Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lake Mburo in Southwestern Uganda

Here are some pretty sweet pictures of animals that I saw during a game drive through Uganda's first park, Lake Mburo National Park.
African Buffalo. These somehow sweet looking animals are one of the most aggressive and dangerous animals besides the lion (which I didn't see) living within this park.

Vervet Monkeys. These moneys are very common within Uganda and definitely plentiful at this park. The babies are sooo cute too.

Warthogs. The photo above this one is of one of the parents of these little piggies above.

Zebra. The main attraction of Lake Mburo is to see all of the zebra! I just happened to catch one of these zebra in mid poo.

MORE Zebra!

Defassa Waterbuck.

Topi. Not the best photo but these were one of my favorite animals to see because they look so different. I have never seen an animal with patches of colors like this. They walked away from us pretty quickly most of the time so this was the best image I could get.

Friday, November 22, 2013

MY LAST BIG PROJECT: Engari Community Library

Well, I have finally begun my last big project in Uganda! I have around 8 months left to go before I finish my service so it is now crunch time. This project is one that I wanted to do within my village since I arrived. I remember when I first got to my site my Ugandan supervisor, Solomon, mentioned that if I wanted to hide information in Africa just put it into a book. That statement was so disappointing to hear because reading is so important and it is one of my passions. I love getting lost in my books to escape reality and image myself in a completely different world.   

So my project involves building a community library for Engari but using recycled plastic bottles inside the walls instead of bricks. This project has a lot of components with one of the obvious ones being using recycled plastic bottles. The main idea using the bottles is waste management and educating the community on the importance of keeping the community clean as well as the benefits of using plastic bottles for construction. Plastic bottles for construction are cheap because they are free so cost-effective; they are filled with rubbish found within the community so they are extremely environmentally friendly; they are shock absorbent which is important since this region of Uganda is prone to frequent tremors; they are sustainable since rubbish is found everywhere because recycling is rarely done while the remaining rubbish is thrown on the ground or burned. 

Another component of this project is community involvement. This project is promoting volunteerism and community participation with collecting, filling and placing bottles into the wall of the library structure as well as maintaining and running the library after completion. The purpose of so much community involvement is for the community to take ownership and pride of their community library with the hope that it will continue to run and be maintained long after I have left. Also, volunteering in this country usually means people are still getting some sort of facilitation whether it is for travel or food but it is often expected. I’m trying to show the community the benefits of volunteer for completely free. I think what will help, especially the youth, with this aspect is that I’m going to offer the opportunity for secondary school students to volunteer after school and help with leading the book clubs, book readings, and teaching the primary students how to read.

My hope is that Engari community members will become curious with increasing interest in reading and someday develop into a reading culture. Kind of a big dream but I think if people at least have access to a wide range of reading materials some community members are bound to take advantage of these resources. Hopefully it will cause a chain reaction of curiosity and interest among community members.

Okay onto the real issue at hand. Through Peace Corps I am able to apply for grants for a certain amount of money. While using bottle bricks are cost-effective there are still A LOT of other materials needed to construct a sturdy long lasting structure and since my village is fairly rural it is more expensive to transport materials. Unfortunately my grant is only going to cover the costs needed to construct the library structure. Since books are kind of the whole point of building the structure I really need as much help as I can get!  I have created a way for amazing people to donate money and books for the library! If you are interested in helping this truly wonderful community gain access to a library filled with reading materials filled with information from around the world then take a look at this website: http://www.gofundme.com/51x6h0. Also, if you know of anyone that may be interested in donating money or books please send them the link as well.

The future site for the library

Educating the secondary students about waste management and keeping their community clean as well as the importance of volunteering. The hope is for the students to help collect plastic bottles from around their community for the library structure.

Friday, June 14, 2013

One Year in Uganda!

Well it is good to see that some things never change. My procrastination abilities have remained the same if not have become a little worse. I have had every intention of writing in this blog monthly and still hope to become better for my last year in Uganda but lets’ not get too crazy. One Year! What can I say... it has been one of the most challenging and rewarding  years of my life. I am living in one of the most beautiful countries in Africa but it is also a country that is about 50 years or more behind the United States in terms of infrastructure, technology, education, politics and ideals but progress can be seen mpora mpora (slowly slowly). For instance, my village now has electricity poles and the road to my village is almost halfway paved. Things are changing and will continue to change but it is not going to happen fast because nothing happens fast or on time in this country but like many things it will take time. I just hope as Uganda becomes more developed that it doesn’t lose its culture and history. I know the history of this country has not been a pretty one but I think it is important to know how you got to where you are and to appreciate how you got there. Ugandans are extremely strong people and proud to be where they are from so I don’t think it will be much of an issue at least not anytime soon.

