Friday, July 18, 2008

A Start of Something New...

It is always exciting to be a part of something new. This week I have had a wonderful opportunity to work with other members in the community to launch a new HIV/Aids programme within the Kasese District.
The town of Kasese is located in the Rwenzori Mountains, on the border with the Congo. In one of the surrounding mountain villages, there is a great natural resource: a fast moving river. Very recently a Norwegian company has come in to harness this resource and has built a hydro-electric power plant which will provide electricity for many surrounding communities.
The company is a really responsible outside investor. They have employed many from the surrounding villages and are reinvesting a portion of their profits in "community development" in the sub-county where they have built the plant.
The company conducted a test of all their employees and discovered that 62% of them were HIV positive. Thus, the "community development" project has become this new HIV/Aids programme, of which I am privileged to be a part.
This week I worked with several others to compile a baseline survey/questionnaire that we will administer in schools and around the community to gage general knowledge and awareness of HIV (how it is spread, the disease, symptoms) as well as sexual practices (condom use) and health care habits (seek care from hospital/traditional healers, etc). From there we will begin to form HIV awareness clubs in the schools that can perform dramas and conduct discussion groups within their schools. It is much more effective to start something long-term and peer driven than for me, a muzungu who is only present for a few more weeks, to implement short-term projects. This is , of course, the meaning of grassroots!
We are also trying to figure out how to target the sex workers and prostitutes within the community. This is a group that has been largely ignored and is a large contributor in the epidemic. Many young girls prostitute themselves to earn their school fees. Also, because of the mountains, there is considerable tourism in this region for a lot of students drop out of school to become porters and guides. Thus, there are 13 primary schools in the sub-county and only 2 secondary schools! So, we want to target the older teens who are not in is difficult to figure out how to best do this.
n the mean time, I have been conducting some sex-ed classes with my high schoolers. Not a turn in my life I ever expected...but it is currently where I find myself!
I spent the morning discussing bacterial and viral STDs, answering tons of questions and talking openly about the stigma related with going for HIV testing and condom use. I tried to make parallels for students that as peers, we are the reason that each other is embarrassed to be seen buying condoms or going for testing...thus eliminating stigma starts with us.
It has been an eventful week. I have been honored to work along-side other community members and be a small part of something new :)

Reflections and Future Plans

It's hard to believe that I only have a little less than two weeks left in Uganda. The days can drag on sometimes, but the weeks seem to fly by. It's a peculiar phenomenon.

I've spent most of my time here working on CBHC's website, which you can access at Now I just need to train resource center staff how to manage and update it. I've also found myself teaching people here how to use the internet, search on google, and use e-mail. It's hard for me to understand how overjoyed people become after I've taught them these skills that seem rudimentary to me. I think they are happy because somebody is taking the time to sit down with them and teach them something, which makes them feel cared about.

The most important thing a person do while doing any kind service is to relate to people on a personal level. For work abroad, it's especially necessary to immerse oneself in the local culture. Whenever we say even the most ordinary phrases in Luganda, local community members become very excited. Once I got a traditional Ugandan dress made, my co-workers were thrilled that I tried it on for them and took pictures. I've only integrated on a superficial level because I've been here for just two months, but people appreciate that I am trying.

On the 24th I'm going to Kampala to meet with Katosi Women's Development Trust, a CBO that works to ensure that vulnerable women become economically self sufficient. Hopefully AGRADU will be able to work with this organization next summer.

What I'm most excited about is that on 27th we've been invited to attend sports day at Rina Junior Academy, which is sort of like field day. We're not supposed to wear red, blue, yellow, or green because those are representative of the different school houses. We don't want to accidentally show our support for only one of them.

Until next week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Malaria Musings

Last Thursday I had scanty malaria, which means only a few of my blood cells were affected. I must have forgotten to take my pills. Luckily I caught it early, and I was able to recover in a day thanks to the health center at Kyetume CBHC.

I thought I might have malaria when my head was hurting and I felt stiffness in my joints. Later on I felt feverish, so I went to get tested.

I was amazed by how easy it was to get tested and treated at the health center. All I had to do was walk in, get my finger pricked, see the doctor, and pick up my prescription. I was in and out in only 30 minutes. I've never had any medical treatment taken care of that fast, and I didn't have to pay because the Ugandan government provides free malaria treatment pills for all the health centers in the country. Maybe this was because CBHC doesn't have as many clients as the doctor's offices and hospitals I usually go to.

Still, I think it is interesting that I was treated faster in Uganda than I ever have been in the US.
When one of my co-workers went to UK, he realized that he had contracted malaria in Africa because he could feel the symptoms shortly after arriving in Europe. When he went to get treatment for it, he was asked if he had insurance. He did not, so he was denied treatment at that particular medical center. Then he went to a pharmacy and asked for the drugs he knew he needed, but at first they wouldn't give it to him because he didn't have a prescription. Luckily he was persistent enough with the pharmacy employees, so he finally recieved treatment.

When people compare the "developed" world with the "developing" world, "developing" regions like Africa are often assumed to have substandard health care systems, and these assumptions are often well founded. However, details like how Uganda deals with its malaria problem compared to even "developed" countries are hardly discussed in the mainstream media.

