We have been in Quito, Ecuador for just over a week and it has been an surprising experience to say the least. A majority of our time has been spent in the city of Quito which is very large. We can find all the comforts of home in this large city, including Papa Johns. We have had some great experiences with Alicia; our host, president, and co-founder of Triple Salto. Her family and all if the people who have welcomed and helped us in Ecuador have made this experience unforgettable. The best part of our trip thus far has been our downtime at the worksite where we have been able to interact and exchange stories with the teachers and students. It is at this school where we have been painting our first mural, and building our first greenhouse and wormery. It is exciting seeing these tasks slowly being finished but it’s also a sad feeling because we all know as we start to finish everything our leave date is also approaching rapidly. Hopefully soon we will be able to show you all of the hard work we have done with all of the great people we have met. I have personally really enjoyed this experience thus far and cant imagine what the next five will entail.
June 11 was our last full day in Yaounde. We left to return to Oku early in the morning for an 8AM bus back towards Bamenda.
June 12 (Wed) was a day for travels – heading from Yaounde back to home base. We arrived back in Oku in the evening and started preparing for our next part of the project.
June 13 (Thurs) we went around a few parts of Oku to check on the gardens we began in the first week. At this point, we found out that Simonkoh’s garden was doing the best. I don’t have any good pictures of the seedlings right now, but hopefully I can add some later once I get them. The rest of the day was spent doing individual errands. Some went to buy souvenirs and others went to the market to say hello to friends. Then, we left for Batibo, our next project site. That night, we met the 1st deputy mayor and had dinner at his house.
On June 14 (Friday)- Batibo is also a city in the Northwest, but it is farther west than Oku. We stayed in Hotel Arena by the newly constructed paved road leading from Bamenda, and we took most of our meals from St. Stephen’s Restaurant. Our accommodations were relatively comfortable. Our pluming was reliable and the decor was fun (there was a night club attached), but the odd thing was that we didn’t have sinks in our bathrooms. We spent some time planning our route with the officials at the Batibo Municipal Council and starting on the demonstration gardens. We also met a Peace Corps volunteer who lived in the area and did a little garden by the council as well as some farther away. We had a relatively long way to travel, but the farthest village, Ashong-Batibo, was also my favorite. The people were very welcoming and the garden was on the side of a mountain, so the view was great when we arrived and it was foggy.
That night, we met up with some of CAMAAY’s other volunteers (from Germany). We went to a fundraiser held by local youths for an orphanage. They sold drinks and had a dance competition, so it was fun to support them.
(Fundraiser, photo cred = Aubrey)
June 15 (Sat), we held a discussion for sports animators in the same community hall as the fundraiser was held. It was also within walking distance of our hotel. Maxie agreed to do some more stretching demonstrations for the local groups the next morning. When we did go out to the garden spots around Batibo, we took another truck borrowed from the Council and went with our development guide, Naomi. We also did a few needs assessments and talked with groups around town. With the upcoming local elections, we went to an SDF rally to talk to people. That evening, we went to the mayor’s house for dinner.
June 16 (Sun) was a busy day. Maxie started earlier than all of us, heading to meet the sports group for their weekly meeting. We started the day with some more presentations. This time, we covered our main three- Violence Against Women, Group Dynamics, and Menstruation. At the final presentation, we were able to pass out some more of the reusable feminine hygiene kits to the heads of the “Girls’ Corners” (discussion and meeting groups for women and young girls in the area). Naomi cooked us a delicious lunch from the food we received from the people in Ashong – plantains and a chicken. We took the rest of the evening to see Batibo. One group went to check out a local tree nursery (riding 4 to a motorcycle!) and the rest of us went to the Guzong Market.
(Warm Up Demo by Maxie)
June 17 (Mon) we left Batibo with 8 gardens completed. We passed through Bamenda, but the goal was to head back to Oku and pack our bags and say our goodbyes to friends and officials before we took our last inspection through the city. We went to the radio station and Aubrey went to get photos for the school partnership project.
June 18 (Tues) we went back to Mbam-Oku to see the progress on the community center and do some last minute work at the tree nursery. It was great to see new paint and the bathrooms being built, but of course – there work was not all complete.
