Rotaract at Ssese Islands

One of the first weekends of November, our friend Chris (a Rotary Ambassador scholar – see: Chris Deal’s blog link) invited some of us to come along on a Rotaract service trip. Rotaract, as described to me, is for younger Rotary members. Most of the Ugandan Rotoract members we met were in their upper 20s/young 30s. We took a lively bus ride with about 60 Ugandan members and 5 expats from Kampala down to a port near Entebbe to hop onto a ferry bound for the Ssese Islands.

The Ssese Islands are a group of 80-some odd islands in Lake Victoria. They are thought to have separated from the mainland 12,000 years ago. The largest island, Buggala, is also the most developed. The islands have a rich cultural and religious history and belonged to the Buganda kingdom.

We arrived on Buggala and walked to our lodging. We spent the first night getting to know each other and then dancing. Although I tried to go to bed around midnight or so, the music played all the way until breakfast at deafening volumes! Our leader came by with drums at 6AM to wake us all up for a morning run before a day of service work.

A group of us ran a hilly course before breakfast, all of us having had no/little sleep due to the music. The run served as a great way to see some more of the island and the vistas grew increasingly beautiful and wide as we ascended the island.

After breakfast, we hopped on rudimentary, large fishing boats for our journey to Serinya island, an island lacking electricity and plumbing. We met some community leaders and started the manual labor. We carried large stones in our hands, wheelbarrows, or in human chains to lay the floor for a school clinic being sponsored with Rotary Club funding from various Kampala chapters.

We then collected barrels/buckets of sand and cement after moving the stones. I tried balancing the barrels on my head (successfully) given that mode of carriage’s popularity in many African regions. Did we felt the heat as we transported these building materials! I can say we definitely had a fun time, though. I felt a tiny bit of what some manual laborers here may feel after a day of such work in the hot sun which is far removed from my usual daily activities.

We also saw the in-progress construction of a biolatrine being sponsored by the Rotary Club consortium. The premise being that human sewage collects in a tank and the methane gas will be used a source for cooking. Which brings me to lunch…

We had a fantastic lunch made by local women in HUGE iron/steel vats. I wish I had a picture of these vats! The fish and meat were excellent and the whole lot of us fed the hunger work created in us. The local people were extremely hospitable, and we even took some time to play soccer in a round with some local kids before leaving.

Before dark that night and after we boated back to Buggala, a local Ssese Island Peace Corps volunteer took us a tour of the Speke Fort in the jungle of the island. Not in either major guide book of Uganda, this fort came with colonialism on the island when John Speke came here in the mid/late-1800s. We reached the stone buildings after a short, nice jungle hike rife with monkeys. The site had been mostly swallowed up by the jungle, clearly rarely visited, as trees growing inside of the outposts and vines and moss covering the stones suggested. Our Peace Corps friend hadn’t visited it since three years ago when she started Peace Corps here.

Thoroughly exhausted, somewhat dehydrated and sun-exhausted, it made sense after dinner to dance again and stay up late. (Insert a tinge of sarcasm.) A few of us took a short night hike to see the stars in their magnificence sans the plaque of city lighting. I tried to go to bed early again, but the music kept me up all night again, but this time we awoke to find out only one person had stayed up that late! And he assumed the role of DJ, unfortunately for me.

Only 5 of us 60-some people went for the morning run after the drum call at 6AM, an event akin to a fraternity hazing event I decided. I ran in the jungle along the coast instead of the ascending run from the day before with the others and took in the sights and sounds on a quiet, cloudy Sunday morning on the island.

Arriving back in Kampala after a nice ferry ride bacy to Entebbe, I slept WELL that night! The service trip afforded a lot of great experiences and Rotary and Rotaract clubs do excellent and needed structural improvement work here. Sacrificing sleep every once in a while can be accompanied with rich, unforgettable experiences.

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