Mityana Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 1 › view all entries

This is going to be quite a long make sure you’ve a good cup of tea (maybe a pot) and some biscuits (I find hobnobs a suitable choice).


How on earth did I end up on a 21 day trip to Uganda to teach first aid and fire safety? That’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I blame Gilly (my boss). In December we had a meeting with the chair and treasurer of the Mityana Community Foundation to see if it was possible to host a gala concert to raise money for the charity who’ve been helping the district of Mityana for over ten years. The answer was yes and as we started planning Geoff, the chair, asked what exaclty I did...fair question! I responded that I worked for Gilly on the Silver Programme within The Sage Gateshead but I was also a St John Ambulance first aider. to that he said "great, you’re coming to Uganda in February!"

The reason there is a link between the Silvers and the Mityana Community Foundation is that Colin Watson is the treasurer and Judy Watson (a Silver) is his wife.

Gilly’s first response was no, three weeks off, no chance! The more we talked about the evening and what sort of songs we wanted, what sort of feel to the night, the more we realised that I did need to go, to bring back some of their music so we could use it for the evening.

Fundraising, training and build up

So it was decided. I was apprehensive, I’m not going to lie. I’d never been out of Europe except as a well protected 9 yr old going to Florida with the aim of seeing Mickey Mouse. I was also nervous because so far I’d only met Colin and Geoff who’d be going and they’re both, well, a lot older than me!

Conditions of the trip were that I raised £1100 from fundraising and £300ish of my own money for the safari element. To raise this I had a raffle in the Hollybush Inn in Greenhaugh, Northumberland, just before Christmas. This involved a rather large Christmas cake that my great auntie had made, a bottle of whisky and a bottle of redwine. The response from a pub that probably only has about 100 locals, most of whom I’m either related to or went to school with, was amazing.

Next came a meal, auction and music at Riverdale Hall Hotel in Bellingham,, where I used to work. Local people donated some wonderful items to be auctioned, Riverdale provded a great menu and it was 3 courses for £15 with half of that going straight into the funds. Dan Walsh and I provided musical entertainment and it was a great night.

I then held a raffle for the Silvers. A round of Golf for 4 people at Bellingham Golf Club, a bottle of Glenfiddich and a tin of Roses chocolates. Not everyone’s cup of tea but so kind and generous anyway. I was really taken aback by the support from everyone.

The weekend of January 18th was the first time I was going to meet everyone that was going on the trip. We had a training weekend up in Niarn in Scotland. It was also my Birthday on the Saturday...

I arrived at Geoff’s house to get a lift up and was greeted by Ann and Leanne. Now seems like a sensible time for a team list!

In age order:
Ewan Diven 22 Retained fire fighter in East Lothian and Carpenter
Kathryn Davidson 23 Community Musician and St John first aider
Leanne Ingram 23 Fire fighter, control, West Yorkshire (call 999 in W.Yorks & get Leanne talking- but never unless you need it)
Steven Bosworth 32 Fire Service Watch Manager in Edinburgh
Andrew Brodie 37 Fire Service Watch Manager in London (and Cumbria)
Mike White 40ish Fire Fighter, Highlands and Islands
Cathie Way 45ish Army cadet trainer, first aid trainer and works for fire service
Ann Hazel 50ish Communtiy Fire Safety Officer, Darlington
Geoff Breeden 55ish chair of charity, retired fire fighter
Colin Watson 60ish Retired spy, policeman, general wonderman and my new (fake) Granda

Well look at that! There’s people my age! hurrah!!

After a trek of a drive we arrived in Nairn and got settled in. On the Saturday I got sung to approx. a million times and I learnt an awful lot obout Fire Safety. I also got videoed by Ewan (our resident camera man) as I wrote new words (and actions) to some well known songs, making them relate to fires, and Africa! That night we went to a ceilidh that Cathie had organised to raise funds. Scottish ceilidhs are different...there’s no Ewan and I were in high demand as we were the only ones that knew what to do! Then some big mouth told them it was my they sang, and then red-faced and sweaty from dancing, I sang back at them. Mike had appeared by this point (he was on 24 hour call and could only get cover for about 4 hours) and so had Stevie. Stevie had been doing a 56 mile bike ride to raise his! He did not want to dance!!

