The six weeks in Uganda flew by so incredibly fast. However, it makes us all very happy knowing that we were able to accomplish many valuable, and sustainable things. We were able to get around 300+ people tested, and counseled about HIV. This is sustainable mainly because of the education that was provided along with the testing. Knowing your HIV status is also sustainable in that if someone is positive, they now know that they need to acquire medication from the free clinic and are able to live a longer, happier life.
We were able to successfully finish building and roofing all 5 latrines, however only one of them got plastered when we were there. I just talked to Bob, however and the rest should all be plastered very shortly (It had rained which made it impossible to plaster but the rain had just started to subside when I chatted with him a few days ago). These 5 latrines are sustainable because it means a higher standard of living for the people we built them for. It also gives them a sense of hope seeing 7 Americans travel all the way to their rural district of Oyam and engage in manual labor in an effort to help them. During one of the final days on the trip we visited one of the 4 communities we were working with for a goodbye celebratory get together. This was the most touching experience during the project for me because some of the community members were able to act out what they have learned through us being there and how our work there is sustainable. They acted out the reasons why it is imperative to try and deliver their children from the health clinic, as well as attend prenatal/postnatal check ups, and get their children immunized. They then spoke of the hope we have brought them and the realization that if 7 Americans can help out the people in Oyam, that the community needs to be able to band together and help themselves. That was one of the most important lessons I was hoping to teach them, aside from the health education, because helping your neighbor is one of the best ways to improve their standard of living.
This brings us to part of the next stage of GHN(U)’s project. A community fund of money is now being instated as a borrowing tool, where pregnant mothers may find themselves going into labor in the night unexpectedly and they don’t have any available money to get a motorbike to take them to the clinic for delivery. With the money everyone contributes each month, that person or family can borrow money and then pay it back as soon as they acquire the funds. I hope this will do more than just help them out financially. I hope that it will bring the community members together and show them how great helping one another out can truly be.
The last thing that we accomplished with the project, was education and making personal connections. We were able to heavily focus on pregnancy education, which included topics such as breastfeeding, prenatal/postnatal doctor visits, vaccinations, as well as malaria, hygiene and sanitation. It was great to see how fast some of our education spread to the other members in the community via the community leaders, and community health groups who were eager to share. Education is always sustainable, and by visiting expected mothers at their homes we were able to make personal connections and hopefully have the women and their husbands better understand the information and truly commit to making these changes for themselves, and their babies. I know it meant a lot to them too, having us as a guest at their home, because GHN(U) said that no other government official, or organization really does this. I hope that helps our information and purpose stick with them forever and that they may go on to live healthier and happier lives.
While we accomplished a lot in our 6 weeks abroad, there is still much more planned for GHN(U) and we hope to continue to be a part of the journey.
Since we have just been regurgitating our trip, we all thought that it might be a little more interesting to describe our struggles and everyday life. Before we arrived, our image of our new home was a shower with running cold water, a flushing toilet, trash cans present, and a room with a dresser. Kelly said that she thought that instead of throwing the toilet paper in the toilet, we would have to throw it in a trash can. We are able to throw our toilet paper in the toilet, although we do not flush the toilet every time because we have a limited supply of water. We have a big black barrel that holds 100 liters of water that we use to bathe and flush the toilet, however, it is rarely full. If we are lucky, we bathe around 1-2 times per week, and keep in mind we do not have running water. None of us really expected that we’d have to wash our own underwear and socks by hand. It’s a lot harder than it sounds!
Our typical work day:
Everyone usually wakes up around 8:30 or 9, has breakfast, and does their own routine to get ready. They tell us to be ready by 9 or 10, but we know that our ride will not show up until at least noon. Most of us journal, read, or sleep some more to pass the time because we don’t have electricity. We have a generator that supplies us with 2-3 hours, but we usually only turn it on at night to conserve gas. We have to pack our own lunch, which consists of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. It is usually not enough, but we manage. When our ride finally arrives, we scurry around to finish getting ready. It usually takes another 15 minutes from this point to get on the road. The average duration of our road trip lasts about an hour and 20 minutes. The work sites are not that far away but the roads are absolutely awful and make for a very uncomfortable ride. We drive through small ponds and 3 ft deep potholes consistently.
