Joshua is four. And he ’s not happy.
The picture was taken at NOTDEC – where Joshua lives in House Five cared for by housemother Gorret.
Right now, he ’s not there. He ’s 400km away at Mulago Hospital in Kampala – Uganda ’s best hospital. Already you know that Joshua needs our prayers.
You are right. Joshua has cancer.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Not long ago, Joshua had a swelling in his jaw and was taken to nearby Kagando Hospital. Kagando quickly referred him to Mulago.
At Mulago, he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma – a rare and aggressive childhood cancer found mainly in tropical countries and associated with malaria. It develops fast: Joshua ’s had already reached Stage 3, with tumours throughout his body.
Overall, 80-90% of such cases can be treated successfully.
So Joshua has been started on an intensive course of chemotherapy in the Cancer Unit.
He is likely to be there for at least 10 days more, and will probably need to go back to Mulago again later for further treatments to ensure that the cancer is eliminated. If you're thinking that sounds expensive, so are we: but we don't yet have firm costs.
A 4-year-old can ’t go to hospital in Kampala by himself. Joshua has been taken there by housemother Gorret and social worker Barbra. Gorret is with him all the time, and sleeps on a mattress under his bed! But Ugandan hospitals don’t feed their patients!! So besides consulting with the doctors (in English), Barbra takes in food for Gorret and Joshua, and provides relief, encouragement and moral support.
Joshua is on an open ward where some patients have cancer and COVID. Poor Gorret, camping out under his bed, and Barbra passing to-and-fro with food, have had only their first jab. Naturally they are very worried that they (and Joshua) might get COVID. But no COVID-secure options are available.
What is more, Barbra has been concerned about the open-ended costs of Joshua ’s treatment, plus all the on-costs of travel, accommodation and food. We have, of course, assured her that all these costs will be met; but that doesn 't stop her worrying. So while you ’re praying for Joshua, please spare a thought for two people who are putting themselves on the line to help him.
The Bigger Picture – more worries
COVID Vaccination levels in Uganda are tiny, false rumours are rife, and vaccine supplies so low that NOTDEC staff may never get their second jabs. Now, the Delta (Indian) variant is taking hold, particularly in Kampala. Three ex-NOTDEC youngsters who live there have got it, and it 's spreading further afield too. Even before the first lockdown restrictions have been completely removed, President Museveni has had to announce a second lockdown – initially for 42 days. As before, travel between districts has been banned – and then, just this week, even more draconian travel restrictions have been announced – leaving Gorret and Barbra wondering how they will get back to NOTDEC when Joshua is discharged. Of course, once they do finally get there, all three will have to isolate for 14 days before they can mix with others on site.
Please pray that, when the time comes, they will get the necessary travel permit, have a smooth journey home, and be helped through isolation back into the heart of NOTDEC with all the other kids.
Meanwhile … at NOTDEC
Though schools and colleges had begun to re-open, they are now completely closed again. The children and young people are upset that, yet again, their lessons and vocational courses are being disrupted. There seems no end to it all – which can be very demotivating. Please pray for wisdom for NOTDEC staff in these difficult and distressing times, which seem set to continue for some months.
The Home Front
All children living in the community with wider family are back at home full time, and not getting the school meals for which we have paid. This time, markets are open; but transport to-and-fro is difficult, hitting those needing to buy or sell foodstuffs. Crops are poor because there has been little rain, so the food situation icould even be worse than in the first lockdown. Food shortages are inevitable. Deputy Director Annah is monitoring the situation.
More Food Deliveries Soon
To avoid spreading the virus, staff who live off site are not currently going in to work (they work from home if possible); and children in the community are no longer visited routinely. But food will be delivered when it is needed. We have funds from the Lockdown Food Aid Appeal 2020 ready and waiting – with plenty to cover any food deliveries that Annah and her staff judge necessary to feed the families caring for NOTDEC children.
We Need to Talk About MONEY
This is NOT a begging letter. Thanks to your astonishing generosity in 2020, we DO NOT NEED any more money for Food Aid during lockdown.
We will need money for Joshua ’s treatment and associated costs – but as yet we don’t know how much. We have already received a few offers of support; but please understand that any donation would go towards Joshua ’s medical treatment and other related expenses – like transport, food, accommodation and extra staff costs. Should more be received than we need for Joshua, we will put the sum remaining towards any future major treatment costs for another NOTDEC child.
But above all …
Please pray that the Lord will shower down His blessing on Joshua, on Barbra, Gorret and the others caring for him, on all NOTDEC staff, on all the kids in their care, and on the NOTDEC farm – where showers of any kind would truly be a blessing.
The grin belongs to Mark Peers one of NOTDEC UK's Trustees. What with COVID-19 lockdowns here AND in Uganda, you wouldn't think he's got much to smile about.
After the Plague and the Great Fire of London, John Dryden wrote his poem Annus Mirabilis calling 1666 a 'year of wonders'. Samuel Johnson said he'd meant that it was a wonder things weren't far far worse! Is that the story behind Mark's smile?
Well Mark is NOTDEC UK's Treasurer. Treasurers don't do poetry. So believe me, Mark's facial expression is not just "Annus Mirabilis" relief. I'd say it's more of a smirk!
Mark's Two Word Ditty
You see, Mark has come up with a poem – a Treasurer's poem!
It's just two words – almost a magic spell – calculated to bring a smile to any Treasurer's face. With it, anyone can send the charity money without it costing them a penny.
Just tap or click the orange image and shop at Amazon – then Amazon will donate 0.5% of your elegible spend to NOTDEC UK. The cost to you does not change. The donation comes from Amazon's back pocket. They won't pay it to you, only to a charity. Or let them keep it if you prefer.
So now, in Hard Times, if you buy a few Christmas presents, you can also donate to NOTDEC UK at no cost to yourself.
No wonder Mark is all smiles. It was his idea – providing a painless way to support the kids in Uganda.
Go on – make his day!
[When this Newsletter is history, you will find a more convenient link to Amazon Smile in Support Us.]
