That One Time I Climbed a Tree

by Alena Pauley

In my personal opinion Uganda produces the most delicious fruit known to man. Desserts aren’t really a thing here, and in most cases that would be a deal breaker, but the fruits—mangos, pineapple and papaya just to name a few—are so fresh and sweet and so plentiful that I barely find myself missing them.

To add another page to our African adventure, Marina and I thought it would be a great idea to climb one of the mango trees that grow here like weeds and pick some delicious mangos for ourselves. Sumaiyah, our mother duck, advised us against it. You’ll regret it later, she said. Don’t do it, she said. We didn’t listen to her. We knew that we knew best.

So we set out to find the mango tree. The local kids led us through a maze of maize and beans until we reached the mother of all mango trees. You know the movie Bugs Life? Yeah. It was that tree. We moseyed up to the base, stepping through piles of rotting mangos along the way, latched on to a branch, and heaved ourselves up, only to find it absolutely swarming with these angry biting red ants. They attacked us. I almost died. Okay, I didn’t almost die but it was so bad. They flooded our legs and feet and crawled into our clothes and some even into our hair. We couldn’t even get past the first branch. We climbed down as soon as possible but it was already too late. We spent the next half hour picking ants off of various body parts and trying not to scratch the multitude of bites.

Sumaiyah just shook her head. She didn’t need to say anything. We found out when we got back that we had left in too much of a rush to hear a crucial piece of information. “The ants get really angry after a rainstorm” she had said. And of course, we had climbed the tree right after a torrential downpour because that’s just our luck.

But don’t worry—we got mangos. The boys who walked with us threw stones at the trees and mangos just rained down. They are much smarter than us. We ended up collecting a whole bucket full and now are free to eat them at every opportunity. They’re like little pieces of heaven.

In summation, when in Africa, don’t climb trees.

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That One Time I Climbed a Tree

GROW Team vs. the weekend

Mawembe Mountain

IMG_0784
Reunited and it feels so good! The team heads to Mawembe mountain for an afternoon of hiking.
It’s the climb!
It’s the climb!
An amazing view from the half way point.
An amazing view from the half way point.
We were suprised to see cows grazing so high up on the mountain, alongside patches of maize, sorghum, wild grass, and cassava.
We were suprised to see cows grazing so high up on the mountain, alongside patches of maize, sorghum, wild grass, and cassava.
Some of us made it to the top :P
Some of us made it to the top 😛
An expansive view of Naigobiya from the peak of Mawembe Mountain.
An expansive view of Naigobiya from the peak of Mawembe Mountain.
Sumaiyah said we looked like typical African women, gossiping on the porch at home while peeling potatoes.
Sumaiyah said we looked like typical African women, gossiping on the porch at home while peeling potatoes.

Savannah Highland Secondary School function

Marina, Niara, and Sumaiyah at Savannah Highlands Secondary School’s Music, Dance, and Drama Day.
Marina, Niara, and Sumaiyah at Savannah Highlands Secondary School’s Music, Dance, and Drama Day.
Sumaiyah tries her luck at dancing.
Sumaiyah tries her luck at dancing
GROW Team vs. the weekend

Naigobya Week 1

Hello everyone, Alena and Sakura here! Please excuse our long absence from this blog as we’ve just come back to Iganga after spending 2 weeks in Naigobya without Internet. We drafted a couple of posts throughout our stay so that we could update you about what we have been up to as soon as we got back. In this post, we’ll be telling you all about our first week in Naigobya.

On Tuesday, Team Iganga drove to Naigobya with us to drop us off at Dr. Waiswa’s compound where we have been staying with Tom, another summer intern from Kyambogo University in Kampala. He’s been teaching us all about Ugandan cooking, values, and nightclubs. We like to call him Mom Tom, because he always takes care of us. We also thought we should tell you that his favorite food is pork and his favorite beer is Guinness because he talks about them so often. After Marina, Shyamolee, and Niara returned to Iganga, we sat down with Moses, the field officer for the Nutrition Project, to discuss UDHA’s recent decision to restructure the project.

