Thursday, March 26, 2020

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. 

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