Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reproductive Health News from Iganga

Interesting article from AllAfrica.com - Iganga District in the news.

Iganga Stores Full of Contraceptives

Comments from UVP staff or locals?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fundraising Month Begins in 1 Week

In just one week, Fundraising Month for Uganda Village Project will begin!
This is a time of year when we work our hardest to raise funds in order to be able to bring safe water to villages, give scholarships to orphans, improve nutrition and sanitation for rural families, and all the many important programs that will change lives in the Iganga District for the rest of the year.

Would you like to join us? It's easy! Anyone can help!
- Visit our brand new Fundraising and Media Center where you can download brochures, posters, and a manual full of fundraising ideas and tips
- Stay tuned- we'll be posting weekly updates to this blog on the progress made towards our goals, successful fundraising stories, ideas, and more
- If you'd like to stay updated on what other friends and UVP members are doing for Fundraising Month, check our Twitter feed, join our Facebook Cause, or be sure that you are on the mailing list for our newsletter.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Landslide in Eastern Uganda

Crossing The Mudslide, by rebecca_genevive on Flickr
contributed by Jeyandini Fernando

This past weekend in New York City, the rains were deemed torrential and caused much damage to the suburban communities around the metropolitan area. Flights were cancelled, school children kept safe at home, and rescue crews worked to clean up the damage. Two days later, the sun is shining and we are all back to the daily routines that were on hold from the weather. Earlier this month, heavy rains caused brutal landslides in the Bududa region of Uganda. Except, 2 weeks later, everything is not back to normal.

Around 200,000 people live in the most affected area surrounding Mount Elgon; about 300 are expected to be dead. The locals, now “rescue workers,” are struggling to recover bodies under five, and sometimes ten, meters (16-32 feet) of mud. Entire villages have been renamed cemeteries. An estimation of when the mud can be cleaned up is impossible since the downpours continue in the rainy season. As the victims fall deeper, any hope of a proper burial or last rites disappears.

I remember the rain when I first got to Uganda. The rattle on the tin roof kept me up all night in fear of the apocalypse. But, during the days, the strings of raindrops that fell at ridiculous speeds looked like waterfalls in our little village. Twenty minutes later, all the green landscapes were showered with drops of dew. The beauty was breathtaking. I can’t imagine the scene now in eastern Uganda.

The dramatic change from two years ago is unimaginable. Experts say that the lack of land on level ground has forced families to move onto and around the mountains. The deforestation of trees and shrubs for agriculture has left the land untethered and free to wash down the mountainside, and at high speeds can sweep away unsuspecting local community members in a heartbeat.

It is in these moments of reminiscing that I realize how large an impact one summer volunteering in Uganda had on my life. That connection lasts forever. Our hearts go out to the Ugandan people of the Bududa region, just 70 miles from Iganga where our office is located.

View Iganga and Bududa Region in a larger map

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Women’s Day in Uganda

Monday March 9th was International Women’s Day. Julius and I celebrated it by running a sanitation workshop in Nabitovu Village. Twenty-eight village leaders attended the workshop, mostly Village Health Team (VHT) members and political leaders.

Nabitovu’s Village Health Team is, fittingly enough, run by a woman called Mbasaliki Monica. Mbasaliki is our most active VHT Chair, and because of her the team is probably our most effective VHT team. Even before we planned our current Sanitation Campaigns, Mbasaliki had organized groups of VHT members and political leaders to go around the village checking households for latrines, and educating families about the importance of latrines and sanitation.

Also, almost half the members of the Nabitovu Village Heath Team are women, and I notice increasingly that, during VHT meetings, women speak up almost as much as men. This is rare in Uganda – go to most village meetings and you’ll quickly notice that the women (who sit on mats), barely voice a word of opinion, while the men (who sit on chairs), dominate every discussion.

Then again, the maternal mortality rate in Uganda is still around 550 out of 100,000 live births. For comparison’s sake, the rate is 11 and 8 out of  10,000 in the US and in Sweden, respectively.  This means that 1 in 25 Ugandan women will die of pregnancy-related causes, while only 4800 will do so in the United States.  Uganda has one of the highest rates of Obstetric Fistula in the world, a painful and physically isolating condition caused by prolonged, obstructed labor. In developed countries, obstetric fistula is unheard of – only in the poorest countries are maternal care standards low enough for such a horrific condition to become prevalent.