June 19 (Wed) I don’t think we did too much of anything. We also said our last goodbye in person to the mayor and people who helped us at the municipal council, and then took a bus to Bamenda. We were planning on stopping in Limbe, a coastal city with black sand beaches, on our way back to the Douala Airport. However, the bus we needed to take was overnight… so we had a lot of time to spare in Bamenda. Most used the internet, some made copies, and others needed the ATM. We even had a chance to say goodbye to some of CAMAAY’s German volunteers that were That evening, we were invited for dinner at the house of a local director of an NGO – one of our coordinator’s friends. It was nice seeing the inside of another home. After that, we took our bus to Oku.
June 20 (Thurs) we left our spot in Oku in the morning to travel to Bamenda. We spent most of the day in Bamenda, just chilling. Most used the internet, some made copies, and others needed the ATM. We went to a fair trade store for souvenirs and just ended up at the cafe next door. It was great. That evening, we were invited for dinner at the house of a local director of an NGO – one of our coordinator’s friends. It was nice seeing the inside of another home. After that, we took our night bus to Limbe. Just getting there was an experience… but not the most comfortable xD…
June 21 (Fri) we arrived in Limbe. It was a bit rainy, but we still trekked around. We stored our luggage at the bus station, and then hit the market, a local lava flow, the beach, and then the primate reserve with a good cafe inside. We were happy about the final stop. They even had vegetarian burgers… a great start to returning to the US. But we did have to say goodbye to everyone. After we took a bus from Limbe to Doaula, we went straight to the Airport… and then were on our way before we knew it!
Here’s a recap of our third week in Cameroon!
We spent some more time setting up some demo gardens in Lui-Oku, Elak-Oku, Simonkoh-Oku and did a presentation in Jigijem-Oku on seed saving along with a garden this week. We were also in Ibal-Oku and did a variety of community activities, plus horseback riding.
(Lui-Oku Garden — what a trek!!)
On the 7th of June, we had our International Youth Leadership Camp in the Elak-Oku Community Hall. All were welcome to come and discuss various topics such as community development, globalization, and youth participation. We also took the end of the gathering to distribute more of the Days for Girls menstruation kits.
But the highlights for this week involve the varying bouts of sickness we all passed around. It ranged from varying stages of nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite to endless vomiting and full-blown parasites. But for most cases, we were able to handle it with a first aid kit, medicine and good ol’ R&R. But it’s true – poor Maxie had to go to the local hospital and have an experience with the health care in a developing nation. She was held for a few days and treated for malaria (though, can’t tell if that was the final diagnosis).
(Maxie in the Elak-Oku hospital! Aww = photo cred. Grace)
And me (Ash) personally dealt with about a week of “mango worms,” fly larva lain on damp clothing and hatch under the skin. It was gross and varying degrees of itch and pain – if you are morbidly curious, Google it. This was all leading up to our trip to the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to meet the Prime Minister! He hails from Oku, so he was interested in hearing about our projects. We met him in the morning at his office and then we dined together in the evening. It was all very interesting and surprisingly pleasant.
So, that covers up until about June 11, our last night in Yaounde.
Sorry for the delays in posting. This is an entry from the second week of the trip.
Written June 3 (Mon)… Week 2
Here’s to another week full of multiple projects. In fact, it’s going to take some serious concentration for me to recall everything that we’ve been up to in order, but I can say that this week was full of presentations, youth activities, demonstration gardens for the seed multiplication project, and preparation for our Youth Camp. For the most part, we follow a schedule, but honestly, the concept of time and punctuality is different here. Today, for example – we woke up to rain. It rained for hours, so we decided to delay our departure to the gardens in Simonkoh. We said “let’s leave between 11 and 12”… and we ended up leaving at 1:30 J
So, today (June 3) we sent two of the team members (the organic farmer, Joan and me –UNM’s student) out to Simonkoh village along with Castro (our guide from the local council here) and 7 interns from a university in Bamenda. The others stayed behind to work on preparations for the Youth Camp, as I said, and are now very excited. Once the two gardens with an elderly group and a women’s group were set up, the team returned back to Elak.
