But internet here is slow, so words will have to suffice. Africa, Uganda, Kampala, and Busia…this has been a whirlwind experience so far. After flying into Entebbe, and staying in Kampala, I finally arrive here in Busia, a boarder town of Kenya in south eastern Uganda, right on Lake Victoria. Upon arriving in the town, I saw baboons on the road way and cattle, chickens, and goats littering the streets- this was my first impression of the beauty of Uganda. On our travel to Busia, we passed through a tropical rainforest and past fields of mango trees. It is a very different and beautiful world here.
Since arriving at FOC-REV though, I have been reminded that it is not all beautiful landscapes and exotic wildlife. Here in Busia, the HIV rate is nearly 35%, a rate which nearly quadruple the national average. Busia is very much a truck-stop town and is very near to many fishing villages, and the transient aspects of Busia are what contribute so much to its high incident of HIV. This increased rate of HIV then leads to a very high population of orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and sex workers, which perpetuates and extends the issues of HIV. This is a very brief and summarized version of very many complex issues that FOC-REV is working to combat and treat, but at its surface, this is what it looks like.
FOC-REV operates in three different “theaters” to combat these very serious issues. First, they work with BAMACODA, another organization in Busia, to offer free and accessible HIV testing to all people, as well as home based care and a health center in a nearby village. Secondly they work to provide school fees and uniforms for over 500 OVCs in the area (which often costs nearly $180 per year, even though education is said to be “free”). Thirdly, they provide a revolving fund to support sex-workers in starting up their own businesses, like shoes and clothing shops, so that they are able to leave their life on the streets, which endangers themselves and their children.
My first week has been very much about figuring out where I fit into all of this. The directors have spent a lot of time telling us what they do and even allowing us to see it, but it has been very difficult to find areas where we can actually pitch-in. As far as grassroots development goes, FOC-REV is an amazing example of what people truly committed to change can do with the correct resources. What they are doing is very worthwhile, and they are truly affecting people and change. I believe their next big task will be to begin the process of transitioning to a program which supports the promotion of prevention and behavior change, and not simply treatment and care. Behavior change, or altering centuries held beliefs about gender, social and cultural norms, is not something that comes easily, and this is easy to see in Busia, but it is something that I truly believe FOC-REV has the ability to affect. Many say that “children are our future,” and this is very much the case, even in Busia, and I think that if organizations like FOC-REV begin to target children, attempting to alter sterotypes and assumptions about gender, HIV and relationships, they will truly create the change which they all hope to see.