Friday, November 5, 2010

Stigma: HIV/AIDS (4.11.10)

So some of my senior staff and myself have been in training for the past two weeks. It is a three-week training put on by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. We are being trained to be trainers of trainers for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. It is a very interesting course, but it has definitely made my days very long right from the start.

Today we did an exercise about HIV/AIDS myths in the local community that plays into stigma. These are not things thought by my Youth Center Staff at MUWRP, but things they and I hear in the community regarding HIV/AIDS. Some are similar to things I have heard in America and some are not. I thought you all would be interested to see the list as much as I was. There are many more I am sure, but this is what we came up with in the exercise:
• Sharing clothes with an infected person
• Sharing beds with an infected person
• Sharing cups and silverware with an infected person
• Getting a mosquito bite
• Having bad manners or morals
• Receiving a blood transfusion
• All testers and counselors are HIV/AIDS positive
• Inherited through genetics
• Cured by divine intervention
• Through coughing
• Sharing basins for bathing with an infected person
• Sharing drinks with an infected person
• Sharing the same house with an infected person
• Brought by the whites to Africa
• Some people are immune
• Some people are cursed by a witch
• Everyone with TB also has HIV/AIDS
• Receiving organ transplants
• HIV/AIDS is found in all bodily fluids at an infectious level
• Everyone in Africa has HIV/AIDS
• Shaking hands with an infected person
• The testing kits do not work because they aren’t a big machine
• There is no discordance in Uganda
• Taking Coca-Cola and aspirin will give a person a negative test result
• Douching with Coca-Cola after sex will kill the HIV
• Eating pork will cure HIV/AIDS
• HIV is treatable and AIDS can be cured
• Witchcraft made HIV

My New Address

So everyone this is my new address for the next two years:

Rebecca Elizabeth Workman
P.O. Box 18279
Kayunga, Uganda, East Africa

Mail takes forever here and I know some of you have sent me some wonderful things in the mail that I have yet to receive. Things are just a tad bit slower here in Africa and I think it has not only helped my Type-B personality, but it is partially due to the massive matooke intake in this country.

Ghosts and Goblins All About! (30.10.10)

This past weekend was a very different Halloween in Uganda. It is odd to be in a different country that doesn’t recognize a holiday you have grown up with all your life. I find that even though the country doesn’t recognize certain holidays our PCV class and the classes ahead of us all get together to celebrate.

This Halloween a few people from my class got together with the people who have been here for 6 months and 1 year in Kampala to celebrate. The four of us from our PCV class who came all went out to dinner together at a local Ethiopian restaurant. It was sooo good – we had a spicy chicken platter and a vegetarian platter.

We had a rooftop party at the Annex Hotel that we usually all stay at when we go into Kampala. It was a blast to see all the people in the group dressed up and to see what they came up with for costumes! Out of my friends we had Bear Grills, a Blues Brother, Rosie the Riveter and an Annex maid! We had a blast all dressing up and spending time together.

Rhinos, rhinos everywhere. (23.10.10)

So this past weekend I was able to compete in a rafting competition on the Nile River. It was a fundraiser to support the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary of Uganda ( and was duly titled “Rhino River Race”. All the boats were purchased or sponsored with the funds going to support the rhinos at the sanctuary. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established as an NGO in 1997 with the goals to promoted the reintroduction of rhinoceros to protected areas within Uganda as well to promote breeding programs to ensure the long term viability of reintroduced rhinoceros population in Uganda. They also are establishing programs in conjunction with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, district governments and local communities to ensure the protection of the rhinoceros populations from poaching, conducting education programs about the endangered rhinoceros and building national support for the protection of rhinoceros populations in Uganda.

The race was put on by Nile River Explorers (, which if you ever go rafting on the Nile I highly recommend them. The rules of the competition were to have six paddlers in the boat and one river guide. There were five other PCV’s on our boat who have all had experience with rafting or paddling of some sort back home. The catch with this race was that it was power paddling – not running rapids. We had to paddle hard on flat water (trying not to run into an eddy or two) for about half and hour from the dam at the start of the Nile to Bujagali Falls. There were two parts to the race: the first part was a qualifying heat with three other rafts to go up against. We came in first in our heat with a time around 25 minutes. We paddled hard and got a rhythm going towards the end. There were eight heats and the top eight teams were in the finals.