(Prep for the Youth Camp)
Yesterday (June 2), some of the group went to church, and in the afternoon we all went to the field near the Community Center in Elak and played several games with the kids here as part of CamAAY’s “All kids should play” campaign. We tried several things – from Duck Duck Goose to tag. But it was hilarious to watch the kids reverse the objective in tag… we tried teaching them, but there always seems to be a bit of a language barrier… so instead of running away from the person who was “it”, they all ran towards Aubrey. The throng of children tackling the lone “white man” was spectacular J It definitely reminded me more of American football. But we all had fun.
(Playtime = photo cred. Aubrey)
Saturday (June 1), Maxie went to the radio station at the crack of dawn to do a Q&A with curious callers about what we’ve been up to. I’m glad she was willing to represent us at such an early hour! She also advertised for our presentation that afternoon on Sports and Fitness. We had some technical difficulties setting up, but we presented information about the benefits of sports and prepped for some demonstrations in the field. The local women’s handball team and the soccer team were there. We also introduced sports jerseys that Aubrey’s high school donated for the community to use. It was great to see everyone’s face light up and to connect with everyone via common clothing. Once we were all dressed up, we went to the field for the demonstration portion of our presentation. OSU’s Maxie, Grace, Abby, and Aubrey led warm ups, conditioning, cardio, and cool-downs in a big circle. I loved the feeling of community we had, and I’m so pleased that the women were so willing to do the (probably crazy-looking) exercises they prepared with us. Plus, the footballers (or – the paid soccer players) stuck around to give pointers and even ask questions on certain stretches.
(Community Sports Day = photo cred. Aubrey)
Friday (May 31), we went to Jigijem village to give presentations on violence against women and group building. Joan was sick, so we postponed the seed sharing and demonstration gardens for later this week. We had some big delays though, due to the people expecting us later this week, and then the electricity going out. So, before we presented, we ended up doing impromptu activities with the local children. We danced and played until the community was ready to receive us. Then we gave the presentations and distributed pens and notebooks. This time around, there seemed to be more trouble between language and cultural differences – especially when it came to the perceptions on rape, but Castro translated everything into Oku and we tried our best to answer questions. After the presentations, we served food to the group.
(Jigijem = photo cred. Maxie)
Thursday (May 30), we also did presentations, but this time we did them in the council center in Elak. Before we began, we met with a women’s empowerment center funded by the government that offered trade classes. We talked and did a needs assessment. Then we went next door to the council’s hall and overcame our technical difficulties to present 4 different topics along with Oku translations: group building and dynamics, violence against women, ecofeminism + climate change, and seed saving/organic farming practices. It took several hours, but in the end, the message seemed to be well-received and we served food. The goal is to get hard copies of all the presentations to distribute to all of the groups we’ve talked to. The seed saving instructions are vital, so we’ll work on making that information especially clear.
Wednesday (May 29), we were still in Mbam. The OSU portion of the team worked with local schools to plant thousands of seeds in “polytine” bags for pre-germination. All of the trees will be planted into one of the sub-division’s major water-catchment zones that have been affected by deforestation. Joan and I went to do a demonstration garden nearby and one on the top of a mountain. We met a nice herbalist and had to ride 3 people to a bike to get to the top. There, we worked with another women’s group to plant the 15 seeds.
So, tomorrow (June 4) we’ll head to neighboring villages like Lui to meet with the communities and do some more demo gardens.
Hopefully you’ll hear from us again in about a week. Our internet hasn’t been working properly for the past few days, so if I really do manage to post this on Tuesday, it’ll be a job well done! Beating the odds, for sure.
I’m not exactly sure what our focus for this week is, but I can tell you that we are almost done here in Elak-Oku. Our next destination is the sub-division (I think) Batibo. We’ll leave for there on the 9th!
Greetings from Cameroon,
It’s been a long journey, but the project teams have arrived and are finally getting comfortable. We landed in Douala, a major port city on the west coast of Africa, on the evening of May 16 (last Thursday)… and from that moment on, it has been an adventure. We were unfortunately delayed in our departure from Douala, due to Swissport employees going on strike… our baggage and the donations did not arrive with us.
(Douala = photo cred. Maxie)
Although we were quite uncomfortable, stuck with the same clothes for… well, a week… we learned some valuable lessons about packing essentials on your carry on as opposed to hoards of American candy and junk food :] Luckily, the team persevered and gained a great bond from the communal atmosphere. “Be real about your needs.” From hand sanitizer to malaria pills.
