Monday, August 9, 2010

Cookin' Chipati

With a little bit over a week left to go for the majority of our members we have been so lucky as to receive a new member of our team!! Icarus fetus- the fourth boy to our current HELP International Family. He is adorable. He has black hair, takes many naps, and still walks around like he has sea legs. You see, he has only had his legs and the rest of his body for about a day now so in comparison to human standards he is doing pretty good. This small black baby was born to our trusty goat and lawnmower, Aberforth, on August 8, 2010. So from the HELP house I would like to say “You are welcome Icarus.”

For all of you who have previously stayed with us I have an exciting announcement: Trash man is cured!

Let me fill the rest of you readers in. We live on what is called Kayunga road which t-bones the main city road of Mukono. At this intersection there used to be a crazy man – or a mulalu. We named him trash man due to his impeccable style consisting of whatever trash he can find on the street. His hobbies: scaring as many mzungus as possible. A few members of our team have been surprised by a warm smack instead of a hello when walking across this road. Whether fortunate or unfortunate I did not have the opportunity to cross paths with this man before our fearless leader, Ryan, called the authorities to come and save us from our suffering. When they came and tied dear trash man down and took him away we thought it was surely goodbye.

In fact it was not. Trash man has since been released from the crazy ward, probably given some kind of decrazifying medication, and has since opened his own business. He has no recollection of ever hitting us or anyone else before, and has become a totally new man. Around the house we often go around singing a common Ugandan tune: “Trash man’s in the chitchen; cookin’ chipati; I like chipati; yum, yum, yum.” 

Besides a new goat and the return of the trash man we have been busy accomplishing many projects. One major project, the Volunteer’s Clubs, came to a finale of sorts last week as it was the last week of all secondary school’s terms. I have had the opportunity to work with the students in this club as I have been here throughout the summer and they have been wonderful. These clubs were originally started by Jessica Jarman and the rest of the HELP Volunteer’s as a way to make a school outreach more sustainable. This outreach was named “Do-It-Yourself” Festival. As a team we researched the needs of the Mukono Education District and organized this festival with the help of Mr. Lubega at the District Education office.

The nature of the festivals is that the primary school allots us 3 hours of their time where we have five centers that interactively teach the children about important life lessons. These are entitled life skills, life planning, environmental awareness, education is important, and health (HIV/AIDS or sanitation). The coolest part about the lessons in these festivals is that we have progressed this summer from teaching them ourselves as a team, then coaching and assisting the two different volunteer’s clubs as they teach them, and finally watching the volunteer’s clubs complete a festival without any of our assistance.

There are two different clubs that call themselves the Volunteer’s Club: One at Mukono Town Academy and the other at Mukono High School- both secondary schools in the Mukono District. These clubs were originally started as a way to continue and sustain the festivals that we had put together and has grown into something much bigger. Not only are these students enthusiastic about teaching the curriculum to these primary children, they are eager to expand and serve more people.

The Volunteer’s have brought up the possibility of reaching out to the elderly. They want to make a difference here in the Mukono community. They really believe in the power of service. At the beginning of the term they elected themselves a motto- “Through Love We Care” and have followed this motto. These volunteers are seriously studs. They have so much potential in their futures and I believe that their membership in this club will continue to teach them responsibility, creativity, and leadership when they regroup next term.

A few of the other projects we have been working on are AIDS/HIV assemblies at Primary and Secondary schools, preparing for a club foot outreach, helping a business partner start his Agricultural school, Evaluations, Business classes, installing a chicken coop, Food driers and Recycling. We are also busy with a project called Grow, Learn, Give: working with schools to sew menstrual pads in order to help keep the secondary girls in school. Lastly, a new project we are preparing for this week is putting in cement flooring in the teacher’s quarters at a low income school. The main purpose of this floor is to employ the children’s parents in exchange for their children’s school lunch.

