Hi everyone! This is the first GROW team post for our internship and I am really excited to share with you what we have been doing! We landed in Uganda this past Tuesday around 9 PM and then had about a 3 hour car ride to get back to our hotel, the Fort Lugard. It seems that Uganda is never asleep because even late at night, I could still see people on the side of the road walking, as we drove to our hotel. After a late night, we woke up the next morning. The next day Sumaiyah picked us up and we went around Iganga and bought some supplies and got lunch at Victoria’s restaurant. I got a mixed plate with matoke, posho, dodo, mboli, and muchere, or in other words, plantains, maize, greens, sweet potato and rice, respectively. My personal favorite was dodo (like I ended up eating the whole plate, they are really good). Then, we finally got to see UDHA (picture below). Walking up to UDHA was a very strange feeling. Over my time in GlobeMed, we always mention UDHA, especially when fundraising. To be here though, everything we do as a chapter became so much more tangible. In other words, every finals gift basket we sold was equated to supplies that UDHA could use to help conduct a school outreach or do a cooking session. Honestly, I felt so engrossed in the brotherhood while there.
The next day, we spent the whole day learning Lusoga! Sumaiyah was a very thorough teacher, and we learned everything from greetings to office supplies to numbers! We also finally got to see Rory (yay!!!). The day after we went through the budget and saw specifically to what our fundraising goes to. Even though, I was a little sick through the meeting, again seeing that all of the money we raise and how it is converted into something real was eye opening. On our first weekend, we spent our Saturday at the market! Rory met up with us, and we all went to Endiro Café, a coffee shop that is really popular with expats. Afterwards, we all went shopping around the market area and got the Naigobya team vegetables because they left us Monday!
Overall, this week was us just getting used to Iganga and finding our way around (I don’t know if I really still know the way to UDHA but more to come on that)! That’s it for me! Hope you all are great!
The GROW team just wanted to let you all know that we have all made it home in one piece. To everyone who made this amazing experience possible for us, thank you. What we have learned about global health, Ugandan culture, and ourselves this summer will continue to impact us for the rest of our lives. We are proud of all that we have accomplished, from creating beautiful new posters for the Youth Resource Centre’s partner schools to training eleven new community health workers for the Nutrition Project to learning how to coexist with daddy longlegs, lizards, and wasps. We couldn’t have done anything without the patience and dedication of the UDHA staff, all of whom we miss so much already. We can’t wait to share our experiences with the rest of chapter once school starts!
One of the last things we did in Naigobya was facilitate a 2-day training session for our brand new community health workers! While conducting our baseline, it became painfully obvious that the number of CHWs was way too small to effectively cover the entire project area. For example, in Bukooma parish, 2 CHWs were covering 12 villages! So when the favorable exchange rate allowed us to make a couple of additions to the budget, more CHWs were on the top of our list. Now, the project has a total of 25 CHWs, which is still far off from the 37 necessary to ensure that each village has 1 CHW, but still much better than the 14 we were working with before!
Selection was performed by first, asking Monic, a trusted CHW, for a list of recommendations of prospective CHWs. We then paid each individual on the list a surprise visit at their compound, in order to evaluate the sanitary and hygiene conditions of their home and conduct an interview to ensure that they would be a good fit for the project.
Learning from frustrations over a lack of productivity and efficacy during the last CHW training, Alena and I were determined to make this one count. This time, in order to make the material easier to digest, we had Tom write out important points on to large flip charts in Lusoga. Also, wanting to maximize opportunities for peer-to-peer teaching, we recruited CHW Monic to lead large portions of the training. In addition, we included as much hands-on activity into the training as possible, including a cooking demonstration, a tippy-tap construction demonstration, and a model garden tour, in order to keep participant engagement levels high throughout the two days. Finally, we made sure to cover extensively topics that we had discovered were common problem points in the community while conducting the baseline survey.
Our preparations and the intellectual curiosity of all of the new CHWs allowed the training to be a great success. Having the opportunity to organize this second training at the end of our stay in Naigobya was incredibly rewarding, as we were able to showcase all that we had learned throughout our experience. After conducting pre and post training evaluations, we’re so happy to announce that scores increased across the board, and we are incredibly excited to see what these amazing new CHWs will accomplish out in the field!
Ugandan road conditions can be very poor and my stomach was really not a fan of all of the jostling, so while the rest of the girls went off to a safari for a weekend, I hung around Iganga with Tom, the Ugandan intern that stayed with us in Naigobya. Though I saw no lively lions or graceful giraffes, I learned a lot about Ugandan culture, some tidbits of which I wanted to share with you all here.
1. On corruption
On Friday, I accompanied Tom to a political meeting where the incumbent mayor of Iganga town was to hold a question and answer session with the Youth Council, of which Tom acts as treasurer. (Interestingly, in Uganda, one is considered a youth from age 18 to 35, in some cases, even 45.) At first, nothing was out of the ordinary. However, as the meeting wrapped up, I was dumbfounded as a couple thousand shillings were suddenly being forced into my hand. Confused, I tried to refuse, but eventually gave into Tom repeatedly telling me, “Just take it. Don’t be weird.” The man went on to hand out money to every attendee. After leaving the building, I asked Tom why in the world we were given money, to which he responded, “He has to thank us for giving him our time…he also wants votes.” He explained that every Ugandan politician seems to go power-hungry and forget about the people once they gain office, so people have to get what they can from politicians before they’re elected.
