Tag Archives: Steve Hynd

VSO: The life of an accompanying partner in Uganda

In January 2013 I moved to Uganda with no job. Why? To be with my fiance who was volunteering with VSO. Within VSO I had the official title of ‘accompanying partner’. This is an article that I wrote for the VSO blog about what life is like for an accompanying partner. 

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Sat on a fold-down seat I felt the flow of night air leaking in through rust holes of the dilapidated bus that had come to pick us up from the airport. The bus jerked forward with every change of gear as we made our way through the still busy streets of Kampala in the early hours of the morning. Sat with a dozen VSO volunteers from around the world including the UK, America, and the Philippines, I joined in the slightly constrained conversation as everyone simultaneously tried to chat to other new volunteers, take in their new surroundings and also contextualise the myriad of thoughts and feelings that rushed through their heads.

For me, as an accompanying partner opposed to a VSO volunteer, I was the exception on the bus. I was the only one without something lined up, a structure to fit into, and a sense of knowing what was going to follow. But, just like the other volunteers, I had the support of the astonishingly well organised VSO Uganda office.

Taking part, and being made to feel part of, the first week’s in-country training was incredibly important to me. As an accompanying partner I was specifically invited to take part in all the sessions and to feel part of the ‘VSO family’. It meant that for the first week I had structure, a formal and informal support network, and also a chance to ask all those questions that had been queuing up in my mind: How much is the bus into the centre of town? What should I say if someone asked me what my views were on issues around religion, sexuality or politics? How do I greet someone in Luganda and how many people in Kampala use Luganda as their first language?

Even though I didn’t have a volunteer placement lined up, I did have a plan for what I wanted to do in Kampala – and that was to find a job.

As such, in the following days and weeks after the in-country training I used the little Luganda I had attained already to charm my way past bored looking security guards into different offices of NGOs to leave my CV and covering letters with receptionists. Those early days of walking Kampala’s dusty streets were a real learning curve for me. Coming from working in the Middle-East I had to unlearn the reserved habits I had picked up and learn to embrace the Ugandan enthusiasm, friendliness and passion for life. In retrospect I am pleased that I had those couple of weeks to get to know the city that would become my home in my own time.

Just over 5 weeks later I was invited for an interview at the African Palliative Care Association. The role was to become their Communications Officer which included editing the online health news website, ehospice. Just 6 weeks after arriving in country I started work in their office just a few kilometres from our new house. Everything very quickly seemed to slot into place and my previous life in the Middle-East and London seemed a long time ago.

With the small matter of the job sorted, this enabled me to spend more time looking into the rest of life in Uganda. Very quickly Anya and I joined the Mountain Club of Uganda and headed out into the mind blowing countryside that Uganda has on offer. In the last year we have visited Uganda’s many national parks to spot the big game, learnt to kayak on the rapids of the river Nile and explored some of the highest peaks the region has to offer. Uganda has so much to offer and Anya and I have every intention to explore as much of it as we can in our remaining time here. (See our blogs to see more of our travels).

Thinking back to that bus journey from the airport with all the new VSO volunteers seems strange now. The strangers that I was talking to have become close friends and in some cases almost like family. The streets that flashed past the window have now become my home and I don’t even notice the rickety old buses that lurch around Kampala’s congested city streets.

Steve blogs at www.stevehynd.com and tweets at @steve4319.

Steve’s partner Anya is a VSO volunteer Education advocacy officer working at the Forum for Education NGO’s of Uganda. She blogs at http://anyawhitesideblog.wordpress.com/

VSO welcomes applications from couples wanting to volunteer together, however we respond to demand from overseas partner organisations and it is rare to receive a request for two volunteers for the same location at the same time that will match both of your skills.

If it is not possible for both people to volunteer with us, the other option is for one person to volunteer (it could be either of you) and for the other to go along as an accompanying partner. This is fairly common and it is usually possible for the accompanying partner to find paid or voluntary work when they are in country. In this case we would only cover the costs of the VSO volunteer, but we would do our best to ensure things like accommodation are suitable for two people.

Find out more about volunteering abroad with VSO.

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Adventure holidays and trips in Africa for 2014

This article was written as part of The Guardian’s ‘Adventure Sports Series’.

Kayak the Nile
From kayaking the Nile and mountain biking in the shadow of Kilimanjaro to exploring Africa’s amazing national parks.

Jinja, Uganda, is a town on the banks of the Nile that is gaining a reputation as the extreme sports capital of east Africa. This is, in part, thanks to the range of whitewater rapids on the nearby stretch of the river Nile.

You can read the whole article on the Guardian Travel site by clicking here >>> 

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2013 and the future of Hynd’s Blog

When someone tells me that they read my blog I feel truly honoured. The fact that someone has taken a few minutes out of their day to read my thoughts on a subject matter is really appreciated. In fact I can’t put it into words how much it is appreciated.

I still find it hard to believe though. I find it hard to believe that people, other than friends and family, would be interested in what I’ve got to say. But they seem to.

The pace at which Hynd’s Blog has grown over the last year is as inspiring as it is terrifying for me.

One measurement of this growth is in the number of people reading the articles. The number of people visiting and reading this blog is important to me. Not because it gives to my already over-inflated ego a boost but because it relates to why I do this – why I spend hours every day tapping away on my computer.

