Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HIV Outreaches

So for a change the Mrs. Graves is going to be writing this blog post. Hopefully you won't get too bored with it because Devin is a much better writer than I am but he wanted me to write this one, so I hope you enjoy :)

Ever since I was in high school I have wanted to go to Africa and work in some kind of HIV/AIDs outreach. Well with only 6 weeks in the country I got busy and was not only able to accomplish this once but TWICE!! And they were planning on doing another one after I left. But there was no way I could have done this with out the help of my wonderful husband.
Although Devin considers this my project, I feel like we worked really well as a team. It took a lot of planning and working with an amazing organization called Aids Information Center, AIC, which is located in Mbale. AIC provided us with 3 HIV counselors and 1 Technician and they were absolutely a joy to work with! The first outreach was in a village called Bumbo, which was located right on the Kenya border. While I ran the logistical side of things and recorded the results of the tests, Devin taught a family planning class to those waiting for their results and Dillon (another HELP volunteer) helped mobilize the community. I was able to over hear Devin's classes and he did an amazing job, I think the hot pink condoms helped :)

At the start of the outreach we were all interested to see how the testing was done so Dillon decided he wanted to get tested. Luckily he tested negative or else he would have a lot of explaining to do! The test is very basic, they just prick your finger and put a few drops of blood on the little tablet shown in the picture below. Then they drop several drops of a solution on the blood and after 15 minutes you will see a line show up. If there are 2 lines it means the person was tested positive and if there is only 1 line then they are negative. Out of the 212 people we tested at the two locations only 10 were found positive. I was really surprised with this number, I always thought it was more prevalent but I'm sure if we would have gone to poorer villages that were more secluded or hard to reach then the numbers would have been a lot bigger. But I was happy to see that only about 5% of the people tested actually had the disease. And with the AIC team they provide great support to those who have HIV and how to live with it but still have a fulfilling life.

On the second day of the outreach I was so pleased to see that several of the same team members from AIC were coming with me again! They don't always send out the same people you have worked with before, it just depends on what outreaches are happening that day and who is available. I had such an enjoyable time with my first team that I was thrilled to be working with some of the them again. They truly became some of my greatest friends while I was in Uganda! 
The team! (Lorna, Nancy, Devin, Paul, Dillon, Violet, Caitlin, and James)
Day 2 team (Violet, the Technician, Caitlin, Lorna, and Gretchen) 

The second outreach was a little bit different. It was located in a neighboring village from Mbale called Mukaga. We started out with a few bumps in the road as the venue fell through at the last minute. After many phone calls and working with some of the community members we came to an agreement on a place to hold the outreach. But once everyone was set up and things were rolling it ended up being another great day of testing and education to this community.
Devin had to leave early for another project he was involved in that afternoon so I was able to teach a few of the family planning classes myself. Towards the end of the day there was a group of young teenage girls who came to be tested. After one of the girls was tested and was meeting with the counselor, Lorna called me over and asked if there were still condoms left? She pointed to this young girl and told me "she has the disease." My heart broke in half the minute I heard those words come out of her mouth. I beckoned to the young girl to come with me to the other room and had a one on one talk with her about the importance of using condoms and showed her the proper way to use them in order to keep other people save from catching HIV from her. I sent her home with a full box, which contained 100 condoms, in the hopes that she understood how important it was to use them. 
It was sad to see that girls at such a young age are put in situations, sometimes against their will, to have sex and as a result this young girl had contracted HIV. It was a very humbling experience for me and made me grateful for the life I have. Sometimes I feel guilty for how easy my life is especially when I see how hard life is for others, and in this case for this young girl. She will be living with HIV for the rest of her life and will eventually die from it. I'm grateful to have these experiences and to be able to help in some way, but I always wish there was more I could do.

Devin preaching to the patients about condoms. Can I hear an Amen?!
All in all these 2 days were probably my best days in Uganda. I loved working with AIC, learning about HIV testing, and working closely with the two communities. If I ever live in Africa permanently I would love to be a HIV counselor, they were very inspiring! And of course at the end of the day we had a little bit of fun taking some pictures. Africans don't like to show their teeth when they smile so I was trying really hard to get Violet to give me a real smile, it didn't work out so well.

