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.
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