Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Andie is home!!!

Andie flies back to the States tomorrow and I can't wait! It's been a long time since she has stepped on this side of the Atlantic. There are so many things to which we have to look forward in these next few months here and she is going to be a part of it! I'm so excited!

The kids will undoubtedly miss her presence and her tireless efforts on their behalf. The great friends made and the many who have worked side by side her over these past months will look forward to her return. Uganda is home to her, yes, but I think I speak for many when I say, we all still think of her as our own.

Welcome home Andie! We're so happy to have you back!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Im so excited to say that Mackenzie Brown has arrived in Uganda and is settling in at BULA Children's Home.

Just over a year ago, I spent much of my time talking to Walker Williams, the 2007-2008 Elrod fellowship recipient, about the future of the fellowship. At that time, Mackenzie Brown was at Washington and Lee University, the summer before her senior year, running Campus Kitchens, a program in which unused food on campus was prepared and delivered to underprivileged families in the area. I did not know her, nor did Walker, and she certainly didn't know about BULA.

Walker and I spent hours on the phone that summer discussing how to rework the fellowship so that the fellow could have an even greater experience and more importantly so that more can be done to assist communities in Uganda. Loads of ideas were thrown around about what the fellow would do, where the fellow would live, and how BULA could be involved. These ideas, in our heated excitement over them, felt much like mere dreams and aspirations. It felt as though we were discussing what could be one day in a time far far away, much like a fairy tale land where all things go the way you envision. With enthusiasm, no expectations and a lot of heart, we constructed a program.

A year later, I am sitting here thinking about how it all happened, how Mackenzie ended up in Uganda, how those conversations made something very real and amazing unfold before our very eyes. As the months rolled by, there was so much to embrace. I remember so well the excitement when our ideas were so well received by Fran Elrod, the woman who runs the Fellowship programs at Washington and Lee, and how she then confirmed that not only would our ideas be realized through this program, but that the program would essentially be run by BULA. As if that wasn't enough to knock me off my feet, Andie and I, along with Walker, were then asked to go to the University and interview the applicants.

Deep breaths, sighs, and a surreal sense of what was happening took over during that time. Then and now, I can't quite grasp the magnitude of what was happening. Not only was I interviewing someone rather than being interviewed myself, but we were interviewing applicants to work for our own organization. When did my phone call home over 2 years ago talking about what we could do for a small village in Uganda turn into this? Incredible.

When the fellow was selected,and this fellow had a name, the excitement snowballed even further. This amazing young woman, Mackenzie, was coming on board to be a part of it all. How lucky are we? She just took her first step on a year long journey, making a tremendous difference in the lives of many, getting the experience of a lifetime and an education impossible to receive in a classroom. She is doing this with us, like us and for us. I am so looking forward to seeing the progress along the way and all that she will contribute to the work BULA does in Uganda.

Thank you Mackenzie, her family, Washington and Lee, Fran Elrod, Walker Williams, and everyone involved in making this a reality. I'm blown away each day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Over a year after construction, the school is flourishing...

I may be biased... but isn't St. Kizito the happiest, most wonderful place ever?

Well, at least, it is for me...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yesterday morning, I called BULA Children's Home for the first time since I returned to the States nearly 3 weeks ago. I was calling to congratulate the Directors on finally receiving unyielding confirmation that the home is registered: the certificate!

Within that call, I also had the great pleasure of talking to each child. This was fantastic and made me miss them all even more than I already do. They politely asked about my family and friends and how life was in New York. We naturally joked about the various things that seem to keep us all laughing: my random use of Luganda, me in dresses, bula (the original source of the organization's name), and jokes shared with the various International volunteers over the years.

The final conversation was with the youngest of the boys, and included the following:

Sister, Did you hear about Michael Jackson?

Yes, yes I did. What do you think about that?

Ehhh it is not cool!

As I fought back the giggles from this adorable exchange, I thought of the many months I spent living with the children at the former orphanage with little to entertain ourselves but each other. With no electricity, I used my laptop sparingly, and on a whim, I would randomly pull it out as a special treat for the kids. Each time, we would put on a photo slide show and blast music of their choosing. Without fail, they always chose Michael Jackson.

So for many nights in Uganda, I drained my laptop's battery, blasting Michael Jackson as the kids had the time of their lives, dancing in the little volunteer room where we shared so many memories.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I just joined twitter. You can follow me at: www.twitter.com/melissa_fricke

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I just returned from an amazing trip to Uganda. Though short, itt was one of the most uplifting and reaffirming thus far. These five weeks made evident that our vision for change and for truly making a difference in the lives of those that need it most is more than just a vision, it is now a reality. Positivity, hope and pride radiated from all those at the children's home and at the school. Im truly elated and only further motivated

At BULA Children's Home, I returned to find happy and healthy children on their school holiday break. I reviewed their school performances and found excellent marks and improvements in those children who sometimes struggle. I also had the fortune of coming just after many of them had just been reunited with family and guardians for the first time in years and was thrilled to hear them speak of their experiences and their loved ones. I picked several of them up from their former homes deep in the villages of Uganda and got to meet many of these family members. Some of the most amazing experiences of my life occurred in those visits. To top it all off, we finally received word that the home had been officially registered as an NGO in Uganda. Things are fantastic.

