Friday, May 29, 2015

Youth Club!

After being in country for nearly one year, things are finally starting to come together for us. In the Peace Corps world, they say it takes that first year to integrate and find your place and the second year is when the magic begins to start. After Ashley attended a regional youth technical training with a local youth, Matt's counterpart's son, they started developing the idea to start a youth club at his secondary school. The result, after being granted permission by the head teacher and selecting leaders, a training of leaders was held for two weekends. The three youth selected, are comprised of two males and one female aged 15-17. They were trained in facilitation, communication, various health topics and life skills. At the end of the two weeks the club/program was born, The Youth Health and Life Skills Program. 

And on Friday the 29th of May, the group held its first official introductory meeting for the 30 secondary students selected to participate. The leaders who have 100% control over the meetings, Ashley is only there as a resource and support, decided to structure it as a program, allowing students to participate for 2 terms, after which they will graduate and choose 3-4 members among them to lead the next terms program. 

1st-Information Meeting

This by far, has been a one of the most inspiring things I have seen, as the youth have just blown me away with their leadership skills and their knowledge and confidence on the subjects. 

Looking forward to seeing them grow even more!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sabinyo, Rwanda & Gorillas! - Part II


Without giving our bodies, which were extremely sore the next morning, a chance to rest, we hired a car and headed 15 minutes out towards the Rwandan  border. After doing all the border paperwork, and getting our interstate passes for free entry into the country, we boarded a taxi and headed to the capital, Kigali. 

What to say about Rwanda.. , better yet, not what to say. All in all, it is very well organized, with buses with actual routes that run, the people are very nice, and the towns are very, very clean. We spent the next few days exploring the capital.


The genocide museum, hands down the best either of us has been to and is a must see. 

We took a day trip to Nyanza, south of Kigali, and visited the National Art Museum and Cultural Museum. The Cultural Museum is at the home of the last king of Rwanda and houses lots of artifacts as well as recreations of traditional royal huts.

After a few days we headed west to the tip of Lake Kivu to the Congo/Rwanda border town of Gisenyi. 

Guesthouse in Gisenyi - Discovery Guest House

Lake Kivu


Closing out our trip, we headed back to Kisoro for our last adventure. The guys were so beat from our action packed vacation and decided not to join our final trek. 

So the next morning at 5 am sharp, we headed out to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to go gorilla trekking. The usual price for trekking in Uganda is around $500 during high season. Since it was rainy season (low season), the treks were discounted to $350 and with our residence permits $300. 

At the base camp, we received a debriefing and were sorted into our groups. We were considered a medium trek group, they have short, medium and long treks that you have the option to request but they normally gauge by looking at your group. Our group was made up of another Peace Corps Volunteer and her mother and a group of older Italian men.

The trek is what it says, a literal trek. You start off on a path and as you get closer to the family the guide will start slashing away and lead you down and up the hillsides.  They recommend wearing long pants, which of course we did not have on, to avoid the stinging plants that can burn your skin for up to 30 minutes. A trek wouldn't be a trek without safari ants spanning an entire section of the trail. This is the section were we literally almost pushed past the guides as we tried to keep our legs from remaining idle too long. For those of you unfamiliar to safari ants, they are mean suckers. They attach on to you and bite, you literally have to pull each on off. The last stretch required us to literally climb up the forested hillsides grabbing on to vines and tree trunks to pull ourselves up.

Bwindi National Park

Trekking for Gorillas

Finally, we caught up with the gorillas! We trailed behind the back up of the group.  His size was nothing like I expected; he towered over us when we walked on his back two feet. At one point, giving us a fair warning we were following too long/close, he let out a roar and stood on his back two feet. Of course, I was at the front of the group and felt my heart skip a few beats as I grabbed leaves and pretended to eat them, something the guides had prepped us on. I had never imagined to be  as close as were were as he led us into a clearing where the family of 16 sat in the trees searching for berries. In total, we trekked a little over 9 miles and it was well worth it to see this amazing creatures in their natural habitat. 

The next morning our adventure ended as we headed to the bus at 4:45 only to wait for the 5 am bus to depart at 6 am. Finally around  9 pm we were greeted with our amazing neighbors and back at home.

More Pictures Coming Soon!

Sabinyo, Rwanda & Gorillas! - Part I

These past few weeks have been hectic, challenging and somehow relaxing.  Ashley attended a week training of trainers to prepare for the new volunteers arriving early June and has been busy getting lesson plans ready. Matt has been busy planning for the next quarterly HIV testing event. All of this while we have been trying to prepare everything for our first visitors from the U.S.! , and in the middle of all this we decided to take our first vacation since arriving almost 1 year ago. 


