My first trip to Kobwin Children’s Center was not exactly a dream ride. To start, my computer battery was no match for the seven hour trip. My movie watching was postponed indefinitely. The car we were going in was not a luxury vehicle. Like a lot of cars here, it was dusty, dirty, dented, and scratched. The shocks on the car were interesting too. I feel I got to know them really well, as I discovered the front shocks were the equivalent of rocks, and you felt every jar and rattle, while the back wheel shocks were more like springs. They, I found, were also very interesting. With only two hours to go, we managed to find a town with plenty of speed bumps. In Uganda, these speed bumps are thin, steep, and clustered lines of cement that go across the road. The ones we met were in sets of four or five; and there were a lot of sets. After a lot of banging and thumping my head on various parts of the car, we pulled off the tarmac onto a dirt road, and began to approach Kobwin. The bad beginning didn’t help my expectations; they were low to begin with as I had heard of the oppressive heat, the lack of water and electric power, and the sporadic internet.
One exciting part of the trip was my first sighting of Mount Elgon. At first, when we entered Mbale, the last big town on the way to Kobwin, we weren’t sure if it was Elgon, but we found out soon, because every other store had a name containing “Elgon”.
As I now write, I am listening to a portable voice recorder that contains all my notes of the trip. I must say, though my voice annoys me, I am glad to have this, for everything that I write is from experiences recorded when they happened.
As we approached Kobwin, it became obviously more barren, with more space between each of the trees or bushes. Large boulders began to appear all over the landscape, and the bedrock appeared to poke through the ground in many places. The road got significantly rougher, and I hugged the seat to try and prevent injury. I largely succeeded, I think, but I missed some of the sights on the way in. As we pulled in to the Kobwin Children’s Centre, the first thing I saw was the main staff housing, which was a cluster of round huts made of concrete and bricks with papyrus roofs. A little distance away were two other clusters of huts, which were the children’s living area and the guesthouse/clinic/school. We stopped near the guesthouse cluster and got out. I was pleasantly surprised by the coolness, but it was the evening, and I wouldn’t know the real heat until the next day.
Most of the kids were outside, and they and the staff members around all greeted Uncle Tal (my dad), Uncle Dan (our driver) and I with handshakes. I got called “uncle” more than once, hopefully because I am obviously so mature and not because of my height or muzungu status.
I was able to hang out with the Kobwin kids for a short time before their devotions and dinner, which my dad and I had with Uncle Charles and Uncle Dan. That night the moon was the brightest I had ever seen it. I later found out that it was the pre-super moon, the brightest the moon will be for 18 years. After lying on a raised boulder in the moonlight for a bit, it was time for sleep. This dad and I proceeded to do, and we soon drifted off.
The next day I was able to meet and learn about the staff members in greater detail. Uncle Allan and Auntie Hope have been here since the beginning, and rest have come along the line. Uncle Shadrach, the Kobwin family father, and I met while he was making a pen for his piglets that had just been weaned from their mother.
Later in the day, around 8:00am, the kids made their way to their classrooms. As there is not a real school house at Kobwin, school is done in the covered, open areas that are used to eat and work in. The children divide according to grade, not age, so the diversity in the ages of the kids in the classes is radical. As some missed a lot of school time, some kids are twice as old and tall as their peers in the same class.
One of the first difficulties I noticed was the Kobwin water situation. Since their well has stopped working, they have to walk or drive down to the lake nearby for water. They use the lake water for bathing, and cleaning, but to get drinking and cooking water they have to walk two kilometers. There is a place closer, but the locals who own the land don’t let the Kobwin kids get water from there. The reasons I have heard for this include the fact that the kids here were involved as child soldiers or were affected by the war, and so are “untouchables”. The other one is that, because Kobwin is involved with Bazungus (whites), locals think the Kobwin kids should have enough money to build their own well. To get water for bathing and cleaning, the truck goes to the lake every other day to fill up lots of buckets and barrels. To get drinking water, the kids have to walk the two kilometers every single day; two there with empty jerry-cans, and two back with 50lb jerry-cans full of water.
One cool thing I have briefly mentioned about the Kobwin site is that there all these huge boulders around. Some are big enough to be little cliffs. I and Uncle Dan, who I hung out with before I twisted my ankle, had the goal of climbing every rock we could see. We were making a good time of it too, and only had had to give up on one impassable one and to turn back on another because we saw a snakeskin in a wonderful area for snakes. We got some great views from the tops of some of the rocks. I had my good tennis shoes with traction, but he had (sadly) slip-in shoes, so his feet would slide out of them unless he careful. I showed him how to climb backwards, and then we didn’t have as much of a problem. We had a good time.
At nine forty a.m. I made another entry into my little voice recorder. “It is now 9:40, kids are still doing school. Just finished conquering a bunch of large boulders. Got most of them, but a couple were impassable. But we got most of them.”
Another entry a little later begins talking about a pigpen, but then switches to this, “The kids here seem really…I don’t know how you’d say it…really devoted, I guess, I mean they are just quiet and I mean I haven’t seen any fights or anything. Just doing their school.…seem to listening. And the teaching seems to be good too.. . it is just really, really beautiful here, a really beautiful place. Thankfully, I am here on a day when it isn’t hot. So that is definitely a blessing. Think I might try to go interview a staff member.”