Within this trip, Andie and I visited St. Kizito Primary school on several occasions. This has been most refreshing as the school is prospering. The teachers and adminstration are really doing a fantastic job there. Enrollment is increasing and its so exciting to see. We hung loads of artwork up in the classrooms from the various participating schools on Long Island and watched as students eagerly and artfully returned the gester. So much fun!

We spent several days tourring other primary schools around in search of our next primary school out there. There are plenty that need our help and we cannot wait to do share with them all that we can.

It was an incredible trip. As always, the hardest part was leaving. I will greatly miss everyone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wono muzungu!

This is a great video!

Back a few months ago, Andie and I were sitting in the shade at the school, while our fantastic builders were working on the kitchen. A few children came over to play with us as they do most days. This day in particular was hilarious and unforgettable because the children just noticed that they could see our reflection in my sunglasses and later in Andie's camera.

They pointed and yelled in excitement as they do when a muzungu (European/traveller/white person) walks or drives by, "Wono muzungu!" This is normal and very cute behavior upon seeing a mzungu. However, this time was unique and wonderful in that we had been sitting with these children for a good 15 minutes; the mzungu excitement had passed for all intents and purposes and we were back to good old fun and games.

I certainly could not control my laughter when the muzungu siting thrill was reignited as Andie and I suddenly reappeared in a pair of sunglasses and a camera screen. Talk about priceless...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In one week, I'll be on a plane again! This will be my fourth trip to Uganda. This trip is particularly exciting because I'm flying with 2 others on their first visit. My sister, Amanda, will be with me through the entire five weeks. I will finally be able to share with her my life over there. Also, board member, Joe Charchalis, is coming over for 2 weeks! Joe has been so involved with BULA from the very beginning. I'm so happy he now has the opportunity to see what his work over the years has accomplished.

I told the kids that I was bringing a friend and my sister when I came back in May. They were all so excited about this, particularly, because I've talked about my sister a lot being that she's getting married this year and that I am asked about my family constantly. As I was bidding my farewell in March, one of the girls told me (with a suppressed smile), "come back with Amanda or don't bother." Fortunately, my sister followed through with her promise to come. Had she not, well who knows what this head strong girl would have thought!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BULA Falls Down the Rabbit Hole

One of my greatest friends from High School owns a cute little wine boutique in Sayville, NY: Down the Rabbit Hole Wines. The shop is full of personality and delicious wine all thanks to the owner, my dear friend, Suzy McDonald.

Founding BULA in a similar time frame, Suzanne and I have shared a lot over the recent years on the trials and triumphs of pursuing your own venture. It's been nothing short of fantastic to be able to do so! Watching her create her innovative and visionary idea into the success it is today has been amazing. My only disappointment is that I was in Uganda at the shop's opening!

Now that the two of us are well established in our respective work, we decided to team up in what we hope to be a series of successful events. We will call them BULA Falls Down the Rabbit Hole. The events as planned will raise awareness and funds for BULA's cause and allow Suzy to share her amazing talent for wine to those who share her passion, taste and enjoyment of it.

We held our first event this past weekend at La Tavola (in Sayville) and it was a tremendous success. Not only did Suzanne do a tremendous job in selecting wine and delivering its true sense to the guests, but La Tavola mastered the event with attentive staff, delicous food, and beautiful decor.

I owe much of the success of the event to Suzanne and I's mutual friend, Diana Flynn. Diana cooridinated the entire event and I must commend her on a job well done. In short, it was a great event and I'm so looking forward to more in the future.

In a similar, but more casual format, we will be holding another event in 2 days at The Grey Horse Tavern in Bayport, NY. If anyone is interested in attending, please contact me at bulainc@gmail.com! Should be another great evening!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yesterday, I visited Connetquot Elementary School in East Islip, NY. I held two assemblies about BULA. In the assembly, I compared life in America and Uganda, told the kids about what BULA has done and will do, and show3e them the video of the school construction. The kids loved it!

They asked so many interesting questions. Hands were raised throughout the Q&A time and by the end we had to unfortunately cut off many questions as we ran out of time.

I loved sharing this with the kids and loved hearing their very thoughtful questions. The kids asked me things like "How did you feel after you built the school?" - "What did the kids think of you when they first saw you?" - "How did you get all the materials to build the school?" and loads more.

I told them about the art exchange program we are doing and they are all excited to take part.

I hope to continue to visit schools, holding assemblies for the entire school, speaking in individual classrooms or in whatever format is available. It was so much fun and I think the kids gained a better understanding of what life is like elsewhere around the world. Most importantly, they were exposed to the possibilities that are out there for them. They can do anything they put their mind to!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Board member, Joe Charchalis, has been working so hard on our website. I would just like to say thanks!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Incredible potential for development lies in communication. The rise of cell phone use helps to facilitate various aspects of daily life and business. This is particularly important in areas of minimal access to transport (be it proximity or income) and with widespread poor roads. The ability to make a call as opposed to delivering information in person, can obviously then speed up production dramatically.