"Oh, to be at NOTDEC once the New Year’s there …"
Sadly, because of COVID-19, UK Trustees won’t be going out to NOTDEC Uganda in January 2021 – the first year we ’ve missed since 2013. (Before that we went at various times.) As a result, we won ’t be delivering sponsors’ Christmas gifts to the children, and have had to make other arrangements.
We phone every week – as you ’d expect – and have some VERY long conversations! But it ’s not the same. So we ’d like to share with you our thoughts about NOTDEC over the last year and in 2021.
A View from the UK
Even seen from here, 2020 has been tough.
- Need We Could Not Ignore Uganda ’s lockdown severely affected those NOTDEC children living with family out in the community. Closure of all schools meant NO school meals; and blanket travel bans stopped subsistence farmers going to their fields to tend or harvest crops or sell any surplus – and the markets were closed too! Result: hunger. NOTDEC Accountant Annah alerted us to the need.
- The Lord Provides We launched a Lockdown Food Aid Appeal – and were staggered to receive very generous donations from supporters and sponsors – both direct to NOTDEC UK and through our friends at CLO Coffee.
- Difficult Times But that doesn ’t mean we ’re all sorted. COVID-19 is now hitting UK donors. Ad hoc donations are lower; and we ’ve lost a few previously dependable regular gifts, and some valued sponsors. But we are very thankful to God and to all our hard-pressed supporters that most donors are managing to continue giving. It is not easy, but we hope and pray that you will all be able to “hang on in there” – and to continue to support the NOTDEC children now times are tough. Please stay with us – and pray for us.
Of course NOTDEC UK ’s real concern focusses, not on the UK, but on supporting needy children in Uganda, so we would like to tell you how we see that – both now, and going forward.
Uganda 2020: All ’s Well that Ends Well
At NOTDEC Uganda right now, it ’s a case of “I ’ve Started … So I ’ll Finish”. Currently, work is resuming or continuing – with whatever measures we need to keep the kids and staff safe. Highlights are as follows:
Food Parcel Finale
Following lockdown, food parcels were delivered to all families caring for NOTDEC kids. Then, a second parcel was delivered to 32 of them.
(L) Delivery to baby Justine's family
(C) Delivery up that hill!
(R) Delivery to Adah's family
Very soon a third parcel will go to the 14 most pressed families (Annah 's just completed a review of this).
Beyond Food Aid
Food parcels are just a stop gap, not a long term solution. For that, we have visited the 54 neediest NOTDEC families, and discussed how best to spend the remaining money from the lockdown appeal to help them develop an income stream. Each has now settled on a project – ranging from breeding and selling goats, to trading in clothing, food items etc. and costing c£125 per family. Several families have now received the stock or goods they need and their enterprises are underway. Rolling out the whole program will take a year or so.
(L) Regan’s family is delighted with 2 pregnant goats
(R) Hassan’s carer with a bale of second-hand clothes
Back to Business - Bedding!
With social workers again visiting the families, they inevitably spot needs – like children with inadequate bedding. So they ’ve been delivering new mattresses, new sheets, new waterproof covers, even new mosquito nets if that’s what is needed.
(L) Bedsheets for Raphael
(C) Bed, sheets & waterproof for Joan
(R) Bedsheets for Edmond
Back to School
President Museveni has at last relaxed the school lockdown slightly, allowing pupils in Primary 7, Secondary 4 and the final year of vocational study to complete their courses. Eleven NOTDEC youngsters have just returned to education and will take their external exams in March. It may not be much; but it ’s progress.
Carry On Building
All this time – with appropriate distancing etc. – NOTDEC ’s construction team has been beavering away, slowly building the future. On site, that means a new grain store. And off-site, it ’s vital home improvements for NOTDEC kids. They've just finished off a whole house construction for Eldad’s family including a kitchen & store and a toilet & wash area.
Eldad and the house for his family (L) Under construction; (R) Nearing completion
Having been given strength for 2020, despite its difficulties, we can now pray in faith about the bright hopes for 2021.
Uganda 2021: New Beginnings
We are delighted to say that Canon Jehoshaphat has been appointed as Director of NOTDEC Uganda. From 1st January 2021, he will work 3 days/week. (Initially, he is completing past commitments and works 2 days/week.)
Already, he is making important changes – appointing Accountant Annah, General Manager in his absence, and introducing more pro-active management. At the weekly staff meeting, Canon J asks each individual what they ’ve done in the past week and sets their objectives for the week to come.
It ’s early days, and there are challenges ahead, but the signs are good.
Canon Jehoshaphat NOTDEC Uganda's new Director
You glimpse Canon J ’s imagination and forward-thinking in unlikely places. His new list of NOTDEC Uganda ’s Trustees includes a female barrister, Veronica Nabasinga.
Veronica is the former NOTDEC girl we all knew (and loved) as “Vero”. She is by far the youngest Ugandan Trustee – younger too than all NOTDEC UK Trustees! Who better to advise old fogeys like us and Canon J than someone who ’s been there, and still sometimes wears the tee-shirt?
Good decisions need the right mix of people making them. Veronica ’s appointment to the Ugandan Board of Trustees is a big step toward a new and different future.
Veronica Nabasinga – our "Vero" – now a Member of NOTDEC Uganda's Board of Trustees
Before COVID, work to resettle more NOTDEC children with their wider families out in the community had stalled, bogged down in bureaucracy and staff shortages. At last real progress is being made, with plans to resettle 10 young children who currently live on-site. Over Christmas, all 10 will go to the home of a family member – with a view to it becoming their home too, if the trial visit goes well. We want each child brought up in a family not an institution, so this is a vital step forward for them.
And where the family ’s housing falls short of the standards we want for the children, NOTDEC ’s construction team will continue building better on through 2021. Grace Maureen ’s family ’s home, for example, got “stuck” half built. Finishing it off for them is high on the team 's schedule.
Grace Maureen - and her family's half-built home.
