Jordyn Konrad has traded comfort for cramped quarters, intermittent electricity, limited water and an often unpleasant latrine.
Armed with her BA in general studies specializing in global health from Vancouver’s Douglas College, the 24-year-old Salmon Arm resident is in Uganda on a six-month international youth internship.
As a college employee, Konrad is living and working in the small village of Kiwangala, population 200 to 300, with an NGO called the Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE).
This organization works in community development, focusing on the welfare of orphans and vulnerable children and their families.
The Ugandan water project has kept Konrad busy since she arrived in the village in late September.
“My first month in Kiwangala was spent compiling research and participating in outreach projects to find out from the locals what would most improve their standard of life,” writes Jordyn, in an overview of the project, noting the basic need for water is not being met and some of the key issues residents face are related to water access and availability.
“I have now personally experienced the impact of the water shortage and quality over the past month, and it has greatly influenced my new appreciation for water back home.”
Once a week, Konrad and her colleague Katharine Zacharias get 40 litres of water from a borehole two miles away.
“A man fetches the water, which we use for washing dishes, sometimes showering and drinking, once it’s boiled,” said Konrad by Skype from Uganda on Monday. “The toilet situation? Well, we share a latrine with the orphan children in the centre run by the organization; it’s smelly and there are cockroaches everywhere!”
Konrad and Zacharias share a small abode she describes as being the size of four outhouses put together, with two rooms – one that barely accommodates two single beds.
“We also live in a wing of the children’s centre, so from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we have no privacy,” she says. “Kids are hanging through the windows/doors to see what we are up to, and want to come chill.”
The women cook on a kerosene stove that requires about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to heat the food.
“On weekends, I come out of the village and go to the Muzungu cafes in Masaka where they serve western food.”
Muzungu is an African word meaning white person, Westerner or person with money. Konrad says when she and Zacharias step out of their home on the village’s main street, they are greeted with “Hello Muzungu” by sometimes startled villagers who have not seen many white people before.
Well into Uganda’s rainy season, Konrad says she is falling in love very quickly with the country and its people.
On Monday about 9 p.m. Uganda time, Konrad said it was probably around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius.
“In the morning, the rains are torrential,” she says, describing the land as having many hills and valleys where farmers grow matoke, a banana-like fruit that is one of the main sources of carbohydrates, coffee, sweet bananas, cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, beans, passion fruit, avocado, mangoes, jack fruit, and more.
The population is a mix of Christians and Muslims and, so far, from what Konrad has seen, they get along well. But, she says elections will be taking place and she and Zacharias have been told to steer clear of rallies as there is likely to be political unrest in the next few months.
“The people are incredibly friendly and giving. They may not have much, but they are very quick to offer you everything they have,” Konrad says. “The kids are especially amazing; they are very curious and keen on learning new things, and very hard workers.”
She says the children highly value education but many orphans are unable to pay for school fees, so they are forced to grow up fast and find jobs to cover their fees.
Illnesses such as malaria, typhoid and HIV/AIDS are an issue, as is poverty, with money often being an indicator of who gets medical treatment.
“There’s lots of malaria right now but even if it’s a government hospital, you might be turned away,” she says. “We took a little girl in to get tested and treated and a man told us if he had brought her, she wouldn’t have been treated.”
Konrad will be in Uganda until the end of March and is currently researching grant possibilities for projects she would like to get under way while she is there.
“I love Uganda; everything is amazing, the people are amazing and it’s beautiful,” she says, admitting she does miss the snow. “I’m not sure what my long-term goal is, that’s why I am here.”