VC at 60: Volunteer Memories from Nora Casey 2010s

VC at 60 Memories: Nora Casey

Nora served on two VC assignments – from 2001 to 2005 with the Diocese of Tzaneen in South Africa and then from 2012 to 2014 at the Bishop Magambo Counsellor Training Institute in Fort Portal, Uganda.

Bishop Magambo Counsellor Training Institute (BMCTI) is under the auspices of the Cathollic Diocese of Fort Portal. As well as the academic programmes, the Institute has a variety of outreach programmes serving the community such as Response to Domestic Violence and a programme to help teenage girls with life skills.

My role at BMCTI was capacity building of infrastructure as well as building the capacity of admin staff

In Uganda my job was largely desk bound. It was mainly focused on securing funding for the development of the infrastructure like water harvesting tanks, computers for the Institute, a vehicle for the purpose of the outreach programmes. I found the lack of Electricity frustrating, especially as I had to do a lot of research to secure funding.

I found Uganda was easy to settle in to – my previous experience in South Africa was a good help to me. Overall I would have preferred to be out in the community as I love interacting with people and like to be with the rural communities.

Communication was often a challenge – I did my best to understand why people were not willing to share communication but I think that my interaction with people on a day to day basis was positive. I hope people felt that I respected where they were at and where they were coming from.

I still keep in contact with some of the staff in Uganda and one member of staff in South Africa

Looking back now, my time overseas has made me respect the great gifts we have in Ireland, clean water, good electricity supply and a social welfare system that acknowledges the people who have needs.  Sadly in Uganda there is no care for the aged no pension for the elderly.

BMCTI Graduation Day 2014

Here Nora shares a memory from her time in Uganda:

A memory of Christmas 2013

I was on a Viatores Christi two year assignment in a town called Fort Portal Western Uganda. It was Christmas 2013. Christmas holidays in Uganda begin about a week before the 25th. Schools are off and many people who work away from home and their families, take the opportunity to travel home and spend time with their loved ones.

Working at the Counsellor Training Institute (BMCTI), my responsibility was to help develop the infrastructure and build the capacity of the administration staff. The staff were so excited about Christmas! W Our Christmas party was held in the garden. Once the party was over, the staff were now focusing on getting home to their families. So it is fair to say that work was not high on the agenda for a few days before shut down! It is difficult to get your head around Christmas when it is 30 degrees!

I was sharing my time in this part of the world with many English volunteers. They have very strong traditions especially when it comes to Christmas food. For several weeks prior to the festive day, we talked and planned how we would spend it. Different tasks were handed out to everybody. Mine was to provide the Christmas pudding. Living 5 hours drive from Kampala, this was not an easy task. How do I get the ingredients? Locally the options were limited.

So that November I travelled to Kampala by public bus – a five hour journey – to purchase the ingredients. I managed to get all of them and included in my shopping list was a bottle of brandy. All were packed carefully and placed in my rucksack. In the next few days I prepared the ingredients and had my pudding mix ready for cooking, when I discovered I didn’t have a pudding bowl. I went to the local hardware – the only option available was a large Pyrex bowl which I bought and put my pudding mix Then proceeded to steam it for 5 hours. This was a 2lb pudding. and we were going to be 10 in all for dinner!

Pudding cooked, I stored it carefully and every week I fed it with a generous dash of brandy. In the meantime a very good friend of mine in Ireland sent me an email, saying she had posted me a Christmas pudding. I was secretly delighted with this news, thinking to myself, I can enjoy this one when the festivities are over. The pudding arrived and I stored it in a secret location. Next the turkey; this had also to be purchased in Kampala and transported by bus to Fort Portal. It was a 16lb turkey. How do we cook it? Will the electricity be on that day? Each day there were 3 – 4 hour power cuts. Then came a radio announcement, as a gift to the citizens electric power would be maintained all day on Christmas day!  The remainder of the dinner ingredients were found locally. At last the day came. I was asked to cook the turkey as my oven was big enough to take a 16lb turkey.

Vigil Mass attended, I set my alarm for 5.30 am. We were still not sure if they had meant what they said about the power. The turkey went in around 6 am and I prepared a pot with water to re- heat the pudding. Several people called to wish me Happy Christmas: each one happy to get a cool soda. It was 30 degrees outside and almost 50 degrees in my little kitchen. We played Christmas songs and the choir from the local Church entertained us with beautiful Christmas Carols sung in their local language.

Then one friend said, ‘ Nora check your turkey’. It was decided that the oven could be switched off. I looked at the pot containing the pudding and discovered all the water had boiled off and the saucepan was completely dry. I looked at her. She told me to take it off the stove and remove the Pyrex bowl containing the pudding. I obeyed her instructions and with gloved hands removed the bowl and sat it on a small damp sponge. Almost simultaneously I heard a loud bang. The bowl was in splinters in my hands and the pudding had broken into small pieces on the work top. We both looked at each other realizing that the contents were never going to make it to the dinner table. All my efforts nurturing this pudding for the past four weeks and all the brandy it had been given to help it mature; all wasted now. I was devastated. She helped me pick up the pieces of glass and collect as many of the splinters we were able to locate. The pudding was all over the worktop. She wondered if we could collect it and put it into another container. I thought for a minute and said that I would throw it into the banana plantation. At least the insects and birds will have a good Christmas enjoying the brandy soaked pudding.

Then I said to her “All is not lost, I do have plan B…”  I produced my friend’s pudding which had come over the miles from Ireland and proceeded to re-heat it. We went to the party with turkey and pudding. No guest any the wiser about the morning happenings. The turkey was perfectly cooked and there was plenty of pudding for everybody. Thanks to my friend, all the way back in Ireland, for giving me plan B that Christmas Day!