Thank you Uganda

IMAG5879-001A little over a month ago I returned from my observational project with The Great Generation (TGG) in Uganda.  A trip that allowed me to give freely of my skills and talents because of your financial support.  This blog is my update and an open letter of gratitude to those who contributed financially and emotionally to my journey to Uganda.

24% of the population in Uganda lives on less than $2 per day. They lack skills, business know-how and the market knowledge to build and sustain success and achieve significant results. What they do have is motivation and a desire for change in their lives. I was exposed to people living in basic conditions with limited access to clean water and sanitation, I got to meet ordinary people with passion and determination who have created services and infrastructure to support their communities.  Personally I had the privilege of participating in a number of entrepreneurship sessions in Kampala, supporting the creation and delivery of a five day residential teaching forum in a rural district in Uganda as well as experiencing this stunning country.IMAG6569TGG creates experiential learning programmes to bring expensive and hard to access business expertise to communities with limited resources, to  challenge and transcend norms and assumptions and to stimulate fresh thinking for future creativity.  Your donation was key to ensuring that I was able go to Uganda to experience the work of TGG. The outcome is that I am now the first entrepreneurial associate eligible to support transformational leadership projects intended to enhance entrepreneurial capacity building in Uganda and in turn foster creative thinking and innovation for established multi-nationals and corporate executives.

The first week of my trip was spent working directly with a number of local partners in Kampala; many of these partners emerged from the HIV/AIDS crisis as health care centres and clinics. Although close to quarter of the population is impacted by HIV/AIDS, and in many places whole generations are decimated, the availability of retrovirals has completely changed the quality of life for patients and the new challenge is to empower people to proactively live rather than wait to die.Until recently of TGG partners were funded by charitable donations but the global recession and the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 has seriously undermined cash flow.  This challenge has been turned into an opportunity as TGG and their partners are now choosing to focus on sustainability, the social enterprise model, capacity building and entrepreneurship.  Among other things the sessions we ran in August were used:
* to evaluate the appropriateness of a multi-national proposal for a new product pilot
* to design a new process to provide continuity of support for TGG partners
* to host a charismatic presentation from Charles Ocici, the head of Enterprise Uganda – a weaver of sound bits and inspiriational stories
IMAG5934What I observed is a huge enthusiasm for the concept of entrepreneurship in the face of a charity based legacy.   This is true not just for the partners and their beneficiaries but also TGG volunteers and the corporate organisations we spoke to.  TGG has over 8 years of experience in Uganda and many fantastic relationships.  One of the most exciting things I witnessed was the impact of putting the Ugandan head of a Teacher’s Training College in touch with Dr Hilda Mary Tadria, tge formidable Ugandan founder of a MEMPROW, a female empowerment programme.  In the space of 45 minutes these two woman, through a TGG faciliated introduction, agreed to incorporate a coaching programme for girls into the teacher’s education curriculum.
I got to see how an on the ground project nurtures leadership during the second two weeks of my trip to Uganda as I stepped in to support 12 volunteer UK teachers who travelled to Buikwe (on the shores of Lake Victoria between Kampala & Jinga) to create a 5 day residential forum for 150 local teachers.  This is a particularly deprived area where teachers, schools and pupls have been underperforming.
IMAG5953The 1st Buikwe Teachers’ Forum was created in 5 days. We worked directly with the Department of Education and were featured on National TV and in the Ugandan newspapers.  I was able to use coaching and training skills to focus on the synergy of our team and to keep us on track to set of powerful end results.  My love of structure came in handy to design a survey to collect data on the opportunities for entrepreneurship in schools so they can become self supporting and therefore inspire students to be self supporting.  We had overwhelming support for the survey and receive alot of data still to be analysed. A common goal across all the schools is to provide a meal a day for the children, there was good evidence of agricultural experimentation but no overarching support or understanding of the cycle of business.  The data we collected was handed over to the ASDHI, the Ugandan partner who initiated the education forum, to decide where they to focus attention moving forwards.   The forum was a huge success for everyone involved but there is a line to be walked between hand out and hand up.  There are plans to run a yearly forum and the intention of TGG will be to move towards an event that is sustainable locally and is an integration of Ugandan and external expertise empowering teachers and schools to realise their potential.
IMAG6563I was challenged by the working environment and the ambitious goals for the three week trip but I was transformed by the passion and heart of TGG volunteers, touched by the generosity and spirit of the Ugandan people and brought to tears by the acapella farewell on our last day. One of my loves is photographic reportage and I attach a link to an album I created of the trip https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152690212714104&type=1&l=4f6f7da627
The work to do on the ground is overwhelming but I am reminded of Mother Theresa who said we cannot do great things on this earth but only small things with great love. The donations I received allowed me to pour my love into this one small project.

