Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My First Month (or so) of Work

Well my first month as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the job was nothing like it was supposed to be. The first three months of your ‘working’ Peace Corps experience are supposed to be spent putting your house together, integrating in your community, practicing your local language, spending some time at work getting to know your employer, but not actually working and mostly spending a lot of time hanging out by yourself. However, that is nothing how my first month at Kayunga District Youth Center has panned out.

As I have said before I am the Youth Center Coordinator for Makerere University Walter Reed Project (Walter Reed is based out of Washington D.C.). Since my job is a part of a bigger organization we receive funding from Walter Reed and PEPFAR. That being said I have a structured job that has funding with a staff that are dedicated and hard working (to an American standard) which is almost unheard of in the PCV community here in Uganda.

My direct boss, his name is Mark, is an ex-PCV (he served in Ghana in the late 1970’s) who has schooling as an epidemiologist and has spent the last 10 or more years living and working in Africa. He has been nothing but supportive of me since coming into my job which I have been so grateful for. I have two counterparts (which is a Peace Corps term and are otherwise known as co-workers) named Cathy and Josh. Both of them were volunteers when the Youth Center opened in 2006. They are both amazing people with a great work ethic, understanding of the community and wonderful and perseverant life stories. I have started to really build relationships with both of them and I feel so lucky and blessed to have them in my life here in Uganda.

My typical day is I’m up by 6:45 am to get ready for work and to be to work between 7:45 am and 8:00 am. While at work I help maintain the goings on at the Youth Center, work on logistical and monetary requisitions for supplies for testing and counseling as well as any programs we have going on at the time. Also I am in charge of making sure all the programs of the Youth Center are running well: House2House Program where my staff goes into the villages of Kayunga District and does direct counseling and testing, Routine Counseling and Testing at the local hospital, Prevention outreaches to the local communities, Prevention outreaches to people in the community who are HIV +, a 3 in 1 Project that focuses on educating children in local schools about health issues that they are interested in learning about and then turning their knowledge into either a musical, drama or visual art performance and any other functions that go on at the Youth Center. I have been learning the ropes about all of these projects and starting to have pretty much everything wrapped under my belt. My boss Mark told me I was going to get thrown right into the fire and boy was he right!

[Picture Above: Staff going to on the House2House Program in the morning to do HIV testing and counseling in the community all day! We have finished five out of the seven Parishes in Kayunga District - the program is almost complete!]

Despite all the business that my job requires of me I have been excited to start new projects at the Youth Center. I did what the Peace Corps calls a ‘Need Assessment’ with the YC staff to find out how they would like to see the YC improve and boy they didn’t hold back! I got so many good ideas from them that I just had to starts some additional projects:

There were things that needed to be fixed around the YC:
• The fence around the YC needed to be fixed desperately. It actually has been fixed and now the perimeter around the center is nicely secure.
• The roof needs to be fixed, but because we just fixed the floor this will have to wait till next year, but my boss agreed to it!
• The walls are all being re-painted over Holiday Break to give the YC a nice new lift in the new year.
• MUWRP has four Land Rovers that are washed and parked here over night. When the cars are washed the water runs onto the soccer pitch that the youth use at night for their games making it soggy and sometimes to slippery to play. On behave of my counterparts I got permission and funding to build a soak pit which is a cement slab that the cars can be washed on that is slanted so the water collectively runs down into a water pit and is soaked into the ground.
• The pool table and table tennis surfaces all got fixed and a major improvement before the Holiday Tournament.
• The staff said that they wanted to be more up to date with HIV/AIDS information and learn more about certain counseling and health issues. The group of staff that told me this was the ones that I was at the HIV/AIDS Testing and Counseling Trainers of Trainers conference so since it was a small group I started an article group with them. I give them a new article on a topic of their choosing every week and then the following week we meet to discuss what they have read and learned.
• On top of that they said that they just wanted to have the ability to read more. From this recommendation I looked at the library and decided to try and expand it. I have started a book drive back home with my Father as the point person and also acquired a 20 pound book donation from Book AID of health and counseling books. So far it has been a very fruitful experience and I hope more books keep coming in.
• Once the library is expanded I am going to start a reading program with the staff similar to a reading program I had in middle school called Accelerated Reader. The staff will read a book of their liking and then write a once page summary. Upon completing the summary they will get a certain number of points for reading the book. At the end of the month the employee with the most points will get a prize.
• I got my boss to agree (after three years of saying no) to get a safe water dispenser here at the YC for the staff to have access too. It is a very nice one too! It has a hot water option and a cooling option. We are receiving two 18 L jugs a week for consumption.
• I got the main office to agree to let my staff have access to the computer at the YC. It is something that I think would be good for them so they can make their own email addresses, stay updated in the news and also improve their computer skills. I have to still sit down with my counterparts to figure out the rules and contracts that this will take, but by the new year the staff will be able to get on the computer here for the first time.
• I helped (and learned from my counterpart) organize the Holiday Tournament for this year and getting the prizes – some of which the winners are getting live goats!
• And though I am absolutely excited about my book drive and hopefully how successful it will be the biggest thing I am excited about is (drum roll please….) that I submitted a proposal for funding of building a basketball court at the YC and it got approved! Next January or February when the contractor is available they are going to start construction of the court and it should only take one month to complete! Once it is done I’m going to start a men’s league, women’s league and clinic days to teach the youth about the game. While all three of these things are going on we are going to use the opportunity to teach the community more about HIV/AIDS and do preventative outreach through the empowering game of basketball.

So despite the lack of a typical Peace Corps first three months experience I would not trade my job, co-workers or intensity of my work I would not change it for anything! And though I am tired at the end of every week I still find time to do most of my Peace Corps assignments and have great help from my staff and wonderful counterparts.

1 comment:

  1. Great accomplishments Becca. The B-ball court approval is just plain out-of-sight/groovy since B-ball is one of your many passions. Way to go 32. XOXOXO....