Forward Progress

July 24, 2009

Hoima Bike MkIWith the successful fabrication of our first Hoima-Bike, we have moved into testing, production, and marketing for the idea. The first bike taught us a great deal about design and the processes it takes to not only build the bike, but build it right. It has highlighted our biggest issue: how much money do we put into the bicycle? This is important because while we do not want to compromise in quality, the more money we put into the bicycle the further away from a low sale price we drift. If we cannot make this bicycle to compete with the extremely cheap Asian imports (sale price no higher than $110), then we are missing the very target group for whom the bicycle was designed.MkII Weld
Another large issue is that of components to fit out the frame. Standard western bicycle components are not available here in large quantities. The only other option is to turn to the Indian importers who produce and provide repair parts for the current bottom self bicycles here in Uganda. I believe the only answer is to find a way to import boxes of the parts from western companies like Ritchey and Shimano so we have not only steady supply, but a standard of components with which to design the bicycle around.
On the marketing side of things, we are in the middle of the 17th Annual Agriculture and Trade show here in Jinja. Among all the other services and products BSPW provides, we have a Hoima bike display and demonstration of welding.Hoima Bike Display The public has responded to the bicycle very well and it draws large crowds. We get constructive criticisms, commitments to purchasing the finished product, and lots of thumbs up! I have also made good connections with academics who I plan to set up meetings to pursue collaboration with university students here in Uganda who can help with structural testing and design input. This is extremely attractive to me as it encourages greater Ugandan participation in the design and implementation of a bicycle factory. It is my hope that they can take it over and make it their own.

East Africa Watersports

July 24, 2009

I have been occupying my free time here in Uganda between 4th of July barbeques, canoe and kayak outings on the Nile and Lake Victoria, and playing with the two little devils who lives with us known as Diana and Rafiki.Heavy D
Rafiki
We organized a American independence day party here at my house on Muvule Crescent. I hired my friend (and favorite chicken man) Collin to come to my house a bbq-cater for the party. The afternoon was complete with a mixed crowd of Ugandans, Europeans, Americans, and even a homemade badminton set!

I have found one of the best ways to enjoy the environment here in East Africa at a low cost is to rent a fisherman’s canoe for the day and go exploring. All you have to do is meet their income for the day (around 10,000 or $5) and the canoe is yours.Nile Dock While I have enjoyed this in Lake Bunyonyi in the south and Lake Kivu in Rwanda, it is something I can find myself doing on a lazy Sunday right here in Jinja. We go to just above the dam where we get a dugout or handmade canoe and paddle it up the Nile, past the source, and out into Victoria. Sometimes we even manage to catch a few fish!Lake Bunyonyi Island View

As many of you know, I am an aspiring whitewater kayaker. Last Saturday I got my chance to test myself on the Nile. The stretch of whitewater that runs 40 km north from where the Owen Falls Dam blocks the Nile is reputed as one of the great grade 5+ whitewater gems in the world. With rapids boasting such names as Rib Cage, Silverback, and The Bad Place, this stretch of water is even more sought after as they begin construction of a second dam 30 km down that will essentially flood out some of the best water.
I was able to secure a kayak to accompany one of the raft groups that my friends were in. We put in early on Saturday and I quickly realized I had not been in a kayak for over a year as we immediately dropped into one of the grade 5 pour-overs.Uganda 004 One good thing to remember about Nile whitewater is a big river moving fast. This means things are over relatively quickly. I ended up reminding myself of this fact several times throughout the day as I was being thrown around like a rag doll on a roller coaster. Does anyone have any Ibuprofen?

Hoima Bike

June 25, 2009

Since my return from Rwanda I have been dedicating all my time to working with the Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop (http://bspw.org) on developing Jason Morris’s cargo bicycle design. While the start up was a little hectic, we are now in full swing.

