Note from Joannie to family and friends

As I return home to news of the Red Sox winning the World Series, and the stock market reaching a new high, images of our weeks in Uganda still swirl in my head. Peter and I traveled to Kampala with our friend April Stone, as part of Clover Foundation, which was started by Salma Semakula, a wonderful Ugandan woman living in Massachusetts, with the help of Peter and April.

Clover is the only free day-care and preschool for children living in the slums of Kampala. It has a board in Uganda and in the US. Peter, April and Salma are on both boards. The Ugandan board includes lawyers, accountants and government officials who put in hours of their time each week and contribute for the costs of meals for the children served by the Clover Foundation.

Peter and April attended numerous meetings with schools, clinics and foundations who have similiar or complementary missions to that of Clover. They got some very good leads, at least one partnership, and a promise from MIT to be included in their Literacy Moonshot Project which supplies tablets to children in developing countries who then learn at their own pace.

While they were attending to business, I had the good fortune to be with the children at the school. As I enter through locked gates surrounded by brick walls, I see about forty children playing in the yard and I am greeted with hugs and smiles. They are happy in the two windowless classrooms and in the large tent constructed behind the home of board member and school director, Esther Makumbi. They are the lucky ones whose parents believed in Clover nine months ago, and were happy to send their children even though they weren't sure what was in store for them.

Esther takes us on a short walk to meet some of the mothers--the ones who are not selling fruit or charcoal or fish or scratching out a living in some other way, while their children are cared for at the Clover center. Some of them are at the water-spout waiting for the weak trickle to fill their jerry cans. Others are with children in front of their homes, cooking matoke (plantains) or rice over a charcoal fire in their room.

I learn that Nulu, one of Clover's 3-year olds, has just been badly burned by a cooking pot in her home. Although she has returned to school, her siblings are listless and without stimulation, hanging around the front of the house or on the hill where a few thin animals are grazing. A few mothers speak English and share with us how grateful they are that their child is safe during the day and fed and learning in school They say that sometimes the two meals of millet-porridge, rice and peas served at Clover and sometimes a treat of popcorn or fruit, are the only meals their children eat. They are grateful when Mondays come.

Back at the Clover center, I sort through the 150 pounds of learning tools, computers, toys and art supplies that we purchased and collected from our friends and neighbors in Concord and Carlisle. Esther and the two teachers, Mary and Millie were ecstatic! And it felt so good to see everything spread out on the floor ready to be used. Simple things such as colored paper, paints and markers are so appreciated.

With about ten of the children, on the porch in front of the house, I take out my grandchildrens' wooden train set. I give them each a piece of track and a train, and watch them go! Although they have never seen a train before, many of the children, especially the two oldest boys Rahif and Steven, easily figure out how to piece it together. They build bridges, which they also have never seen, and put little cans in the cargo cars. They are overjoyed and continuously ask me, each day I return, whether the trains can be brought out again.

On a different day, I blow some bubbles with the baby class of two and three-year olds. Like twins Esther and Solomon, they run and screech and cry "bubbles-more!" It was as if the magic of this simple combination of soap and water was the most thrilling thing these children ever saw. It broke my heart and made me happy at the same time.

The kids eat and sleep within inches of each other, gentle and kind to one another- no quibbling here. Grace, a smile so bright, she lights up a room, Rahima and Rahim, who are so eager to learn, say their new words over and over and show me how to count to one hundred. Solomon, who came to Clover four months ago without affect, weighing four kilos at two years old is now smiling, laughing and eating full plates of food. And Edinah, her hair plaited rather than shaved, gently grabs my very white upper arm gently swinging the loose skin from side-to-side, laughing, (though I am not).

These are the children whose lives Clover tends to positively change by teaching, feeding and caring for them and making certain that as they grow to be healthy and confident adults. Donors, grants and partnerships are important to be able to achieve this. It is a big challenge, but an exciting one. Stay tuned....

