Don's Diary

May 4, 2001

Weekend one
Arrive in Jinja, Uganda, with colleague Phil Johnson and 15 undergraduates for the first stage of a field class and development aid partnership with the National Teachers' College in Kaliro. Students are shocked by the poverty. Wonder whether the donated books and computers have arrived. Visit research organisations on Lake Victoria, hydropower scheme on the Nile and a forest eco-tourism project. Fascinating, but pretty tame. A contrast to Kaliro, where the legacy of devastation from the Amin regime lives on through wrecked buildings, lack of safe water and electricity and a teaching farm with only chickens and no equipment. Get a very warm welcome that includes lots of singing and dancing. The computers are stuck in customs.

Week one
Local student projects start with enthusiastic support from our hosts. Talk to the community officer, mayor, farmers, teachers and pupils. With one student ill, start my own research on drinking water quality. The computers are finally liberated and students sweat until midnight unpacking and installing 19 machines. No power - the poles have toppled into the swamps after heavy rain - so training begins with naming of parts. Some of us visit remote Lake Kyoga to talk to fishermen. Our expedition is joined by an excited, laughing band from Kaliro. Dugout travel is especially popular - thankfully without trouble from crocodiles.

Weekend two
A five-hour "cultural extrava-ganza" involving drumming, singing, dancing, whistles and astonishing costumes. One dance celebrates (male) circumcision. Most others seem fertility-related. We manage a credible performance ourselves, to an audience of about 600 adults, 300 children and 150 bats. The video will show all. Health and safety drops off the agenda, but Phil and I prove that you don't have to be under 25 to survive 18km of terrifying class 5 (extreme) whitewater rafting down the Nile cataracts. An interesting cultural experience, too, brokered by bronzed, laid-back Antipodean instructors.

Week two
Power is back. All systems go with the Kaliro ICT training and the student research. Demand from Ugandan colleagues is almost overwhelming, but our students tackle the vast numbers with good humour. Men are sent from the ministry in Kampala to discuss my preliminary hydrological findings - local boreholes are contaminated from pit latrines. Insomnia strikes me at 3am in the Forest Exploration Centre at Mount Elgon, where we have been joined unexpectedly by 70 members of Nature Uganda. Food supplies have been rather elusive, vegetarian students objecting to purchase of live chickens. I walk round the moonlit compound listening to rainforest noises, vomiting (one student only) and chat. Think about the long hike out in the morning, a meeting requested by the permanent secretary for water in Kampala and whether the learning outcomes are matched by the assessment tasks.

Carolyn Roberts is head of the School of Environment, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.

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