The first two weeks of work (and play)

As we enter our third week of work with the ICSE programme, and our fifth week here in Kampala, all of the volunteers are getting used to working together and getting to grips with their business’ needs. The first two weeks were challenging to say the least, but very interesting and I’ve already learnt a lot about myself, both personally and professionally.

Weekend

Every Saturday, we have a team ICSE meeting, in which we have training in for a qualification with the Chartered Management Institute. It’s also an opportunity to see one another after a week away at work, and share problems or seek advice.

Our first meeting was poolside, at the delightful ‘Nob View Hotel’. The view really is excellent by the way, though not in the way the name might appear to imply. A surprise afternoon deluge cancelled any hopes of swimming after the meeting, but we still enjoyed celebrating Amy’s birthday with delicious ginger cake and a few Niles.

On Sunday I went to Watoto Church, the pinnacle of ‘born again’ Christian worship here in Kampala. It was quite a spectacle, more like a theatre show than anything, and I’ve never seen such a long queue of people get baptised. After Watoto, a few of us Brits discovered the delightful Café Javas, a popular mzungu hangout, which can satisfy all of one’s expat needs: wifi, aircon, cappuccinos, salad…they even have steak and chips! We gladly agreed that we would be making many a repeat visit there.

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Anna and Jess in the Afribanana office

Week

It was a bumpy first week for everyone, as we attempted to establish a good professional relationship with our counterparts and business owners, whilst managing the extreme clash of working styles and cultures.

Naira and I met our business owners, Faith and Chrispin, in Seeta, a small town east of Kampala. Chrispin set up Waste Masters, a private solid waste management company, five years ago, when he saw the need for garbage collection as he was delivering vegetables door-to-door. The business has thrived since its inception, thanks to strong leadership and a relatively unsaturated market. The service is highly necessary in a city where the Council only has the capacity or willingness to collect from central trading centres and main highways.

Waste Masters’ niche is door-to-door garbage collection from middle-class households in the areas on the eastern side of the capital. Though they currently dump the waste in a landfill like everyone else, they have great, ‘green’ plans for the future. Thanks to funding from an individual in Europe, Chrispin has been able to buy the land and materials necessary for a processing plant nearby, which will be constructed next year by engineering students from a Belgian University. Once up and running, the plant will recycle plastics, incinerate medical waste, make compost, and generate bio-thermal electricity. Waste Masters’ priority at the moment is to expand their customer base, and raise awareness of the need for good waste disposal. That’s where we step in!

Weekend

This time the team meeting was lakeside, at the ‘beach’ in Entebbe, on Lake Victoria. It was a hot day for training, and the pumping Afrobeats were rather distracting, but we got through the CMI content and rewarded ourselves with fish and chips Ugandan style afterwards! The (only) fish they eat here is Tilapia, a freshwater fish from Lake Victoria. It was very fresh and delicious barbecued. We enjoyed playing volleyball and having a wee toe dip in the water (avoiding all parasites, of course).

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Sunday was a tranquil day: I visited the Baha’i Centre for Worship with Gwenno, Anna and Heini. The beautiful domed temple sits atop a small hill, affording stunning views over the city from the peaceful gardens. I don’t know much about Baha’i religion, but many of the tenants resonated. To quote a good friend who has explored their teachings further: “they teach a lot of really beneficial things… gender equality and education of women, and unity being more important than being so firm in our beliefs that we cause divides with others”.

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Week

Our second week of work was mainly fieldwork based, as we needed to get a good idea of the realities of business operations, and get some data to inform our Marketing Plan.

On Tuesday we conducted Market Research in Bweyogerere, by asking 20 households about their garbage habits. I was hugely grateful to have Naira there to communicate in Luganda, as local residents’ English was limited! In general, people were receptive to our questions and seemed interested in Waste Masters’ service, which is encouraging. It seems that the convenience would outweigh the cost for many households, who just don’t have the space or time to compost or recycle their own solid waste. The culture of burning garbage is still rife though, and we observed that the streets were unfortunately littered with dumped trash.

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On Wednesday I took my first trip out on a garbage truck. To be honest, it was long and hot and uncomfortable, so I greatly admire the work these guys do! The truck staff were a pleasure to spend time with and so cheerful, even when we finished at the huuge landfill behind the Stadium.

We spent the rest of the week putting the Marketing Plan together, and brainstorming new Marketing Strategies, along with fellow volunteers. I’m looking forward to implementing some of them soon.

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The Waste Masters team at work
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