I started by traveling to Kampala to gather the steel products and components we needed for the first round of production. While BSPW possesses a large supply of western bike components to be used for production, I had to buy a few of what is available here in Uganda for when production surpasses the available supplies at the office. I rounded up the supplies a needed and was glad to leave the overcrowded and dirty streets of Kampala. Needless to say, it was interesting fitting six, four meter steel tubing sections in a Ugandan mini-bus! A few jokes about the paradox of being a poor muzungu and needing to use public transportation to move my goods aided the spirit of my fellow riders.

Once I had safely transported the goods to BSPW’s workshop in Jinja, it was time to start production. We started by cutting all the piping to length and checking that the bottom bracket and fork we were planning to use were compatible with the tube size.Bars With the excitement of the new project, the fabrication staff and I dove head in to spot welding the pieces into formation. We quickly learned that haste was not the name of the game as we realized the need for accuracy and consistency in order to insure all the pieces fit together in the desired fashion, not to mention the thing is supposed to be able to ride in a strait line when it is complete!

Today we took apart our crooked frame and started a brainstorm on how we could create a stand/mold for our frame to insure accuracy. I have to admit, when I woke up this morning I felt a pang of despair as I knew what we were going to try and achieve and what we had to work with.Stand Fabrication To my immense pleasure it only took about 1 hour of the fabrication team and I standing, staring, and scratching for us to come together in unison and create a stand for our frame.Collaboration Our ingenuity flowed together and transcended varying technical knowledge and language barriers. Before lunch we had a solid stand and were all excited to tackle the frame next.
Welding
I was taken back with the work after lunch. The team seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to use their knowledge of metal fabrication to achieve something other then the repetitive doors and windows they spend all the days working on. By the time we the sun was setting, we had a finish welded frame. Angles were correct, measurements were met, smiles were cracked.
Frame

Rwanda

June 25, 2009

Following my program completion with FSD on May 23rd, I decided to take a vacation to Rwanda to see the country which has been so enchanting to me over the past few years. I traveled to Kigali to visit my friend Lama Mugabo,Lama the director of a Canadian-Rwandan NGO who I meet over a year ago while I was in school at WWU in Washington. Lama is the director Building Bridges with Rwanda (www.bbrwanda.org) and has recently relocated back to Rwanda from Vancouver, BC. He and his sister’s family showed me the utmost hospitality for the two weeks I stayed with them and I enjoyed helping Lama with the initiatives BBR was working on.

Lama took me around to the two communities BBR works in as well as the National University Rwanda (NUR) in the southern town of Butare. We worked to build a connection with NUR students and Canadian students traveling to Rwanda with BBR. We also worked to strengthen the work done by the COWEGA women’s weaving cooperative in Gashora, Bugesera.COWEGA These women work to remove the invasive water hyacinth plant that is strangling the watersheds of Rwanda. But it doesn’t stop there. Once the plans are removed, they are dried and the women weave them into amazingly well crafted textiles. Their slogan says it all: Environment + Economics.
Rwanda Kid
After two weeks of productive work with BBR I decided to take a vacation to the beautiful lake Kivu on the western border of Rwanda. I traveled to the town of Kibuye, a quite coastal town situated between a gorgeous aqua blue lake and contrasting deep green hills and islands. I instantly feel in love with Kibuye and spent the next five days basking in relaxation before heading north for Jinja.Kibuye

Transitions

June 25, 2009

It has been quite a long time since I last checked in with my blog, but here we go!

The last I wrote here I was investigating a collaborative project between FABIO and the workshop BSPW here in Jinja. While in March this was looking optimistic, by the first of April it became clear that my time would best be spent by focusing on finishing up the Repair and maintenance workshop with FABIO through the end of my FSD internship on May 23. This allowed me to smooth out the wrinkles in my curriculum and establish the structure and target groups so FABIO could continue this valuable program after I have left them…in other word establishing the sustainability of the work.

During the month of April we established a workshop with a group of rural teenagers that had purchased bicycles to ease their transportation between home and their places of study just outside Kamuli, 60km north of Jinja. The group were quick and enthusiastic learners and were very appreciative of the skills that were being given to them. They received a tool kit and repair, maintenance, and financial instruction.