So we’re working on keeping ourselves busy.  It feels good to be here in Africa with a team full of people who care about service. We are working hard and playing hard as we live under the African sun. The end is near and bitter-sweet. Excited to see everyone at home again, but sad to say goodbye to Africa the HELP volunteer’s are making the best of our time in left in Africa.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dearly Departed,

The Mukono team has recently gone through a rather disturbing loss. May Blythe, Brooke, and Brooke have the best two years-okay 18 months-of their lives, May Jen have a successful school year with the 4th graders and the infamous Vern. Let Melissa booty shake her way through Provo, without the constant stress of food on her mind. May Kaile enjoy her name being back to a ‘girls’ name; farewell Kelan, Peter will never forget you. Let Gwen fully enjoy her adventures through Rome and Greece. May Lexi completely take in and enjoy her ‘long’ fingernails due to her recent broken habit of nail biting and last but certainly NOT least, wish Scott on his endeavors of finding a girlfriend. From us troopers who are still here, we unanimously say…good luck with the deworming process!!

For those of us left behind we fully accept and appreciate the extension of our wardrobes, left over peanut butter, jerky, and pistachios, and the extra mattress extending our beds from 2 inches to 4 inches. The house has become much quitter and the fight for food has become less stressful. We miss you all dearly, but no worries; we will fully invest our sorrows in porridge, matoke, and posho. Till we meet again, Bella Bulungi.

While we were anticipating and getting over the loss of half our team, we were kept very busy this week. On Tuesday, Rachel Zani and Kaile did an amazing job planning a Disability Outreach. A number of volunteers extended their hands and put on five rotating stations for the disabled youth while their parents and caretakers were involved in a series of seminars educating them on the proper health, sanitation, hygiene, grieving procedures, and Cerebral Palsy management. Despite a few of us being urinated on, all who were involved enjoyed their time blowing bubbles, reading, and singing to the children.

This week, a few volunteers were also involved in putting on three HIV and AIDS assemblies in local schools. This was also very successful. We taught close to 400 students about what HIV and AIDS does to the human body, how it is transferred, and how to prevent it. Along with this, we did a Q&A session where we passed out papers so that the students can ask question anonymously. This went over very well because the students were able to ask questions without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Most students do not get the opportunity to ask such questions so it was a good chance for them to get honest answers.

A new and upcoming project that is starting to take a lot of focus from a group of our volunteers is the Grow, Learn, Give project. Grow, Learn, Give is a program that helps to keep young girls in school during their menstruation cycle. Research shows that while some girls are menstruating they do not have feminine hygiene products so they stay at home till they are done menstruating. Some girls even drop out of school because menstruating becomes such a burden when they do not have any feminine hygiene products provided. Grow, Learn, Give will enable girls to stay in school during their menstruation period by providing re-usable sanitation pads. Along with this program it educates girls, boys, and parents on what is happening to the girl’s bodies through this time, importance of menstruation hygiene, and de-sensitizing this topic. We hope to include Uganda Christian University students who are interested by helping us implement this program in schools. There is still much to do with this project, but we are excited to be getting started at the very least.

I would be lying if I said that we were all work and no play. Saturday, we had the pleasure of going to the Rothy’s (LDS couple missionaries in Kampala) and indulging in the delicacy of pancakes!! It was truly a lovely taste of home, which I can say for the entire team, was much, much needed. Overall, this week had its ups and its downs. We are sad to lose so many members of our team, but we look forward to the extra time we have here in Uganda. There is still so much work for us to do, so we are what? Anticipating some more success!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Data, Data, Data

