Kevin and Dawn Smith Charitable Foundation fundraising campaign for Suma, Uganda school nearing it’s end – 70% of goal has been raised.


After my trip to Uganda (full diary here, read from the bottom), Dawn and I decided to do something more substantial to help make lives better for the people of Suma Village, Uganda, Africa, by matching donations for the building of classrooms and sanitary facilities in the school, which is in desperate need.  For every dollar donated by others (up to $4,000) by March 31, Dawn and I will match it!!   The $8,000 will fund the project completely (this is a fraction of what this would cost to build in the west, so your money is well spent.)  The work will be done by the villagers but money is needed for the materials!

A huge thank you to Andrew Chaplin, Margo Jackisch, Paul Willamson, Chris & Sue Korsgard, Tony and Sandy Urbik, Joanne Callaghan & The Van Loon Family, Tedd Mallasch, Adrian Boulding, Maria, Jamie Galeher, Team Clark, Cory Korsgard, Woody & Melch, Don Smith, Bill & Judy Mulcahy, Lori and Henry, Nick Vlahos, Reggie, Keith and Lauren Smith, Marilyn Skok, Jill Fahlgren, The Petersens and one anonymous donor who have already made generous donations!

As of this moment, we have raised 70% of the funds necessary. Even small amounts by many people can quickly add up and we can meet our goal.  If you dig into your pockets, we’ll dig into ours!!

One of the people who donated sent me this note: “Thanks for spearheading this. We take so much for granted having food and whatever else we want every day.  These people lack those basic needs and it just doesn’t seem right.”

For details on the project and how money will be used, click here —> Soma school project

To donate with a credit card, click here —>

For donations of $500 or more, please contact me before donating (so that I can arrange for a 501(c)(3) receipt for your taxes.)

Epilogue and Outtakes

I went to Uganda with Singing Gorilla not really knowing what to expect.  A few things I took away from there trip were (in no particular order):

  • The landscape of this area is green, lush, and hilly.  There seems to be no flat land anywhere.  And I walked many miles up and down these hills every day.
  • The total lack of infrastructure was surprising. No paves roads, no water supply, no working electricity, no TVs, no plumbing, no appliances, no stoves, no fridges, no ice.  And because of the condition of the roads, no cars and only a few beat-up motorbikes.
  • The condition of the schools probably resembles what we had in the USA 100 years ago, but without books.
  • Everyone was very nice to us and seemed genuinely appreciative of what Singing Gorilla Projects is doing there.
  • Rwanda is far more developed that the area of Uganda we visited. There were cars, buses, running water, electricity, TVs, etc.
  • The simplicity of life is something that cannot be over-stated. The things we worry about here in the land of plenty are not even considered there.
  • The children and teachers often walk many miles to and from school, up and down mountains. Half do this with no shoes.
  • A visit to this area would change your view on life … coming home, I look around at everything that I have and think about what an unnecessarily complex and spoiled life I have. At the same time, the things we take for granted (like being able to have a drink of water when we are thirsty, or being able to choose what we eat every day) become more than an afterthought … for awhile.
  • I wonder how an average child in the west would do with an immersion to this area … I imagine that most would not fare well, as everything is done for them here in the west.  The “sense of entitlement” they have would make “not having everything” very difficult to deal with. Conversely, an average child from this area of Uganda might adapt OK to the west.

Kigali, Rwanda

The capital of Rwanda is Kigali. It is clean, organized and a night/day contrast from where I was in Uganda, 75 miles north. The journey from Nkuringo, Uganda to Kigali was a 4×4 for 2 hours, a minibus for 45 minutes, a bigger bus for 2 hours, then a ride on the back of a motorcycle taxi to my hotel. I filmed part of that ride (30 sec).

Rwanda Genocide Memorial

On my last morning in Africa, before my flight, I visited the Genocide Memorial in the Rwanda capital of Kigali. It tells the story of the 1994 genocide, where an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994. This was 20% of Rwanda’s population. The conflict between Tutsi and Hutu groups has left 5 million dead in Rwanda and DR Congo (formally Zaire) to date.
The remains of the people here were brought from all over the capital after they had been left in the street or thrown in the river. They are buried together in mass graves, in lots of 100,000.

