Posted on April 20th, 2018
As the Haileybury Youth Trust’s training partnership with Enabel in Karamoja moves into construction phase, HYT volunteer Angelica Pettafor (H 12) shares her first impressions of the region!
A Trip to Karamoja: A Volunteer’s Perspective – by Angelica Pettafor
Having now spent over two months in Uganda as an HYT volunteer, I have enjoyed settling into the peaceful and relaxed approach to life; a contrast from the shop floor in the centre of London during the busy Christmas period.
Besides visits to some of the more distant HYT training sites in Kamuli and Mayuge, as well as a trip to Sipi Falls, I hadn’t yet explored too much of Uganda. I was very excited when I found out we would be taking a trip up north to the Karamoja region, in preparation for the forthcoming Enabel project. I had heard a lot about the region as well as the Karamojong, who are known in Uganda for their traditional and tribal way of life – similar to the Masai in Kenya. I was very interested to see if all that I had heard was true.
We set off early on Monday morning as the estimated drive time was slightly ambiguous, and despite Google Maps estimating only 6 hours, we had been told we would not make it in a day. Little did we know and much to our delight, the journey would turn into a self-drive safari! We spotted a troop of baboons in the trees only a few metres from the truck, and even had to come to a standstill while waiting for a caravan of camels to cross the road. The journey took about 8 hours, and while slightly on the lengthier side, it was amazing watching the landscape change as we passed from region to region, and left the dusty burnt orange roads and lush greenery of Jinja to enter a savanna.
It was only when driving from Nakapiripirit to Moroto we began to see some of the Karamojong, wearing their robes and hat with an ostrich feather, and carrying sticks for herding cattle, as well as a small wooden stool. I was told that the cattle herding sticks are passed down from generation to generation, and so carry a far more sentimental value that I initially realised. By Wednesday we had completed most of our tasks, so we took a drive deep into the rural Karamoja villages to visit a family who were laying the thatched roof to their newly built banda. A karamojong family builds bandas which are enclosed by a fence to make a manyatta. Many manyattas are then arranged adjacent to one another, to enclose a space in the middle where cattle are often kept.
Despite the language barrier, we were wholeheartedly welcomed up onto the roof and were shown how to lay and tie each layer of grass to the one below. I was surprised at how simple yet effective the process is, and impressed by how such a strong roof was made entirely from locally sourced materials. We were certainly learning from the best! This was my highlight of the trip; not only was it great to get involved, but I found it fascinating to see such a rich culture in the villages that has been preserved over the centuries.