Monday, March 28, 2011

So Much Rain...

So the rainy season has started here in Uganda and though not all of the country has seen the uplifting effects of the thunderous rainstorms, Kayunga Town has. Last night it rained for only about 30 minutes, but the impression that the rain left on the community will last for weeks. The wind was blowing so hard that the massive trees were bending over sideways. Rain was pounding against the windows and at some points it was blowing in through the creases of the windows and my front door. Then it started hailing golf ball size ice stones - needless to say between the wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightening I felt like I was in the middle of a hurricane. Once the rain stopped the jubilation of the community arose because the fields and crops needed the rain badly. To some farmers dismay their crops had been ruined by the storm, but all in all I could see the joy on everyone's face.

This morning I woke up dreading my walk to work because for some reason after every rain storm the mud becomes my mortal enemy and it somehow finds a way to trick me to fall to the ground. Today I did not fall on the way to work, but many other things did. When I got to the Youth Center I talked with people at work and they informed me that some people lost their houses last night due to the storm. After going around to check on the staff at the Youth Center to make sure they got through the night okay I started to look around the Youth Center. I found many trees that had fallen down and power lines that were down and broken. The pathway from the Youth Center to the Hospital was blocked with debris as well as the main road going into the Hospital. On the main street in town one of the restaurants and restaurant owner's home had been demolished by the wind. The roof had collapsed in on itself and sadly the whole family was inside when this happened. The family is currently at the hospital receiving treatment. The whole picture of the house reminded me of the homes I saw after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Needless to say I am glad that all of my Ugandan family were safe last night, but the Town will take the rest of the week to clean up the aftermath of the rain storm.

The trees by the Youth Center fell on the main power lines to the Hospital and the villages beyond the Youth Center. We'll be without power most likely for the rest of the week.

The bigger picture

The path from the Youth Center to the Hospital was blocked by fallen debris

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Koome Island Outreach

This past week I got the opportunity to go to Koome (Coe-mee) Island with work. My work just started going on outreach missions their three months ago. MUWRP plans to go their quarterly to work with the people of Koome Island on general health outreach, HIV/AIDS prevention outreaches, prevention with positive outreaches, working with discordant couples, ART therapy and medication management and general testing and counseling services and training. Typically island communities and fishing villages of Lake Victoria have a very high transmission and prevalence rate comparatively to other communities in Uganda which is why funding and services need to be brought to them. Sadly, it is so difficult due to time and monetary constraints to get to most of these island communities that a lot of NGO's/CBO's don't service them completely or at all. That is why when I heard that work was now traveling to Koome Island I wanted to help during the outreach.

We left Kayunga a little before 6am on Friday to head down to the shores of Lake Victoria. We had 8 team members including myself going on this voyage to Koome and most of us had never been there! The first group that went out to the island were to make sure that the community not only needed our services, but wanted them as well. Personal investment into our coming to their community would insure the success of the next visit (our visit). We reached the water front by 8:15ish and settled down to have breakfast by the shore. Most of my co-workers enjoyed the fresh fish that is caught by the community, but I passed and stayed with my ever complete protein staple of rice and beans.

Harbor boats on Lake Victoria

Our boat loaded up and ready to go to Koome Island

After breakfast we loaded ourselves in the boat for a two hour ride to the island. Most of my co-workers had never been on a boat before so it was exciting to see how much they enjoyed themselves! The boat had no ramp to get in so we had to be carried and placed onto the boat by a local fisherman - it took a lot of trust to have a random Ugandan carry me through gross algae water and place me safely (and more importantly dryly) on this rickety water craft.

I will say for all the doubt I placed in him he did get me on the boat safely and dry! Once on board and after the many pictures that were taken of the first time boat riders we started our long voyage to Koome Island. The water close to shore was quite covered in a mucus like layer of green algae. There was much teasing in the group because we also saw local men getting water from the same algae laden spot to most likely use for cooking at the restaurant where we ate breakfast - yum yum. It was a gorgeous clear day on the Lake, but this also lead to the fact that it was super duper hot out. The sun beat down on us harder than I have felt since being in country. We saw many people fishing on the Lake and traveling to other islands - mostly by man powered craft. Luckily our boat had a motor, but alas still moved quite slow.

First time boaters preparing to board the boat (from left: Enok, Richard, Chris and Ali)

Pulling the boat out of shore onto open water - let the voyage begin!