Lots of Firsts, by Peter Hilton

Lots of firsts – I have never written a blog before, never been to Africa except as a tourist, never participated in forming a non-profit whose purpose was to change the lives of children and break the cycle of poverty and despair. My prior non-profit work has been to help people in their times of need, not to change their lives. Now I am a member of Clover Foundation with the goal of enabling children of the slums of Uganda to grow up to be confident, caring, and successful people – contributing citizens and able parents. Two weeks ago we arrived in Kampala to join our Ugandan partners in our joint effort to enable young slum children to become happy, healthy, and confident; to socialize with their peers and to learn at our preschool – what an audacious undertaking. Yet here we are at Clover in Busega, Kampala seeing children who have changed dramatically within six months. We have seen their one room homes, their peers seating all day next to their working mothers, their extended stomachs, running noses, and blank stares. Our Ugandan peers have already performed miracles and we leave confident that they will continue to perform more miracles, raising these children up from preschool, to primary school and then on to secondary school, and as far as they can grow.

What is our role and what did we accomplish? We are partners of Clover UG and committed to walk with them through the challenges and the successes of our partnership in saving children from poverty and despair. We met numerous times as an integrated board to plan for our future; discussing where to build our school, how to support our children when the graduate Clover preschool and enter primary school. Our joint work has resulted in a shared vision and a shared commitment to meet the challenges along the way.

We also visited schools, medical clinics, and foundations as we seek to learn from the work of others as well as to find partners, taking the first steps in our long walk into the future of our children. We found wonderful people, schools that model our expections, partners that can help us achieve them, and foundations that may contribute to enable us to accomplish our goals. We leave with much new knowledge, a shared vision, and confidence to move forward.

I can’t adequately express my appreciation for the work of our Uganda team, the kindness and help of all those we met, the beauty of the country, and the sense that together we can change the lives of young children born into poverty and despair into adults who can make important contributions while raising healthy families, breaking the stubborn back of ignorance and poverty.

Safe Journey and Much Thanks to Salma!

Peter, Joannie and I are walking down the ramp toward our flight back to Boston from Heathrow when I realize that I haven’t yet left Kampala. Jamillah’s presence is palpable, I feel the comfort of her hand in mine, see before me Esther’s expressive eyes and hear her melodic frequent reply, “Yes, please” or if she is slightly more aggressive on the road, “Sor-ry”. Of course the faces of each child – their increasingly bright eyes, wide smiles, absolute love and remarkable thirst for learning will stay with me regardless of geographical distance, as will Conso’s unexpected surprise at our last meal at Hotel Africana during her busy workday, Fatima’s warm embrace, Fatumah’s “safe journey” when we depart, Ivan’s energy and sense of purpose , Pius taking Peter and Joannie to the village school he attended as a young boy, Baker’s gentle guidance in connecting us to important contacts, and Iman’s beautiful bright clothes and headdress. I already feel the absence of the profound kindness, warmth, and full hearts that radiates from our many Ugandan friends.

While at the gate, Peter and I continued our ongoing conversation about ways to improve and grow the US operation of Clover as well as how exciting it was to see and be a part of the remarkable work already happening on the ground. Within hours of our arrival two weekes ago, we joined withour Uganda colleagues as one, engaged in the work, conversation and consensus building that seamlessly moved us forward in service of Clover's mission: to nurture the lives of the children at Clover so that each child can achieve what is within them and one day make this world a better place.

When we first met as a board and at our first visit to the Clover Foundation in Busega, we were in awe over what has been accomplished for the children in eight months, since Clover’s beginning. Teachers Mary and Millie are wonderful educators, the space and supplies are the best they could be given our limited finances at the present time, the systems and processes and connections Esther developed are very impressive, and everyone's communication, insights, company and care during our visit has made us feel “most welcome”.

We've learned a great deal during our time with our colleagues on the Clover board in UG, from the Clover teachers, from the children and their families and from and our many meetings with potential partners and technical advisors.

