Nyaka’s One By One Fundraiser on August 12th at 5pm

One-By-One logo

Abbie Weeks and Lauren McMillen will share stories and observations of their recent journey to fundraise for, deliver and install solar panels for the Nyaka Vocational and Secondary School during this evening’s fundraiser for Nyaka in Vail, Colorado.

EcologicalAction club sponsor Jeff Boyce will also be honored!

Tickets may be purchased here.

“Saving Lives One by One.”

What the Future Holds

I have been back in the United States for two weeks now and have had time to reflect upon our whirlwind journey in Uganda.

First, I feel deep gratitude for the hundreds of people who have somehow been involved in this near year long process, from EcologicalAction’s first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year to the moment our plane’s wheels touched back on U.S. soil.

I never would have imagined that the club I started Sophomore year would find its way to Nyakagezi, Uganda. Believe me, I understand that if the universe were a tapestry, our project to install solar panels on two buildings of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project would be just a single, tiny thread. Yet that thread is interwoven with the lives and experiences and guidance of so many organizations and individuals: Nyaka staff both in Kampala and in the field, every student and teacher at Nyaka Secondary Vocational School, Cherry Creek High School Administration, attendees and musicians at our benefit concert, 7th Grade teachers and students at West Middle School who participated in the Nyaka Walk,  my supportive teacher and mentor Mr. Dufford, our families, 9News, EcoTech Institute, The Villager, and airport personnel as mentioned in a previous blog post. We are just a fragment of life’s greater tapestry, but we span continents.

Environmental Activism has slowly grown to engulf and inform my life. This experience, however, challenged my preconceived notions. My awe and wonder has always lain with the natural world and I deeply feel a desire, no responsibility, as a citizen of Earth, to halt and reverse our species’ degradation of our ecosystems and biodiversity.

Additionally, as a species we have an obligation to each other: to ensure the human rights of all are fulfilled. “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Sustainability and Human Rights are not disconnected entities.

My two passions, ecological sustainability and human rights advocacy, intersect in beautiful harmony; each has the potential to promote the fulfillment of the other. For instance, as the abundance of natural resources decreases, it is in the benefit of local communities to adopt sustainable practices which will ensure that they may continue to pave a livelihood. In seaside communities this may mean preventing overfishing by interspersing the diet with plants that thrive in the local climate. In Uganda, the introduction of solar panels directly benefits both the planet and people. Solar energy effectively and sustainably harnesses our greatest renewable resource: the sun. Simultaneously, solar panels installed at the Nyaka schools unlock the potential of an education by powering the computers and lights, all at a lower cost than the unreliable hydroelectric grid which runs much of Uganda.

Note:

Access to electricity in 2013 at national level in Uganda is very low with 15% (1991: 5.6%; 2006: 9%; 2010: 10%) but only 7% in rural areas.“)

Also:  http://endev.info/content/Uganda

Uganda and the United States seemingly fall on distant positions on the spectrum of country development. Indeed, driving through the outskirts of Kampala and the rural southwest portions of Uganda, economic disparity and meager living conditions abound. Subsistence farming remains a common occupation and clean water, reliable health care, and public education are elusive “luxuries”.  In contrast, the United States has a highly developed service economy and private sector along with a strong public education system. Every nation faces societal ills: disease, violence and poverty. In Uganda, however, such issues were impossible to overlook or hide. I was overwhelmed and, frankly, initially disheartened when I contemplated the plausibility of a process which would help every single citizen achieve a high quality of life.

How would our photovoltaic system on the roof of one school in one village leave more than a superficial scratch on the epidermis of systematic poverty? What about the family in Mbarara who unwittingly drinks giardia infested water each day, the man I saw outside Kampala who struggles to find food each day, the farmers who toil each day to feed their families?

Driving back to Entebbe after our time at Nyaka, I dug through my mind for the root of poverty and brainstormed fundamental solutions. Uganda is a developing nation. The basic and most effective ways of improving quality of life are healthcare and education. Health care increases body strength and lifespan. Equally importantly, education gives people a tool with which to understand and solve any challenges their communities face. An educated populace is well-equipped to elect representatives and officials and fundamentally alter the economic and social system through political channels. An educated populace may communicate and reflect the needs of the country. Furthermore, education is one path to self-discovery and internal contentment. My education has allowed me to uncover who I am. What a luxury it is for me to have the time, the resources, to chase my passions when for many education is out of reach.

Change trudges along through movements. I will not preach that this experience in Uganda will completely revolutionize Uganda’s education system or stop climate change. Fundamental forces such as capitalism, government and the will to survive will drag this country of 37 million into the upcoming decades. Yet now our solar panels are threads, too, woven into life’s tapestry. May the lights and computers spark a child’s fervor and add kindling to a greater movement of uninhibited joy and freedom in this world.

I learned a lot about myself this trip. I thrive in situations requiring problem solving and under intense stress. I like matooke but not nearly as much as g-nut sauce. But more importantly, adopting a defeatist attitude because a problem seems too overwhelming is direct neglect of our responsibility to nurture our neighbors, no matter how many time zones stand between us. Through environmental and humanitarian action, each of us can improve our piece of the world.