With every trip to Uganda, I see more and more individuals and households with mobile phones. Beyond encouraging more effective communication it also provides the opportunity for more business opportunities. Phone charging stations are everywhere along with nearly every shop, regardless of its product, having airtime (minutes) available for purchase, supplementing their income.

When I'm in Uganda, this makes work on the construction site so much easier! When I'm home and Andie is in Uganda, it means I can talk to her as if she was in New York! This allows us to move forward steadily, remaining in constant contact, updating each other on our respective progress.

Obulamu bulungi! (Life is good!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Andie and I try to stay current with the news around the world. When we're in Uganda, since we don't have a newspaper at our fingertips and we are particularly interested in the news of Uganda and the surrounding region, we pick up the National papers as often as possible. Our favorite is New Vision: http://www.newvision.co.ug/

Despite our best efforts to be informed, the reality is that as soon as we get it, it makes it into the hands of 27 curious and worldly children, and we never end up reading it...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Interlocking Soil Stablized Blocks (ISSB) Technology

Development is the ultimate goal for our organization. What people may not know, is that in our construction projects and our work, we do our best to be mindful of the Earth as this is most essential to long term and sustainable development.

One of the ways we do this is by the use of ISSB technology. This technology (in full: Interlocking Soil Stabilized Blocks) has existed for hundreds of years and is just making headway in Sub-Saharan Africa. Makerere University in Kampala along with support from organizations like Good Earth Trust are doing much to develop and promote its use. The interlocking feature to the Soil Stabilized blocks was in fact developed at Makerere!

During construction, we had 2 machines on site producing up to 500 bricks a day. The soil excavated from the holes dug for the water tank and the latrines were used to make the bricks in a mixture of cement and water. This method is both more efficient and environmentally friendly as the uniform bricks require less mortar and they steer away from the more common practice of fire burned bricks (which consume large amounts of firewood).

On top of that they look nice too!

To learn more about the bricks and groups out there promoting their use, visit:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Earlier this month, I returned from Uganda for the third time in the past 2 ½ years. I’m always slightly surprised when I think of how much time I have spent in another country, especially one so far away, and well, especially one that is in Africa. My surprise isn’t derived from my sudden realization that I’ve been spending most of my time in Africa but rather from the fact that this seems as normal to me as going to Starbucks.

When I really try to think about it all, what I find most humbling is that every time I return to Blue Point, I feel as though I never left and that I do truly belong here. The strange part of it all, and really probably the reason this all works, is that I also feel that way about Uganda. The moment I arrive in the village, I return to those bumpy roads with chickens, goats, cattle, bicycles, motorcycles, and children causing us to take the most unreasonable routes; I see women carrying babies on their backs with bundles of goods in their arms while balancing a large jerry can of water on their heads; and I look left to the local butcher and try to stomach the fact that there is half of cow hanging in the hot sweltering sun for what was probably days; and in this moment, I feel at home.

I suppose this sense of belonging in both places explains why I can live in Uganda for months and months at a time and then return home to Blue Point, live in an entirely different world (a world with soy lattes!) and in both worlds, feel at home and at peace.

Friday, March 20, 2009

BULA was in the BBP St. Patrick's Day parade!

We handed out 1000 pencils that nearly ran out after the first 100 feet.

I would just like to thank Diana Flynn for being awesome and putting this whole thing together and all the great friends that marched with us!

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm the worst blogger ever. Seriously... 3 months? what is that??? I apologize to anyone who checked more than once. I will try to do a better job.

In fairness, I spent the last 2+ months in Uganda with minimal access to the internet and limited communication with the States while fighting a long battle against a crazy man. The battle is ongoing with Andie and a team of unbelievably strong and committed individuals in Uganda fighting on our side. I, on the other hand, am back in the good old U S of A to tell you all what happened!

So...we now run a children's home in Uganda. We don't just support one, we actually run it. This is what happens when you show up in a village to determine whether or not the Director of a Children's home, who has been misusing all funds directed to the children, is ready to cooperate and work for the kids he claims to be helping and you find that you cannot even make that inquiry. You instead find that these children are sneaking out of the home to see you. This is what happens when the children tell you (and you see) how little they've been eating and how the director, their so-called "uncle", is abusing them both physically and psychologically. Heartbreaking, ridiculous and unacceptable. So we did something about it.

For those organizations and individuals out there who formerly supported Kinship House and Director, Ben Ssenoga, (and for those who perhaps still do) and haven't yet heard the news: Kinship House no longer exists!!! The children are now in a new home in the care of our organization and of Kinship's other directors: Stephen, John, and Dan. For more details, refer to our website: www.bulainc.org where our newsletters are posted and where we will soon disclose more details about their new living situation.

Thank you to all who have supported us during this rocky transition.

One of the children told me during the height of the chaos and fear, "Sister, my motto is to never give up!" Let me tell you...we never will and neither will these kids.