The green algae that was everywhere close to shore

Mama Frank, who is our amazing Nurse at the Youth Center, trying to not get to much sun

Local fisherman using weighted nets to catch the fish

Approaching the island was like something out of an old adventure novel. Koome island seemed to shoot up out of the water almost out of nowhere. The island itself is a lush jungle full of monkeys and birds that I had never seen before. The dense vegetation made it hard to see any human homes, but after getting closer to the island we could see the farming areas. Their farms moved all the way down to the water and made an interesting contrast to the tall jungle environment all around. Upon docking at the island we were greeting by a group of monkeys curious about the new visitors to their home. Sadly, I wasn't quick enough with my camera to get any great pictures.

After landing on shore we had to move inwards to the interior of the island to the health center. When we first arrived to the health center we were greeted by a large group. They had all been mobilized to come for various services that we were offering to the community that day. Once we arrived we all introduced ourselves in the local language - Luganda. All my co-workers were surprised at my ability to introduce myself in Luganda mostly because when I'm at work in Kayunga I normally don't speak the language except when I'm greeting them in the morning. The community enjoyed my introduction so much that it brought some of the community members to excited laughter that this 'muzungu musawo' was speaking their language. After we introduced ourselves the local community leader came in front of us to give her report from the last community meeting they had before our arrival. They stated that they needed the skills for counseling and testing on the island so they can have their own HIV clinic funded by MUWRP. They also said they needed help organizing a positive's support club as well as acquiring more ARV's for the community from Kojja Hospital in Mukono (which is also run and funded through MUWRP). They expressed their gratitude for our presence there and that they expected a large turnout for our visit - which I think was an understatement.

The Community Leader addressing the crowd and us with their last meeting minutes

This was the crowd at the beginning of the day - it just kept growing

During the day I worked in the lab with the people who came for HIV testing. I tested over 35 people of the community during the day. It seemed like the line of people never stopped and we didn't even have time to stop for lunch because we weren't going to be back until June. We successfully tested everyone who came to get tested that day which left me with a good finishing feeling of accomplishment even if there were depressing moments throughout the day. My co-workers were also doing various counseling, health exams and informational session while I was testing. All in all I think we all had a productive and successful day on Koome Island. Now the last thing for us to do was get back home to Kayunga - oh lord was that an adventure!

Sunset over Lake Victoria

Recent Nile Shenanigans

I don't think I'll ever get enough of living so close to the White Nile!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary Celebration

So for the past month and a half I have been involved with planning the Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary event for all of the Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps Trainees, Peace Corps Staff and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda. I have been working with a few of my close friends here in Uganda to get this event running and off the ground. I am co-coordinating the event with a volunteer who is the health and economic development group a year ahead of me named Dave. He has been working on this event since coming back from his U.S. vacation in January. A lovely volunteer named Lisa, who is a health volunteer from my class, is in charge of all the volunteers for the event and coordinating the schedule for the service day.

We have put a lot of hard work for this day and it is starting to pay off! Many Peace Corps Volunteers are excited to participate and are coming from all over the country. Currently we have 115 volunteers out of the 150 that are in country participating - our goal was 120 so we did darn good! The reception and some surprises for the reception are starting to fall into place which is lessening the stress before the event - food is in order, speakers are almost in place, video is coming along, etc. This planning period has been a process, but all in all has been extremely fun and a good experience to learn how to plan a large event in a developing nation.

Below is the schedule for the day plus details of the service projects. Enjoy!


7:30am: Peace Corps vehicles pick up volunteers to bring to Lweza Training Center
8:30am: 50th Anniversary Event kick-off at Lweza Training Center
9:00am: Service project groups meeting/organize for departure
↓ Walk to St. Gyavira and Ranch on Jesus schools for Service Day
9:30am: Service Projects Start
1:00pm: Groups Rotate Through Lunch
2:00pm: Continue Service Projects
3:30pm: Start to clean up project areas
4:00pm: 50th Anniversary Day Projects Are Completed
6:00pm: 50th Anniversary Volunteer Education Seminar/Reception at Lubowa Gardens
9:00pm: Volunteer Education Seminar/Reception Ends


Campus Beautification:
Description: This will consist of a construction of a Peace Garden at the local school. The space will be used by the school as a place for the children to have meetings with their teaches, their school groups and a place to go and calm down/enjoy nature/have quiet time.Cleaning garden area, planting trees, general landscaping and maintenance, and placing benches.
Animal: Zebra
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Waste Management
Description: Clean the campus and teach primary students about the benefits of rubbish collection. Place trash cans strategically around the campus and assign students a schedule to empty them.
Animal: Giraffe
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Painting Classrooms

Description: Paint two dormitories and one classroom as well as refurbish two chalkboards with chalkboard paint.
Animal: Gorilla
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Water System
Description: Repair two water tanks and an existing water catchment system, install taps and security gates, and increase the integrity of the gutter system.
Animal: Crane
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Student Mural
Description: Work with students and volunteers to paint a mural on an outdoor wall with the theme “peace.” The mural will have the word "peace" in the middle and every student will get a 1 ft x 1 ft square to draw what they think peace means in their community. Of course, the Peace Corps logo will be in the middle hole of the "P".
Animal: Elephant
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Sports Outreach