I write Hynd’s Blog because I care. I care about people. I try to, in my own way, promote a more tolerant, free and fair society. I guess Hynd’s Blog is my way of contributing to the wider movement of change towards this vision.

This is why I continue to publish articles that challenge lazy lingering prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Whether it be on sexuality or anti-Semitism, freedom of speech or dyslexia, gender or religion, I try to express a moderate, progressive and liberal alternative to the mainstream narrative that drives so much of the hatred, intolerance and regressive attitudes that blight so many communities in the UK.

Hynd’s Blog is my attempt to shout into the winds of misinformation. When people catch just a little of what I am saying it begins to feel worthwhile.

The fact that 2013 has seen so many new readers come to Hynd’s Blog gives me the motivation to keep going, to keep writing, to keep believing that change is possible.

So, if you’re reading this now…thank you! It is your potential to be part of the change we so desperately need that drives me to want to keep going with Hynd’s Blog. You’re the reason why I am here now, when I am meant to be relaxing with a mince-pie in hand, writing an article.

Without you, Hynd’s Blog is nothing.

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Integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms

To mark World Human Rights Day (10th December) I wrote this article for ehospice about the importance of integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms. 

logo_460x88As we celebrate Human Rights Day we should take a moment to reflect on the millions of people around the world who are suffering from excruciating but ultimately preventable and manageable pain because states have not set up systems that meet and respect their basic right to health – their right to palliative care!

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organisation as: “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

Human rights and palliative care are in many ways natural partners. Both are based around the dignity of the individual being applied universally and without discrimination. But they also overlap. Not only is palliative care a human right in itself, it also allows for the fulfilment of other rights.

Without good palliative care, people can become imprisoned in their own homes. Trapped by the burden of disease symptoms including pain making them incapable of accessing education, health, transport or other basic elements of life that most of us take for granted. These are elements of life that we all have a right to.

Read the full article here >>>

 

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Millions in Africa do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain

This article was originally published on Left Foot Forward, Britain’s No 1 left-wing blog

Palliative care

Palliation – literally, the removing of symptoms of life-limiting illnesses such as pain – has been brought sharply into focus in Africa due to the dual burden of an ageing population and an increased disease burden.

To give just one example, 70 per cent of people living with HIV worldwide live inside sub-Saharan Africa, a region which constitutes only 12 per cent of the global population.

Millions of these people in sub-Saharan Africa require palliative care to address the medical/physical, social psychological and spiritual challenges as a result of the life-limiting illnesses.

Despite the large demand, there is still little palliative care provision across much of Africa. Many countries do not have any element of palliative care: no hospices, no formal training for medical professionals, no or little integration of palliative care into national health systems and often little public awareness.

It is estimated that only 9 per cent of countries in Africa have palliative care integrated into mainstream health services.

One of the largest challenges facing pain relief efforts in Africa is the availability of, and access to, oral morphine. It is thought that Hospice Africa Uganda, a centre of excellence of palliative care in Uganda, can mix a three week supply for a patient for ‘less than a loaf of bread’.

Despite this, oral morphine is still not widely available to most Ugandans, let alone the rest of Africa.

Bernadette Basemera, a palliative care nurse based in Kampala, explains part of the problem:

“Morphine wrongly incites fear: Doctors wrongly fear patients becoming addicted, the police wrongly fear drug related crime, and members of the government fear falling short of international drug control frameworks.”

As a result of this fear, millions do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain.

In recent years however, there have been signs that this might be a thing of the past. In the last two years alone four countries – Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania and Mozambique – have all adopted stand alone palliative care policies.

Although policy development does not immediately translate into oral morphine availability, a number of countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Namibia Ethiopia and a few others have improved access to oral morphine. Meanwhile Hospice Africa Uganda, in a partnership with the Ministry of Health of Uganda, continues to produce and distribute oral morphine whilst at the same time offering training courses to practitioners from all over Africa.

At the heart of these developments are passionate workers like Bernadette. Once again working late, Bernadette describes why she wants to work in palliative care, saying:

“Palliative care is the sort of care that you would hope you and everyone you care about receives. No one wants to think of a loved one suffering unnecessarily.”

Bernadette offers a simple motivation for her work in palliative care. This simple motivation, however, could benefit millions of Africans. Palliative care needs to be rolled out, and people like Bernadette might just be the way to make it happen.

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On Israeli settlers: “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns”

I have just stumbled across this article that the wonderful Kate Hardie-Buckley wrote after visiting me and my former colleague Emmet Sheerin in Yanoun in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I don’t think I shared the article on Hynd’s Blog at the time.

The title, “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns“, might read to some as being as slightly over the top. The fact that I can promise it isn’t says a lot about life in Yanoun.

Anyway, have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

PS – you can also watch Emmet’s video about life in Yanoun.

 

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Minimum wage sparks Twitter argument with Stroud MP Neil Carmichael

This is a cross-post from my local paper, the Stroud News and Journal. I cross-post it only to illustrate the positive potential that twitter has to hold our politicians to account.

STROUD MP Neil Carmichael has come under fire for refusing to rule out voting for a freeze or a cut in the national minimum wage.