The trip to our project site, the subdivision Oku, took at least a day’s journey. The crowded car-bus ride gave a good perspective on how difficult it can be to get around in Cameroon due to poor road conditions. It took us about 6-8 hours to get to Bamenda, the big city of the Northwest province + headquarters to our partner CamAAY, and then about 3-5 to get to Elak-Oku, the main village of the subdivision we are staying in.
Douala had us sweating in our sheets, but Elak-Oku is much higher elevation, located in the mountains around Mt. Oku (a “touristic” volcano), so the weather here is cooler. In the afternoons and evenings, it pours rain, and at night, when there aren’t any clouds, the stars could take your breath away. The intense green with the snaking brown roads draped with clouds gives the distinct feeling of being in the middle of paradise.
The flip side is the sheer remoteness and underdeveloped infrastructure of the area, but the hotel-esque flat we’re staying in fits most of our needs. Running water and electricity are patchy, but we do have toilets. Toilets are definitely a luxury here, so we’re grateful. When the water is on, the tap is fairly clear, and probably potable, but most of us still stick to the bottled water, iodine tablets, or filtration + purification systems. Electricity and working lights have been available about ¾ of the time, and the two cell phone network providers here in Cameroon usually work. It’s due to an “internet stick” that I am able to update this remotely.
(Elak-Oku = photo cred. Maxie)
Based on our experience and several interviews and meetings with community groups and schools around Oku, we’ve been doing needs assessments. With the information we’ve collected, our plan is to digitize the reports, summarize, organize and eventually make the immediate needs public. We hope that this will help other Nourish chapters and interested parties to come up with project ideas and connect resources with the appropriate people. It has been great meeting all of the community members. Oku has been very welcoming.
From day one, we began an educational campaign about menstruation, pre-marital sex and pregnancy. The Ohio State Nourish chapter partnered with Days for Girls to bring hundreds of reusable (washable) sanitary napkins to women groups here. Traditionally, these topics are taboo, but we have been able to bridge the topic and answer a lot of questions and misconceptions related to these topics. One of CamAAY’s goals is to set up regularly meeting Girls Corners to talk about these subjects and other hardships that women in particular face, along with providing a means for continuing this educational campaign when we’re gone. These groups will be in charge of distributing the sanitary napkins and, hopefully, working towards making their own here in Cameroon.
So, most of this first week was dedicated to getting to know the community, greeting officials, visiting schools and community groups for needs assessments and giving presentations on both women’s health and school partnerships. May 20 was also Cameroon’s National Day – celebrating the unification of the former British Cameroons and French region of Cameroon as the (United) Republic of Cameroon in 1972. We marched in the parade as CamAAY, promoting our educational campaign.
(National Day Parade = photo cred. Aubrey)
Finally, yesterday marked the beginning of the community empowerment center construction. It was great to see so many people come out to greet us and work on the center. We purchased materials and helped to deliver stones and sand in the heat, but the center belongs to the people of Mbam-Oku. Their dedication was impressive. Plus they plaster so much better than we do! Thank goodness no one left the construction and piping to us!
Hopefully by the end of this month, significant progress will have been made, and the center we’re helping with will be fully operational. It already serves as a temporary school and gathering area, so with toilets, and completed side rooms, it can gain significant capacity to hold other resources like books and computers.
We also visited another school to distribute the first of our pen-pal letters to begin the connection between a New Mexico elementary school, and a primary school in Mbam-Oku. We listened to the kids read their penpal’s letters and their responses.
(Mbam school pen-pals = photo cred. Joan)
I am very excited to work some more on the center tomorrow and begin the next portion of our project – seed demonstration gardens. We’ve packed 15 different varieties of seeds from Seed Programs International to test in small quantities in at least four different community gardens. The goal is that with this and our presentations, the various groups can increase their crop diversity and seed security by learning to tend to the soil needs and save the seeds. Our organic famer is super excited to start, and I am looking forward to getting in the dirt.
We also visited the tree nursery to talk with the community members setting up the different varieties (pre-germination and planning) for a water catchment project. With educational campaigns and renewal of the trees in the naturally forested areas here in the mountain, the communities will regain an important area for water catchment.