With love and gratitude.

Spring Camino 2014: A Tale Of Two Caminos

IMAG1117-2I met Dan McCarthy when I was walking the Camino Francais from the Spanish border with Spain to Santiago De Compostela in October 2012.  Dan was back in 2013 and guested the Spring Camino blogs here in 2013.   He has just returned from his most recent walk this time on the Camino Portugese walking from Lisbon north through Portugal to eventually cross the border with Spain and walk into Galicia to Santiago.  Dan’s yearly commitment astounds and humbles me, not least because he will be 80 this year.  He has given me kind persmission to publish his reflections on the differences of these two caminos.  Dan offers “A Camino is in a way a life time in miniature.  It does not lend itself to facile analysis. But here is my effort.

IN MY BEGINNING IS MY END
“In my beginning is my end” says TS Eliot in East Coker, one of his Four Quartets. I happened to be reading East Coker for a discussion group in which I participate and have found several passages which seem to help me to articulate my thoughts about this Camino. I hope TS will forgive me if I totally distort the meaning of his great poetry in bending it to make some sense of my experience.

A first impression of a major difference in the two Caminos, the Camino Francais which I have walked eight times, and the Camino Portuguese is the difference in their beginnings. And I believe that difference colored the whole experience for me.

CAMINO FRANCAIS
The first day or two of the Camino Francais is a 15 mile climb up the northern slope of the Pyrenees to the Monastery of Roncesvalles which commemorates the setting of the eighth century battle of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army which is enshrined in the Song of Roland, an epic poem of the French language. The monastery has been a refuge for pilgrims for close to a thousand years. One of the high points of the stop for me is the Pilgrim Mass at 6PM when the celebrant announces the places around the world from which the pilgrims who arrived that day have come. After Mass The celebrant blesses pilgrims in their native language and then in a darkened Chapel we all sing in Gregorian Chant the Salve Regina.

For the next couple of days pilgrims negotiate a rather steep incline, struggling in places and stopping at a couple of lovely small towns, to arrive at the magnificent walled city of Pamplona.  The pilgrim hostel in Pamplona is across the street from the Cathedral where on Sunday you can attend a Mass sung in Gregorian chant. Leaving Pamplona and arriving in Puente La Reina I stay at a monastery of the Padres Reparadores and attend Mass in the 12th Century church of Santiago.

Two characteristics summarize “my beginning” in the Camino Francais, the spectacular natural beauty of the climb up and down the mountains and the availability of a nourishing liturgical life. In fact I had not reflected on this latter blessing until I thought of the contrast with the Portuguese Camino. Another characteristic of the Camino Francais I should mention is the presence of other pilgrims along the way.  In the early years of my walking usually just a scattered few up ahead or behind, now many more some times too many.  For me all of this creates the aura of THE CAMINO that is palpable.  I have said in the past I experience the Camino as a country 10 yards wide and 500 miles long winding country  across northern Spain. It becomes my land, a place where I feel at home. Much of the Camino Francais is not actually so rich in Liturgical experiences. Churches are often not open and the surroundings are not always so uplifting. But that beginning sense of being at home endures. And the company of other pilgrims who seem to share that same sense of belonging is constant.

CAMINO PORTUGUESE
I am now entering risky territory, a comparison about which I have some strong feelings.  Comparisons are odious. If you are thinking of doing the Camino Portuguese please consult other impressions to form a more objective opinion.