Thus started a long conversation about corruption in Uganda, during which I learned that, for one, most good jobs in Uganda are bought. In fact, Ugandan parents can’t consider their parenting responsibilities over until their child’s job has been paid for. Tom explained that once he graduates college, his mom will probably buy him a job in the government, where she has connections due to her post as regional police commander. Since there’s not enough money flowing in the Ugandan open market, everything has to be paid for behind closed doors, including jobs.
2. On social functions
After the political meeting, I was told we were going to stop by a funeral for Tom’s barber’s father. When I asked if it wouldn’t be weird for me to be there, Tom replied, “Why? He’s my friend and you’re my friend. That means we’re all friends. You get?” He went on to explain that in Uganda, the number of people who show up to your funeral is the last test of your popularity. So, if your friend loses a family member, the best thing you can do is to bring people to the funeral. When we reached the funeral grounds, Tom registered our names and dropped several thousand shillings into a large box. He explained that in Uganda, it’s customary for guests to chip in to help cover the costs of the funeral. As we made our way towards the center of commotion, my eyes bulged. There must have been at least a thousand people milling about. The temporary pavilion where speeches were being made was far too small to house all of the guests so everyone else was just catching up with old friends, laughing and generally having a good time.
On Sunday, I attended another community function: a women’s association gift-giving ceremony honoring Tom’s eldest mother. (He has four mothers, over thirty brothers, and around ten sisters.) Fortunately, WashU anthro professor, Dr. Parikh, was also in attendance, and she provided me with an explanation of what exactly was going on. Essentially, women’s associations serve as basic insurance plans for its members. If something happens and a woman is in dire need of money, the members of her association will pitch in to pool some funds. What goes around comes around, right? The interesting thing is that, even when no emergencies arise, this cycle continues. On a bi-weekly basis, women in the association take turns hosting gift-giving ceremonies during which they receive money and common household items from their fellow members. Family members and friends of the honoree are also supposed to attend the lavish function, bringing their own gifts. Dr. Parikh explained that these ceremonies are a good way for women to acquire a large sum of money at one time to pay for any big expenses, rather than having to save up money little by little. Seems like a pretty smart idea to me.
From this weekend of adventures, one thing will stay with me forever: I was welcomed everywhere not as some strange foreigner but as a friend, as a family member, as someone who belonged. Of course it helped that I was with Tom and of course, I still got stares from children and people happening to walk by. Yet, the warm and genuine hospitality that I received from so many was unparalleled by anything I have experienced in the U.S. And for that, to the people of Iganga, thank you so much.
Okay, so to set some background, this year the Nutrition project has expanded its involvement in the Naigobya community to include two nearby primary schools, Naigobya Primary School and St. Paul’s Learning Center. We visited them in our very first week. Our very first day, actually. I remember Moses coming over to Sakura and I, clasping our palms in his now comforting–but at the time a little disconcerting–manner, smiling and saying, “I think it would be good to visit these schools, is it fine?” We said “it is very fine,” but with some hesitation. We wanted to help in any way we could, but it was not clear to us exactly what we were going to be doing at these schools. Moses’s energetically would exclaim that we needed to encourage the schools to implement a model garden and health club. I did not even know what a “health club” was. But we went anyways. We talked to the teachers, telling them to implement a model garden and health club, we listened to their concerns and hesitations, and I left with a bit of uncertainty that any actual change would manifest. I had this uncertainty because, from an culturally American perspective, it would be surprising for any school to implement such change just because four strangers, unannounced and with nothing to recommend them, told them to. I soon learned though that things are very different on the other side of the world.
Fast forward to the end of week seven when the Naigobya team conducted follow-up visits to both schools. St. Paul’s was first. We arrived in the UDHA van and asked the headmaster if they had a model garden to show us or health club to tell us about. And, without further ado, the headmaster quietly led us to a field behind their classrooms where we saw nursery beds brimming with blooming greens, rows of still-green tomatoes, and baby avocado, papaya and mango trees. The students are the primary caretakers of the gardens. Through the garden they learn skills necessary to implement model gardens in their households. The headmaster told us that once the school harvests the plants, they plan to give the crops to the students to supplement their school lunches, which alternates between maize meal, or maize meal and beans, both thrilling options for sure.
Then he told us about their health club. Here, the senior man teacher gathers students he observes with poor personal hygiene practices for a large weekly meeting where he instructs them on proper sanitation procedures. He also makes sure to talk to them one-on-one so that they are able to voice any concerns they may be uncomfortable saying in public. The teachers say that they have already noticed an improvement in students personal hygiene in just a month and a half! However, change has not happened without challenges. Students’ poverty continues to be an issue. It is hard to expect a student to bathe more if they do not have money to buy soap, just like they cannot brush their teeth without a toothbrush or toothbrush, or comb without a hairbrush. These are issues that I have been wrestling with since our meeting and still am at a loss of how exactly to fix them.