So, that’s the plan for this week. Next week or so, we should begin working on training “sports animators” for the women groups and preparing for the International Youth Camp.
Until then, feel free to leave us a message.
Hello from UNM-Cameroon,
We have a little less than 3 weeks before we all are off to Cameroon. May 15! UNM will be working with 5 students from Ohio State University, an organic farmer, the Cameroon Association of Active Youths (CamAAY) and the surrounding communities this summer.
We’ll head to Douala first and then the Northwest region, around OKU and BATIBO.
We’re still working on our visas and finalizing the details of the projects coinciding with our stay, but it looks like we’ll be involved in various things in some capacity or another alongside CamAAY:
– Women’s health campaigns promoting awareness about menstruation and safe sex
– International Youth Leadership Camp
– Sports Tournament
– Women’s seed collective groups (agricultural techniques and seed sharing)
– Construction of the community center in OKU:
If you have any resources you’d like to share about preventing substance abuse in youth, women’s health education and youth leadership, comment below! We’ll be involved in workshops and awareness campaigns related to this.
Many of us had differing expectations for what our project might entail and how our plans would unfold.
HIV Testing and Counseling:
Initially we bought 500 HIV testing kits that would be administered to the locals two days per week. At first, we were not sure whether or not we would be the ones administering the tests, as none of us had ever tested for HIV before and did not know the proper procedure. However, we soon learned that hired lab technicians would be the ones conducting the tests.
We were astonished that after the first three or four weeks, we had already tested 500 people and were out of testing kits. This kind of turnout was not expected within the first half of the trip, nor was it planned for. However, we were excited that so many people travelled out of their way to be tested. Our expectation of testing 500 people for HIV was achieved within the first half of the trip, and we planned to purchase more testing kits, however our budget did not allow it. It was a great feeling knowing that we helped so many people and may have even saved their lives.
Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Education:
Before the trip, our plan was to educate the community in proper sanitation education and personal hygiene once per week. Our host informed us that our common knowledge would be enough. As a group, we thought that we would be trained in what we should be teaching the community during our orientation which was supposed to be held during the first full day that we were in Oyam. However, we did not have an elaborate orientation and were still unsure of exactly what we should be teaching.
On the first day of sanitation education, we conveyed to the community what we knew about sanitation practices and asked them questions regarding their everyday personal hygiene. We also used this chance as an opportunity to visit the sites in which we would be possibly building our five latrines. However, after this first day, we did not reserve a full day for sanitation and personal hygiene education but rather blended it in with our Friday task. This did not align with our expectations, but we knew some things would not go according to plan and that we would have to adjust.
Construction of the Pit Latrines:
Our expectations of the pit latrines were far different from what they actually were. In regards to the digging dimensions, I think most of us pictured a 5’ x 5’ hole, or something close to this size, about 10-15 feet deep in which more than one person could be digging simultaneously. However, on our first day of construction, we realized that the hole was to be about 7 feet in length and about 2 ½ feet wide, much smaller than we imagined. With these smaller dimensions, only one person could be digging at a time and it would take much longer to complete than we thought. We also didn’t realize how many steps were involved in finishing a pit latrine: digging, covering the hole, making bricks, building up the brick walls, roofing, and finally plastering and adding a door.
On our first day, we expected to work hard and finish the digging aspect. When we arrived, the community members were hesitant to let us do any of the work because they did not want us to hurt ourselves (blisters and soreness). However, after explaining to our host that we were more than willing to help, we took a more active role in the construction of the latrines, drying racks, and trash pits throughout the remainder of the trip. However, despite our hard work, we were unable to finish all five pit latrines.
Our schedule was not feasible and did not allow for adequate time to complete five pit latrines. The construction of a single latrine usually takes about 5-7 days, but we were only allotted 6 days total to complete five. After about the third or fourth week, we had to begin doing construction every day of the week, eliminating HIV testing, sanitation and hygiene education, and many of the home visits. This was not part of our expectations, and many of us were disappointed to discontinue the other aspects of the project. Aside from the schedule, our drivers and lab technicians were consistently 2-4 hours late, which really crippled our time in the field.
