We’re on to our 4th week here in the Oyam District. I finally feel that I have adjusted to living here and all the customs (such as “Africa Time”). So far this week I have worked on building the pit latrine for Leah’s family. Leah is a beautiful baby girl who was born blind. The latrine that her family has been using is not suitable for her and her sister (who is also handicapped). While building the latrine, the men don’t let us do too much of the important work because they fear we’re not strong enough/ we might mess it up. But, we still are very proactive. We have collected rocks, bricks, and sand for all three latrine sites. We also got to use a sledge hammer and smash the rocks into bits for the cement mix. The strenuous labor really helps get out your frustration. It’s been a challenging, but also enriching experience working on the latrines. I never was much of a “handy-man” at home so it is a new experience learning to use these tools and be able see something that I made with my hands turn into an actual project! It’s exciting! I also feel that I have grown closer to my fellow project interns and the GHNU staff. During down time, the GHNU staff talk to us about their upbringing and life in Uganda. It’s very interesting to hear them so casually open up about their hardships (especially about the impact Kony had on their community). I have also had interesting discussions with the project interns. Before every meeting, Joyce assigns us a partner in the group to talk to for at least thirty minutes and return with at least one interesting fact about their life. It has actually been really helpful with getting to know the rest of the team (even if it is awkward for the first 5 minutes). I’ve learned so much about the interns, their lives, and what influenced them to come on the trip. We also got to meet some other non-profit workers who work with musical therapy. It was fun to talk to people outside our group and hear about their project and why they decided to come to Uganda. This trip has been so amazing and as our departure date gets closer I realize more and more that I don’t want to leave. I’ve connected with a lot of people here, especially the little kids, and saying good bye is going to be very difficult.
This past Saturday we went hiking at Sipi Falls and the excursion was unlike any other. Our tour guide first handed out hiking sticks and we all failed to see the importance in them. We had no idea what we were up against and figured they would just get in the way. We have never been so wrong. Within the first 10 minutes of the hike, we soon realized that the sticks would be used for far more than just a prop. I know I’m not alone when I say that this was one of the most physically challenging hike I have ever been on. We had to walk down steep and strenuous trails to get to the bottom of the waterfall. Here we are thinking we have reached our final destination, only to learn that this is just the beginning. We had to turn around and climb back to the very top of the mountain, which wasn’t that easy. It’s hard to explain in words the difficulty of this hike. It’s one of those things you just have to experience for yourself. At one point we had to climb up a ladder that was over three stories high. It was nothing but a simple wooden ladder leaning up against the mountain. This was an unexpected obstacle where many people were forced to conquer their personal fear of heights. Luckily for me this was not a problem, I loved climbing high into the mountain and being able to turn around and see how far I had climbed. We had to walk over a rickety bridge where only three people could be on at a time for fear that too much weight would bring it down. It goes without saying that this was no ordinary hike. However, the physical challenges of the hike were exactly what we were all craving after traveling such long distances in a little van. The challenges we faced with the hike were absolutely worth it. Words cannot even capture the beauty of the scenery [nor can pictures]. My favorite part of the entire visit was the rewarding feeling of standing at the base of the waterfall getting soaked from the spraying water. It’s one of those cliché moments that you can’t truly explain where everything in life, at that moment, just seems right. There is no better feeling than the feeling of letting all of your worries and thoughts go and just enjoying the waterfall crashing down all around you. And just as if the beautiful vegetation and breathtaking waterfalls weren’t enough, there was an unbelievable rainbow going across the entire falls to top it all off. Needless to say, our visit to Sipi Falls was by far one of the most amazing memories I have from this amazing experience.
Today, we went back to work after having Monday off due to the fact that it was a Ugandan holiday. The team broke into three different groups: Pit latrines, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Financial literacy. I for example was in the pit latrines group. This means that I am responsible for helping to build a pit latrine, a garbage pit, a drying rack, and a hand washing station. Each family that we are building a pit latrine for has been carefully selected. Each family chosen has a member with a disability. The first family selected has a baby that was born blind and out of 26 children born at the same time with the same condition, she was the only one to survive the surgery. The family has two other children whom they have adopted that also have disabilities. I could not be happier to be a part of making this remarkable family’s life a little bit easier. The muddy conditions in which they currently live prove to be too hazardous for the children so they are forced to move to a new lot. Although digging in the sun all day is hard work, it feels so rewarding to know that I am making even the smallest bit of a difference in these families lives. Without our fundraising and our collaboration with GHNU these vulnerable families may not have had the ability to start a new and easier chapter of their life. As our work on the pit latrines has just started, I am excited to continue with work throughout this up coming week and to finally be able to see our final project.
In only a few days, Nourish at Syracuse University will head out to work with the Global Health Network (Uganda), known as GHN(U), a nonprofit based in Oyam District, Uganda. GHN(U) aims to promote, protect and preserve the health of all Ugandans through leadership, partnership, innovation and concerted action in Primary Health Care. Our joint project will address the challenges that women in Oyam District face in three ways:
1) Improving Sanitation and Hygiene
Team members will visit homes throughout the district and provide educational materials about good sanitation and hygiene practices, thus increasing the likelihood these practices will be observed. In addition, team members will construct pit latrines for extremely vulnerable households, which will dramatically improve sanitation conditions.
2) Reproductive Health Education
The team will hold organized sessions about prenatal care, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS, common childhood illnesses, vaccinations and immunizations, nutrition, and family planning. These sessions will provide women in the Oyam District with critical information about improving sexual and reproductive health, benefiting not only themselves, but their children as well. This aspect of the project will also incorporate visits to houses in the community as well as radio advertisements about relevant health information to expand the reach of the information within the community.
3) Entrepreneurship Skills Education for Women
The team will be providing job skills training to women in the community, helping them to gain financial management skills and learn to implement micro enterprises. The community has chosen to focus on agricultural activities and designing and producing clothes, so the team will help them to create businesses that focus on growing sesame and soybeans, as well as tailoring. This part of the project aims to empower women economically so that they can improve their overall quality of life and access to adequate health care.
Team members will also we working in the hospital, in both clinical and nonclinical atmospheres!
After much preparation, the 14 Syracuse University interns are ready and excited to experience the impact that will be made in the Oyam District. A growing experience for all participants, they cannot wait to be immersed into the culture and welcomed into the life of GHN(U) and the people of the Oyam District.