Saturday, October 31, 2020

Hope Renewed with a Repaired Well

by Shafic Mutegule, Program Coordinator

It was obvious the well had not been in operation for quite some time. But where were the people getting their water if the main water source in Kalungami B wasn’t working? Was this the UVP constructed well from long ago?

As though he heard my thoughts, I hear a voice behind me say, “Are you among the UVP team that constructed this well with our community?” I turned around to find Menya Patrick, one of the village elders in Kalungami B who cared for the well and part of the team who helped to construct it in 2015. I replied, “Yes.” He explained to me how the well was in need of repairs and that the community had liaised with different technicians to fix it, but the cost of repairs was a serious barrier. Patrick began telling me of the history of the well and how it served so many people in his densely populated village. With such high usage, of course the well had broken during the last five years, but the community was always able to collect funds to repair it. This time was different; the cost was nearly 1 million shillings, more than the annual income of three families combined. When the technician assessed the well and noted the cost, he knew the community would not be able to repair it on their own, so he reached out to UVP. 

As I stood there speaking with Patrick, I saw several women and children pass by with empty jerry cans on their heads or tied to the back of bicycles. “Where are they getting their water since the well isn’t functioning?” I asked. He said, “There’s a well in the neighboring village, about an hour-long walk from here. But since there are many people that use it, the wait can be very long to fill your jerry cans. Some people just go to the exposed pond a few minutes from here to fetch water.” He looked at me with knowing eyes: open water sources like that pond were filled with bacteria that caused serious illnesses. But what other option did the community have? There was no question, he and I knew we needed to get this well repaired quickly.

In just a matter of days, we had the District Water Office technician in Kalungami working to repair the well. When people passed by, they excitedly asked when the well would be functioning again and chat among themselves in hushed and hopeful tones about the work in progress.

Finally, the day came when water flowed in the well again. The cheers were so loud! Patrick stood by, smiling at the small group witnessing the well return to life and I could tell that this meant so much to him. He walked up to me later and said, “Thank you for repairing our well. We now have safe water!” He laughed and returned to the jovial celebration at the renewed water source.

In partnership with the International Foundation, UVP has repaired five wells in rural villages in 2020 with plans to construct two new wells over the next few months. Partners like you and the International Foundation make a huge difference in communities like Kalungami B - THANK YOU!

Intern Inspiration Lives On

by Shafic Mutegule, Program Coordinator

Seated under the nearby mango tree, I see the children touching the UVP motorcycle, in awe of the shiny blue metal vehicle. Next to me is Robert, father to the children ogling the motorcycle, looking at his children in amusement. I see a pile of bricks and some partially built walls in his compound and ask Robert, “what’s going on there?” as I point to the construction zone. “That,” he says, “is the beginning of our own pit latrine,” proudly smiling.

Robert didn’t think that sharing a latrine with his neighbors was a big deal until he met the 2019 interns who stayed in his village of Bulugodha. While it was great that the family was using a pit latrine, they said, did they really use it all the time? What happened if they went to use it but it was occupied? Did the children wait or just go to the field? These questions made Robert question how his family used the communal latrine.

Over the course of the interns’ stay and then in months after that, Robert and his wife learned more and more about the benefits of using a latrine and the safe water chain from UVP activities. As their knowledge grew, so did their desire to construct their own pit latrine.

Now, more than a year since the interns departed from Bulugodha, Robert and his wife are beginning construction on their own pit latrine. Robert acknowledges that it is a big investment for his family, which is why it took him more than a year to start the project, but he recognizes his family’s health as a priority. As we finish our conversation together, Robert says, “I feel so happy to be visited by the UVP team today – thanks for the good work!”

Visit our website to learn more about UVP's many WASH activities! 

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Mystery that Affects and Infects

by Josephine Asio, Program Coordinator

One of the five grandchildren she cares for sits in Zulaika’s lap in the grass next to the mosque. Zulaika wants to explain to me why she never misses an HIV outreach hosted by UVP in Bulughoda. “HIV either affects or infects every single family in Uganda”, Zulaika states matter-of-factly, the confidence only experience could give.

Zuliaka has unfortunately had to bury two of her five children. To add to the angst of losing a child, the cause of their deaths was a mystery for a long time. Because of their deaths, Zulaika has taken their children, her grandchildren into her custody. Shortly after her grandson came to live with her, he became very ill, so Zulaika immediately took him to the health center. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but something caused skepticism in the health workers, so they also tested him for a variety of other things. The result showed that he was HIV positive.

With this information, Zulaika reasons that both her sons perished from the same ailment because their symptoms were very similar. Zulaika reflects, “If it was not for the child falling very sick and admitted, I would not have known what killed my children and how to take care of my grandchildren.”

