Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Profound, Little Conversations

by Yesigomwe Kennedy 

Interns Jessi and Kennedy act out a skit at a family planning
outreach in Muira. Here they are demonstrating just one way
having many children can strain a family.
Sometimes, the most profound moments of a baseline survey are not the ones scripted and choreographed by the data collection tool, but the ones that happen in the little conversations. One day, as I set off with Langa to conduct baseline surveys, we met Hassan, a young man of 28 years from Muira village with seven children between 1 - 8 years. He said, “I don’t want my wife to use family planning because I still want more children.”

Like Hassan, many people mistake family planning to mean that a family simply stops having children. On the contrary, with family planning you can have the number of children you want and gives you the ability to provide for your family based on your specific available resources, ensuring that your child grows healthy, with all the necessities like food, good education, love, and medical care, just to mention a few. Child spacing also considers the health of the mother by spacing births far enough apart to allow a woman to heal properly.

Based on his comment, I recognized an opportunity for one-on-one education. I took Hassan to the side and had a little talk with him about family planning, briefly discussing its advantages and how child spacing supported the health of the mother and the family as a whole. By the end of our talk, he was very interested in learning more about family planning and intended to attend our sensitization the following week.

On another baseline survey day, Langa and I found a group of ladies belonging to a savings group
Team Muira from left to right: Kennedy, Alex, VHT, Jessi,
Langa, Keiko, and Emily
and sparked a discussion about family size with them. It was so amazing to see these ladies energetically discussing the advantages of family planning and sharing scenarios about smaller families compared to bigger families. They were grateful to us for starting this conversation and looked forward to attending the upcoming education sessions.

These little discussions with our neighbors in the village provide a platform for us to create deeper relationships and allow us to better convey how we care about their health. UVP’s approach is more about building relationships and health knowledge which creates a more profound impact and we are happy to be a part of it.

To learn more about team Muira and other interns in UVP's 2017 cohort, check out their bios or learn more about their work by liking us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stories Reveal the Truth About Health in Bulondo

by Sabrina Warwar and Nancy Fitzgerald

Bulondo team members walking in the village
to collect baseline surveys. From front to back:
Sabrina, Jeanne, Osborne, and VHT Alex

 Team Bulondo is comprised of two Ugandans, one Australian, one Swiss and two Americans living and breathing together in the same house. Like the other UVP teams we have been conducting baseline surveys over the past couple of weeks, and these surveys have become the forefront of learning about the Ugandan way of life. Being able to have a hybrid of culture and personalities has been crucial to our success here in Bulondo, and this has been reflected in our incredible community response during surveys. Surveys have become the windows into people’s lives, allowing us an opportunity to bond, laugh and understand the intricacies of Bulondo’s everyday issues.

Greeting everyone we see has become a way of life, and continually expanding our word bank of Lusoga has proven to be the international interns’ most valuable tool.  As told to us by a Ugandan himself, learning Lusoga and attempting to adapt to the way of life here is a small but powerful way of showing respect.

Sitting down with families, mothers, wives, husbands, and fathers to discuss some of the most pressing issues has opened up more conversations both within and outside of households. The surveys raise questions about HIV, malaria, family planning, obstetric fistula and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). We have also taken the time to ask about other issues people are facing which prevents them from being able to live the best life possible. The realities faced by so many in the Bulondo community has made us incredibly aware of the cycle that allows so many issues to persist. Misconceptions about family planning causes fear and families end up having more children than they can provide for. This financial burden makes it difficult to afford food, and much less an education to broaden the available opportunities. Poverty and lack of education has lead inadequate nutrition making people more susceptible to disease. The lack of job opportunity and job security means people constantly fear becoming sick as they will need to stop working in order to afford healthcare or to stay home. Lack of job opportunities exist even among the educated here in Bulondo, teachers are delayed payment and paid very little  giving little incentive for future generations to pursue an education over quick money making jobs. These are some of the issues that we have identified through our baseline surveys and discussions with community members from all over Bulondo.

