Two Villages

It was utterly astonishing, exhausting, inspiring weekend. The TriAdventure, 48 athletes, 12 crew.  A vibrant group of fit Canadians swimming, running, paddling and cycling over a weekend, raising funds for a twinned group of kids in Kasese, Uganda.

I was co-lead of crew, with the intrepid Stephanie S, which means making sure everything is seamless for participants.  Deeply exhausting.  And, deeply exhilarating as this village surged around me, the passion of this group transforming into people’s best selves and hopes for a better world.

Each participant had a photo of one of the kids, and over the weekend, the stories of each kid unfolded.  The call to the kids in Uganda on Saturday stopped everyone for a moment in our tracks, pulled us into connection with this tiny, dusty place across the world, as the kids sang for us, Maureen said a prayer.  A couple of the participants got to talk to “their” kids.  Thin thin link, deeply felt.

Like everything to do with running a project in Uganda, we had plans and then they were completely blown into the air — starting with technical problems with the phone call, and then literally with the hurricane force winds.  On Saturday, we had to pull people off the water mid-paddle because of storms, then made a second-guessy call about canceling a bike ride because of rain.  Magically come up with a bus from Camp Wahonawin, a major supporter, and transported people straight to camp, figured out how to reorganize the truck to pick up the bikes that were already dropped off.

As Blair and I followed the unused route from lunch point to camp, we mourned the beauty of the route marking two of our crew had done.  Little messages of hope, perfect arrows.  Pointing forward, despite the re-routing.

Making camp early, all the pent up energy translated into people  drinking beer and hanging out, community in formation —  then right after dinner, a HUGE thunderstorm hit that went on for hours — torrential rain, near-tornado scale winds, lightning everywhere. Tents were blowing away. So our evening reflection/bonding “why I do this” campfire was toast.. At one point I was hunkering in my tent making sure it was secure, and realized my friend’s tent was blowing away, and I ended up crawling on my belly out from underneath the fly so I didn’t unpeg or unzip anything. I was soaking wet for about 5 hours but my tent was dry.  The community hall across the street the perfect forum for euchre, random card games, hula hooping, pool.

Late Saturday, we realized we were short on route marking paint for the long bike ride back to the city.  The little blue ball on my phone’s map app was loose and unhelpful, but I managed to be outside the Orillia Home Depot two minutes before it opened at 8 am.  Got back to camp as the last riders left, and was 3 beats behind all day.

Dashing ahead even of the route, I got to our lunch place an hour early to set up — and three cyclists had already beat me there.  Responsible for making sure the route was “swept” and cyclists supported, I was racing all day to stay ahead of them.  Then, in the last 35 km, when most cyclists were on the interminable stretch along Don Mills, a TORRENTIAL thunderstorm storm hit. I had three cars “sweeping” and making sure people were okay, but people were in bus shelters, stores, etc, all spread out over about 10 km. My phone stopped working because it was too wet, and I got hit with hail. I got calls from places like a grocery store that I couldn’t pick up, and had to call back and say things like “is there a really wet cyclist there?” Finally we figured out where all but about 5 people were, and a few of them took the bus/subway until the rain thinned out.  We rerouted everyone away from our marshalling point directly to our final stop. I stood on the corner at Overlea and Don Mills, a major turn into the city, absolutely joyful as soaking wet cyclists poured past me, huge grins splitting their faces as I shook a wet pompom at them, gave a shivering woman my raincoat.

Blair had worked incredibly hard arranging for a stunning arrival with a police escort, a balloon arch, music.  The set up was destroyed by the storm, and we had to postpone once again the moment where we gave all participants a chance to say what this event meant to them– but it all converged in an incredibly intimate, lovely closing together inside the community centre.

In our closing, Blair detailed the incredible efforts of everyone, and we talked about the meaning of this project. I talked about the kids, again, how this project is about changing lives, not just providing necessities.  That Joel is in university to become a software engineer, that kids of the genocide are studying accounting, public administration and hairdressing.

There’s a reason why this project has emerged the way it has, with so much support from the LGBT community.  It was accidental, but absolutely right — the only way change in a country like Uganda is going to happen is through education and communication across diversity.  It’s big and profound — and it’s tiny and profound.  Elinah — who is 22 — told me a couple of weeks ago, after I sent her a birthday email, that no one had ever wished her a happy birthday before. It’s about someone caring and knowing the names of these kids. It matters.

We raised nearly $140,000, which is INCREDIBLE. A year’s budget plus a cushion.  Utterly incredible. It was a rat’s breakfast from a logistical point of view, but for the participants it was seamless, and they were glowing. It was truly awe-inspiring.

Saturday, I couldn’t stop sobbing after our call to Niki, because I have been so worried about money for so long. And here, in this space, I felt so so supported.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported this project over the years you for being part of that village. You are making a huge, huge difference.

For a final push to our total:

http://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=10037

For more info on the Triad:  triforafrica.org

For more info on Nikibasika:  Nikibasika.org

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5 responses to “Two Villages

  1. Stephanie MacGregor

    Wow! What fortitude and spirit! I have tears in my eyes and felt chills through my body in reading your account.

    Congratulations on raising such a jaw-dropping amount!!

    And I love that you spoke with the kids…it must have been such a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

    I’m currently reading, ‘Building a School For My Village’ by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri. It is incredibly moving and full of hope. And reading this brings those same feelings.

    Thank you.

  2. Goosebumps. Really fantastic, Cate.

  3. Cate, thank you for capturing the weekend so well. It was a life changing experience for me. Fighting waves while swimming, being proud of myself for accomplishing it with Justin’s motivation. Having such a great canoe mate in Paul and enjoying the slow ache from paddling many kilometers. Riding in the rain on my own all the while reflecting on what my kids and grandkids have versus these children and young adults. With people like yourself, Blair, Danny, Carissa, Tina and Gabrielle as well as the amazing support of the crew and participants “It is Possible”
    Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this incredible weekend and legacy.

  4. What a great event! Amazing how the weather seemed to represent the whole struggle itself and added to the challenge.

    This is good work you’re doing and you should be proud of yourself!

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