Violet and I (I couldn't get her to smile!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Painting a Mural

A few weeks ago, our entire team went to the town of Bubita (one of my favorites in Uganda) to paint a mural at a nursery school. Caitlin and I went out before everyone to paint a base layer so that it would be dry by the time everyone got there, and we had such the fantastic time. 
The Zaale family, our contact in Bubita, is so hospitable. They really take care of you when you visit their home. They prepare food, tell you stories, show you pictures, etc. They are truly an amazing family. David Zaale has a car but doesn't know how to drive. So any time I go out there and we need to travel around, he asks me to chauffeur. Caitlin wasn't so sure about my driving abilities since I had to drive on the opposite side of the street, but I always do alright. 
While we were waiting for our team to arrive, we decided to explore the area a bit. We went down to the creek and walked up until there was a spot deep enough for us to wade in. It was beautiful. I can't even express how much I love it up there. You are at the base of the mountains and have a good sized creek to spend time at - who wouldn't love that?
There were a bunch of kids near the creek that were climbing trees (can you seem them up in the air?) and when we came around they naturally climbed down and hung out with us. 
And when I say they hung out with us, they hung out with Caitlin. Kids always like her better. 
The water was perfect. I'm not even exaggerating. I was in complete heaven. And my wife turned into a mermaid while we enjoyed the water.
Once everyone got there, we decided we wanted to expand what we originally thought we would do, and we instead decided to do 3 murals. So we had some more base layers to paint. 
But once those dried, we got right to work. Our first idea was to do a tree with handprints as leaves. Unfortunately the paint we got was oil based, so when it got on my hand it would not come off... for a day or two. It was pretty bad. So we revamped our idea and painted leaves instead. 
The school where we painted the mural is run by an organization called PDI. They teach really little children, children who are still learning English. This would not have been an issue normally, but we had a ton of children at the school that kept trying to get into our things, and we couldn't communicate with them to tell them to play outside only. 
But they were so cute, we just took turns playing with them to keep them occupied rather than letting them run around in the paint. 
It took us about 8 hours to paint everything (including a great lunch break at the Zaale's house). We ended up painting the tree in one of the classrooms, an underwater scene in another, and a bunch of animals in the third. Not all of us are artists, but I think they turned out pretty well. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Pearl of Africa

Sometimes living in Uganda doesn't leave much time to blog. Actually, we have been so busy, I haven't even had time to Skype my parents (which I'm sure they're not too happy about). But finally I have a few free minutes, so I figured I should update everyone about what we have been up to these past few weeks. So, here we go!
Caitlin and I have been loving African life. We have a favorite balcony that we like to sit on and sip African tea. Not too bad of a place to call your office. 
We work in a community called Kyemula, which is absolutely beautiful. There are so many needs, but there is also a sort of expectancy that mzungus will bring money and give things to people. So we have been trying to dispel that misconception and educate the community so they can help themselves.  
We went out to Kyemula a few weeks ago and visited a few projects, and while we were waiting for a taxi, I tried my very first sugar cane. They are ridiculously cheap, and it was worth it. We all shared and eventually gave our sugar to some kids. We couldn't eat it all since it was so sweet (it is literally just sugar). Imagine chewing on tree bark, but having sugar juice come out of it when you chew it. That is basically what it is like eating sugar cane. And kids love it here. I'm guessing kids love it in all parts of the world, but here the sugar stand was right in front of the school waiting for kids to get out for break. Ha! Good place to set up shop. 
Outside of the school the kids went crazy with us and Caitlin starting blowing bubbles for them and they loved it. The kids here are so funny. They love seeing us and always wave and talk to us/follow us. Literally every single child wants to talk to you or wave at you. Sometimes you feel famous when you are riding a boda you just wave at everyone you pass. 
Caitlin and a few of the other volunteers went to the Islamic University Primary School to install a tippy tap, which is basically a jerry can of water on a string that the kids can use to wash their hands after using the bathroom.  
They did everything to install it, including cutting the wood and assembly. The girls that were there absolutely loved Caitlin, so they all wanted to take their pictures with her.  
And the project was a success. The kids now have water to wash with, and they all learned how to use it before the volunteers left.   
Caitlin has also been teaching nutrition classes to expecting mothers. Her and Whitney taught all about the food pyramid, portions, nutrients for different parts of the body, etc. The classes were AMAZING. Seriously. The women went crazy for everything they were doing. 
There were more than 35 women there the first day, and the second day had 40. They were so eager to hear what they needed to do in order to have healthy children. Of course, there was a little resistance as well. They eat a lot of cooked bananas here, and they told Caitlin and Whitney that it counts as a grain in Uganda, not a fruit. Sometimes all you can do is educate, even if they don't accept it.  
For the second class they had a cooking demonstration to show how to cook with diverse vegetables and also how to cook without oil. I accompanied them on this class and did the cooking, which is funny since the men here never cook. 
We made them rolex, which is a chapati with egg inside, and did it with hardly any oil. They were shocked that we didn't use very much (oil is a staple in Ugandan diets), and then they were even more surprised when the food tasted good. Hopefully the cooking demonstration helped. 
Then they had the women tell them what was the proper serving size for each of the foods we had. They did a breakfast example, a lunch example, and the dinner that we cooked there. Then they each got a sample of the food, and I got an entire plate since I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. 
What else has been going on... well, we ride boda bodas everywhere (motorcycles) and I decided I wanted to film my ride one day, so I took a handful of pictures, and filmed about 10 minutes of my ride. It is so pretty here, and the rides are so nice, I thought it would be fun to have a little footage of that. Unfortunately, our internet is super slow, so I'm just going to upload some pictures instead.  The guy in the second picture is pushing a bike loaded with matoke (unripe bananas) that he will sell in the market so people can peel them and boil them. 
Caitlin has been assisting in the implementation of a book project here that Alisa, one of the volunteers, developed. They are working with a secondary school, teaching their English classes and having them write children's stories. Then they are working with them to write and illustrate them. After they finish, they will go to a primary school and donate the books and read to the children. Many of the primary schools here don't have libraries, so this is a super cool way to get the kids excited about reading. It is also really good for the older children to practice their English, which everyone learns as a second language.  
In between the English classes and nutrition outreaches, we have also been doing teacher trainings with a handful of schools in the area. The teaching here is very much focused on repetition and memorization, with very little room for creativity or problem solving. So we have been working with the teachers to help them develop more creative curriculum.  
We start out with a creative activity that gets them to think (above we are doing the human knot), and then we go into teaching about behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. They have been very responsive, and when we sit down to do lesson planning with them, they grasp the concept very well. We are hoping to do one more before Caitlin leaves in a week, and we have a few scheduled after she leaves.  
It is surprising how responsive some of the teachers are, and how some have blank stares the entire time. You don't have to have a college degree to teach in Uganda, and many of the teachers lack substantial training. These classes have gone so well, and some of the teachers have even called us to schedule more at their school, and at other schools where they know teachers. They have been super responsive.  
We loved this group of teachers at Liahona Education Center. They were so much fun to work with. The only downside to some of these trainings is that they pull the teachers out of class to conduct the training (which are always at the hour they set) and the children have no supervision. So basically, we had 500 screaming children running around while we were doing this particular training.  
We have a cook that comes and prepares dinner for us, and occasionally she will make something so delicious that some of us want to learn how to make it. The girls were all about learning how to make chapati with her, and spent an evening toiling away in the kitchen. 
Jemima (our cook) doesn't really use recipes though, so it was a handful of this, a splash of that. We'll have to look up a recipe once we get home, since this one will be hard to replicate.
 They turned out really well though. :) 
And the day they made chapati it was Jemima's birthday, so we made her brownies and sang happy birthday to her before she went home for her actual birthday party. She is so great. She is always singing while she is cooking. We're trying to convince her and her husband to come visit us in the states. We'll see how successful we are.  
And that brings us to last week. It seems like I have barely written about anything though. We have been so insanely busy with everything going on. And it has been a blast. Working here has really helped me understand so much about development and I have grown a love for Uganda. 

