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 saya, “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.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Spirit of Naluko

by Derrick Agaba and Kevin Preciado, Interns, Naluko Village

The village of Naluko is a place that you can call home. Our team has called it home for the past five weeks while working with Uganda Village Project. Although it has not been home for long, it has succeeded in opening our hearts to the wonderful diversity of the human spirit.  Triumph and tragedy intertwines itself onto the human condition and creates powerful narratives. One poignant narrative we have encountered is Sara, an incredible village elder, who’s childbearing journey provides a moving backdrop to life in Naluko.

UVP interns Gloria and Lexie conduct an education session in Naluko. 

Sara is arguably the most vibrant woman and community mobilizer within Naluko. With a glowing smile and dedicated vision for her village, she is at the heart of the community. She serves as a representative on the council for women at the sub-county level, fighting for women’s reproductive rights and educating young and middle aged women on family planning and obstetric fistula. Most recently, she has been working with UVP to sensitize and mobilize the community on HIV, malaria, and reproductive health. She has given herself entirely to her community in order to serve others, evoking passion from tragedy.

Team Naluko from left to right: Derrick, Gloria,
Lexie, Gertrude, Kevin, and Amanda.
Pain and suffering highlight Sara’s experience with pregnancy and childbirth. Her first child arrived when Sara was 19 years old, and although Sara gave birth to 14 children in total, only three lived past age five. Sara felt every death tremendously, and today she wants to spare other women in the village from that pain and suffering. Her efforts in family planning, education, and social encouragement have empowered countless women in the village to take control of their reproductive health and have safely planned pregnancies.

Sara’s intimate understanding of motherhood and dedication to her community has made her the ideal representative for women in Naluko. She is on a mission to make the health in her community thrive, while simultaneously spreading joy and happiness to whomever she encounters. We are touched by the triumphant essence of Naluko, particularly Sara’s resilient spirit.

Learning to Love the Village Clock

by The Kinu Village Intern Team: Margret, Trevor, Shannon, Alex, Christine, and Sarah
Children of Kinu Village waiting for the entertainment to begin!
Picture this – it’s the day of our HIV/Malaria sensitization in Kinu village, which was scheduled to begin at 2 pm. It’s now 3:30 pm, and only a handful of community members, maybe around 15 people total, are waiting patiently in the shade of a mango tree. And these people aren’t just anyone – they’re our neighbors and friends. We’re excited to see them, but it also sort of feels like putting on a concert with your band and having only your parents show up.

The minutes tick by and we start to feel worried – did our mobilizing efforts fail? Was anyone else going to come? We spent the days leading up to the sensitization hanging posters and going door-to-door around the village, speaking to each household about our sensitization. Now, we felt like our efforts were in vain.

A government health worker tests a community
member for HIV in Kinu village. (Photo by
Ben Blankenship)
Just when we started to lose hope, people began arriving – mothers trickled in with babies on their backs, a group of men gathered at the base of the tree, and hoards of kids sat at the very front, eager to watch our skits. By the end of the sensitization, more than 100 people were there to improve their understanding of HIV and Malaria.

Overcoming our own assumptions about how things should be, rather than how they are, has been one of our team’s greatest challenges. As a group of students, our days at school are often defined by a strict adherence to the numbers on the clock – lecture start times and assignment deadlines are strictly enforced, end of story.

In our village, however, time is perceived differently – instead of thinking in terms of numbers on a clock, people think in terms of sequences of events. Once one event ends, the next can begin, and not before. We call this the “Village Clock”, and to our limited understanding of time, it was initially a cause of worry, fear, and frustration.

Community members register for services in
Kinu village. (Photo by: Ben Blankenship)
As the weeks went by, our need for precise punctuality diminished, and with it our worries. The “Village Clock” no longer frustrated us like it once did. Instead, the extra time that it provided before sensitizations became one of favorite ways to spend time with the community, playing games with the kids, chatting with neighbors, and having impromptu dance parties.

Learning to love the “Village Clock” is just one example of the many ways we, as a team, have come to understand the importance of being flexible, humble and open to different lifestyles; doing so only opens up new possibilities for building connections, having fun, and ultimately working towards a healthier community.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nets Are Not the Only Answer

by Tigaiza Arnold and Clare Killian, Interns, Ituba A Village

Arnold and Clare with Mr. Kintu Sam, his mother, and his wife
She welcomed us into her humble home with a sweet and soft “Tusangaire!” (you are welcome) and we sat down on the couches. The survey went smoothly, and as we conversed with her, a middle aged man, who we later discovered was her son, was seated adjacent to us. Throughout the duration of the survey, we thought the man was resting, not paying attention to the activity happening nearby. Little did we know, not only was he paying attention, but he would end up sparking a conversation emphasizing malaria and its detrimental impact on the people he loves dearly. The impact of this conversation would last much longer than the time they spent in this man’s company.