I began walking the Camino Portuguese not from the Cathedral in Lisbon the traditional starting place, but at Moscavide, a suburb of Lisbon about 6 miles into the first stage beyond the beginning at the Cathedral. I took this short cut because I was already getting close to my limit of days to walk. I had taken three days off to visit the Azores and going into Lisbon from the Airport would have cost me another day while Moscavide was five minutes from the airport and had a Youth Hostel on the Camino, although it had no official relationship to the Camino. Also starting 6 miles into the Camino reduced the first day’s walk from 19 miles to 13 miles of city streets through some industrial areas, some picturesque walks along the river Tagus. I stayed that night in a pensao, a B&B with no particular connection to the Camino. I had not seen any pilgrims that day and was the only guest in the B&B. Most of the walk during the first week or so was on city streets or highways

I continued this routine for the next four or five days. No other pilgrims, no signs of any religious institutions, not churches, not monasteries, not albergues and not another pilgrim. The route was flat but long; 18,19 mile days long, staying in pensaos usually the only guest. While there were way marks they only marked where the route turned. I am used to marks frequently along the way and when they disappear I am aware I missed one. The more sparse marking requires much greater vigilance and consequently I got lost several times, once adding about  5 miles to a 19 mile day. Feeling lost began to be the predominant emotion of the walk a vivid contrast with the sense of being at home on the Camino Francais. Once in a wooded area the way marks disappeared entirely because the trees that had been marked had been cut down for some construction. Some workers got me back on the way.

This beginning as you can see turned into an uncomfortable anxious experience. A friend with a Buddhist background reminded me that desire causes suffering. So I began to reflect on what was the desire that was causing this anxiety. At the most superficial level I realized it was my concern about finding a place for the night. When you’ve been walking for six or seven hours with no end in sight incipient panic rises. But in my effort to get these desires under control it dawned on me what a powerful form of ascetism it is to give up your place of rest. It was what Jesus didBut Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20.  The holy men of India are said to sleep by the side of the road. I struggled with the sense of being lost, of not being at home on this. Camino for the rest of my walk. “In my beginning…”.  I never felt at home as I do on the Camino Francais. I do wonder if this anxiety had something to do with my physical problems at the end.

What to do with this feeling of not being at home?  It occurs to me that in a couple of weeks I will complete 80 yrs of age. It’s harder and harder to ignore that I am in the land of seniorhood. And some of this land feels a bit strange. My body is of course weakening and memory is a bit vague at times. My eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be. And hearing is slightly impaired. Was the Portuguese Camino a vivid  introduction to THIS new land? Here are some of T.S. Eliot’s thoughts about the land of seniorhood from East Coker:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning

And
In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

And
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless
IMAG0968ULTREYA and BUEN CAMINO TO ALL

Supporting Business In Uganda

The great generation

IMG-20140424-WA0004I have been invited to Uganda at the end of July to participate in a project with local enterprises and to experience the work of The Great Generation with a view to joining them to expand their training programmes. Part of the experience is to understand the work on the ground and also the fund raising process.  So here I am asking for your help and support.  Every £1 will help but I am personally offering a coaching session for every £100 donated. You can take this session yourself, gift it or add it to my bursary fund.  I will be capturing my experience in Uganda as I go and sharing words, images and end results so that you can see how your contribution helps.

Donate Now

 

 

 

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Eight

DAY FORTY EIGHT: 25 November 2012 Muxia to Santiago de CompostelaIMAG1502 (2)I was sitting on an escarpment in Swaziland in August 2012 when I first saw this pilgrimage; a trail laid out across scrubby, foreign land, a long, long walk leading all the way, I imagined, to the sea and a sailor in a pea green boat.  Over the subsequent months I had followed the clues to arrive in Galacia and I am now curious about this rocky shore the end of the walk.  What would the reality of the metaphor be?  Could my sailor be Miel the policemen from San Sebastian in his high tech fluoro green walking jacket or is it the soul of Ireland on the distant horizon or perhaps something else all together?  What colour is pea green anyway?

