Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Back in the saddle again......

Greetings everyone from hot and humid Koboko, where the rain is falling heavily and the sky is lit up in the most incredible light show and I’m definitely over my blue funk. I won’t be able to post this until tomorrow because of intermittent internet but I’m typing it now so I can get my thoughts out while they’re fresh.

They warn us in our pre-departure training about the highs and lows of international development work and yesterday I definitely hit the “wall”. A combination of too much sun, too much sweat, too much rich food and the shock of going from really basic accommodation to the height of luxury and then back again, coupled with back-to-back four-hour drives, and I was definitely at an emotional low last night. The water and toilet didn’t work, the power was out, my room/cell was an absolute oven and the hotel next door – which is normally so quiet I wondered if it was abandoned – was the site for a Rave to commemorate a local holiday. The disco music and live band cranked up, and I mean REALLY cranked up, at 8:00 and didn’t stop until 4:30. Audrey and I both have rooms that back right onto the music and if we got two hours sleep all night that was it.

So I should have woken up – if that’s what you call it when you never really got to sleep in the first place – in a foul mood and if anything even lower emotionally than the night before. But great things can happen with a little sleep (in this case very little) and some much needed perspective. We both woke up with a laugh about the whole thing and chalked it up to one more part of the experience. “This is Africa!” This morning the water was back on, the heat was just a little less oppressive and the eggs were fresh (thanks in part to the chickens that wander freely throughout the compound and on occasion into the restaurant)…… and so began another day in Koboko!

Today we spent the day meeting with the board and staff of arguably the most successful SACCO in the immediate region. They have sound books, great business practices and they own their own building and equipment. It may not be much by our standards; bare concrete walls, old furniture and the bare essentials, but to them it’s proof positive of their commitment to their community and their members. And I have to agree. Audrey and I spent a day being grilled over general and specific items and often had to really put on out thinking caps to give them the advice they were looking for.

Not everything will translate to a Ugandan setting, but some (and you’d be surprised how much) will really help them out. They soaked up like a sponge whatever experience and knowledge we could share but don’t think for a minute this was another example of the developed world showing their African counterparts how to finally do things “right”. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was an exchange of ideas amongst equals. This board and this staff are an experienced, educated group of professionals and it’s only by circumstance that it was us visiting them. With very little training and just some opportunity there isn’t one of them that couldn’t be a successful executive back in Canada and I felt honoured and privileged to be able to work with them. And more than a little intimidated. Several of the board members are full time teachers and professors by profession and sit on the board as volunteers. I was VERY away of my grammar and syntax when I was answering questions.  

Their version of English and ours may have differences, and their accents and ours may have gotten in the way or made us all repeat a few things, but the SACCO members in northwest Uganda are in very good hands. The board of Koboko Unitied SACCO told us their long-term goal is to grow to the point where they can compete with the commercial banks now doing business in this district. What do I think? I think HSBC should be afraid, very afraid.
Signing off under a mosquito net and typing by the pulsating light that only a Ugandan generator and compact fluorescent bulbs can produce. Hot, sweaty and tired but never prouder to be Canadian and REALLY glad I left Scotiabank 17 years ago to work for my first credit union.



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