Next we visited Naigobya Primary School. I have a special soft spot for Naigobya Primary School. This is largely because I think those kids are crazy-cute little goobers. I have attempted to give them hugs on multiple occasions and every time they run away from me screaming. Not just screaming, but screaming with some arm flailing thrown in as well. At this school, we have had similar results regarding the model gardens and health club. Both have already been implemented, except here the format of the health club is slightly different. The senior man teacher chooses model students who assist him at school-wide health parades to identify students with poor hygiene. He then pulls those students aside to instruct them on proper methods. The results and challenges this school faced are similar to those cited at St. Paul’s, showing that there are not problems unique to one school but are endemic to the entire community.
What I have learned from this experience is that change is possible and that people are willing to change. Not just that, but they want to change. They were so thankful that we came, so gracious and welcoming, and so eager to continue a partnership in the future. The entire experience was one of the most gratifying and rewarding that I have been lucky enough to be a part of in my time here and I am thankful to the schools for the education they have given me.
Lastly, please appreciate my punny title, because I thought that was very clever of myself. Thank you.
Naigobya team here. So, we are about a month and a half into our African Adventure. It has been chock full of fun, full of ups and down, challenges and successes, of trying new foods and then throwing them back up again. One of my biggest accomplishments is that I can now eat an entire mango, including the peel. And each time I do it, my stomach dies a little bit less than it did the time before. I am training my stomach to be indestructible. All in all I have learned so much–more than I even imagined I could. The culture difference was a bit of a shock at first but now Sakura and I have become well tuned to the daily routine, down to the littlest details and rigors, of living in a typical Ugandan village.
One of the many cultural niches is that when walking through the villages you are supposed to greet every person you encounter, even if you have never met and are just passing through. You say “webale,” which is an all purpose word, whose meaning is sort of like thank you but more. When is doubt, just throw in a good ol’ webale. The person will then respond “Kalae,” which means okay. Then, what really took me a while to get used to, is that you and the person you are greeting both take turns making a high-pitched “hmmm” sound, an exchange that can go on for a while. I think the longest successive “hmmm” exchange I have witnessed was about seven “hmmms” long. That was particularly intense. What I have been able to gether is that these sounds are not words so much as a recognition that you have been heard and are appreciated.
A part of Ugandan culture that I especially admire is how welcoming and generous so everyone is. In Uganda, your door is always open and you are always welcome. Everyday we come home from the field we find someone new in our front yard. And it goes both ways. Sakura and I have been conducting a large survey that evaluates the Community Health Worker project in the new regions it has recently expanded to. We have visited over sixty houses, always coming unannounced, always making intrusive requests like asking how often a day they breastfeed or if we can see their latrines, and there has not been a single time where we have been turned away or have not been given an answer. There was one particular instance that I will forever remember. We were interviewing a potential CHW named Robert. He was so happy that we visited that as we were about to leave, he shyly walked over to us and pulled out from under his arm a pretty, red and brown chicken. We were gifted a chicken. Not a dead chicken. A real live one. I have never, ever been gifted with a chicken before and I am not sure if I ever will be again. It was such a huge gesture. These people that we are visiting are peasant farmers. Most of them make less than a dollar a day and meat is something you only get on Christmas, if then, and for this man to give us his chicken when we had only just met him is one of the most generous acts I have ever seen.
Something that Sakura and I have had especial exposure to is maternal health. Some of the local health practices blew my mind when I heard them. Here are some of the more interesting practices that we were told about. One practice is for women to burn special herbs in a pot and then squat over that pot while naked, essentially burning themselves, because they believe it will give them a safe birth. Another is that women will gather chicken feces, mix it with herbs, leave it the mixture to dry, and then smear the final product on themselves because they think that this will transfer the chiken’s ability to pass its’ stool to the mother so that she can pass her child quickly. While these may be (relatively) harmless, there are some practices that can leave lasting harm on the unborn child. I was taken aback when I was told that pregnant women drink the locally made alcohol because they believe that doing so will help them to produce a clean child with clear, white eyes. One of the most important resources that communities like Naigobya need are not shoes or food–things that I would typically have pictured when I would think ‘aid’– but education. For example, it is well known that pregnant women should take extra iron supplements to ensure a healthy mother and child. But here, a mother will crave iron but not know that it is iron that she is craving. In an effort to curb this craving, women will eat dirt because it has a metallic smell. In local health clinics there are free iron supplements that pregnant women have access to if they know how find it, but the broken link lies in the lack of knowledge. In some of the most secluded parts of the village some women do not recognize labor pains as a sign of birth, so they will not seek medical help and will end up delivering their child in a problematic way that many times this leads to brain defects. Thus many children here are born both physically and mentally stunted, will not perform well in school, and will be doomed to repeat the same cycle as their parents did before them.
As we approach the final quarter of our time here it feels like it will be harder and harder to leave. Because also, how in the world am I supposed to have access to such great pineapple, mango and avocado. Those I think I will yearn for every day. That, and all the wonderful people, amazing experiences and beautiful culture of Naigobya, Uganda.