Despite saying a reduction would be a move in the wrong direction, the Tory politician would not commit to opposing one in the future, insisting that he would have to look at any proposals brought forward by the government before deciding how to vote.

Following his comments, Stroud Labour Party sent out a press release saying it was an ‘absolute disgrace’ that Mr Carmichael would not rule out voting to cut the minimum wage.

The party claimed his position amounted to supporting ‘the idea of reducing the wages of the poorest in society’.
Responding to local blogger Steve Hynd who re-tweeted the article in last week’s SNJ with the comment, “This is going to win @neil_mp zero friends in #Stroud,” Mr Carmichael tweeted, “@stroudnews #Stroud - I have long supported a minimum wage as a floor &, above all, I believe in promoting a high wage economy.”
Mr Hynd tweeted back, “So why not pledge to oppose any cuts? Min wage already below living wage! Time to stand up for #Stroud cc (constituents).”
Tweeting later on, Mr Carmichael said: “Low Pay Commission has reviewed methodology behind the minimum wage – to be considered – but I am focused on creating a high wage economy.”

Labour county councillor Brian Oosthuysen said: “To refuse to oppose any reduction in the national minimum wage is a kick in the wallet for all those low-paid workers who are struggling to keep their families afloat.”

He added: “What Stroud residents want is to see their MP fighting for them in Government, not fighting for the Government against them.”

You can follow me on twitter here
You can follow Brian here
You can follow Neil Carmichael MP here

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Talking on Russia Today about Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law

Have a watch of me being interviewed on RT (Russia Today) on Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law.

This video is about a year old but I’ve only just stumbled across it. No laughing at me not being able to hear the presenter nor the hesitant roundabout answers.

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My love affair with Kampala

I am on an elongated honeymoon with city in which I live, Kampala. A rational mind living in this city would see the congestion, the number of motorbike accidents, and the levels of petty theft, but the mind of a lover is anything but rational.

My mind sees green hills, standing pert overlooking the beating heart of the city centre. It sees the taxi buses that serve as the blood flow of the city, bringing life to each of its extremities.  It sees the millions of people swarming through this landscape, each like an atom of the body, for a limited period, an inseparable part of this wider being – Kampala.

The irrationality of my mind was brought into focus a few days ago when I was walking back from work over one of Kampala’s hills. On this occasion the weather was close and heavy. It had been raining most of the day and it felt like there was more to come.

On this day, a thick mist was rising from the sodden ground and dancing in the air with the heavy low clouds. Walking through this was like entering a steam room as the thick air stuck to the inside of my lungs.

For most in Kampala, their thoughts in these few minutes were on finding shelter before once again the heavens opened. My mind though, was caught in that moment, enjoying it, literally breathing it in.

I stopped and stood, just for a few seconds, and watched the moisture lift from the ground and glide through the overhanging tree branches. Through the mist I caught glimpses of other houses and people making preparations for the inevitable downpour. But for those few seconds, it felt like I was alone in the city.

The air of Kampala was slipping into me, dissolving the distinction between the two of us, for a few seconds making us one.

Of course the sky then opened dropping heavy thunderous balls of rain. Every other resident was dry under shelter as I was striding through the streets with thick red mud clinging to my feet.

Somehow though, I didn’t mind, I still enjoyed it.

As with every honeymoon, I know this will all end. I know there will be a day where I will be walking the streets and feel my wallet slip from my pocket as the sun burns that bit harder onto the back of my neck  and I will long for nothing more than the soft comforting embrace of the temperate valleys from which I am from.

But that day is not here yet and so, just like every other lover around the world, I will continue forwarded, blinkered by the beauty of all that sits around me appreciating it to its fullest.

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Eugene Grant: “I prefer the term dwarf”

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Eugene Grant is a dwarf and the founder of the viral site EveryDayDwarfism that chronicles the day-to-day experiences of what it is like to be a dwarf in 21 century Britain. Despite his experiences, Grant is optimistic that he can contribute to changing people’s understanding of dwarfism. Steve Hynd caught up with him to find out more.  

For many readers the term ‘dwarf’ is one they are not familiar with. I know some people are nervous about using it, afraid that it is derogatory. Can you tell us what the word means to you?

I personally much prefer the term ‘dwarf’ as opposed to others like ‘midget’, which many dwarfs I know find offensive. But, for me – and this is where the whole idea of political correctness becomes redundant – what’s more important are the intentions behind the terms used.

People can be ‘politically correct’ but employ such words with malicious intent; others may use quite derogatory terms without any idea or intention of insulting or hurting a person. It all depends on the way such terms are framed.

Can you tell us a little about why you set up EveryDayDwarfism?  

The aim behind EveryDayDwarfism is to document and present just some of the things that I – and my partner who also has dwarfism – go through during our day or week. Its purpose is to try to make people just that little bit more aware as to the things we encounter as dwarfs.

A lot of what we experience, I would put down to stigma and discrimination still being relatively acceptable to lots of people. The whole tone of the site is not supposed to be angry or ‘martyr-ish’, but relatively neutral, matter-of-fact and informative.

It’s to say: ‘these things happen, quite regularly. I just wanted you to know’.

Within the EveryDaySexism movement, there is a strong feeling of finally ‘shouting back’. Within EveryDayDwarfism it also feels like there is quite a lot of rage, is this an important element of responding to discrimination?