Gender roles are incredibly stringent in Uganda (and across Sub-Saharan Africa in general). Women are expected to work in the garden, fetch water, cook all meals, keep the compound clean, wash clothes for half a dozen people or more by hand, look after the kids and tend sick family members, and so on. They also have virtually no say in the allocation of family resources – men are perfectly free to spend the proceeds of their wife’s labor drinking, no matter how badly the household may be lacking food, soap, or school tuition money.

Women have arguably benefited under President Museveni. Now, a set number of women must be Members of Parliament. Every village has an elected women’s leader. Universal primary education, and recently universal education up to senior four (grade 10), has certainly boosted female school attendance.

However, many Ugandans believe that “universal education,” poorly funded as it is, has caused educations standards to sink dramatically, and has thus done more harm that good for the country.

One of the saddest facts of female life in Uganda is the prevalence of domestic abuse. Beating one’s wife is frowned upon in most Ugandan cultures, in the same way that being publicly drunk is frowned upon. That is to say, it is unfortunate, and a bit embarrassing, but nothing that can’t be easily overlooked if a man is respectable and hard working in the other areas of his life. I would guess – and I may be wrong here – that it is the very rare wife indeed who has never once suffered the back of her husbands hand, and many women suffer frequent and brutal beatings.

I was reminded of this fact on Women’s Day in Nabitovu, as I sat around with a few Village Health Team members waiting for the workshop to begin. They were handing around a few photographs, shaking the heads and clucking their tongues in deeply disapproving manner. I leaned over to ask what they were looking at. They showed me. In the photographs, all of them, lay a dead woman, tossed into a thicket of grass by the side of a road. The woman looked to have been about 28 or 30, but was so bruised, cut, and blood-stained that it was hard to tell.

She was a villager from Nabitovu, the team told me, beaten to death by her husband four months prior. “Was the man now in jail?” “Yes.” “The poor, poor woman.” “Yes.”

They continued to look over the photographs, shaking their heads and murmuring in Lusoga. I turned my head to avoid accidently glancing at the photographs again. After a few minutes the owner of the photographs gathered them up and put them away, and as the last one was placed out of sight one of the women clapped her hands together, in a typical Ugandan gesture of disgust. “Aah,” she proclaimed, perhaps to me, or perhaps to the group at large. “Domestic violence, you see? That is the life of a woman in Uganda.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kambuzi's Fish Pond in Walukuba Village

Samuel Kambuzi is our Walukuba Village Health Team chair, and one of the hardest-working men in Iganga.  A few weeks ago he invited the UVP staff to come see his 'fish pond.' We went, not knowing what to expct. 


The pond is incredible - perhaps 30 by 60 feet, and full of fish.  Another lies next to it, not quite finished.  Kambuzi, his brothers and a few village political leaders financed the fish pond jointly, and they plan to share the proceeds.  The initiative is incredibly because they had virtually no guidance, and yet there was the pond, and there were the fish, darting about and eating ground maize as Kambuzi threw it into the water. 

Fish ponds are not an area of UVP specialization, but we had brought along a man who works on village income genation projects for another NGO, JIDDECO.  This man looked over the pond and offered some general advice: water ought to drain from the bottom of thepond, not the top, strings ought to be strung across the pond in rows to prevent birds eating fish.  The man promised to arrange a series of training days, run by another JIDDECO staff person who specializes infish ponds..  JIDDECO would finance the first training, but Kambuzi and his partners would have to pay forthe rest.  Kambuzi agreed - such techincal expertise would surely be worth the cost, as it would raise their profits in the long run.  We feel sure that the venture will be a success, if only because of the incredible committment shown by this groups of village leaders.