Although our expectation of finishing all five latrines was not met, we did finish all five drying racks and trash pits, and the community was extremely thankful for our hard work and support. By the end of the project, it was nice to be able to see one completely finished latrine and look back and compare how much progress we had made. Even though our expectation to finish the project was not fulfilled, we were all very happy with the work we put in and our accomplishments in the allotted time period.
In our beginning schedule, we planned to visit 10-20 homes once per week to check on mothers and their babies and also bring them a gift bag. Our expectation soon fell during the second week when we got a late start to the field because our driver was not on time. We were not able to meet our quota of 10 homes per week, but still visited as many homes as we were able to within the given time. After the second week, this is what seemed to happen quite frequently.
Once we decided to begin working on the construction of the latrines every day, we would work for 2-3 hours and then reserve 1 or 2 hours for home visits in which we could visit 4-6 mothers. Eventually, the mothers, not knowing the circumstances, began to complain that we were not visiting them like we had promised. Towards the end of the trip, we made it a point to conduct more home visits.
Even though we did not visit as many mothers and babies as we had wished to, it was an incredible, unforgettable experience that far surpassed our expectations. Each of us even had at least one baby named after us, which was very rewarding. It was an amazing experience to be able to hold the babies and deliver a gift that would greatly improve the health of the baby. It is something that I don’t think any of us will forget!
In our time spent in Oyam, we helped to give many people an enclosed bathroom that will last seven years, a life changing addition to their lives. With a bathroom, they now do not have to go out into the bush to go to the bathroom, where snakes and other wild animals could possibly injure them. This will also prevent most contamination of crops from their own feces. Also, we helped to build drying racks for dishes to encourage locals to wash their dishes and avoid build up of harmful bacteria, as well as trash pits to again avoid crop contamination.
However, I think the biggest impact that we made was in the lives of those who were tested for HIV. For those who were willing to get tested, this could be life changing. Since they can get medicines for HIV for free from their local health clinics, it is crucial for them to get tested to see if they are HIV positive. With this given service, the 13 people out of 500 who tested positive can now seek the help they need. We very well could have saved them from dying from AIDS.
Even though we did not complete every aspect of our project, we made a huge impact, and the community let us know it and thanked us immensely. During the last two days in Oyam, almost every sub-county that our project was based in performed skits, sang songs, and displayed cultural dances for us. It was incredible! The communities welcomed us in open arms and were incredibly nice and hope that we will return to visit with them soon. Our impact in the Oyam District will be unforgettable to those that we helped, and to us as well.
What Went Well With The Project:
We had a variety of work opportunities:
This project was great because we weren’t always doing the same thing. Each day would often be different from the day before. For example, some days we were physically constructing latrines, some days we were helping with HIV testing, and other days we were either doing education or making home visits to expecting or new mothers.
Progress was easy to see and measure:
With the latrines, we could easily see the fruits of our labor. It was very rewarding to see the roof go onto a latrine that we had spent several days building up from the ground. With HIV testing, we would know exactly how many people we tested and what the results were right away. We knew that we were making a difference in those people’s lives, because from our testing people could learn whether or not they were HIV positive, allowing them to get access to free medicines if necessary. We knew exactly how many home visits we performed as well.
Great opportunities for additional activities on the weekends:
Although the area we stayed in was very rural, we had a lot of fun traveling to nearby places on the weekends. Our host was very helpful in planning fun trips, such as going on safaris or hiking to waterfalls. We also participated in a 10K run put on by our host organization, GHN(U) to help raise awareness about child and maternal health. Aside from the project itself, we were able to have a very rewarding and worthwhile experience exploring other areas of Uganda.
We had a close relationship with GHN(U)’s director, Bob:
Bob was basically with us every step of the way, and there was always a very open line of communication between us. We would frequently talk about how the project was going, changes we needed to make, our upcoming plans, etc. He also did most of the traveling with us on the weekends, which allowed us to have an even closer relationship. We have kept in touch since returning from the project, and should be receiving updates on the continued progress.