Now, back to the pig thing. When we had arrived, Uncle Shadrach had just finished a pig pen for some piglets he had. Dan and I were taking a break from climbing, when I went to check on them. I got down there just as some were climbing up and out, and were making their escape. I tried unsuccessfully to catch one, but it escaped. I went back to the guesthouse area, running, and brought back Uncle Dan and another Kobwin boy who had heard me. We tried herding them around back to the pen, and even caught one or two, but once we put them back into the pen, they just hopped out again. We figured out that were heading to their mommy pig. They headed across a field that had been prepared for planting and had holes everywhere. I, in my brilliance, decided to sprint across this field and try to head them off. I got about a fourth of the way when I stepped in a hole, tripped, and fell face-first into the dirt.
At first I thought nothing was bruised but my pride. However, as I tried to get up, I collapsed back down, as my ankle was sending failure notices and giving way beneath my weight. As I was helped up by Uncle Dan and the boy, whose name I will give as George, I figured out a little too late that my ankle was sprained.
For the next few hours I wallowed in pain and self-pity. When it was time for lunch, I barely was able to get over across the courtyard to the table, but I managed with my Dad’s help.
After lunch, I went to do a lengthy interview with Uncle Charles (Kobwin Manager) and his wife Aunt Felistus (Head Mistress of the school).
In the interview I learned how they were brought to New Hope in the first place, how they met, and how they ended up at Kobwin.
Uncle Charles was the first drawn to New Hope. He had wanted to work with children and knowing that New Hope was a Christian organization brought him to it as a teacher.
As for Auntie Felistus, Uncle Charles was at New Hope for six years before they met. At a Christmas holiday Uncle Charles attended a conference and met Aunt Felistus. “It was where I saw somebody unique in the crowd,” he said. “And after that I was like ‘who is this one, I need to meet her’ and after that it was like maybe there is something, but I didn’t take it so seriously. But it leaned on my heart. I started praying about it, I shared with some other people who were counseling me and that’s how things worked out.”
I went on to ask them Uncle Charles and Aunt Felistus about the kids at Kobwin, their successes and difficulties, and other things. One success they talked about was a boy named Vincent (not his real name).
“One has come out very clear as somebody who is committed, and who is serious, we see him playing the responsibility as a big brother in the family,” said Uncle Charles. “He helps the other children, the brothers and the sisters, and that is Vincent, Vincent Afamo; he is in S3 (9th grade) now, and in his secondary school he is the Head Boy. At home, when the family father is not around he can lead devotions, he can lead programs on Sunday. He really helps counseling the friends, and the rest of the children. Yeah, we have really seen him come out, and really taking the Word of God seriously. [He helps] the other children that are still not seeing life so clearly. We have seen him counseling his fellow children. We see the way he interacts. Vincent is really someone who is committed, responsible, who is honest and hardworking, so I really am proud of talking about Vincent. He is someone who is taking responsibility as someone we can trust, even when we are not around.”
I actually met Vincent later that day, when, bored from putting my foot up in my room, I went out to meet up with the kids.
Uncle Charles had given me a pair of crutches that, though a bit small, did the job. I was now semi-mobile, and with my new freedom I decided to put the Blink card game that my mom sent along for me to give to someone to good use.
After checking with some of the staff members to make sure it was okay, I made my way over to the kids’ compound. There, I found some willing players, and, starting with one, then moving up to three, I taught the kids Blink. They really enjoyed the game. The cards, however, didn’t. With the power that they were slapping the cards down, I don’t think that those cards have a good life expectancy.
One of the boys who came to play the game was fast, really fast. Later on, when I decided to get a few kids’ names down, I asked this boy his. He replied, “I am Vincent.” It was fun to meet the guy who I had heard such good things about.
I played with them for an hour and a half. Their enthusiasm was fun to watch. I didn’t play the whole time, but I stayed there. I left the cards with one of the kids, and then went for dinner.
The last meal I had at Kobwin was uneventful enough, as I remember it. We mostly talked about tribal conflicts in Uganda.
I recorded in my audio journal, as one of the last entries, this; “One other thing that I can say is that God, I mean, he really took what started as a really bad trip; my expectations weren’t that good, I really didn’t want to go, and I missed my [Online] English class that I really enjoy, but I was able to meet some new kids, see a new part of Uganda, see some lives that have been changed, you know, from beyond what you could really expect…I had a great time with some of the boys playing Blink…”
The very final entry talks about the conversation at dinner. One thing that Uncle Charles said was this, “The beginning is better than the end,” referring to the fact that we were leaving tomorrow before sunrise. I however, took it a different way. For me, at least, on my first and hopefully not last, trip I found the opposite was true. The End, was better than the Beginning, for though it was sad to leave, the End happened with understanding and was with the expectation of another trip, My Second Trip to Kobwin.
About the Author:
Brevin Anderson is 15 and the oldest son of New Hope Manager Tal Anderson and Tiffany Anderson. He enjoys writing, reading, history, building, various sharp metal objects and his three younger brothers and one sister. He is just finishing his first year of high school, and plans to continue writing. The Andersons moved to Uganda in October of 2008.