Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Beginning a New History with UVP

by Patrick Tulabagenyi, Program Manager

People passing by see us and stop to ask questions. And our group grows with each passerby.

We are in Namunkanaga village holding a community meeting to discuss some of the health challenges facing the village – conducting our due diligence before we commit to working in a community for three years. The community discusses several health concerns and asks many questions about how UVP works. It was at this point that Banuli stands to speak.

Nearly ten years later, UVP’s work in Luuka District still stands out in Banuli’s mind. As a former leader of a village in Luuka District (formerly Iganga District), Banuli worked directly with UVP to improve his village’s health, specifically through safe water. As he spoke, it was clear to me that he was well-respected in this village.

Banuli narrated to his peers about the positive relationships UVP forged in his previous village, relationships that affected many positive changes. He noted the new shallow well and the reduced prevalence of diarrheal disease. He smiled wide when he mentioned seeing many new tippy taps in the village as a result of the education his community received.

Namunkanaga is eight kilometers (five miles) from the nearest health center. Transport costs can keep a family from seeking medical treatment, so preventing illnesses is of utmost importance. Namunkanaga’s chairman stood up and stated that he felt the community would greatly benefit from educational sessions. The crowd nodded. The vote that followed was overwhelmingly in favor of working with UVP.

Following the meeting, the chairman showed us the proposed house the interns could live in. The community is very excited to work with UVP and pulsing with energy to welcome their visitors in June!

The interns are coming! In June, UVP and Namunkanaga will welcome our new intern cohort. Like us on Facebook and Instagram to see their adventures!

Not All Things are Sweetened by Sugar Cane

by Josephine Asio, Program Coordinator

At the time, she didn’t know that sugar cane could be deadly.  

As Ms. Kagoya and I chat on her recently swept veranda, we watch her two year old son playing under the mango tree. I sensed a bitterness arising as we begin to discuss her experiences with malaria more in depth.

Early in 2017, before UVP started working in her village, Kamira, Ms. Kagoya experienced complications during pregnancy. She was about 16 weeks along when she began bleeding. Because it was early in her first pregnancy, she had not yet had her first antenatal visit, so she thought the bleeding was normal, especially because she didn’t feel sick. “It all happened so fast that I didn’t know how I got to Bugono Health Center,” she says. She woke up at the health center to find out she had lost the baby. The nurse told her that she had high levels of the malaria parasite in her blood and that is what caused the miscarriage. The nurse also told her that she could still have more children, but she would have to change her habits.

Upon returning home, Ms. Kagoya and her husband began clearing the space immediately surrounding their compound. Sugar cane had been planted to the edge of the house and closely surrounded the compound, but after talking with the nurse, Ms. Kagoya now knew that sugar cane was a popular breeding ground for malaria. Because sugar cane is a lucrative crop, it is unheard of for a farmer to clear some area of the crop.

In addition to clearing the sugar cane and standing water, Ms. Kagoya and her husband located their mosquito nets and hung them. When the government distributed mosquito nets nationwide, there wasn’t much education to accompany them. It can be hot sleeping under a mosquito net, so Ms. Kagoya hadn’t taken the government distributed nets seriously.

The bitterness I sensed at the beginning of our talk dissipates to hope and passion. She doesn’t want others in her community to experience the tragedy her family did, so she encourages others to take the education UVP provides seriously. She doesn’t want a mother to lose her unborn baby because of a lack of knowledge. “Lack of information can be very fatal,” Ms. Kagoya tells me. And she’s right.

We are sharing Ms. Kagoya’s story with her permission. If you believe that prevention is the key to better health, join us in addressing key program areas in rural communities!

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Father's Perspective

by Patrick Tulibagenyi, Program Manager

The phone rings – once, twice. And a third, long ring before he answers. I wasn’t sure how David would react to my phone call, so when he finally answered, I held my breath for a moment, hoping he would be open to discussing his daughter’s situation. 

It’s not often you get the story of a father affected by fistula, which is why I wanted to speak with David. He believes that education is of utmost importance, so he has fought to keep all of his children in school. So it is understandable the devastation he felt when his teenage daughter, Agnes, told him she was pregnant. Traditionally, when a woman becomes pregnant, it is time to marry the father of the baby, which is what David demanded. So, at 17, Agnes married the father of her child, left school, and went to live with him. And that’s where things turned sour.

