Posters! Posters! Posters! x9

Two weeks ago, the Youth Resource Center team meet with our outgoing class of Peer Health Educators for exit interviews and asked them about their experiences, success, and challenges. When asked what additional support and resources UDHA could provide them, the PHEs overwhelmingly said that their schools need more health materials like posters and educational books. Based on the questions that PHEs said they receive the most, we made nine health posters. These posters will be distributed to our 12 partner schools in Iganga and Naigobiya, local Health Centers, and the Youth Resource Center. Here they are:

Condom Use by Niara
Condom Use by Niara
STDs by Niara
STDs by Niara
HIV/AIDS by Shyamolee
HIV/AIDS by Shyamolee
Common Diseases by Shyamolee
Common Diseases by Shyamolee
Menstruation by Marina
Menstruation by Marina
How to Use a Pad by Marina
How to Use a Pad by Marina
Nutrition by Niara
Nutrition by Niara
Healthy Relationships by Shyamolee
Healthy Relationships by Shyamolee
Referrals by Shyamolee
Referrals by Shyamolee
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Posters! Posters! Posters! x9

Busaino Farms

We spent our Saturday at Busaino Farms,  which was owned by one of UDHA staff member Michael's friends and ranked the 2nd best farm in all of Uganda.
We spent our Saturday at Busaino Farms, which was owned by one of UDHA staff member Michael’s friends and ranked the 2nd best farm in all of Uganda. It spans over 1600 acres.
We got to sample fresh produce from the farm, including ground nuts and mangos. Here are Niara and Sakura, lovingly known as the Mango Noobs because they generally dislike the fruit, trying their luck with some Busaino mangos.
We got to sample fresh produce from the farm. Here are Niara and Sakura, lovingly known as the Mango Noobs because they generally dislike the fruit, trying their luck with some Busaino mangos. They were great!
We took a tour of the farm house, from which you could see the Kenyan border just 6 km away.
We took a tour of the farm house, from which you could see the Kenyan border just 6 km away.
Then, we went on a hike around the farm, stopping to see the range of fruits and medicinal herbs they grew.
Then, we went on a hike around the farm, stopping to see the range of fruits and medicinal herbs they grew.
We ended the day with a delicious, farm fresh lunch.
We ended the day with a delicious, farm fresh lunch.
Busaino Farms

Jinja Photo Story

Shyamolee and Marina enjoying our first taxi ride!
Shyamolee and Marina enjoying our first taxi ride!
The taxi was completely packed by the time we got to Jinja!
The taxi was completely packed by the time we got to Jinja!
One of our favorite buildings in Jinja
One of our favorite buildings in Jinja
The river boat we used to explore the Nile
The river boat we used to explore the Nile
The Source of the Nile River!
A spring in Lake Victoria is the source for the longest river in the world: The Nile!
The girls on our boat cruise on the Nile.
The girls on our boat cruise on the Nile.
Niara and Shyamolee after doing some shopping!
Niara and Shyamolee after doing some shopping!
Jinja Photo Story

Our Experiences with Ugandan Health Care

Although a goal of mine was to understand the workings of Ugandan healthcare on a deeper level, I had been hoping not to be able speak from personal experience. This past week has marked my second visit to Mercy Clinic (right across from UDHA). The reasons for my going are funny I suppose…ask me again in a few months. It happened like this…

Sumaiyah and I were walking through town after making a deposit at the bank. The sun was shining, goats were bleating and all was as it should be. A mere mud field away from UDHA, it hit us. Literally. A bag full of garbage, dirt and sewer stuff launched right at us! The marksman was a mentally ill man who hangs out at the corner of the supermarket we always frequent to buy water (and the occasional chocolate bar –well not as occasional as we’d maybe like to admit). We were covered head to toe with dirt so we went back to the house to change and shower before returning to work. It was so unexpected and out of the blue. We spent the next hour laughing at how wacky the event was because hey, what else were we going to do about it! Unfortunately, I had swallowed some of the dirt bomb which meant that that night was not pleasant for me or my digestive tract… I went to the clinic the next morning and found out I had procured a bacterial infection from whatever I had swallowed. Sumaiyah experienced only a bit of stomach pain, but was otherwise fine. I on the other hand hadn’t spend my childhood playing in (aka eating) Ugandan dirt so was badly affected. If only it had been a bag of good old Bay Area Berkeley dirt that had been hurled at me! I was given lots of medicine though and am back to normal now.

It was interesting to note that I was given more than six different types of medicine (I even got a bonus de-worming pill) whereas in the US I probably would have been given only one. To see the doctor was not at all like back home. If you wanted to see the doctor, you walked over to his room, checked if he was free. If so, you’re in luck! Walk in and get treated.

