Since I’m flying home this Sunday, I thought I’d write an entry summing up what I’ve been up to here in Uganda. My writings about work have been few and far between, but I really have been working a lot, and on a lot of different projects. So, here’s the summary:
I do a bunch of HIV/AIDS-related work with youth in the border town of Malaba. One of the most fun activities I get to witness is magnet theater, an interactive form of community performance in which performers drum, dance, sing and act while encouraging audience members to participate in discussions on particular issues. The youth I work with use magnet theater in community outreaches in Malaba to communicate behavior change messages, raise taboo topics for discussion and stimulate debate on HIV/AIDS matters in their high-risk, border community. In addition to this, I do other HIV/AIDS work, both in Malaba but also throughout Tororo district. Some of the things I do include counseling clients for voluntary counseling and testing (I was national certified as an HIV counselor in September), training youth in life skills and peer education, mobilizing resources for a resource room at the Malaba youth center, supporting vocational training of vulnerable street children, and teaching HIV/AIDS information sessions for social workers and community members.
I’m technically a community health volunteer, so HIV/AIDS-related work makes up a major part of my work. However, it is impossible to look at health as an issue separate from others, like poverty and education, so I end up lending a hand on all sorts of projects that I think have potential to improve lives. As far as economic strengthening goes, I have trained several groups in Village Savings and Loan and trained a number of trainers who will go out to pass along the VSLA message and start up groups in rural areas. In addition, I have worked with my host organization in Tororo to start up two income generating projects, a poultry and a grinding mill. The poultry project took about a year to get off the ground but not has over 1000 chicks which we expect to begin laying eggs in the new year. Profits will be used to send needy children to school and provide them with other basic needs. Funding to start up a grinding mill came through last month (our application was one of only four chosen in all of Uganda). When complete, the mill will help guardians of orphans to generate income that will allow them to send their children to school.
Another major part of my work over the past year and a half has been training local organizations in organizational development and activity design. I have trained over 40 community organizations, typically in five-day workshops, leading participants through a process of developing organizational vision, mission, goals, and objectives as well as practicing the steps necessary for thorough planning of a project, from budgeting to monitoring and evaluation. This work is tedious, but can make an extraordinary difference. I have seen this training push small, struggling organizations to realize the need for better management and administration for improved service delivery to the community. I have been here long enough to see several of the trained organizations achieve considerable growth since the workshop, including several which have been able to independently attract donors with improved organizational profiles and project proposals.
So when I think of my work-work, I can say those are the things I do. But there are several other things that are part of the 24/7 life-work Peace Corps volunteers sign on for, things that do not fit into a neat little box on my quarterly reporting forms. Some of these things feel more like work than others:
- I hand wash my laundry then iron it all, both for “smartness” and to kill any potential fly larvae wanting to take up residence under my skin.
- I lend books to my 14-year-old neighbor and let her use my electricity to study in the evenings because she does not have access to either at home.
- I speak Dhopadhola. I try to speak a little Luganda- greetings at least. I would like to learn some Kiswahili too for my work at the border.
- I teach Ugandan friends how to bake using their charcoal stoves.
- I ride my bicycle while onlookers scream surprised greetings, brash demands for money, and misguided marriage proposals.
- I update my blog when I can, to try to fulfill Peace Corps’ third goal (to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans) and let family and friends know I’m alive.
- I discuss American history and politics with complete strangers.
- I have passionate debates about gender-based and sexual violence with people who will never agree with me.
- I have passionate debates about corporal punishment with people who will never agree with me
- I wait on overloaded taxis with chickens pecking at my feet. Then I travel in them over large series of potholes, either barreling at unsafe speeds or crawling along because the vehicle is too decrepit to be on the road.
- I scrub the caked dirt from my feet every night, only for it to return 5 minutes after I’ve left my house the next morning.
- I have entire conversations with people who do not share any common language with me. There is a lot of sign language involved.
- I answer the question “What are you doing in Uganda?” at least once per day.
- I attend functions, which typically consist of long speeches, many-layered outfits, deafening sound systems, and massive quantities of boiled bananas. When called upon, I assist in the ceremony, at times by carrying baskets on my head, others by making absurd, improvised speeches.
- I counsel friends who face difficult situations that at one point would have been beyond my imagination.
- I carry all my belongings on my back. And sometimes front. And sometimes head.
- I bargain. For everything.