Even in Uganda, life is not all sunshine and smiles. One of the social workers has left; the two who remain are overloaded, and a replacement is urgently needed. Worse still, a few older boys have been and are giving great cause for concern. Despite ongoing support, they have not focussed on making the most of their courses/apprenticeships or finding work thereafter. They have simply taken up countless hours of the staff who do their best to advise and help them. Chaplain, Captain Ezra, has been invaluable in counselling and motivating them: he is part of the solution. But this is a big problem, worth all the effort it takes; and we don't know how to solve it. Please pray that the Lord will show us the way forward.
New Life: New Joys & Responsibilities
Ex-NOTDEC girl, Yoneki, has also seen difficult times. After working at NOTDEC as a nursery teacher, she left in 2020 to have a baby. Though Yoneki was somewhat uneasy about the birth, she could not afford hospital fees and decided to give birth in her village with just a birth attendant. But NOTDEC offered to meet much of the cost (with money from Rose ’s memorial fund), and Yoneki went to Kagando Hospital. That was very fortunate indeed as she needed a C-section!
Finally, the news we ’d all been waiting for: Yoneki’s baby girl, Upendo, had been delivered safely! Now, with God ’s help, Yoneki has the joys and responsibilities of looking after that new little life.
Baby Upendo (L) Newly born; (R) More recently with her mum Yoneki
As NOTDEC trustees, that is how we see our role.
In NOTDEC, we have the joys and responsibilities of caring for almost 160 lives – some now not so small! 2021 may be challenging; but we believe that we have God’s help, and your support. For the children ’s sake, we very much need them both.
Thank you all for your support, encouragement and prayers.
Janet Johnston & the Trustees of NOTDEC UK
NOTDEC LOCKDOWN FOOD AID APPEAL
By mid April 2020, due to COVID-19 many families of NOTDEC children were in serious difficulties. All schools had been closed for a fortnight, the children were not receiving school meals and the families of many of them simply could not afford to feed them. Because of this, NOTDEC Uganda started delivering food to the most vulnerable families, and asked NOTDEC UK for financial support so this could continue. On 21st April, Janet Johnston therefore sent out an appeal to all sponsors, donors and other supporters.
Open the original PDF (email text with colour images) to read the full story,
The appeal has now raised c£17,000 for which we thank the Lord, and all who contributed.
At the beginning of COVID lockdown in late March 2020, Evan Davies on BBC Radio 4's PM news program asked listeners to write their own personal accounts of their lockdown experience in c400 words. Over the following weeks, many of these "COVID Chronicles" were read out on air, presenting a very UK-centric view of lockdown.
On Monday 30th March, President Museveni imposed lockdown in Uganda. Below is the text of an email sent by Janet Johnston to all NOTDEC supporters on 2nd April 2020 describing the impact of lockdown in Western Uganda. To balance the BBC's coverage, the text was also sent to Evan Davies.
If you ’re wondering whether you should lock yourself in the wardrobe to escape the attention of Derbyshire Police, you might like to consider the plight of our friends in Uganda.
Museveni was Troubled … and all Uganda with him
Even before Uganda ’s first confirmed case, President Museveni announced 14-day mandatory quarantine for all international arrivals. Coronavirus arrived – first with passengers from Dubai, some of whom escaped quarantine – and the genie was out of the bottle.
A welter of announcements and misinterpretations followed.
- No flights into or out of Uganda
- No gatherings of more than 5 people
- Schools & colleges closed
- No public transport even boda-boda motor bikes
- No use of personal vehicles
- No markets or roadside vendors
- No one to go to hospital for any reason!
Despite the turmoil, so far there are just 44 confirmed cases.
A Child-Centred View
The NOTDEC Children ’s Centre is in lockdown. Everyone is very frightened: as Christians, many see coronavirus as God ’s judgement. Most staff have left to be with their families. Anyone who leaves is not allowed to return.
Social Worker Edson in charge, living on site with one farm worker, a driver and the housemothers. At lockdown, two house-mothers were off-site, leaving 12 (plus older NOTDEC girls Sandra & Esther) to look after the 60 children – mainly babies and toddlers. Older NOTDEC kids mostly live in the community with their wider family but now cannot go to school.
Keeping Calm – and Planning On
Accountant and current Acting Director, Annah, is off site. But she has a plan.
- She ’s sent Social Worker Barbra on site. After 14 days quarantine there, Barbra will relieve Edson – freeing him to join his family.
- Though there’s two months’ food on site, NOTDEC now needs a special permit to allow the tractor off site to haul in river water and milk. Annah has just sorted it!
- However, the water filter is broken and the replacement from Australia will be delayed by flight restrictions. So all drinking water must now be boiled – and firewood becomes a key resource.
- And how on earth will Annah manage to feed NOTDEC children living off site with extended family? They normally eat at school. With schools closed, their families will have huge difficulty feeding them and their other kids.
We ’re bored and can ’t go walking in Derbyshire – and we think we’ve got problems!
If you are able please pray for NOTDEC ’s children and their families, for the staff looking after them, and for Annah as she strives to do her very best for the children in challenging times.
Best wishes to you all at this difficult time,
In January 2020, Trustees Janet & Anthony Johnston made their annual pilgrimage to NOTDEC Uganda. One week later, child sponsors and volunteers Averil & Graham Ballinger flew out to join them – taking three outsized boxes of Christmas presents for the NOTDEC kids.
Though they're very well-travelled, it was Averil & Graham's first trip to Uganda. This Newsletter draws on their separate reports to see how they found it – being thrown in at the deep end!
“Landing at Entebbe, Uganda, on a hot, sultry evening we were first concerned our three … boxes might not arrive, or our driver might not be there. We needn’ t have worried: all was well. Next, a nail-biting drive into Kampala! Some drivers saw no need for headlights. Scooters abounded, with four people aboard, no crash helmets, some loaded with high, long, or heavy items – sometimes with all three! Should I watch or shut my eyes? Against the odds, we reached our B&B safely.
A noisy night, then an early call to prayer from the local Mosque and I realised: the window was open! Breakfast was quick and simple – we’ d arranged for our driver, Godfrey, to collect us at 7.30am for the trek to NOTDEC.