When we arrive at our work site, anything can happen. Half of the time we get there and the site is ready for work. However, lately, more than half of the time, we have arrived at our work site and it is not ready for construction. Since we can not work at this site, we have to drive another 40 min-1 hour to go to another site to work. Our work varies from day to day. Currently, all of the holes for the pit latrines are dug and we are working on building up the brick walls of the latrine. We can only do 3-4 layers the first day and then must let the walls dry for 3 days. Then the second time we go back, we can usually do 2-3 layers of brick. Each latrine needs to be about 8 layers high. Depending on how much work we have, we usually leave the work site anywhere between 3 and 5. Due to the need to catch up with construction, lately we have been staying later. Once we leave the site, it takes another hour and 20 minutes to return to our house (assuming we don’t make random stops, which we do quite frequently).
Once we get back, we unpack our stuff, and basically do what we do in the morning (journal, read, and sleep) until it gets dark. Around 8, we turn on the generator and watch a little TV and get on the computer. Our favorite shows (Girls) are What Not to Wear, Say Yes to the Dress, The Weakest Link, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (UK style), Chopped, and Mr. Bean. We usually eat dinner around 9. Dinner usually consists of a meat (maybe goat, chicken, or pork), beans, rice, chapati (basically pita bread), cabbage, and potatoes. After dinner, we watch more TV and go to bed around 10 or 11. This is what our typical work day consists of.
During our stay in Uganda, we’ve learned that money is a major motivator. When we’re done for the day, we have had to pay the community members to finish digging our holes for the pit latrines because it’s very difficult to find free labor; volunteers are rare. The sub-counties we work with are used to receiving handouts from organizations without being asked what they can contribute in return. In contrast, during last year’s project in Peru, the community put in sweat equity and helped build the healthcare center during their spare time because it was expected of everyone. It is a struggle for us because members of the community are paid to complete a certain number of bricks, or finish digging the latrine where it is too narrow for us to dig, but they don’t always finish what needs to be done, even though there is, what we believe to be, an adequate amount of time. With all of the day-to-day responsibilities that the community must focus on, it is difficult to make time for building bricks or other parts of our project that need to be done in a certain order to be most efficient.
As mentioned above, it throws our schedule off and a lot of patience is required of our team. Another instance occurred when we were getting ready to leave for HIV testing. It was 1 PM and we were just now leaving because we had to wait for the lab technicians. Since we were only going to be working for half a day, we told the lab technicians that we were only going to pay them for a half a day. They did not like this and refused to go, even though we were offering fair wages. This angered us because the people that wanted to be tested were told that we would arrive there at 9 or 10, so they would be waiting from 9-until whenever we arrived. By the time we got there around 2, most of them had left. Compensation has proved to be an unexpected hurtle for the organization but we hope to have a more concrete schedule for the next few weeks!
This past weekend our host, Bob Marley Achura, organized a half marathon in Lira to raise funds to support the health of women and children. Ben ran the full half marathon (21k) and the rest of us ran the 10k. It was a lot of fun and a great experience. The winner of the 21k finished with a time of 65 minutes and the winner of the 10k finished with a time of 27 and a half minutes. Crazy! Last year, the winners of the half marathon and 10k received cash prizes, but this year these were not promised. They were still expecting cash due to misinformation from the local radio stations, which caused some controversy. Bob was very stressed because he had to pay, out of his own pocket, the winners a good amount of money. Overall, the marathon was a valuable experience for us all and we had the chance to run past parts of Lira we hadn’t yet seen – fields of sunflowers! Several hundred people came out to run or support their friends running and it was really great to see the community support GHNU’s cause and contribute to better healthcare in the district.
Friday evening, after a hard work day at a construction site, we enjoyed a Mexican themed dinner. Stephen, from the Peace Corps, killed a couple chickens for us and we each helped prepare a part of the meal. We had chicken and refried bean burritos, veggies, fruit, and chocolate cake. Everything homemade! And the technology used to prepare everything was very old fashioned. We don’t have an oven so Kelly used a Dutch Oven to bake the cake. It was so great to finally have a dessert in Africa, as we have not really come across one yet. It was a great end to a productive week.