After having the afternoon off to rest, eat delicious veggie and beef burgers, re-hydrate and purchase raffle tickets it was time to jump back in the boat and paddle again for the first place prize of round-trip airfare to Kenya! We got down to the area where we put in our boats and find that people were just jumping in whatever boat they wanted to! There were only supposed to be six people plus a guide in each boat, but people were piling nine to ten people in each boat. Not only that, but there was a boat of people who were subbing in for another team and had fresh arms because they had not raced in the morning. After getting over this frustration, my team and I all got ready to start. On the whistle we started paddling has hard as we could. A boat on our left kept ramming into us – three times to be exact. We finally pushed them off us, but it ended up making us do a 180-degree turn! This meant that our boat was flipped around facing the damn instead of facing up river! We were so angry because not only were the boats all cheating by having more than six paddlers, but also we had just been flipped around and were now in last place!

This anger is what gave us our paddling power when our arms were dead from the morning: we paddled so hard that we passed three boats with more paddlers then us and ended up coming in fourth place for the day! We were very proud of ourselves because if you disqualified the first two place teams because they had fresh arms and more then six paddlers we actually came in second – plus we were the only boat to pass any other boats! It was a successful day for us and our prizes were totally worth the time we put in. For coming in fourth place we won a free sunset booze cruise for the six of us on Lake Victoria, half off rafting for the next day and half off rhino tracking at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary near Murchison Falls. We are all going to use our prizes in December, as a group and I will make sure to update you all with pictures of the cruise and rafting! The rest of the night was for celebrating and having my first draft beer since being in Africa. I good end to an amazing experience!

My new job – hello 9-5 or 7-6! (22.10.10)

So I finally have my job placement here in Uganda! I know that it is going to be an amazing two years! When I got my job placement one of my new boss’ wrote me up this welcome document filling me in on a few things he thought I should know before coming to meet him and the staff as well as starting work:

Organization Name: Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP)

Kayunga District, Central Region

The Kayunga District Youth Recreational Center opened as a joint effort between MUWRP and the Kayunga District health Authorities. The aim of this facility is to build District capacity in identifying and providing HIV prevention, care and treatment services to the youth population of Kayunga Districts. Youth are largely absent from clinics that offer conventional prevention, care and treatment. This Center provides youth with daily counseling (including ART) and recreational services in a manner that is specifically geared toward persons between the ages of 12-25. Furthermore, the Center’s vibrant community-based activities include district-wide youth outreach and mobile VCT to schools and other appropriate venues with emphasis on reaching OVC’s and un-tested youths.

To build infrastructure, capacity, and systems of local public and private partners in central Uganda to ensure sustainable, quality, comprehensive HIV services for communities that have participated or could participate in research studies.

Job Description:
• Work in collaboration with the Youth Recreation Center Supervisors in all recreation activities including: sport activities, games, entertainment and other events, possibly at different venues.
• Work in collaboration with the Youth Recreation Center Supervisors in all health related activities including: individual counseling, group counseling and health education for youths.
• Design and implement creative programming for community youth.
• Work with Youth Recreation Center Supervisors to use creative approaches to integrating Health Messaging and basic Life Skills into all events at the Youth Center.
• Mentor and give guidance to Youth Center volunteers and councilors on a variety of topics (i.e. Career guidance, financial planning, etc.)
• Motivate and support the Youth Center volunteers and councilors
• Support in the safety of participants aged 12-25 while they partake in activities at the Youth Center.
• Maintain high level of communication with District Youth Officials and youth groups including regular updates to individuals and groups on evolving Youth Center news and activities.