If you want more background, you can visit this link …

Note from Brendan: Honestly, one of the top 5 books I’ve ever read:
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

A few more pics

I am on my way back home to America. I live in a land of plenty, where people can drink water when thirsty, have water to wash clothes, and most can eat when hungry. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of places, but Nkuringo Uganda is the most interesting place I have ever been. I’ll leave you with 10 photos that tell the story.

More tomorrow about my day in Rwanda on the way home.

Music School Performance

Thought I’d add a bit more before I get home and busy with other things ….

This is a musical performance by the students at the music school. There is some support for this from the Singing Gorilla Project but these are all local instruments. It is short (1 min 15 sec) but halfway through, there is a ‘solo’ the percussionist playing the wood ‘keys’ that are affixed to a discarded drawer (notice the handle). And the kid ‘conducting’ is too cute!!!!

Hey Jim Kupres and Paulie, I wonder what they would sound like with better instruments?

Teaching at Nkuringo School

On my last full day, we visited the government school in the village. This school is not as well equipped as the previous school that I posted about (Bright Future). Here are some photos. There are descriptive captions on each photos describing it. We sat in on a 7th grade math class where they were learning algebra … 3(2x-1)=5x … not much different than when I was in 8th grade. I also ‘taught’ about the geography of Illinois (not much to say .. haha) and compared it to Uganda. Emma Gale and Luisa Aldridge taught a bit of social studies. Our lesson were translated because of our strange accents that Ugandan children have a very hard time with.

There are also some photos of the school kitchen and place where the teachers sleep.

Luisa and Emma, please add any notes you have in the comments!

For you musicians, when I have some bandwidth, I’ll post some video from a performance by the music school.

Virgin Village Water Tank Arrival

This is a village we call the Virgin Village that is very high up. It is 2-3 km down to a water source. This water tank was walked along the road and up the hills about 10km, and it will be installed soon.

Although some of the villagers might have seen white people when they venture out, no white person has ever been to this village until now.

The celebration on arrival of the water tank was incredible. Here it is (1 min, 30 sec).

Hope School and Water Filters

Yesterday, before going to the HIV community, we visited Hope School in Rubuguri. Rain water or water from the stream or river is the source of all drinking water, but it must be boiled first. This creates a logistical issue in that it’s a lot of work to make drinking water. The consequence is that the children have almost no drinking water available. The theory is that when children drink something like 1/2 glass of water each day, they are not properly hydrated and their learning is impaired.

The scarcity of drinking water is, by far, the #1 welfare issue here.

Singing Gorilla Project brought over a few water filters from the UK (bought with donations, about $300 each) that allow the school to purify water without boiling it. We dropped off the filters and showed them how to use them. The dream is that children will be able to drink a glass of water when they are thirsty. This dream is not easily achieved because of the lack of water filters, the lack of water, and the lack of education.

A few tidbits

Some tidbits from the trip …

The locals say “Muzungu” when they see me, I told my friend Chris that they think my name is Muzungu; he said that means “white man that likes to walk around”.

I’m traveling with 5 Brits that seem to be amused by my Chicago accent. They are especially entertained by my pronunciation of the words “Chicago”, “Tony”, “crack of dawn”, and “ass”. I’m glad I can provide some laughs … funny thing is that they all talk in a strange accent themselves.

When babies in remote places see us, they cry and look away. They have not seen a white person.

In the lodge where we stay, the staff keeps asking me if I “want a shower?” No, I don’t smell … if I want a hot water shower, they will boil water 10 minutes before and add it to a tank on the roof over the room.

I now know what a “long drop” is, anyone? No fair using google.

FYI, some more pictures from Uganda (courtesy of Emma Gale)

HIV Village Visit

This morning, we went to the “HIV community” nearby. As you probably know, HIV is much more widespread here than in the west. The group is led by a guy named Jackson. He formed the group in order to give those with HIV a ‘fellowship’. It consists of men, women and children that are HIV+. Many of the men and women are too weak to do a lot of manual labor (farming), and this is really the only work here, with few exceptions. And many of the children (and adults as well) are ostracized from others in society due to lack of understanding by all parties, so many do not attend school.