She takes her grandchildren’s health very seriously, which is why she comes to all the HIV outreaches. The UVP outreaches offer her an opportunity to consult with the counselors about how to care for her HIV positive grandchildren without having to travel far from home. She also talks with neighbors to act as an ambassador to fight stigma again people living with HIV.

Learn more about UVP's HIV program or make a contribution to support health education and services in rural communities! 

Fear Keeps You from Getting Your Results

by Shafic Mutegule, Program Coordinator

Patrick knew that HIV was prevalent in his community of Namunkanaga 2, but he still didn’t take a test. As a young man of 20 years, Patrick feared several things about testing for HIV: the prick of the test, receiving his results, and that his friends might see his results. There was another big barrier to his participation – there were no young people providing the services, no one that looked like Patrick. “I couldn’t walk to the health center and didn’t have any person my age to interact with freely and without fear,” Patrick said.

HIV activities look a bit different during the pandemic: to reduce the size of the event and encourage social distancing, outreaches are held at a homestead rather than a public gathering place and VHTs mobilize only the homes in the immediate vicinity. The outreach in Namunkanaga 2 was held at Patrick’s family’s home, which is how he was able to attend.

After receiving his results, I demonstrate proper use and disposal of condoms to Patrick and a small group of adolescents and then distribute boxes of condoms to everyone. Many barriers exist, so having services tailored to specific groups of people is important when encouraging behavior change. It requires a unique and tailored approach, but provides great results.

Through our partnership with Positive Action for Children, UVP has focused the last two years on increasing adolescent participation in HIV testing and education. At this particular outreach, UVP staff have created a specific corner of the event tailored to young people. A young counselor is present and the VHTs are not allowed to be in the area. Patrick concludes, “I feel so happy to have tested today!”

Learn more about UVP's HIV program or make a contribution to support health education and services for adolescents! 

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!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Periods: Ending a Sentence, Not an Education

by Audrey Foxx & Erika Hernandez: Idinda Village

With downcast eyes and a voice no louder than a whisper, Sharifa, began detailing how the convergence of poverty and menstruation served as a barrier for keeping girls in school within her community. A fourteen-year-old student at Idinda Primary School in Eastern Uganda, her tangible discomfort personified the experience of young girls globally when discussing menstruation- with observable hints of fear, shame, anxiety, and taboo. With gradual coaxing from the notably progressive and supportive Headmaster, Robert Nabe, Sharifa explained how poverty holistically amplifies struggle for rural Ugandans, and menstruation was no different. “I am lucky that my mother can afford sanitary napkins, but that is not common here. Many of my friend’s fear coming to school, or just don’t bother because they don’t have the proper materials”. This stark reality is the case for many young girls within Idinda, where tampons and other menstrual products are nonexistent. In a village where the weekly household expenditure averages 10,000 shillings (about $3 USD) the price for a pack of 7 pads (3,000 shillings) is a financial luxury families just can’t afford.

Globally, educational attainment serves as one of the most powerful drivers for economic achievement, and positive health outcomes across the life course- especially for young girls. Educated women are less likely to enter into child marriages or experience domestic abuse, and have a higher likelihood of having fewer and healthier children; these children are then in turn, able to receive an education and avoid a life of poverty, inequity, and disenfranchisement. While gender roles, civil unrest, and conflict are often recognized as barriers for keeping girls from school- menstruation is commonly overlooked and under addressed. Misconceptions and taboos that perpetuate myths of impurity in many countries around the world teach girls to feel shame about their bodies, and give others the space ostracize women and perpetuate these narratives.

For young women in Uganda, sanitary napkins aren’t financially feasible explained Headmaster Robert. “Most young girls here resort to using cloth, which is both unhygienic and an unfit substitute for sanitary napkins” His authenticity palpable, he went on to explain that with school hours stretching from 7am-5pm, school is truly a second home for these girls. Headmaster Robert has even gone as far as purchasing sanitary napkins and spare uniforms for the girls at school, but it’s a small drop in the bucket in terms of sustainable solutions. “Schools need to be doing more, but we are not financially equipped to tackle this problem alone- we need support”. When asked what he believed would be a long-term solution, he alluded to funding for necessary facilities like a washroom or a changing room. He continued by emphasizing the importance of normalizing menstruation and empowering young girls. “This is so often seen as a silent problem where girls suffer alone, we as a community need to be talking about this, and doing more”.

You can make a difference by contributing to UVP to support reproductive health education to fight menstruation stigma. Join the movement! Sharifa's story has been shared with her permission.