We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunrise over the misty valley that surrounds Kampala. As the capital of Uganda, Kampala has a population of over 2 million and a massive wealth disparity. Driving towards our first program activity, we passed gated communities only blocks away from tiny houses made of sheet metal.
As we drove through the center of Kampala, we discovered that the traffic is even wilder than it was on our bumpy ride from the airport the night before. In Canada we complain if the Lions Gate Bridge is a little clogged up, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Lines in the road tend to be ignored, women walk through the traffic with fruit on their heads, Boda Boda motorbikes pass cars with an inch of space at most, and Evangelicals stand on busy corners preaching the word of God.
We are never short of things to look at out of our bus windows, with vibrant storefronts and sidewalks bustling with street vendors. We are told about the divide of wealth along the road that we are slowly fighting our way along, and we slowly start to shift into a poorer area of Kampala, the Bwaise slum.
When we arrive, we are welcomed at the Bwaise Youth Employment Centre run by AFFCAD, an NGO that works within the slum on various initiatives. We take a tour of their center and visit vocational skill classes in session with local youth learning skills like IT basics, graphic design and electrical engineering.
We are then welcomed with a performance of drums and traditional dancing, and our captivation quickly turns to embarrassment when we are invited up to join. We are given some matching skirts and get right in there, with an embarrassing lack of rhythm but we had an absolute ball!
After our welcome dance, we begin our walk through the Bwaise slum. We walk along dirty alleyways, meet hundreds of children, and even visit a home. Most of the people living in Bwaise don’t own their land, because it technically belongs to the King, and the streets are full of garbage and rotting food. It shocks many of us to see poverty so close for the first time, and we are overwhelmed by the amount of children who are so eager to come hold our hands and give us high fives.
We stop at one of AFFCAD’s initiatives, a prepaid water pump with key cards that the slightly better off residents can purchase to release clean drinking water. Many other people in Bwaise are forced to drink from the canal that runs through the slum, which is full of marshy, brown water with patches of fungus floating down it.
We learn about AFFCAD’s Give a Girl a Future program, helping girls to leave the sex trade and find sustainable employment, and continue on through the streets until we meet a woman named Joyce. She was incredibly welcoming and shook each of our hands individually, and continued to welcome some of us into her home.
Inside, her daughter was lying in a tiny dark room and got up to tell us how welcome we were, and introduced herself. She told us that she has recently been diagnosed HIV+, and that this was her rest time, so she lay back down. After spending most of our morning smiling and meeting cute children, this was a sudden reminder of the darker side of poverty that we had momentarily forgotten.
We continued through Bwaise and ended up at a primary school run by AFFCAD. Our visit is short but sweet; we are swarmed by kids who want to teach us clapping games and show us their classes, but have to keep going after a meeting with the principal. We end our visit at a store that sells some of the clothes made by the students of the youth employment center, providing them with income.
We have a quick lunch at the BYEC, and head out to a mall in central Kampala to exchange our money and get some snacks. The contrast between the slum and this high-class mall is striking. We end up in a western-style frozen yogurt place that looks almost identical to Menchies, and the disparity that Kampala faces becomes very apparent.
After a long, hot day we head back to the Red Chili and cool off in the pool, watching the sunset as we discuss the day. The culture shock has been a lot for our first day, but we can’t wait for the next!
Olivia Berkowitz, West Vancouver Secondary School
Next up is Day 2: Sawa World and a Craft Market