Lilipad Chapter #5 – Manel’s Diary in Uganda

Day 1 – Monday

Heading out of Entebbe’s International Airport, I am greeted by Moses and Isaac, the first people I am to meet in Uganda. Despite the 3 hours drive from the village, and my flight being delayed by another hour, their smiles broke through my tiredness to welcome me.

Driving through a waking-up Kampala, we reach Kyabirwa in the early morning, right in time for breakfast. A boiled egg, bread with butter and jam, coffee and a Ugandan banana – not bad for my first meal.

The meals are taken on Moses’s porch, with his wife and 3 of his 6 sons, his grandson, his cousin and a couple of other young community members that Moses takes care of. It’s all a big family and they are happy to host the incoming volunteers.

Moses’s Compound

The new school, Little Stars, is a project funded by Giusi, an Italian woman who has been coming to Kyabirwa for the last 3 years, and superbly executed by Moses. Giusi has done an amazing job, and the school now hosts around 120 children (exact numbers are a hard thing to rely on in Uganda) spread into 3 classrooms. The aim of Little Stars is to be a pre-primary school where children can come and learn the basics, but also to spend time together and play with each other. It aims to be the first step before the kids are heading to the Public primary school just up the road, where the first Lilipad Library was setup back in 2017.

At Little Stars, Lilipad swings still are swinging, and the kids rejoice at seeing a new face in the surroundings. Among curious and excited smiles, lots of high-fives are given and I can read on their faces that they know something new is coming for them.

The School yard with the old Lilipad toys – Swing and See-saw are coming!

After breakfast, we immediately get to work and continue painting the walls, with lots of conversation as I am curious to know more about the project, Moses and Giusi’s plans for the room and of course, a bit of local gossip.

After lunch, we head to Jinja, the local town, to buy some necessary supplies and paint to finish the coating on the room.

When we come back we continue painting: we finish the top part of the walls in blue, as well as a side wall in cream color – tomorrow we will finish the painting, and start building the shelves where the books will be placed!

Day 2 – Tuesday

We wake up, and this time have an upgraded breakfast with a delicacy I bought yesterday at the shop – peanut butter! Honestly, Ugandan bananas are a treat worthy of the best cafés in the world (except here the banana only had to travel a couple of meters!).

Today we finish up painting the Lilipad Library room: Forest Green is the color that will line up the bottom part of the walls, and the main color the little ones will get to see. At Little Stars, the children are going from the ages of 3 to 6 years old. We apply the first coat in the morning, and let it dry as we come back home for lunch. Having setup a table outside, in the back of the house we are staying in, we enjoy a Rolex (a rolled up chapatti with an omelette inside, worthy of its name) and pineapple, facing the banana plantation.

In the afternoon, we receive the wood that will be used to make the shelves for the books, and start sanding it. The raw Jack tree wood looks amazing, with dashes of yellow flowing all the way through. However, we realize the work will be too complicated and time consuming, and that we require the help of an actual carpenter.

Building a shelf from scratch is harder than IKEA makes it look.

Moses sanding the wood for the shelves.

The carpenter tells us he will come in the morning and work his way through the day.

In the evening we have a pleasant dinner inside Moses’ house, and decide to go to sleep shortly after, as the power goes down with no sign of coming back…

Day 3 – Wednesday

After our now-turned specialty breakfast, we greet the carpenter and give him our instructions. He requires some products that we will get from the town, and starts sanding away at our planks.

Moses and me then head to Jinja – we have a full day ahead of supply hunting and we start with the toys for the playground. We decide to go for a Slide and a see-saw, which will delight the children, as according to Moses these were on the Top Requests of the little ones.

After a traditional Ugandan meal, we set out to buy chairs, tables, plywood to finish the shelves, paint, varnish, nails and some brushes. The toys, chairs and tables will be brought to the school by a local transport that we organize – the rest we will bring home in Moses’s car. Lilipad is also helping Isaac, one of Moses’s helpers, with a Football, so that he can go back to training his team – the Kyabirwa Young Stars F.C.!

After returning home and a quick nap, I head out to the Nile Explorers Campsite with Giuisi to enjoy the view and discuss the library in more detail.

Giusi has funded the whole construction of the building, and with Moses’s help and efforts, they have done a tremendous job. In less than 2 months, the structure was complete for classes to be held in the morning, 2 rooms for staff are available, a kitchen setup by Fingerprints (another NGO that provides porridge every morning) and soon the new room will host a Library. This room will be prepared to host workshops, support classes and adult education classes.

Madam Giusi and me.

Day 4 – Thursday

In the morning, I head to Jinja with Isaac. Stopping at the bank, I withdraw what seems an exorbitant amount of Ugandan Shillings: two million four hundred thousand (which amounts to roughly €600). I then head to the book shop to make the first deposit on the school books for the Primary School.

