Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday, June 25

Just a few pictures before we head out tomorrow for the vacation part of our trip.  We leave with mixed emotions as we miss our families and our familiar surroundings ( not to mention showers, Mexican food, cold drinks) but we will miss this place.  As I type the kids are outside laughfing and singing and dancing the Macrana.  The girls have taught them a number of American saying such as "Wat's up", "hasta la vista, baby", " "talk to the hand", "peace out" and many more.  I will never forget their joy or how excited they get to see themselves on the back of your camera.  I will miss it all so much. 
hasta la vista, baby!!!

Mark Jr  & Caroline Cotham with all the locals..

Touring Zeu Medical Clinic

The new Medical Library at Zeu Medical Clinic, it was awesome!!

Just a few of our friends...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday, June 24

Enjoy the pictures from the Kaberu Nursery School. We opened a mini- library there. They were the cutest kids  imaginable, they prepared several songs for us in both English and in Allure.  Cute, cute, cute.....

The Kids from the Kaberu Nursery School preforming "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" for us.

Hannah & Haley passing out de-worming pills to the children at the nursery school.

Neighborhood children watching the festivities through a hole in the fence at the nursery.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pictures from Thursday, June 23rd

   Today we returned to Oturgang Girls School (the one that did not have the shelves complete), and we were thrilled to see their beautiful shelves.  Sister Emily  prepared a fabulous lunch complete with homemade wine from her vineyard..we feasted like kings and celebrated the new library.
A little extra excitement here...a baby was born and was named after a team member: Andrew Price.  Andrew had visited the Maternity clinic where baby Andrew was born with solar lanterns donated by the Chapelwood Foundation.

Aubrey Siller, Morgan Kottke, Andrew Price, Hannah and Libby Williams, Haley Haltom
at the Oturgang Girls School.

Sister Elizabeth and the spread prepared for us..

Carolyn Cotham presenting a soccer ball to Sister Elizabeth of the Girls School.

Andrew Price with the midwife at the maternity clinic with baby Andrew.

Just about finished

We are now finished with all but one nursery school library (Kaberu) and a delayed opening of a library that we have already put on the shelves--Araa. Those should be done tomorrow.  That will bring our total to 22 libraries in the Zombo district, the Bethany Village library, 4 libraries for orphanages done in conjunction with Promise International, the Zeu Health Clinic library, the collection of books for the United Methodist Church's Bishop of East Africa and one additional secondary school which we have worked with local people to make out of the surplus books we shipped over.  BTW, those extra books are really helpful and have and will continue to make it possible to fill in holes and give some schools without libraries reading materials, until they can get a library.

I am also pleased that we are building capacity in the form of trained librarians who can help train others at all the schools and help encourage best practices.  We brought over books and other materials about library siciences and have worked with two gentlemen (Terrance and Deogratias) who are becoming experienced at setting up libraries, cataloging and so forth.  They are also looking forward to taking a one month University course on librarianship. It is hoped that these gentlemen can apply to other NGO's to acquire more books for the district as well as to receive the shipment that will contain the books remaining in the Chapelwood basment and those at the Christian Alliance warehouse. Ultimately, this kind of capacity building is key to there being a sustainable library network throughout the Zombo district.

We are also finishing up two related programs over the next two days--the Chapelwood Foundation solar lantern program and the de-worming program done in conjunction with our friends Dr. Todd and Sue Price. We will have distributed over 100 lanterns-mainly to schools, but also to several clinics that are allextremely excited at the prospect of light at night. Kind of amazing to think that at several of the clinics babies have been delivered in the dark  and emergency care must similarly be given by candlelight or in the dark.  Thanks to the Foundation's generosity that, and the students not being able to read at night, will be changing for the better.

Thanks again for everyone's help and prayers.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bethany Village Orphanage Library...

As most of you know , our Chapelwood team was initially split up.  Most of us headed to Zeu and the Loyd team headed to Bethany Village.  They had quite an adventure and eventually met up with us here. Andy Loyd shares a little about their experience….
  The Bethany Village Orphanage Library was a hit!  Upon landing in Entebbe, the Loyd team (Andy, Karen, Morgan & Jesse Kottke) told their Chapelwood friends, “goodbye” for a few days and journeyed to Kampala to set up the Bethany Village Library near Ggaba.  The team was warmly received and met with officials from the African Renewal Ministries in which oversees the Bethany Village operations.  From there, they were transported to the orphanage in a crude, handmade boat for a 45 minute trip on Lake Victoria.  Though the team had been traveling non-stop since leaving London, they were anxious to check on the arrival of the books for the library, the facility itself and the much needed shelving.  Pastor Mutaka was excited about the Loyd Team arrival and introduced us to Joshua, who was designated as the new librarian.  Unfortunately, the team found that the shelving was insufficient, so small shelving units were donated from the living quarters of the orphanage to fill the need.   The team was anxious to get started the next morning.  They were escorted, in the dark, to their living quarters for the evening.  The accommodations had running water and electricity from a generator for 2 ½ hours each day.  The Loyd Team had indoor plumbing, though crude by American standards.  They had to sleep under mosquito nets because of the insects and the bats.  Karen is not fond of small creatures and will almost yield to their presence.   They had a late dinner with the Pastor and retired for the night.  It had been a long and satisfying day.   
They next morning the team got up early and headed to the new library facility.  The room was a previous classroom, but was strategically located for the other classrooms to utilize.   The walls had been freshly painted and the donated shelving was cleaned and put into position.  The boxes of books were laid out and the team commenced to putting the organized, cataloged books in their respective places.  As the project advanced curious faces appeared in the windows and doorway.  After a few minutes, the children began to make their way in among the open boxes.  The team was eager to offer them a book and let reading circles.  The library took all day to set up and completely organize.  Joshua was there the entire time and instructed on the Dewey Decimal System and why the books were placed where they were.  The team had a constant flow of curious onlookers and no one was turned away. 
The experience and completion of the library was bittersweet for Andy.  Over a year had been invested into the collection and organizing of the books and the Bethany Village Orphanage Library was coming to fruition.  He would like to thank his family, friends and their Chapelwood Sunday School classmates and especially Bob and Kathey Lasalle  for all their hard work and for giving the “gift of literacy “ to the Children of Bethany Village.  Special thanks to Mark Cotham for his vision and inspiration for the Ugandan Library Project . You will always hold a special place in our hearts, Brother. To Chapelwood UMC, we are so honored and humbled to members of such an incredible giving church.