Early Saturday morning, we left Oyam for Kidepo Valley National Park. It was a 6 hour ride to the park and it was definitely the bumpiest ride we’ve experienced in Uganda! The potholes and muddy, rough roads are aweful! That’s the one thing every Ugandan complains about. As we got closer to the park, we were surrounded by gorgeous mountains from all sides. We finally arrived at the park and saw tons of baboons crossing the road not too far from our car. We also passed countless buffalo and waterbacks (a big deer-like animal). We unpacked our things in our bandas, a hut with 2 beds and mosquito nets, with a communal outdoor bathroom. A family of warthogs roamed freely on our property. We headed over the hotel next door to make dinner reservations, but it turned out the plane didn’t come to deliver the food. Phillip, our park guide, used his connections and assured us we’d have dinner. Then we hit the road again with Phillip and just a few minutes into the ride we passed many zebras. Phillip then lead us down a side road and our Land Cruiser got stuck in mud! After about 45 minutes of trying to get the car out a million different ways, we finally pushed it out (with plenty of muddy clothes and shoes to wear for the rest of the evening). Phillip got a call from a fellow guide to come to a certain spot in the park. We drove up to a rocky ledge and there were a couple majestic lions lying on top overlooking the landscape. Most of us climbed on top of the Land Cruiser to get a better view. We all agree that standing just a few hundred feet from lions was one of the most amazing moments we’ve experienced. That evening, we enjoyed dinner under the stars which made us feel like we were in a planetarium.
On Sunday, we decided to spend a few more hours in the park in the hopes of seeing a few more animals. Elephants were spotted in the distance, so we searched for a side road to take us closer. The side road we took brought us a few hundred feet from a huge group of elephants as they walked across the savannah. That was a great last sighting before we left the park. On the ride home we picked up our cook (Olivia) in Lira, which is a little less than an hour from where we are staying. She had just picked up our groceries for the week, which were loaded in the land cruiser. To our surprise, there were 6 chickens tied under the seats of the land cruiser! Ania was terrified to go near them so we all became really close on the ride home, practically sitting on top of one another. It made for quite a hilarious ride home.
Last Thursday we started out the day with homemade peanut butter made by our awesome cook, Olivia. It is SO good! This was our first day of construction. Our nourish members split into two groups (Kelly, Ania, Katie, Shane) and (Melissa, Ben, Olivia). We each went to different sites and began digging of latrines (2 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 15 feet deep.) Melissa’s group ran into a huge mass of bedrock 3 feet down and after using a pick ax to dig down another foot we had to stop and pay community members to finish digging because it was taking too much of our time. The other group’s site got 10 feet deep to great help from the community and good soil and finished constructing a drying rack as well as trash pit. Each group was welcomed with a warm lunch and tea once our day was complete. Later this night we were invited to attend the Sr. Sargent of Police’s promotional party.
Friday was our first day of home visits in the community. We visited ten homes that day of expecting/ new mothers. The gifts we gave were a couple bars of soap, sugar, salt, and jelly for the baby. The main focus was to encourage the mothers to go to the health centers for checking up on themselves and their babies. Unfortunately, many of the mothers didn’t give birth in the health centers because they didn’t have access to transportation or health center staff. A touching part of this day was that a lot of babies were named after members of our group After work, we drove immediately to Lira Town to go to a corporate dance, but the team was exhausted so we settled for an end of the week recap meeting with our director Bob at our hotel.
When we awoke on Saturday, we were pleasantly surprised by a shower with running, hot water. We drove about two hours to Murchison National Park, which had an entrance fee of only $35. Some of the wildlife included baboons, gazelle, warthogs, elephants (from a distance), giraffes, water buffalo, and a few others. For dinner, we stopped at a really nice hotel that charged $250 per night, but had a swim-up bar overlooking the Nile. Following dinner, we returned to the hotel and retired for the night.
Thankfully we were actually able to sleep in on Sunday. After breakfast we took a tour of Lira given by the hotel staff. We saw several schools and banks and were able to walk through the local market. The vendors in the market sold everything from clothing to dishes to fresh fruits and vegetables. We ate lunch at Prince restaurant which featured African, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. The food was delicious but unfortunately we had to wait over an hour to get it. Ben had to wait the longest, an hour and a half. Luckily, while we were waiting we were able to watch Monsters Inc. on the restaurant TV, which made it more bearable. We then left Lira to come back to Oyam where we watched Italy lose the EuroCup Finals before going to bed.
Monday began our second round of HIV testing in Oyam. We split into two groups so some of us went to Adyegi and others to Adigo. We taught the community members about danger signs to look for during pregnancy, when to have prenatal check-ups, danger signs in newborns, breastfeeding information, and how to prevent malaria. When it was time for testing to begin, we helped copy patient names and test results into the record book. Both groups tested roughly 90 people in total that day. We got home with fresh mandazi (fried bread) and homemade peanut butter on the kitchen table. Stephen, a Peace Corps volunteer staying in Oyam, came over and we chatted about his 1.5 years in Uganda and about his work here. For dinner we had cabbage and chapati (flatbread) and ended the night with a few rounds of some card games.