Until now, the project has operated at the village-level, but Michael and Moses feel that it is time to expand to all of Bukooma sub-county in order to avoid stagnation. To give you a better idea of what this means, about 300-500 households make up a village, 5 villages make up a parish, and 5 parishes make up a sub-county. This means that the project will now cover 25 villages. In addition to this geographic expansion, Moses envisions the development of long-lasting partnerships with local schools in order to educate them about the inextricable link between hygiene and nutrition. Children play a large role in determining the health of their families, as they are responsible for many chores such as washing plates, preparing meals, and taking care of younger children, and thus must be educated about the consequences of their actions.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we plunged into this new initiative, visiting two primary schools, St. Paul’s Learning Center, a private Anglican school, and Naigobya Primary School, a public Catholic-founded school. At both schools, we first began with a general assembly, during which Moses, the field officer for the Nutrition Project, gave a presentation on basic hygiene to the entire student body. We were astonished when only the older students raised their hands when Moses posed the question, “Who here is wearing underwear?” Then, we visited grades P5-P7, dividing each class into two groups for in-depth interactive sessions on hygiene and nutrition. We quickly realized that rote memorization is the most common method of learning here, as students at both schools recited word for word, the same definitions of terms such as “balanced diet,” and “sanitation.” However, students at both schools struggled to apply these definitions to complete simple activities such as providing an example of a balanced meal, so we tried to help them truly understand these concepts using a combination of Lusoga and English.

Students in P5 at St. Paul's Learning Center
Students in P5 at St. Paul’s Learning Center
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.
We split up the P5 class into two groups for interactive sessions. Moses and I were in charge of presenting on nutrition while Alena and Tom presented on hygiene and sanitation.

We also met with teachers at both schools to encourage the creation of health clubs, headed by both teachers and exemplary pupils. It is our dream that teachers will gradually take over the responsibility of teaching students about hygiene and nutrition to ensure the sustainability of this new initiative. At both schools, one male and one female teacher were elected to head these activities. We also requested that both schools create a vegetable garden in order to supplement the students’ lunches. Currently, at the private school, students receive maize porridge three times a week and maize meal and beans twice a week. At the public school, younger students receive a cup of maize porridge daily, while the majority of older students never get to eat. Beginning vegetable gardens will be a slightly more difficult task for schools to accomplish, as they will have to attain seeds and tools. However, we plan to continue working with both the administration and the students to ensure that students are able to have nutritious meals that will allow them to succeed in their studies.

Children lining up to get their maize porridge at Naigobya Primary School
Children lining up to get their maize porridge at Naigobya Primary School
Meeting with teachers at Naigobya Primary School
Meeting with teachers at Naigobya Primary School

That was probably a lot of information, but we thought we would update you on these new and exciting developments! Don’t forget to comment with concerns, questions, and advice! We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Naigobya Week 1

ICOPS: A healthy family for a healthy child

A lot has happened since we last blogged! To start off, the Iganga team has had the opportunity to help with two ICOPS outreaches, lead by Robert, Jairus, and Sumaiyah. ICOPS stands for Improved Community PMTCT Services Project (long name, we know).

 

A mother and her child receiving counseling at the Idudi outreach.
A mother and her child receiving counseling at the Idudi outreach.

PMTCT stands for the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. Despite the uptake of family planning services in Iganga district, HIV prevalence continues to increase. This project aims to reduce HIV transmission from mother to child, and provide screening and counseling services to effected community members.

The ICOPS outreaches follow a Four Tent Model for integrated outreaches, which means that community members can receive pre-test counseling, HIV/AIDS screening, prevention services, and post-test counseling in one location. While setting up tents isn’t always practical or feasible in the spaces each community provides, we set up individual stations for each service.
Community Health Worker administering HIV screening exams at Iganga Central outreach. Tests required only one drop of blood from the index finger and results were delivered in 15 minutes. Everyone screened was given counseling after about their status.
Community Health Worker administering HIV screening exams at Iganga Central outreach. Tests required only one drop of blood from the index finger and results were delivered in 15 minutes. Everyone screened was given counseling after about their status.

 

ICOPS outreaches are held in areas where community health workers have identified a need and the HIV prevalence is high. This can be anywhere from the street right behind the UDHA office in Iganga town or a rural truck stop in the Idudi parish, about 20 minutes away.

 

We worked at the Prevention tent, Vitamin A supplements to children aged 5-59 months as a part of the Vitamin Angels Project Sumaiyah is leading. This proved to be incredibly difficult, because all the kids seemed to know that they would be receiving medical care. We made a bunch cry, but tried to amend the situation by convincing them that the supplements were candies (or “sweeties” in Lusoga). We also distributed condoms to males in the community for the most part and only a handful of women.
Sumaiyah administering Vitamin Angel Supplements to a baby, age 6 months.
Sumaiyah administering Vitamin Angel Supplements to a baby, age 6 months.
Niara and Marina distributing supplements at the Prevention Tent during the Idudi outreach.
Niara and Marina distributing supplements at the Prevention Tent during the Idudi outreach.

 

The first outreach we helped with was incredibly well attended; over 200 community members were screened for HIV and counseled about their status, and we distributed about 14,400 condoms! That’s a lot of safe sex!

 

The second outreach was a bit quieter, but we got to work with the interns from Sweden  who are helping Jairus with the Maternal and Child Project. We noticed that a lot of children were hanging around to see the excitement of the outreach and the herd of muzungus (that’s us!), but weren’t able to receive supplements unless they came back with their parents. Many prominent community members took the initiative and vouched for the ages of these children, but at the end of the day many of them had not been reached.