So I spent my one year anniversary in this country with some amazing people in the Southwest region of Uganda. (Southwest is da Best!) Around 15 of us PCV’s traveled to Kabale Town on May 24th 2013, the very day one year ago we landed at night into Uganda. We all got our party on at the Match & Mix bar for a night of intense boneshaking (aka dancing!!) I especially, danced so much that when I dropped it like it’s hot I ripped my jeans! Granted I have basically been wearing these jeans almost every day for a year. It was bound to happen sooner or later but I was in the middle of a dance circle when it did. I’m almost positive that no one noticed but I was also a few beers in at the time. Anyway, it was a fabulous evening and a great way to start the weekend.

Next we headed to Lake Bunyoni for some relaxation. One of my fellow PCV’s lives on an island so we took a boat ride on the beautiful lake to his island and once we arrived there we began to boil some fresh crayfish for a little one year snack!! They were amazing!! Then a few of us took a hike around the island and off again on a boat to another island for dinner at Bunyoni Amagara. After we arrived on this island a few of us took a dip in the freezing cold lake and were searching for hippos the entire time since we had recently been informed that there have been sightings of three hippos in the lake. No worries we didn’t see anything. Then, we had an amazing dinner with muzungu food, took another night boat ride back to the island and ended the night roasting marshmallows over a bonfire. Also, I was shown that when you wear a head lamp on your head and look straight at the grass, at night, you can see teal twinkling little specks on the grass and these twinkling pretty little specks are spiders’ eyes. This discovery totally just changed my life and the way I walk through the grass at night.
Our last day on the island was very chill. Many PCVs had planned to leave at 7 am but due to Ugandan way of life and that it was a Sunday (church) the boat driver didn’t arrive until 11 going 12 pm. When we all got back into Kabale Town we got into a Matatu (mini bus as they call it or basically a big van with a lot of seats) we headed back towards Mbarara. I thought it was only fitting that the ride back was a pretty torturous one.  The windows in the back wouldn’t open, two children vomited on the bus, we got a flat tire, and the road was extremely bumpy and dusty. You would think after a year this would be nothing but I think I have begun to hit a point where I’m a bit over it and would be willing to pay for a private so I don’t have to deal with rides like this one.  Once we reached Mbarara a nice standing shower and a cold Club beer seemed to rejuvenate me.

This next year I think will be a lot more productive in that my big projects will finally be underway and yet it will also be full of new challenges as well as amazing new experiences. Already, I can tell you that I will be off to the land of the Pharaohs in July!!!!! I am beyond excited for this little adventure! Another PCV, Meish, and I are going to be in Egypt for 8 days! We have plans to ride camels, make sand angels, touch some pyramids, take a cruise on the Nile, and just enjoy the cities of Cairo, Luxor, and Alexandria.  Also, my big tank project is finally underway!!! The masons have already finished making the bricks for the three 20,000 liter tanks to be placed at a health center in Biguli (Kyemwenge District). By the end of this month construction on these tanks should have begun! I think this year is going to be quite epic!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Amagara Omu Uganda~Life in Uganda 8 going on 9 Months In!

So this is going to be a brief summary of what the heck I’ve been doing so far in Uganda. Hopefully updates will become more frequent now that some of my projects are now underway! Since I haven’t posted any photos on this blog or Facebook I thought it is about time I give a visual of my adventures thus far. ENJOY!

My very first event I did in my village was a health talk to the secondary school in my village in October 2012. So this was my first health talk in Uganda and I was extremely nervous so thankfully my fellow PCV amigos’ helped out. We specifically focused on HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and hygiene as our topics of choice. We had a lot of interesting questions and comments. The one that stuck out the most was a comment that one of the students made, “I heard that syphilis started after the atomic bomb was dropped.” What?! It begins to make you wonder what other things have these children been taught to believe. The majority of what is lectured to the students in schools is either from off the top of the teachers head because they don’t have curriculum or word for word from some education books that are in most cases outdated. The lack of critical thinking here is unreal and at times frustrating. I should try to take pictures of some of the sections I have recently seen in education books because they are quite ridiculous and inaccurate but that’s why I’m here to help!