The Mukono District Education Office has about 4 huge boxes of wonderful data. 4 boxes of data that was useless because it was just sitting in these boxes. A few of us are working on a project to analyze this data. A few weeks ago we used the leaving examination scores of 7th grade students at schools to rank the schools from worst to best. Now we have taken one sub-county of data and analyzed it to determine why certain schools are doing worse than others. After presenting the report to Mr. Lubega, we taught a class to Mr. Lubega, the district education officer, and a secretary so that they can do basic analysis themselves. The class went amazing. I wasn't sure if I was teaching well or not but then Mr. Lubega answered all the questions correctly and was following along well. He even said how he is really excited to get working on the analysis and writing a report. It was a wonderful end to my project and Blthye is an amazing peon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bombings in Kampala

Wanted to let people know that we are safe and will have more updates soon.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The work we do

Project Update Post

While blog-stalking the other HELP International teams, I noticed a trend: they had all taken the opportunity to brag about the awesomeness of their projects and their teams. Congratulations, friends, on all your accomplishments, they are definitely impressive. Then I realized that I had not adequately bragged about how wonderful, innovative, and fantastic my team has been. Take it from me—Uganda Mukono has an incredibly talented and motivated group of volunteers who have managed to carry out impactful projects that improve lives. And we have fun while we are at it. Here is a rough breakdown of what we’ve been doing.

Health: Last week, we held a two day Eye Camp where we screened 300 people for eye problems, distributed medication and over 100 pairs of eye glasses, and assisted while local doctors performed 18 surgeries. We also held a dental outreach where we screened unsuspecting school children for rotting teeth and then pulled the teeth—over three hundred teeth in an afternoon. More generally, we have been teaching sanitation lessons in local schools, setting up a plastics recycling program, working with Reach the Children to teach girls to make reusable feminine pads, doing home visits and therapy with disabled children, and coordinating with district health officials to fix hand washing stations at schools. Megan is the only public health specialist on the team, and so she has been training the rest of us on how to orchestrate public health programs, and we are learning quickly.

Education: Our team is full of education enthusiasts who have started some very innovative programs in the schools here. One of our biggest projects is a one-day festival that we take to local schools. At the festival, students are engaged in participatory lessons on topics like sanitation, goal setting, environmental education, life skills, and science. Since younger students have a great deal of trouble understanding westerners, we have partnered with two local secondary schools to start Volunteers Clubs—club members teach the lessons and work with the students, and are excited to continue the program after the volunteers leave. The secondary students love the opportunity to reach out into their communities and give back, the primary school students love learning and interacting with their peers, and we love watching as our secondary school partners gain a passion for service. On top of that, we have been working closely with students and teachers in local schools, tutoring the students and modeling good learning and critical thinking habits (which are sorely lacking in a school system based around rote memorization). At the same time, we have been conducting teacher trainings focused on fostering creative learning. We have also loved supplementing school curriculums with music, dance, sports, and reading clubs. We are also involved at a few schools for disabled children, working individually with the students and training the teachers on how to better care for disabled children. The school system here is a fascinating mess, and so we’ve been researching the education system by doing qualitative interviews and analysis at local schools, and at the same time quantitatively analyzing data held in the district education office. We plan on training the district employees to better store and analyze data so they can use it to make school improvement plans.

Business and Income Generation: One of our volunteers took the time before arriving to write a basic business curriculum, which we have been using to teach business skills classes to several different groups. We have also been working with individual NGO’s and business to do business mentoring in order to help them set up improved management systems. We also spend time researching the situation of microfinance institutions here in Uganda. Oscar became very passionate about helping single mothers and orphan caretakers earn income, and he has been working on starting a business to import local handicrafts and sell them at boutiques in the US. One upcoming project is focused on income generation in a rural village—we will be building a food drier that will add value to their agricultural products and at the same time place income-generating banana plants with families to enable them to care for orphans.