Reader, I cannot thank you enough. May you have found or keeping searching to find a purpose you dare to follow. The world needs more of you.

All the best wishes and all my gratitude,

Abigail Weeks

DSC03119

Amy Weeks, Abigail Weeks, Lauren McMillen, Jeff Boyce and Amy Boyce

Rainstorms in the Dry Season (Abbie Weeks)

Last night the rain, thunder, and lightning besieged the house like nothing I had never experienced before. One lightning bolt flashed with such intensity the entirety of the living room turned a soft pink. All I could think of as I listened to the storm was of the solar panels and the school roof they were mounted upon. I prayed that against all logic this storm wouldn’t reach the school 2km away. In order to mount the solar panels, we wove metal bailing wire around the mounting brackets and through the roof into the attic. Thus, small holes the diameter of a screwdriver are in the roof underneath the panels. We have not yet caulked them to form a waterproof seal.

This morning we held our breath as we anticipated the severity of the water damage. Luckily, however, minimal water got into the roof. We opened the windows in the science lab and by lunch, any residual water had evaporated. As an extra precaution, Lauren, Albert (the student) and I duct taped over the brackets and placed leftover shipping box cardboard scraps (thank you Deline Box and Display) above the holes. After lunch we placed a tarp over the entire array.

Amy Weeks and Amy Boyce created a mounting platform out of the cardboard shipping boxes (thank you, AGAIN! Deline Box and Display) for the solar array batteries to keep them up and off of the conductive cement. Lauren and I wired the charge controllers while Jeff connected the batteries.

Here’s to another successful day!

Thank you for your support!

Abbie Weeks

DSC02717

 

 

 

Delivering Books to the Primary School (Amy Weeks)

The Nyaka Primary School opened in January 2003 in founder Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri’s childhood home, the village of Nyakagyezi in Kanungu District.  Today the Nyaka Primary School serves students from “nursery class” through Primary 7. Nyaka students do not have to pay any school fees and are also provided “textbooks, uniforms, shoes, two meals every school day, medicine, and scholastic materials for free”. (https://www.nyakaschool.org/students/primary.php)

The guesthouse where our team from Colorado is staying is directly adjacent to this precious school.

DSC02469

The Nyaka guesthouse!

DSC02465

Our view from the front porch of the Nyaka guesthouse.

It is a joy to awaken each morning before making our trek to the Secondary School and sip coffee on our front patio watching as students make their way by foot from surrounding homes and villages. For some, arriving to school on time meant leaving their homes by 5:00 am. But arrive they did, with smiles on their faces and a glorious energy for the morning assembly, breakfast and classes.

DSC02926

A little recess BEFORE school begins!

Students line up for the daily morning assembly by assigned classroom where they are welcomed by teachers and fellow student leaders to join in songs and a flag raising ceremony. The experience is one that draws students into their learning community and affirms relationships within their Nyaka family. I am inspired to find a way to bring something similar on a smaller scale to my sixth grade science classroom. Perhaps an extension to my weekly “Monday Motivational!” video clips and discussions? Always learning, always brainstorming…

I filmed a portion of a morning assembly at the Nyaka Primary School on June 17, 2016. Watch for the motivating and powerful young man who leads his classmates in song. Is there any doubt that Nyaka nurtures future community leaders?! It was a privilege to be in the presence of such young talent and charisma!

 

Breakfast!

Before leaving Colorado, my friend and teaching colleague Liz Healy made a very generous donation of books for us to bring and to deliver to the Nyaka Primary School. It was my pleasure to personally travel with Liz’s books across three continents to be certain students received these brand new texts.  I was escorted by head teacher Ahumuza Annet to three classrooms after she carefully sorted the books by appropriate reading level.

AHUMUZA-ANNET

Ahumuza Annet is an outgoing and gracious head teacher at the Nyaka Primary School.

DSC02924

Primary 3 Classroom!

 

As we entered each classroom students rose to greet us by saying hello and sharing a song unique to their particular grade level classroom. The beauty of these voices!

In unison: “Education is the key!”

In Karuru Alice’s classroom I briefly introduced myself, complimented the students’ attention and dedication to their studies, and expressed my gratitude at their delightful hospitality.

KARURU-ALICE

Karuru Alice excudes JOY! Her students are so lucky to have her!

Annet and I passed out Liz’s donated books together and it was a delight to see and hear students begin to read them out loud. There is something beautifully universal about opening up a brand new book and letting the stories unfold.

 

Primary 7 classroom with their new books.

DSC02919

I was fortunate to leave a little piece of my family with the Primary 3 classroom. These two books were in my daughters’ reading collection growing up and I hope Nyaka students will enjoying having these science resources in their own library.

Thank you so much for all of your support of ecologicalAction!

Fondly,

Amy Weeks (aka Abbie’s proud mom)

 

The Attic (Abbie Weeks)

Although  our beautifully mounted panels seem to testify the completion of our project, in reality we have several days’ worth of wiring still ahead of us.

