Africa Social Justice & Human Rights Travel Uganda

Uganda Journals Week 3: HIV/Family Planning Classes, Bed Bugs, & Bacterial Infections

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July 13, 2013

I know it probably seems like I’m just messing around and being a tourist in Uganda, but I really am volunteering in between all of the fun!

In Bandali village the last few weeks I continued to work on Adult Literacy classes and HIV/ Family Planning. For the literacy classes, I am basically working with a few other volunteers to teach the women English in a brick building with dirt floors and no doors or windows. It’s an extremely slow process with a lot of barriers, but I really feel like we have made some progress. The women are very eager to learn English and some of them are rather serious about it and turn up to every class (on Africa time of course, but they turn up none the less).

We have three regular women which I am going to miss, Royi, who I’ve mentioned before, Lukia, and Harriet. Lukia is a single mom of seven children, and has more bravery then I can imagine. Harriet’s back story is a bit more of a mystery but she has two children and she is my age. She also was the first person to remember my name and always hugs me so I grew fond of her quickly.

A lot of the other women are on different levels, some can’t read or write English, some can just write, and others are much more advanced, like Harriet. That and the fact that we don’t really have a lot of materials or volunteers, creates a huge barrier. We basically have one chalboard, some scrap paper, and no lesson plans or textbooks. So we have to google lessons when we are in Jinja and then write them down, and bring them with us when we come to the village. Last week I had two other volunteers helping out with the class so we were able to split everyone up based on their abilities and class went very smoothly and effectively.

The HIV/ Family Planning classes also have several barriers. Most of the women have a decent general understanding of HIV and how it’s spread, but they simply do not have access to testing or treatment. The majority of the women also have a good knowledge base around why family planning is important and they want some form of contraceptives, but they don’t have access or their husbands are opposed.

Overall it appears that Arise and Shine has done a lot of good but there is a need to expand the HIV/ Family planning project to provide services. Unfortunately, AASU is very short on funds and can barely support most of their current projects. They can really use all the help they can get, so if anyone wants to make a donation please visit Arise and Shine Uganda’s website. The barrier of social norms surrounding gender inequality in the country is something else AASU is trying to combat through similar HIV/ Family Planning classes for men, but again it’s a very slow process.

Also, during my stay in Rwanda I got a bacterial infection and couldn’t keep food or water down for a few days, but the more interesting experience was going to the clinic when I got back to Jinja in Uganda. From the waiting room it appeared to be relatively modern and organized, but upon further examination, it is more what I expected from a medical center in rural Uganda. I took a blood test which consisted of this somewhat undertrained lab tech pricking my finger with a pen like device and sqeezing the blood out of my finger onto a blood slide (all without gloves). Then he put it into an oddly advanced machine, which seemed to be far ahead of the rest of the resources in the clinic. Then an hour or so later after tracking down the doctor, they told me I had a bacterial infection and proceeded to prescribe me 5 antibiotics including the Cipro I told him I already had. In the end, after a great deal of googling the meds, I just took the Cipro for five days and all was well.

Then to top it off, I got bedbugs, which has been a huge pain to get rid of! I put all my clothes in plastic bags in the freezer but since the power has been on and off in the last week, it has been extremely ineffective and I’m scared to wear my clothes, but I have nothing left to wear! Other than those two mishaps and the fact that it is really frustrating when we don’t have electricity, I am completely in love with Uganda!

Overall, coming to Uganda was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made but ultimately it has made me feel even more lost in regards to where to go from here. In a sense, I always thought going to Africa would somehow complete me, but it seems to have created a bigger hole in me, one that needs to be filled with more traveling and learning. I’ve found myself questioning how effective and relevant my degree will be and if I will have a specific enough skill set to do any good in international development. I’m really hoping time will sort it all out, and hopefully in the next six months I have in Sydney, because my life is completely up in the air after that!

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake.

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