Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The work begins.....

On our second day in Kampala was filled with meeting our Ugandan colleagues at the Ugandan Cooperative Alliance (UCA) and working on the 'coach toolkit' that we are to use in the field to assess the SACCOs.

The day started off with a bang - Kampala style!  As we walked down to the UCA from our hotel, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the crowded streets and the cacophonic, congested traffic.  The boda boda's (Uganda motorbike taxis) are absolutely everywhere and constantly offering their services - despite having seen you just decline ride from another boda boda.  One of the coaches almost got run over - he had the audacity to use a cross walk when it was his turn.  All other Kampalan pedestrians seem to simply step out into traffic and weave their way across.  No kidding, it looks like a life size version of Frogger.

The meeting was held in a boardroom at CCA.  Thankfully, we got there first and snagged a seat by the little window AC unit.  We quickly learned that African time was no exaggeration.  After an hour of sitting around, we finally got to business. 

It was interesting to see the cultural differences in business culture in Uganda.  People were answering their cellphones during the meeting, putting their head down on the table and appeared to be falling asleep in their chair.  Amazingly, if they were directly called upon, it was as if they had total focus and could provide relevant comments/insights.  Despite this, I am sure some of them were sleeping.

One of the older UCA coaches, Gabriel, had the most serious demeanor.  When his phone rang, the ringer was set very, very high...  A DJ shouts  "ARE YOU SERIOUS??????  and the ringtone started blaring club music....  it was so funny due to the contradiction of his ringtone and his persona....  all the CCA coaches couldn't help but laugh out loud.  Keeping in his serious demeanor, Gabriel appeared not to notice the laughter.  Gabriel is my UCA partner and I can't stop laughing when his phone goes off.  I have noticed that it only goes off for certain callers - I wonder who it is?  I will try to find a link and share it on a subsequent blog.

During the walk home, we had a chance to spend some time in some shops.  People were super helpful and patient with us.  We were looking for a specific male to male USB connector.  When we asked in one store, they said that the didn't have it but could get it by 10am the next day.  We explained that that wouldn't work as we wouldn't have time to stop by before we headed out to the Nebbi region.  The next day, in a city of 2 million people, the salesperson found us on a sidewalk 4 blocks from his store at 8am with this damn cable. I was astounded by his resourcefulness and willingness to take a chance to earn a few bucks.  Unbelievable.

Monday, 21 January 2013

First day in Kampala

Here is a link to our hotel's website -  I think it's pretty luxurious....  we have individual air conditioning units which work amazingly well.  I actually woke up cold and had to turn it off - a much nicer option than being too hot to sleep.

We went to a craft market not far from the hotel.  It wasn't very big - probably about a dozen or 15 stalls but they had some beautiful wares for sale.  There were musical instruments, clothing, art, jewelry,  beads, toys, knives.... much of it was obviously handmade.  Each stall was overflowing with items, it was hard not to become overwhelmed by the selection.

As we were in the market, it started to rain.  The droplets of rain were easily the size of quarters - within minutes, we were entirely soaked.  But it was so warm that you didn't really feel cold - initially, I appreciated being cooled off by it but it didn't take long to feel like a drowned rat.  We decided to have a meal at our hotel - authentic Ugandan food -  pizza and beer!

After a brief afternoon nap, we hired a driver to take us to a local mosque that had been build on a nearby hill that overlooked Kampala.   Although it was Sunday, the roads were still quite busy - the 'rules of the road' are hard to figure out - it seems that everyone is simply trying to (narrowly) avoid each other as motorbikes with many passengers weave in an out of the traffic.

Whenever we stop at a light, little children would rush up to the windows of the car - their little outreached hands coming through the windows as they said "Hello".  It was difficult experience - hard to ignore them but any acknowledgement of them caused their friends to rush over too.

As we passed through some of the poor neighbourhoods, there were tons of people milling about makeshift homes and shops - children and goats running around, men busy fixing motorbikes and bicycles.  Culture shock was definitely settling in.

When we got to the mosque, we were welcomed by the Imam.  He had just presided over a wedding as evidenced by all of the flowers lining the walkway to the mosque.  As we climbed the narrow, spiraling staircase to the top of the tower, I became a little wigged out knowing that if I slipped, I'd be lucky to survive.

 The view was definitely worth the climb.  I do have pictures of all of this and will share them in another post.

All in all, I had a great first day in Kampala. 

40 hrs later....

There were some complications with our flights on our way over - a big storm had hit Europe and messed with all of the flight schedules.  We landed in Brussels and had some time to kill so we decided to head out into the airport parking lot for some fresh air.  With sleep depravation setting in and feeling energized by the cool air, someone started a snowball fight.  While others travelers looked on, we ran around, laughed and played.  Boy - did it feel good to get moving after a long flight.

Due to our delays, we were re-routed through Cairo Egypt.  It was very interesting to see Cairo at night from the air - the lights started about 45 minutes before we landed.  They were laid out in a very strange sort of way - a long string of bright lights snaking across the dark landscape with an explosion of lights at the end.