The weekend was really useful for getting to know everyone and that we’d be teaching. Leanne and I clicked straight away, it was really good to know I wasn’t the bairn of the group too. Meeting Andy was fab because he was to be my partner for all the teaching while we were away.

After that weekend there was only excitement.

February 12th snuck up very very fast. I’d squeezed as much as possible into my cases...approx 700 pencils, three sterile medi-packs, 45 sterile needles and syringes, a St John packed first aid kit and...

36 imodium tablets
350 1 litre water purification tablets
24 sachets of rehydration stuff
32 ibuprofen
32 paracetamol
20 senecot tablets...

Ready for anything! On top of that I had clothes, books, music, recording devices, a UKULELE, tin whistles, shakey eggs....

Dad picked me up and took me to the airport where we met Geoff, Ann and Colin (the Newcastle flight group). Off we went into departures with no tears!!...the flight was delayed...when we arrived at Heathrow the rest of the flight were asked to remain seated while passangers with tight connections (on flights that only fly twice a week) tried to make their planes. We not only made it to terminal 4 but met everyone and had time for a quick pint!

The flight was fine, a watched Attonment, Stardust and half of Rattatouille (sp) and was utterly shattered when we touched down in was RAINING....RAINING!!!!!

We were met by our Mityanan coordinator Joseph, Rhoda and some drivers. We drove to Kampala (this was a good road thanks to the Queen (and Alan Shearer) having planned their visits just ahead of ours). Kampala is amazing. I’ve never witnessed traffic quite like it. Bicycles piled ten foot high with mattresses, bags of rice, anything! Mutatoos (legally seating 8 - normally seating about 14 taxi busses) containing tens of people, with luggage pilled on the roof, dust everywhere. markets on the roadside with amazing varieties of fruit and veg that I’d never seen before.

We had lunch in a hotel in Kampala before heading down the road to Mityana. Geoff had said 3/4 of an hour and a half later we arrived in Mityana, a little bashed and scared from the drive but feeling a lot more like we’d seen more of what Uganda was. The countryside was beautiful and green, huge hills and deep valleys, banana plants everywhere. Children wearing not many clothes just walking along the road as we swerved and braked to miss the foot deep potholes. Cathie (who’s worked as a road safety officer) found this, teamed with no seat belts, quite difficult to get her head around to begin with.

Mityana is a town but also a district. The district has roughly the same population as Northumberland. The town is made up of tiny shop after tiny shop selling the widest variety of things. Behind the main street is the market where the cows legs hang from the stalls through the heat of the day, the chipatis are cooked fresh in front of you and I’ve still no idea what those fruits are. The hotel we were staying in was called The New Highway Hotel. It was owned by a local man called John who welcome us. It was different to how I expected it to be. The room I was in not only was a 3/4 bed with fully intact mosquito net but a SHOWER and western toilet. The only thing I really cared about was the toilet and the mosquito net so this was pretty special.

I’d been told my shower would even give hot water (!) which it did on the first night so after I’d had one Stevie borrowed it and then we had dinner. The food varied. If you eat Ugandan food then it’s lovely. Granted, the chicken is lucky if it has any chicken on it but it’s generally tasty and filling. They have mashed plantain (boiled savoury (green) banana). This is called Mutoki and the bananas are steamed in banana leaves and then mashed. It’s alright as long as it’s got a sauce with it. The spicy vegetables were really nice as was the chicken stew. It took us a while but we realised that to have this sort of food we had to order it in the morning ready for the night time. By the time we realised this and got a system worked out it was nearly time to leave...
The other food (bar snacks as they called it) were things like chips, "sausages", omlettes, battered talapia. This was hard. Basically we were eating rubbish. In Uganda this sort of food is a treat (an expensive treat) and they though this would be what we wanted. It took me until the second week in April to be able to have chip shop chips again! Breakfast was good. I eventually got settled into a routine. Fresh fruit at breakfast was always a must. Pineapple that has just been pulled from the bush, mango that’s just fallen off the tree, pawpaw, banana, passion fruit and water melon. mmmmm!!!