May proved to be a slow month for FABIO. Our director and administrative officer, were in Germany schmoozing with donors, our program officer was spread between Nairobi and Kampala on work, and we found our funding situation reflected the global economic meltdown. This provided me with ample time to assist with grants and other administrative tasks around FABIO’s office. On May 23rd I completed my internship with FSD and FABIO. I decided to finish at this time as it is more cost effective to be independent of FSD and it allowed me to pursue the production of Professor Morris’s Hoima Bike design at the Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop. I have remained close to the FABIO staff with plans to offer future support as well as maintained good friendships with the FSD Jinja staff who continue to be a valuable resource to my work and personal learning.

May also found me moving out of the Mutalya’s house in Bugembe, and into a house in Jinja town. While I didn’t like saying goodbye to the family I had become accustomed to, I found it exciting to be in town living in a house with people or similar ages and ambitions to myself. I now live with 7 other people in a large house in central Jinja. We have volunteers from the US, Germany, Canada, and Uganda. The atmosphere is like that of a family and we are never short of good times. I have been visiting the Mutalya’s about once a week for dinner in Bugembe and have enjoyed watching young Henry Benjamin begin to crawl and grow teeth.

With the successful completion of the Butagaya repair classes, the past week has found me investigating new target groups to take the workshop too along with pursuing a new project: building a better cargo bicycle design for Ugandans, by Ugandans. Over the past few months, I have been in contact with Western Washington University (WWU) industrial design professor Jason Morris. In 2007 Morris traveled to Hoima, Uganda along the western border on the shores of Lake Albert. There he collaborated with several members of the of local boda-boda association. With the input from the association members, Morris designed and fabricated a prototype to meet their needs. He successfully fabricated a prototype and brought it back to Hoima for review by the riders. When I talked with Professor Morris in December, he expressed interest in finding a way to produce the bicycle in Uganda, using Ugandan labor, for sale to the Ugandan market…enter me.

While FABIO lacks the fabrication workshop, there is another successful non-profit in Jinja working in non-motorized development that does have an extensive fabrication workshop. The Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop is a well established, long-running organization that has expressed interest in developing Morris’s design. It is my hope to begin producing these cargo bicycles for sale through BSPW and FABIO’s bicycle credit programs. It is high time some better technology is brought to Uganda in the bicycle realm.
While the going is slow, it looks promising. I have been in communication with Jason Morris in the states, as well as members of both the FABIO and BSPW team. It is my hope to be moving towards production of the first bicycle during the month of April. I will be writing grants during the rest of March to help the start up costs and will make sure to update the blog as soon as more concrete information forms. If anyone has any ideas or support, please get in contact with me.
For more reading on this you can check out:
http://www.bspw.org
http://idsandbox.blogspot.org
You can also find video’s on You Tube that highlight the process. Search using “hoima bicycle,” and “Jason Morris.”

