A look at the men and women who make things work behind the scenes.
JOURNEY OF HOPE WALK 2019: BEHIND-THE-SCENES TEAM
By Joseph Kizza
"How do you eat?"
"Do you walk the whole day? How do you cope?"
"Do you sleep in the open, under the stars?"
I bet these are some of the questions that have been running through your mind upon seeing a group of walkers slaloming through the streets and hilly stretches of district after district on the eastern route of Uganda in the last 16 days. A 467km expedition that started on July 1 in Kampala is coming to end on Thursday, as the Journey of Hope Walk 2019, running under the #SchoolsNotStreets tagline, climaxes at Lomaratoit Primary School in Lomaratoit village, Napak district.
Most of the faces you have been seeing have been of the walkers wearing campaign T-shirts, with some branching off the course sometimes to interact with interested bystanders to fill them in on why they are ambling under some scorcher. Some thought we were walking in the wrong direction, assuming we were pilgrims supposedly destined for Namungongo. "Aren't you too early for next year's Martyrs' Day?" I remember one asking me in Lugazi, with a look of confusion impressed on his face.
Anyways, behind this group of walkers is a larger team responsible for their feeding, accommodation, transportation and health. I call this the behind-the-scenes team.
Here they are:
"Mzee" is what everyone calls him in the camp.
If you like, you could as well call him the Gentle Giant - because, rising at a good six feet-plus and with a calm demeanour, he is exactly that. I suspect he is introverted by nature, well, at least by what I have seen in these 16 days of our sharing the same space in different locations.
Mzee, who has been a driver since the late 60s, is the guy behind the wheels of the City Tyres truck that moves the bulk of the stuff we use. That is, the food, kitchenware, tents, boarding stuff and luggage. In other words, that truck is the mover of our portable 'real estate'.
Mzee is a professional driver with years of experience spanning decades. He told me how he drove for 12 years, from 1980 to 1992, without holding a driving permit in neighbouring Kenya. And when he had to apply for a job somewhere, which required one to have a driver's license, the guys at the issuing agency were shocked to learn that all along he hadn't one.
He is still using his East African permit, which he got in Kenya. It allows him to drive all but one category of vehicles - the Special Category. This one is a preserve for the drivers who fuel aeroplanes, which is not as easy as doing the same with your car.
One of the things that Wilson plans to do when he returns home is to pamper himself with a steam bath and sauna. Like many people out here, of course he misses his bed. The deep-voiced driver of the Journey of Hope van is a hardworker, and striking a fatherly presence around camp, you will quickly learn that he has a Senior Four student for a child. He has other children too.
He loves a good chat too. Be sure to catch him 'sneak' into a group discussing about just about anything and he will fit himself right in. Oh, and he is quite relatively opinionated as well!
The van that Wilson drives is the one used for shopping food, charcoal, etc. It also carries some of the portable 'real estate' stuff when we move from point A to B.
So how does he feel about being a part of the journey?
"The team that I am working with is very good. *Rita's family is good. They will also have a story to tell. We are eating well, we are sleeping well. When Rita talked about **Simon Peter, I immediately knew God has a bigger plan for him," he says.
*Rita Nkemba is the founding director of Dwelling Places, the Christian organisation that started the Journey of Hope Walk #SchoolsNotStreets campaign
**Simon Peter Adungo is a Karimojong resident who offered 20 acres of his land in Lomaratoit village in Iriiri sub-county, Napak district, on which a secondary school is planned to be built. Funds from this year's walk are going into the building of this school
She is the team leader. And that means overseeing every activity in the camp. While you will find her in the kitchen most of the time, her presence around the camp remains ubiquitous. Even when one eye remains fixed on the kitchen, the other continues to surveil the camp. Under her charge, everything must fall right in place. And on the evidence of the last 16 days, somehow, everything has fallen in place. The roll call has been done with consistency to ensure every single registered member is accounted and cared for. The meals have been consistently served, much to the satisfication of the team.
So, her take on the journey?
"It is a whole new experience. I feel humbled. I also came along with a myriad of feelings. I was anxious at first but as the advocacy officer of Dwelling Places, my Journey of Hope Walk 2019 role falls under my jurisdiction," she says.
"Police has been doing well. Some even call to find out how we are doing. We have been received well at the various stopovers. It not easy to keep shifting from place to place every day.
"I and the kitchen team have to be up at 4:00am and make sure breakfast is ready by 6:30am. We also have to ensure the fruit snack for the walkers is ready by 10:30am and lunch by 12pm.
On the nutrition planning . . .
"We came up with a menu before we set off [for the journey] considering that there are also foreigners on the team. We try to be innovative with the food," she says.
She will be turning 22 in December.
Quiet by nature, Shamim invests more of her time in getting her work done. She is part of the awesome culinary crew, whose creative production in the kitchen has endeared them to the rest of the group. Popular tea, lunch and dinner talk resolves around those tasty Supreme Flour mandazis and chapattis. Shamim, who will warm your day with her infectious smile, is at the heart of this culinary delight production.
"She is a very positive young woman who loves to give hugs, and is the chief of the baking department," is how German Tamara Walz, one of the Journey of Hope Walk members, describes Shamim.
A beneficiary of Dwelling Places, Nakato is about to graduate from Ndejje University after pursuing a degree in accounting.