After a long, dusty, hot and bumpy journey we arrived in Kasese with only one puncture en route. We were met by Anthony in a beaten-up vehicle with no suspension and a worn, nearly flat spare.”
Graham is Apprehensive
Graham describes the 7½ hour drive to Kasese “on roads … good, bad and indifferent”, passing through countless villages and building up a picture of Ugandan life.
“In Kasese we met up with Anthony, who suggested we purchase anything we needed from a small supermarket. But, with no idea what to expect at our accommodation, we didn’t know what to stock up on. Anthony then drove us to NOTDEC in a rather beaten up old car with a badly cracked windscreen: … this was a very poor part of Uganda.
At NOTDEC we met Janet and she introduced us to many people; but, barely awake from our travels, we could not remember most of them.
The road from NOTDEC to our accommodation at Kagando Guest House was the worst so far… What had I let myself in for?!
Uganda in a nutshell. Graham's pictures of Kagando Guest House show its basic bed with mosquito net, and recalcitrant shower!
I was right to be apprehensive. The accommodation resembled an open prison, with very basic bedding, and a shower like an upturned watering can with only intermittent hot water. Dinner was indescribable … barely edible; breakfast was a slice of toast with coffee if they had any. It was not possible to go anywhere, and it was dark by 7pm.
Surely it must get better??? It did not.“
A Silver Lining?
“The road to … Kagando Guest House was potholed and bumpy. Dinner was spaghetti and vegetable “stew”, [or perhaps] plantain and battered fish – all washed down with water – and with pineapple for dessert. Our room was very basic. What was I expecting? A mattress cover would have been nice … a shower that worked, and delivered warm water, and a comfortable chair or two.
Our mornings and evenings fell into a routine of sameness. Meals were regular, but we were not hungry – just bored with the food.
However, we both lost weight and are better for it!”
Children at NOTDEC
For Graham, the children were
“… an absolute delight. To break the boredom of my day I would go outside and play with some of them. They readily greeted us on arrival each day and we got them singing a welcome tune based on Happy Birthday to you…"
"Janet and Averil spent … days, distributing sponsors’ Christmas presents to the children and looking after the wellbeing of those on site. "
"The house mothers have a difficult job and do it exceptionally well. On site, all the children are well cared for, have regular food, schooling and healthcare and have housing and … clean drinking water.”
Averil writes that the children were
“…the real purpose of our trip … Without exception, they are a delight. "
" … All greatly appreciated the Christmas presents we took out.”
Averil's picture of the "Happy Birthday" welcome team
“We also visited NOTDEC children now living with their extended families. Seeing their homes is very humbling. They have nothing. Some homes are brick with tin roofs, others wattle & daub. Toilets vary in quality! Some children had had no breakfast, with scant sign of dinner. There is no running water – women and children collect it from a standpipe or the river. Life is tough. Some families are subsistence farmers; others have cash crops too. The women are the family entrepreneurs, selling any surplus produce on market stalls.”
Graham's pictures of Averiil & Janet visiting children living off-site with their family, and also one of another typical local house (not a NOTDEC family).
Graham's picture of Averil's "family entrepreneurs" — women selling surplus produce on the market.
Graham writes that he “… joined one visit to a family off-site… [It] is truly humbling to see how … local Ugandan families live.
Conditions in most of the children’ s extended families are much worse than in the orphanage. Housing is poor … they often have no food, and the men may well have no work.
[But] … in Ugandan culture, women do most of the work; as a generalisation, the men are lazy”.
Office Work at NOTDEC
Graham saw ...“the purpose of the trip [as] to help at NOTDEC. Initially I had no idea what I was going to do. Averil and Janet were involved with the children and Anthony had an endless stream of photographs to take, so for the first couple of days I talked to the staff and wandered around the coffee and soya plants gauging what went on.
Anthony had said that financial reporting was weak, so I immersed myself in the office with Annah, the accountant, and spent most of my time developing and installing a monthly financial reporting system. Whether it will be used remains to be seen.”
Since Graham wrote this, Annah has been in touch with detailed questions, and is clearly making very good use of his system.
Averil’ s Summary
“We had to focus on what we could achieve and not obsess about [the rest]. There was too much to do to change and improve everything. Several problems were evident: the lack of a work ethic, the aimlessness of some staff, rats in some houses, the use of plastic bottled water in NOTDEC’s office, and corporal punishment (illegal in Uganda) at some schools.
… NOTDEC’ s long-term future … [must include] a profitable farm. The farm grows coffee, soya, maize and green matoke bananas. The soil is fertile, the sun shines and there is rain. All that is needed is the drive to make the farm pay and staff with the will to work.
The children are well fed and cared for. They are happy and can run free in a safe environment. Life here is better than outside NOTDEC, but there is still much to do.”
Oh Happy Day — Whoops!
During Averil & Graham and Janet & Anthony' s visit, NOTDEC Uganda celebrated 10 years on its "orphanage" site at Kabirizi.
So there was a community party with speeches, and a thanksgiving service — thanking God for His provision over the years, for Dorothy' s willingness to answer His call, and for her tireless work serving motherless and abandoned babies and children in western Uganda.
As Averil's photograph shows, this was a very happy day — and also a very sunny one.
But, in Uganda, even cutting a cake isn't necessarily a piece of cake; and things didn't quite go to plan.
The anniversary cake had been left out in the sun rather too long, turning Royal Icing to rock!
Worse still, the knife wasn' t up to the job — more of a bendy spatula than the super-sharp Sabatier special that was needed.
So Janet and Dorothy could make no impression on the icing.
Fortunately, on this very special day, everyone saw the funny side!
And in the end, they all got their piece of cake.
Graham’ s Verdict
“Being in the office I saw first-hand the comings and goings and work rate of staff. I was not impressed. A poor work ethic is compounded by poor management and a lack of forward thinking leading to inefficient working. Because many staff live on site it is difficult to know when they start/finish work and how many breaks they have. … [M]uch tighter management is required.”