What with Shyamolee’s sprained ankle and Sakura’s skin rash, Dr. Chris Isiko (with whom we live) gets to see us at work almost as much as he does at the house. We’re crossing our fingers that Niara and Alena won’t have any medical emergencies on the trip!

-Marina

I was the first casualty of the war and boy was it a confronting experience. Let’s set the stage: it was week 2 of our internship and we were pumped to climb Mirembe Mountain in Naigobya, the view from which all of the former interns had told us not to miss. Little did we know, that mountain hates GROW interns. It’s where Haley (Naigobya intern from 2014) first discovered that she had a stomach parasite and incidentally, it’s where I sprained my ankle.

This part is just for my parents- Hi guys. You might notice that I downplayed this story when I broke the news to you. Don’t freak out! I’m all better now and this is what actually happened:

The mountain is pretty steep and I had only managed to get up half of it. I chilled out on a rock at the half way point while the rest of the team and guides climbed to the top. Right after they left, I realized what a pickle I was in. I didn’t know how to get back down, the team was too far ahead for me to catch up, and storm clouds had started rolling in. To add fuel to the fire, a local pastoralist who had been herding his cattle on the mountain kept pestering me for food (which I had none of and surely would have eaten already if I did), as vultures began circling on a nearby hill. It was like the first scene of a low budget adventure movie. Once the team came back, we made our descent downwards. My legs were feeling a little shaky and the slippery mud patches made the return all the more risky. I ended up slipping in a section that Marina had warned me about; it was inevitable. With an loud pop, my ankle was sprained.

My healthcare began right at that spot, as one of the interns from Naigobya, Tom, moved my foot around to gauge the pain and possible pop it back in. This freaked the team out, seeing as one wrong move could make the injury worse. They eventually got me up and we limped down the hill together as fast as we could to avoid the rain.

This was a common injury here and it didn’t merit too much attention, just a passing bambi (that means “sorry, poor thing” in Lusoga). Over the next two days my ankle had swollen to the size of a mid range mango and walking was a struggle. It garnered the attention of many a celebrity, like UDHA board member Dr. Iskio, who insisted that I use an anti-inflammatory cream on it.

I eventually made it to Mercy Health Center on Monday after work, where I sat alone in the corridor waiting for an hour for the orthopedic physician to return. The wait wasn’t as scary as the doctor who waited with me, Edmund, and told (lied to) me that he had seen 3 past GROW interns incur the same injury and go through surgery to fix it. In my already vulnerable state, I started crying. Eventually I saw the doctor who told me it was nothing to worry about, upon which I cried again, and was handed a gamut of pain killers, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory tablets, and a crepe bandage and sent on my way. I’ve never been on more medication in my life. As Marina said, prescriptions are given out extensively here and seem to be the norm as far as care goes. My visit cost me a total of 30,000 shillings, or less than $10. I wasn’t asked to come in for a follow up or physio. It was that simple.

And it worked perfectly. While I did spend the first week limping and really thinking about the under appreciated privilege of being physically able, I got back to normal within a few weeks just as the physician had expected. Thank you, Ugandan health care!

– Shyamolee Desai

Our Experiences with Ugandan Health Care

The exchange rate is what? Negotiable.

The start of this week was a whirlwind: we had created a 15 page FAQ book addressing the most common questions students ask via our health boxes and an extended 50 page training manual for the peer health educators tasked with counseling these students. We had also realized that there way no way we could convey 50 pages of information to our new PHEs in just one day, which is all we planned for in the initial budget. We needed at least 3 days and the budget had not a shilling of breathing room.
We had to find a way to make it happen. The pressure was on.

After a lot of coordination with our amazing GlobeMed staff back home (shoutout to Rhea, Laura, and Haley!), we had managed to wire the funds we raised for this partnership year five days early. Aisha, UDHA’s resident accountant, got the transaction approved by the board and all we had to do was convert them from dollars to shillings.

We had promised Aisha that we would dress more “adult” today, in hopes that that would give us a modicum of credibility with the fat cats a the bank. It’s too bad the only clothes we brought look like they were made for prairie children, unusually taken with the Woodstock aesthetic. Side note: Everyone dresses so well here! It’s the middle of Ramadan and I have never seen more elegantly dressed ladies in my life. We look like idiots in comparison.

Back to the story!

We walked to Crane Bank at 9 A.M. sharp for our appointment. The place perpetually and intensely smells like enkwawa (armpits), regardless of the number of people in the room. It was unusually empty today, but the enkwawa stench was strong.