The first few days were settling in, meeting the local important people and being told how much we were welcome and honoured. To us it was an honour being there. Funny story...Geoff decided that after meeting the distrct council (very important) we had time to drive to a fishing village, have a look, say hello and be back in time for lunch. Off we went in the cars:

The white car - Like a very frail older person. Needed some tlc and was a bit worn out from a lifetime of hardwork. tended to stall
The Pajero - like a teenager. Didn’t like getting started on a morning, had more bark than bite
The green car - a very handsome 20something year old man. In his prime, blacked out windows, lots of bark, even more bite, AIRCONDITIONED!

Colin was driving the white car in the lead, we followed in the pajero and the green car brought up the rear...we drove through what was soooo not a road, it was the forest, and evenually came to be able to see the lake of the fishing village...when the white car just stopped. Out we all jump as colin explains he’s....RUN OUT OF PETROL!!!

When we finally got teaching it was wonderful. Heart breaking, hard work, fun, breath taking, dirty fun! Frida was Andy and I’s translator. She’s 20 and completed her A-levels just before we arrived. She hopes to study law, fall in love with a handsome white man and be able to support her Mun who is very poor. The first school we went to we saw around 70 children in the first class and 70 in the second. We did the lesson outside with the children sitting on the grass. Believe it or not I was very shy! At this point I wasn’t comfortable with my fire safety knowledge but Andy was a really good person to learn from. For lunch we decided to stay in the village we were in and have local food. Andy took two girls out for lunch and it cost him £1.50 total. This was for 3 meals which non of us could finish. Mutoki, rice and beans and a meat stew. It was really nice. The aim had been to not have to drive the road back to the hotel but I reaaaaaaally needed the toilet...

Schools varied a lot. In the three weeks we were there we saw over 10,000 children and that’s a conservative estimate. We also saw womens groups and councils.

In the news this week has been an article about 19 school children killed in Uganda because their dormitory was locked from the outside and they had no way to get out when fire took hold. This is the norm. It’s not done as neglect, nor is it as a punishment. It is simply for the childrens own safety. Children use candles both wax and parafin to see with and these fall over very easily.

Andy used to tell two stories when we were teaching:

Mityana: Last year in Miyana a lady came home from work and put her two children to bed. Her husband had died the previous year from AIDS. The lady was very tired and sat down to read her book. The parafin candle was resting on the arm of her chair. As she fell asleep the candle was knocked over and the burning parafin spilt only the chair, mat and curtains. The lady woke up, panicked and ran from the house. Only when she was outside did she remember about her two children asleep in the house. She tried to re-enter the house but the fire was too strong. Both the children died.

England: Andy often teaches fire safety in schools and one day taught a 9 yr old called Michaela about what to do in case of a fire in her home, exactly the same message we were teaching to Ugandan children. A few weeks later Michaela woke up coughing and realised her house was on fire. She spred her blankets on the floor and crawled to the door, she touched the handle and it was hot so she knew not to open the oor as the fire was behind it. She crawled and woke her brother up and at the same time shouted FIRE FIRE FIRE as loud as she could, to wake their mum up. Michaela and her brother crawled to the window and opened it to get frest air. Her brother managed to fall out of the window and back into the fire through the door below. Michaela then jumped out of the window, broke one ankle, sprained the other. She crawled back into the fire and dragged her little brother out. All three members of that family survived because Michaela knew what to do.

In fact we don’t tell people to ever go back in but we also appreciate that anyone, not least a 9yr old, would probably risk their own life going back in if they could, to save a family members life.

