Monday, May 4, 2020

Meeting the Demand

by Edmund Okiboko, Managing Director
Alex Taking supplies to Muira and KamiraWe constantly talk about handwashing, and not because of the pandemic. We have always educated communities on handwashing, and after three years in a village, tippy tap coverage and usage typically hovers around 25% (this means that only 1 in 4 households has a handwashing station and uses it), which is a significant increase from when we start working with a village, but still low overall. The threat of coronavirus has changed the playing field.
As the government issued quarantine orders across the country, shutting down businesses, schools, and nearly all transportation, our communities were reaching out to us asking for materials to make the basic handwashing stations we have been demonstrating in the the last year. After making several phone calls to gather what materials we could, the shop owner delivered a bundle of small 3 liter jerry cans to the office. We filled reused plastic water bottles with liquid soap, packed what we could in boxes, and strapped all of this to the UVP motorcycle and headed to the village of Kamira.

WASH Janat from Kamira Washing HandsWe arranged to meet with the VHT to deliver the materials and provide guidance on how to distribute them. The VHT was confident community members would be excited to have access to the basics, and he was proved right when he called me the next morning saying that all the materials were spoken for and could we please bring more jerry cans.
It was less than a week later when we were able to secure more materials and deliver them to Kamira, and upon arrival, Janat, a community member and mother, walked up and stated that she already had the frame for her tippy tap and she had been waiting for the last several days for this delivery of jerry cans so she could finish her tippy tap. And she was only one of many people who expressed the same sentiment. They had been waiting for us! Since transportation had been drastically reduced, community members had no way of traveling to secure materials like jerry cans, so UVP was their only connection to the supply chain.
The grateful smiles conveyed so much more than gratitude; it was a sign of trust during an uncertain time.

You can help build trust through health access in vulnerable communities by making a donation on Tuesday, May 5th for #GivingTuesdayNow. Join the movement for resilience!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Start with the UVP Family

by Alicia Majeau, Executive Board Member and Intern Alum (2011 and 2012)

Though it’s often hard to believe that I first became involved with Uganda Village Project nearly a decade ago, the organization has been part of who I am for most of my adult life. At twenty years old, facing college graduation, I had no idea what my next step would be. I knew I loved microbiology, but wanted to be able to apply this knowledge to real-world solutions, which I felt was lacking in my training. It was my mom who first suggested that I explore public health as a way to do this and first introduced me to UVP’s summer internship program. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore public health work, and I was very drawn to UVP’s grassroots approach, so I was thrilled to be accepted into the 2011 internship cohort. My experience that summer was tough, but rewarding; learning to appreciate small victories in public health can be a challenge, and living in a house with five other very different people of many cultural backgrounds was definitely difficult at times. However, the internship ignited a passion for public health, and I came home applying to master's-level research programs public health. I loved my internship experience so much that I actually returned for a second time the following summer before starting grad school.

We always talk about the UVP family, and after my first summer, I truly felt to be a part of this. I have met some of the most wonderful people through the organization and maintain that the people are probably one of UVP's best assets. If i’m being totally honest, my second summer there was a little bit less rosy than my first. However, seeing the response to issues that arose made me value UVP even more. That's part of what drew me towards staying involved as a board member years later. As a young public health professional, it would have been easy to become discouraged by these issues, but I soon realized that all NGOs have struggles, yet UVP seemed rather uniquely willing to accept, learn, and grow from these experiences. There's definitely a culture of always trying to do and be better to improve the organization, and I truly believe that very few organizations can rival UVP’s impact per resource. We remain a small grassroots organization, but the UVP name is recognized and respected in the Iganga District as well as at many academic institutions both in the US and Uganda, which I think says a lot. 

While it may not ever be perfect, I love feeling connected to something that is working to make real-life improvements to public health and being connected to public health professionals from all locations and walks of life. After being a two time internship alum and a nearly five year board member, I finally made the leap last year to become a monthly donor, and I’m so glad that I did. I never even notice the donation leaving my bank account and while it might not make much of an impact on my finances, I know that it’s making a big impact on the ground in Iganga. I’d like to challenge anyone reading this to join me in supporting this organization that is so dear to my heart by becoming a monthly donor at only $10 a month. I’m so thankful to be a part of the UVP family and can’t wait to see what the coming years bring!

Alicia has served as a Member at Large on UVP's Executive Board for five years. I addition to providing governance to the organization as a whole, she supports our internship program and monitoring and evaluation activities on a regular basis. Join Alicia in becoming a monthly donor with a $10 contribution!

Putting Reflections Into Words

by Margaret Barnes, NYU Capstone Team, 2018-2019

Service, commitment, community. These are just three of the myriad values I witnessed while working with UVP staff in Iganga last January. My team and I began working with UVP in the fall of 2018 on a year-long project through our graduate program at NYU’s School of Public Service. Throughout the fall we spent countless hours learning about UVP’s mission, its goals, priorities, and challenges. Focusing on the HIV program and family planning education, our primary project goal was to identify areas of expansion and improvement within the communities their team works. After four months of research and preparation, our 3-person team joined Edmund Okiboko and his staff for 8 days of field work.

Meg (far right) and her NYU Capstone team in Iganga
in January 2019.
Nothing can prepare you for the visceral acknowledgment of bearing witness to extreme poverty. The scale of structural issues seemed overwhelming to me as we drove the five hours from the airport to Iganga. I looked out the window, trying to take everything in, but I couldn’t shake a growing feeling of despair. How could we possibly help lessen the magnitude of daily problems affecting the lives of community members in Iganga?  I would struggle with this thought, the idea that so much of what we did seemed wholly insufficient to the needs of these communities, for the remainder of our project.

