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.