Very close interaction with the community members/we were very welcomed by the community and project beneficiaries:
Everyone we met seemed to be very nice and accepting of the work that we were there to do. We never felt like someone disagreed with the project or wanted to go against what we were doing. We were constantly working alongside the community members to complete our projects, as well as doing things such as home visits where we could have a connection with the beneficiaries. The people really made us feel important and special, and working with them was a high point of the project.
Our food was tasty!
We had an amazing helper in our home who was very sweet to us and always willing to help us out. She made amazing meals, which we always looked forward to after a long day of work!
We felt very safe and comfortable in our work and living environments:
There honestly was never a time when we felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Like I mentioned earlier, the people received us very well. We had two security guards at our home every night, which just added to the overall feeling of safeness. We always had a Ugandan traveling with us on the weekends, which really made things go smoothly.
What Didn’t Go Well With The Project:
We did not fully meet our project goals:
One of the main issues with this was that we did not completely finish all 5 of our latrines before it was time for us to leave. Towards the end of our trip, we stopped doing some of the other parts to the project, such as HIV testing and educating the community, so that we could devote more time to construction.
There were some issues with things being properly and accurately budgeted:
This was a pretty complicated and foggy subject, but overall, we had trouble staying on track with our budget and had several discussions about how we may be going over budget. A lot of responsibility was placed on us to keep track of things on our own, and we rarely had proper documentation (such as receipts) for things that were purchased with project money. There were some instances in which we were not entirely sure where some of the money was going. We spent quite a bit of time having to work out the math and figure things out related to the budget, and we had to reference our personal journals in order to have some sort of record of what community members needed to be paid and for how many days of work. In general, dealing with the budget added a layer of stress to the trip that may not have necessarily been there otherwise.
Things did not run according to schedule and we lost a lot of work time:
On an average workday, we would be told to be ready to go around 8:30 or 9:30 AM. The vehicle would usually show up somewhere between 10:30-1:30. This was a regular occurrence, resulting in a huge loss of valuable work time. I believe that this had a great deal to do with why we were unable to fully achieve our project goals. There were 3 days when we did not have a vehicle at all, and had to stay home, unable to make any progress towards the project.
We did not have running water at our house or electricity other than a gas-powered generator:
While this could be looked at as a negative aspect to the trip, I do believe that we adjusted to this lifestyle quite well and were pretty comfortable with the circumstances. We bathed about 1-2 times per week, using buckets of water. It was nice on the weekends, because we would often stay in a hotel, which would have running water, sometimes even warm water! We did not have constant electricity at the house, but we did have a gas-powered generator, which allowed us to have lights at night, charge the computers and even have television! We had Internet access as well which was important for keeping in contact with our families and keeping up with our weekly blog posts.
Lunch was not provided on a consistent basis:
We were under the impression that we would be able to buy lunch from the community while we were out at the work sites, but this turned out to not really be an option. We would pack some sort of lunch, usually leftovers from the night before, but it was usually very light and not too filling. We would also purchase snacks when we were away for the weekends, such as crackers or cookies, to pack throughout the week. But generally, our lunch was very light and not very filling.
Poor communication with the community members about our work schedule/time of arrival:
As I mentioned earlier, we never headed to work on time. This was an issue when the community members were told that we would arrive to perform HIV testing at 10 AM but did not actually show up until 1 PM. The community members would wait for us all of that time, and many would leave before we arrived. Towards the end of the trip when we cut out home visits in order to do more construction, some community members were upset that we never came to see them and they didn’t understand the reason why we hadn’t.
Sometimes our skills and willingness to work were not fully utilized:
There were some days when there were a lot of people all at one work site, and we could not all be involved, leaving us sitting around just watching. There were some other days when the task at hand was not something that we knew how to do ourselves. At first, the community members did not want us to participate too much in the hard work, such as digging the pit for the latrines, but eventually we were more vocal about our eagerness to help and we were able to take over a little more.
Tasks were not properly planned out and scheduled:
This was a very big issue when it came to the construction of the latrines. For example, the original schedule only allotted one day per week for construction (a total of 6 days of construction for our entire project). In reality, completing one latrine took between 5-7 days of construction, and we were supposed to completely finish 5 latrines during our stay (so we would need to allow approximately 25-35 days of construction, as opposed to the 6 that were in the schedule). So according to the original schedule, it would have been virtually impossible for us to fully achieve the project goals.