District Celebrates "Sanitation Week" in Nabitovu Village

This week, we have a very exciting addition to our sanitation work in the Healthy Villages: the District Water Office is celebrating international “Sanitation Week” in our villages, focusing particularly in Nabitovu Village.  District officials will be helping us out in all of our five “Healthy Villages,” but a HUGE number of university students, studying health and sanitation development courses, are working in Nabitovu Village today (Wendesday), Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  These students will be working with the LC members and VHT members to do house-to-house outreach, going around and teaching families to construct sanitation measures.  UVP is, as normal, providing subsidized materials for the process, though the District might pitch in for additional materials in a day or so. 


Nabitovu Village is huge – it has about 360 households, and because of the way that houses and gardens are laid out, houses are spread apart instead of being clustered together in the middle of the village.  Thus, reaching out to every area of Nabitovu is quite difficult, and having this type of manpower at our disposal (about 50 enthusiastic and educated university students!), is going to allow us to make a greater impact in Nabitovu than we could have ever done on our own – at least, in a week’s time. 

Sanitation work will continue, as stated, until Saturday, and then take a rest on Sunday.  On Monday (World Water Day), the district is sponsoring a "Sanitation Celebration" in Nabitovu.  District officials and Sub-County officials will attend, and the village will put on entertainment in the form of music, dance, and drama.  UVP's second shallow well in Nabitovu will also be commissioned on this day.  UVP staff members will also take this time to address the entire village of Nabitovu (likely a few hundred villages will be gathered), announcing that this day is not the end of sanitation work in Nabitovu, but rather the beginning.  While the district will cease its work on Monday, UVP and the Nabitovu VHT and other leaders will continue to work across the village, helping families to improve on their sanitation standards, and thus improve health and standard of living.  


Yesterday, representatives from the University crew met with our Nabitovu VHT and the Nabitovu LC members.  They agreed to divide up into 6 groups, with accompanying villagers for each group, to move around the village helping families build sanitation measures.  The work starts this morning, and I will post another blog at the end of the week, to let everyone know how it goes!!

Sanitation Progress in UVP's "Healthy Villages"

We have now completed all Sanitation Workshops, in all villages.  Overall, the workshops were a wild success.  About 25 – 30 people attended each workshop, day long affairs that were intensive, interactive, and a LOT of fun.  Most attendees were Village Health Team members or LC (political council) leaders, though other leaders and important community members attended.


The two thirds of the workshops were mostly informational, and discussion based.  We did certain funny demonstrations too – for instance, having somebody drink supposedly clean water from a bottle, but having secretly dissolved a ton of salt in the water, to demonstrate the idea of invisible germs or other water contaminants. 


The last part of the workshop involved making a map of all open defecation sites around the village, and marking houses without latrines, and then coming up with a village action plan to increase latrine coverage and general sanitation.  The action plan part differed for each village, but usually involved groups of LC members and Village Health Team members working in particular “zones” of the village, reaching out to neighbors and teaching them about sanitation.  UVP is subsidizing the cost of a number of basic sanitation-measure materials, such as small jerry-cans (for hand-washing facilities), and nails (for trash pits and plate stands).


Now, we are in the process of running “Hands-On Days” in the villages, teaching the workshop attendees to build trash pits, plate stands and hand-washing facilities, and going over the standards of excellent bathing rooms and latrines. 


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rainy Season Has Begun In Uganda

Rainy season has officially begun in Iganga. 

This season is different from the last rainy season, which began around mid-September of last year and ended sometime in November.  That season began every morning with soft sun, built a slow warmth over the course of the day, and got hot by mid-afternoon.  Around 4 or 5 in the evening a sudden coolness would fall; clouds would roll in, fast and then much faster; a dramatic rush of wind would cause plastic bags and leaves to blow about as if Mary Poppins were about to land, and I kid you not, children would scream – I don’t know why they never got used to it, or at least tired of screaming, but every day as the wind blew in they would scream – and people would rush frantically for cover.  Then the rain would come.  It would fall across the landscape like a wave, pounding down on us in thick, plush drops.  Everywhere the walking paths became rivers of rust-red, or huge, orange puddles receiving the raindrops like drumbeats.  Under cover, the people of Iganga would wait for half an hour or an hour, the droplets so loud on tin roofs that conversation was barely possible.  And then slowly the rain would slow, the drops would grow smaller, the clouds would begin to thin and fade and drift away.  Not long after it began the rain would be gone, only a few wisps of innocent-white cloud lingering in a scrubbed-clean blue sky.

