The House That Was Built in Three Days

My work with the 52 Kids Foundation brings us to Uganda at least once a year. We go to Kamuli, a small city, not far from the banks of the Victoria Nile. As you might understand, our work can get complicated and although our focus is the kids, it’s hard not to get involved in other needs prevalent in the communities and villages where the kids live. In the past, this community service work comprised the renovation of a girls’ school, the digging of a village well, medical services and the making of efficient kitchen stoves. These are essential activities and travels to Uganda often involve projects and service work. Come along. You can experience this for yourself. You would be most welcome.

Last year, a particular project with the 52 Kids Foundation involved our sister foundation in Kamuli, called the Kapida Foundation. Josephine Dhizzala directs the activities of Kapida and she is a woman to be reckoned with. She is big-hearted and a significant presence in the community of Kamuli. When she asks, it’s hard to say no. I’d said “yes” to one of her requests and a modest annual donation helped abate a serious medical problem in this part of Uganda, a small parasite which the locals refer to as Jiggers. Jiggers are little insects that burrow into the skin around fingernails, toenails, elbows, and knee caps. Miserable creatures that make people miserable.

Mr. Mugweri’s village is small, perhaps made up of twenty families. Most of the village houses are modest in size and decoration. Many have outdoor kitchens and hard, mud packed floors. Mr. Mugweri’s house is small. We would consider his house a “tiny” house. It’s about ten square feet and one level, with a corrugated metal roof sloping in one direction. The house is made of soft, red brick and these bricks come from the reddish clay soil found in this part of Uganda. Mr. Mugweri’s house was falling apart. Mr. Mugweri had a bad case of jiggers. He was unable to work and unable to take care of himself. He was very unhappy, but he was very willing to be helped by his friends and neighbors.

Mr Mugweri’s former house

We were recruited to help … we went to visit Mr. Mugweri’s village shortly after arrival. We met him and his neighbors. At a village meeting we planned a work session to restore Mr. M and his house.

In the interim Prossy, a young friend to our foundation, went with us to the town market … for about twenty dollars we bought a bed, mattress, clothing, shoes, sheets etc. We bought an orange tarp for the house. It needed protection from the rain.

Mr. Mugweri’s neighbors

The next morning the entire village was out and ready to work.  Josephine and a few others gave several speeches to inspire all. They wanted me to say something. I like to talk, but I was slightly tongue tied. Finally, I found a few words and said that I was heartened by their willingness to help a fellow villager who was in need. We are all the better for this.

Prossy digging a new latrine

They set to work. We cleaned his house and dug out the earthen floor. We threw away his non-essential possessions and buried much of what was contaminated. We washed his clothes and dug a new latrine. Behind some large banana leaves several of us men completely shaved and bathed Mr. Mugweri. I was impressed by his humility, his willingness …. he gave himself over to this. It was somehow spiritual. A male nurse administered a disinfecting bath for his feet, hands, elbows and knees. This would be repeated twice daily for almost a month. Mr. Mugweri dressed in his new clothes. His new bed was made up. A new earthen floor was compacted and nicely swept. His house was covered by the orange tarpaulin. It was much improved but still needed repairs.

I knew what was coming next. Josephine leaned my way and quietly said: “Rolf, can we fix this house?”

“Yes” I said. “let’s get a local builder and ask that same question”.

In no time Josephine had a local builder on hand. A brother of a cousin … something like that. His name was Fred and he shook his head skeptically as he examined the house. Mr. Mugweri needed a new house he told us. Hey, I’m an architect. I knew that!

I did a few sketches of the new house. Not exactly construction drawings but good enough. I tore the page from my sketchbook and passed it to Fred. “How much” I said. “and when can you do it?”

Construction sketches for Mr. Mugweri’s new house

Fred had his pad in hand and leaned on a nearby tree. He thought and wrote for a while and then came back. The new house was to be 10×12’. A slight bit bigger than the existing house. Fred handed us his “proposal”.  $521.78 in American dollars. We were good at currency conversion. He could start this afternoon he said. Josephine looked at us expectantly. We pondered. Who else, we thought, could help with this? I consulted with my fellow travelers.

By the next morning we gave Fred the green light to go ahead. He and his cohorts were on site in short order. They dug a shallow foundation and within several days the new house was nearing completion. Impressive.

Mr. Mugweri moved in to his new house. He was very happy. Josephine was happy. The entire village was happy. And yes, we all, were very happy.

Mr. Mugweri and his new house

I couldn’t wait to tell my pokey, Vermont builder friends about the house that was built in three days.