It depends what you mean by rage. Rage is very important but it needs to be channelled in the right way and used very carefully.

Leaving out abuse in the form of physical violence, I think when responding to discrimination it’s vital to ask oneself: ‘what is it that I want to achieve here?’ and, more importantly, ‘how will I get this person to change the way they think and act towards me and others like me’.

Can you tell us a bit about how you coped with the attention and discrimination before you started chronicling it on EveryDayDwarfism?

It really depends on two things: the type of abuse, attention or discrimination, and the intentions behind it.

Some abuse – e.g. an individual shouting insults from a moving car – is best left ignored. What can you achieve when they’re 100 metres down the road by the time they’ve finished their sentence?

Others – the attention from a small child for example – is normally fine; although, as I wrote on the site, it’s often the reaction – or lack thereof – from the parents that is the most frustrating thing.

Some abuse though might manifest itself in the form of totally unprovoked physical violence or confrontation.

Have you been in contact with other dwarfs, how do they feel about EveryDayDwarfism? Do others relate to your experiences?

It’s very important that people don’t think that EveryDayDwarfism or my own experiences reflect those of other dwarfs; I can’t speak for them. Not even my partner.

However, I do know that lots of people like me experience such things – sometimes less so, sometimes more so.

If you had one message to the metaphorical guy in the street who tries to take a photo of you with his phone, what would it be?

Just stop, for a moment, and think: What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why would you or your friends find that photo or film to be of any value or interest? What does that say about your character, as an adult, and how you think about and respond to people who are different? What if I was your brother, son or cousin? How would you see it then?

A bit of a long message!

You wrote for the Guardian about the portrayal of dwarfs in the media, do you see EveryDayDwarfism as an effort to counter some of that through the illustration of agency?

Not really, no. Sadly, but also deliberately, EveryDayDwarfism documents some of the negative things that happen. And in this way, there is a negative tone to the blog.

What I was trying to say in the article you mention was that there needs to be more boring, regular, neutral representation of dwarfism in the media – weather reporters, Masterchef contestants, Question Time panelists, kids on CBBC – whatever.

Basically, more portrayals of dwarfism that do not limit that person’s identity to ‘a dwarf’ but reflects what they really are: a citizen, a parent, a doctor or lawyer, a voter, someone with views, ideas, etc.

What has been the reaction of family and friends to EveryDayDwarfism, are they shocked to hear of such day-to-day encounters? 

It was actually as a result of encouragement from friends to set up EveryDayDwarfism that I did.

Often friends have no idea of the things that I – and lots of others like me – encounter on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Some have even been in situations with me when there has been abuse or something happen. Quite often, they are absolutely shocked at the way some people behave. It’s not a question of going looking for abuse or discrimination – that’s not a productive or positive way to live – it’s that, a lot of the time, this stuff finds youseeks you out, interrupts your day, your evening, when you’re just trying to live your life. And that’s what I wanted people to realise.

www.everydaydwarfism.tumblr.com/
www.twitter.com/aneverydaydwarf

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The incarcerated nomad

A global nomad,
a no-man belonging nowhere,
desperately trying to escape,
another concrete landscape,
to  avoid another urban jail,
to speak through a medium,
other than posted airmail,
from one job,
to  another,
a quick meet and greet later,
a latte with a filofax,
income tax,
money back,
staring,
dreaming,
scheming,
to try and get the sack,
a sack back on his back,
so he can turn his back,
on this concrete jail,
push his boat out to sail,
He wants to rest his head on a new shore,
rest assured that he can actually rest,
where the air gives credit to the phrase,
take a breather,
this global nomad wants to go,
to another land, another place,
to escape the 9-5 rat race,
to sit back and take it at his own pace,
the impossibility of this though,
just goes to show his predicament,
and so, he is too often found,
in the bars, incarcerated, exasperated,
knowing nothing will see him set sail,
and let him escape his latest urban jail.

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The race to replace Cameron might come down to recognition rates

The race to replace Cameron is well and truly on.

Cameron’s lack of popularity within his own party is well documented. The pertinent questions are now ‘who’ and ‘when’ – not ‘if’ he will be replaced.

So to start with the ‘who’ question. Ladbrokes offers us a reasonable overview (erring as always on low risk predictions):

Four names May, Hague, Boris and Hammond- only two credible though: Boris and May.

Let me explain why by starting with Boris.

Well, people respect Boris in a way they simply don’t the other serious contenders (May, Hague and Hammond). They also know who he is – recent polling by Lord Ashcroft showed 94% of people recognised Boris’ picture, and significantly 91% got his name right.

In contrast, Hammond was recognised by 23% of people and only 10% of people got his name right. Ouch.

I still maintain that Boris would be as much a disaster for his party as he would the country – but if the Tories want to run this experiment I am more than happy to pick up the popcorn and watch their implosion.

A straight Boris win then? Not quite. It boils down to the crucial ‘when’ question.

If Boris is to take over from Cameron before the next general election he needs to overcome three quite big challenges:

  • To become an MP
  • Not to piss off Londoners by appearing to abandon them
  • Keep the rabid backbenchers happy

Tim Montgomerie (for whose opinion I have a certain amount of respect) insists this is all possible – I though, remain dubious.

