For the past two and a half years, I have had the privilege to work with UVP in Iganga. I came to UVP in January 2013 on a one-way ticket not really knowing what I was getting myself into. Would I like living in small town Iganga? Would be contributions be significant as a young, white female that had never been to Uganda? Would I ever learn my way around the twisting roads with no street signs?
The learning curve was steep, but I persevered, truly believing in our mission and approach to community-based work. I have witnessed the challenges -- power outages, washed out roads, resistant community members, and bureaucracy -- and the successes of grassroots public health work and I would like to share three key things that I believe make UVP successful in our mission.
First, UVP partners with villages for a three-year program (read more in the article below!) implementing a wide range of health programs including malaria, HIV, reproductive health, fistula, hygiene and sanitation, and clean water. As we all know, change does not happen overnight and health behavior change is especially hard to see in a short time. UVP staff is committed to working with the community members over these three years to show how better health can improve their family's and community's lives, and supporting them to work with the government for sustainability purposes.
Second, UVP has a staff of four dedicated Ugandan program managers who run the show. They understand the culture, speak the local language, and care deeply for the people of Iganga. Each staff member works tirelessly to ensure the communities are well served.
Third, we focus on partnerships and work very closely with the government structures: health facilities and district offices. This is challenging, but essential to build capacity within the government system to ensure communities can seek out and receive the services they want when UVP finishes work in a village.
We've made a lot of progress in the past two and a half years. Just one example is the expansion of our fistula program. When I came to UVP, the Fistula Ambassador program was only an idea. Our staff had a great idea for increasing our reach, identifying more patients, and providing more support to patients pre- and post-surgery by training some of the fistula survivors who we'd brought for surgery to become Ambassadors in their communities. We applied for grants and in late 2013, we found out that we received UVP's first-ever large grant from the Fistula Foundation -- a huge accomplishment that meant we could implement the Fistula Ambassadors program as well as our usual fistula programming in 2014. Since then, the Ambassadors have gone above and beyond our expectations. They have reached thousands of people with messages about fistula prevention and treatment, formed partnerships with health centers, and identified almost 100 women with fistula who will soon be able to receive surgery.
Through my time with UVP, I've struggled through the challenges of community-based NGO work. I've collaborated with other staff members to find creative solutions to these challenges, and we have celebrated successes big and small. The Fistula Ambassadors work is just one example of how our long-term commitment, our amazing staff, and our focus on partnerships has helped us accomplish great things. I look forward to following the continued growth and success of UVP in the years to come.