 

It was incredibly inspiring to be a part of public health in action, especially through such a holistic project targeting family health.

 

Stay tuned for more! Between both teams, we have visited all 12 of UDHA’s partner schools in Iganga and Naigobiya, met all of the Peer Health Educators (who are the coolest), and identified a few exemplary teachers to be Patrons.

 

– Niara, Marina, Shyamolee (Team Sweethearts- feel better, Fred)
The Iganga interns! Niara, Marina, Fred, and Shyamolee
The Iganga interns! Niara, Marina, Fred, and Shyamolee
ICOPS: A healthy family for a healthy child

First Weekend in Iganga!

Meet Christine, the housekeeper at Dr. Issiko’s house where we are staying, and her grandson, Trevor. Trevor is recovering from a sugar high brought on by Shyamolee’s box of See’s lollipops.
Meet Christine, the housekeeper at Dr. Issiko’s house where we are staying, and her grandson, Trevor. Trevor is recovering from a sugar high brought on by Shyamolee’s box of See’s lollipops.
Walking to Iganga’s central market. Iganga is much more urban than we were anticipating!!
Walking to Iganga’s central market. Iganga is much more urban than we were anticipating!!
Here’s a picture of the colorful vegetables at the market. Those three huge brown spheres in the blue container are actually avocadoes. They are huge, rich, and creamy! We have been having them for every meal!
Here’s a picture of the colorful vegetables at the market. Those three huge brown spheres in the blue container are actually avocadoes. They are huge, rich, and creamy! We have been having them for every meal!
Taking this picture almost created a traffic jam in the market place, as everyone stopped to stare at the crazy mzungus-white people.
Taking this picture almost created a traffic jam in the market place, as everyone stopped to stare at the crazy mzungus-white people.
These are small sweet bananas, aka Marina’s new beard. Go Bananas 2016!
These are small sweet bananas, aka Marina’s new beard. Go Bananas 2016!
First Weekend in Iganga!

First day of work!

Hello everyone!

Friday was our first day at work! After eating breakfast, Sumaiyah picked us up from Dr. Issiko’s house to walk over to UDHA’s office, which is literally just three minutes away. We were first taken on a tour of the office and the private health clinic across the street.

Posters about HIV on the walls of UDHA's office
Posters about HIV on the walls of UDHA’s office

We then settled in a room, where UDHA staff members came in one by one to describe their projects to us. We were invigorated by the contagious passion with which the staff approach UDHA’s projects, and we absolutely cannot wait to see all of the amazing work in action.

Waiting to be briefed on all of UDHA’s projects on our first day of work.
Waiting to be briefed on all of UDHA’s projects on our first day of work.

The following is a brief run-down of each project that we learned about. Just so we are all on the same page, the projects that GlobeMed funds (the Youth Resource Centre in Iganga as well as the Nutrition Project and Health Clinic in Naigobya) are only a fraction of UDHA’s initiatives.

First, Sumaiyah briefed us on the Youth Resource Centre, which as you all already know, seeks to educate youth about HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases through partnering with local primary and secondary schools to train peer educators and install confidential question boxes. We discussed the possibility of identifying and recruiting teachers from schools to act as intermediaries between peer health educators and the Youth Resource Centre staff. Sumaiyah also talked to us about the Vitamin Angels, an organization based in California from which UDHA receives supplement shipments for children ages 6-59 months. Sumaiyah is planning on expanding the project to include breastfeeding mothers in the near future.

Then, Moses, who will be serving as one of the new partner contacts, briefed us on Nutrition Project in Naigobya, where UDHA uses a community health worker model to empower and educate families about how to meet the nutritional needs of their children through food demonstrations, community gardens, and basic health assessments. Recently, they have begun to partner with local schools for health parades, where UDHA educates youth on personal hygiene and sanitation. Alena and Sakura will be leaving for Naigobya on Tuesday, along with Tom, an intern from a university in Kampala. Moses was a great salesman for Naigobya, and the Iganga team really wants to visit now.

Next, Robert described UDHA’s HIV/AIDS management and prevention program, which seeks to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. The community health workers that run this program are expert clients who are HIV+ and have extensive experience with complicated drug regimens. While other projects focus on treating children to promote healthy families, Robert wants to work towards a community where healthy families produce healthy children.

Finally, Gyrus talked about the maternal and child health project that advocates for better healthcare access in areas where government services are unavailable or out of reach. As part of their initiatives, UDHA advocates for increased healthcare facilities on rural islands and utilization of antenatal care services. They also create health information videos, hold town hall meetings, provide counseling for healthcare providers, host radio talk shows, and put on music, dance, and drama performances.