Description: Through football and other outdoor activities, work with students to promote teamwork, communication skills, personal integrity, and confidence.
Animal: Hippo
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Life Skills
Description: Teach various life skills lessons and activities to primary students. These activities will revolve around healthy living, gender roles, sex, HIV/AIDS, etc.
Animal: Tilapia
Location: St. Gyavira Primary School

Stove Building
Description: Build one rocket-stove and train PCTs and locals on how to build and use them.
Animal: Lion
Location: Ranch on Jesus Primary School

Faculty Workshops
Leader: Celeste Arista, Brian Stock, Brennan Fay
Description: Train teachers and staff on Faculty and Staff Toolbox and providing methodology development sessions.
Animal: Crocodile
Location: Lweza Conference Centre

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stay (Wasting Time)

Ugandan Sunrise

So I have been around my house all day today and when that usually happens I have my iPod going. I have been trying to be productive today by cleaning my house and doing laundry while shaking my groove thing enjoying my alone time. As I was picking up around the house it dawned on me how many songs are related to time. Time is overwhelmingly everywhere here for me in Africa. I have more time then ever to just sit and ‘do nothing’. This has led to much unneeded floor washing, reading, spending time with the children of Nakililo and watching way to many movies. Despite my sever need to always stay busy by not participating in down time I have started to learn to embrace the time I have off and to myself. This topic is always a conversation between PCV’s because we all want to know what each other do to kill the hours of self-time. Although PCV’s face time issues in our personal lives here in Uganda we face another time issue: the difference between American and Ugandan time.

Most of the time Americans and Ugandans have an entirely different concept of time. In the American or Western worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively and has measurable and linear characteristics. A typical American feels that they are ‘time’s slave’, dependent on it, subject to it. To exist and function in America a person must observe its inflexible and steadfast rules and must heed deadlines, dates, minuets and hours. American’s view time as an irresolvable conflict that exists, which always ends in man’s defeat – time annihilates the western man.

Ugandan’s apprehend time differently. It is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, and subjective. A Ugandan influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm. Time is even something that man can create outright, for example time is made manifest through events, and whether an event takes place or not depends, after all, on if people are present. On of the most glaring differences to me is that here in Uganda time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs into life under their influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if they do not direct their energy toward it. Time is a passive essence here and most importantly dependent on man.

And there in lies one of the most glaring differences between Americans and Ugandans: the comprehension of time. This sometimes makes simple tasks in America seem so daunting to accomplish here in Uganda. Traveling, setting up and accomplishing a meeting, going into town to the market or just trying to do your work all lead to struggles because of the difference that time makes here in Uganda. However, on a personal note the different perception of time is helping me mature my type-B personality, which I think, was a little malnourished before moving here.

Ugandan Sunset

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rice With Human Genes

So today I found an initially disturbing report that the USDA has decided to back a newly created GM food produced by California-base Ventria Bioscience. This product is a genetically modified rice grain that contains human genes that can be found in saliva and breast milk. The bacteria lactoferrin and lysozyme are known to help children with digestion issues such as diarrhoea (which is the passage of three or more loose stools a day).

Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of the deaths of children in the developing world and causes roughly 2.1 million deaths a year according to the World Health Organization. To be quite honest I have seen more sick babies than I can count with diarrhoea and sadly many babies who have died in the hospital and surrounding community I live in because of diarrhoeal based diseases. Thus, when I first head that a rice was being developed and was 'test-run' in Peru to help with this issue I was joyful that it might help. Living here it is hard not to see the positives in a product of this nature being developed. It could possibly help in the process of curing sick children with diarrhoea and be apparently affordable for parents in developing nations.

However, from an American food consumer view this new rice is scary and is somewhat disgusting. Back home I liked to eat clean and organic with little processed food in my diet. Obviously I splurged on a candy bar or something processed every once and a while, but for the most part I think it is very important to eat healthy, clean and organic as much as a person can. The idea of GM or Frankenstein Foods does not settle well with me because of the long term health risks the food could pose and more importantly the idea of cross contamination of the other food stocks that hard working Americans grow.

I read these articles with some of my co-workers here at the Youth Center/Hospital. They all think that it would be helpful to have a product like this here in Africa because of the health issues caused by diarrhoea, but they are concerned as well with the long term health effects of a genetically modified rice. They also shared a story of the Jaja's (grandparents) in their community who do not eat bananas any more because they are not the same as when they were young. I was confused by that statement so I asked them to explain more - they told me that the bananas we have in Kayunga are now hybrid bananas that have been crossed together from the bananas their Jaja's ate. So the 'developing world' has already had a taste of genetically modified food and did not like the change. My colleagues all in all this the idea is good, but are hesitant about the actual product.