It takes time to create a rapport with the community. Nancy
and Sabrina with two Bulondo VHTs listen to stories from
community members while collecting baseline surveys
 Many people in Bulondo are unaware of the safe water chain: keeping water safe from the source to the mouth. Some don’t know that water from the borehole is not safe to drink without treatment. When we interviewed one particular woman, we asked how she prevented her water from becoming contaminated. She said she had no idea! After the survey, she eagerly asked what she can do to keep her water safe. We had the opportunity to explain that boiling water kills the bacteria that can make her and her family sick. She was grateful to have this information, and we were excited to be working a with a woman who was looking forward to improving her health. Through her initiative and our knowledge, she was empowered to keep her family safe. It was amazing to provide practical knowledge to make an impact on this woman’s life by addressing common misconceptions about different issues.

Here in Bulondo we believe in the power of listening and having a notebook and pen to document and learn from the stories of each person we meet. It is in these stories that answers can be found for a healthier future. That future may not come today or tomorrow, but the first step toward equal opportunity and good health begins with each person’s story, just as we have written ours here in Bulondo. 

To learn more about team Bulondo and other interns in UVP's 2017 cohort, check out their bios or learn more about their work by liking us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Benefits of Discomfort

By AnQuavis Simpson

Irenzi Team from left to right: Christine, Cally, Emily,
Emmanuel, Simpson, and Christie (not pictured: Brenda).
As my plane landed at Entebbe International Airport, I felt a sudden rush of conflicting emotions: excitement for the upcoming journey yet already missing the familiar faces and places that I left behind. I felt confident to pursue this summer’s public health work but also felt fearful for the the potential obstacles and cultural barriers that I may encounter. Balancing these emotions, I remained calm and recalled my mother’s wise words, “At times comfort can be a hindrance rather than a blessing.” Applying my mother’s knowledge, I realized that in the absence of comfort there is more space for growth. One week into my internship with Uganda Village Project, there had already been moments where comfort was scarce. Driving to Irenzi in a crowded matatu, squished between two people I barely knew, and arriving to a new home which lacked running water, phone service, and reliable electricity—my feelings were far from comfortable. However, bonding with my teammates about previous traveling experiences, our educational backgrounds, and enjoying the scenery around us, I felt prepared to embrace the journey that lay ahead.

View of the compound of the interns' house
in the village.
 Day one in the village consisted of meeting the lead Village Health Team (VHT) member, Paul, and a walking tour of Irenzi. VHTs are government-appointed individuals assigned to specific villages in attempt to improve the health and well-being of their village. The VHTs are equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the village’s culture, events, and chair persons, so luckily for UVP interns, we work very closely with the VHTs. On the village tour, interns were introduced to members of the Lead Counsel and the teachers of two primary schools. As we sauntered through the village, we attracted the attention of a large crowd of children. At first, they gazed curiously and the braver children shouted “Jambo!” or waved cautiously from afar. We greeted them warmly and offered our hands for high-fives and fist-bumps and soon all of the kids were eager to interact. I became increasingly inspired as the villagers’ enthusiastic and generous welcomes reaffirmed my decision to spend the summer with UVP.  It also solidified my desire to work with the people of Irenzi and to improve their health and sanitation. My interests in human connection and relationships, as well as my desire to work on a diverse team to achieve a common greater good will carry me through the coming weeks.

