Today was a really important day – Clean Up Katunguru. Stu McIntosh from the Twinning Project had been working with Ramathan, the Deputy Head at Katunguru Primary School, to organise this and due to their hard work they had managed to secure the support of the UWA (Ugandan Wildlife Authority). I had been expecting a few token rangers to turn up, but was informed the previous night that the entire senior management team from Queen Elizabeth National Park would be turning up.
Mrs Green and I made sure we were up especially early in our Twinning Project polo shirts and got down to Tembo in time for a good breakfast. While I had my usual rolex, Mrs Green went for a fruit platter with a massive piece of mango and an even bigger lump of watermelon. Another strange thing in Uganda is that the oranges are actually green. How weird!
We left Tembo at 8.15am and fortunately no elephants decided to step out in the road in front of us while we drove to Katunguru, so we arrived at 8.45am on the dot. Ramathan was pleased to see us and was ready for the day ahead, many of the students had already cleaned the school premises beforehand. P5, P6 and P7 were the classes of the children taking part and they all came out of their classes at 8.55am ready to start. Ramathan lined them up and started giving them surgical gloves to protect against any nasty germs or sharp objects. He kept asking the children to stand to attention and then at ease. I couldn’t help taking the opportunity for a bit of mischief and had the children changing from one to the other at a rapid rate. When the UWA arrived, Sergeant Major Stanley had the children salute, much to their amusement.
As promised the senior management team were all present as well as many other rangers. A good deal of the local community had arrived to help also. Just after 9.00am we all began the clear up. Although the village was looking tidier than I had previously remembered, there was still a mountain of litter to collect. The idea was to progress along the main road that ran through the village and collect all the litter to a distance of ten metres back. In reality, the groups covered a much greater range venturing into the back streets of Katunguru where I had never been before. Sack upon sack of rubbish was collected and put into big piles to be incinerated. The next step for Ugandans will be to introduce proper recycling systems.
At 11.00am everyone gathered back on the school field for songs and speeches. Levi, the school headteacher, spoke passionately about the community coming together. I thanked lots of different people, while telling the children they were the most important stakeholders of all in the process. From the UWA Godfrey, the tourism manager, Olivia, the conservation manager, Joshua, the security manager and Nelson, the man in overall charge, all spoke at some length. Nelson had two catchphrases he kept coming back to; ‘the environment is our health and our wealth’ and ‘heritage is in young hands.’ Nelson pledged to visit Class P7 at Katunguru Primary to talk about conservation and also said that the UWA would check every three months to make sure that the standard of cleanliness in the village was maintained.
All in all the morning was a total success with well over 200 people taking part. Additionally, the people in the village were very grateful and thanked the volunteers. Best of all it was a public relations triumph for the UWA who are sometimes (wrongly in my opinion) held in suspicion by the locals. Part of my speech was spent telling the children that UWA were their friends. As a reward for working so hard, Stu had made sure that his funding for the day include a pen for all of the children who took part. They were very pleased to receive them.
After presenting the children with their pen, Ramathan took Mrs Green and I out for lunch in Katunguru. Tilapia was on the menu again and it was delicious. Then we headed off for Nyakatonzi Primary School which is quite close to the Congolese border in real cattle herder’s land. Most of the children were in tests when we arrived, so James, the Twinning Project Coordinator, took us on a tour of the school grounds, which were absolutely massive. We were eventually introduced to theP7 class who were the shyest children I think I have ever met. No one wanted to ask a question. I’d understand if it was just me, but they didn’t really want to ask Mrs Green very much either. James alluded to the fact that some of the children will never have seen a white man before. He asked us to come back again in the future because it was important that the children got to meet people like us – James obviously doesn’t know me very well!
We left Nyakatonzi and headed back to Katunguru stopping off at Katwe to look down on the old salt mines – most of the salt in Uganda comes from the lake at Katwe. We had to stop for one elephant who was walking down the middle of the road, but made it back to Katunguru for 4.30pm. Mrs Green and I had decided that we wanted to try out the Unity Lodge, the local pub, and we had invited the teaching staff from Katunguru. We sat out in the warm sun and drank bottles of Nile Special or soda (guess what we chose) and ate goat muchomos. The grand total for 27 drinks and twenty sticks of meat was £14. Who said that going out needed to be expensive? I also had the car cleaned for the princely sum of £1. It was absolutely sparkling when I came to collect it.
Just before 7.00pm we headed back to Mweya to reflect on a very successful day.
Tomorrow we are going to meet Yowasi’s district education officer in Rubiziri and Olivia, the new conservation manager for UWA at Katunguru.