This season, as I said, is different.  In fact, one might almost say it is opposite.  Late in the evening or in the night, the rain rolls in.  We wake up to hear it drumming above our heads as we lay in the dark under treated mosquito nets, and it continues as we drift in and out of consciousness with the approaching dawn.  We wake fully to find it raining still, a thin barely-rain, silver droplets that are more like steely water vapor than actual raindrops.  The sky is gray in the morning, layer upon layer of heavy cloud hanging above us, and sometimes a wind blows – a lesser version of the rushing wind from last season.  The grayness and the thinly falling rain continue for most of the morning, the thin droplets working their way up imperceptibly to a real, heavy rain a bit after midday.  This early afternoon rain is steady, but not plush like the rain of October – it is like the Atlantic to the Pacific, perhaps – stormier, colder, more predictable and more serious. 

Around one thirty or two in the afternoon, the rain begins to die down.  It becomes the tiniest bit less, and then less, drizzling on but steadily reducing.  Once the drops finally cease the clouds remain, hanging overhead as if any moment they might decide to drench us once again.  And just when you begin to think that today, truly, it shall remain cloudy until nightfall, you look up to see slivers of pale blue peering through gray.  The blue grows larger as the gray grows smaller, and finally by around four or four-thirty the sky looks like a storybook once again, typical Uganda, sunlit and laughing.  At times the blue remains until darkness, and other days the clouds begin to steal back the sky as dusk approaches.  The nights are black now, without the Milky Way shining overhead, and cool – even cold by Ugandan standards.  If we fall asleep in silence, we do so knowing that we shall wake in a few hours to the steadily growing patter of raindrops, and in our dreams we shall hear the rhythm of the rain, steady, constant, a drumbeat that has been the breath of Uganda for thousands of years.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Uganda Village Project at the Physicians for Human Rights Conference

contributed by Kristina Wang, MSI

When I talk about Uganda Village Project, I often get asked who we are. I think it’s easy to see UVP as an organization with a clearly defined mission statement. But beyond that, we are really a group of people individually motivated and passionate about seeing positive change globally. We just all happen to be tied together through our involvement in UVP.

Personally, I’m a first year medical student at UC Irvine in California. I spend most of my waking hours in class or studying and I spend my sleeping hours dreaming of anatomical structures and biochemical pathways. But I'm realizing that one of the greatest things about medical school, besides learning the practice of medicine of course, is the opportunity to discover how health is so intricately tied to all aspects of life.

At UC Irvine, we just started a chapter of Physicians for Human Rights and I've been lucky enough to be involved in the leadership to help direct the growth of our chapter. PHR is an organization that "mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity and justice, and promotes the right to health for all." This past weekend, I took a quick trip out to Boston to attend the Physicians for Human Rights National Conference and was pleasantly surprised to run into three other UVP alumni - Sujal (2005), Katie (2004, 2005), and Kate (2008). Both Sujal and Katie were leading portions of the conference; Sujal was on a three-person panel with a doctor and a professor discussing how health and human rights are intertwined and Katie lead a breakout session teaching us how to integrate human rights into a formal part of our medical education. I really shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many familiar UVP faces at this conference because our work in Uganda is an approach to obtaining health and human rights. The heart that drives my desire to see human rights recognized is the same heart behind our work in UVP.

Every year, I am so impressed by the caliber of volunteers we have in Uganda. They are always beyond qualified, they are so passionate, and most importantly, they are able to turn their passion into real and effective work. I often forget that UVP is just a portion of what our volunteers do and that they come home from Uganda and continue to do inspiring work. They continue in their desire to see justice realized through human rights and medicine by becoming physicians, pharmacists, entering the public health sector, and placing themselves in strategic positions to educate others.

This is what UVP is made of and this is why I continue to be impressed and inspired by the work our small and young organization is able to do in Uganda.
Photo is of Kristina in Uganda, with a local Ugandan using WaterGuard chlorination to make water safe to drink