The interns's house in Irenzi village does not have running water
or electricity in order to give interns a better understanding
of the context of the village.
To learn more about team Irenzi and other interns in UVP's 2017 cohort, check out their bios or learn more about their work by liking us on Facebook.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Neither Rain or Hail Stops Surveys in Muira Village

From left to right: Keiko, Jessi, Langa, Emily,
and Alex (not pictured: Kennedy)
On Monday of this week, team Muira woke up extremely excited to begin our second week in the village. We woke up to an amazing breakfast of eggs and bread with Nutella - the Nutella being our prized possession. From there, our team leaders, Emily and Kennedy, headed out on a boda for their weekly meeting in Iganga. Meanwhile, the rest of our team went over the baseline survey in preparation to begin surveying households in the village. The survey asks each household about their general knowledge and attitudes about each of UVP’s program areas: HIV, malaria, reproductive health, and WASH. The responses help us assess the greatest health needs in the community and helps UVP evaluate the effectiveness of the health programs. Around midday, we met up with our VHT, Moses, and headed off. 

It was a beautiful day in the village; the sun was shining, there were very few clouds in the sky, and there was a nice breeze. Jessi asked the first household the survey questions and Keiko the second. As we approached the third household for Langa’s first time giving the survey, a front of cold wind and dark clouds rolled in. After introductions, we quickly moved inside due to the impending storm. Just as Langa and Alex began giving the survey, the rain began hitting the metal roof so hard that no one could hear anything that was being said. As we sat in the pitch-dark room with the doors and windows shut, small balls of ice began flying in through the cracks in the door. We all began laughing as we realized that it was hailing outside. We sat in the home waiting for the storm to pass until finally Alex and Langa were able to finish the rest of the survey and we could continue with the remaining houses for the day.

Now, as we approach the end of our first week conducting baseline surveys, we have all gained new insight about how to best give the survey as well as insight about the lives of people in the village. As all our team members have different backgrounds and experiences, we are each able to contribute something unique to the team, allowing us to gather a wealth of information to the best of our abilities. Now that we have familiarized ourselves with giving baseline surveys as well as adjusted to the slow pace of “Village Time”, our team looks forward to continue conducting baseline surveys as well as begin our sensitizations in the coming weeks.

The intern team in Muira will be collecting baseline surveys to measure the beginning health knowledge and practice of the community. To learn more about Keiko, Kennedy, Emily, Langa, Alex, and Jessi, check out their bios.

The Muira team walking through the
village to collect baseline surveys.

Monday, July 3, 2017

First Impressions by Jasmine Zhang

From left to right: Jasmine, Maria, Doreen, Josev,
Kai, and Catherine
At Nekoli Guest House, where all the interns stayed for orientation, I repeatedly reminded myself that we were lucky to have a shower curtain—no matter how many huge holes it had. I told myself the toilet was nice—no matter that it didn't flush sometimes. Phone service was even a blessing, because, in four days, these simple things would be unavailable.

My first glance at the Kamira house and compound was promising: colorfully-tiled walls, a spacious yard, and a welcoming party of children. But when we entered, it honestly felt dark and hollow. I had never seen so many insects in one place, except for the bug museum I went to on my 3rd grade field trip. And the latrine? If I fell in, I wouldn't even have phone reception to call for help. I think most of us seriously considered (or are still considering) purchasing chamber pots.

However, a week later, after decorating and making the house our own, interacting with the curious children, and seeing, actually, how fortunate we are compared to some homes, I've readjusted my expectations and have come to terms with most things. Over the weekend in the bustling city of Jinja, the atmosphere was dissimilar, foreign, too fast. With electricity, I found myself whisked up in technology and my phone more than with real human beings. I genuinely missed the kids staring at us and giggling on our porch. I had urges to greet the Jinja store owners with "mosiibye motya" instead of "how is your day". After six mosquito bites on one arm, I even missed my scratchy mosquito net. Thus, I came back Sunday and, truthfully, didn't feel any regret or disappointment. Only content, and that it would be the start of a new week soon; we had people to meet, conversations to make, work to do. 

Jasmine Zhang is a sophomore at New York University studying global public health. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans to pursue medicine. She recently spent her freshman year in Florence, Italy. For more information on the Kamira team members and other UVP interns, check out their bios.
Team Kamira with UVP intern coordinators Keneth
and Tom in the village.