We were ushered into a back room, which was a lot less creepy than it sounds. The bank manager, Satish, asked us whether we were in Iganga for a project. The prarie children/Woodstock garb had understandably given us away. After a few calls to his international broker buddies he made an initial offer of 3280 shillings/dollar. He was speaking in Hindi and repeated something his friend had said: the exchange rate was expected to go down in the next week. Years of hanging out at my dad’s office during the summer vacations and listening to the posturing that went behind business negotiations told me that he was trying to down sell us.

Aisha played hard ball though and out of the gate said “You’re going to give us 3300 today.” We did our part too, with a strong emotional appeal along the lines of “Don’t be stingy! It’s for an NGO. The people in this area need health services. Who will provide sexual education, HIV screenings, and help mothers with antenatal care?” all strung together in my broken Hindi. Satish blinked. We were in business!

Ultimately we ended up settling on a 3290 shillings/dollar rate and a small transaction fee. While this wasn’t the going market rate for the day, it was way more than the 2800 shillings/dollar rate we budgeted for. We could not be more happy and down right excited over our end result: our budget had virtually increased by 18%, meaning an extra $3,000 for this partnership year.

And the best part for last: With this money, we were able to hire 11 new community health workers for the Nutrition Project, extend both patron and peer health educator training to 3 days each, expand Youth Resource Center projects like the health boxes and the patron program to Naigobya, and develop new manuals for all of our volunteers.

So we’ll leave our chapter and next year’s GROW team with the following lessons:
  • Election years have been historically good for the strength of the dollar. Don’t waste them!
  • Banks are incredibly “adult,” but so are you.
  • Watch the exchange rate like a hawk. Getting a better deal only by a few shillings could mean the difference between a crisis time budget and one where you just have a few million shillings laying around, waiting to be used. Context for fellow foreigners: a few million is a lot.
  • The exchange rate is what? Negotiable.

– Shyamolee Desai

The exchange rate is what? Negotiable.

July 4th: Ugandan Edition

Over the past few weeks we’ve heard so many good things about Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Everyone we talked to thought Kampala was the best place in Uganda. We heard so many tales about the fun to be had there that we decided to check it out for ourselves! We left Iganga around 8 am. After stopping for breakfast in Jinja, we were on our way to the capital! Traffic was so bad, we didn’t get to the city until 12:30!

After hours of driving, we finally made it to our first stop: the Buganda King’s Palace. Buganda? Don’t you mean Uganda? Nope, I actually mean Buganda. Uganda is comprised of several kingdoms and tribes. Iganga and Naigobya are in the Busoga kingdom, and Kampala is located in the Buganda kingdom. Buganda is biggest kingdom in Uganda, and it’s how Uganda got its name!

The Buganda Palace
The Buganda Palace

Funny thing about the palace: there’s nothing in there! We were sad when we found out that we couldn’t go into the palace. But there was something that we could see. The Bugandan Palace also happens to be the site of Idi Amin’s Torture Chamber, which is why the King no longer lives there.

We made the trek down a manicured, flower lined, road to the torture chamber. It arose as a dark abyss in a green landscape. No one was prepared for what lay inside. The chamber was a giant concrete structure carved into the side of a hill. It was completely dark, but what could be seen was distressing. There were 5 giant, concrete cells along the wall. We were told that 100 people at a time could be locked into a cell. Prisoners were given no food or water.

Idi Amin's Torture Chamber
Idi Amin’s Torture Chamber

The gates to each cell were electrified, preventing escape. When in use, the area where we were standing in, directly outside of the cells, was filled with water, which was also electrified. The only time the light was turned on was when the guards came to bring new prisoners and remove the dead.

It was sobering standing in that place, thinking of the 200,000 men and woman who lost their lives there. I couldn’t bare standing there for 10 minutes, and could not even comprehend what it must have felt like to be thrown into that place. The suffering that occurred was palpable in the air. We left the torture chamber with heavy hearts, not knowing how to process what we had just seen.

The next stop was the Buganda parliament. The Buganda Parliament is responsible for making laws and upholding the customs of the Buganda kingdom. The Parliament does not make national laws; only the Ugandan Parliament can do that. People in the Buganda Kingdom are divided into tribes. Each tribe has its own symbol, and is represented in Parliament by a delegate chosen by the king. The symbols for each tribe were depicted on the wall of the parliament. Each symbol represented something in the Buganda kingdom, such as monkeys, mockingbirds, and our favorite: feces! You are born into the tribe of your father, and cannot marry anyone is your tribe or your mother’s tribe. The exception to this rule is the King. He is born into the tribe of his mother. That is done so that every tribe has the opportunity to have the King be a member of their tribe.

