By Ryan Speese
Hello everybody! Ryan here. Today is our last day here in Naigobya so this blog post is a little bittersweet. But before I explain what we’ve been up to during the week, here’s a recap of what we did over the weekend. Last Thursday, half of the team left for safari while the rest of us made plans to go explore two of the major cities in Uganda. Mikayla, Ananya, and I first went to Jinja to go kayaking. Sounds relaxing, right? Little did we know that the kayaking company was located miles out of town in a very rural area. So after about an hour and a half of navigating with our phones and trying to use our broken Lusoga to ask for directions we finally arrived to a beautiful campsite/hotel. It was clearly marketed towards Mzungu’s (the Lusoga word for foreigners) given the Green Day that was blasting over the speakers and the lemonade and grilled cheese being offered on the restaurant menu. The view of Lake Victoria was absolutely breathtaking and made me even more excited to be there.
Despite mistaking a nearby swimmer for an angry crocodile coming to kill us, we had a lovely time circling Lake Victoria in our kayaks. After deciding that we were hungry and definitely needed to work on our arm strength, we called it quits on the kayaks and headed to town for lunch and shopping for souvenirs. The next day we headed to Kampala (the country’s capital city) to visit the Acacia Mall and the Gaddafi National Mosque. Being in Kampala was a major shock to the system after spending the past month and a half in a village of less than 500 people. The sidewalks were buzzing with people and the streets were overflowing with cars, taxis, motorcycles, and more people. Acacia mall was especially strange because it felt as if we had returned to America. There was a KFC restaurant that greeted us as we entered the sliding glass doors and a café selling chai lattes to our right. I think all of us felt both excited and terrified while browsing the all purpose store (think Walmart) and finding ourselves in the food court on the top level of the mall. After we ate, we went to the mosque and got a tour where we learned about the construction of the mosque, the history behind its inception, and a bit about the Muslim religion.
After a fun-filled weekend that was both relaxing and tiring, we spent Sunday evening waiting for the safari-goers to come back so that we could hear about their adventure. Monday morning, all six of the GROW team members sat down with Michael to discuss the PAF (Partnership Action Framework) to make sure that GlobeMed and UDHA are on the same page for the future vision of our partnership. It was really inspiring to see, firsthand, how the partnership worked so symbiotically and to hear about the future plans to make our projects more sustainable.
Later that week, Ananya and I headed to Naigobya for the last time of the summer. We spent the first three days collecting data for an evaluation of the project. All throughout the summer, we have heard how much the project has helped people living in the village but we wanted to gather data to support this sentiment so we developed tools for qualitative and quantitative data collection so that a formal evaluation of the Nutrition Project could be conducted. We got to speak directly with people in Naigobya about topics like breastfeeding, malnourishment in children, and proper nutrition during pregnancy and hear about their views on the subjects. We also surveyed households about how many children they had and whether those children had ever been diagnosed as malnourished.
Hearing the community members discuss how much they have learned from the Community Health Workers (CHW’s for short) reminded me of why I was so passionate about joining GlobeMed in the first place and why I decided to apply for the GROW internship. We hope that the evaluation will continue to be conducted in all 7 villages that UDHA works in and that the information can be used to make any necessary changes to the program implementation.
After we collected data from Naigobya, it was time to begin the CHW refresher training. The CHW’s are members of the communities that UDHA works in that have been elected to this position by their peers. They attend an initial training that teaches them all about the importance of breastfeeding, proper nutrition for infants and pregnant women, and home gardening. The goal is for all of these CHW’s to return to their communities with the knowledge that they’ve gained from UDHA, then teach and empower the community to begin eating nutritiously and ultimately eliminate the devastating issue of malnutrition. As Moses, one of the leaders of the Nutrition Project, put it on the first day of work, the problem of malnutrition is not necessarily that there isn’t enough food or land to grow crops in the villages but that people don’t have the necessary knowledge or habits to eat healthfully. The CHW’s are UDHA’s answer to this fundamental problem.
It was so incredible to get to see all of the CHW’s (many of whom we had already visited at their homes) together at once. It was like a physical symbol of the impact that UDHA has already had and will continue to have in the future. They were all smiles and hugs and bellowing laughs as they stood together and chatted in Lusoga.
As part of the training, they went over what a proper food demonstration should be like and they made sure to include us for every step along the way. I peeled potatoes, washed them, chopped vegetables, ground nuts, and even helped build the fire. It was so much fun but so incredible difficult to execute which made me gain even more respect for the work being done by these amazing people. They were very welcoming to Ananya and I and even brought us gifts. And when I say “they” and “gifts,” I mean each and every one of the CHW’s gave us some delicious-looking fruit, vegetable, or grain to take back to America with us. It was such a generous surprise!
Overall, our last week in Naigobya was productive, enlightening, and inspiring. I am so grateful that I was able to experience another culture and expand my understanding of public health. Now, we just have to pack and be sure to catch our flight. It won’t be long before we are back home and able to see our family and friends and recount this awesome adventure to them.