Salma, we are most grateful to you for bringing us together for the sake of the children. Above us the stars are aligned, and we know that the path we are traveling will indeed take us on a journey to make real positive and lasting change in the lives of the beautiful children we we are honored to embrace.

Noticing...

It is early in the morning, 1:21a to be exact. I am bit frustrated by the difficulty in connecting on line or by phone. Even in the darkness of this early morning hour, I see the white walls, white floor, white closet doors, white lamp and white furnishings of our apartment on Kololo Hill Lane. The disparity of the bright monotone of our interior surroundings and the apparent affluence of the neighborhood, emphasizes the extreme inequity that exists just outside the sliders of my room. Beyond the tall concrete wall is a cluster of one room mud houses and structures with peeling paint all with rusted metal roofs, some held down by scattered mud bricks.

Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, blends the worst of a civilized city – the jam, the cars, cell phones, and much commerce, with the decay, dirt, delapidation, deprivation and overall neglect of a developing country. As our driver David said, no need to wash a car, as the roads are mostly unpaved with deep ruts and “sleeping policeman” speed bumps that would surely wreck most cars, but seem to be tolerated by the jeeps here.

Public transportation is primarily on boda boda riders, which are the fastest yet most dangerous way to get from point A to point B, such that there is a casualty ward at Mulango Hospital exclusively for them. As Esther describes, the young men come from their villages up country and buy a bike as their way to what they feel is a promising, resource-rich urban life.

The mashup of boda bodas and cars on the crowded city streets during almost every hour of the day is thrilling and frightening. Everyone from those in cars, to those on boda bodas, to those carrying their wears a top their heads to those determined to cross the street are neccessarily agressive, as it is a veritable survival of the fittest for who seek success in arriving more or less on time to their chosen destination. Near misses are commonplace, passing within barely a few inches is the norm. Activity on the street is always active. Throngs of people at all hours either sitting on the steps, standing in crowds, coming and going, selling their wares, boda bodas lined up waiting for a fare.

Coke and Fanta are everywhere, one sees women directing traffic, working in construction and pumping gas in the formal attire of a skirt and jacket. There are two predominant newspapers often for sale by men weaving in and our of the cars on the street, also with sun glasses, and toilet paper in hand. The Daily Monitor is more progressive and at time critical of the government; New Vision is the voice of the government.

The highlight of my day was going with Esther to pick up her children at school. Walking onto the huge, well planned and landscaped campus, it was the closest I felt to being back in the states. Children of all ages from nursery and preprimary to primary and secondary were delighting that it is Friday and running to their parent or playing with friends. I was interested to see that all parents go to the classroom to pick up their children as this is norm to protect the child . Esther and I first went to a pre-primary classroom to pick up Denzel, who is highly curious and a total joy. Then we walked over to P3 and gathered Daphine whose smile adds sunshine to any day and who walks with a vibrant step, and lastly we walked up a few flights to P7 to meet up with Dorris, who beautiful eyes fully engage and whose maturity is apparent. I also learned from Esther’s beautiful children that it is common to name one's children with the first initial of either parent’s name. For Esther her kids are Donald (away at a secondary boarding school), Dorris, Daphine and Denzel. For Clover's president Salma, her children are Akram, Axum, Akriff and Abasi.

Tomorrow the Clover board meets to discuss next steps before Clover US departs. We've learned so very much from our team and the meetings we had with potential partners and technical advisors.

More to report en route home.

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Delayed Post: 22 October

Rising with the sun, we drove along the dirt roads and bush of Queen Elizabeth National Park turning onto Bwabala Road en route to Kanungu in Nyakagyezi village, where Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s Nyaka Orphans Project is located.

The landscape morphed from flat savannahs of grasses, acacia trees and euphorbia to tall hills and deep valleys of banana-shaded coffee plants, and soft green millet. Children were often sitting along the rise on the side of the road or walking along as an introduction to an upcoming village. Upon stopping to “stretch our legs” a young child of no more than three sat in the grasses of the road side. As we approached, we saw that her clothes were extremely worn, and flies swarmed her face. We offered her cookies (learning from Esther Loy), boiled eggs and fruit from our boxed breakfast. A hint of a smile appeared. As we continued, we often stopped meeting village children this way – all bright smiles and waves, mutually delighting in the wonder of this connection from two very different paths.