It has been a productive couple of weeks here in Uganda. I have been able to sink my teeth into my project further while also being able to travel and experience more of the country on the weekends. Starting on Monday February 23, my coworker Stephen and I began the implementation stage of a Bicycle Repair and Education Workshop to be carried out in the rural Butagaya community who purchases bicycles from FABIO through our Bicycle Credit Program. On Thursday February 26th Stephen and I navigated the 45 minute rural drive to the community field where we agreed to meet the women. As with every Butagaya visit, the women, adorned in their traditional Gomesi dresses, greeted us with utmost hospitality all. While the women were all very eager to learn, they requested that we condense the curriculum from 4 days to 2 days due to the fact that every afternoon the women were not attending to their farms they were loosing valuable production. Stephen and I quickly scribbled a revised lesson plan and proceeded to “roll with it.” The first day focused predominantly on maintenance techniques and identifying/naming the various parts of the bicycle. butagaya-trainingsThis was in essence the classroom portion of the training. The women were great pupils, actively participating with questions and taking detailed notes in the lecture books we provided. While Stephen instructed in Lusoga I observed, took photos, and chimed in with thoughts I had in English/Luganda.repair-training-006 As the program facilitator I received a huge relief as Stephen began his lesson. I was well aware of his ability as a bicycle mechanic, but was not sure how he would be as a teacher. With a language barrier I also realized that any teaching I would be doing would be through him as well. My mind was quickly put to ease as Stephen artfully mixed instruction and discussion in a well organized presentation.
On Wednesday March 4th, we returned to Butagaya to conclude our instruction and present the women with the tool kits they were to receive. repair-training-002The second day was divided into two parts: hands on repair training and basic financial instruction. We had a great time as the women joked and jeered at each other taking turns dismantling and reassembling the bicycles. repair-training-009For the financial instruction I had prepared a basic form for the women to list out their monthly expenses, monthly income, and planned/desired purchases. I showed them how to calculate their profit by simply subtracting their expenses from their income and comparing it to their future purchases. While the women quickly absorbed the relatively easy information, I was amazed to see the profound surprise and gratitude they all displayed. Something so basic appeared to be completely foreign to many of the women but they quickly realized the value. They all agreed to chart their finances for a few months with the goal of retaining a larger number in the profit box then any of the other. Our instruction concluded with a discussion on how the women would use the tools and spread the knowledge they learned, and a collection of fees. The women contributed their 20% of the total cost for the tools and instruction. I had originally asked for only 10% and was impressed with their desire to contribute more as it reflected their commitment to the learning.
Overall the education sessions in Butagaya were a huge success. The women proved excellent students and I was able to finalize a solidified structure for both material and lesson plan so that the workshop can now be spread and taught in other communities. I have since though to incorporate a community teaching community aspect potentially bringing women from Butagaya to help instruct other communities. Work goes on…
On the recreational side of things, I was fortunate to visit both Sipi Falls on the beautiful Mt Elgon in eastern Uganda, and the Kasese district in far southwest of Uganda. The entire Jinja FSD community (6 interns, program director and 2 coordinators) packed our bags and headed for the Crows Nest Resort on the hillside of Mt Elgon on the 20th of February. sipi-falls-005This was the one-month retreat where we got to relax, hike the country side, view the huge waterfalls, and reflect and collaborate with our peers on the progress of our projects. On one of our hikes to the nearby Sipi falls, we acquired some local porters who demanded to carry our bags and agreed to be paid in tickles.sipi-falls-015 The weekend proved to be a great decompressor and allowed us to get out of Jinja and share ideas.
On the following weekend I got the chance I had been looking forward to since before I even knew I would be coming to Uganda. I was invited by my program director, Margaret, to travel with her home and visit the Kasese District, home of both the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains. kasese-031The QE park is one of the larger parks in east Africa and is home to many of the large African animals you imagine when you think of a safari. The Rwenzori mountains, or Mountains of the Moon if you asked Ptolemy, are the largest range of mountains with the only glaciers outside of Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. Their highest peaks are over 5000m and they are home to high alpine vegetation found nowhere else on earth.kasese-029
We left Jinja on Friday, February 27th in the morning and drove the 9 hours to Kasese. Understanding the price tag usually associated with safaris, and knowing I am pursing the life of a penniless dirt-surfer, Margaret hooked me up with Jennifer, a peer of hers in who works in Community Development and lives in the small town of Katwe.kasese-022 This was the loophole I was looking for. Katwe is a tiny town that is located inside the Queen Elizabeth Park but still maintains its municipality so you do not need to pay a park fee! I stayed at the local cheap hotel and was taken on my own private, free safari with Jennifer and her brother. In addition to visiting the local salt mines at one of the lakes,kasese-013 they showed me antelope, gazelle, warthogs, water buffalo, and hippos. Katwe is located on the shores of Lake Edward and the residents live in and among the many hippos inhabiting the shores.kasese-020 At night the hippos walk right down main street to get to their favorite grazing spots! An amazing experience overall.
I returned to Margaret’s home next to the mountains Sunday morning and spent the day hiking around the foothills of the Rwenzoris.kasese-006 While I could feel the presence of ominous peaks around me, I was informed that the only time you actually get to see the summits is a brief week in May when the cloud cover recedes. I guess I will have to go back!kasese-021

