Again, I have been slacking about writing. Partially because I’ve been in a negative mood and haven’t had anything good to say and I didn’t want to whine. So let me first start by listing all the good things that have happened since I last posted.
Christmas—We went to Rwanda. I can’t believe I didn’t post a blog post about that. It was incredible. The food was fantastic (Mexican! Almost…) and the history was unbelievable. You know that burning sensation behind your eyes right before you cry? Well, I had that the entire time we were there. First we went to the Hôtel des Mille Collines, the site made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda. Walking through there you’d never be able to guess what happened there. It’s beautiful. I had tequila on ice by pool and flipped through facebook. We also toured through all the memorial sites. The bullet holes and blood are all still there. I’ve been to site of evil before. We went to Aushwitz when we were in Poland. I think it’s important that everyone visit these places. We all need to be aware of what human beings are capable of. Desperate people do horrible things.
For the past few months I have been working steadily to teach hygiene in the babies home. Daily, it’s one on one interactions and scenarios. We’re having a little issue where if they see me do the work, they leave and let me do it all. When really, I’m only trying to lead by example and be there to show them the safest way to deal with feces and urine. However, it’s like a never ending flood of feces and urine because the diapers just aren’t effective at all. We have submitted the grant for the Cloth Nappy Project with a *drum roll please* 49% community contribution! Peace Corps requires a 25% community contribution. Most grant funders require some community contribution to ensure that the community receiving the funds is actually invested in the project. Unlike most AID agencies that toss money at people and then take off. So once the diapers are finished and used regularly it will really help. But right now, it’s just exhausting trying to keep up with it and I totally get why the mothers just ignore it half the time. I’ve been keeping a journal of all the cases of diarrhea in the house and it’s constant. There isn’t a week goes by that someone isn’t sick. And a lot of that can’t be helped with so many people living together. But we can work on it. I guess that’s where most of my frustration comes from. I feel that the administration isn’t backing what I do 100% so the mothers don’t care to either. (There it is, the whining).
World AIDS DAY—So gangama has a primary school, the babies home, a nursery school and a health center all within sight of my house. There are A LOT of opportunities to do work here. Peace Corps has many think tanks (HIV, WASH, Malaria, etc). Each think tank periodically sends out small grants ($300-500$) to complete small projects. The released an HIV grant in December that lasted until February. I saw this as a great opportunity to get my foot in the door at the health center. Charles, the nurse there, was very excited. He had been looking for something more to do. We planned to invited TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) to come and play live music to help draw the community to us. We ordered biscuits and sodas and prepared a lunch for the TASO employees. We expected to test 300 people for HIV. We met some challenges throughout the event. TASO only came with prerecorded music, their testers, and their counselors. The testers and counselors were great! However, it really would have benefited our event if they had brought their drama group as we had discussed. Since the drama group did not come, we had an abundance of food! I quickly ran around the village getting people to come and enjoy what was left. Nothing worse than wasted rice and matooke. TASO also demonstrated female and male condom use. I was thrilled! But since it is a Catholic health center, it wasn’t received well by some of the staff. When I first met with the health center, they informed me that demonstrations were allowed, but distributions were not. TASO also distributed. I knew it didn’t make the health center was not happy, but from a health worker’s standpoint I love condoms. Bring on the condoms. Give em to everyone by the hundreds. Anyway, at the end of the day, we had only tested 82 people. Not even a third of our projected testing. I think it would have benefited us to go outside of our catchment area just a dite, but maybe for next time. We plan on inviting the same people to test again on May 20th. The WHO recommends that countries with a high incidence of HIV encourage their people to test every three months. So we’re trying to see how many of those 82 people that were tested come back in May. So that will be the real measure of success. And, the VHT (village health team) worker came up to me afterwards to tell me how happy I made people in the village that day. So we’re putting it in the W column anyway! J
And here we are now:
So we’ve been denied for the first grant that we applied to from Combined Services Third World Fund for the expansion of the poultry farm. I’ve been scowering around the internet for another grant and I have a few feelers out, but not bites yet. If any of you (those brave few that have made it all the way down here lol) know of any grants that would fit our project I’d be much obliged.