Singing Gorilla Project brought a number of water filters for use by the group, as well as many blankets and other clothing from England. We met members of the group and distributed the blankets and clothing. Also, someone from England gave $50 in cash, and the group said they were going to use it to buy a goat. They were very appreciative for everything they received! Needless to say, this experience by members of our group was humbling.


Bright Future School Visit

Saturday morning, we visited a local school. It wasn’t really a “”full” school day because it was a Saturday. Full days are Monday through Friday. A few photos follow. All of the school uniforms were out on the hill drying, as Saturday morning is the time that the kids launder the school uniforms. We saw the computer lab that Singing Gorilla Project had set up, all solar powered. They had about 8 laptops, I forget to get a photo of them. I also saw a few classrooms, as well as the dorms. Some of the children stay on site because it is way too difficult to walk every day. Virtually no one here has any mode of transportation except their feet. So the ones that live close enough to walk (close enough would be 2-6 miles each way, but some are as many as 9 miles) will walk to school. There is no flat land here so it is all up and down (sometimes big) hills. The average walk as a couple of hours each way. Lunch is provided for everyone, and the ones who stay get breakfast and dinner.

We saw the kitchen. All food is prepared with burning food under pots or the oven. No gas or propane. Lunch was cassava and beans. This is every day. If rice is in season, they might have that. FYI, everything that I have written above is about a PRIVATE SCHOOL. And this was a fairly nice private school.

The kids did a dance and presentation for us, in appreciation for all the support from the Singing Gorilla Project.

In one of the classrooms, I snapped a few photos of some of the illustrations in the chart book of teaching aids.

Water tank Arrival and Install

Well, today was one of the more interesting days I have had in a very long time. Those of you with the usual 10 second attention span for something posted on Facebook …. I walked about 6 miles on dirt paths (up and down lots of hills), got my clothes muddy because of the pouring rain, visited 2 Ugandan villages, got rained on, walked through mud and ate some local food that I have no idea what it was. Met lots of locals and learned some words. Interesting!

If you’ve read this far, grab a beer or coffee, I’ll tell you what I did today…. As background, within 2 hours drive of where I am, there is no infrastructure whatsoever, which means no electricity, no plumbing, no running water, no refrigeration, no paved roads, no cars (a few 4x4s). In addition, many of the things that we take for granted simply do not exist; like garbage collection, restaurants, Internet, TV, radios, stoves, ovens, coffee makers (or anything that runs on electricity or gas) No electricity means no TV, no NFL, no NHL, no 9:00pm news, no recorded music. And no light bulbs unless powered by a solar panel and small battery,. And no generator because if you have nothing that runs on electricity, you don’t need a generator 🙂

Note: I am staying in a basic lodge that caters to western tourists that come here to see the Mountain Gorillas (not far away) so electricity is a few power strips in the restaurant that are hooked to a battery that has a solar panel. No electricity in the rooms except solar powered lights. Internet is via cell phones that broadcast wifi signals and route the traffic onto the cell phone network.

Singing Gorilla Project does projects to better the lives of locals. One of the projects is the installation of water tanks in places that do not have running water, which is basically everyplace within 2 hours drive of where I am. Water tanks are important because they can catch rain water and store it. The alternative, which they are doing now, is to send the woman and children 2 hours round trip to the river, to get water and bring it back in containers on their heads. Why the women and children, why not the husbands? Because almost every able-bodied man is working in the capital (Kampala, 10 hours away) in order to make money. By putting in water tanks, Singing Gorilla Project thinks that the children will spend more time on school work. I’ll write more about what “school work” means here if anyone is interested.Let me know.