I awoke this morning feeling the usual clammy heat. As a muzungu from the northwest United States I have not quite acclimated to this constant February heat and humidity. While the evening and early mornings find most Ugandans adorned in long-sleeve shirts and pants to ward of the chilling 24 degrees C (~75 F) brought on by absence of the sun, I find my life, day and night, to exist in a perpetual sauna. This feeling is compounded in the morning due to the need to keep my windows closed at night to ward off unwanted arms probing into my room looking for treasures. I jump out of bed, get tangled in the mosquito netting in my sleep induced stupor, and open the windows to see the sun beginning to illuminate the banana tree leaves outside my room. Ahhhhhhhh! I sigh as I turn the shower nozzle to cascade the cold water over my sticky body.
I exit my room to find the house relatively empty. As the holiday ended last week, both of my host parents and all of the children have returned to school. Johnson teaches at a secondary school NW of our house in Bugembe, while Sarah is off to her school to the east. The children are well spread out through the region at various schools and although it is 7:45 AM, they have all left an hour ago to walk to their places of learning. But I am not totally alone.
I sit down to take my morning tea and bread and hear the distinctive giggle and “eh, eh ehs!” of my favorite breakfast companion, three year old Barbara. barbaraShe comes around the corner of the kitchen waddling, wide-legged with her hands up like she is Steve Martin performing the Egyptian dance. She has a rag wrapped around her head as she proudly yells “Ndi muzungu! Ndi muzungu!” declaring that she is a person of white skin. While it is clear she is implying this with the rag simulating a Caucasian’s hair, I tell her that I can’t look that dorky when I walk around. She understands only part of my broken Luganda-English but we share a laugh before sharing tea.
I’m on my bike and heading down the driveway by 8:15. When I reach the highway which takes me to Jinja I check for oncoming buses, bunny-hop over the median and kick it into high gear. Being the stretch of road that runs from Nairobi, through Jinja, to Kampala and Kigali, this is the busiest highway in all of Uganda. I must have my full attention on the auto traffic passing me as I ride through the mass of cyclists on the shoulder. It is not long until the young men begin to form around me pumping as fast as they can to test their Indian and Chinese technology against my American made Cannondale. I find myself in another morning race and I exchange smiles, jeers, and lead drafting with my fellow Ugandan bikers. While I possess superior technology, I am faced with real competition as I am racing against determined Boda-Boda (bicycle taxi) riders who are strong with years of riding daily. As we come into Jinja the pack disintegrates as the Boda-Boda start looking for morning fares.
I pull up to FABIO at around 8:40 and lock my bicycle to the rack of rental bikes out front. fabio-120209-007 I am greeted with a warm reception from Christine and Anne, the two employees who are generally to work first. They inform me that it is a good day as the dial up internet connected on the first try! I sit down behind the counter and am careful not to defibrillate myself on the shotty power strip as I plug my laptop in.
When my Gmail finally uploads I find a fresh message from Yuba Bicycles. I have been starting a contact with Yuba who manufacture the Mudo work bicycle, an ideal upgrade from the current bicycle options here in Uganda. mundo-001The message informs me of Yuba’s desire to sell more bikes in Africa and is hopeful in my prospect of finding an assembly area here in Jinja and opening a Ugandan market for the bike. The biggest hurtle is cost cutting which we are currently collaborating on to achieve. The plan is to import a few bicycles to be sold through FABIO’s bicycle credit program.