I believe that light should be shed upon areas where Africa needs to improve, but we should not forget to acknowledge ways that nations like Uganda are making progress. Perhaps this will help dispell the idea that there is only gloom and doom in store for the continent.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Day, New Challenge, New Adventure

Life here has a tendency to vary widely from day to day.
Last week I was working to create new pins for the chicks on our farm. Baby chickens have a propensity to gather together for warmth, particularly in the corners of their enclosures. When they do this, the result is that the chicks on the bottom are literally crushed by it's counterparts and valuable property is lost due to suffocation.
Thus, the remedy is to round the corners of the pin which prevents chicks from piling in the corners and in turn prevents mass chicken death. While trying to reconstruct the pins, I was faced with the difficulty of extremely scarce resources (we were lacking nails for wooden structures and cardboard and duct tape were on their last legs...). So, the challenge calls for creative thinking and creating something out of seemingly nothing. After dismantling some old structures we were done with I recycled twine and a few container lids to created the rounded corners. Happily, there have been no more chicken losses :)
After returning to the city the next day I was asked to help host (plan, cook and decorate) a dinner party for 30 members of the community including the District Chairman and several other dignitaries. The dinner was to serve as the launch for a new HIV/Aids programme within our district. The event was a success and I was very thankful for the amazing women and men who helped me cook as well as my past experience in designing altars and decorating weddings!
Tomorrow I am teaching at Kasese Secondary. English and Literature (Shakespeare's Twelfth Night) in the morning and American Foreign Policy in the afternoon!
Thus, every day here provides its own challenges and opportunities for growth and learning. From building chicken pins, to entertaining African Chairmen, to teaching Shakespeare. I am throughly enjoying the diversity of my experiences and the unique adventure that is posed by every passing day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Time for a vacation…

--- just so you know this was written a few weeks ago... the internet in Busia is very hard to get :(

So last week Casey and I taught at New Hope for the first time. The children were all so welcoming and happy to have us spend our time with them. I taught math and Casey taught English to some of the secondary school students.

We also did our arts project for the first time. That day made this whole trip worth it. I have been a little depressed because I have not felt like I was making a difference here and I was feeling like my time was being wasted, but last Wed. made the whole trip worth it. We taught the children a lesson about weather. Granted I’m not sure there was true comprehension about what we taught but, the craft part was what got me. We made pin wheels. These are really simple things, made from pencils, thumbtacks, and paper. The children were so excited. They colored the papers and then we put the pinwheels together. The children were soooooo excited. They were running around the compound to see the pinwheels spin. To see the smiles on their faces was so overwhelming. They just were so grateful that we were there and that we have spend our time to help them.

New Hope has become m favorite place here. The problem with New Hope is that all of the children need sponsors in order to continue their schooling. They currently only have 10 sponsors for the 60 or so children. Casey and I are hoping to return to the US and look for sponsors for all of them.

This weekend all of the interns met up in Jinja and saw the source of the Nile. It came at a good time. We have all been a little stressed and needed a bit of a break. We went and saw the source and took a short boat ride down the Nile and on Lake Victoria. We also went to Bugagali Falls. We went white water rafting down the Nile, and swam a little in the Nile… oh it was such a great experience. Our raft did not flip which was nice and only 3 people fell out, I was not one of them J. One of the rapids was a 3-5 meter waterfall. It was a straight drop, and was pretty scary, but so much fun.

It was definitely a great time for a vacation, but now it is time to go back to work. It will be an interesting 2 weeks, until our next vacation.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making the best out of what you have

While accompanying the coordinators of the Nakisunga Orphan Support Microfinance Project, we visited beneficiaries of the project. One or both of the parents of these orphans have died due to HIV/AIDS, and community members have volunteered to raise these children as their own.

Most of the beneficiaries are also participating in the Heifer Project, in which deserving families receive a heifer and/or female goat. The first female calf and the first female kid are given to another family to raise. This livestock program has improved food security for these families, and they are able to sell products from the animals once they have enough for themselves. This money goes toward housing, feeding, clothing, paying school fees, and paying medical fees for the orphans. However, income from the livestock coops is sometimes not enough for many families to make longterm investments. The microfinance component was added to help meet this need.

The way microfinance works is that people are given small loans to expand their capital, and they are supposed to pay it back once they have enough money. Because administrative costs had to be considered, $769 out of the $1000 that AGRADU donated is going into the microfinance pool. Loans are typically only 100,000 to 150,000 shillings
(appx $61 - $91).

One of the problems the program is experiencing is that some people are just too poor to pay back even the small loans that they are given. It's been an ongoing challenge for CBHC to deal with, but we were fortunate to hear some of the success stories as well.

I was particularly impressed by a man who used his loan to purhase cell phone minutes and supplies for a hardware store. Now he sells cell phone minutes and hardware, and he uses the money to support three orphans. I also admired an elderly lady who takes care of 16 orphans, who range in age from about 18 to 5. I don't know if I would have the energy to take care of children, let alone those I did not give birth to, at that age.

Besides financial support from organizations like AGRADU, I think what really makes the orphan support program successful is the strong sense of community in Mukono. I have a feeling that this attitude is common throughout Uganda. Without this loving, supportive atmosphere I don't think that people would be willing to unconditionally adopt orphans.