By Brian Dugas
Kampala, Uganda– Today we travelled from Jinja back to the city of Kampala where we will be spending a couple of days before heading to the more rural Masindi area. Along the way we stopped at a couple of beautiful environmental areas called the Source of the Nile and the Rainforest Lodge in the Mabira Forest Reserve.
The Source of the Nile is the approximate location where Lake Victoria feeds the Nile River. It was at this location the British explorer Speke answered the lingering question bothering the western world: Where does the Nile begin? While there has been some environmental loss due to the construction of a dam, the Nile remains a raging river, as many of us found out on a recent rafting trip through some significant rapids. Unfortunately our rafting guide informed us that there is more dam construction planned over the next few years which will put these rapids underwater.
Our next stop was at a lodge deep in the Nabira Forest Reserve. The 360 square kilometers of rain forest that make up this forest reserve are truly a national treasure. A wide variety of animals, insects, reptiles, and over 300 types of birds are found here. Our hiking guide told us stories of how the original inhabitants, the pygmies, were decimated by western diseases like the plague. The few remaining “short people” no longer want to be known by this name and will not be your friend if you refer to them that way. Along with their departure went most of the medicinal plant knowledge that they had built over years of trial and error.
During our short hike, our guide told us another story that provides a valuable lesson that might also be useful to reform the education system here. It seems that some years ago the President wanted to knock down the Mabira Forest in order to plant sugar cane.
Fortunately the local residents wanted to protect their rain forest enough to work together to stop the government intrusion. This shows that people can work together to make a significant difference in Uganda. Throughout our time in Uganda we have been told in school after school that government bureaucracy is a significant factor in their difficulties. Yet, when asked why they have not worked together to force the government to change they are unable to provide an explanation.
What I learned today is that even in a country where there is limited political expression, the voice of the people can be heard and can be loud enough to bring about government change. My hope is that they will apply what they have learned in the Mabira Forest Reserve to make the changes needed in their education system, and to save the Nile for future rafters.