Our driver David stopped at the few crossroads speaking the local language to ask for directions a handful of times until we finally arrived at the gates of Nyaka where a thin framed woman in a white suit named Alice greeted us and introduced us Kwizera Aggrey, Nyaka's Head Teacher. Agrrey was kind, as he sat and spoke with us in his office describing the current make up of the preschool and primary school on the Nyaka campus as well as the medical clinic, and also touched upon the new library. Children dressed in purple uniforms played volleyball on the grassy courtyard while others worked on their studies in the classrooms of the white and purple shuttered L-shaped school house.

For Peter, Joanie and I, we saw the possibilities for Clover. We saw what was clearly a healthy and happy place for children to grow and learn. There was challenging material on the blackboards of the primary school, the children in both the classrooms and on the playground outside were bright and engaging, the staff were participating in professional development meetings, the nurse in the clinic was seeing patients from the community, and children were being fed a morning snack of millet and milk.

Just as Clover identifies three programmatic pillars – that of education, health care and nutrition, -- Nyaka too and has incrementally built, child by child, classroom by classroom, over 10 plus years, an opportunity for orphaned and vulnerable children in the village of Nyakagyezi to grow and develop into productive, responsible adults.

Nyaka started as one classroom and overtime and built successively until the primary school was complete and a preschool was added. They are integral to the community they are serving by educating the orphans; providing a medical clinic for the children, teachers and community, building a library, developing a farm to feed the children and staff at the school, and working now on preparing a secondary school by 2015.

Particular lessons we gathered through an indepth conversation with Nyaka’s Country Director Jennifer Natale, included the importance presenting clear criteria and engaging the community in enrollment decisions, recognizing that it takes a village and thereby providing community resources like a library, requesting participation even in a small way from the families whose children are served, offering opportunities for children as they grow to stay connected,and lastly maintaining a focus on sustainability through a variety of ways to continually building support.

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Difficulty connecting virtually, but in all other ways most definitely

19 October Fort Portal Road en route from Kampala to Kibale Forest, Kyaninga Lodge

A new day. Two showers later. Traveling on Saturday morning, so the typical traffic and congestion is absent. Brick and mud buildings line the paved road – some are quiet and seemingly vacant, others have doors open with young children playing or old men sitting or women and babies selling fruits and vegetables. Often single middle aged women carrying their wares atop their heads or babies on their backs walk along the road, as do families carrying jerry cans. Groups of children with sticks and tires in hand are clearly out for a good time. As our guide David just added when asked, the omnipresent yellow jerry cans most often are used to carry water from a source to the home, but are also used to transport milk, paraffin, gasoline.

Large swaths of green hilly land appear, populated by mango, papaya, cassava, Egyptian papyrus, avocado, Eucalyptus trees (used in construction or to make fences).

Yesterday, Dr. Robert Kalyesubula, the founder of ACCESS (African Community Center for Social Sustainability) met us at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, after we spent the morning in the craft markets with Esther and Jamillah.

Esther was in her element, as this is her livelihood and it was lesson to listen and watch her negotiate and manage as we looked, assessed, identified and ultimately purchased straw bowls, paper jewelry, soap stone small plates, batik aprons and pillow cases, coconut purses, bone earrings and a few necklaces for Clover craft sales. We saw the babies being nursed, the toddlers playing with wears, the school age children not in school because their mothers cannot afford it.

Later on Friday, we finally arrived in Nakaseke, along Kiuwero Road, after what was clearly a longer ride than we expected, although I had the honor and joy of somehow sitting in the jump seat in the back of the jeep with Dr. Robert, himself. Robert’s wife Esther Loy drove, with Peter in the passenger seat, Rachel (journalist) and Gloria (photographer) from the newspaper The Daily Monitor. Bumping up and down, we talked about Access and Clover, and the importance of growing vertically to have and show impact as well as the problems of growing horizontally before you achieve this impact, and we touched upon the disappointments and challenges that seem to be a part of the fabric of doing this work.

