Esuubi Craft Café (Ekiwumulo School) By Nathalie Bonney
One chai and one pineapple and carrot cake?”
A primary blue thermos flask is set down in front of me: I pour the silky chai into earthen clay mugs and, in spite of the 30C heat, cocoon the mug in my hands, smiling back at a grinning hippo who offers me sugar from his ceramic bowl belly.
The sun beats down, drying out the rusty red puddled roads that a few hours earlier were whipped into a creamy paste by the rain. The red sets off the sloping green hills and valleys perfectly: a testimony to the benefits of rainy season.
Tea and cake and that view. This is bliss!
I’m at the Esuubi craft café. Situated just outside Mityana town on the main Kampala to Fort Portal road, it’s the perfect stop for tourists en route to some of Uganda’s top wildlife attractions, such as Queen Elisabeth, the Rwenzori and Kibale national parks.
As well as tea and cake, the cafe serves up Ugandan main meals with a western twist: tortilla-style chapatti chips with guacamole, chilli and marinated fillets of fish with lemon and turmeric.
Esuubi craft café was the brainchild of the charity of the same name, opening in 2015 to financially support the work of its parent charity. At the moment Esuubi sponsors approximately 90 children and six teachers at the Ekiwumulo School and orphanage. A team of paid Ugandan staff run operations with charity founder and director Kate Campion-Smith and her husband Jonno, working on a voluntary basis backs in the UK.
Kate first started Esuubi, which means hope in Lugandan, with then-fiancé Jonno back in 2008, after spending six months in Mityana with another charity.
‘Children were regularly sent home for not paying school fees, which was heart breaking. They were also sent home for not having appropriate school uniforms or the right shoes or requirements. Some even were told they could not be involved, as they could not afford to buy their own pencils.
‘So many children never have the chance to learn and achieve which means they remain trapped.’
As well as supporting disadvantaged children, at the core of the charity’s vision, is to make Esuubi as sustainable as possible so it doesn’t solely rely on western support and is run by Ugandans.
Hence the café …Two years in the making: just as perfecting the recipes for cakes that baked and kept well in the heat, took time, finding the winning formula for the cafe has also taken time – and patience. It took 18 months to build the cafe and six months of planning and setup once the building was in place. Unsurprisingly the construction process came with its challenges.
Initially built with a damp grass thatch roof that rotted, the whole roof had to be replaced. Despite numerous trips to the Ssesse Islands by the Ugandan head of operations Kisakye Abdul, to source more grass, eventually the team reverted to a sloped tin roof instead. One area they weren’t prepared to compromise on was the toilets. The squat flushing toilets were taken out and replaced with western alternatives. Given the cafe’s toilets are fast being dubbed ‘the best in Uganda’ the move clearly paid off. Plumbing aside, perhaps the biggest pull of the Esuubi cafe, for tourists at least, is the crafts on sale within its large space.
Sourcing crafts from all over the country, the cafe stocks paper items from a single mothers’ co-operative, paintings from highly regarded artist Yusuf Ssali and other Kampala-based painters, brightly coloured purses, bags and aprons stitched out of bold African prints, bark cloth from Mutumba and baskets from a women’s project in a village outside of Fort Portal.
It’s early days for the cafe and Esuubi still relies on its child sponsorship programme and fundraisers to financially keep the charity going. The hope though is that as its reputation for being a great, roadside cafe and shop grows, the charity will be able to rely more so on the cafe’s income to support it’s work.