Frankly, so am I.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Kayunga Home

So I'm very lucky here in Kayunga at the house my organization provided for me. When Peace Corps talks with your organization about housing they are required to provide at least two rooms, a private washing area, a private latrine with a lock (which I didn't post any pictures of), and a bed. I was lucky to receive all those stipulations and more. My house is very large - almost makes me feel guilty because it is so nice and the bed that was provided is the biggest I have ever had! I have been trying to make my house feel like a home and I can say now after six months I think I have gotten there. I hope you enjoy peeking into my home!

This is my living room. The big double doors open up to my front porch and subsequently the road. From the front you can see the borehole and all the happenings surrounding it. A lot of the neighborhood children have found my front yard and porch a safe and fun place to hang out. It usually is very enjoyable having them screaming, giggling and playing out front of my house. Sometimes when I have the windows and doors open they like to peek their heads inside to see what I'm doing and I also think to test me to see how much they can get away with while I'm around.

This is also a part of my living room area. I splurged and got some very nice hanging photo frames from a touristy gift shop that sells very nice Ugandan crafts. Since this picture was taken my card collection has grown and I love looking at them every day!

This is my kitchen area that is connected to my living room area. I have my cooking area and cleaning area. It has been very interesting not having a sink. I pour water into those basins and have to change the water frequently while washing the dishes to make sure they are as clean as possible. I can't wait to have a sink again someday! You don't know how easy you have it back home when you don't have running water to complete simple tasks like washing dishes.

I was so stoked to have a pantry in my home! I love the storage space that I can keep free of bugs and other creatures that like to call my house home as well.

This is my cooking/food prep area. I cook on a gas stove that has two and a half burners. It cooks at the same speed as a stove top back home which is super awesome. The food here is amazingly inexpensive: a tomato is about 5 cents, a fresh and sweet pineapple is about 50 cents and the best watermelon I have ever had is about 75 cents.

Why welcome to my bedroom :) The fan is a blessing and worth the ridiculous amount of money I spent on it.

This is my cluster of a storage area in my bedroom. The bookshelf I bought isn't even and wobbles when you touch it, but does it's job well.

This is an ongoing project in my room - I love my photo wall. I have pictures from home and pictures from here creating a wall full of warmth and love. When I have hard days I love looking over the pictures on this wall. I have had pictures sent to me in the mail since being here and they have been duly added. I can't wait to see how big this project gets by the time I leave!

This is my spare bedroom. I currently use it as a laundry room. It has two built in closest on the left hand side where I keep my bags and clothes. Soon this room will be furnished for guests to stay in for a short or long period! Looks like I'll have to find a new place to do laundry....

And here my friends is my bathroom or should I say bucket bathing room. I wash out of that bucket with water from the jerry can. It takes a while to get used to, but after a while you get used to it and actually get quite good at washing in minimal amounts of water.

50th Anniversary

Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. Roughly a year later the Peace Corps was born. Today marks the official 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps program as well as Peace Corps week in Maine. On March 1st, 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed the order to establish Peace Corps which was subsequently put into a Norman Rockwell painting of inspired young adults gazing to the "future". Sadly, this year the Peace Corps lost one of the most influential people in the long history of the program - Sargent Shriver. He will be forever remembered for his dedication to the people who volunteered and the amazing work that has been done by Peace Corps Volunteers.

Below is the transcript from his address to the University of Michigan:

"I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.

I come here tonight delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks.

I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.

How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.

Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can't possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.

So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort...

This university...this is the longest short speech I've ever made...therefore, I'll finish it! Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.

Thank you."

John F. Kennedy
October 14th, 1960

The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers left for their life changing/challenging experience in August of 1961. Until about 1967, applicants had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude which lord knows would have been difficult for me to pass - thank you Peace Corps for stopping that! After an address from Kennedy on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961, and within two years over 7,300 volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number increased to 15,000 in June 1966, the largest number in the organization's history.

Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Currently, there are volunteers in 77 countries around the world and I must say my experience in Uganda has been wonderful. I think Peace Corps, though having many ideologies of a government organization, does amazing things for people who work for them and the people they serve. I think this has to do with the high caliber of people who choose to put their lives on hold for two years and become a PCV. I have never been around such an amazing group of people as I have for the past 7 months with my Peace Corps Class.

Picture from the Philadelphia Airport before coming to Staging - I do believe Miss. Britt Larson took this one!