Arriving at Bethany Village Library facility.
Karen Loyd entertaining the orphans at library.

Andy Loyd reading with children.
The Loyd team in the completed library.

4 year old Rana reading "Jonah and the Whale".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sending our love...Tuesday , June 21, 2001

Girls from the Warr School sending their love to us, we pass it on to our friends back home!!!!xoxoxoxo

Our group posing with our new friends after our trip to the market

Students from the Warr Girls School very excited about their new books.

These are just a few of the beautiful faces that wait outside of our compound. 

UMW and Mercy Street Libraries Big Hits

Today we built the Warr Girls and Alangi libraries.  These were the two gathered by the UMW and Mercy Street.  They were very well received and looked grat on the shelves. The Warr Girls School lost thier only sm all library last year in a storm.  Alangi had never had one.  Thanks to both of these outstanding groups at Chapelwood for pulling together such great libraries.  Wish we could fully express how grateful these folks are and how much this will mean to these kids.  I got a live chicken as a gift from Alangi.  That together with corn, avocado, milk and pineapple makes my haul pretty good. Thanks to all of Chapelwood and especially today the UMW and Mercy Street for having worked so hard and made these libraries possible. Mark

Monday, June 20, 2011

What a day...Monday, June 20,2011

We began our day at the Oturgang Girls School where we we given the welcome of a lifetime.  The Children met us at the street in a singing parade, they followed us in singing and clapping.  We were then greeted by the "Sisters" and given the biggest hugs ever, I mean really, really great hugs.  We were very disappointed to realize that the shelves in the library were not ready and we were unable to set up the was very hard for us to leave.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that the shelves will be completed this week and we can return.

Our second stop was Ayaka Primary School where we were also greeting like kings and treated to a play complete with costumes.  The Library turned out wonderfully and the kids were thrilled.  As we watched the children choose their first book we were pleasantly surprised to see how interested they seemed to be in Science..

more to come as soon as the computer get charged....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Joy, Joy, Joy: Sunday, June 19, 2011

We have officially closed our second full day here in Zeu.  It is a beautiful place and is full of joy!  Today is Sunday and we attended the local church Saint John of the Worker.  It is technically our day of rest but we really just enjoyed the infectious cheer that surrounds you here.  We are all having a great time watching the "young girls" entertain the children.  Haley, Hanna, Carolyn, Libby and Aubrey have sang, danced and played games for hours on end.  Their energy seems to be endless and their efforts are not wasted, the children  adore them.  The town kids led them to a huge soccer field where the fun began.  They had the largest game of duck-duck-goose that you have ever seen and the highlight of the afternoon was the bubbles.  The girls had huge bubble wands and as the bubbles were released the kids chased, and chased them, it was really a sight.  Tomorrow we will begin our work...

Enjoy the pictures and the glimpse into our adventure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Neat request

The headmaster from Ogalo Parents School, one of the poorest schools, but a personal favorite of Mark's, Carolyn's and mine came several miles this morning and asked me if I had a book on "the Methodists" that he could borrow.  This was neat because while we have made no secret of our church, we have only discussed that we are Christians and he had a apparently sufficiently appreciated our first group's approach that he wanted to learn more about us. I told him I was honored, I'd look and after some digging in our surplus religion books found a good book on John Weslely which he was pleased to receive.

We had a good day of introducing all to the village. Children were delightful, did work on the lantern project, had a good visit to Ogalo, spoke at legnth with Chairman Emmy about a number of projects, including the potential for producing health education dvd's in Alur in conjunction with the Where There is No Doctor series. Tonight's showing of the BBC series on the Oceans was well received.

Hope everyone at home is well.  Mark 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Group 2 here and fine

We picked up group 2 this morning and made a lot more efficient trip to Zeu than the first group and were here by 7:10.  Group 2 getting hotel rooms in London to catch up on sleep made a very big differfence in how they felt. Everyone is fine. Just finished dinner and everyone is moved in and good. Early rising and travel will help all sleep this evening.  We did, however, get a taste of village hospitality as the children rallied outside, all extremely haapy to see us again.  Tomorrow will involve visiting some schools with libraries already put togehter, teaching our new group what needs to be done and just having fun with the kids. Best, Mark

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chilling between Groups

The Cothams, including Andrew Price who is now an honorary Cotham since he was taught the secret knock, are trying to chill between groups. Tomorrow morning we get up early and will pick the new group up in Entebbe. The Loyds will temporarily head for Bethany Village (a children's home for mainly orphaned children-where all of the books have been delivered), but will meet back up with us by June 20th. Yesterday, we visited Jinja, including the Source of the Nile park and Bujagali Falls, where we took a short boat trip and saw some folks go over the falls. Our own efforts to white water raft were the victim of scheduling issues.