And here we are at the whining I’ve been telling you was coming. I still feel stuck. Working at the babies home is a different beast. While my job description says that we do outreaches to the health center and the primary school, that’s not actually the case. I do outreaches. The staff at the babies home has their own work to do and they’re not really community minded. I can’t ask my counterpart to do every project with me since it’s not really her job and she has a family and a life to contend with. It's a little frustrating because they should be more interested in what happens to the children after resettlement and all. Health centers want to do these projects because it’s what they were built for---bettering the community. So once I came to that realization, I decided to go off and plan projects on my own. However, I still need my counterpart from Kizito to interpret and if you don’t have a ugandan to work with the project won’t be sustainable. Charles would make a great counterpart, but he doesn’t speak Lugisu. So, my counterpart has agreed to work with me anyway on these extra outreach programs but I don't know how excited about it she is. The primary school was her idea anyway, so that’s fine. We have actually been conducting outreaches to the primary school but have had to stop so the new head mistress could find a better time for us.
1. Primary school—I’ve started a curriculum on Gender Equality, Life Skills, and Sexual Health.
2. Women’s group—At one point in these months I started to think I needed to site change because I didn’t believe there was a role for a Peace Corps Volunteer at this site. At some point during all that misery, I took a walk to the market to buy tomatoes. On the way there, a group of women called me over. I had never met them, but I know their children very well. They all shout Nagudi when I walk by and hold my hand on the way to the market. One day, I was walking home with a bunch of big books on malaria. They demanded that I read them to them. So in the middle of the street, we had a short malaria session with 30 children. You bet I’m reporting that to washington. Anyway, I decided that even if there isn’t clear full time Peace Corps role at St. Kizito, there is one in Gangama. So I decided to form a women’s group from all the women whose children follow me every day. I interviewed 8 women and we have decided to meet on Tuesdays at 2pm to discuss Maternal Child Health. It will kinda be like the parenting classes I wanted to do with the families of the children in the home. I also want to introduce a Village Savings and Loan to them. This will provide a spring board for future projects like the creation of a borehole or latrines.
3. Maternal Child Health Sessions at the Health Center during immunization days. We have taken the MCH curriculum and wittled it down to 4 sessions. Since the mothers come every 4 weeks, they will hopefully be able to get a new session every time they come. The session lasts a half hour and covers either Nutrition, Malaria, Hygiene, and Family Planning. Family planning includes spacing, birth plans, etc.
4. Malaria percussion group—today I met with the head mistress at Mbale Townside High School. I showed her videos of the percussion group STOMP and a hand percussion group from New Jersey. She was very excited! Which made me excited! The goal is to create a STOMP like percussion group that creates their own instruments from malaria prevention tools. I want to meet with them weekly to create a percussion routine and to teach them more about Malaria. Eventually, these students will travel to other areas, health centers, schools, to perform and give malaria health talks. If all goes well, they will be youth leaders in their communities. Maybe other schools who see the performances will be excited to get involved and want to start their own Malaria Percussion clubs at their schools. I got the idea because the malaria initiative in peace corps is STOMP out Malaria and then there’s STOMP the music group. Obviously due to copy rights we’ll have to name it something different, but I’m excited that it’s actually going to happen! I meet with the potential students next Thursday! I also decided not to include my counterpart in this project. She is very busy in her own life and I think it might be good for me to find other Ugandans who would be interested. So right now I don’t have a counterpart for this project but I’m hoping the students will be able to identify a teacher at the school who would be interested.
So good things are in the works and on their way. I just wish they were already here. But I’ve decided that if I want make a change, I just have to do it. And hope that people follow. If nobody follows, I’ll abandon the project because if the host country nationals don’t see a point to the project, nothing will ever last. But I got to get something going and show some energy to get people excited to have healthy lives!
P.S in honor of LetGirlsLearn, I’m trying to put together a book of stories of successful Ugandan women to motivate my primary school kiddos. If it works out, I'll post some here!