This morning Lauren and I wove the each of the positive wires from the solar panels through the gap in the roof ridgeline into the attic. Our next step was to run additional wire from each of these 6 positive wires to the junction boxes we had recently mounted on an attic support beam. As soon as the sun rises, our solar panels become “live”: they begin to  generate a current; however, as long as the positive and negative wire terminals do not touch each other or something else conductive (such as metal), the solar panels (and our bodies) are safe. To ensure the wires would remain insulated while we measured the necessary length of wire, Lauren climbed up into the rafters to duct tape the terminals of the wires. Meanwhile Jeff mounted the inverters and charge controllers to the wall in the  storage room just below the attic opening.

DSC02834

Lauren  temporarily duct tapes the positive terminals of the wires in the attic.

We are configuring the panels into two systems. Each system includes three panels and a junction box to join three positive wires into one. We will run those two wires into the storage room where the rest of the equipment for the system is to be mounted.

DSC02888

Wiring the third wire into the junction box

After a lunch break at the library, we headed back up into the attic to continue wiring. We used wire nuts to join the wires and ensure a reliable connection.  By the time we finished, we were covered in sweat and suspicious black sooty dust, but proud of our progress.

We had barely enough wire to run from the positive terminals to the junction box. Tomorrow, Albert, our new friend and local electrician, will travel by bus to the closest town to purchase the necessary wire to connect the negative wires from the solar panels to the junction box. The town of Mbarara is four hours away!

My mom Amy, Jeff and Amy Boyce headed back to the guest house after a long day of work. Lauren and I stayed later to play volleyball and we tried millet porridge!  I was certainly my team’s weakest link but their skills more than compensated for my lack thereof. Even the teachers were good sports and played in the games. On the sidelines I spoke with more students who were interested in my life back in the States.

Glorious, the English teacher at the secondary school, invited us to attend class tomorrow morning. We gladly accepted and look forward to learning along with our new Ugandan peers!

Abbie Weeks

Home Visits and Mango Sticks (Lauren McMillen)

On Tuesday, Maddie invited two of us to visit the homes of some Nyaka primary students with her, and it’s a day I will certainly never forget.

Each month, the Nyaka primary school measures the middle upper arm circumference of its 210 students, as the results of the “MUAC” test indicate if a child is malnourished. If this is the case, or if the child has been misbehaving, the Nyaka Mummy Drayton Clinic staff check in on the home and the guardian of the child.

First, we visited Benedict’s home, as shown in the main picture above. Amy Weeks, Maddie, the school nurse Winifred, several children, and I drove through bumpy roads and up steep hills (what would be at least an hour walk for Benedict to school each morning) to find that his guardian was not at home, although his younger brother was, alone all day because his family likely couldn’t afford school fees for him.

Benedict’s home is better than the average one in the area. They had a drying rack (the branch structure behind him) which is an indicator of a relatively higher quality of life, as it shows the family is separating dirty dishes from clean. Surrounding the house are banana trees- the most abundant crop by far in southwestern Uganda. However, Winifred talks to the families here about the importance of having a small kitchen garden, as well- some lettuce and tomatoes, for example- to provide more nutrients for their children.

Next, a young boy took us to his mother’s home, and we visitors were invited to come into her home, sit on her couch, and listen as Winifred explained in Ruchiga to the mother about nutritional habits and hygiene. She explained how a balanced diet includes proteins, carbs, and fruits/veggies, and how hand washing prevents spread of disease- both of which are basic information for our community, here.

We found out, after Maddie translated for us, that the beautiful young woman below is a mother to 10 children, 2 of which are her own. In this area of Uganda, it’s generally unclear- and seemingly irrelevant – whether someone’s children are biological or not.

This woman- perhaps in her late 20s- who has taken in 10 children, took out a long stick and knocked down several mangoes out of her tree and gave them to us. A woman with, compared to me, relatively nothing, went out of her way to be friendly and kind.

That was maybe one of the most slightly shocking experiences for me on the whole trip. I couldn’t help but think that an American family would no sooner be eager to have someone tell them how to raise their kids, than take the effort to get a big stick and hit something out of their own tree to give a gift to complete strangers. But, we witnessed this kind of uncanny kindness and generosity- and patience to greet you and talk to you- during our whole stay in Uganda. Now that I’m home, it’s what I miss most.

Thank you for reading!

Lauren McMillen

 

DSCN0560

The home of 10 children and an inspiring mother

DSCN0557

DSCN0558

 

 

Luchiga! (Abbie Weeks)

Classes at Nyaka are given in English. However, in the village and in many conversations, the native dialect is Luchiga. We have picked up a few words so far and will keep trying to learn (to the amusement of many).

Below is a quick dictionary of our limited vocab (spelling probably wildly incorrect).

Agandi: Hello/How are you

Nigye: I am fine

Webale: Thank you

Twogende: Let’s go!

Oh-see-bee-yehjay: Good Afternoon

Kale: Ok/Goodbye

Ente: Cow

Embuzzi: Goats

Empoco: Chicken

Posho: little white maize cakes

Kale!

Abbie Weeks