If Boris is to become leader Cameron has to stay leader until after the next general election. This is in itself highly unlikely with everyone assuming Labour will win a (small) victory at the next elections.

So, if a leadership election is called before the next general election the Conservatives are left with three choices:

  • May – by far the most likely to win. Has being a woman on her side, is at least recognised by half of the public and certainly will keep the rabid right happy. Whether she can win the party an election or not is another question.
  • Hague – although popular, it would be hard for Hague to go back to his old job without it being seen as a step backwards. It is also worth remembering how atrociously unpopular he was last time he was in the job.
  • Hammond – as already suggested, it is hard to make a case for leading a country if no one knows who you are and is often mistaking you for Jeremy Hunt.

May is the only credible choice.

In short:

Predication A: If Cameron goes before the next election then May will take over and last only a few years as Conservative leader before she loses the next election and then the party slumps even further in the polls. This might then open the way up for Boris.

Prediction B: If Cameron hangs on in there, then Boris may well come through as the next leader and will last until just after the 2020 elections and leave behind him the chaos of a divided party, in-fighting and a catastrophic electoral defeat that makes the 2015 results look not too bad.

Either way – things are not looking good for the Conservatives. Their only hope? Labour continuing to flounder.

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From war zone to tourism: the transformation of northern Uganda

The people of Agoro in northern Uganda were some of the worst hit by the Ugandan civil war. As the village slowly recovers, Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda visits Agoro to explore the surrounding mountains and what role tourism might have in the regions recovery.

The car pulls up next to two piles of red mud bricks. Behind are a handful of thatched mud huts that mark the edge of the village of Agoro. Ahead, beyond the mud bricks , is another collection of mud huts. The latter are UPDF army barracks. The pile of red mud bricks is the checkpoint into the barracks that cannot be passed until ‘clearance’ has been approved.

A smartly dressed soldier appears and waves the car through. The soldier introduces himself as Lieutenant Everest. Dressed in ironed khakis and polished leather boots Lt Everest stands tall with his chest puffed out. His appearance would have been archetypically military if it wasn’t for his curious grin and unashamed enthusiasm.

When the prospect of climbing the surrounding mountains is mentioned, the aptly named Lt Everest describes in some detail the security challenges. He talks about the landmines that line the border with South Sudan and claimed a UPDF soldier’s life in 2011 and countless other lives during the civil war. He also talks though about the ‘potential’ of armed conflict breaking out from over the border.

The village had been spooked recently by reports that Kony, the wanted Ugandan war lord, is being harboured by Sudan.

The village which is two hour’s drive north of Kitgum, the most northerly town in Uganda, has every reason to be on edge. Agoro has been devastated by 17 years of almost continuous civil and tribal conflicts. Many people have been killed or forced into fighting for rebel factions including Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented wide spread human rights violations including reports of cutting the lips and breasts off women who dared leave the internally displace people (IDP) camps.  Agoro’s children were also hit particularly hard.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, notorious for its use of child soldiers, operated heavily in the area. One 12 year old child from Agoro told HRW how he was beaten until he agreed to kill a civilian. His experience is sadly not unique.

In light of this very recent history, Lt Everest’s opinion that armed guards were a necessity for any mountaineering expedition had to be taken seriously, despite the relative stability and peace of recent years.

Pub 4Two soldiers, carrying nothing but dust covered AK-47s led the way through the fertile fields in plastic wellington boots with the local guide, Jeffery, following suit. As Jeffery walked he pointed with obvious pride the varied fruit and vegetables that flanked the small path that he was walking.

This pride stems from both the villages new 680 hectare irrigation system and, in contrast, the near starvation that many in the village faced just a few years previously. The International Rescue Committee described Agoro’s recent history saying:

“Most of Agoro’s residents had been driven from their homes into a makeshift camp that grew up around the local trading center. These displaced farmers, with little space or incentive to grow their own food, lived on relief rations provided by the United Nations.”

It is no surprise then when Jeffery takes pride in both being able to walk freely through the fields but also being able to reach up and pick some mangoes from near-by trees.

These agricultural fields sit in the bottom of a valley which is encircled by imposing mountain peaks, the highest of which on the Ugandan side of the border stands at over 2,800 meters.

As the agriculture gives way to uncultivated bamboo forest though, so the path soon disappears. The soldiers though march on insisting that they regularly walk these routes for ‘surveillance’. The pace of the walk drops only occasionally to drink some water or to stand for a nervous few seconds as everyone waits for a snake to slither off.

The higher up the ‘path’ goes, the less apparent the ‘path’ becomes.  So, the last hour before summiting is spent scrambling through thick grass up improbably steep slopes. The soldiers who at the bottom seemed at best bemused about why anyone would want to go to the top of the mountain are now clearly enjoying themselves.

Standing on top of the peak the soldiers explain that we cannot go any further in case the South Sudanese soldiers see us. “It might cause problems” says the younger of the two soldiers as he pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

As he explains this though, he does not look up to the border of South Sudan but instead he looks out over the plains that stretch for miles out to the south. The plains are dotted by the volcanic mountains that hint at the potential for other walks in the area.

