Thursday, 2 March 2017

Will Miss 10,000 please stand up?

The girls at Porogali Primary School, Pader district share out knickers in groups of three. The pads have already been handed out and put away. One of these is our 10,00th girl.

We have just started our fourth year of the Pads Ministry in Pader, Northern Uganda and a blog post seems to be one good way of marking a special milestone.

Yes, we have now passed the '10,000 girl' milestone and she is somewhere in this crowd of girls you can see at Porogali Primary School in Pader district.

We thought about singling her out and celebrating her but in the end we decided not to embarrass her; just to know that she was there.

That was on 14th of February and was in the middle of a push that took us up to 10,763 at the time of writing.

These young girls will shortly be young women and, in due course, mothers themselves.This project is helping to break the cycle of ignorance and prejudice around menstruation, that leads to girls dropping out of school and being married off young for a lifetime of childbearing.

Girls anywhere can suffer low self esteem and the onset of menstruation, without understanding what is happening, can be crushing. We always tell them how they are each 'wonderfully made' by God, quoting from Psalm 139v14. It is all to easy for them to think that they are some kind of horrible mistake, in a culture that traditionally does not value girls, except as a means of gaining wealth by marrying them off. Attitudes are changing, but slowly.

So, with these simple materials, instruction and encouragement, we are giving these girls just a small but vital bit of control over their own lives.

When they do become mothers, they will know how to help their girls as they grow up.

Each set of 4 pads and 4 knickers, delivered to the girl, costs 9,500 Uganda shillings, roughly £2.21. We think that is rather good value for a life changing intervention!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Lets go fly a kite!

Every Friday afternoon in term time I have been visiting the dozen Deaf children in the district Special Needs Unit of the local school, Paipir Primary (say pie-pea). My sign language is slowly getting more fluent with use and I have attempted to tell Bible stories.

Let's go.....
We have also been making kites from plastic bags and split bamboo. Kites that actually fly are very rare in Uganda so it has been a lot of fun teaching the Deaf kids this 'special' knowledge. This is a small effort to redress the natural balance which leaves them well behind the curve in almost every way, in a largely unsympathetic hearing world.

fly a kite!
There should be about 120 Deaf children at Paipir but there were only 12 last term. The rest are isolated in their home villages because the parents are unaware that they can go to school, are too poor to attempt it or believe it is no worth sending a deaf child to school.

All of us hearing people pick up our mother tongue without a thought as we grow up. For the deaf, that does not work and sign language must be learned from an outside source; an instructor or a school. Without language, communication, and life, is miserably limited.

Channel 4, 'Unreported World' made an excellent documentary about the issues of Deafness in rural Uganda which you can watch here

On Sunday mornings at the Church of Uganda (Anglican) church we provide sign language interpretation for the Deaf adults and children who come. After church I host 'Deaf Breakfast' and usually welcome around 10 young adults (with 3 children) and a sign language interpreter into my home for 'Break Tea'. It is generally not very deep but provides the Deaf community with a social space.
Fun at Deaf breakfast
The church has come to rather enjoy having the Deaf coming to Sunday service and a few church members have learned sign language, which augurs well for the future. The Children presented a sign language song to the church one Sunday that was well 

Hearing aids? Sorry, there are no technicians and even if the batteries were available, which they are not, there would be no money to pay for them.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Time to catch up, better late than never.

I have been very remiss in my blogging. It was December last year....... Well, no excuses. But I would like to give you a series of sketches of what I have been up to, starting with Pads.  You can expect further posts in the coming week or so on the Deaf, the Radio, Farming and Future Plans. 

Pads Project
This school had a 241 girls over 12. In the foreground is the stack of knickers needed for each to get four pairs. 
The main project I am involved with is providing washable sanitary pads for schoolgirls. I have written about this before, so you can scroll down through the blog or link to here or here to get the full low-down.

To date, this year we have visited 16 schools, 11 of which were 1st time visits. About 1450 girls are now equipped to go confidently to school.