Over the preceding months, NOTDEC UK Trustees had become increasingly concerned about management at NOTDEC Uganda and had pressed for changes. During their visit, Canon Jehoshaphat – Chair of NOTDEC Uganda Trustees – announced that Director Baluku Moses had effectively resigned. His contract expired in May 2020; and he did not want it renewed.
Like it or not then, “change gonna come”. NOTDEC Uganda Trustees are now actively looking for a new Director – an upstanding Christian with the strength of character and determination to motivate the staff and take NOTDEC Uganda into the future.
The Deep End
As Averil & Graham found, life in Uganda is not cushy; and – they say – the work ethic is weaker than in Europe. For many NOTDEC families in the poor west of Uganda, life is downright difficult. And if their work ethic is not all it might be, that certainly isn’ t the fault of the kids – who still need good food, clean water, decent housing, and love.
Like Averil & Graham, any new Director at NOTDEC will be thrown in at the deep end. A Ugandan will understand the culture and work ethic, but we’ re unlikely to find anyone who also knows about staff motivation, accounts, bottle-feeding, childcare, education, estate management, farming and vehicle maintenance. A vertiginous learning-curve is inevitable.
The deep end can be uncomfortable.
Please pray that God will lead us to the right individual as NOTDEC’ s next Director – someone willing to listen, able to learn quickly, and capable of taking NOTDEC Uganda forward for the glory of God to do the absolute best for the children.
The views expressed in the extracts quoted above are those of Averil & Graham Ballinger, and are not necessarily shared by NOTDEC UK Trustees.
Now back at home, Janet Johnston reflects on the Trustees' visit to NOTDEC in Sept 2019.
Am I suffering withdrawal symptoms? Home almost a month, I still think about NOTDEC Uganda (NUG) all the time — like a novel I can’t put down.
Yet it ’s all true. And the story ’s still running! It could be my diary — if I kept one — though I wouldn’t do it justice. For that, you ’d need Dickens or somone who wrote about Africa. Then you ’d see what I see, feel what I feel, love what I love — even hate what I hate — and all of it live!
NOTDEC Now: Great Expectations
Mamas Dorothy & Milly have retired. The caring new Director, Moses, has been in post for 2 years . And he 's learning to juggle — running three operations at once:
- Care & cosseting: looking after babies & toddlers who need NOTDEC ’s full “orphanage” approach.
- Social support: on-going monitoring, mentoring and assistance for older kids now living with their wider families miles away out in the community.
- Milk & more: providing infant formula & training for family carers willing to look after motherless new-borns in the community — with no sponsorship and no admission to NOTDEC.
With plot twists galore, Moses can be forgiven for occasionally being wrong-footed by events — social worker Justus ’s sudden resignation, problems finding a good farm manager etc.
Managing NOTDEC is no monologue — all down to one man learning his lines. It needs to be a conversation. But how to make that happen?
Against this background, Anthony, Kay & I visited NUG recently, meeting first Canon Jehoshaphat (Chair of NUG Trustees) and then the Trustees themselves.
Canon J was particularly helpful in pointing to opportunities and identifying ways forward. Many NUG Trustees acknowledged that they were part of the problem. Individually and as a trust, they needed to redefine their roles — to encourage, guide and support both Director and children. The sound of pennies dropping could not be sweeter.
For real progress, NUG must harness the full resources not just of Trustees but of its STAFF too. Woven deep into the fabric of NOTDEC life and growth are some marvellous individuals.
The Hills are Alive with the Sound of … Edson
Edson — one of NOTDEC ’s two social workers — is a keen biker.
78 kids now live off-site — with extended family or at boarding school.
Edson checks regularly that his charges are happy, well fed, properly cared for, and attending school. His aim is to visit each one of them both at home and at school.
As some families live in distant districts, that may mean a 5-hour motor-bike journey high into the mountains.
It ’s a rotten job — but someone has to do it!
To Edson ’s delight, NOTDEC has just bought a new boda-boda — a Yamaha — which he insists has far more oomph than its predecessor.
In fact, the Yamaha is just 25cc larger: the old one was clapped out by over-use.
But it ’s great that Edson is happy in his work.
He ’s certainly committed to doing the very best for his scattered flock.
Edson: Blue Bike and Happiness!
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
On-site at NOTDEC is Barbra — NUG ’s other social worker.
Barbra does her share of visiting too, but not by bike!
She ’s particularly good with people. They talk. Barbra listens. She listens to housemothers, lumbered with increasing workloads, left largely with babies — now most kids aged 6+ have gone to live with wider family. So housemothers get on very well with her.
But Barbra ’s not just social skills and gossip.
She has a keen eye for things that aren ’t quite right. Housemothers, she noticed, were pulled this way and that — torn between running the house for which they are responsible at NOTDEC and caring for one child after another at Kagando hospital. (Ugandan hospitals don ’t feed or entertain patients: that’s down to family — when there is any.)
If only the children weren’t ill so often …
Well, thanks to Barbra, they ’re not.
Now, the 67 children on-site enjoy a better diet with more eggs, meat and vegetables. Food costs are up, but hospital and medical bills are much lower. So the kids are healthier, which is good news for everyone. And the housemothers aren ’t run ragged!
High fives for Barbra: they’re happier too, with more time to look after the children.
Barbra — note the NOTDEC Uganda shirt!
Of course, one social worker doesn’t make a summer.
The full cupboard of life at NOTDEC has not been without its difficulties: the infiltration of false teaching, sloppy time-keeping, erratic purchasing controls, filing problems — even factional divisions amongst the staff.
Cometh the Hour …
In his Church Army uniform, NOTDEC ’s new chaplain, Captain Ezra, cuts a fine figure.
He ’s canny; full of “go” — someone who knows how to achieve his goals, someone people respect. You ’d love him.
Retired, after 20 years as Chaplain and then Estates Manager at Kagando Hospital, he ’s no inconsequential cleric who knows nothing about anything. He is a man of God, with a strong faith and a love for the Lord. But he is also very knowledgeable about all aspects of property, maintenance, record-keeping and running an office.