On Tuesday, we visited Aber and Atura, two other villages in the Oyam district, to conduct another round of HIV testing. Over 140 people were seen and about three tested positive. The group from Aber went to the youth training center, where young women were learning how to sew and young men were learning computer skills, to promote getting tested. Ben, Melissa and Olivia had luck catching a fish and gave it to our driver’s family. We ate roasted corn on the cob from a vendor on the way home then went for a quick run.
The next day was spent building a drying rack for one of the villages and about half of a latrine. One of the latrines was already dug so we built the surrounding wall halfway up. The team and the community members all pitched in to help lay the bricks. On the way home, we stopped at the Oyam market, picked up peanuts for peanut butter and each of us had a stick of sugar cane. They’re a lot of work to eat! We celebrated July 4th with our friends from the Peace Corps, complete with burgers and a movie.
Today, Thursday, we planned on starting to dig another latrine, but we didn’t have the tools with us to get it started. Instead, we went to homes with expecting mothers or mothers who just gave birth. We encouraged them to go to the health center for prenatal visits and for check-ups after giving birth to check on the mother’s and baby’s health. We visited 8 homes and gave each home a gift of soap, sugar, salt, and jelly.
It’s been a very busy week and a half! We are finally getting into the routine of our work week and the above workdays will be a part of our normal schedule.
We’ll go more into depth about our struggles and the adjustments we’ve been makin
Our first 2 days were spent in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Last Sunday we went to the source of the Nile River and paid 21,500 Ugandan Shillings (less than $10) to go on an hour long boat ride. We saw lots of types of birds, but no crocs or hippos! Sunday night, we traveled about 4 hours to the Oyam District, getting stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour. We arrived at the guest house, our home for the next 6 weeks, around 2:30 AM. Dinner was prepared for us upon our arrival (rice, potatoes, avocado, beans and goat meat). We ate dinner at 4 AM!
Tuesday we started with our project. We split into two groups and went to two small, rural communities (Adigo & Adyegi). We were greeted with a really warm welcome from the women of the community as they sang a song for us and played instruments, as well as being greeted by hundreds of children that were excited to see us! We prepared and presented health information to the community members on Tuesday, covering the topics of Malaria, breastfeeding and pre-natal care. The health care workers administered HIV/AIDS tests to anyone who wanted to participate, and they received their results that same day. About 200 tests were administered.
Yesterday we visited 12 homes, teaching sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as evaluating their conditions. Today, we are going back to 2 homes to begin the construction of latrines. Tomorrow we will be doing home visits to people who are either expecting or have recently had a baby and delivering gifts to them as well as seeing how they are doing and visiting.
We have been welcomed into the community very warmly and have received several invitations to parties and gatherings. Our work was mentioned on the local radio station and we have been introduced to many important people, such as the Chairman of the District, the head of police, and the head of security.
Overall, everything has been going really well and we are learning a lot!
Well I wrote a post last night but unfortunately it is nowhere to be found now, so I am going to try this again and hope it works! I became a part of Nourish International last year and I remember people who had gone on the summer trip talking about how incredible the experience was and ever since I have been looking forward to having that experience myself. Well here it is!! Our plane leaves in roughly three hours. I’ve printed out my itinerary, I’ve packed, I’ve triple checked my list to make sure I have everything, all that is left is getting on the plane! I’ve never really been out of the country aside from going to Canada so this will be entirely new and different for me and I’m not really sure what to expect. My parents are still continually asking me questions about the trip, only half of which I can really answer because there is only so much I can tell without having actually been there yet. I’m excited to meet all of the people that we will be working with, like Bob, whose name I have heard a hundred times but have not gotten to meet yet, and to start our training and the work that we are going to Uganda to do! I’m also a little nervous because I know that living in Uganda for six weeks is going to be so different from living here and it will probably take some adjusting but that is the point of going in the first place, to experience something different and see the world. Well I should probably get going because I am leaving for the airport soon!!
I just finished packing, eight hours before we leave for the airport. Talk about procrastinating! I finally got everything to fit though. This trip has me so excited that I can’t even wait just to get on the airplane. I cannot wait until I am electronic-less and can really experience and appreciate the beauty and culture of Uganda.