We used the first story to show what people in Mityana did, and how dangerous it was. Also highlighting that they did not, until now, know any better. The second story showed what they would know.

We had some proper little characters in the schools. Andy had a telent, especally in secondary schools, for picking the cooloest, hunkiest kid in the school and getting him to demonstrate STOP, DROP and ROLL for when your clothes catch fire. This proved a true hit, and if the children were distracted before, they weren’t now!

We also taught first aid to womens groups. This was brilliant. The women were really open and wanted to learn. We’d taken a resusitation Annie with us, and a baby - both black. They were hilarious! We found that nose bleeds, burns and snake bites were the highest priority. We had a lot of fun teaching those ladies.

Some of the places we went were very very poor. Schools often gave the children porridge at around 10am because the chances were that they had not eaten anything yet.

We visited one school and asked about the rates of HIV in schools. The head teacher said that within the 50 or so children in front of us, twelve were HIV positive. There’s a nationwide scheme in place at the moment called PIACY which is about HIV and AIDS education, sexual abuse and domestic abuse education. It starts quite young and is a great scheme because it allows children to know that it’s ok to hug a person with HIV, it’s ok to still love and care about them and be friends.

The message hasn’t managed to infiltrate everyone yet though. Mityana has a club! On valentines night we all got dressed up and headed there. The first thing the lads noticed was that there was no fire exit (once a fire fighter...). We danced our hearts out and slowly our numbers dwindled so that there was only the "young-uns" left. Stevie and I were dancing next to other people and a man turned around and said "mazungo (white person), don’t dance with her (the girl next to us), she’s infected. Stevie’s reply was simply - you can’t catch it from dancing. The message is getting through but still has a long way to go.

After about ten days of teaching we got our holiday! We were picked up by two landrovers and driven 6 hours across the most beautiful landscape that slowly changed from banana plantations into mountains and then to savannahs. We braked to a screeching halt at one point because the drivers had (amazingly) spotted some black and white monkeys in the trees. The safari lodge was quite awesome. We drove through the gates and right in front of us was a live hippo munching on the grass. scary but amazing!!! We all found it quite difficult at the safari lodge. The contrast between where we’d been and where we were was strikingly obvious. We’d gone from being surrounded by love in a community with next to nothing to now being in a posh hotel, surrounded by arrogant and ignorant American, German and British people who could quite easily think that this safari lodge was what real Uganda was like. It was obvious that the staff were used to serving horrible people, I hope we were a nice change for them.

Game drives were well fun! My favourite one was an extra that Leanne and I asked Ishmael if he would do for us. Leanne, Andy and I trekked off in the landrover and very soon we were sitting on the open roof as we drove around looking for some animals. We soon came across a herd of around 30 eliphants, on both sides of the road. There were babies and some very big looking oldies! They are graceful and spell binding animals and we could have sat and watched them for hours. My other two stories from safari were that we trekked through the forest jungle of a canyon for over two hours in search of baboons, monkeys and chimps that Ewan had blatently scared away. We did see some baboons from a distance but as we were travelling back to the lodge there was a troop of baboons just wandering down the road! Happy as Larry walking along. Typical! The other story was that I went to bed quite early one night and as I got into bed I could hear a munching sound...Leanne was in the bar and I was a little confused. I looked out of the window onto the porch and there, no more than 3 metres away, was a hippo eating it’s dinner. I didnt know what to do, stay inside and be safe or take every photo I could! By the time Leanne came back (I warned her to be careful!) there were two of naturally we played David Attembrough and made documentaries!!

After the Safari we went back and did three days more teaching before heading back. I’m glad we did because otherwise my last memories would have been of the safari lodge and not the wondeful people and scenery of Mityana.

Readjusting to British life was harder than I thought. Having "malaria" the first week didn’t help...ok, ok, ok, ok it was the flu! There’s an awful lot more to do to help the millions of people in the whole of Africa. As long as we enable them to help themselves. Sustainability is the most important bit.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Sponsored Links