Other goodies: Several of our projects don’t fall in to such neat categories. For example, we are using square foot gardens in schools to teach them about nutrition and to provide more food for the children. We arranged a massive community outreach that drew over 1300 people—we held a football tournament for primary school children, who were trained on good sportsmanship and sanitation, and we also trained their parents and caretakers on financial planning. The community wanted a way to increase unity and cohesion while sensitizing people on how to cope with the social effects of AIDS. Nearly 100 of the adult participants were screened for AIDS and counseled on how to cope with the disease. One of our partners is an agri-business specialist and we have been working with him to start an agri-business school. The school starts this week with the first round of 40 students—in the short term it will be business classes combined with externships at local agribusinesses. In the long term, our partner plans to centralize these businesses into a self-sustaining school. Next year, we hope that HELP will be able to distribute 17,000 pairs of shoes to needy students through a new partnership with Tom’s shoes ( However, we don’t believe in handouts so we have been arranging a school incentive program that will reward schools who show commitment and improvement with shoes for their students. Our volunteers have the noble but difficult job of setting up an amazing and influential program that they won’t get to see put in place. Several of our volunteers are passionate about reaching out to the disadvantaged and are in the process of organizing support groups for abused women, as well as health outreaches and therapy for disabled children and their families.

One big focus in all of our projects is evaluation—we know that good development work is not possible without analyzing your successes and your failures and using that information to improve. Each of our projects has components of evaluation built into the planning, implementation, and follow up stages, so that we can continually adjust what we do to be more effective. We have an evaluation intern focused entirely on tracking down past HELP projects to try and better understand the impact we’ve had in this community. This has been challenging and we have learned a great deal about the benefits of record keeping, good planning, and needs assessment.

It is strange to think that our time here is half over—we have accomplished much, but there is still a great deal of work left to do. About half of our team will be leaving us in two and a half weeks, and they have been working hard to ensure that their projects are executed as planned. Their drive and commitment is impressive, as is the community’s collective desire to improve their situation. All this would not be possible without full community support, and we are very grateful. We are also thankful for the support from our family and friends at home—your emotional strength buoys our team, and your financial support has enabled us to work here. Thank you!

We welcome any comments, questions, or ideas that you have!

Angie, Ryan, and the Mukono Team

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things We Thought We’d Never Do.

I think most of the team would agree that the past week has been the craziest week we’ve had yet here in Uganda. We managed to do 4 outreaches in one week. So I feel quite heavily the weight of recounting how the past week unfolded, but I will do my best.

I would say that this week could be summarized by saying that we all did things that we never thought we’d get to, or have to, do. So here goes:

Observe surgery from the Operating Room: On Tuesday and Wednesday, the team headed to two different clinics to hold eye screenings and surgeries for nearby communities. We facilitated the event while local eye doctors and nurses screened 119 men, women, and children and performed 12 surgeries. In addition to our more simple tasks of recording patients’ information, pointing to letters on the eye chart, and leading patients to various rooms, we had the opportunity to actually look in on the cataract surgeries. On Wednesday, we were able to screen 209 and operate on 6 patients. The patients received new pairs of glasses, prescriptions, and their surgeries free of charge! They were so grateful, and we were grateful to be participating. Though lunch was no where to be found, the team rocked it with patience.

Sing the National Anthem at a Sporting Event: On Thursday, we had an HIV/AIDS outreach in a community called Kiyindi. We ran an all-day football tournament for 6 primary and 2 secondary schools and invited teachers, parents, and local leaders to attend as well as the schools. It was so much fun—we had over 1500 people play in football gaes with trainings on business and financial planning in between. We also had an HIV/AIDS screening station set up and were able to screen close to 100 adults. Additionally, some of the school choirs performed about the horrors that result from AIDS. At the request of CCCWA, our partner, the HELP girl volunteers performed a “American dance number” to Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” (I don’t think the adults knew what to think about that because they just gave us blank stares as we danced.) At the end of the tournament, we had a final football game between the HELP International team members and the CCWA team. The kids (and adults) thought it was hilarious and we got them all to cheer for the muzungus. In the end, we tied 1-1. Congrats to Nicole and Rob and all those who worked so hard on this event!