At the start of my freshman year of college, I had absolutely no desire to travel abroad. It was too expensive and I had “better” things to do. However, now I’m traveling all the way to Uganda for six weeks! I’m going from never being outside of the United States (with the exception of Canada) to going to Africa. So much for slow and steady wins the race!
I am particularly excited that our sustainable development project is health-related and can’t wait to learn about the health care system and standards GHNU (Global Health Network Uganda) has in place. This will be an irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind experience for me and will help me explore my career interests of becoming a doctor one day. I look forward to actually meeting Bob in person (I’m really curious about what he looks like) along with the rest of the people we will be living near for the next month and a half.
Eleven hours before we leave for Africa, and I’m everything but nervous. I can’t wait to find out exactly what we will be doing for the next six weeks. Chances are I will forget something, but I’ll make do without. Well I should probably get some sleep before our big day. Until next time!
As usual, I’m a tid bit behind on my blogging. Took awhile to get acquainted to the whole system here but we’re good to go. I’m leaving my house in T-minus 7 hours to Columbus and practically all packed up. To say I’m excited that departure day is finally here is a HUGE understatement. Can’t wait to be there! I’m really looking forward to meeting Bob of GHNU (Global Health Network Uganda) and actually obtaining some training and see what a typical day to day routine of work entails. I’m extremely excited to be immersed in a completely different continent, culture, society, etc away from all the conveniences of living in the US for SIX weeks. I of course, will miss certain things for instance drinking water from any tap. But I love getting out of my comfort zone and taking on new things so I’m really looking forward to every aspect of this trip. I have nothing but the highest hopes and no matter how big wish we can make a lasting positive impact in Oyam. Last thing on my mind right about now is I really hope no one loses their luggage, gets troubles in any airports, has to pay overages, or we have any close time crunches to make flights! Till next time,
No matter how much I plan for, shop for and think about the trip… it just does not seem real. I cannot wrap my head around the idea that in a mere 3 days I will be in Uganda. Of course, I am extremely excited. Any chance I get I have been researching online like crazy to get some sort of idea what to expect! But that is the fun in it all, going off on an adventure like this, with next to no expectations.
I do have goals for the trip, however. First of all, I really want to unplug from the world we’re used to and take absolutely everything in. I want to try new things, push my comfort zones and really connect with the people we work with and meet along the way. I am so excited to step beyond being a tourist and really be immersed in a whole new world. I want to be flexible and open to change, because sometimes the greatest adventures aren’t necessarily on your itinerary. And finally, I want to be a good ambassador for Nourish. I want to always keep a positive attitude and be open minded in all that we do. It is one of my biggest hopes that the Ugandans feel the warmth and love that we are bringing through this project.
Everyone I know keeps asking me if I’m excited for Africa… of course I am!! Am I nervous, yes. But we have so much to gain from this experience over the next 6 weeks. I can’t wait to get started!
Hey, wait a second. I’ve seen this before: the nervousness, the excitement and the last minute packing. I’m going on another crazy Nourish project!
My time in Peru last summer was an eye-opening experience for me and has been an inspiration for the work that our chapter does throughout the year. I’ve made it a point this year to share how I spent last summer with anyone that would listen. I’ve talked about sustainable development with nearly all of my family and friends, even my dentist. (He also had the opportunity to travel to Africa and help pull teeth but chose not to support the group because it wasn’t solving the root of the hygiene problem…people share the darndest stories. All you have to do is start talking!)
Anyway, I wanted to share my thoughts about the project, not teeth. First of all, people are great. I’m sure the Ugandans we’ll encounter on our trip will continue to surprise us with how great they are. This year’s project is definitely different than last year’s. There’s going to be more interaction with the community because healthcare is a bit more interactive than construction work. We’ll have so many chances to learn and laugh with the people of Oyam! I’m super pumped to make those personal connections.
Africa. I would’ve never pictured myself traveling there without Nourish. I’m not sure what to expect but I’m excited for the Ugandan food and culture!
Have I started packing? Well, if my mom were to ask I’d probably say yes, but truth be told, I have not. (a cluster of clothes here….a bag of stuff there…important legal documents somewhere) I’ve been out of the country a couple of times but I still can’t bring myself to pack earlier than the day beforehand.
So, I’m nervous but really excited…emphasis on the excited part. Please keep reading our blog if you want to know about the cool things we’ll be doing in the next six weeks! Bring it on, Uganda!