Friday, May 22, 2015

Graduation fairs: More than just a fun afternoon

Last week, Uganda Village Project’s graduation fairs brought community members together to celebrate the successes they've had over the three years we've worked with them. Beginning in the early morning, children camped out underneath the roof of the primary school and watched as we set up tents, connected speakers, and organized tables for the various health services that will be at the graduation fair. The men and women, dressed in their Sunday best, arrived in a steady stream as soon as the music started.

For two days last week, UVP staff worked with health center workers and small community organizations in two villages to test and counsel people
for HIV, test and treat community members for malaria, provide women with family planning services, immunize and deworm children, and perform drama shows highlighting how to prevent HIV. Loy wandered from tent to tent giving educational talks about preventing fistula. Maureen walked through the crowds to identify women who have attended family planning sessions in the past or who seemed interested in starting a new method. Titus and Patrick interrupted the music on occasion to greet the community and inform them of the services available. Orrin and Kait gave out vitamins to the kids, and Julius sold mosquito nets. The Village Health Teams (VHTs)
made sure everything ran smoothly and helped cook lunch for all of the workers and volunteers who attended. Kids ran to get their friends so they could all enjoy the sweet deworming pills (we mark their hands with an X after they get their first dose so they don’t keep coming back). To further engage the community, a children's brass brand walked from the center of the village to the fair, bringing another influx of people to participate in the health activities.

The graduation fairs have many purposes. They give us a chance to publicly recognize the hard work of the Village Health Team members who will continue to help improve their community. They provide health services that people in the village don’t have access to and inform them where they can go to get similar services next time they need them. The fairs allow us to congratulate the community members on the progress on public health they’ve made throughout the three years UVP has worked with them. It is a great feeling to celebrate Kazigo A for increasing the percentage of households in their village with latrines from 69% to 100%, or to tell Kidaago B that over three years 554 people were tested for HIV in their community, or to announce in Namunkesu that 290 people bought malaria nets. These villages are different than they were three years ago, and we’re grateful to the community for what they've done to help 
make those changes. The fairs also offer a chance to reflect on what has happened in a village over three years. The early-arriving children and the women in their shiny dresses are now a community that knows the importance of taking care of their health, and their participation in the graduation fair shows they’ve received the message.

By: Leslie Stroud-Romero