So that’s my job description, but it doesn’t even encompass what I walked to. I’m very lucky for the experience that I will have over the next two years. My head boss is an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer from Ghana. He’s live in Africa for over the past 10 years and loves his job, the people here and the country itself. My boss is the country director for PEPFAR, which means I’m working basically for PEPFAR Uganda. My Youth Center is also partially funded by the U.S. Military HIV/AIDS Research Program. USMHRP is the one of the few organizations working on the HIV/AIDS vaccine and Kayunga has been chosen as a test zone when the vaccine makes it to that stage (which could be later rather then sooner, but you never know with the progress they’re making). My Ugandan administrative boss is great! She is a spitfire and though she likes to joke and have a good time she is very American in her approach to the work world, which is a breath of fresh air. I also have two counterparts who I work directly with and I’m technically their boss, but I did not like that when I arrived. I talked with my American boss and told him for capacity building’s sake that they should be on the same level as me and that is now what is going on which makes me feel a lot better. Every day I am amazed by the dedication these two people show the community and our staff. They have both had tremendously hard times in their life and they both have risen above the darkness to make their lives better for themselves and their families. They are two of the most interesting and strong people I have ever met and I feel blessed to have them grace my life.

I have a lot going on these first few weeks of my job, but a lot of amazing and fun programs and events coming up. I will be sure to update you all very soon about everything MUWRP is doing in Kayunga!

Swearing-In: I’m officially a PCV (22.10.10)

We all arrived at the Ambassador’s residence in the afternoon right after a torrential down pour in Kampala for our Swearing-In Ceremony. It was a very nice ceremony and we were lucky enough to have the guest speaker be the Ambassador to America and a representative from the Ugandan Government to grace us with advice and their experience here in Uganda. Two fellow PCV’s from our class gave speeches: Christy from LA talked about the strong bond of friendship within our group which was wonderful to address since our group has grown very close and strong over the past ten weeks and Nick from NY (who by the way is a stand-up comedian) gave a light hearted speech highlighting our bond of friendship while classily throwing in the motivational ending of the speech from the movie Independence Day (See “We will not…

After the speeches we all took the Peace Corps oath, which I did not know that it was the same oath that people in the military take before becoming a member of the armed forces. Once that was done it was a high that spread throughout our whole group: the last ten weeks of culture shock, running stomachs, homesickness, sleep depravation, language learning and barriers, health trainings and home stay family high’s and low’s all culminated to this moment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon having an hors d’oeuvres party at the Ambassador’s house and then went back to the hotel to further our celebrations.

Dinner At The Country Director’s House (18.10.10)

So at the beginning of the week of my PCV group’s Swearing – In Ceremony our Country Director Ted Mooney had all 45 of us over for dinner at his house. Before we went to Ted’s house we all got the chance to go into Kampala and do a little bit of shopping for moving into our new homes. It was raining out (as it is most every day) and I was walking around in a white skirt. Unbeknownst to myself I was flicking mud up the back of my skirt! After discovering this I ran to my girlfriend Britt to see what I could do to fix it. I was lucky to find out she just got a care package from home and it had a skirt in it! We ended up trading shirts and I put on her new skirt. She was a lifesaver, but what we didn’t realize is that we would basically be an AB pattern of ourselves! Oops!

We all had a wonderful time hanging out at his house and we all listened to him play guitar and share stories of his travels around the world. However, I do believe there is one picture that I would love to share from this event: I was photo bombed on purpose by Ted Mooney. It was by far the highlight of my evening. The evidence is below!

Self Exploration Study (We have to do a project to “pass” training?!) [01.10.10]

So yes, not only did we have to pass a language exam to successfully complete training, but we also had to create a project that we could feasibly do in a local community using the tools we learned during training. The project was meant to help trainees to begin formulating ideas of how to use resources within their communities for improved livelihoods, but I found it just overwhelming to do on top of everything else! However, I partnered up with my friend Bryan to focus on mental health issues in Uganda. We got to go to the National Referral Hospital for Mental Health Issues in Uganda and meet with the director. We talked with him about different needs in the community of Uganda, misconceptions of mental illness here in country and about his facility. Despite the added work load this project brought on it was an amazing learning experience. Bryan and I developed a training model to educate teachers in public schools on mental health and peer relationship issues. Hopefully if we do enact this program sometime in the next two years it will become sustainable and it is something that the teachers will eventually train the students on. I'm eventually going to add the power point slides to the project for you all to see - the internet isn't working for me super duper well right now and I'm done fighting "Al Gore's creation".