Today, I visisted again with my friend Abhay Shaw, who owns a Ugandan solar company, about a solar power solution to the DVD players we brought over.  It was very encouraging--it looks like a realtively small panel could power the player.  If so, with a little help from the manufacturer, we would be able to distribute a number of these players at sub $100 per unit, which would enable the schools to very easily share top quality educational DVD's.  That could provide a vehicle for introducing some excellent content for these children and might further serve as a proof of concept for a larger program.

I also re-visited Uganda McMillan and with a generous donation by friends of Nanette's acquired 65 more copies of Where There is No Doctor, an extraordinarily well-written and popular book by the Hesperian Society for villages who have no doctor but nonetheless have needs for health care information.  Both teachers and health professionals were extremely glad to recieve the copies that we had already brought (due to Chapelwood's generosity) and these extra copies will be incredibly well-received.  One recipient, upon reviewing the book, said "this book will save lives here." Again, thanks!

We all miss family and friends, but are still having a great time and looking forward to introducing a new group to the Zombo District. Thanks to all. We'll try to stay in touch.  Mark

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunday, June 12-Tuesday, June 14

Sorry to have lapsed on blog posts for a couple of days.  Our modem that we use to access the internet at the compound ran out of minutes.  Even in Uganda, it's nice to feel connected to friends and family.

After our last day of working on libraries, We were on our own on Saturday to do what interested us.  Some went back to finish up something on a library, others went shopping right at the Congo border.  Even though the Alur tribe (group we have been working with) exists in the Congo as well as Uganda, there was a noticeable difference between the two people.  The Zombo District Alur (Uganda) are a genuine, kind-natured people.  The Congo Alur are more "stubborn" as one of the local Ugandans put it.  I'm not sure that's the right word, but the Congo people just had a different way about them.

Sunday was transfer to Murchison Falls day.  We saw some amazing animals:  elephants, girafffes, baboons, water buffalo, etc.  Monday morning we went on a river cruise on the Albert  Nile and saw even more animals up close and personal.  Lots and lots of hippos and a fair amount of crocodiles.  Fun time had by all.  We continued on our way back going through Kampala for the night and had a last hurrah dinner at a lovely pizza place on the beach of the lake.  We took a last group picture which I will post when I get back to Houston.

We all loved our project in Uganda and had a good time getting to know the local people there.  They have such good hearts, it's understandable how Mark has gotten so attached to them.

Looking forward to group 2's blog, Have fun!!

michelle williams  signing off!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What a Group

The first part of Group1 (those going through Brussels) were just dropped off at the airport. The group flying back through London are leaving very early a.m.  (The Cothams and Andrew Price are looking forward to a day trip tomorrow to Jinja and the source of the Nile). Group One sure proved to be a hard working, dedicated and fun crowd.  I'm sure that a lot of luck was involved, but everyone seemed to find a good and productive role and get along quite well. Nice to know that it is possible for people to come together so quickly and work so well as a group. Of course, I think that everyone enjoying and loving the children so much had a lot to do with the group being so tasked oriented and willing to work so hard. 

Vicki and both Marks had a nice visit this morning with Sam Mdune and the United Methodist Church's bishop for East Africa. Let me let Michelle update on other aspects of the past few days.

When Group One gets back, thanks so very very much for what you accomplished and being so wonderful to work and travel with. I can promise you that the people of the Zombo district will never forget what you've done for them.

A couple of days rest and then we're really looking forward to the new group and working on a bunch of other great libraries. 

Best, Mark

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 10th

We finished library installations today with 2 groups going to 2 different schools, putting books on the shelves and celebrating their openings all in a few hours.   One group worked at the Abonga Kubi school and the other at Arii. 

   Abonga Kubi is a government assisted school, as are just about all the schools we visited.  As recently as 2 yrs ago, it was deserted.  Gilbert the Headmaster was charged with its reopening.  The school has grown from 90 students at its initial opening to almost 500.  They have 8 teachers and their school motto is “play hard, work hard”.  They also strive to incorporate Christian principals into the curriculum.  All of the schools have school yard signs encouraging high morals and good health practices:  “Virginity is Health”, says one sign, “No Fighting”, and “Be Honest and Do Not Steal”, “Avoid Going to Dangerous Places”, but our favorite is probably, “Do Not Accept Gifts for Sex!”  Many children walk miles to and from school each day.

   The other school visited today was Arii.  They also have about 450 students.  Their reception was clapping as the volunteers arrived.  The library went into a small area with our youngest members doing most of the shelving.  It started raining in the middle of the ceremony, but that didn’t deter them from thanking the volunteers.  One student read a poem he had written for Mark.  It was a beautiful poem, and they gave us copies of it.  The school also gave Carolyn Cotham a thank you gift that was a pretty hand carved lion.  The ride home in the rain along the dirt roads had the bus hydroplaning into the grasses along side the road.  The boys in the back of the bus raised their arms mocking a roller coaster ride pose!       
   The afternoon was free to do whatever interested us.  Some went to the Health Center and unloaded 15 boxes all containing medical books for the center.  Health care workers there were very encouraged to have such valuable information at their facility.  Many thanks to all who made that powerful donation possible.

