Being of service: A Vancouverite goes to Africa
- July 7, 2009 2:28 PM |
- By Your Voice
Submitted by Lorne Mallin
About/Bio: A lifelong journalist, I took early retirement at the end of 2006 from The Province newspaper in Vancouver where I was an editor. I then spent about two years doing newspaper travel writing on five continents. I'm 62, divorced, with one daughter, Lisa, 26, a masters student at Carleton in Ottawa.
My take: Volunteering for a year and a half in Africa is my answer to the recession. I based most of my retirement income on stocks and bonds in an investment management account. When the market nosedived, I decided to stop drawing income from the account and pursue a dream to volunteer in the developing world. It's a chance to let my investments recoup, I'm hoping, and do some good at the same time.
But to do what?
For years I've been intrigued by the Abayudaya of eastern Uganda, an African community of about 1,000 that first embraced Judaism in the 1920s. I'm a Jewish chant leader and they make beautiful music with Jewish prayers and African melodies. Last December I googled volunteer and Jewish and up popped the Abayudaya and Kulanu, a U.S. non-profit that supports their development. I applied to be a Kulanu volunteer for six months and studied teaching English at Greystone College in Vancouver for three months to prepare.
Since arriving April 21 I've been living in the new guest house at Nabugoye Hill, a village outside the town of Mbale. I focus on improving the written English of Grade 7s and 11s in the community's schools. My other initiatives include forming a spelling team, working with the Women's Association on an Abayudaya Jewish cookbook, helping Rabbi Gershom Sizomu develop his web site, reviving the Abayudaya Girls' Magazine, helping secure a grant to launch an egg farm, and coaching a community member for a Kulanu-Abayudaya North American speaking tour. I pay all my expenses and live on about $1,000 a month.
I'm a city boy but I love the village life with its dirt paths and mango trees. Time is elastic. Chickens, goats and cattle forage for food everywhere. Lizards dart across the inner walls of the synagogue where I go to services Friday nights and Saturdays. The Abayudaya mainly survive on subsistence farming and cook outside over firewood or charcoal. I feel loved in their midst and have made good friends who I greet in the morning in Luganda: Wasuze otyanno? (How did you spend the night?). Children play, laugh and cry, and suffer malaria with frightening regularity.
I leave Oct. 18 and will spend some time with my daughter in Ottawa before heading to South Africa for all of 2010 at a black township high school outside of Cape Town, sponsored by Vancouver-based Education Without Borders.
Here are some of my photos:
Athalia Nalongo and two of her daughters behind their home in Namanyonyi, Mbale, Uganda. May 15, 2009.
The main synagogue of the Abayudaya Congregation is at Nabugoye Hill, Mbale, Uganda. April 23, 2009.
Young musicians of the Abayudaya community practise their songs at Nabugoye Hill, Mbale, Uganda. They have videos posted on YouTube. April 30, 2009.
Traditional singers, dancers and drummers perform in Mbale, eastern Uganda. May 17, 2009.
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