We arrived in Uganda at about 4am on Sunday, Jan 20th.  When I step off the plane, it reminded me of Hawaii - the moist, warm air gives you a giant hug - and then you start to sweat.  As we waited for our luggage, I started to get anxious that my bag wouldn't arrive - this had happened to a coach last year and she had to go for two weeks with little more than the clothes on her back.  Thankfully, all of our luggage arrived!  We let out a cheer as the last bag arrived. 

The Speke Hotel had sent three vans to pick us up.  The drive into Kampala was interesting.  It was about 5:00am and there were many people who were still up.  Motorbikes carrying multiple people without helmets was a common sight.  The road was mainly asphalt (or something like it) but some of the potholes looked like they could easily swallow a small car.  To control motorists speeds, they had some pretty aggressive speedbumps - we had to slow to a crawl to not damage the van.

As we pulled up to the Speke, ladies of the night, lined up along the sidewalk, started to cat call at us while patrons spilled out of the nightclub.  It was quite a scene.  The hotel staff quickly grabbed our bags and checked us in.  The hotel is quite beautiful with nice hardwood floors and leather couches in the lobby. 

Needless to say, I think we were all grateful to have arrived and happy to finally have a place to lay down and stretch out. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Here I sit in seat 37F… boy did it take a while to get off the ground!  Must have been at least 3 hr delay.  I was thankful though….  I got to talk to JJ and Tara before we left Montreal.  Jordan was watching ‘Shrek the Halls’ but sacrificed a moment of viewing to talk to me.  It probably helped that her mom paused the show and threatened to turn it off unless she spoke to me.  No matter – I was thankful to hear her little voice and that of Tara, the love of my life.  Her unwavering support of me and her willingness to indulge my aspirations never ceases to amaze me.  My heart sinks when I think about how long it will be until I see my family again. I have a habit of feeling homesick but I am hoping that I have grown up enough to realize that this time away is temporary and that I will see them again soon enough.  After all, I am a big boy now, right?

I feel so fortunate to have been selected to go as a CCA volunteer on this Africa Coaching trip.  I have already met incredible people.  I am struck by the like-mindedness of our group – we all come from a life of privilege and seem to understand the gift that CCA has given us…  they have allowed us to become better people and grow our understanding of the importance of the co-operative movement.

Due to the delay, we are in danger of missing our connection in Brussels.  I suppose it will depend on if we get lucky and have a strong tailwind.  Either way, we will get there.  Either way, it’s out of our hands.  No point in worrying about it too much.  I am trying to enjoy this leg as much as possible as I have an empty seat beside me and will take full advantage while crossing the Atlantic; the plane from Brussels to Rwanda is packed and it will be significantly less comfortable.

It was cool to fly over Nova Scotia on a clear night – tons of little towns dot the horizon as we float towards Newfoundland.  I will definitely have to come back someday – I would love to tour around and soak in the East Coast culture.

CCA has done a good job at preparing us.  CCA’s staff is truly amazing – you can feel their passion and commitment.  At the same time, they are pragmatic and practical about their ability to help the African SACCOs.  My favorite quote from the last few days is “This is a game of inches”.  Many times, they stressed that their commitment is for the long haul – these programs cannot be effective without sustained effort. 

At the same time, CCA is eager to receive feedback on their programs and are willing to act on that feedback.  An example of this is the new coaching tools…  they have reviewed 10 years’ worth of coaching reports and identified common challenges to most SACCOs.  They have built tools to help coaches analyze these challenges; these tools provide suggested questions, best practices and financial analysis. Additionally, they have developed a report template so that the feedback from the different teams takes on a similar format and feel.  I appreciate the work that CCA staff and volunteers have put into these.  Field testing these tools will be interesting and I hope to help them make any necessary improvements.

Another initiative within CCA is the Development Ladder Assessment.  In November and December 2012, CCA sent a team to Uganda to evaluate the effectiveness and challenges of some Regional Producer Organizations (RPO), ACE (I may not have this name exactly right) and SACCOs.  These organizations are linked – the RPOs are co-ops representing farmers to provide, among other things, greater buying power; ACE provides marketing and transactional support while SACCOs provide the financing.  These volunteers have provided us with a detailed evaluation of the SACCOs – this helps us ‘hit the ground running’ and will allow us to have more detailed discussions around the challenges facing them.

An aside – we are just flying over St. John’s now (yes, I type slow (right, Audrey?)) and it looks quite big from the air.  One day, I need to spend time on the ground here.

Today, CCA provided us with some case studies to help us prepare for our coaching assignment.  These were real examples of SACCOs and some of the information was astounding.  One SACCO had grown it’s assets from $9MM to $153MM in (short) 5 yrs!  Despite this success, challenges remained and their board and management would benefit from some outside (honest and unbiased) feedback.