   A smaller group including Mark Sr. and the local District Chairman (similar to the Zombo District Governor) went on a tour of many area facilities, including:  a seedling farm that experiments with new plant/fruit species to introduce into the local farms; a hydro plant that ideally will bring power to the villages;  as well as viewing city plans for zoning and building restrictions for commercial and residential development.  Those with the power to implement some of these improvements seem to have a clear vision of what steps need to be taken.  The plans are in place, now making them a reality is the next challenge.

Tonight we are showing The Jesus Movie in the local language-Alur, and it is being watched by a number of villagers. 

This group of children who live by our compound are always playing outside.  Yesterday our boys engaged them in a game of Duck, Duck , Goose.  It was hilarious!  They picked up on it right away.  There was much commotion this afternoon outside and after checking on the source of it, we saw the kids playing the game without the boys.  They had allowed a stretching of the rules; however, and some were running around the whole yard to avoid being tagged.  It will be interesting to see what other practices of ours will be adopted.  Claris, the lady that cooks most of our meals, has learned how to make guacamole, garlic bread, and fry fish (all under Peggy Burck’s instruction).  She says she likes these new recipes, but who knows if she is just being polite. 

Thank you for your interest in our mission and for following our blog.  Tomorrow is our last day here.  I’m sure our hearts are changed more that any changes we may have brought to the village.

Michelle Williams

(editing by Mark and input from Vicki Judd)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9th pictures

This picture is from Cope school, where some children dressed up in these grass costumes in celebration of their new library.                                                  
This is a home-made wood carven bike that the children were riding as we arrived. 

Hand's Down Half Price Pop-up Books Most Popular

If you ever want to entertain 500-600 African children at a library opening, go to Half Price and clean out their Pop-up section.  Particularly mummy and dragon pop-ups.  What a hoot! Had six more great openings today. Mark Cotham

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wednesday June 8th

Today we installed 6 more libraries:
Jupamatho, C.O.P.E., Ogalo, Palwo, Adhingi, and Adusi
Several of the schools had receiving lines for us as we approached in the bus and then sang in lines on either sides of us as we walked up to the schools.  C.O.P.E.’s singing was precious; they are a young school.  They are one of the poorest schools we will see, but were ready for us with brightly painted blue shelves.  Jupamatho is a very small primary school supported completely by parents.  It consists of 2 classrooms about 10’ x 10’ in size.  Peering into their room reveals a sea of little faces.  They are packed into their space.  Ogalo greeted their helpers with a school song showing their Ugandan pride. 

The drive to these schools is akin to a roller coaster ride.  Some members chose to walk home from their school, not to avoid the ride, but to enjoy the scenery.  This new area is closer to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The topography changes a bit with more defined hills.  There are tracts of pine trees planted for lumber harvesting as well as clear cut areas that have yet to be replanted.

The afternoon’s schools included more singing and spirited receptions.  Palwo waved bunches of leafy branches as they sang their song.  They also had a special song sung by their award winning choir saying “We will remember you forever!”

Adhingi and Adusi also had heart-warming receptions.  We’ll report more about them after tomorrow’s opening.

Thank you to all of you who made these libraries.  We are lucky to get to see their reactions, and feel blessed to get to meet the people who cherish the efforts of those whom they have never met.

Thank you also to our prayer partners.  Your prayers are felt.  There are over 20 of us in close quarters, but we are getting along very well.  This is a large effort and all of your hard work made it possible.

Michelle Williams

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Exceeding all expectations

Yesterday's opening exceeded all expectations as far as how the libraries were set up, how they were received and the number of books cheked out.  I can't thank everyone enough for their help.  Person after person came up and siad that they could not find the words to thank us.  The libraries are obviously that largest and best thing to happen to these schools in a long time, perhaps ever.  One of our groups was told that they were the second group of Muzungus  (whites)  to visit.  The last visited in 1944.  Lookinjg forward to visiting some of our favorite, but easily the poorest schools this morning-COPE, Ogalo and Jupamatho.  We are all very excited.  Everyone is doing well here.  Mark Cotham

June 7, 2011

Today we celebrated openings of the 6 schools we installed yesterday:  Zale, Pagei, Ndrinyi, Ngume, Zeu and Papoga.  It was very fulfilling to see the culmination of a year of preparation.  Here are comments from our youngest team members:

Mary Elizabeth Thomas
Today I cut the tape to open the Papoga library and watched children of all ages stream in to borrow books.

Carolyn Cotham
Today I made many new friends.  Two girls in particular asked when meeting me, "can we be friends?"  We talked for a few hours and bonded despite all odds.

Austin Price
It is not every day that I have a chance to help the students medically and educationally.  Passing out vitamin A and Abendazole (deworming medication) at the libraries uplifted the students and myself as well.

Joshua Wilkerson
After we required that all the children take deworming medication before entering the library, noting their apparent reluctance, we were surprised to be approached by the teachers and some parents pointing to their stomachs and saying, "and me!"  I was also surprised when I saw a young boy puzzling over a book he pulled from the shelf on how to tie your shoes when I noticed that neither he nor his classmates were wearing them.