In June we were invited at short notice, by an NGO called ActionAid, to provide pads for the girls of 10 schools at their expense and we have 4 of those remaining to visit in the next two weeks.

Then we can resume visiting our 'old' schools and providing for their 'new' 12 year olds.

This year, by the end of the final term, we should have made and distributed in excess of 10,000 pads and bought and distributed the same number of knickers.

Does it any difference? So far it has proved very difficult to get clear statistics. But anecdotally it is not hard to show and I have yet to come across anyone here who thinks we are wasting our time.

I spoke to a successful woman of around 40 years a few months ago who said that by the time she reached the end of secondary school, she was the only girl in the school. All the others had dropped out for various factors peculiar to gender. Foremost among these was the problems and embarrassment of dealing with periods in a mixed school, without sanitary materials. She was very enthusiastic about this project.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


It feels in some way appropriate that the name of the 24th and last school that we reached with the pads ministry this year has a certain ring of finality about it, “Kibong!”

Pads are handed out at Kibong Primary School.
The hill in the background feels closer than the picture shows.

As schools go it was rather pleasant; the school itself was fairly new and well maintained but the village is set on level ground nestling between a couple of rocky hills, giving it a more interesting aspect than almost all the others we have visited. Most of our schools are set in a relatively featureless, mainly flat landscape with only trees to draw the eye. It has to be said that the trees are often rather fine, in some ways reminiscent of an English woodland landscape only that, on closer inspection they are clearly not Oak, Ash or Chestnut. This is bush country, just a bit too dry to be jungle but allows a great variety of trees to flourish. So far, the agricultural land use is not so intensive that all the trees have been cleared; perhaps because the vast majority of land is still managed using man and woman power; oxen may be used for ploughing but are of no use for weeding or harvesting. There are currently still plenty of tracts of native bush, including mature trees, between the cultivated areas. Perhaps mechanisation or population pressure will change this in a generation or two. 

This man has sewn all but the first
small batch of pads this year!
But I digress. Whilst landscape and environment are important and interesting, it is the people that we are here to serve; for this work, that means schoolgirls. Now, I have explained at length before that equal opportunity in education for boys and girls is a good thing and this is really the first generation here in the rural North of Uganda that have had that opportunity; very many of the mothers of our girls and quite a lot of the fathers had no formal education at all. But when the girls come to puberty and get ambushed by their menstrual cycles, equality of opportunity begins to vaporise.

In the West, periods are a problem1 to be managed, supported by an obliging sanitary hygiene industry. Here, for girls in the mixed schools of rural Uganda, that turns into a week at home, starting with potential embarrassment, maybe shame, every cycle. Sanitary pads are available but at the cost of around two days income. What chance do the girls have of reaching their academic potential in these circumstances?

What you see is what they get.
So this year we have manufactured 10,399 washable sanitary pads, using 138m of polyester fleece, 233m of PVC sheet and 43 bedsheets. We have bought 10,368 pairs of knickers in 7 trips to Lira. It takes a whole day to journey to and from Lira, about 3 hours away, for my colleague Milly. Travelling early in the back of a truck, she buys up to 130 dozen knickers from a number of traders and always comes back with exactly the required number, despite never writing anything down!

We have visited 24 schools, providing 4 pads and 4 pairs of knickers to 2647 girls2. We have actually talked to 2200 girls; in every school there are some off sick, away at an athletics competition, excluded from failure to pay the PTA fee etc. And of course, at any time, there are some who are at home waiting for their period to pass.

All this was done as economically as possible, at a cost of £2.46 (3.68 $US) per child, paid for by interested individuals and churches in the UK, Australia and America. Thank you! You have helped these young people by solving one key life problem for them. They have plenty of other problems to face but solving this one gives them a good start in facing the others.

1. Men tend to cautiously think that it is rather incorrect to call menstruation a 'problem', perhaps arguing it is a normal bodily function of healthy people; most women seem to disagree. I will go with the women on this!