Peace Corps Training: A long 10 weeks in Africa (9.8.10 – 16.10.10 )

During Peace Corps Training all 45 volunteers were working from 8 am to 5 pm at RACO conference center learning many different areas of Ugandan culture, having intensive sessions of language training, hours of technical training and field trips that focused on issues we might and will see out in our communities. Throughout this whole process we lived with home stay families to not only feel like we have a family here in Uganda other then the PCV community, but to also learn more about Ugandan family dynamics and culture.

My home stay family was quite nice and worked very hard to get where they were in life. My father’s name is John and he is a truck driver in Kampala. He thinks its very important for him to work as much as he can while he is young so his family can live the life he wants them too: he wants his family to have nice things, maintain their electricity, he children to go to good schools and to save as much money as possible so when he gets old he can relax and not work. My mother’s name is Josephene. She works incredibly hard through owning a shop that sells clothes as well as being a seamstress. She also runs the house and takes care of the children while she was also taking care of me! I have a few home stay siblings as well: Simon who is in senior school, Jarred who is in secondary school and then Winnie who is four years old. I spent a lot of time with Winnie due to the fact that she was always home when I was. She loves to color and play with my Aquadoodle. They also had a cat, which was still very young when I came to stay with them. They waited to name it until I came to live with them which after seeing the sandy color of the cat I nerdily named it Dune.

During training we were split into two different groups depending on our volunteer titles. There are community health volunteers, economic development volunteers and education volunteers here in Uganda. Our training class was comprised of community health and economic development volunteers. I am a community health volunteer with the specific title of a public health general volunteer. The purpose of the Community Health Project in Uganda is to help Ugandans living in rural areas foster healthy behaviors and improve their health status. One goal of my project’s framework is that further transmission of HIV/AIDS will be reduced and the impact of the epidemic in the general population will be mitigated. The second goal is that the capacity of communities and service providers, including VHTs (Village Health Teams) and health committees will be strengthened, and linkages and health services improved. The third goal is that communities will adopt key health and disease prevention behaviors and practices affecting maternal and child health, morbidity and mortality. Now these are all very lofty goals that come with a slew of objectives, indicators and tasks. Not every health volunteer focuses on each goal, but at some point in the two years here they will run across not just one of these goals to try and help meet.

During training to help meet these goals we had a variety of sessions to strengthen our skills as volunteers. We all had to learn a local language, which I learned, and I am still trying to learn Luganda. We learned about medical issues here in Uganda from the Peace Corps Medical Staff while they gave us eight weeks of immunizations. We learned about SWOT analysis, needs assessments, community mapping, daily/weekly schedules for the communities we are in and other more administrative skills. For health skills we focused on a variety of issues such as HIV/AIDS education and prevention, child and maternal health, malaria education and prevention, safe water and sanitation, reproductive health, micro finance and financial management as well as many more.

During training we also got to go on what Peace Corps calls “Immersion Week”. This is when we go to stay with a current PCV to see what they do at their work, where they live and everything that comes with living in rural Africa as a PCV. I went to stay with a lovely lady named Laura who lives in Kakabara (on the way to Fort Portal). I went with another boy from my training class named Bryan. We both stayed at Laura’s for a week and went with her to the orphanage she works at. The orphanage is for refugee children from the surrounding countries and most of them spoke Kiswahili. It was an amazing experience and it was wonderful to see the work that Laura was doing. She is a volunteer who class just COS’d (close of service) last month and she decided to stay in Uganda for another year. Talk about dedication!

Though training was a lot of hard work there was definitely fun to be had. Whenever we found a free moment between classes, studying, laundry and spending time with our host families we were always together. I have made some amazing friends so far along this journey and hopefully the friendships will continue to blossom and grow!