Davison Crake
Today I got to see the finished libraries and the smiling faces of the children that found a book.   I also was able to work with Austin to medicate all of the children and even got to play soccer with the older students.

Ryan Evans
I sat outside of a library as the eager locals piled outside.  As I talked to a group, I became aware of a growing mass of kids behind me.  As soon as I turned they began falling over each other trying to back away.  I quickly won them back by taking pictures of them and showing them themselves.  I will never forget their delighted babble as they pointed to themselves on the screen.

Andrew Price
I threw Austin a bottle of coke today and it exploded when he opened it.  It was hilarious.  (Andrew is in charge of the solar lanterns that we are donating/delivering to the schools and has done a great job.)

Mark Cotham, Jr.
At first, the kids looked really nervous, but once a couple of them had checkd out books, the rest of the kids were unbelievably excited.  From then on, my job was simply to removed obstacles between them and the books.  It was so encouraging.

Jesse Worsham
Today I handed out medicine for the deworming and sustenance of the students at the libraries' opening. The willingness and eagerness to receive medicine at such a young age.  Im very glad that I could make a difference.

Kathryn Williams
Today I read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to all the kids at Pagei school and they just fell literally in love with that book and repeating the words after me.  It was really nice being able to see all of the laughing and smiling, and as we were leaving they chanted "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom"

Vicki Jud, a veteran missioner, commented that she has been very impressed by the contribution of the young people.  The students can relate so well to them and our young team members are eager to engage the students.

Today was a tremendous blessing to all of us.  We brought the libraries to them, but we are the ones receiving blessings.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Six libraries set up

Today we finished setting up Zeu and also Ndrinyi, Ngume, Zale, Papoga and Pagei. Great thanks to all involved in assembling and cataloging those libraries. Your hard work cataloging and ordering the books meant they just flew out of the boxes and onto the shelves.  By the way, we've been pleased with the local shelves.

At Zeu, we were very pleased that the first few students practicing checking out requested a play, another wanted a history of the Zulu nation and another a book on the human body.

 The excitement of the students was off the charts. Tomorrow, we'll have opening ceremonies, ribbon cutting and we'll be distributing solar lanterns and the Macmillan charts. A very large number of local dignitaries, village elders, parents and government officials are expected in attendance.  We will also be passing out de-worming medicine, thanks to  Dr. and Sue Price.

Finally, we were extremely pleased to speak with the Chairman of Zombo who explained that they will in connection with the library openings be especially emphasizing reading in the schools, including a two hour period of reading.  Nice to think that the libraries might also have the impact of vitalizing reading efforts overll.

Otherwise, all is well and everyone is in good spirits, albeit missing those at home.  We said a temporary goodbye to our friend Sam Mdume who left for Kampala--he happily took the books that we'd assembled for the Bishop as well as a majority of the Bethany Village books. We hope to share a dinner with Sam and the Bishop as our first group leaves through Kampala.

Thanks again to all for your hard and excellent work. Wish you could be here to see how grateful the kids and community are for all your kindness.

Mark Cotham

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 3
June 5

We attended the second service at the Catholic church today  (beautiful church, held about 800 people) and arrived 1 ½ hours into the service, though we still got to see 45 minutes.  It was   very uplifting even though we couldn’t understand the language (alur).  The people danced to every song that is sung, even the little acolytes have a routine. The instruments are all handmade and sound a little Caribbean in style.  Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best.  They clearly enjoy the service and its almost as if the longer the service, the better!   The priest said that time in Africa is measured by events instead of by a clock.  This is certainly true.   Again, we were the featured guests with children literally pushing each other to get to our hands to shake them.  Such enthusiastic attention is so funny to us.  The libraries are very exciting to them and we are treated like celebrities.  Some of us were lucky enough to get to hold a toddler during the service.  One just walked across the altar and into my arms!  After the service, the children did a song and dance routine to show their gratitude. 

   We left the church grounds and into the building where our libraries have been stored.  They were stacked in relative order with each school’s books stacked together.  We tidied up some of the boxes and loaded the Zeu libraries books onto a truck bound for the installment this afternoon. 
    After a short lunch, we went to Zeu school (again, rock star status crowds) and started unloading the boxes and shelving them.  This library is one of the largest, if not the largest, and it took a village to get them in order.  We had a lot of “helpers” in the room with us that were mainly curious though of very little actual help.  It made for a chaotic installment.  Thanks to Nannette though, all the books are shelved and part of our group returns tomorrow to perfect the library.

    These people are happy and appreciative of every blessing.  Our prayer is that they USE the libraries.  We continue to tell them that they are of no use to anyone sitting on a shelf.  Few of the children have ever seen any kind of book other than a single set of textbooks that the teacher teaches from.  The head of Zeu today told us that he teaches 150 kids in his classroom.  It is about the same size as 1 of our classrooms in the states where about 25 students are taught!  
    All of us are in good spirits and feeling well.  Everyone seems to sleep well and there are meals a plenty.  Tomorrow our real work starts as we install 6 libraries:  Ndrinyi, Ngume, Zale, Pagei, Zeu (finishing up), and Papoga.  A heartfelt thanks to all of you who gathered the books together, cataloged and boxed them.  None of this could have happened without your hard work.  It has been very rewarding to have chosen books with these children in mind and to get to see their excitement.  It is truly hard to imagine what a big event this is for this village. 