I had dinner with Tobias from Denmark after the Marea documentary in Restaurent de La Lolo.  This was the classiest restaurant with a pilgrim menu so far.  Sleek, modern ecletic style more suited to hot Summer days than chilly winter but the heating was on and the staff were pleasant.  The 3 course menu proved to be pleasantly different from the usual pilgrim fare and the wine seemed extra special too. If we weren’t in pilgrim attire we could have been mistaken as a couple; me the cougar and Tobias my toyboy.  Tobias is polite, good company, has great manners and a Colgate smile.  He has a face that will only grow more handsome as he shape shifts into his life whatever that may be.

Miel is Tigger in the morning, eager for breakfast and company but my preference, Restaurent de La Lolo of the night before, doesnt sit well with him.  I hold my ground and have breakfast to my delight on my own.  I am assimilating this trip. I want to savour the last drops of it dripping slowly and honour it’s closure.  A short walk from the town is the headland where the Virgin Mary came to assure Saint James that his mission to convert the population of Fisterra from their pagan worship of the sun had been a success.  I have no intention of being blasphemous but my guess is that Mary was a mistress of metaphor while poor old James was getting all bogged down in the logical reality.  A bit like me and my sailor in his pea green boat.

Mary’s boat is said to be still here, petrified on the headland below the imposing coastal-Gothic style church of Our Lady of The Boat.  I was curious to see it.  Sure enough there are are three huge stones one of which definitely looks like the upturned hull of the boat and another has a look of a sail.  The third stone, supposedly the rudder is a little less convincing.
IMAG1527IMAG1529I suppose it is no surprise that my original curiosity to follow the Camino to the sea was spurred by an imaginary sailor man.  Muxia and Fisterra are fishing ports after all and where there be working boats, there be pleasure yachts and handsome sailors.  Over lunch of whole baby squid, slathered in butter I muse the symbolic currency of this stone boat with the romantic talisman of my imagination.  At the day’s end the boat I left on was a modern day coach, a behemoth of a vehicle muscling its way through the narrow arteries of Galacia’s rural rocky roads back to Santiago de Compostela.  And my companion? Miel in green, both of us passengers back to life.

Highland Main Line Train

IMAG2886
The Highland Main line train siddles out of the cold comfort of Dalwhinnie. In the distance sugar dusted mountains tickled by fluffy low lying cloud, smiled on by the blue eyes of heaven. We trundle by wirey puffs of scrubby heather knitted into the patchwork greens of this bobbly blanket, covering a duvet of bouncy peaty soil. The necklace of pylons and the dinky trucks on the distant roadway wink sparks of winter sun. Scatterlings of light spin off shiny silver bark ruffling the copper mops of autumnal trees. Through the leafy cut, saluted by skinny regiments of pine, ignored by the shawl of afro haired sheep across the fields and the sleepy gaze of one brawny white bull lounger in the soggy bog. Kingussie huddled in a snowy cleavage. We are greeted by the dancing shimmer of white ladies ready to wave us on our way into the Northern light and the call of Inverness.

Travelling the Highland Main Line from Glasgow to Inverness November 2013

Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Forty Seven

DAY FORTY SEVEN: 24 November 2012 Lires to Muxia on the Camino Muxia.IMAG1472I braved the wet, dark rain to eat at As Eiras, sparky with the tatters of community, a smattering of pilgrims. Designed for efficiency rather than warmth and comfort, it would be a quick visit on this dreary November night before repairing to the warmth and comfort of my stone walled room in Casa Luz.  I had never been sick on this Camino, not a hint of a cold or the gyrations of a dicky tummy but in the morning when I woke I felt an angst and nervousness in my bowels.  It didnt feel like anything I had eaten more about the impending unknown and not so much the unknown of the path from Lires to Muxia but the unknown of life after the Camino.  This was my last day of walking.  It was a strange to experience my body crumple in fright about the expansiveness of life opening up again.  Rationally that excites me but my reptilian brain screams no; I am reminded of tandem hang gliding in Rio De Janerio, I was so excited to do it, to float in the air captured against the back drop of the famous Sugar Loaf.  Once strapped in my instruction was to power through my legs and run off the cliff.  In my mind I did.  When I heard the instructor’s ‘fuck’ and the plummet as the cliff edge disappeared I was surprised.  Witnesses later told me that I ran about two steps and my legs crumpled, my knees glancing the ground as we plunged over the edge. My body sabotaged my brain.  Fortunately my co-pilot was a hero so I am still here to tell the tale.