Pub 7Just as the agriculture of the plains is booming in this formally ‘no go’ area of northern Uganda, the potential for tourism is also growing.  The Ugandan Tourism Association has documented the so far mainly untapped tourism potential of northern Uganda. There is no reason to think that Agoro could not be at the heart of this tourism revival.

The village of Agoro has seen an unimaginably difficult couple of decades loosing men and women and children in a bloody conflict. This history requires visitors to be sensitive to such loss, but should not stop them from coming.

As we leave Agoro, we say good bye to Lt Everest and thank him for his help. We pull up at the pile of red bricks that mark the entrance to the army barracks and Lt Everest, now in civilian clothing, beams a smile at us and says, “Tell your friends to visit, they too can be our guests.”

Steve Hynd is a freelance journalist based in Kampala and is a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda

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Losing count

Speaking to no-one in particular, he says she’s spoken for,
but wanting something more her young heart breaks in two,
inside himself, to no-one else, he tells her that she’s the one,
but it’s been too long since he has spoken these three words.

Back home, she opens her mouth, and his anger and fists begin to rise,
she closes her eyes, and tries to hide, to put all of this out of her mind,
she pictures in her mind’s eye the softer touches of other calmer nights,
as she reaches out, with pleading in her eyes,  he reacts back, and

That was that. .

The morning after, her cheeks are bruised and smudged with mascara,
she goes to work and thinks of nothing but him and her cracking heart,
she knows her mind is crumbling and it’s not just her bodies that suffering,
there and then, she says, enough is enough, I won’t take this no more.

He stops in his tracks, he’s been walking the streets running from himself,
his mind is dwelling on the job he doesn’t have, and his fists are swollen,
He stops and stares, but does not dare, to dwell on his aching heart,
that is overflowing with the shame. Who is this man that he has become?

With his body numb, and this thought dwelling on his mind, tears starts roll,
down go his defences and down goes the possibility of carrying on as if nothing,
is going down. His hands tremble and his legs give way. Sitting there slumped,
he knows he can’t get much lower, and so he too decides to lift himself up.

Staring at her own front door she resolves that she’s worth something more,
turning on her heel she takes hold of herself and her trembling hands,
she strides with small steps away from her house and her home, all alone,
she walks and turns the corner of her street and her life and resolves that,

never again will he cause her mascara to streak….

Turning his keys, he realises his hands are shaking and his stomach is turning,
with flowers in hand, bought with an empty wallet he wipes away his tears,
stepping over the doormat, he resolved this would be the fresh start they need,
he drops his car keys onto an empty hallway table where her car keys should be.

The silence engulfs him. Finally, whispering to no-one, he says those three words,

she’s the one, and there and then, his heart starts to break in two.

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Filed under Social comment, Spoken Word

“You cannot be happy to see your dad suffering…”

This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice.


Mutagubya Bruno is the son of Lawrence Ssenyonde. Lawrence has cancer of the prostate and needs oral morphine to relieve his pain. Bruno recently talked to ehospice about what life is like caring for a family member in severe pain.

On the outskirts of Kampala, Mutagubya Bruno lives with his mother and father. A small alleyway leads to a neatly kept garden that is lined with palm trees and freshly hung clothes on a washing line. Bruno breaks the conversation he is having with his mother as a small delegation from Hospice Africa Uganda arrive through a side gate to their house.

In the living room, the three health care professionals sit in a line craning their necks to try and listen to Bruno’s father as he describes his pain. As Bruno’s father speaks, one of the nurses sorts through her case notes. She glances at the previous dosages of oral morphine Bruno’s father has received.

Throughout the conversation Bruno sits on the edge of a worn-out arm chair opposite his father looking on.

Read the full article here >> 

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Filed under Health, Interview, Media, Uganda

Uganda’s Lawless Mountain: Mt Moroto

This article was written for Cotswold Outdoors Community Blog.

Mount Moroto stands at 3,082 meters above sea level in the Karamoja region in the north east of Uganda. Over the last few decades the region has witnessed war and conflict which has left its peaks predominantly unclimbed. Recently there has been a large-scale amnesty on guns and dip in the levels of violence. Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda took this opportunity to see what the mountain has to offer.

P1120081The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Karamoja. They describe it is as:

largely lawless. There are frequent road ambushes and tribal clashes. Small arms are widespread and there are regular deaths or injury from gunshot wounds”

As it turned out, guns were the least of our problems…

We were travelling in a convoy along a dirt road which locals had told us was impassable during the rainy season. It was Saturday 30th March – the rainy season was due to starts on the April 1st.

On the road, there were a couple of hairy moments; wheels spinning on steeply banked rivers edges, deep mud that resulted in everyone getting out and walking but it was, in a 4X4, passable.

Two and half hours and 45km after leaving Moroto town we arrived at the small mountain village of Tapach.

Tapach sits at the head of a valley tucked in underneath the imposing ridges that lead up to the peaks of Mt Moroto. The village boasts stunning views of the plains of Karamoja that stretch out away from mountain.

Living with some of the best views high on the side of the valley we found Friar Gerald – our only real contact in the village.

With a warm smile he greeted us while glancing at our mud covered cars before asking, “How was the road?” The only honest answer any of us could muster was, “passable”. He grinned a knowing grin and said, “It will be fine along as it doesn’t rain”.