    The medical team is at work right now counting deworming pills and vitamins to be given out tomorrow.  Special thanks to those here and at home who helped with this project.  These children need so much medical care; it’s heartwarming to know that we will leave them in better health.  Thanks and bessings to you all.  Your prayers are felt!

Michelle Williams


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 2: First Full Day in the Village

June 4th

Everyone had a good night’s rest and felt recharged to start our adventure.  Our accommodations are Father Inke’s compound (2 buildings with several bedrooms in each) that was built for groups such as ours. The buildings are nice with concrete walls and floors and shingled roofs.  It is not the typical abode here, however.   A typical home’s floor and walls are huts made mostly of mud sustained with a structure of reeds and wood and the roofs are thatch made of woven grasses—all materials are found right here in the village.  I’ll try to post a couple of pictures of these huts.  They are very neat in appearance and well-kept inside and out.  All the cooking is done right outside the doors of our building though still within the compound.  They use coals and small portable stoves and manage to cook tasty meals for at least 25 people and all with a smile on their faces.  (Puts my home cooking attitude to shame!)  We compliment them often with genuine praise and it seems to be very appreciated.  Our typical meal is cooked cabbage, rice, beans, cassava (type of banana that when cooked tastes like potato), peanuts and some kind of meat(!)
Our restful day has consisted of getting to know our way around the village, visiting a baby born just this morning, as well as enjoying a game of soccer Houston boys vs. village kids (1/2 their size, btw) and it the village boys did very well. I’m sure it was a tie!
  Here are some images from the day that come to mind:  endless curious young faces, moms with babies on their backs and even children carrying babies on their backs…  our girls dancing with the children to music the children played from their own homemade instruments, vegetables planted on every available plot of land, beautiful avocado and mango trees.  The rainy season supposedly ended a week ago, so we shouldn't see any rain, though the temperature is about 80 degrees during the day and 70 degrees at night.
We broke into 2 groups: one attended the library introduction to school teachers and administrators and the other was a medical group touring the health facilities nearby.  The library meeting began with the attendees (300ppl) singing the Ugandan national anthem which was beautiful--a tear jerker for some... and it included lots of speeches thanking Mark (referring to him as a king!), and our "delegation" for the all of our efforts towards their community.  The local leaders enjoy speaking!  One comment that was humorous and probably in response to Mark trying to organize and shorten the meeting was that by 4pm our backs would be facing the building as we walked away because we would end so promptly!  The meeting lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes and that is considered short!  Nannette gave a helpful explanation of libraries and their use and Mark Cotham gave an almost poetic history of books and reading and their value to enlightening and advancing cultures.  Often times local men on stage would translate our words into alur, the local language.  Although they all speak varying degrees of english, they sometimes have a hard time understanding us.
We then broke into groups and each of us huddled with children and teachers  teaching about different kinds of books.  Thank you Diane Rager!  The banded books and their descriptions were immensely helpful.
  The medical team traveled with the district health officer and other local leaders to visit  3 health clinics and the 1 hospital in the district.  Many babies were being born and the limited laboratory and diagnostic facilities were evaluated.  Arrangements were being made to meet again later this week with the very young doctor (23) at the hospital.  He is only 1 of 3 doctors in the Zombo district (220,000 people).
  Prior to dinner, Marion Bates led us into an explanation of how our devotionals will be done by each of us for the rest of the week.  Tonight Mark talked about different religions and how there is spirituality everywhere.  He encouraged us to keep an open mind as to where everyone is in their spiritual walk.
Marion mentioned today that it is no mystery that we are in Uganda.  The people have been praying for help and "I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry"  (psalm 40:1).  We hope to be God's hands and pray He will guide us to do His will here in Uganda.

We are trying to post pictures.  They take a lot of power to upload and we are short on that!

Michelle Williams

Friday, June 3, 2011

Enroute to our village!

We loaded up this morning for our day long trip to Zeu.  I can't wait to send a pic of the truck will all of our bags--it's amazing the truck hasn't turned over.  We have 20 people in our group, divided up in 2 vans.  It has been an experience just watching Ugandan life from our windows...very green and tropical; red dirt with lots of brick-making huts on the side of the road;  cardboard kiosks selling all kinds of fruits and things.  Ugandans dress very colorfully, almost in sync with the colorful foliage.  The road is the lineline of the country.  People are busily walking just a few feet away from our bus.  The highlight of the day for us I think, after viewing the beautiful  Karoma Falls and driving over the Nile River, was our siting of such exotic animals:  baboons, elephants and impala!  Lots more to tell, but it will have to wait until we are settled in our camp in a couple of hours.  Sun has set here; was beautiful to watch as we approached the Nile.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Group 1 Part 1 Safely Here

Those flying in from Brussels arrived safely, with the exception of Colleen who missed a connection to Newark and with whom we will link up yet. Otherwise, all are here and in good spirits.  We had some authentic Ugandan pizza and it is past midnight and everyone is turning in. All the children send their love to their parents. We'll try to blog from the road tomorrow--hoping to see some wildlife on the drive.  Picking up Group 1, part 2 early a.m.  Best, Mark

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Medicine and lanterns

Had another busy day acquiring things and meeting with friends. Started by picking up the medicines for Dr. Price.  Picked up, among other things 20,000 tablets for de-worming children.  If you're interested, Google "de-worming."  You'll find that the health benefits from this (which costs pennies per child) are really amazing. Unfortunately, the incidence of parasites is very high in Zombo because so few of the children can afford shoes. What incredible luck that the Prices are joining us. For what it is worth, I found the Joint Medical Store very professional and efficient and the order was very well handled with expiration dates very far out, etc.