Under Chaplain Ezra, Sunday services are shorter yet have more substance. He ’s instituted daily devotions too — right at the start of the working day. And there are also weekly meetings for housemothers.
In the past, thru-the-night prayer meetings led to factional dissent not to mention staff too tired to work properly the next day. Now Ezra runs just one “all night” prayer meeting a month — strictly 7:00pm to midnight on a Friday. Anyone sleepy the next day is quite likely to snooze in their own time!
Captain Ezra counsels people individually. Thanks to his guidance, Estates Manager Tom now understands his own role. Control of purchasing is tighter, with better records and accurate filing.
After hours, the pick-up and the new boda-boda are locked away: only Tom and Captain Ezra have keys. Before they release either, the driver must log the odometer reading, destination, return distance, and the cost of any fuel bought or planned.
Into the Murk
Poke a stick in enough puddles and it won ’t always come up clean.
Buzzing around by boda-boda, Edson sees lots of kids happily — or grudgingly — attending school. Occasionally, he ’ll find a child who ’s bunking off. Reasons vary — problems at home, boredom, bullying, etc. Counselling is the best place to start, working towards a plan. That ’s his job. Occasionally too, he uncovers appalling living conditions — needing extra bedrooms, or a decent kitchen, a drop toilet or a water collection system — which the family can ’t afford. A few NOTDEC kids now live in housing so poor that social workers must try to fund appropriate improvements or take them back to NOTDEC.
Heart of Darkness?
On rare occasions, Edson ’s stick may rake up something altogether more troubling.
In Uganda, children “belong” to the father; the mother looks after them; and sons inherit. Especially for a motherless boy, this can mean trouble if the father remarries. His second wife may resent seeing part of her own sons ’ inheritance “stolen” by a step-son whose long absence at NOTDEC casts him as interloper. If you ’re on the breadline, you won ’t relish taking food off your own kids to feed an outsider. All too easily you ’re the “wicked step-mother”. Right now, a few NOTDEC kids are not being properly fed, mainly by step-mothers. Though action is being taken, it would be unacceptable to identify them here.
Or ponder the plight of kids living with an unmarried aunt. Girls don ’t share in inheritance, so carers who are maiden or divorced aunts often find themselves and their brother ’s child being turfed out of the family home or charged exorbitant rents to stay. NOTDEC has two such “aunt sally” carers living in impossible circumstances.
A Tale of Two Sallies
Masika & Moses
Masika Jane saved Moses ’s life — stopping her step-brother killing his baby son, then breast-feeding the boy even though this led to her divorce. After time at NOTDEC, Moses was resettled with his aunt and her son Isaac. He gets on very well with Isaac.
But Masika 's step-brothers (Moses ’s father and his brother) asked her to leave the house. As a woman, she has no property rights; the men — who do — see her and the kids as a burden. And they want Moses out, so he ’ll have no future property rights.
At her wits end, Masika has put down a £100 deposit (480,000 UGX) on land in a very unsuitable area — but all she could afford. Moses is currently, boarding at school; Masika & Isaac are squatting with a neighbour. When term ends, they may all three be squatters.
Moses & Masika Together — in Photoshop at least!
Monica & Ruth
Monica has severe eyesight problems, but she still cares for her niece Ruth.
For 4 years, they lived rent free in 2 rooms of a house owned by Monica ’s uncle (who is also Ruth ’s grandfather). But then he wanted the house for his sons and gave Monica notice to quit.
Since that expired in August 2019, she ’s been under pressure to go, paying a high rent until they ’re out.
Monica is no fool: she knew she had no security of tenure.
So, in April 2017, she bought a half plot of land near a secondary school — then 2,000 bricks, 5 iron sheets, plus sand, and marrum.
Sadly, she has no magic wand.
Not a Boaz — nor a brickie — in sight!
How can anyone not need to know what happens next?
As I said at the beginning, I ’m now back home again.
Of course NOTDEC is no novel. It ’s not just something sensational to read on the train.
It is a matter of life and love — the lives of countless kids and carers, and our love for them and for our God, which compels us to do what we can for them.
Please pray for the children, their carers, and for what happens next.
And thank you for your donations — which help us write at least a few happier endings.
Leila Clare sponsors two NOTDEC boys — one of them since 2007.
Finally, in January 2019, she went to Uganda and met both of them.
Leila — a Global Account Manager with a Japanese IT Company — took 3 weeks leave to help NOTDEC Uganda’ s Management improve the organisation’s processes.
This is her report.
After only a week back home, I was already missing the wonderful NOTDEC children. I’ve travelled extensively, both personally and for work, and thought I’d approached my visit to NOTDEC with few expectations and assumptions.
I was wrong!
Uganda was unlike anywhere else I’ve visited.
Did I encounter the worst poverty I’ve ever seen?
Did I build relationships and make connections with people whose lives are completely alien to mine?
However, I also experienced a country which is lush, green and beautiful, and met people who are welcoming, happy and contented. In spite of their troubled backgrounds, the NOTDEC children have been richly blessed and are full of love, joy and fun!
I learned quickly that these people have many wonderful things that we in England lack.
That challenged me personally:
- Could I be more content?
- Could I slow down my pace of living?
- Could I be more appreciative of everything I have?
- Could I focus less on work strains and pressures and more on my fellow neighbours?
After my time at NOTDEC Uganda, my answer to these very personal questions is yes, yes, yes and YES.
Sponsoring Titus & Timothy
As soon as I joined my company’s Graduate Programme in 2007 and started earning, I began supporting a child – Titus (here with me and my Mum, Rani).
Since 2012 I have sponsored Timothy too.
Meeting them was unexpectedly emotional and crucial for building a personal connection between me and the NOTDEC children.
Though obviously not well off, Titus’ s family presented me with a HUGE sack of avocados and papayas — their generosity was overwhelming!
The Joy of Giving
Every year each sponsor sends their child a Christmas present — an A4 parcel of small gifts and clothes. This requires reminders to sponsors to buy presents in the UK, then much organising, sorting, weighing and packaging — not to mention the shipping costs! I questioned whether all the effort was really worth it. At work, I’m always looking for opportunities to make efficiencies. I was certain that there had to be a better way of giving to the children that was more time and cost efficient.