The people here are so funny. They laugh a lot and are always smiling and friendly. When you ask someone how they are, they always say "fine" - and that means they are doing good. They are always friendly to talk too. We work in a village called Kyemula (which I mentioned above), and one of the village leaders talks to us a lot about culture. I am so fascinated by what he has to say. First off, they always feed you when you go to their home. And they will give you meat as a sign of respect. The meat here is not very good, but we eat it anyway. The main foods are matoke, which is green bananas boiled and mashed up to form a really thick type of mashed potatoes, and posho, which is corn flour mixed with boiling water to make a dish that has the consistency of old cream of wheat. Ha! You eat those numerous times a week. Actually, Africans eat them every day, but we try to limit our intake. They are very filling foods. 

In Uganda, women are very much subservient in rural communities - and men still have to pay dowry to marry. But since he pays for his wife, he is her master and she basically cooks and cleans for him, or does whatever he asks for the rest of his life. But despite that, you actually see a lot of love between the couples. There are a lot of cultural taboos when it comes to HIV, and Caitlin and I are organizing some HIV outreaches that start next week. People don't like telling their spouse if they are HIV positive because it shows that they have been cheating, even if they haven't. And women cannot be the one to suggest using condoms, since that also shows that she is cheating. So HIV continues to be spread. We are doing our first outreach tomorrow, and we are coupling it with a family planning class. We had originally requested 150 condoms for the class, and the lady at the clinic said we needed a whole case (750 condoms) if we are going to teach a class. Luckily the condoms are bright pink, so everyone will love them. :) 

The women here wear these really cool traditional dresses (not always) that have really high puffy sleeves. It is a very agrarian society, and most people still farm by hand. We ride motorcycles everywhere and girls, since they all wear skirts, will sit side saddle on the motorcycles. And there is no limit to what you can take on a motorcycle. Last week we bought a few plastic chairs for our house, and Caitlin sat side saddle on the back, and I rode behind the driver with a few plastic chairs on the side of our motorcycle. Ha! It is not uncommon to see 4 people on one boda, or to see someone on a boda with 2 or 3 goats.

Seriously, the culture here is fascinating. I'm going to have to be better at blogging or journaling just so I can remember everything that has happened since being here.