Agnes’ husband was not supportive of the pregnancy, which resulted in poor care for Agnes. Due to the lack of support, there were few options for Agnes when she went into labor. With the help of her father, she was able to seek care at a local health center, but the challenges continued. Her ordeal resulted in a stillborn baby and a fistula.

Knowing his daughter would not be well cared for by her husband, David brought Agnes home. He wasn’t sure how to treat her condition, in fact, he wasn’t even sure what her condition was called. While he was trying to figure out what to do, he heard a radio announcement about a camp at Kamuli Mission Hospital to treat a condition that sounded similar to what Agnes was experiencing. Not knowing what to expect, David sent Agnes to the camp with a caretaker. Not only did Agnes receive care, her surgery was successful. The family was elated!

To ensure Agnes healed completely, and because he was an advocate of education of any kind, David suggested she join the extended reintegration program and learn a trade. So she did. Agnes completed UVP’s reintegration program in 2018 and then returned home. But only for a short time.

The next time I saw Agnes, she was walking through the gates of Top Care Secondary School in Iganga where she was resuming her studies in level Senior 3. Unlike before, the day she returned to school she was confident and full of hope.

David’s support meant a different outcome for Agnes, which is why UVP’s Fistula Ambassadors work to educate men also. Good health is not just for one person; it is most impactful when it is a group effort.

See Agnes’ full story here. We have 30 former fistula patients that serve as Fistula Ambassadors who conduct outreaches throughout the year in rural communities. In 2018, UVP’s Fistula Ambassadors reached more than 49,000 people with education about preventing fistula and battling stigma. Photos by Ben Blankenship.

What Ownership Looks Like

by Nampiima Maria Gorret, Program Coordinator

Photo by Ben Blankenship
I was walking through Bufutula A with the VHTs visiting individual households answering questions about sanitation when we came across Kawanguzi* and his 16 year-old son digging a hole. Or more appropriately, digging a pit.

When I first saw Kawanguzi, he looked so serious. His bold features did not give any indication to the feelings beneath them, so I began asking the quiet man some questions. I wanted to learn his story.

A month earlier, Kawanguzi’s latrine was washed out in the severe rains. It undermined the foundation and filled the pit with mud. The roof was no longer secured and the door was missing. Oftentimes latrines are constructed out of local materials such as trees and mud, so severe rains have detrimental effects. It is typical for a family to start practicing open defecation once their latrine is destroyed, but Kawanguzi was determined to avoid that.

Talking openly about sanitation is not common, but as I chat with Kawanguzi, he does not seem shy despite the small crowd of neighbors and children that has formed around us. He answers my many questions with confidence because he clearly knows the importance of sanitation. Kawanguzi tells me that most people think that building a latrine is work reserved for women, but he doesn’t agree. “It is my responsibility to provide the right facilities to my family. It is my responsibility to show my young son the right habits.” That’s why Kawanguzi was enlisting the help of his 16 year-old son: to teach his son the habits Kawanguzi learned from interns Jake, Debbie, Bridget, Kirsi, and Kennedy in 2016. In addition to the shallow well that UVP built with the community, the interns conducted educational outreaches discussing the importance of handwashing and using a latrine to ‘ease oneself’.

Photo by UVP staff
As we finished our conversation, I matched Kawanguzi’s feelings of appreciation. He thanked me profusely for the work UVP has done in his village. And I thanked him extensively for acting as a change agent in his community and showing his son how to take ownership of his responsibilities and serve as a dependable citizen to Bufutula A.

Behavior change does not happen overnight. The seeds our interns sew and that UVP staff continuously care for over the years take time to flourish. There are many people involved in this slow process, but the most important ones are the community members who take ownership and responsibility to keep their family and community healthy.

*To respect his privacy, Kawanguzi's name has been changed.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Second Chance at Secondary School

by Nampiima Maria Gorret, Program Coordinator

Despite the fact that she’s the youngest member of her cohort in the reintegration program, Agnes is confident. Energetic, yet soft spoken, Agnes treats everyone with the utmost respect.