Niara, Shyamolee, and Marina practicing a move used to greet the King outside the Parliament building
Niara, Shyamolee, and Marina practicing a move used to greet the King outside the Parliament building

After the Parliament, we went to Gaddafi National Mosque. The guide explained the international influence on the design of the mosque. The design brought together Arabic influences with Ugandan heritage. The mosque was absolutely beautiful! What makes the mosque a tourist attraction is the view. The mosque was located on one of Kampala’s seven hills, in old Kampala. From the top you get a clear view of the entire city. The guide pointed out and explained the history of each of the seven hills of Uganda. We could see clearly where we had been earlier in the day.

The ceiling of Gaddafi National Mosque
The ceiling of the mosque
The five of us at the top of the tower!
The five of us at the top of the tower!

After our tour of the mosque was over, we headed to the supermarket. It was full of delightful treats that we hadn’t seen since leaving the states, including cake! Alena, Shyamolee, and Marina decided to split a chocolate ganache cake. We all piled into the van to head home. The cake was opened in the back seat of the van and was completely gone just three minutes later! Everyone was so full that we didn’t even stop for dinner. We definitely didn’t get to see as much as Kampala as we would have liked, but what we did get to see what though provoking, informative, and fun! We were so excited to have the opportunity to visit Uganda’s capital city.

Alena, Shyamolee, and Marina with their cake!
Alena, Shyamolee, and Marina with their cake!
... three minuets later
… three minuets later

Stay tuned for more adventures!

-Niara

July 4th: Ugandan Edition

“What is a viergina?”

One of the services that the UDHA Youth Resource Center provides is health box letters. The project was started in 2013 with the help of that summer’s GROW team (hey Rachel, Rori, and Alex!), who wanted to give students a way to ask questions unhindered by potential embarrassment or fear of repercussions. They placed small wooden boxes in each of our 10 parter schools in Iganga, where students could submit their health related questions. Each month, these letters would be picked up by Youth Coordinator Sumaiyah and the Youth Resource Center interns, who would spend the next week answering each question with a hand written, personal letter. They would then return these letters to each student, repeating the process each month. The service grew popular among students, especially with the help of our amazing Peer Health Educators who encouraged their classmates to use them.
Health box at Iganga Dynamic Secondary School
Health box at Iganga Dynamic Secondary School
Health boxes were getting destroyed each year though, breaking down under the high volume of questions we received, and staff members just didn’t have enough time to get through all of them quickly. We can get anywhere from 4 to 100 questions from each school each month. In my experience, it takes about 7-10 minutes answering each question, more if the student is young and asking about something explicit like sex. That takes a lot more finesse. We all have strategies for dealing with this, but when the going gets awkward, I get clinical. This sometimes meant page long descriptions complete with hand drawn sketches of the vaginal anatomy. We’ve all gotten very good at drawing uteruses too.
Our first packet of health box questions from Iganga Central Primary School. There were over 70 in here!
Our first packet of health box questions from Iganga Central Primary School. There were over 70 in here!
This is what a typical health box question looks like. Students write their questions on scraps of paper and often list out all of their concerns relating to a topic.
This is what a typical health box question looks like. Students write their questions on scraps of paper and often list out all of their concerns relating to a topic.
Michael, Deputy Executive Director of UDHA, challenged us to find a way to alleviate the health box overload. A dozens of hours spent answering questions by hand and four sets of cramped hands later, the Youth Resource Center team finally reached a consensus: we would create a short reference book answering the most frequently asked questions we receive and distribute these to the Patrons at our parter schools. If a student submitted a common question to the Health Box, we would direct them to a page in the FAQ book. They would just have to borrow the book from their patron and turn to that section. The patron would never even know what section they were reading, so the students would be ensured some privacy.
We narrowed down our most frequently asked questions; it really wasn’t that hard. Most of them are about sex. But here’s our list:
  • What is a penis? What is a vagina? What is an anus?
  • What is sex?
  • How does a woman get pregnant?
  • Is it true that a woman is most fertile during her period?
  • What is a condom?
  • What are STDs? Can you get STDs when you are menstruating? Are there any safe days?
  • What is HIV/AIDS? Where did it come from? How is it spread? Describe it in detail.
  • What is malaria? Cholera? Sleeping Sickness?
  • How do I tell a girl/boy I love them? Someone loves me and I don’t feel the same way. What do I do?
Our new FAQ book! It's 15 pages long and includes information about the human body, adolescence, sex and sexuality, and common diseases.
Our new FAQ book! It’s 15 pages long and includes information about the human body, adolescence, sex and sexuality, and common diseases.
Within the week, we were able to put together an FAQ book and send it off to printing. If you’re interested, we’ve uploaded it here. We’re really proud of it and can’t wait to see how students at our 12 partner schools find them. With the expansion of health boxes to two schools in Naigobya this year, it will be even more interesting to see the different ways in which two student populations use the resources. Let the iterative development continue!
– Shyamolee Desai
“What is a viergina?”