Volunteer(1/3) - Luuk Kops

Luuk Kops 1 A few months ago I had my first contact with SCS and I had my first conversation with Victor Wildeman. In my opinion the best man then limped in two minds. He talked mostly very enthusiastic about working in Uganda and plans for the coming period. But when he felt that a little too positive picture emerged he tried to weaken it immediately. There were a number of strong warnings with the clear message that it would not be a vacation, and occasionally would be pretty heavy. Even at our first meeting in the Netherlands I had that feeling, and in the meantime I tried using these varying stories to draw a picture of what to expect. On the other hand, it wa a mistery to Victor whether I could hold a hammer anyway...

And to be honest I had no idea what laid ahead. For it was also the first time that my feet would be on African soil. The first day in Kampala Victor acted much like my personal guide, allowing me it became a little bit known. Quickly, we made a tour through the various agencies and I cannot remember having shaken so many hands ever within a few days! After this "slow start" we visited the women's prison, then we could begin the real work in Kigo. And that was a shock. I had never seen the inside of a prison, and at 7.000 kilometers from home, I had no idea what that would be. The prison has been built in a rectangle around a courtyard, the most terms of appearance were the barracks that I could only remember from images of World War II. During the day all the prisoners are walking around at th courtyard, they cook, play football, the laundry is being done, there will be prayers or just a game being played. But when I first walked into the prison I had the idea that all these activities briefly stopped. It felt like one thousand black heads turned my way, and that was very impressive! The first ten minutes, I think I just avoided eye contact, I felt suddenly very white!

The feeling did not last longer than ten minutes. Besides, I was already accustomed to giving hands, so I could quietly continue with that kind of work. I was not really trained for the conversations that went on, but that was not exactly necessary. The differences between a Delft student and a devout detainee in Uganda are large enough to provide days of conversation! Therefore, within a short time I did not realise any longer I was dealing with detainees, and I actually forgot that I looked very different. It was not so much the stories that I was shocked about, but what I saw around me. They just sleep on a concrete floor. A hole in the ground as a toilet is easily shared by fifty men. Soup, if you can call it that way is stored in an old bathtub and the rest of the daily meal did not realy start water flowing in my mouth. When you might expect the staff to be much better off, you'll be disappointed. Unfortunately, I would still be here to continue.

Luuk Kops 2 But eventually I came here to build the clinic and the school. After some consulting work in the cell measuring 8 by 8 meters we could make a list of necessary equipment. In the Netherlands you are already a long way, not so in Africa. The term 'shopping mall for construction materials' is totally unknown and fixed prices are absolutely out of the question, certainly not to a 'Mzungu'. The search for beams, wood panels, nails, screws and the necessary equipment was not completed within a few hours. It took several days and the necessary kilometers on foot until all the material could go in the Kigo direction. After two weeks, in my opinion, it was also high time that something was going to be realised. Victor left everything to me, I got the full freedom and that still being in prison! Luckily I got help from a team of detainees from the prison workshop, which is clearly better able to cope with the limited opportunities than me! After two days working together the walls of the clinic were in place, and Victor could take a look whether the performance matched his original design. he was very pleased with the outcome of my carpentry skills, and this was the case for the guys in prison anyway!

Meanwhile, I have been around for nearly one month now. And during that month I'm pretty accustomed to all the Ugandans around me. It has become quite normal that after a trip back on a 'bodaboda' we are completely covered by dust. Or that every child is warmly greeting you with a loud 'Mzungu'! Also, I am more used that everybody here is asking for help than that they do not. In short it is a wonderful experience to be here at work with people in prison. But Victor at least had one thing right, it's not a vacation!