2. If you do the maths you will find that dividing 10364 (knickers) by 4 gives 2591 girls, whereas we recorded 2647 girls. There were a very few cases when we arrived at a school and there were more girls than the school had informed us of and we had no backup stock. In these cases we reduced a few girls down to 3 and 3. This may account for the difference. But it remains an unsolved puzzle for the moment.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


Uganda Post Limited is a fine institution that was put in place in the colonial days. Its new 'corporate image' name is "Posta Uganda".

A Postbus, ready for the off.  I like the familiar colour!
Each of the older more well established towns have a post office and some host a post bank or even an internet centre. Post buses run from Kampala out to all the major towns where the Post Offices sort into post boxes that can be can be paid for and allocated, a precious post box key being entrusted to the owner. They carry passengers as a convenient complimentary business. There are no door to door post deliveries; most people do not get mail anyway. And in an age of mobile phones and increasing email use the Posta is feeling the squeeze.

Pader town, alas, is neither major nor old and the bus stops at Kitgum, nearly 2 hours away. From there, post for Pader is forwarded by other means. Or it was until April; then the owner of the rented building in Pader locked the door over a dispute and the Office was shut up (possibly with some items of post still inside).

Some Current Uganda Stamps
Since then our post has piled up in Kitgum with the other Pader mail. A few weeks ago week we managed to liberate ours from Kitgum Post Office and I was able to read some birthday cards as well as some real letters! Thank you R & M, S & R and S.Bi for taking the trouble to use snail mail. It is great to get it...eventually.
Since it does not look as though the Pader office is going to open again any time soon, we have decided to open a Kitgum PO Box. So if you are still dedicated to snail mail (and I hope you are) then our new address is:

Emmanuel International,
Pader Restoration Resource Centre,
P.O Box 12,

We think we will probably be able to pick it up from Kitgum at least once a month; which is better than the Pader lockout. But nothing urgent please!

Barbara Rivera,
1963 - 1994


Emmanuel International (EI), the organisation I work with, has been in existence since 1975 in Canada, when it was formed out of the experiences of the Ethiopian Famine. The UK arm was started in 1978. Since then many people have gone out to third world countries with EI and worked in places that are mostly 'off the map'. EI has an ethos blending 'Mission' with relief and development, avoiding separating the one from the other. And we strongly prefer to work alongside local church partners.
Of the many ex-patriots that have been with EI over the years, a few stay long term but many work for a year or two and move on. Many are young people starting out on their lives, making the few oldies feel either young or ancient, depending on their energy levels at the time!

The old EI Compound in Patongo today.
The burned out garage on the left, accommodation on the right
Back in 1983 EI established a base in Northern Uganda in a small town called Patongo among the Acholi people, who were suffering the effects of internal strife, coupled with lack of development, and geographical and political remoteness from the capital, Kampala.

The EI work of health education and care, agricultural development, relief in famine and war continued from the Patongo base until 2002 when the LRA rebel group attacked the EI compound, burning the vehicle garage with the vehicles inside. No one was hurt in the attack but EI decided to withdraw. The LRA, known for their gruesome brutality were completely unpredictable; sometimes polite, sometimes murderous.

When it comes to getting people out to remote places and later getting them back again, EI has an amazingly good safety record. Only one EI person has ever died in the field; Barbara Rivera.

Barbara joined the EI team in Patongo in 1992. Born in the Philippines in 1963, her father moved to London with his work when she was 10. She joined EI with experience of teaching Sunday School and a degree in Herbal Medicine. She wrote of herself in 1994 “I like visiting people but am actually quite shy and not always talkative! (more of a listener than a talker) I prefer practical / manual work to written desk work and can be quite creative when I'm in the mood. I enjoy being with people but also like my own company.” In Patongo, Barbara seems to have concentrated on the children. She taught a regular Sunday school class. The two photos of her were taken on a day when she and the district nurse were shepherding children through the bush to keep them safe from a rebel incursion (they would have abducted the boys as soldiers).