At around 10:00 FABIO’s bicycle technician, Steven, comes in. Steven is pivotal in the bicycle ambulance program run out of Katakwi in the north, as well as an invaluable bicycle repairman. We sit down to design a repair and maintenance curriculum to be taught to groups who purchase bikes through our bicycle credit program. It is my intention to use the money from my FSD seed grant to compile 2 comprehensive tool kits and travel to Butagaya on 4 different days to teach classes in bicycle maintenance and financial planning. When I last visited Butagaya many of the women indicated their lack of knowledge and tools to properly maintain the bicycles they had purchased. Upon further investigation the women agreed that they would stand to gain a great deal through repair and maintenance education. Namakose Sarah, one of the women I interviewed, especially sparked my interest by what she showed me. Sarah had bought a bicycle from FABIO last July and then promptly rented it out to a Boda-Boda driver. By the new year, she had enough money from the lease to purchase a new bicycle. She showed me the one she had purchased in January as well as a piece of notebook paper charting out all of the inputs and outputs from her bicycles, both resources and finances. I came to the realization that we must now include a financial education plan as well.
It is 1pm and time for lunch when Steven and I wrap up our teaching curriculum. As the two girls come in the door with our lunch, I pray for anything but fish again. The food is prepared at a residence by the girls’ aunt and they bring it by every day for a small fee. I open the lid to find a smiling fish head with eye still in socket. I smile at the girls and give them a thumbs-up before digging in. Fish is everyone’s favorite here in the office so I tell myself: if they love all love it, it has to be good!
I spend my afternoon creating a functioning work-plan and budget that integrates both the bicycle education program and the importation of the new Mundo bicycle. I am thankful to have Steven’s local knowledge once again to list out the prices of all the tools we will need in the tool boxes we will give to the women. I balance the budget and see that it is feasible to provide the women 4 days of education and 2 full tool kits if they can come together to provide 15% of the cost.
At 5:30 I wrap up what I am working on and hit the road bound for the FSD office. As Thailand is 4 hours ahead of Uganda, 9:30 proves to be the optimal time to reach Kelly. Along with faster, more reliable internet, FSD has the headphones with microphone attachments to make Skyping possible. I spend a half-hour catching up with my girlfriend before packing up for the evening ride to Bugembe. As I am on my way out I run into the FSD Program Director, Margaret. I decide to sit and run my work ideas by her to get valuable feedback. When we are finished, our wise leader reminds me with a shake of the finger that all interns needs to have a work-plan in by Friday to attend the retreat in Sipi Falls this coming weekend. You can bet dollars to shillings I’ll have that work-plan in.
As I ride home I find myself enjoying the best hour Uganda has to offer. Between 6:30 and 7:30 the sun is setting leaving behind a glowing warmth as the ground cools down from a day under scorching rays. I navigate my pedal-driven steed off the highway and past all the children who yell “Muzungu bye! Muzungu HOW are you?!?” in a competition to see who I will wave at first. I get home in time to shower and join Johnson for evening tea and conversation. Dinner is served at 9:00 and afterwards I bid my large family goodnight and retire to my room to recharge my batteries. Maybe if I get a good nights rest I can beat all those Boda-Boda to Jinja tomorrow…

