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 (tomsshoes.org). 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