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