Dr. James Ssewanyana director of ACCESS and Dr. Robert kindly led us on a tour of their campus, served us lunch in what will be a full fledged nursing school in Nakaseke within a year, and took us into their clinic that serves the village, as well as to Nakaseka Hospital. We also had were introduced to a community health worker trained by ACCESS and visited with 2 families living in the village.

I thought I had an understanding of the poverty I would see upon coming to Uganda to do Clover's work. I had read, spoken to others, seen photos. With each direct encounter, however, the stain of injustice and inequity grows larger and deeper. As humans, particularly many who have accessed the compassion and joy within, no one, should want for food in their bellies, a safe place to sleep, an education to reach the potential within them and a place to have help when sick.

We returned from Nakaseke to Kampala as the night took over, jostled incessantly for hours upon hours along the dirt and dusty, rutted road, with speed bumps the size of what seemed to be 3’ fences. It was Friday evening and the streets filled with masses of people, families, cars, motorcycles and bicycles. That night's sleep wasn't.


21 October Will return when I can as the past two days in Kibale Forest, at Lake Kyaninga, and in bush of Queen Elizabeth National Park have have revealed the pearl of what we understand to be Uganda.

Webale...

day one, day two

It has been just two days, and yet we've met as a board two times, gathered for a wonderful meal together, and enjoyed working in dynamic collaboration to arrive at a unified understanding of how Clover will grow and support the children we serve. Our developing friendship reaches beyond the already unique bond of trust with our Ugandan colleagues; we embrace each other as friends and look forward to a long future in making a dramatic, positive difference in the lives of the children, families and community we serve.

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Clover Uganda's Executive Director, (and Salma's mother) kindly received us when we arrived earlier on Wednesday. She and her driver Faisal have been remarkable companions as we loaded the car at the airport with 7 heavy suitcases, navigated through the crazy and crowded streets of Kampala, and stopped many times to change money, buy a sim card, pick up a few groceries.

Today, we arrived at the Clover Center delighted to see a wonderful environment that has been created for these children. The middle class with teacher Millie, the upper class with teacher Mary, and the babies with Esther, Clover's Program Director (until we hire another needed teacher), all engaged in learning and play. The walls of the small classrooms are covered with color and letters and numbers and pictures of animals and objects and words. A lunch of corn, rice and beans was being prepared in the kichen.

We heard from Esther, whose shares her home with the Clover center (until we hopefully, within a couple of years, build a school), that in the 8 months the children have been with Clover, the positive change in their physical and emotional and social ways has been significant. Upon first arriving, the children were "dull", sick, malnourished, not social, often marked by injury. Their homes in the neighboring slums are often one small room of mud walls and metal roofs shared with two or many more siblings and adults, without water, and polluted streams just outside the door. It is not uncommon, as we walked through the slums of Busega, to see a child as young as two, walking alone, barely clothed, barefoot on the muddy pathways between structures.

To then walk into Clover and see the 40 children that are fortunate be there (as many are waiting for the opportunity), with sweet smiles and engaging eyes and true interest, it is clearly something those of you who support our efforts should feel beyond good about. You are indeed making a difference, and Clover will be certain the the difference is a lasting one--that these children will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Peter, Joannie and I are in awe by what our Ugandan team has accomplished with so little. As Esther said, Clover is much more than a day care, beyond a preschool, as we take care of the children we serve as if they are our own. Clover knows each child, recognizes if they are sick, nurtures their confidence, encourages their learning, provides clothes and provisions, and food for empty stomachs, and accompanies them to the doctor if they are sick.

As I write, I hear the rooster crow (really), and I need to rise for another full day. I feel deeply fortunate to be a part of Clover.

All photos are on Clover's Facebook page. Need to run...