Brain Storm

February 10, 2009

I am into my third week of working with FABIO and I am starting to get a good grasp on the flow of things. My timing has been pretty ideal in terms of learning about FABIO’s projects and developing a specific need to focus my time and energy towards. Last week was the annual strategic planning seminar which allowed me to participate in an organization wide assessment of processes and goals. This was particularly beneficial because my role as an FSD intern entails that I perform a needs assessment and develop a work plan that is geared towards a specific issue FABIO is faced with. Once a work plan has been formulated, I am given a seed grant (of which I fundraised for prior to my departure from the states) to apply towards my project budget. I can also write a grant to FSD or any other outside sources to request funds to assist my project.butagaya-children
This all being said, I am now faced with the next step in this whole process: narrowing down on a specific area I can work on. The challenge put forth by working with FSD, and consequently the very principle that has drawn me ideologically to this internship, is to create a project that is sustainable in every sense of the word. This implies that my project’s development goals must be achieved within the framework of Ugandan culture, compatible with Ugandan politics, achievable with the resources available, manageable by the community it targets, and safe for the environment it takes place in. But a sustainable project also entails that I must design and implement a project that is self sufficient and will continue to progress and grow even after I have returned to the states. To do this it must focus on developing processes and infrastructure rather then just giving out aid or creating close ended projects that produce a conclusion. It is this aspect of my work here that poses the greatest challenge.
While I have found a great many areas I can focus on, I am still struggling to put together how to create sustainable processes to address them. The area I am leaning towards is developing a workshop space for FABIO where they can develop new non-motorized transportation (NMT), move to a production phase on their current fabrications (i.e. bicycle ambulances), hold educational workshops regarding NMT and road safety awareness, provide a area for collaboration on jobs and common NMT goals, as well as create a sales office where they can sell bikes and other NMT accessories. untitledAlthough the creation of this workshop may be ambitious in terms of finances, it appears to be relatively strait forward on paper. The area in which I must critically think now is in regards to processes. It will be my next challenge to think of the programs and people that will become the mortar that hold the wall together. This is where I will be able to produce a sustainable project as it will be where I insure that community needs get met and continue to be met in the future.
Knowing what I have to work on I intend to travel northeast to Katakwi with my coworkers on Thursday February 12 to meet with the community who have been receiving the bicycle and motorcycle ambulances fabricated by FABIO. This should give me a good idea of the project and allow me to interact with the community which benefits from it. This will be an important step for me, as was the visit to Butagaya, as it will allow me to work with the very people we are aiming to serve with our work. With these insights I hope to have a rough outline of a work plan starting next week.

mutalya-015It’s been a hectic couple of weeks but I have settled into a routine with my host family and FABIO. My family, the Mutalyas, live about 4km outside of Jinja in a town called Bugembe. Johnson, my father, and his wife Sarah are both secondary education teachers in Bugembe in addition to maintaining one of the most biodiverse plant and tree nurseries in Uganda. It makes for quite a beautiful setting to live in! Their family is large with 3 young daughters, a baby boy, and 5 dependents along with a large community of neighbors that are always swinging by.mutalya-014 The rainy season seems to be arriving early so while I would like to ride my bike to work every morning, some mornings it proves to be a bigger mess then is worth it. My alternative is a taxi (really works like an independent bus system driving main routes and cramming as many people in as possible) which only runs around 500 Ush a trip (or about $0.25).
It appears that I have arrived about one week too early for FABIO as 4 of the 6 members are gone to the north working on the Bicycle for Peace program. Next week is an annual Strategic Planning week for FABIO and thus a very opportune time for me to be involved to learn about their various projects and perform a needs assessment to narrow in on which project I can put my energy towards. Therefore I have spent this past week getting to know the FABIO office and helping with the bicycle credit program. In this program, FABIO purchases bicycles at whole sale (Jupiters imported from India) and we assemble them to save cost.jupiter-assembly We then sell them to impoverished rural communities at 130,000 Ush on zero-interest payment plans. This week I helped assemble and deliver 50 Jupiters to the Butagaya Women’s Association in Butagaya, about 30km north of Jinja. butagaya-012Through the assembly process I discovered the many flaws included with the Jupiter bicycle design. While the Jupiter is considered to be superior to the Hero and Roadmaster by most people I talk to, the bicycle is cheaply made and over-engineered. It is based on a 1910’s British bicycle model and is constructed with low grade steel and has many unnecessary parts. This being said, the women were all extremely excited for their new bikes and greeted us with warm hospitality. They explained to me how important the bicycles are as the women are in dire need of a sustainable transportation option to get medical help, take their crops to market, and to fetch water.
I have enjoyed my first week here at FABIO but I am very anxious to get moving on a project of my own. Friday afternoon I have another training session with the FSD staff on grant writing and I plan to master this skill as quickly as possible. I have discovered that here in Uganda there are thousands of bright people with well thought out schemes for development, all they need is a few bucks and a little motivation to catalyze them into projects. While I plan on writing grants both internally from FSD and externally to fund my project, donations are still appreciated. If anyone is interested please email me [tristan.allen1@gmail.com], skype me [tristan.malone.allen] or call me [+256.(71).556.1181]. I will probably be setting up a paypal account in the near future if Ibutagaya find a interest.