We traveled with another volunteer and her boyfriend who is visiting from the U.S. Our first stop was Kisoro in southwestern Uganda. Being a vacation, aka, not a time for resting, we decided to get the most out of the trip. We took the boys up a trail we did last October that overlooks Lake Mutanda and headed to the lake to do some canoeing. Somehow everyone but Ashley, who was lucky enough to be handed a paddle, was able to relax as they were guided across the lake. 

Lake Mutanda

On Lake Mutanda-Center most mountain-Mt. Sabinyo

The next day we decided to try our luck at hiking/climbing/crawling, basically any way we could to get up Mt. Sabinyo. 

Mt Sabinyo is one of the three distinct volcanoes that can be seen in Kisoro, and unlike its neighbors, it has multiple peaks, the second being shared with Rwanda, and the third at 3,645m (11,959ft) shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Mt Sabinyo-Starting our Journey 

We started our journey around 6am packed lunches in tow and made our way to the park entrance. Being rainy season, we really did not know what to expect. The sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air, but we decided we would take our chances. Once we arrived we were introduced to our guides, one armed just in case we ran into any forest elephants (to scare them away) and the other to serve as a guide. We were given the option to hire a local porter, who carries your bags for a small fee, which we decided to do and are very happy we did. Once we all had our walking sticks in hand we set out a little before 8am. 

The beginning of the trek takes you through old farm land that has been reclaimed by forest. As you trek deeper the forest turns into a bamboo forest that thickens and the ground becomes your enemy. The trail turns from a solid dirt path to a mushy boggy mud that has the potential of swallowing your legs whole. This is where the sticks and the ability to balance on small logs and stones comes in handy. Somehow regardless of how careful we were, we still ended up with soaking wet shoes and mud to our ankles. Further up the trail, the landscape changes drastically into what looks like something out of a story book. 

Bamboo Forest

Trying not to fall in the mud

Enchanted Forest

After the enchanted forest, we started our ascent up the first peak and were introduced to our friends, the lovely ladders. They really aren't that bad. In fact, Ashley discovered that literally climbing/crawling up them made it faster and not tiring.

Once we arrived at the first peak, we took a few minutes to look around. The clouds from the early morning had cleared up giving us great views. 

Once we caught our breaths, it was time to head down the first peak and start our journey up the second. We were challenged with more ladders and for those of us afraid of heights (Ashley and Matt), were challenged by our nerves and weak legs. The path itself is not too narrow, but peaking over the side makes it appear to shrink to the size made for one extremely skinny person. At the top of the second peak the views were even more incredible. To the left, the mountain slopped down with thick forest and rolling hills into Rwanda. To the right, the thick forested mountain led down into a beautiful valley surrounded by tiny mountains that were at one time volcanoes themselves. 

Our Friends-The Ladders

At Peak #2

Then it happened. We looked ahead and saw ladders. Ladders that looked completely vertical the entire way up. We were done, plain and simple. Our friend, determined to make it to the top, headed up the last peak with the guide as the rest of us sat and enjoyed our lunch. Do wish we had did the last peak? Yes, it would have been nice, but seeing the straight up ladders was a deal breaker....clouds would have helped at this point.

Our friend headed to the 3rd peak

Usually it takes an average of five hours to go up the trail and three hours to make it back down. We were able to make decent time and made it back at the car around 6pm with not a single drop of rain. Not bad for just a couple of average explorers. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Week in Ashley’s Shoes

We know a lot of you are curious about what a day in our shoes is like, so we decided to share a week in our shoes with you. 
We will start this past week with Ashley.

Before I start, I want to really introduce my organization and project. My host organization is EMESCO Development Foundation. It was locally founded by the current director who was born in the district I live in, Kibaale District, before it even got its name. He’s a very amazing man. He saw the communities struggling in areas of development and the lack of aid/organizations being sent to the area and decided to start helping the communities himself. In 1999, the organization started with programs officially beginning in 2000. The original projects were focused in areas of water and sanitation; things like building protected bore holes, water catchments and pit latrines in communities and schools. In fact, if you visit many of the schools throughout the district, you will see EMESCO written on the majority of water tanks, latrines and bore holes. After 15 years, the projects have expanded into 5 main areas of: water, sanitation and hygiene, health, agriculture, education and environment. 

My project: Sustainable Organic Agriculture Project-Year 3

The project was recently renewed for its 3rd year this past month and I am very excited to see the program start from the beginning. The first 2 years the projected was focused in certain communities and during year 3 the program restarts by entering into new communities.
This project involves going out into the communities 4 out of 5 days a week, with an average one way travel being 1 ½ hours.

Here is a glance at a week in my shoes, although this week did have a holiday I wasn't expecting.


I woke up around 5am thanks to the neighbor’s rooster and tried to go back to bed…without much luck.

8 am I finally got up and got ready for work and at 9 am headed to the office. (I live right across the street, literally, and it takes less than one minute)

10am headed to our first community with one of my counterparts. It took about 1 ½ hours to get to the village and we spend the first half of the day with them. The meeting was the first official meeting in the community and we sensitized members about the project. 