The remnants of rain were all around; sodden earth, dripping wires, saturated hedges, happy puddles but the rain clouds were gone and the sky wiped into a fresh powder blue.  It was Saturday, a white washing day and less than 15 kms to Muxia. Stepping out I felt alone in the world, like it was all mine so I was a little miffed when a jaunty walker, more like an SAS militia man stomped into the vicinity with gusto and bravado.  At the pace he was travelling I was consoled that he would breeze through my bubble with the minimum of interference.  I was wrong, like a moon trapped in my orbit I wasnt able to shake off Miel for two days.  He was a boisterous bouncing puppy of a man from San Sebastian.  He had the raspy tones of Asear, the cabellero I met in Bar La Pena, Rabe but any charisma was drowned out by  neediness to connect and be connected. It didnt surprise me to find out he was a policemen, I was more surprised to discover he was a garrulous companion who spoke no English; he muffled and mumbled and swallowed his words. I was grateful to realise that although I wasnt going to shake him off he didnt need me to participate in the conversation.  He had the innocent glad heartedness and delight of honey – which is what I thought his name was until he checked into the hostel and I saw that it in writing – Miguel.

Miguel’s spirit nudged mine to soar a little and there was a rush of pleasure on the last stretch of this Camino through the long strand of the fishing village.  I dont know if it was the weather or Miguel but Muxia was positively spruce and stylish compared to Fisterra, less world weary and more magical.  I had decided that I wanted to stay at the new hostel Albergue Bela Muxia and for a half an hour or so I thought I had lost Miguel.  He didnt want to walk to the farthest end of town or pay the premium rate for this new designer hostel.  Sometimes I cant explain why I want to stay or eat somewhere that I have never been or have a personal recommendation for but there are times when an inexplicable certainty wills me beyond my normal thresholds.  I am drawn towards rustic, cosy, budget but Bela Muxia is more modern, corporate and market rates.  Bizarre.  As it turned out I loved the open hearted welcome, my private cubby hole of a bunk with personal locker, light and charging points.  The personal touch was incongruous in this space designed for efficiency and business.  I was aware that I was a customer but it that was conveyed in the nicest possible way and I couldnt resist the garish pink and blue Bela Muxia octopus t-shirt and my leather camino bracelet.  I could feel the bubble of delight rising in me a realisation that I had done it, I had walked the Caminos de Santiago, Fisterra and Muxia.  Or perhaps it was because there was Miguel again, jaunty and happy to see me.  We are captured for posterity in the Bela Muxia hall of fame.IMAG1533I still had to walk down to Punta da Barca (Boat Point) and check for the sailor in the pea green boat (as opposed to the hiker in the pea green jacket!) from the dream that first called me to this journey, but that is a journey for the morrow.  Right now it is a dash to the local community hall for a showing of Marea a documentary about the impact of the sinking of The Prestige Oil tanker of 2002 and the volunteer response.  Muxia was ground zero.  The documentary is in Spanish but this is a sociable event; people are here to see themselves on screen, to remember, relive and to celebrate solidarity.

Easy Magic

IMAG2774From Inverness to Luton flown back to reality by Airbus. Like sardines we wait with bated breathe in the Easybus in Luton airport. Our driver in what look like a WWII fur lined flying cap, morphs in to our cabin crew and pauses for our attention. Put on your seat belts he orders, “I THINK we are going to Baker Street” he announces to our nervous giggles. There is a feeling of magic about, if our driver is not sure of our destination what could be possible! Tea with The Queen, Saturday afternoon footie at Upton Park, crumpets on The Strand or a matinee performance in Covent Garden? The seed of doubt he plants lingers in my imagination and I am transported across the frosty fields to the land of Mary Poppins and Peter Pan. Tripping to Baker Street has never been more exciting and it reminds me that the magic is always up there if I care to look.  It is only when I choose not to see it that it isnt there.