When her water broke, Agnes knew she needed to go to the clinic, just like she had learned during her ANC visits. She took the little money her family had saved, and made her way to the nearest health center riding on the back of a motorcycle. Once there, the clinic staff felt her situation was beyond their ability and sent her to another health center. Again, she travelled by motorcycle to her next destination. Upon reviewing her condition over several hours at the second health center, Agnes was once again referred to a different facility. And once again, she rode on a motorcycle to seek the care she needed. Finally, at Rubaga Hospital in Kamuli District, she learned that she needed to have a cesarean section to deliver the baby. Unfortunately, it was too late. Having been obstructed in the birth canal too long, the baby was stillborn. Agnes recalls that day she had to take on two bitter realities: she lost her baby and had begun leaking urine uncontrollably.

After returning home, she was traumatized, despite the support she was given by her care takers was broken by the fact that her friends made fun of her situation and spoke ill things behind her back. Agnes began to feel despair, thinking there was no way for her to live a normal life again. But upon meeting a Fistula Ambassador in her village, she started to feel more hope, a feeling that continued to grow through surgery and all throughout the reintegration program, particularly from the support of the other women in her cohort. With all the hope you felt, Agnes began making plans for the future: she was going to return to secondary school.

The Malaria Revolution

by Josephine Asio

On a quiet afternoon, I meet Ivan in a neatly swept compound in Bulondo village. Although it isn’t immediately obvious, Ivan is part of the transformation happening in Bulondo; the revolution of how community members understand and prevent malaria. You see, this four year old boy is so committed to preventing malaria that he insists on sleeping under his mosquito net at all times, even in the middle of the day. And that’s where I find him, waking up from his afternoon nap under his carefully tucked mosquito net.

Ivan’s mother, Sarah, recalls long stretches where Ivan was at the health center to treat malaria every month, sometimes more. On more than one occasion, Sarah wasn’t sure if Ivan would leave the health center alive. Because their home is situated next to a sugar cane field, Sarah felt hopeless at avoiding malaria. Until she learned more about it.

Last August, Bulondo VHTs visited Sarah’s house and encouraged her to purchase a mosquito net. The VHT knew Ivan and others in the family had been sick recently and asked Sarah how much she spent traveling to the health center and for treatment. She blushed slightly and admitted nearly 30,000 shillings. The VHT asked her to make an investment in her family’s health that was a fraction of the cost: for 3,000 shillings, she could by a mosquito net. And she did.

Since then (nearly 6 months ago), Ivan hasn’t visited the health center at all! Ivan says, “When will it by my time to go to school?” a question he frequently asks. “Soon,” Sarah says with a chuckle. She turns to me and says, “Sometimes we overlook everything we are taught about how to live a healthy life, and only remember when you are directly faced with it. I now know that prevention is much cheaper than a cure.”

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Passion and Smiles

By Nampiima Maria Gorret, Program Coordinator

It took a few minutes, but she did finally smile. And once she started, she didn’t stop.

Joyce was shy when we first started to discuss her situation, but it didn’t last long because her passion for the subject could not be stifled.

Her journey with fistula started more than 20 years ago when she encountered issues during childbirth in Lugazi. Joyce now understands that the complications arose because she delayed to go to the hospital, which she didn’t realize at the time. She somberly recounts how the health workers tried to resuscitate her baby, but were unsuccessful. Aside from the weight of loss, Joyce also began battling constant incontinence.

Upon returning home from the hospital, little did she know her troubles were only just beginning. She noticed the discrimination from her community immediately, but the separation from her family was slower to set in. It wasn’t until she and her husband began sleeping in separate beds did she realize the depth of her situation.

Determined, Joyce began to seek treatment for herself; multiple visits to various hospitals did not furnish results. Each location quoted her enormous amounts of money to provide the treatment she needed, a price out of reach for Joyce and her family of subsistence farmers. She fell into a deep despair aggravated by the isolation and mockery she experienced in her community. And then one day there was a ray of light.

On the radio, she heard an advertisement for the very treatment she was seeking! A week later, in her nicest gomesi, she set out on a journey to Kamuli Mission Hospital. Joyce received successful treatment and she did not hide her joy. She danced and sang and hugged anyone who was close to her. She was elated.

Joyce will soon graduate from UVP’s extended reintegration program and has dreams to start her own business in her home community. “It has been a life changing opportunity,” Joyce says. It’s clear that from her lengthy experience that Joyce maintains a deep passion for obstetric fistula prevention.