Around 2:30 we headed into a nearby town and got lunch and by 3 we were headed to the next community and stayed there until around 5. 

Once we were halfway home, the rain started. Since we were traveling by motorcycle, which is a must to get into these villages, we had to stop. Luckily, there was a small auto shop and we ran inside and waited with some fellow travelers. We ended up waiting for 2 hours, the rain would not let up for anything. It was too dark inside, as they shut the door to keep the rain out, to notice that I actually knew the attendant at the shop and when he called my name I was very confused until I saw his face. It’s a small world; he is one of the local youth we have worked with that works at the shop during breaks from school. 

Finally after the rain stopped, we geared up and started heading home. The sun had started to go down and the air was cold making the ride seem longer, besides the fact it took double the time to make it home due to the wet ground. 

8:30 pm, finally made it home, frozen. I took a warm bucket bath in the house. Ate rice and g-nut sauce my neighbors had prepared and passed out by 11pm (which is early for me).


Woke up again around 5am thanks to the neighbor’s rooster and tried to go back to bed…..contemplated going outside and unlocking it from the neighbor’s kitchen so it could go out of the compound. Instead, I yelled for someone to make it stop….which did not happen.

8 am I got up and ready for work and by 9 am I was headed to the office.

10am headed out with my counterparts and traveled 1 ½ hours to a village nearby the ones from Monday. Spent the afternoon with community members and headed out to the next community. Due to circumstances we did not anticipate, the local healer (who is the chairperson), was praying/healing some of his followers, so we had to reschedule for next week. It happens. 
The chairperson from the first community gave us eggs and we took them to town and fried them for lunch. (As of writing this to post, I found out that the healer was in a serious motorcycle accident with the other driver dying instantly. He is in critical condition in the capital, so thoughts his way.)

Afterwards, we headed back and I got home around 6:30. Took a shower, worked on some things in the computer, ate pork Matt prepared, watched some shows on the laptop and went to bed around 12:30am.

Sensitizing new community about program


Woke up around 5am, again. Dreamt I was waking up my neighbor to unlock the kitchen to let the rooster out. It kept making noise for the next 3 hours…it was just a dream.

8 am got up and ready for work, not in the best mood from lack of sleep, and by 9 am I was headed to the office. 

10am headed with my one of my counterparts to new communities in another sub-county. The trip took about 1 hour to get 32k (~16 miles) and the ride was absolutely beautiful.
We spent the afternoon in the new communities and were welcomed with open arms. The great thing about the projects the organization does is they enter into communities from all sides; first are usually water and sanitation projects, then health and agriculture. This helps to give the communities a solid foundation of basic needs as they build up their other skills as well as a good relationship and trust. 

Made it back home at 5pm, worked out for a hour since I was back early, took my bucket bath, ate dinner, watched a few episodes of Chuck and headed to bed around 12:30. 

Did I mention they ate the rooster for dinner, finally.


8 am got up and ready for work and by 9 am headed to the office. 

10am headed with my counterpart to the villages in new sub-county. We spent the afternoon in the villages, ate lunch in the nearby town and headed back home. 

Made it back around 6 and stopped by the office to drop off paperwork. Also, I was told Friday was Labour Day so no work Friday…not going to argue with that. 

Went home, worked out for about a hour, ate dinner, discovered the Roswell series, and went to bed around 2am. 


Slept in, I enjoy my sleep. Woke up around 11. 

I spent the day catching up on closing out a grant, finishing activity reports and washing the sheets and blankets which amazingly didn’t take too long (I am getting faster at washing). Ended up staying up all night watching more Roswell.


Slept in and woke up around 11am, spent a few hours working on the computer and got ready to meet one of my youth. Around 1:30 I headed out to a nearby secondary school and meet with three new youth trainers from 2-5. I would have visited my Saturday group of kids I meet with to read and play games, but it was raining so I headed home, worked out, ate dinner and watched Roswell all night. Around 12 am I took a break to eat some yummy duck the neighbors had prepared, Matt missed out since he was already asleep, and stayed up until around 3 watching more Roswell. 


Woke up around 9:30 and started washing all of my clothes, it took about 1 ½ hours. 

Around 1:30 I headed to meet with the youth trainers at the secondary school from 2-5.

Afterwards, I made a trip to town and bought food for the night. Once I got home, I headed to the garden and weeded, then headed over the primary school next door and hung out with some of the students.  Once the sun went down, I headed home and worked out, took my warm bucket bath inside and cooked stir fry for dinner and worked on this blog entry while watching Roswell.
Around 12 I went to bed finishing out my week.

Traveling to the new communities

This Guy

This Bridge

No way we were going to let him go first

So there you have it, a typical week in my shoes. Next week, Matt.