As a Commercial Lender, I am really interested in learning how they lend.  How do you register your interest in collateral?  How do you valuate it?  How do you determine your client’s capacity to borrow?  How do you protect against fraud?  How do you realize on security if a loan isn’t paid?  If the SACCO’s banking system is a ledger book, how do you track delinquency?  None of this seems possible without government registries, valuators/appraisers, accountants, lawyers/trustees, repo firms and computer systems.  Yet – it is done and it is done successfully.

There is no doubt that I will gain more knowledge on this trip than I leave behind.  I can’t wait to meet my new African friends!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Packing - what a pain in the a$$!!

Dealing with three climates in one trip is rough.  Doing that and keeping your bags below maximum 20kgs makes it even tougher.  Then try packing 12 boxes of Solo bars into the mix.

My solution?  I am going to try to tough it out the cold climates - I am Canadian after all, right??  I am planning to wear a fleece/shell onto the plane and hoping that will be warm enough for Ottawa and waterproof enough for Dublin. 

Here is my Packing List:

2 Short Sleeve Shirts (collared)
1 Golf Shirt
3 Tee Shirts
1 pair of dress pants
2 par of khaki type pants
2 pair of jeans
1 pair of jogging pants
7 pair of underwear
7 pair of socks
3 pairs of shoes
1 fleece
1 jacket

12 boxes of Solo bars
1 jar of Peanut Butter

Laptop Computer
2 books
travel diary

Malarone (anti-malaria)
Cipro (wide spectrum general anti-biotic)
Bug Spray
Immodium (same use as here)

ISCU Shirts
20 CDN flag pins
CDN pencils

ID and Travel Docs
Travel Medicine Verification
Travel Documentation
Drivers License
Birth Certificate
Money Belt

Anything I would do differently next time?  Try to pack further in advance - jamming last minute items into by bag at 11:30pm when I have to be at the airport at 5am is cutting it a bit fine.

 It will be interesting to see what I'll wish I brought - kitchen sink, perhaps?

Monday, 14 January 2013

The weekend before....

While I had a good weekend, my heart is gradually sinking.  I am leaving my family in a few short nights.  Doubt begins to creep in - Am I doing the right thing?  What have I gotten myself involved in?  What if something happens to me?  What happens if something happens at home while I am gone?

All of these questions seemed to have logical answers when I accepted this post.  Now, while I busy myself making preparations, I worry that I haven't made the right choice.

I have been busy saying "see you in three weeks" to friends and family.  Many have asked me why I am going - why I am not putting my family first and staying here to look after them?  I wonder if they see me as selfish for wanting to participate in this program.

I know why I am doing this.  I want to help - to share my knowledge with others so that they can grow and prosper.  For me this trip is about becoming a better global citizen, becoming engaged with people who are trying to make a difference in their own communities - to see what daily life is like in a different part of the world.

Since learning that I was going to Africa, I have spoken with many people who have been there - all say that Africa will leave an indelible mark on your soul.  They say it will leave you feeling simultaneously ashamed of how easy life is for Westerns (in comparison to the life of an average African) and inspired by the power of the human spirit and its resolve in the face of such adversity.

This is going to be an emotional experience.  When I signed up I thought leaving my family (especially my (almost) 3 year old daughter, Jordan) was going to be the most challenging.  So far, it has been tough.  It remains to be seen if that is the most challenging part.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

5 more sleeps....

5 more sleeps and I am off to Ottawa for a couple of days of training at the Canadian Cooperative Association before traveling to Uganda.  Based on our itinerary, it'll take almost a day and a half of flying to get there.

Heidi Hyokki is to be blamed for this.  I attended her presentation on her CCA coaching trip to Malawi.    Truly inspired by her experience, I followed up with Heidi to get more information about the program.  To make a long story (or application process) short, I applied and was accepted into the 2013 CCA African coaching program.

In October, I learned that I heading to Uganda and would be partnered with Vanessa Elliot from Servus  Credit Union.  And in late December,  we found out that we would be visiting Savings And Credit Co-ops (SACCO) in Pangyang and Esuri in Northern Uganda.

To prepare for the experience, we were encouraged to seek out volunteers from a complimentary CCA program who had just returned from the same region.  They shared their experiences about traveling in the country, their accommodation, toilets (or specifically the lack thereof) and the food.  Needless to say, it's going to be quite the experience.  Based on the conversation, I plan to use my suitcase space for food and purchase clothes along the way.

One of the biggest challenges that I am struggling with is leaving my wife, Tara, and our daughter, Jordan.

It's going to be hard to be away and not see them at the end of each day.  Tara is really supportive of my participation in this program but it's going to be difficult for her too.

Heidi hooked me up with one of her previous coaching partners from Ireland; he was nice enough to write me and share his experience and how he dealt with it.  I have now invited one of JJ's teddys on the trip with me - on one condition - he had to promise not eat all of the food in my suitcase on the flight over.  He promised but had a funny look in his eye... I am not sure he meant it.

Well - I had better get to bed.  Will try to write more this weekend as I pack and prepare.