"I want to thank God for enabling me to be a part of this journey. My gift as a person in hospitality is to make other people happy," she says.
Hope is also part of the culinary crew. She is affable and a little bashful at the same time, if you asked me. The 25-year-old is another hardworker and a hands-on kind of person.
"Hope is a lovely person who loves music, singing and dancing. She has a serving heart and always loves helping people," says Tamara's compatriot, Linda Uhlig.
So what does being a part of the Journey of Hope Walk 2019 mean to Hope?
"My joy is giving myself up to all efforts the walkers are investing into the journey. They are doing a lot of work. I feel energized having to be a part of this expedition," she says.
For 26-year-old Grace, she sees her participation in the Journey of Hope Walk 2019 as a way of serving God.
She is a resourceful component of the kitchen department, always busy cleaning up and getting stuff done.
Here comes another quiet one. Lynette. Or Lyn, if you prefer. She is part of the core Elpa Uganda trinity.
Elpa Uganda is at the heart of the health faculty on this journey, providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to the team. Well, Lyn may come off as reserved, but if you engage her in a good conversation, she will get hooked right away. Movies and series are her kind of thing. And I have a sneaky suspicion that her favorite genre is adventure.
Oh, and you can get her in with a dollop of an episode or two of Two and a Half Men.
About the journey, this is what the student of nursing at Bugema University has to say:
"This is a first for me. In the beginning, I thought it was a crazy idea, but I am now glad to be able to contribute to the journey."
"Sometimes he is quiet (in the van, listening to his Country music) and then suddenly, he breaks out of his shell."
"He comes off as a talkative guy, but when it comes to work, if he says 'No', it is a 'No'."
That's how some members describe Isaac, also part of the Elpa Uganda team.
Another says that being the good-humoured guy that he is, Isaac's laughter does some healing!
"I have been in EMS [Emergency Medical Services] for two years. I am an adventurous kind of person, but I did not expect it to be this tough. As a paramedic, I thought we would register major issues, but fortunately we have not so far, save for the common blisters and muscle pains."
And one thing that you miss most?
"My bed!" says Isaac.
One of the bass voices you will hear around camp.
Also part of the Elpa Uganda crew, Paul is cool, calm and cuts an affable demeanour.
"It has been a good experience so far. I commend the logistics team for their work. The food has been very nice. Generally, so far so good."
Every time we set up camp, there is a specific spot that most members normally scramble to get their phones to: 'Phone Hospital'. That's what I decided to call it anyways. It is a busy area - a hub of extension cables, connected to a power source, where members charge their phones and other gadgets.
One man that has been solely in charge of ensuring that the 'Phone Hospital' is functional is Joshua. He also ensures that the camp is adequately lit.
Yet, he does a lot more than that.
He is your go-to kind of guy. You will see him get involved in such activities as pitching the tents, lending a hand in the mobile kitchen and securing night security for the camp. He is multitasking personified.
Joshua is the Public Relations Officer of Dwelling Places.
"Journey of Hope Walk 2019 has been another activity with roles beyond the usual office work," he says.
"My task here has been to ensure that everything is working well. Good enough, I am a multitasker. It is a beautiful thing to do, considering it is all in the best interest of children. We are ministering in one way.
"I have been working with a very supportive team. The walk is great, especially seeing people who did not believe that they would not do it. It is a good team that God has put together. The children we have found on the road have been amazing," he says.
Another multitasker here.
Farouk is a jolly-good kind of guy. He is one of the drivers on the team, but despite being one of the senior figures on the team, he will not shy away from sauntering into the kitchen and help with cleaning of the dishes.
You will also catch him helping to set up the camp or helping with moving stuff here and there.
Oh, by the way, Farouk would also make a great paparazzo! Seen him sneak out his phone and take a photo of someone in pure stealth mode? Oh yes, he does. Awesome guy!
Whenever we set up camp, one of the main concerns is water. Well, understandably so. Fortunately, we have the perfect guy for this task. Emma.
Always jolly, Emma is the guy that gels into a new community with admirable ease. Upon landing on our different camping site, he will quickly find out the most convenient source of water as well as the location of the place(s) of convenience. If the water source is a bit far, he will organise residents to fetch water - of course at a fee.
Besides the water department, Emma is also very much hands-on in other areas. He helps with setting up of the camp, organising security alongside Joshua, Jessica and Max, as well as joining the Soul Touch evangelism team.
"If there is a noble cause, it is worth the effort," he says about being part of the Journey of Hope Walk 2019.
"It is being done for prosperity - preserving the future generation (children). When you see someone with such a vision (Rita Nkemba), then you feel it is worth being a part of it," says Emma.
Better known as 'Pastor', Peter is exactly that.
He leads the Soul Touch team, who are at the forefront of the Journey of Hope evangelism component, considering that Dwelling Places is a Christian non-profit and therefore is pillared on the pedestal of spirituality.
Every morning, the entire team starts off with the devotion session, which is led by Peter and David, the other Soul Touch member.
The spiritual team have also been visiting schools around the areas we have been camping to spread the Word. Across the 16 days so far, hundreds of pupils and students have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.
He is calm and most of the time quiet. But you can catch him enjoying a good chat with another member of the team. He drives one of the cars used on the journey, and how resourceful he is!
During his free time, he will quietly pull up a chair and join a convesation. Or also join in on a kickabout with the boys.