The picture shows my Mum, Rani giving Christmas presents to Provia, Fortunate and Moses. In my first week at NOTDEC we gave parcels to 50+ children. As I saw each child take such pleasure in receiving and carefully opening their small package, saw how preciously they treasured each item, it hit me just how important it all was. Each and every letter from a sponsor is read; photos are kept by their bedsides.
This pricked my conscience.
I felt guilty that I’d initially thought of presents as insignificant. I am given gifts so often throughout the year that I take them for granted. These children get just one A4 parcel each year. No wonder they’re delighted! Each parcel reminds them that they personally are loved and cared for by their sponsors thousands of miles away.
It was truly moving to be there and to give on behalf of the sponsors.
I built a personal relationship with Julius quite quickly. (In the picture, he's above me - with his white collar half turned in.)
Looking through my photos back at home, I realised that he’s in most of them! He is SO lovely, I was definitely drawn to him and his crescent smile.
I visited Julius’ s father’ s home with a Social Worker to assess whether he could go to live there.
This was my first sight of a local village home. No amount of description could have prepared me for the worn out mud hut — home for 8 people. The picture shows part of the house in which we believe people sleep (!) and shows the state of repair.
I felt physically uncomfortable even being in there — and ashamed of myself for feeling that way. The thought that a large proportion of the world live like this with absolutely no alternative is a bitter truth to accept.
We look forward to raising funds to help Julius ’s family improve their property so he can live with them.
Doing as well as Giving
The money part of giving is relatively simple. But I wanted to help more. And, until I went to NOTDEC, I wasn’t sure how. Being there, working with them taught me that doing is as important as giving.
I was tasked with supporting the Management Team and office staff to see if, together, we could identify areas for improvement.
After some quick wins — with basic computer shortcuts — we established a new organisational structure, assigned roles and defined responsibilities. We set clear objectives & processes, discussed Management tasks and set up regular meetings — short ones!
Our aim was not to change or undermine what staff already do well, but to improve their effectiveness, MAXIMISING the benefit to the children they support.
Since returning home, I’ve been cold, I’ve been busy, I’ve travelled about, but I’ve dropped the Western guilt and have remained positive and thankful for what I have and the experiences I’ve enjoyed with many people in Uganda.
I have happy memories and bonds built with really special children. I hope to continue to learn from them how to share better, give more, be appreciative, stay happy and contented and be joyful at ALL times — whatever the circumstances.
On 13th September Anthony and I arrived home after three weeks at NOTDEC in Uganda – our fourteenth visit in 15 years. Our trip had been very worthwhile, with many big and small issues resolved or well on the way. We love the NOTDEC kids, and love working with staff who have made NOTDEC their life, all striving to do the very best for the children.
Back here in the UK, it is easy to think of life at NOTDEC going on much as it always has: and it is a tribute to the efforts of NOTDEC Uganda staff that they manage to create a happy, loving and stable environment for children who have had a difficult start in life. However our latest visit made us more than usually aware of changes at NOTDEC – not ill winds that blow no-one any good, mainly gentle providential breezes, but certainly the wind of change.
For many years, Anthony and I have visited NOTDEC in January – delivering the children ’s Christmas presents in Uganda ’s long school holidays. Mid-year visits have been largely by John and Carlee Leftley – monitoring the progress of building work, buying equipment etc. Though Carlee resigned as a Trustee in 2015, she remained an enthusiastic volunteer supporting John. On 31st March 2018, John retired as a NOTDEC UK Trustee and Chair. He remains very willing to help as needed, but plans to focus his efforts elsewhere. In some ways then, our visit in Aug/Sept 2018 marked the beginning of a new phase in NOTDEC ’s history – after John & Carlee. They 're a hard act to follow!
NOTDEC owes a huge amount to John & Carlee.
Even now, Carlee is embarking on a vital task that she’s done annually for years – packing all those Christmas presents for the flight to Uganda!
And John ’s background in construction management was literally a Godsend over the 11 years when NOTDEC designed and built an orphanage village community. While most Ugandan builders are poorly trained, John knew exactly what he wanted – somehow turning supervision into collaboration. During construction, he spent several extended periods at NOTDEC.
The results speak for themselves. John ’s imprint is writ large across the Kabirizi site, transforming the lives of all the needy babies loved and cared for there. We thank God – and John & Carlee – for all their efforts in His name and on behalf of the children at NOTDEC Uganda.
John & Carlee in Full Flight.
During our visit to NOTDEC, we had a meeting with the NOTDEC Uganda Trustees, Dorothy and senior Nzirambi family members. We explained and discussed some difficult issues including the land ownership of the NOTDEC site, Dorothy ’s new home and divisions amongst the NOTDEC staff. Everyone was happy with the outcome of the meeting and the arrangements made for Dorothy ’s future.
We also met with 14 older and former NOTDEC children.
This was a very happy occasion with the young people clearly maturing and keen to help younger NOTDEC kids in any way they can.
Emblematic of the change is Yoneki in the white jacket in the front row of the picture.
Yoneki left NOTDEC 5 years ago to train as a nursery school teacher. She now teaches NOTDEC ’s baby nursery class – with 23 children aged 3-4ish.
She does a good job and is very happy there. Compared with when she first arrived at NOTDEC, Yoneki has certainly moved on.
Most of the Gang of Fourteen - one has gone walkies (or been moved on!)
NOTDEC, then, continues to serve destitute babies and nurture young lives, and is as full of life as ever. Uganda ’s Government, however, now discourages institutional “orphanages”, insisting that children live with their wider family wherever possible. So NOTDEC too has had to change.
If a mother dies in childbirth and the father cannot look after the new-born, the child is brought to NOTDEC. With Government pressure to return children to their families as soon as possible, tots (some as young as 4) first visit and then go to live with grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles etc. – transforming each child ’s life, and life at NOTDEC.