The tanks need to be purchased from the capital and delivered here. Then rain gutters have to be created and affixed to the sheet metal roofs, along with the pipes to divert the water to the tanks. Concrete pads have to be poured to support the tanks. And some plumbing has to added to get the water out of the tanks. Singing Gorilla Projects takes donations and pays for the cost of all of this (about $1000 per tank) but the village needs to do ALL of the labor to get the tanks delivered and installed. It is a JOINT project. There is no government support for any of this … if anyone is interested in why, I’ll be glad to elaborate. 🙂

Today, we went out to see how it is going. We also had two other items on the agenda, but this is Africa, so everything takes 3 times as long as planned and we never got elsewhere. Tomorrow, maybe.

We set out at 10:00am in a 4×4 and traveled til the roads were too impassible or narrow, then took off on foot, We walked for about an 90 minutes (with at least three 500 foot changes in elevation) and got to a village that was having one of the water tanks installed. 5 or 6 guys carried the empty, huge water tanks through the same paths we walked and delivered the tank, with much celebration from everyone! The concrete pad for the tank was still being prepared. The locals insisted we eat lunch, which was some sort of potato-like stew. See the picture. As D would say, it was made with love!

We then walked another few miles up and down more hills, and watched the delivery of a second tank in a different village. As they say, pictures are worth a thousand words so I;I’ll post a few pics, and video later if anyone is interested.
We walked a few miles back to the 4×4 in constant rain on muddy paths. A 30 minute drive and we got back about 4:00pm.

If you’ve read this far, you get rewarded with a few interesting anecdotes … This first village was unique because it had a woman that was about 98 years old. They told me that they are not sure of her exact age because no one else was alive when she was born, and she does not remember how old she is. Yes, that is what they told me. She looked great for 98. The second village also had a unique person; it was a woman who they said has been blind for 40 years. This woman helps deliver babies, but they said she does not know what the babies look like, she just delivers them. She looked older than 40 but I’m not sure if she has been blind her whole life, but my question about this only got a blank saying “that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard”. She seemed nice so I let it go.

The video (1 min 30 sec) shows the arrival of a water tank to Soma village. It starts out a bit dark but it gets bright quickly. The song that is sung is common during any type of celebration for something good that has happened. This tank will be able to store water so the journeys for water during the dry seasons should be less frequent.  This is the final result of a lot of work by many people.

In Uganda – finally!

I am in Nkuringo village in Uganda. 6 of us came on this trip, all the others are British. This is in the extreme SW corner of the country, near the border of the DR Congo and Rwanda. I flew 8 hours to London, 8.5 hours to Nairobi, then 1 hour to Kigali, Rwanda. I met the others there and then we took a 4×4 across the Rwanda/Uganda border and then up to the village which took about 5 hours, half of it on unpaved and sometimes muddy roads.

A friend of mine heads a charity organization called Singing Gorilla Project and they have “adopted” this village, helping them with various things like improving the school, building a music school, installing water tanks, etc. I’m here for a week to help out where I can. I’ll post a few things along the way.

Today (Friday), I am taking part in the installation of a water tank, and some clothes distribution to some of the women of the village. In the afternoon, we’re going to check on 4 students that are HIV-infected from birth, and are having their schooling sponsored by the charity. Supposed to stop by the school today too

The first photo is one I took from outside my “room” this morning just after sunrise, the others were taken yesterday. More to come.

In London

Had a nice flight over to London via Toronto (really cheap ticket with the stop for dinner in Air Canada lounge in Toronto).  It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so it’s time for a pint for happy hour. Come to think of it, it’s 5 o’clock here! Waiting in the pub for my friend Sue to finish her math lesson. Beautiful day here in London Town. Great beer selection, most of it is even cold. lol

Off to Uganda

In early October, I will be spending 10 days in Uganda, with a stop in London on the way, and transiting through Kenya and Rwanda.  This entries in this blog reflect the dates of the post, not necessarily the dates the photos were taken.

If anyone would like more information about Singing Gorilla Projects and what they are doing in Uganda to help people, please visit their website here:

If you are interested in joining Singing Gorilla Projects on a trip, please let me know and I’d be happy to discuss it with you. It will change your view on life.

If you’d like to make a donation to them, or fundraise (like a 5K run, etc.), you can do so here: