From Bulkington to Uganda

PUBLISHED: 11:04 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:05 20 February 2013

From Bulkington to Uganda

From Bulkington to Uganda

When you sort through your wardrobe do you ever think about where your old clothes will end up?

I dont know too much about Warwickshire other than that the two Ws in Warwick can be a challenge for my working class pronunciation. But, then again, how much do Warwickites (and they probably do fly as high as kites should they sample too much of the countys traditionally made real ale like the brews available in Atherstones The Bear & Ragged Staff pub) know about Uganda? Wonderful county though it is, how many Warwickshire inhabitants:



  • could point to Uganda on a map of the world?

  • know the name of its President?

  • still only link the country with Idi Amin even though the dictator was ousted from power over 30 years ago (which would be, in British terms, rather like thinking that Jim Callaghan was still the UKs Prime Minister).


Anyway, Yoweri Museveni is Ugandas President, though I have to admit that once on the phone my late father got his Ms confused and referred to President Museveni as President Mussolini.
But these Ugandan questions are much easier for Londoner me to answer than any Warwickshire question as, for the last 16 years, Uganda in East Africa has been my home.
Now, let me tell you a little Uganda-Warwickshire story. Recently, I was in the middle of my normal morning newspaper-buying routine in our local trading centre in a suburb of Kampala, Ugandas capital city.
When, lo and behold, I spied a young man wearing a Bulkington Working Mens Club Football The Malt Shovel T-shirt. Where the hell is Bulkington? I thought to myself a question for which the mysteries
of the internet would later provide the answer.
The wearer of the T-shirt was Emmanuel. At 22 years of age, he is in the sixth year of secondary school and is therefore older than the typical Warwickshire sixth former. Almost all secondary education in Uganda is private. So a student like Emmanuel would have to alternate school life with forced periods away from the classroom, dependent on whether his family had money available for the termly school fees. In addition to this widespread fees problem, Emmanuel said that he had been extremely disappointed with his last exam results, and doubted whether his education would continue.
Emmanuel has never been outside Uganda. He does not know that Bulkington is in the UK, let alone in Warwickshire.
So, why was Emmanuel wearing this T-shirt?
Most Ugandans wear imported second-hand clothes, as do many people in poor Third World countries. Used shirts, blouses, trousers, caps and much other clothing reach Uganda in huge bales from the UK, USA and other developed countries. Once in Africa, the bales of clothes find their way along a chain of wholesalers until they end up with small retailers in thousands of trading centres dotted around Uganda and other African countries.
These clothes are known locally as mivumba. Emmanuel bought his T-shirt for 3,000 Ugandan Shillings (just under 1) from Owino Market, the main market for mivumba in Uganda. As is generally the case here, the price of the product was not shown, and a smiling Emmanuel told me that he had to bargain hard. When I asked him why he chose the Bulkington T-shirt from the tens of thousands of varied T-shirts available in Owino Market, he replied: I like casual wear, and this one made me feel free.
Is there not something a little unsettling about the First Worlds cast-offs being worn by the poor in the Third World? But, on the other hand, in these environmentally conscious times, this flow of second-hand clothes can be viewed as an important form of recycling.
Every now and again there are calls in the Ugandan media for banning imports of second-hand clothes. Such a ban, it is claimed, would promote the development of home-grown textile industries and enhance economic growth. But this would not have the support of most Ugandans for rather than expensive brand new clothes, their preference is for the cheapness and variety of styles and fashion provided by imported second-hand clothes.
Despite the challenges of his education and financial situation, Emmanuel tries to dress as smartly as possible. So while he knows little about the village, its working mens club and the Malt Shovel pub, he still wears his Bulkington T-shirt with pride.


Kevin OConnor is a British freelance journalist and athletics coach. He has been resident in Uganda since 1994. His 2008 book Ugandan Society Observed is available from Amazon.

From Rugby to Malawi


Regular readers may remember Tony and Sue Melia, the Rugby couple who featured in our March 2009 edition, who have devoted their retirement years to raising money to help the villagers of Bwengu, a tiny village in Malawi. Since 2006, the couple have spent each summer working in Bwengu, project-managing the rebuilding of schools, developing a womens centre, renovating churches, organising a food programme for orphans, community food projects, educating the villagers in self sufficiency and drafting in much needed transportation. With such impressive facilities, Bwengu has become a hub for other rural communities, which has left the medical centre one of the first buildings they renovated struggling to cope. Now the Melias are returning to Malawi to persuade the village elders to give their backing to a project that will see the medical centre extended to improve maternity provision (there are currently two maternity beds mattresses on the floor) and other essential facilities.
However, before building work can begin, village elders in the 51 villages which will have access to the new facility need to be convinced of the need to allow their villagers to help with the project says Tony.
We were more than happy to take on the extension of the medical centre but, for the project to be a success, we needed to engage with a much wider group of village chiefs and headmen people who can view outsiders with suspicion, he says. We need the village chiefs to understand what we want to achieve. It is them who will give their people the instructions to make bricks, dig for sand and build the extension.
The Melias are taking with them a DVD containing 3-D images of how the new facility will look. Helped by Tetlow King Architects and Retirement Villages Ltd, developers of Lime Tree Village, where Tony and Sue live, the DVD will allow many of the villagers to see television for the very first time.
Imagine a people, deep in the mountains of central Africa, who have never seen a TV, being shown a 3D colour plan of their new medical centre projected through a laptop onto a projector it will just blow them away, says Tony.
Find out more about the Melias work at www.bwenguprojects.co.uk

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