Thursday, July 18, 2013

Update from the field: Buwurempe

Amakaga Omwezi Mulala

“It takes a village…to raise a child,” is how the saying goes, because the village is one big family. And this family—the people of Buwerempe—has opened its arms wide to us.

We are Uganda Village Project’s launch team to Buwerempe Village—Marva, Ian, Martha, Sneha, and team leaders Jasmine and Keneth. 

From the first afternoon that we arrived here in Buwerempe, each day has been full of new experiences, lessons learned, and perspectives changed. Much of our time this first week has been spent settling into our homes, meeting community members, and getting acquainted with our village.

Settling into village life has definitely been an adjustment process, but it has been full of pleasant surprises as well. As expected, becoming accustomed to pit latrines and bucket showers is challenging, as is sharing our living space with a multitude of animal species, from chickens and goats to rats and bats and every conceivable kind of buzzing insect. One day, we spent nearly three hours between two water-fetching trips because the lines at the borehole were so long. Despite the challenges, by the end of one week in the village, we feel like we’ve been here for much longer. Our neighbor John has become a fast friend—he has been unbelievably generous. On the first day, John brought over several chairs and benches for our house. Later in the week, he took us on a tour of his extensive gardens, and we returned with more maize, oranges, guavas, and mangoes than we could carry. These fruits and vegetables are some of the many things we enjoy for meals, accompanied with rice and potatoes without fail. One woman, whose house we pass by everyday, brought us a plate full of beans. As John explained, these actions show togetherness and are gestures of acceptance into the community.

A good portion of our week was spent in meetings. On our first full day, we had a meeting with Buwerempe’s Village Health Team. This team, comprised of five elected community members, is our main point of contact with the village, as the team supports health services and represents the populations of the village. Our VHT members are very kind and welcoming; at their meeting we discussed UVP’s goals in Buwerempe, their expectations of our group, and our expectations for working together in order to set a tone of open communication. We also had a meeting with some of the teachers at Buwerempe Primary School. We introduced ourselves and also the Handwashing Project that we hope to carry out over the next several weeks, made possible by a grant from the Baltimore Rotary Club. The goals of this project are to encourage handwashing in schools before eating, after using the latrine, and after playtime by building tippy taps around the school. By teaching the importance of handwashing and by demonstrating the construction and use of tippy taps, we hope that students will take these ideas to their homes and spread good hygiene practices to their families.

The highlight of our work week was the Community Meeting held on Thursday. Throughout the week, we had met several community members in passing, at the borehole, through the VHTs, and even at the burial we attended, although those circumstances were very unfortunate. This meeting was our first official introduction to the people of Buwerempe.

The meeting was a bit more sparsely attended than we had hoped, but it was still a very successful introduction of UVP to the community. We explained the goals and focus areas of UVP and asked several questions to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the village in terms of health. From the responses we received, the important health issues in the village are access to clean water, malaria, family planning, and HIV testing. We were excited that many members had questions for us regarding specifics about UVP’s core projects, including questions from a few young men about male involvement in family planning. Because family planning is regarded by many men as a women’s issue, this interest from young men was very encouraging.

Our week of learning, meeting, and exploring was concluded on Saturday by a special treat. Many village women and children gathered to do traditional dancing, accompanied by singing and drums. Though our hips don’t move nearly as well as these women’s hips do, we had a spectacular time and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

We are all looking forward to getting started on projects over the next week, beginning with the task of collecting baseline data on every household in Buwerempe. 

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