Lilipad is happy to provide books for P4 level at the primary school – the equivalent to 4th grade. 50 books per subject plus the teacher’s guides, enough for 100 students to happily attend class while sharing a book.

Later on, with our book mission accomplished, we drive back to the village, where a parent’s meeting will be held.

On Tuesday, Moses sent notice to the parents of the little ones that there would be a meeting at the school. The turnout was very positive, and the parents were all eager to hear what we had to say. There were lots of interesting questions, and I believe the message was conveyed that the space would be a good place for anyone to come and read, as well as participate in the classes that will be organized by Moses and the professors.

The parent’s meeting.

With our meeting over, and the hands of the parents shaken, we head back home and have lunch, followed by a nap.

Waking up, we set out to install the slide and see-saw that we bought for the school. The process is raw and slightly clumsy but very solution-oriented. We manage to install both toys successfully, and leave the premises as the cement dries up. Tomorrow we will cover the bases with soil so it all looks a lot better.

Installing the Swing.

Day 5 – Friday

We wake up and set to clean the room after the usual breakfast. The parents’ assembly was a good event overall, but the dirt it brought in seems to be endless, as we scrub, scrub, scrub and scrub the floor.

Cleaning the room after the parent’s meeting.

In the end it looks really tidy, cosy and ready to welcome a Library. We let the floors dry as we give a little hand on the classrooms – cleaning the doors as well as the blackboards, already whitened by early alphabet teachings.

At the playground, the cement is not yet entirely solid as it rained in the evening. We decide to leave it be for now, despite some children already sneaking in to get a go at the new slide.

Moses and me set out to Jinja, with the mission of picking up the student books for P4, as well as buying more reading books to fill up the Little Start Library. In between, we manage to buy mats for the floors at the local market, for the little ones to sit and read on the floor. We also decide with Moses to make individual chalkboard slates, that every kid can use and start to draw their first letters on.

The road to Jinja.

Overall, a successful day in Jinja. I also managed to get a Ugandan haircut and agreed to getting a street manicure from a cheeky guy I passed. I ask him to paint me a red nail in red in honor of Women’s day. We come back home satisfied with the progress we have made, and find that the two shelves are now complete and look absolutely fantastic. Tomorrow we will bring them inside the room and start populating them. With some final decorations to be put in place, it looks like our project is going to be completed soon!
To finish the day, we have a very pleasant candle light dinner, as the power is out again.

Day 6 – Saturday

On Saturday, we were kindly invited to the 11th Anniversary of Fingerprints, the other NGO helping out with the porridge at Kyabirwa Primary School and at Little Stars.

Fingerprints’ main project however, is a foster home for girls, set in the outskirts of Jinja, and of which Moses is also an integrant part. The house currently hosts 12 girls, who get the support of two “Mamas”, and has already seen quite a few blossoming into grown and empowered women.

The party consisted of a lunch in the garden of the house, as well as a plethora of speeches – the most emotional of which delivered by ex-residents of the house, some having graduated from university and being now able to provide for their own families. A bit of traditional dancing followed, as the resident girls present to Mme. Susanne (Fingerprints’ founder) the act that they have been practicing with the local dance teacher.

The girls from the Fingerprints House.

After the long afternoon, and mellowed by the warm sun, we return to the village quite fatigued. There is still time to quickly check on the work Isaac and David have been doing in the room – hanging the rest of the decorations and organizing the books in the shelves – before an early dinner. Tomorrow is my last full day, and Moses and me are on a mission to spend the rest of our budget on reading books to fill up the shelves.

Day 7 – Sunday

As planned, Moses and me set out to Jinja, and hop around several book-stalls where we manage to gather around 300 reading books for the Library. We also gather some other little bits that are missing, such as material for the Library, some more chairs and an extra table, some more mats for the floor and some paper to print the Library rules.

Book hunting!

We head to Moses’ favourite restaurant, where we enjoy our last meal together and go over the plan for the library once again. Moses is quite excited to see the development we have brought, and he is confident the community will appreciate it as well, and will benefit from the space and books we have provided.

Matoke, beans, sweet potato, peanut sauce and other Ugandan delicacies!

Overall it was a successful day in Jinja, and as we get back and drop off the last books and mats, the room looks ready. It is very rewarding to see what we have achieved in only one week, and I am delighted at the sight of Moses’ smile while he walks around the room, arranging the chairs to the side.

We are super happy with the results, and we are looking forward to seeing the first impact of our project, as soon as people from the village come in and start using the Library!

We would also like to thank once again everyone who helped, came, donated and participated in our events – none of this would have been possible without you, so we say a big THANK YOU to all of you!


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