Even five years ago, NOTDEC had a few capable teenagers on site in school holidays, and countless primary-aged “eager beavers” all vying to fetch and carry, and well able to keep toddlers out of mischief. There were always plenty of hands to help make porridge, do the laundry, or wash-up.
That world has gone. Now, of 153 children in NOTDEC ’s care, only 70 are on-site in term time. Of these, the oldest is a boy aged 10 with no known family; 60 are aged 5 or under, 40 are 3 or under. With fewer and younger little helpers, housemothers’ lives are harder – more bottle-feeding, more active childcare, less time to breathe.
"Senior" Helpers Hard at Work!
And that ’s not all.
Most NOTDEC kids now live off-site – with wider family or at boarding school. Either way, they ’re still sponsored and their school fees paid. So NOTDEC has social workers buzzing around by motorbike to see that each child is happy, well cared for, and attending school. We visited several families to see for ourselves.
This may not be the “village community” idyll that once we loved. But we have to believe that the children in our care are better served by the strong family and community ties of the real world than by institutional cossetting at NOTDEC – however well-intentioned. Anyway, Ugandan Government policy gives us no choice. While we were there, Ministry officials arrived to check NOTDEC ‘s registration. Our NGO status had lapsed after 5 years: they said we needed to reapply and made other minor recommendations. Overall, they were very pleased: NOTDEC was “the best” orphanage they had visited. So the children are happy – and the Government too! NOTDEC has moved on.
Also gradually moving on to the next phase in her life is NOTDEC ’s founder Dorothy Nzirambi.
Aged 68, and with arthritic knees and back, Dorothy has wanted to retire for some time. As she owned land 7km from NOTDEC, she wanted to retire there but needed a house to live in. In March 2018, we appealed for donations towards the cost of building that house, really to honour Dorothy for everything she has done over 30 years in pursuing her original vision of caring for abandoned and motherless babies. That appeal raised the £6,500 needed and NOTDEC Uganda ’s construction team started work.
While we were there, Dorothy ’s house was completed and she moved in.
The Bedroom of Dorothy 's New Home. You can take Dorothy out of childcare, but you can 't take childcare out of Dorothy!
Dorothy was very pleased to move. In a letter of thanks, she writes ”Please thank all those who put their hands together to enable my house to be constructed. I am, glad that I am now independently living in my house and will get used [to it] slowly by slowly.”
A retirement party just a few days after Dorothy ’s move would all be too much of a rush – for Dorothy and for everyone else! Far better to let her settle in, and take stock of her new life – with a big thanksgiving party in January 2019 (her official retirement date) to thank God for Dorothy ’s vision and work. Everyone will be invited – local dignitaries, NOTDEC Uganda Trustees, all the staff, the wider Nzirambi family and older NOTDEC children. Anthony and I and four NOTDEC UK volunteers hope to be there too!
So on Friday 31st August – with her thanksgiving party booked for January – Dorothy was taken by pickup from NOTDEC Kabirizi to her new home. Truly, this was the end of an era!
The Move. We could hardly tell Dorothy to "take up thy bed and walk" now could we?!!
God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
Becky Tidd is one of the youngest volunteers ever to go to NOTDEC Uganda. She left school last year and had the opportunity to visit NOTDEC in January as part of her gap year before going to University to study Speech & Language Therapy. This is her report.
My family and I first began supporting NOTDEC in 2003 when we started sponsoring Rhona. I’m now 18 and Rhona is 19, so we’ve seen each other growing up through the pictures and letters exchanged over thousands of miles between England and Uganda.
In January 2018, I finally met her!
It was incredibly special. The surprise and delight on her face when she first saw me was lovely. We gave each other a big hug and sat down together to catch up!
We chatted about her home situation – after growing up at NOTDEC, she is now living with her family.
We bonded over music and of course High School Musical!
And I spent time in the laundry area helping her wash the clothes from one of the houses.
The laundry was a great place to chat with the housemothers and see the daily running of NOTDEC.
One of the best things about being at NOTDEC was being part of unpacking over 120kg of Christmas presents and giving them to the children. During the unpacking in the classroom, excitement buzzed throughout the whole site and the kids watched through the windows. Then we gave out the presents house by house. The personal gifts from sponsors clearly meant a lot. On Sunday, the children all wore their new clothes for church and looked very smart. And the toys went down very well – though their durability was definitely tested!
Later in my trip, I went with the social workers to visit NOTDEC children now living with their wider families. The range of living situations was far more diverse than I expected – most had no electricity, some lived in 1-room bedsits, others in houses; one had a TV, another had a sound system. But, whatever the situation, you could see that the children were wanted and loved by their newfound family and most had settled well.
It was also clear how loved and respected Anthony & Janet were. The children were beyond excited to see them; and their families were very grateful to sponsors for the support with school fees.
What struck me most was that NOTDEC children were relatively privileged compared with many there. Some were the only child in the family going to school, and all brought to the household NOTDEC bedsheets and a mosquito net. In Uganda, beds, bedding etc. are typically shared so the other kids will generally also benefit. This shows the impact of the NOTDEC sponsorship scheme on the lives of individual children and on those of other family members. Longer-term, we hope that the schooling funded by NOTDEC will spill over to benefit the local economy and community too.
I also visited NOTDEC’s 20 acre farm.
An abundance of matoke (banana) trees line the NOTDEC entrance and there are eucalyptus trees and a recent plantation of coffee.
To ward off curious elephants, bee hives mark the perimeter of the site. The picture shows NOTDEC’s first honey being tasted while we were there.
The thriving crops are a great asset: NOTDEC children and staff get weekly food supplies, and surplus produce brings profit to the organisation.
It was great being part of such a lovely team and great fun hanging out with the kids. I played netball with some of the older girls; and bubbles and balloons went down very well with the younger ones. Under Guy’s supervision, I even tried my hand at face painting – but with limited success!
I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to visit this beautiful and friendly country and spend time falling in love with the wonderful children at NOTDEC. I can’t wait to go back!
Thank you to all sponsors for your support.