Each day in the field, we drove to two or three villages, interviewed community leaders, members of village health teams, and community members, about their daily routines and health experiences. Most importantly, I believe, we asked them how they would improve the services they receive, and how services could reach a greater number of people. My team thought it crucial that our final program recommendations emphasize the needs and concerns that we heard from community members themselves.

We learned so much more from the conversations we had with UVP staff and community members than a research paper, or data could ever tell us. The months of research we went through before going to Iganga were eclipsed within 24 hours of our arrival at UVP’s office. More than anything, I observed what research can’t convey: hope, partnership, and a shared belief in uplifting others are powerful forces for change. And they are not in short supply at UVP.

After a week of observing UVP staff in action, I left with a different outlook than that with which I had arrived. Rather than despairing, I felt hopeful. I witnessed the impacts that small and large acts of service have in a community. I saw the effects of engaging with community members who had decided to join their village health teams, and whose actions, with the help of UVP, led to significant improvements in health outcomes of their communities. I understood that the magnitude and scale of structural problems still existed, but the work of UVP had led to tangible changes in the lives of countless families. It is a seemingly endless road to advancing better health outcomes for communities in rural Iganga. Through service, commitment, and community, UVP is enacting meaningful change within the communities it is partnered, and turning that endless road into nothing more than an illusion.

The NYU Capstone Team in 2018-2019 researched connections between HIV and reproductive health programming, identifying gaps in access and knowledge of specific populations. As a result, UVP began implementing HIV moonlighting events where we provide testing and counseling in the evening to reach men and women who work away from their homes during the day, a population that is not reached with our traditional HIV outreaches. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Series of Hardships Come to an End

by Loy Tumusiime, Program Coordinator

Her smile is comfortable and she looks beautiful in her flowered kitenge dress. Margret is happy to speak with me because she has good news to share: she’s healed.

Not long ago, Margret was not so positive and happy. Several years earlier, Margret’s husband passed away from AIDS. Knowing she was at risk, she went to test and learned that she was also positive. Because of the stigma surrounding HIV in her community, Margret lost her teaching job. She started working with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She sought treatment and received radiotherapy for eight months followed by a hysterectomy, but shortly after, Margret began to leak urine uncontrollably.  Margret lived in fear that someone at work would find the diapers she used to absorb the urine in her purse and shame her. Her coworkers began to complain of the smell, and as her condition worsened, it became more and more difficult to retain employment at TASO. She eventually left TASO and stayed with family members in the village, unable to provide for her family.

Loy, UVP's Fistula Coordinator, conducting intake
interviews at the recent camp in Kamuli.
One week at church, a woman confided in Margret that she had suffered the same ailment and was going to receive treatment at the upcoming camp in Kamuli. The woman put Margret in contact with Loy, UVP’s Reproductive Health Program Coordinator, and scheduled a meeting. After learning more about the treatment, Margret agreed to go to the camp. “When I reached the camp, I felt so hopeful, and when the surgeons confirmed that they will work on, I knew my lifespan had increased,” Margret recalls. And knowing that she would not have much help to provide for her family upon her return, Margret signed up to join the reintegration program to learn tailoring skills. The tailoring instructor tells us all the time that Margret is a very active and excited learner!

Margret has encountered several challenges in her life, yet remains positive and is grateful for the support she received from organizations like UVP along the way.

Margret’s story is being shared with her consent. You can provide life-changing treatment to women like Margret by supporting UVP’s fistula program. You can change a life today.

Facing a Difficult Truth

by Josephine Asio, Program Coordinator

The trading center is typically a bustling area with vendors selling dry goods like maize flour and dried beans to cold drinks and fresh foods like fish, beef, and vegetables. When I meet with Mary, the trading center is quiet; everyone is at the HIV outreach.

An HIV outreach in the village.
Mary is a VHT in Ituba B and has been working with UVP since the partnership in Ituba began in 2018. As a relative newlywed (she and her husband have been married for less than two years), she does not have any children. Mary’s husband works in Entebbe, a few hours from the village, so he is only home every couple of weeks. Due to her home life, Mary has ample time to spend educating community members on the various health programs supported by Ituba’s partnership with UVP. When UVP hosted the first HIV outreach, Mary was at the front lines encouraging people to come for testing and stay for education. She also took the opportunity to get herself tested, and in a rare moment, her husband was in the village and also decided to get tested.

She remembers the day vividly; she was wearing her best gomesi and bustling around the event directing people and ensuring the health care workers were tended to when her number was called to go for counseling to receive her results. She sat with the counselor from St. Mary’s under the nearby mango tree for some privacy and learned that she was HIV positive. At first she was devastated and fearful; what would her husband say? Would he think she was not faithful? Would he leave her?

With guidance from the counselor, Mary broke the news to her husband, who tested negative. The counselor told the couple that it was possible to remain in a happy marriage with one HIV positive partner, and began to discuss methods of prevention. “I was so happy he decided not to break the marriage,” Mary said, a smile spreading across her face as she remembered that moment under the mango tree.

Without the UVP outreach, Mary may have gone many more years not knowing her status and possibly infecting her husband, Because of this service, Mary and her husband can actively prevent the spread of HIV and share their story with their community to encourage them to test and work to combat stigma and misinformation.

Mary’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. You can support HIV testing for women like Mary by making a contribution today!