Do you have a deep passion for preventing fistula like Joyce? Be part of the solution today! Joyce's story has been used with her permission. 

My Village has Transformed

by Josephine Asio, Program Coordinator

Moses during our interview, holding notes
from a meeting he just attended.
Despite the many people attending prayers at the mosque next door, we were able to manage a quiet conversation in Moses’ compound. The peaceful scene was the perfect setting for our sensitive conversation.

Next to Moses’ compound in Bulondo there is a swamp and a sugar cane field. One of these brings income; the other brings heartache. One day, Moses’ wife came to him with good news: she was pregnant with their sixth child. They were elated! She immediately went to the health center to begin antenatal care. Things were progressing well until around four months.

Being so close to the swamp, Moses and his family constantly battle a vicious cycle of malaria, which keeps them from attending school and work. In addition to the reduced income Moses receives when he cannot work due to the illness, medical expenses strain the family’s finances, which make paying for mosquito nets challenging. Then, due to a particularly nasty bout of malaria, Moses’ wife suffered a miscarriage. Their little savings was drained to pay medical expenses for her treatment. Moses felt trapped.

As an avid supporter of UVP, Moses helps
to mobilize community members to attend
outreaches, sometimes directly from the car!
Then, he learned that UVP was providing reduced-cost mosquito nets and he immediately jumped at the opportunity, buying one for his wife and another for his two smaller children. Eventually, as the medical costs reduce, he was able to afford 2 more nets so every member of his family was protected during the night.

As the chairman of his village, Moses knows that he acts as an ambassador for good health, and he is happy to fulfill this role. He also knows that improving the health of his village takes a group effort: from the leaders in his community, to his neighbors, to UVP staff, and to the financial supporters who take health seriously.

“My village has slowly transformed,” Moses says, “I am grateful to UVP as a person who has directly benefited from this organization.”

Do you have a deep passion for preventing malaria? Join the movement to approach poverty through health prevention!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Cheerfulness of Ituba B

  by The Ituba B Village Intern Team: Shafic, Sarah, Ellis, Annliz, Suzie, and Shaby

The celebratory crowd
\arriving at the health center.
We heard the large crowd of community members before we saw them. There were dozens of people waving branches, playing the drums, and singing along the way. Curious, one of our team members followed the crowd down the road. Turns out, it was a celebration for the registration of a candidate for the Chairman position in the village. Once the village members arrived to their final location (the health center), the candidate sat down and began his registration paperwork. The community celebrated up until the candidate finished his registration. It was interesting to see so much celebration, dancing, and excitement for the registration of a candidate.

From this celebration, we understood how much the village values happiness and excitement. But the cheerfulness doesn’t end with special events.

Next door, there are a set of twins, a girl and boy about five years old, called Babirye and Waiswa who never fail to come and say hello to us. They cannot stop smiling at the sight of us and always invite us to join them in their current game. Their mother, the wife of one of our VHTs, gave us some recently harvested beans from their garden as a thank you for helping her to construct a tippy tap. She was so excited and grateful; we felt the impact of our work deeply. As the days go by, the hospitality of the people just keeps getting better and better.

Upon our arrival to Ituba B, we were happy to be in a team so we had others to experience similar feelings with, but soon enough, the warm welcome from the community calmed our fears. The small trading center, which contains a few salons, kiosks, and rolex (chapatti and fried eggs) stands, are always present with dozens of people, who continuously smile and wave at us. There is no shortage of cheerfulness in Ituba B!

The Influence of Others

by Tumusiime Loy, Reproductive Health Program Coordinator

Mariam has not always been comfortable telling people her story. She wasn’t always comfortable attending outreaches in her home village of Irenzi. The negative attitudes and stories from her fellow community members discouraged her from seeking contraceptives. It even made her scared to discuss the topic with her husband.

As parents of three children, Mariam and her husband are utilizing UVP services to space their children. “We are planning to have another child after five years,” she says. She elaborates further that the space between children allows her to stay healthy, and when she remains healthy, she can more easily provide for her family.

Mariam manages a small business and the family farm. While it is on a small scale, it provides well for her small family. She notes that because she and her husband can better care for a small family, they spend less money caring for sick children. The benefits are very obvious to Mariam. So obvious that she has begun to encourage other women to attend UVP outreaches to learn about the benefits of a small family.