Today we drove on the left hand side of the road amongst swerving boda-bodas (taxi motorcycles) past lake Victoria and through markets to arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda and home to 1.2 million people.
Our first stop was the Nyaka Headquarters where we met with Jennifer Nantale, an extremely inspiring woman who, before joining Nyaka’s staff, worked with refugees and internally displaced persons in South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. She was the camp manager of the Gihembe Camp in Rwanada with over 19,000 refugees as a member of the American Refugee Committee within the United Nations Refugee Agency. She is extremely adept at her work and an excellent leader for Nyaka. She reaffirmed my faith in Nyaka as an organization willing and capable of ending systematic poverty through their “holistic approach to community development, education, and healthcare.” At Nyaka headquarters we also met Kaweesa Robert, the Finance and Administration assistant. He joined us on our visit to the solar store to purchase batteries.
Photovoltaic System components can be purchased in Uganda. However, besides the gross inefficiency and limited wattage available for panels, the market is rife with counterfeit panels. The solar panels we brought are 300 watts and fall under 25 year warranty. We found nothing comparable in Uganda. We purchased four lead acid batteries from Yingli Solar. The density and pure weight of an authentic lead acid battery is hard to fabricate. The four, 12 volt batteries we purchased were under 2 year warranty and we were confident in their authenticity.
At the solar store we met Purity, the store manager. Purity is a wonderfully knowledgable woman. In addition to discussing the advantages of different battery voltages for our photovoltaic (PV) system We spoke with her about politics, both in the U.S and Uganda. I was surprised by her in-depth knowledge and opinions on US politics. She seemed more informed than some US voters on our political affairs. Wherever we went the US presidential race and candidates followed. Of course our discussion exposed my ignorance of Ugandan politics past the reign of Idi Amin. Uganda hosts elections yet the last presidential result is still in dispute and the opposition to the incumbent is now imprisoned. So often we take our democracy for granted. As flawed and slow as it may be today, change is always possible through fraudless elections.
At times I forgot how impoverished Uganda is. In the city, the bustle of traffic and storefronts disguised the truth: In Uganda the average life expectancy is 58.5, 7.5% of adults (aged 15-49) are living with HIV/AIDS, and the per capita income is under US $170. The depth and scope of inequality and poverty in our world is overwhelming. I felt wildly insufficient and incapable of solving such systematic issues. But on reflection, change starts with single step. Nyaka has already run a marathon in that regard. They have built a health clinic, community library, and three schools. I hope that our solar panels will provide the additional energy resources for teachers and students to succeed.
After a late lunch of Matooke (a steamed and mashed banana dish) and g-nut sauce, we retired to the Entebbe Backpackers Hostel for one more night. Tomorrow we will sleep at Nyaka!