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

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