The route from Lira.
Ignor the time; Google does not compute dirt roads!
On 11th June 1994, just over 20 years ago, Barbara and her sister, who was visiting from the UK, were in Lira, the nearest big town to the south, looking for transport to take them the 106 km, 3 or 4 hours to the North East over dirt roads, back to Patongo. They found transport in the form of a small petrol driven local truck. As is normal even today, the polite Africans made space for the two Mzungu (white people) in the cab and the other passengers rode in the open back. The driver had been drinking. The truck's fuel pump had failed and the fuel was being gravity fed into the engine's carburettor from a jerry can in the cab.

The driver was in a hurry; about half way, passing through Rackoko, he did not decelarate as they descended the shallow valley after the town. The passengers in the back shouted to the driver to slow down but he did not react. At the rough and muddy spot at the valley bottom he lost control, the vehicle left the road and rolled several times, settling on its side. Amazingly everyone survived the crash but petrol from the lashed up jerrycan had leaked out. The driver clambered out in a panic and ran away. The petrol ignited. Barbara, pushing from below, helped the others in the cab escape but could not get out herself and was overcome. Some youths from the back pulled her out of the cab; she was hurried to hospital in Lira but did not survive. A tragic and devastating loss.

Children have long memories; and they grow up. Today Barbara's Sunday school children have grown into responsible adults, knowing that part of who they are was formed by Barbara. Some of them have gone into local politics, others into administration, many are no doubt ordinary town and village folk, most are churchgoers; but they have not forgotten. Patongo needed another Secondary School and the old Sunday school friends and the older EI staff who knew Barbara got together and are on the school board. They have named it the Barbara Rivera Secondary School. It is a local initiative, a work in progress but it is happening and is a fitting tribute to a herbalist from London, young woman with a heart for children, a gentle teller of Bible stories.

The information in this article was gathered from published EI material, EI personnel and from an eyewitness, one of the youth in the rear of the vehicle. If you know any further information or corrections, please let me know.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Pads, End of Term


I last posted in April at the end of the first (Ugandan) term when we had visited our first school for the year.

Since then, in the second term up to August, we have visited 11 more Primary Schools, bringing the total number of girls we have helped this year up to 977. Each girl gets 4 washable pads and 4 pairs of knickers. Most of the girls possess neither before we come. Those who attend our session get taught some biology, a lot of practical wisdom on how to deal with their periods and get encouragement from the Bible to see their intrinsic, worth as unique people. Girls are not much valued in most African societies and they know that very well, so any encouragement that helps them keep their dignity can be life changing.

Individuals of great value.
We take the names of absentees and package pads and knickers for each one. (When you think about it, on any day we visit there are some going to be some absent due to …...!)

The tailor at work
We have had to develop a fairly slick buying, shipping, marking, cutting and sewing operation to keep up with the demand for pads. This has got so efficient that, as I write, we already have most the pads finished that we expect will be needed next (3rd) term and we have over bought on the pad cloth and plastic sheet; oops, I applied the brake too late!

Soon after we started this year, in April, it became apparent that we could produce pads quickly enough and visit schools frequently enough to aim for 24 schools in the year rather than 12 as originally planned. But it would cost twice as much. All the while, funding has been steadily coming in from UK supporters, with a good single donation from the US and another larger one from EI Australia which assisted us in getting discounts through bulk buying. If funds continue then we should reach our 24 school target this coming term and have a good stock of material ready for next year, if we continue. The cost per girl has been kept to £2.83, about 4.62 $US.

One new and encouraging aspect that has emerged, is that that some head teachers are getting really interested in the possibilities of what we are doing. Their reason for this is that they want their girls to perform well but for years have been frustrated by the girls missing days of school every month and not reaching their potential. They can see that providing the girls with pads, giving them the confidence to stay in school, makes a real difference. So they are beginning to ask the question; how can the schools ensure that the girls are always provided for? They realise that we will not be here for their foreseeable future. It may seem simple to us but believe me the problems posed by the poverty and culture of the families and inadequate government funding are formidable. But then some of the head teachers are formidable people!