P1120032Friar Gerald was accommodating and kind in helping us find local men to guide us up the mountain and ensured that at least one of them spoke English.

As we waited for the ‘guides’ to come back from the fields where they worked, I asked the Friar a little bit about the valley and the region. We talked about the lasting legacy that the conflict had on the village.

On the drive in we had passed a number of UPDF army camps and I asked if they ever came to the village and the Friar responded saying,

They keep themselves to themselves nowadays. I think that’s better for everyone”.

Clearly the memories of what happened in the region had not gone away. In 2007 Human Rights Watch described a government disarmament drive headed by the army in their report, “Get the Gun”. The report documented wide-spread use torture and a number of murders.

As the Friar said, perhaps it is best they keep themselves to themselves.

The guides soon arrived though and we started snaking our way up the hillside behind the monastery. The climb was tough going and this was extenuated by the 5 litres of water we were carrying as the guides were unsure as whether or not there was any water available on the mountain. The hot sun beat down on us as we huffed and puffed our way up the valley side.

The collecting storm clouds offered us only occasional shade.

Within an hour we were rewarded with panoramic views. In one direction there were the endless plains of Karamoja, on either side deep valleys with small hutted villages and in front of us the peaks of Mt Moroto.

Kyle IMG_3708By mid-afternoon we had climbed around 1,000 meters. High in the mountains the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. The intensity and consistency of the rain slowed our progress as we picked our way across rocky ridges and up steep muddy slopes.

About an hour before dark we stopped high on a ridge to pitch camp.

The guides collected wood and lit a fire, the rest of us erected our tents and prepared food. On the equator the sun sets in a blink of an eye. For a brief moment though the storm clouds were silhouetted in front of departing sun before darkness descended on us.

P1120067That night we lay in our sleeping bags counting the seconds between thunder and lightning while the rain thundered on our tents. I am not sure if I have ever camped in more torrential rain.

Trying to not think about the rain and the state of the road back to Moroto I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.

The next morning we awoke before light and set off in a slow drizzle for the summit leaving our tents pitched on the ridge. The short walk took us through thick forest that clung to the ridge top. We scrambled up steep scrub land making the final assent with anything but elegance. Just under two hours after leaving camp we stood on the summit of Mt Moroto.

Starring into the thick mist I wondered how many other had stood where I was now stood. The answer, of course, is ‘not many’.

We made our way down, packing the camp on the way, slipping and sliding in the now thick mud. We arrived back at to the village at about 4pm with a sense of achievement but also dread about what lay ahead on the now sodden road back to Moroto.

Phoning ahead we found out that friends who were driving a Toyota Rav4 had left the village at 11am and were, at 4pm, still not back to Moroto.

I’ll admit now that I was worried – would we get back to the Moroto before dark? Would we get back at all?

Driving back was in itself an adventure. On a couple of occasions water came over the bonnet of the car, and on countless occasions the ground clearance proved in to be insufficient. But, just over two hours later we arrived back to our rendez vous in Moroto – 10 minutes after those in the Rav4 who left at 11 that morning.

I tried really hard not to be smug.

The other car load that left Tapach after us didn’t arrive back until 11 that night, they told me the next day that they had to cut out the seatbelts to use as a towrope.

The whole weekend was a mini adventure. We were not sure what we would find when we left Kampala for this remote region.  We had heard stories of guns, torture and of course incredible peaks. But what we found were warm welcoming locals who were slightly bemused as to why we wanted to climb Mt Moroto. The soldiers were courteous though and the locals delighted though that we were visiting.

Moroto district doesn’t yet have the infrastructure or the information to really capitalise on its mountaineering-tourism potential. But it does have mountains that are as beautiful as any in the national parks of Uganda.

With a good 4X4 and sense of adventure there is no reason why you cannot enjoy them as well.

If you fancy the trip – feel free to be in touch.

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Filed under Outdoors, Travel, Uganda

A visit to Hospice Africa Uganda

This is an article that I wrote for ‘ehospice‘ about my recent visit to a hospice in Kampala.

An incongruous collection of books sit on the shelves next to hand-made jewellery and other bits of bric-a-brac. I stand and flick through the books for a minute enjoying being out of the hot Kampala sun. As I rummage around looking for a bargain the shop assistant, Joy, begins to talk to me about her role at Hospice Africa Uganda.

Joy is one of a dedicated team of volunteers who make it possible for the hospice to carry on offering palliative care services to patients with Cancer and/or HIV/AIDS. Joy, a recently retired surgical nurse, is clearly someone who is driven by the need to help others. When I ask her why she gives up five days a week to help at the hospice she explains:

Read the full article here >>

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Filed under Health, Human rights, Uganda

The pursuit of happiness

This is an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ‘ehospice‘ on the overlap between happiness and palliative care. It marks the first ever International Day of Happiness:

“The pursuit of happiness is enshrined into the US Constitution, the subject of countless books and is now even being measured by governments. Policy makers and development agents are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy at all costs. In light of this, the UN today marks its first ever ‘International Day of Happiness’.

To read the full article click here >>>

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Is pornography ever acceptable?

Warning: Many of the links in this article go to adult only sites. Only click them if you are 1) Not at work and 2) An adult.

Well of course porn can be acceptable. It is a bit of a silly question if you ask me.

