Uganda Project Trip - Part II

Joe and Elaine Griswold, founders and directors of RPU and MSA

 Tuesday February 26th:

On this project, we’re working with an organization in Uganda called Tree of Life Ministries, which partners with a USA-based ministry called Real Partners Uganda (RPU) in operating a nursery and primary school called the Mustard Seed Academy (MSA). Having been started 4 years ago by a couple from New Jersey, Joe & Elaine Griswold, who were touched by the poor quality of education they encountered unintentionally while on a tourist trip to Uganda, the school is now home to 285 primary school students and 160 nursery school students. While a 3-acre site has been purchased and is being developed for the nursery school, the primary school is still held on a small, poorly equipped site that is leased.

The temporary classrooms where MSA now meets.
 
With the growing numbers and success of the school, the ministry has now purchased a few plots of land nearby totaling 11 acres and has asked EMI to come master plan and design a new primary school and secondary school to begin to move the school into for this coming school year. With their lease expiring on their primary school site at the end of the year, the ministry hopes to have a large classroom building built by the end of the year to move the school into starting in February 2014.

The MSA primary students praying at the end of their school
day. The temporary classroom buildings can be seen behind.

So back to the trip, this morning we finally got to do our programming meeting with the ministry in the morning, and then the surveyor went out and did the boundary survey. We have the blessing of using an RTK GPS survey station on this project, which is a first for me. This piece of equipment can cost nearly $20,000 new, but this is a slightly older model that was donated to us by a company in Canada that knew one of the East Africa office staff members. I walked around with the surveyor as his official ‘hacker’ – which is to say, I carried a ‘panga’ (an African machete) around and cut down some small eucalyptus trees that were blocking him from getting a reading. Eucalyptus trees are very easy to cut down (it only took 2 whacks to bring down a 3” trunk, and not more than a dozen whacks to bring down a 6” trunk with a 20+ foot tree towering above). But nevermind the efficiency of the panga, it made me feel pretty manly to be out downing trees. (By the way, lest anyone think I was needlessly ‘murdering’ innocent trees, eucalyptus trees are an ‘introduced’ species in Africa that can actually damage the surrounding ecosystem. They suck up water like few trees can, and they grow like weeds and tend to choke out other species. The ministry plans to get rid of them on the site anyway, and reintroduce native species.)
Cutting down the trees - I suppose it would look a bit more
impressive if I'd had to remove my backpack to fall the tree.
I can assure you though, it took extreme manly qualities to
chop these trees down... but I was able to do it anyway.


Who wouldn't want a picture with
a friendly foreigner carrying around
a huge knife?
By the end of the day, I was feeling the effects of the heat after a long day in the sun. Apparently, I’m out of practice from being in the UK - my pale white skin serving as sufficient visual confirmation of that.



A beautiful forest...of non-indigenous species.
One other notable thing from the day, I was reading my bible during a brief break in the action (I honestly don’t do that very often, just open my bible and read it for a short spell in the middle of the day), and I came across a very familiar verse in Psalm 51 (verses 10-12). In fact, it was made into a song by Keith Green many years ago – “Create in me a pure heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence, or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Now I have listened to that song many times through the years, but to my knowledge/memory I haven’t really taken notice of the meaning of these verses before. This time however, when I read this passage, I felt it immediately spoke to me in a couple of ways. Firstly, a pure heart for God is something that should produce joy, and God wants us to live in that joy. And second, it takes a willing spirit to be able to experience that joy. Sometimes when I come on trips, I can get very task-oriented and focused on the project, and during any down time I tend to just think about Alisha and the boys back home and start missing them and feeling sorry for myself, waiting to return home. But on this trip thus far, I have really felt a strong sense that I’m to live in the moment, and not think beyond the day I’m living.
Setting up the equipment on site...

I realize that probably sounds very basic to most people, but when I am separated from my family on these trips I sometimes have to battle a dark, inner struggle with missing them and just wanting to get back to them and our ‘normal’ life (ha – normal!). Of course I am able to hide it and still function as a team leader, and I sincerely doubt anyone could know from the outside that such a battle was raging on the inside, but it’s definitely a struggle I wrestle with on project trips. This time though, I really wanted it to be different.
Surveyor Adam and his captive audience. If you ever want to
draw a crowd in Africa, just set up some fancy equipment.

Very fancy equipment - the RTK GPS station.
Alisha and I talked about this before the trip and it was encouraging to come to realize that sometimes, talking and communicating with home a lot during a trip can make it harder on both of us. So this trip, we decided that I should really focus on only the day I was living and not worry as much about contacting home, and in doing so, to have joy despite the struggle. Seeing this verse was a good reminder and confirmation that God was leading us to keep that mindset. Fortunately, the miracle of the iPhone allows us to iMessage all  over the world, so while contact was reduced, we could still get a message to each other when necessary.

And I have to say, thus far, for this trip, it has been much easier to be ‘here’ than it normally is. I hope I can keep it up - one day at a time.
Heading out to setup for the survey

Thursday February 28th:

Yes, I know I’ve skipped a day. But I think I’m going to be changing the format here and just report on trip highlight and/or lowlights. It feels more interesting to me than a chronology. But catching up to the present, we had our first presentation back to the ministry after the architects came up with an initial master plan scheme.  The ministry absolutely loved it! It was clear that our architectural team was very skilled and had done an excellent job of planning out the site.

However, right before the meeting, Rob and I (Rob is a volunteer architect in the UK office for this year, and a good friend) had a discussion about the site being over-programmed and crowded. One thing that is unusual about this site is that it is split into two, with a piece of land between that is not theirs. Rob and I discussed and ultimately presented to the ministry that we felt it was important for many reasons that they acquire the land between their two sites.  They had previously tried to purchase it, but the landowner, sensing that some westerners were planning a big project, raised his price to absurd levels.

We advised them of the many concerns that we saw with not having the land: they would have to provide double utility services since there would be no way to connect water, power or sewer lines across; the potential exists for a neighbor to move in and build something they wouldn’t want near their site (some past examples I’ve seen happen are a mosque, pig farm and noisy retail and nightclub buildings; there would be security concerns and challenges with having to secure two separate sites; the master plan as they want it ultimately doesn’t really fit on the site, and thus there will be a loss of program.
(L to R) Architects Tim, Rob and Jana work away on a master
plan scheme to present to the ministry.

They heard our concerns and said they would think and pray about what to do. Then this morning, I went out to their apartment to meet with them and they confirmed that they had contacted their board back in the US and all agreed to pursue purchasing the land in between. It meant that our preliminary master plan would need to change, but overall it was a relief as it gave us more space and flexibility to work with.
Meeting with the ministry leaders to present the master plan.

One interesting thing that the ministry is doing this week while we’re here is to finally be able to test their current students for HIV/AIDS. The results from the first day of testing the nursery school students was not perfect, but was very good and significantly lower than the positive rate in this region of Uganda, which has one of the highest rates in the country. They were generally happy with the news, and any students who may have been positive can begin treatment soon. And, with the drugs for treating HIV having improved so much in recent years, the prognosis is actually fairly good.
One interesting, and somewhat disheartening thing about that though is that the fear of contracting HIV has diminished in the region. Since the medications for treating HIV/AIDS have improved so much, it's not necessarily viewed as a death sentence to test positive anymore. So in regards to changing risky behaviours, it's actually becoming a new obstacle in the fight against the spread of AIDS in Africa.
The students head down the road, single file, to the testing center.
Part of me was sad to see it, but at the same time, it was a good
thing that they would find out and be given treatment if necessary.

Happy, though clearly not understanding what they're there for.

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