Hold (Down) Screaming Children While They Receive Anesthesia: On Friday, we partnered with another NGO to hold dental screenings at Nagalama Primary School. First, the dentists screened them for decaying teeth that needed extraction. They then sent them into be numbed, and lastly, to have their teeth extracted. The day started out quite joyfully with an assembly where the children welcomed us with songs and dances. Eventually though, the children started to realize that the arrival of Muzungus did not mean all fun and games. The students were screened in order of grade so we started with the Baby Class, which is like 3 to 5 year olds. They were so happy to open up their mouths to let the dentists examine and receive the white extraction slips that sent them to receive anesthesia. Then the screams started. As the children heard their peers crying out, they became more and more distraught at receiving the white slips of paper. The volunteers were spread out—some were writing those slips of death, others were holding down children to keep them from slapping away the syringes of Lidokaine, others were sanitizing the needles, and others were holding down those in the extraction room. I got to experience the anesthesia room for the afternoon portion, and it was heartbreaking to feel the small bodies tense up, shout out in pain, and strain to escape the long needle being pushed into their gums. But we knew we were doing good, and we were able to have about 200 tooth extractions out of the 900 screened. It was quite an emotionally exhausting day. Congrats to Megan on both the dental and eye outreaches! That was quite a task!

This week, we sadly lose two valued members of our team. Jessica and Nicole are heading back to our homeland, and, oh, how we will miss them!

Lastly, we have now upped the number of people crammed into our taxi up to 21. (Legally, they are allowed to carry 14.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Legs, Legs, Legs

This may seem like an odd way to start a blog post; however, it is a topic that has been on the minds of everyone here. Legs are in fact one of the most alarming things we have had to deal with while in Uganda. Many have expressed the wish that they did not have legs. Here are all the reasons legs are problematic.

1) When riding a boda and slipping between two trucks, knees simply get in the way. It is very trying for the boda driver to have to concentrate on slipping between 20 inch gaps and have to avoid banging your knee against the truck. In fact, it’s really quite unreasonable to expect them to avoid hitting your knees against stationary vehicles all the time, accidents happen.

2) Legs are really inconvenient when it comes to rafting. Our poor thighs rarely see the light of day with all the knee-length shorts (work those cargos Jessica) and mid-calf skirts we wear. Of course they are going to burn. Just because you put a combined level of SPF 456 on them why should you expect them to not be one of the primary colors when the trip is over?

3) Legs are not helpful in the kitchen. When one is making oatmeal it is really annoying to have to worry about the loose pan not dumping water everywhere. Without legs the water could just splash wherever it pleased and not land on someone’s leg turning it yellow and purple. Oatmeal is more important the leg should have known to get out of the way or done something useful like open the oatmeal packet.

4) Back to bodas. Did you know they could harm you without moving? Yes, in fact they can. Legs are not properly designed for avoiding exhaust tubes. Exhaust tubes are made of metal. They turn really hot after the Evil Kneival of boda drivers you found has roared up and down Kayunga road. If your poorly engineered leg brushes up against it you will have a burn that turns red, followed by a lovely deadish gray color, followed by a cheery pink and brown. That will be 700 shillings.

5) If you didn’t have legs you would not trip on the lovely “paved” sidewalks of Uganda and scrape your leg. End of story. Blythe, it’s your own body’s fault you fell-stop trying to blame the gravel/steep edge/on-coming boda/marriage proposal from the taxi conductor.

6) Legs are really rude. They disrupt the nests of bed bugs that reside at the “nice” hotel in Gulu. The bed bugs have been happily nesting in said bed since the last group of HELP volunteers stayed there-approximately three weeks ago. The hotel doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Your selfish legs smashed their nice home and your mosquito net then trapped them so they couldn’t escape the Godzilla-ish monster that is your leg. It’s like putting a wall around Tokyo during Godzilla 4. You really shouldn’t be surprised that you now have 53 bug bites on your legs. I am sorry they are oozing though.