Then, met my friend Abhay Shaw with Ultra-tec solar here in Kampala.  He delivered the 100 solar lanterns that the Chapelwood Foundation so generously sponsored.  We bought lanterns made by the d.light company (designed by social entreprenuers in the US).  These are very good quality products-Abhay scared me by intentionally dropping the lantern from shoulder height--it just bounced and worked perfectly. You can watch several neat Youtubes about them. We are going to experiment, Andrew Price being our administrator, and see how best to deploy these lanterns so the most kids can benefit.  However they end up being distributed, these are literally going to let thousands read at night and hopefully introduce a much better technology into the Zombo District. Also, part of the point is to prove the concept so that it might be replicated by others.

 The irony is that these lights are much more economic than what's being done now, the costs of a lantern that will last several years would pay off versus the costs of kerosene or re-charging car batteries in a very few months. But $15-20 is out of reach at one time for the average Zombo resident, so that's something that needs work along the micro-finance line. Abhay had several good ideas about that.

Abhay also may have an elegant solar solution to powering the Panasonic portable DVD players that we are experimenting with. We brought three DVD players and on previous trips have brought some really great educational films-many by the BBC as well as The Jesus Movie in Alur.  If this works as hoped, it could be an incredibly efficient way to share a huge volume of great material from rural school to school.  Of course, to make it work we have to figure out a cost-effective way to power the dvd players which are themselves sub-$100 in cost and can run up to twelve hours on a charge.  Along these lines, if anyone has any extra documentaries-National Geographics, BBC, PBS, etc. or other wholesome movies--those could really be seen and appreciated by a lot of kids here.

Abhay and his wife Rita also graciously invited me to an Indian vegetarian lunch in their home that was outstanding. One of the real enjoyable things about doing this is meeting folks like this-who are brilliant in their fields and have a passion for using those talents to do some good.

Closed out the day buying a portable generator, some net balls and finalizing and picking up our Macmillan maps and charts order. All of the schools for whom Chapelwood put together libraries will be getting a set.  Particularly for the schools in mud huts, for example Jupamatho and Ogalo-these are going to be a real big resource.  (Oglao was where the parents had started building the library before we even visited them just to show us how much they wanted and needed books--it is impossible not to want to help people like that). The charts have excellent visuals and graphics on English, Math, Biology, Chemistry, the Human body and so forth as well as a world and a Uganda map for all the schools. Thanks again for the contributions and support.

Tomorrow will do some more miscellaneous shopping and then head out to Entebbe, where later in the evening we'll pick up the first part of the First Group. Looking forward to welcoming them and we double checked our reservations on the way in.  Finally, I should mention how good it has been to be working again with Sabiri, our now several time driver.  He's reliable, very safe, punctual and seems to get what we are trying to do and is constantly figuring out ways to be helpful. You can't ask for more.

Best, Mark
Woke up and ate breakfast outdoors with a bunch of Maribou storks nearby. These birds are in between turkeys and ostriches sizewise and real tall.                          

Then started knocking out logistics. Hit the Forex, bought and stocked three phones, hit the new and almost doubled in size Aristoc bookstore (note they have soccer balls on sale there in their new toy department).                             

Then, I enjoyed a great lunch with Sam Mdune with the United Methodist's East African conference in charge of missions. Sam is so thoughtful and pleasant. He'll be joining us for 3-4 days on the trip to Zeu and knows several Chapelwood folks from mission work in Kenya. Sam was very appreciative of the library that was  put together for the Bishop. He said he was fretting because they have training for new ministers coming up with no materials and then out of the blue he got word of the Chapelwood books being on the way, and considers that an answered prayer. He also had a number of encouraging things to say about the difference libraries and books can make in Uganda.    After lunch and a mad round of grocery and misc  shopping (4 stores) the highlight of the day, other than visiting with Sam, was picking out charts, maps and posters at Macmillan Uganda, right next to the Fang Fang Hotel. Many of the schools have absolutely nothing like this and it is fun and a real privilege to be working on this. This is where donated money is going. Thanks-this is going to make a real big impact in a bunch of kids' lives-letting them know about the world (all schools, for example, are going to be given a global map and we will let all know where Texas and the people who donated the books are located).                                                             

Really looking forward to some friends and family's arrival on Thursday/Friday.                       

Best, Mark the tired

Monday, May 30, 2011

Arrived in Good Shape

I'm writing from the Fang Fang Hotel in downtown Kampala using a new modem. All is quite well.  Kampala does have a home/familar feel to it.  Everyone I've spoken to is confident that calm has been restored. The city is busy with what feels like a lot of progress and a lot of challenges.

A few travel suggestions born in experience are in order. As far as Uganda immigration, please note that if you have a visa, you can and should stand in the Uganda residents line which will be much shorter. It is more to the right as you are facing the lines.  Also, they will pass out arrival cards on the plane-nice they do that now, so take a minute to fill it out and then there's nothing to fill out on the ground. For those buying a visa, your line is all the way to the left. If you step fairly lively, you can get in line such that you'll get your visa at the same time as the bags will have arrived. Note, they still have the carts-making heavy suitcases easy to move.

