For anyone who’s curious about what I’ll actually be doing in Uganda, pretty much everything that I know at this point is written in a short packet sent me by the Peace Corps. Here are some excerpts that may or may not be interesting:
Program: Community Wellbeing/Positive Living Program
Job Title: Community Health Volunteer
Dates of Service: May 2007-May 2009
Pre-Service Training (in Uganda): March 6-May 17, 2007
The Community Wellbeing and Positive Living project…aims to assist partner organizations – mainly health oriented community-based organizations and the Ministry of Health – develop the organizational and technical capacities they need to do the work they wish to do.
In Luganda and other related languages of Uganda, the term for “health” and the term for general, holistic, individual and community “wellbeing” are the same. In Luganda this word is “bulamu”.
Uganda is on the crest of the wave of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Government and civil society alike feel that the time for simple awareness building is past. Gone, likewise, is the time for isolation of so-called “victims,” and of special programming which contributes to such isolation. Rather Peace Corps/Uganda embraces the opportunities which the pandemic has forced upon the people of Uganda. We embrace the realization that the ways of living which can extend and enhance the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS (“Positive Living”) can benefit us all, and can serve as a foundation for a better future: a future which focuses on “wellbeing,” for the individual, the family, the community, and society.
Uganda has achieved some success in maintaining sustained economic growth over the past ten to fifteen years. Despite this growth, critical challenges remain, particularly in the health sector. For example, over 60% of the population is without access to clean drinking water, 55% of the population live on less than $1 per day, and in some areas, there are as many as 27,000 people per doctor. Malaria and tuberculosis are major problems and childhood immunizations are complete for less than 2% of children.
Underlying all this data is the widespread prevalence of individuals and families living with HIV and the AIDS virus. The good news is that with support from the government, and joint commitments by non-governmental organizations, churches, and donor agencies, Uganda became the first African country to reduce its HIV infection rate, from 30% at the pandemic’s peak in 1992, to 10-12% in 1998.
With the stabilizing of the rate of increase in new infections, Uganda was faced with a situation which neighboring countries have not yet been able to hope for: a “mature” epidemic. This requires responses other than consciousness raising or a focus on controlling the spread of infection. AIDS education and awareness programs must of course be continued so that today’s adults are reminded to remain vigilant…
…But Uganda is moving away from reactions based on desperation, to actions based on hope: people do live with HIV/AIDS, families do continue, and a community can create better lives for all its members by encouraging a positive living perspective.
Local community-based organizations…are some of the hosts which have requested a Peace Corps Volunteer program to assist them. They envision Volunteers as counterparts who would live with them, and help them in their efforts to, for example, coordinate community and school health education, with particular focus on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention; develop gardening and nutrition education programs for foster parents; work with Ugandan colleagues to implement clean water and sanitation programs; assist small community organizations with management skills and planning for the future; add initiatives to immunization programs and other maternal and child health activities; add creative new ideas to the operations of the organizations.
In addition, the Ministry of Health has requested the assistance of Peace Corps Volunteers in training their community health providers. Volunteers will work in association with rurally based Ministry of Health training institutes and with the local communities to develop demonstration sites and to provide practical hands-on adult education for Community Health Workers.
You may participate in any of the following activities:
-Train trainers from government and community-based organizations (CBOs) so that they can improve their skills to plan and implement participatory educational programs for health workers in their communities. Emphasize new accurate information and improved methods of teaching nutrition, preventive health care, behavior modification, management of HIV/AIDS, basic sanitation, and reproductive health education.
-Work with administrators to improve their organizational management skills by developing systems for planning, funding, designing, managing, and evaluating community health projects.
-Work with communities to identify their resources and develop and manage appropriate community activities.
Your skills and education will be matched with the needs and interest of the organization and community to determine the specifics of the work you do.
During your ten-week pre-service training great emphasis is placed on developing and practicing skills needed for the technical aspects of your primary assignment. Topics will include: Ugandan health services, including formal and informal, modern and traditional methods of health care, management skills to develop the capacity of the partner organization, practical knowledge regarding nutrition, adult education, the HIV/AIDS pandemic (including transmission, prevention, home care, positive living), planning and implementing a home garden, communicable diseases, environmental health (including building pit latrines and water catchment systems, composting, fuel efficient cooking, etc.), and maternal and child health (including the roles of traditional birth attendants, immunizations, reproductive health, etc.)
Training takes place in a rural community, and you will reside with a Ugandan “homestay” family throughout the ten week period. Also included in the pre-service training is an intensive study of a Ugandan language, cross-cultural adjustment and adaptation, personal health management and safety/security issues…Upon successful completion of the various components of pre-service training you will be sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
During your period of service, you will live in a rural area in accommodation provided by the local community or rural Ministry of Health (MOH) facility. The community or facility will endeavor to provide you with a modest dwelling containing at least a living room and a bedroom, along with areas to cook and wash, and a latrine. This dwelling may be half of a simple duplex built for other staff members, or it may be some other accommodation which the community has organized, and which Peace Corps staff have approved…Housing conditions vary according to the resources of the community, most will not have running water or electricity. You will likely use a kerosene lantern and stove…Each Volunteer’s situation varies…Your transportation will be by foot, bicycle, or local public transport.
Some challenges which Volunteers find most difficult to deal with are: The extreme poverty of many community members; the overwhelming numbers of orphans, and the difficulty in envisioning how to assist them; the issues of death and dying which accompany such a program focus; limited resources and minimal facilities, and the misuse of resources which do exist; hunger among children; beliefs which limit the ability to implement ‘simple’ solutions to enormous problems; too many demands placed by the community; the sense that there is so much to do, and the need to slow down and understand; and the lack of organization among the partner agencies.
It is difficult to share these challenges in such a limited way, as each is so complex. Coping with them, as well as the challenges that come from daily life, demands flexibility, patience, humility, and good humor. It is not possible for a Volunteer to “fix” things. Rather, Volunteers work creatively to get around the fact that there are so few resources available…
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV positive people and working with training staff, office staff and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength, so that you can continue to be of service to your community.
So this is actually really long. That’s pretty much what I know for now.