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A journal from Uganda

A journal from Uganda

1 October 2004

On 26 July 2004, Boris Meeder, a consultant from Microsoft Services Germany, set off to Uganda as one of the first Microsoft volunteers to take part in an assignment with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Boris' role was to help implement a new refugee registration system, called Project Profile, in every UNHCR sub-office.

While on his mission with UNHCR, Boris provided a daily account of his activities.

Began the 14 hour journey from Hamburg, Germany, to Entebbe in Uganda. Feeling apprehensive, but excited at what lies ahead.

27 July

Today I met Luca Lorenzini, the other Microsoft volunteer. Luca works for Microsoft Italy and this is the first time we have met. Luca will be working on UNHCR infrastructure issues and it is great to know that I'll be here with a colleague. In the afternoon, we took an internal flight to the town of Adjumani, near where we will be based for the assignment.

We visited the UNHCR office and met the rest of the team. Most importantly, we were given our security briefing. The area we are in is high risk and rebel attacks have recently taken place as near as 3 km from the UNHCR office. For security reasons we are staying in a hotel in Adjumani rather than in the UNHCR guest rooms.

28 July

Today was the first day of work. My job is to work on implementing a new refugee application system - Project Profile. In particular I have to fix some bugs in the Access reporting software, write reports, and provide some training.

30 July

Ron, Christian and Linda, Profile team leaders, visited today to see the progress that's being made. In the evening there was a party for some Ugandan students who have been trained in the new program. The evening was a mixture of a buffet, DJ music and drinks and started very late by European standards. Apparently party guests here traditionally arrive when the food is ready!

After dinner, the dance floor came alive and the Africans took over. The atmosphere was incredible as everyone was dancing and clapping. For every song, they formed a ring and each person was pulled in to dance - the Europeans were definitely the most shy! As someone shouted 'a song for Microsoft', I was pulled into the ring and made to dance on my own.

Although the power was shut down at 11 pm, the party continued well into the night.

31 July

I had a day off today. I started by catching a ferry across the Nile to the district of Moyo which has some refugee settlements.

Our guide explained to us that although they'd just experienced a very bad harvest, the food ration level had not gone up. Rises in food ration levels are extremely hard to get and involve liaising with a lot of organisations.

During the tour, we stopped at a 100% UNHCR funded hospital in which conditions seemed to be good. I was told that this hospital was a lot better than other local hospitals.

In the afternoon, we caught the ferry back and then stopped off at a fishing lodge. We returned to the hotel in the evening, exhausted from being in a shaking truck all day!

1 August

Today the majority of the UNHCR Profile team travelled to Arua - a large city west of Adjumani. They will provide help there for when the Profile system is made live. Myself and Christian, a member of the field staff, are staying a few more days in Adjumani to implement some more reports.

2 August

Spent all day working on the reports in the office.

I'm looking forward to a change of menu - all that is on offer here is goat (which I don't like), fish and sometimes chicken. It's not so bad for a few days but I have a new appreciation for the relief workers who have the same options every day of the year.

4 August

Christian and I were told that we had to go to Arua today, 2 days earlier than planned. With only 10 minutes to pack my luggage, we headed off to the airstrip.

This evening we went to a small party for the UNHCR Security Officer for Uganda who is retiring. Much to my dismay goat was on the menu again!

5 August

After being kept awake all night by barking dogs, I spent the day today out at a refugee settlement taking registrations. First of all the refugees were screened to make sure that they are real refugees, then they were registered by paper and finally we entered their data and photograph onto a laptop.

During this, a young student told us stories about his Dingi tribe. Some parts of the tribe still live totally naked in their villages. The only time that they put on clothes is when they are visiting a nearby town.

6 August

I worked on reports once again today and gave the Arua staff a short training session on how to use the reporting system.

We are going to Kampala tomorrow and I'm looking forward to my first hot shower in two weeks!

7 August

We arrived safely at the hotel in Kampala and went out to an Irish pub this evening. Suddenly being around so many people was quite overwhelming!

9 August

Today I met Mamadou, a database developer from UNHCR Senegal. We discussed the design of the Profile database and shared information.

10 August

Spent a long time today trying to find a way to copy the refugee pictures from the Profile database to the file system. The people are very friendly here in the UNHCR sub-office and we went out for a lovely Italian meal this evening. It's amazing how great Italian food can be in East Africa!

During dinner, many different cultures came together from across Europe and Africa. Seeing how these cultures mix together to get a job done has been one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of the assignment.

11 August

Today was my last day in Kampala. After a bit of work, we visited an Irish project called 'Fields of Life'. They raise money to build farms and schools in Uganda, and Microsoft has helped by providing IT equipment and software.

We looked round one of the schools which had a very impressive computer room with all of the Microsoft products. The children have a far better chance of getting a good job if they can gain some computer knowledge.

12 August

I returned home to Germany today, exhausted but full of great memories of my experiences in Uganda.

The experience has really shown me how important the work of UNHCR is, and how helpful Microsoft products can be to make a real difference in some of the roughest corners of the earth.

The thing I love about working for Microsoft is that I'm able to see the human aspect of life. I feel very fulfilled having seen how our organisation can help refugees all over the world and I'm incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience this firsthand.