futures. We brought the blessing of books! Our hope now is that the young teachers at the Gulu juvenile jail will learn to use the books to share both knowledge and enjoyment with their students, giving them something to look forward to each day.

Uganda welcomes compassionately… “You are welcome, our visitors!”


Uganda welcomes compassionately…

“You are welcome, our visitors!”

by: Karine Veldhoen

There is an untold story on the world stage; it begins with “You are welcome, our visitors!”

As I’ve traveled throughout Uganda on 13 trips, over the past decade, in diverse schools, in countless classrooms, I consistently encounter the greeting, in unison, with a chorus of sincerity, “You are welcome, our visitors!”

The greeting echoed through my heart as I visited my first refugee camp in Uganda, with an understanding the statistics.  There are currently 800,000 refugees living in the country and 3,000 per day continue to pour across the borders from the South Sudan.  These people are literally fleeing for their lives.  They come only with what they can carry.  They almost always arrive on foot.  They lose some along the way.

Uganda welcomes compassionately.

Upon arrival the government offers a plot of land to the family and initial materials for the construction of a home.  While generous and free, subsistence barely defines it.

Then, they must eat.  The rations are slimming now.  Support is being cut.  My friend and colleague, Randy Sohnchen, is currently working with UNHCR to provide Omer Farm’s premium rice seed to the people of Bidi-Bidi, the world’s largest refugee camp.  Bidi-Bidi is host to 270,000 refugees as reported 4 months ago.

The need is great.

Kiryandango is the refugee camp we sped through just 10 days ago.  In the heart of Uganda, a city called Bweyale, you approach the camp by car and the plots with huts span across the hillside as far as you can see both left and right.  There are 70,000 refugees in this settlement.

The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative hosted our tour.  They are passionate about cultivating peace through multiple modalities; their investment offers the best for children and youth.  The community development site in the refugee camp just opened.  It houses athletic fields, computer labs, and many more opportunities for advancement.  Programs are offered with the thread of peace woven throughout, instilling this value in the young people of Kiryandango.

Friends support.

During our visit we were also introduced to a couple of Child Friendly Spaces.  While most children do not attend school, some young children participate in a daycare facility in the camp where enrichment activities are hosted each weekday morning.  The room I saw was a classroom for 208 preschoolers.  The offering includes literacy, numeracy, parent involvement, and play!  Still, I didn’t see one book.

There is a darker side…
My teammates and I explored different parts of the settlement.  We struggled to capture images in the blur of the tour.  Then, we met up in front of the second Child Friendly Space, where twice a week movies are the primary offering.

Children gathered at the side of the road as we connected. Pictures were snapped.

That’s when the settlement opened itself up to me and I peered into its pages of despair…

I walked over and without thinking opened the trunk of our van to grab some innocuous and immemorable supply.  The children immediately swarmed like wasps buzzing their desperation.  They were looking for something, for anything, I was going to pull out of that boot.  Their need for bread, colour, or joy cracked open.

Ha! I’ve done it all: candy, clothes, toys, and books.  Yet, today I offered nothing.  By principle, Niteo is now careful never to offer gifts directly to children.  Learning from our mistakes, we know it reinforces too many negative hierarchies and inappropriate mindsets.

Nonetheless, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt the distress of children pressing on me like I did in that moment. It was visceral.

The question laid bare.

If you were Mary Poppins and could pull something out of a proverbial trunk for those children, what would it be?

For me, it is education.  I can’t think of anything better!  We can join with the government of Uganda and chant, “You are welcome, our visitors!”  We can make all the different in the world for another group of refugees!

We can support weaving the thread of peace throughout this settlement by offering books.  Our offering, “Open books, Open minds, Open doors.”