Still, it was a question that I tried to answer last night on the BBC World Service debate. Of course, there was not the time to answer the question in full, so here is part of my argument to why pornography can be acceptable.

Last night I made a brief point that countered one of the traditional criticisms of porn, that it ‘peddles a misogynistic societal norm’. I said:

A simple point, how does consensual homosexual porn reflect ‘traditional misogynistic values’? It normally doesn’t.

I hoped this point would illustrate a wider argument. Pornography, in its current manifestation is a deeply worrying phenomenon, but there is nothing inherent about pornography that suggests it has to be.

So why do some feel that pornography is never acceptable?

The reasons given would broadly fall into two categories:

1)      The feminist argument – simplified, this line of thought argues that pornography is inherently demeaning to women and peddles societal norms that perpetuate negative associations with gender identities – think Andrea Dworkin.

2)      The ‘Won’t somebody think of the children’ argument – again simplified, this line of thought says that pornography is giving young children unrealistic and damaging understandings of sex and gender – think of any socially conservative mother.

There is, of course, an element of truth in both. There is however, nothing fatalistic about either argument – pornography doesn’t have to be demeaning to women or bad for children.

Just like gay porn doesn’t peddle misogynistic norms, so pornography as a positive, empowered expression of sexual identity can exist without stumbling across these two ‘traditional’ problems.

To start with the feminist argument:

Firstly, there is of course a lot of empowering pornography written for women by women.

For example, Heather Corinna is a prime example of someone at the forefront of making progressive porn. She is the founder of the websites femmerotic.com, allgirlarmy.org & scarleteen.com that actively look to offer positive images of sex and sexual identity.

She is one of many women who put forward the feminist argument for pornography. Broadly this says:

Don’t women, and all people, have the right to control their bodies, access their sexual desires, and to enjoy safe and consensual sexual pleasure?

For me, it is a compelling argument. Who are we to say that women should not be allowed to reclaim an industry that has been so used and abused by men?

Indeed, this ‘post black lace’ feminist porn has led the way in using pornography to reclaim many of the issues that affect women but are traditionally off limits.

For example Eroticred.com looks to break the myth that women lose all sense of sexuality once a month during their period. ‘Erotic Red’ is self styled as “porn made by passionate models who aren’t shy to say, “Kiss me, I’m menstruating!”.

To give another example, there is Berg’s Queer Foot Porn which is a:

not-for-profit grassroots porno-political activism designed to promotes women’s pleasure through humor and sexuality. We are driven by a longing for women to feel at home in our own bodies, to cherish the sound of our own laughter, and to welcome our sensations of desire. We believe that as women gain a better self-knowledge of what turns us on and what makes us laugh, we will become increasingly adapt at critiquing sexist humour that is not so funny and questioning depictions of sexuality that are not so fun, and, thereby, become more capable of seeing and shaping our own lives. We declare that women’s equality in the bedroom (or in the kitchen or on the living room floor) is as vital as women’s equality on the job – and that these twin goals are not in conflict

Is this not something that we, as feminists, should be welcoming? True female emancipation.

As I have to keep stating, this is not an argument for throat fucking, suicide girls or any of the other nasty plethora of things the porn industry thinks up. It is an argument for the empowering potential of pornography and a warning against the lazily labelling of all porn as the same.

But what about the kids, won’t somebody think about the kids” – I hear every socially conservative mother shout.

The vast majority of those in the industry and those who use pornography agree that children should not be viewing pornography (although why in the UK we think that kids can have sex at 16 but not view pornography until 18 I don’t know).

I would personally go one step further. I think that sought out pornography can be part of a rounded sex education.  The problem comes when the unrealistic and stylized images of sexuality act as a child’s only sign post in their sexual development.

Is there any reason that Berg’s Queer Foot Porn should not be part of a kids rounded sex education?

Therefore, to protect our children I would argue a positive two-fold approach.

1)      Greater access to sex education that doesn’t just focus on the worries and dangers but looks to celebrate human sexuality in all its diversity. This would be combined with:

2)      Open frank criticism of any publication, pornographic or not, that consistently show one gender in a demeaning light.

This latter point includes ‘lads mags’ (a dying phenomena) and yes, even the nation’s favourite fiction book, 50 Shades of Grey (phrases like “Truly I am marionette and he is the master puppeteer” – hardly female liberation speak). Of course people should be free to read such publications but we need a public consciousness and discussion about their societal impact.

What we cannot afford to do, is make the porn industry a punch bag. We need to welcome the progressives within it and openly criticise the bigots, rapists, traffickers, heroin dealers and misogynists.

Just like the rest of society, we have to articulate that these values and actions have no place in a civilised society. At the same time we need to be saying that all people regardless of their gender or sexuality are empowered to articulate their desires in a non-judgmental environment.

Not only can pornography be acceptable, but it might also act as a positive tool for changing society for the good, if only we are open minded enough to accept it.

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Talks on Israel/Palestine

In 2012 I spent five months living in the West Bank as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel. I then undertook a speaking tour about my experiences.

I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who hosted me and to everyone who attended one of my talks.

So a huge thank you to:

I am still available for further one off talks, commentary or debate. My contact details are here.

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Filed under Human rights, Middle East