For those laying over in London, that 12-13 hours is brutal (might be easier if you can take turns staying awake).  I would definitely recommend that you look into the dayroom at the Comfort Inn. I think a room for 2 is 36 pounds. Compared to hard chairs, it is well worth it.  By way of confession, I went to London and worshiped at John Wesley's church and then went to the British Museum, but it was specifically not recommended by the Missions group at Chapelwood for the group to go into town.  Obviously, if you do, leave lots of room and make sure that you have someone confident in their use of the tube with you. Mark the Younger is quite talented at that, for what it is worth.

The head pastor at Wesley's chapel, Leslie Griffiths is a great preacher and also a member of the House of Lords.  He told me he had preached at Saint Paul's in Houston. As per a conversation I had with Rev. Griffiths before, Africans now make up a distinct majority (perhaps 80-90%, by my guess) of those in attendance at Weley's chapel. Interesting that Methodism's travels abroad is now coming back to help save one of its foundational churches.

One of our drivers, Sabiri confirmed that our books had arrived well and were received with really great enthusiasm. He had taken my good friend Mike Hill with Orphan Support Africa to Zeu a few weeks ago.

While starting to pick up supplies this afternoon, I was reminded how incredibly friendly and interesting Ugandans generally are. Greetings take on a personal note that we've lost. The fellow I bought this modem from had to run ten minutes away to get one to sell to me and was very grateful for the sale.  Btw, 10 GB for the month cost about $60 and the modem about $40.

Going to go see Macmillan Africa about posters, etc. for our libraries and then I think I'll go to work on a serious sleep deficit. Best, Mark Cotham

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Introduction to what we'll be doing

It dawned on me last night that a number of people viewing this blog might not have a full understanding of what our project and overall trip will involve. So, here in a nutshell is what we'll be doing. 

First, we will be building 23 libraries-one at Bethany Village, a home for orphaned children near Lake Victoria.  The other 22 are in the Zombo District, which is in Northwest Uganda, right on the Congo border. The tribe we work with is the Alur.  If you don't have a new map, it will be shown as the western one third of the former Nebbi District.  In all, there will be 38 of us- 23 in the first group, 15 in the second.  Four of us are in both groups- me, my daughter Carolyn, son Mark and Andrew Price. Many of us are from Chapelwood United Methodist Church which has provided significant help and support. 

We are also happy to welcome Dr. Todd and Sue Price and friends of theirs, who will not only help with libraries, but who also will work on health issues, especially de-worming of children, something they have done in many parts of the world. Two doctors, Dr. Ed Lynch and Dr. Jeff Bates from Chapelwood ,will be working with both the libraries and the health project.

We have shipped around 50,000 books (thanks again Chapelwood not only for the donations, but the storage). Patrice Cotham would tell you that every one of those books was in her house at one time, but that's probably only 90% true. Our good friend Jess Stokely at Christian Alliance helped us muster and get these shipped out in a cargo container. (Hard to even imagine all the good and hope that Jess has been responsible for sending all over the world).The container also brought books for 4 other orphanages, the United Methodist Church's Bishop of East Africa located in Kampala, a health library for the Zombo District, starter sets of 7-10 boxes of books for ten other schools and a number of surplus books that we can fill holes with and also build still more libraries.

The books are mostly donated--a few were bought used.  Half-Price Books was by far and away our most generous patron.  Thank you and everyone please buy their books. Friends of the Houston Public Library also donated many books.  Chapelwood, often through individual Sunday Schools and families, also donated a ton of books (literally).  More friends than I can count brought a box here, a bag there.

Due to the generosity of the Chapelwood Foundation, we will also be bringing solar lanterns that will let the children read at night. One of the reasons that the Zombo kids haven't been able to compete so well for scholarships, aside from not having any books, is that they lack electricity and the alternatives for reading at night such as fire or kerosene lamps are expensive, poor and dangerous. These lanterns will make an incredible difference.

More details to follow.

Afoyo (thank you in Alur)

Mark Cotham

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thanks and welcome

There are so many people to thank and welcome to all. Thanks to Anne Siller and Michelle Williams for setting this blog up. Anne, your cards announcing this blog address are wonderful. Thanks also to Peggy and Mark Burck for hosting a great event yesterday at which many of us were able to meet and get to know each other better.  Thanks to our young ladies for designing a fashionable t-shirt.  Thanks to Chapelwood for a touching commission.

I hope, as time permits, to highlight the contributions of many individuals. There are so many people like Diane Rager, Mary Waggoner, Ellen Davis, Betsy Hooper, Mary Kay Moen, Susan Johnson, Patty Eggleston, so many Sunday Schools, so many staff from Chapelwood, so many from the UMW, the Youth, Mercy Street who aren't getting on the plane but who are going with us in spirit and whose contibutions are already in the Zombo District.

Personally, I will be bound next Saturday night for Kampala, so preparations are in high gear. We just boxed up our miniature books libraries (around 150 titles-many classics and a complete reference section) that we've dubbed the Ted Westmoreland Memorial Library. Ted was an amazing friend who passed away recently. Anyway, the library will be on tour in Zombo going to schools without libraries (for now) and also be used to teach teachers and students the basic principles of a library.

Again, great thanks to all and welcome to our blog.

Mark Cotham