After our orientation and lunch break, we worked on the 2015-2016 budget and work plan for the Youth Resource Centre. On Monday, we will be working on the budget and work plan for the Nutrition Project.

That’s it for now folks! Don’t forget to comment on our posts with any questions! We can’t wait to hear what you all have to say!

-Marina, Niara, Shyamolee, Sakura, and Alena

First day of work!

Webalau! (That’s hello in Lusoga, the language spoken in most of Eastern Uganda.)

We’re sorry we haven’t uploaded the blog in a while! We haven’t had stable internet since leaving the States, but we have been drafting blog posts to upload! Here’s the first one!

Last Monday, we began our long journey to Uganda! All of us (except Alena who flew through Amsterdam) took a 13-hour flight from New York to Dubai, where Emirates airlines treated us with complimentary hotel rooms and meals during our 20-hour layover, before taking off for Uganda the next day. In Dubai, we took an excursion to the nearest mall, which was pretty much equivalent to an American mall, with several notable differences. 1. A grocery store was housed in the mall, where we encountered all sorts of strange vegetables such as the snake gourd. There were also LOTS of spices for sale. 2. In addition to escalators, there were inclined moving walkways like the ones you find in the airport. Very bizarre. 3. There was a BORDERS. We thought that the franchise was completely gone but maybe they’re back from the dead?

This is us on on our flight from Dubai to Entebbe!
This is us on on our flight from Dubai to Entebbe!
The GROW team on our 5 hour drive from Entebbe Airport to Iganga!
The GROW team on our 5 hour drive from Entebbe Airport to Iganga!

Wednesday marked the first day that the entire GROW team assembled in Uganda. Alena had already arrived the day before, so she spent the day playing Frisbee next to Lake Victoria. Michael and Alena were deadlocked in a fearsome battle to see who could catch the most in a row, which ended with Michael throwing the Frisbee into the lake. They also visited the zoo in Entebbe, where the monkeys were not in cages and pathways were just trails through the jungle, before picking the rest of us up at the airport. She reports that baboons are very ugly.

Once we were united, our first stop was the currency exchange counter in Entebbe. Currently $1 is worth around 3,000 Ugandan shillings. Their bills are a little smaller than American bills but are brightly colored. Then, after picking up some large bottles of water, we immediately hit the road and most of us fell asleep instantaneously. What we did see of the surrounding Ugandan scenery was lush with green vegetation and full of life. Pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars weaved through the road, which was lined by vendors selling everything from vegetables to couches. We arrived in Iganga at 7:30pm but the sun had long set, and the area was very dark. A town of around 300,000 people, Iganga was more urban than many of us had imagined, considering that 80% of the Ugandan population are farmers. We had dinner at a traditional Ugandan restaurant. Food in Uganda usually consists of a sauce or meat served with a starch (rice, mashed plantains, or maize meal). Alena proved herself to be quite the adventurous eater when she voluntarily ate goat intestine, a delicacy in Ugandan cuisine. Niara had chicken, which we learned is koko in Lusoga. Marina and Shyamolee had peanut sauce with vegetables, or doodo in Lusoga. We remember those two because those are easy. The rest of the language…is still a work in progress.

After finishing dinner, we were taken to the Iganga team’s home for the next 2 months-Dr. Issiko’s residence. We met Sumiyah, the director of the Youth Resource Center who we have heard so much about. She is incredibly sweet and we are all obsessed with her already. She helped us transform our beds into princess beds with mosquito net canopies. After washing up, we settled down on the couches in the living room to watch some Ugandan news on Dr. Issiko’s flat-screen TV. Some of the topics included coverage of the Martyr’s Day festival, an important holiday in the Catholic faith, the arrestment of several FIFA officials for accepting bribes, and a bat infestation of a health clinic. Then, to our surprise, “Just Go with It,” the rom-com with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, a true gem in American cinema, came on. We stayed up until 12:30 to watch the whole thing.

Finally, before retiring into our canopy beds, Marina, Alena, and Sakura did an abs-set as part of our 2-month stretch and strengthen challenge. We slept fairly well, but Marina and Sakura suffered from some weird dreams due to our malaria-prevention pills.

Today, we had a scrapbooking party after our breakfast, which consisted of eggs, tomatoes and bread with some instant coffee. We were also offered some Ugandan tea that smelled a little too much like Windex for any of us to try. The scrapbook is full of GlobeMed pictures and we are giving it to UDHA tomorrow.

We think that’s enough for one post. We hope all is well back in the States. We miss you all!

Until next time,

Alena, Sakura, Shyamolee, Niara, Marina

Webalau! (That’s hello in Lusoga, the language spoken in most of Eastern Uganda.)