When we completed the survey and thanked the woman, the man immediately cleared his throat, sat up, and addressed us somewhat aggressively at first, asking our names again. We answered quietly with a smile, unsure of what this man was going to say. He then launched into a conversation, almost a lecture, about the complex issue of malaria prevention. According to him, the long-standing prevention methods focused on manufacturing and providing mosquito nets is absolutely crucial and important, but is only a secondary and incomplete line of prevention. Nets alone will not eliminate mosquitos and malaria.  Nets alone will not prevent people from getting bit by malaria-carrying mosquitos; the majority of life in Ugandan culture is lived outside and sleeping is one of the only indoor activities.

Mosquitos are most prevalent from dusk until dawn, but almost no one goes to bed before dusk and stays in bed until after dawn, especially in village communities. “These people are vulnerable when they are not sleeping, and that time period has not been accounted for in malaria prevention efforts.” he said. He discussed how malaria prevention must account for all the different lifestyles lived by people affected by mosquitos every single day. Communities deserve individualistic and culturally relative approaches to preventing this disease, something that large, governmentally funded organizations and efforts tend to lack. His passion for this issue was contagious and very evident. He expressed his disbelief about how this debate has been going on for years in the academic and political community, but almost nothing has been done in the field other than education and mass distribution of mosquito nets.
Arnold and Clare with Mr. Kintu Sam
We intently listened to him, agreeing wholeheartedly with his statements. Unable to give answers to his important questions and opinions, we struggled internally with this, feeling helpless in that moment. We assured him that they would share his story, continue the conversation, and work within their capacity to further the progress on malaria.

Weeks later, with our previous discussion with him still nagging in our thoughts, we decided to go return to this man and talk to him more. When they arrived at his home again, he was joyous to see them, welcoming them feverishly, and eagerly sharing more information regarding his life and opinions. Once again we enjoyed an engaging conversation with him. The time spent at this man’s home with him and his family was wonderful, a new relationship blossoming between us.  

People, such as this man, can change the world. We were so fortunate to meet him, hold an unforgettable conversation, and continue to foster our undeniable conviction that every individual human life matters. Every life changed is significant and people are not solely statistics, not only numbers in a global epidemic. People are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. You never know what impact you could have.

The Welcome We Weren't Expecting

by Alex Mulyowa, Trevor Bishai and Margaret Nabukenya, Interns, Kinu Village

The football game outside the Kinu house.
Most evenings around 6 p.m., the area outside the front of our house becomes the venue of a spirited game of pickup soccer. As the sun sets over the dry patches of scattered grass, a group of energetic children and teenagers from the neighborhood fill the air with excited shouts, kicks, and cheers. Four small bricks are the goalposts, and because there isn’t quite enough space between our house and the house across the path, the pitch bends a little bit to the right side of our house. The older boys usually have the ball, while younger children spend their time either chasing after it or doing cartwheels. The games begin when we return from working around the village and continue until the sun sets; a crowd of spectators both young and old add a distinct jubilant atmosphere.

Team Kinu during a planning meeting.
But these evening soccer games are not any sort of longstanding tradition here in Kinu. They began just a few weeks ago, on one of our first days here, when we started kicking a ball around outside our house. When our international team leader, Shannon, decided to pack a ball in her luggage, little did she know that it would become the source of such a fun tradition in the village, and one that signifies our brand-new presence here.

One evening, we chatted with some of the regulars on the teams to get to know them better. When speaking with Yosamu, a 17-year-old young man from the village, I was surprised at one of the reasons he gave for why he likes to come play at our house. He told us that he and his friends like playing soccer here because they “want to show love to the visitors.” Even though soccer is his favorite sport, and he likes to keep practicing regularly, coming to our house to play is his way to show us that our presence is genuinely appreciated. He is playing a part in incorporating us into the broader community of Kinu by just showing up to play. A building of mutual understanding and appreciation is taking place: while we are always happy to see the large group of kids outside, the kids themselves are evidently just as happy to have six new friends, ready to play.

Interns practicing their football skills during orientation.
We have dedicated much of our first few weeks here to building relationships within the community, and we have done this in a variety of ways. Formally, we have met with VHTs and held introductory meetings in local places of worship. Less formally, but just as importantly, we have been playing soccer. Building relationships has been an important goal for our team, because at the end of the day, strong relationships form the foundation of successful public health projects. Public health depends on mutual understanding, learning, and growing together. While we work every day to build relationships around community health, nightly soccer games are one of the ways that the community extends its welcoming hand back to us.