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