 Although this is a pretty small accomplishment I still feel pretty proud about it. The PCV that was formally at my site had accomplished a lot during his service here. One of the projects he worked on was putting up a world map and the map of Africa (in the picture above). Unfortunately he was unable to finish this map during his service. So I picked up the project and finished painting the rest of the map with the assistance of LICHI staff and the Asian muzungu’s that live in my village. I am planning to put up HIV/AIDS statistics on the side of the map as well.
The next several photos are from National Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) that took place in Kisubi, Uganda from December 2-8. Camp GLOW is a week-long camp for Ugandan youth, Camp GLOW is specifically for girls although there is Camp BUILD for boys, that focuses on many issues such as self-esteem, gender roles, family planning, goal setting, communication skills, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, and malaria to name a few. Throughout the week each day has a different theme and each session that is taught relates to that theme. Besides educating these girls on important issues the camp is meant to get these girls out of their villages to meet girls from around Uganda and to experience other places in their country. Many Ugandans that live in rural areas never leave their villages because they are unable to afford transportation and lodging somewhere else or unable to leave their families farms. The camps are full of fun activities and games for the girls to do. Each counselor was a different animal name so many counselors, including myself, came up with different cheers about their animal that we sang when going to meals and different sessions. We had a talent show and dance towards the end of the camp too!
 My role at camp was a counselor! I had a Ugandan co-counselor and we had 10 girls that we were in charge of for the week. Also, I taught four sessions with a Ugandan co-teacher on malaria. It was such a rewarding, fun and exhausting week. I was lucky enough to get to bring four girls from my village to this camp as well! Although none of the girls were in my group I was still able to see them throughout the week. I loved it so much that I am now one of the co-directors for the Southwest Camp Glow that will take place at the beginning of May this year!!! Super excited!!

The photo above is of my co-counselor, Gloria, and I after we had finished making our signs and bed signs for our campers! We were the Giraffes!!! Here is the cheer I came up with: We are the tallest in Kidepo! Gi-ra-ff-es! We have the longest legs and necks! Gi-ra-ff-es! We have black and brown spots! Gi-ra-ff-es! We are few but full of pride! Gi-ra-ff-es! As Giraffes, we learn and grow at Camp GLOW!!! 

The picture above is our group photo (snap, as the Ugandans call it) that got printed and given to all campers and counselors to remember their experience at camp!

This photo is of my co-counselor and campers on our last day of camp. These girls were so quiet and shy at the beginning of camp and towards the end they all came out of their shell and ya couldn’t get them to shut up! I’m sad that they are all spread out across Uganda so I most likely won’t get a chance to see them again but I will always remember the experiences and fun I had with each of them for the rest of my life.

The next event I had came up quickly after Camp GLOW which was the Southwest World AIDS Day Event. Technically World AIDS Day is on December 1, but the majority of us southwesters were at counselor training for camp so we had to plan a later date for our event. On December 15 we held our event in Rukungiri, Uganda. In preparation for the event we did a radio show to inform the community about the event and activities that would be happing throughout the event. So the photo below is of me and two other PCV’s during the radio show! I honestly didn’t think I would be nervous but I was almost just as or more nervous than if I would have been doing a speech in front of a bunch of people. It was really cool the next day because when Tara and I were in the village posting up signs for the event a lot of people came up to us and told us they heard us on the radio! 

The event was supposed to be all held outside but due to the rain we held the majority of the education and games inside one of the church halls. We did education on HIV/AIDS, malaria, nutrition, and water sanitation & hygiene. I did the majority of the malaria session with a demonstration of how to properly use a mosquito net using the audience as the bed posts and mattress. It was fun and educational at the same time! This is pictured below.

After each education session we played a game that had questions relating to the topic that was just taught. The picture below is of me playing a game relating to the nutrition session specifically the grow, glow, and go food model that is taught in Uganda. 

The picture below is of the lovely PCV ladies and me after the event was over and we were able to let loose a bit! It was a bit of a long, stressful, and dreary day but it was a good turnout with around 300 people! There was testing and counseling by TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) and drama dances by a local drama group. I am very proud of us ladies for whipping together this successful event in a short period of time.

Some of the more recent projects that I have been working on this year include a mosquito net survey and a grant for five rainwater harvesting tank for a school and two health centers. The picture below is of me with the VHTs (Village Health Team) for Nsheshe Parish. Village Health Teams are volunteers that assist health centers and hospitals to relay information about outreaches and other health related events to villagers. The VHTs assist with distribution and collection of information for clinics and hospitals as well. So I created the mosquito net home surveys and had the VHT’s from four different parishes within the Engari sub-county assist with the collection data. I haven’t finished totally the data from the surveys yet but I have collected surveys from roughly 2000 plus households! The biggest problem I have now from this project is that I have a TON of statistics from these parishes in regards to the needs of these villagers but no funds to buy the nets and mosquito net repairing supplies. I am hoping that within the next couple of months I will be able to get some people or organizations to donate funds or nets so that they can be distributed out to these families.

The rainwater harvesting tank project is currently in the works!! I applied for the grants this month and just recently was informed that my proposal was accepted!! So within the next several months five rainwater harvesting tanks will be built in three locations: one at the Engari Secondary School, one at the Engari Community Health Center and three at the Biguli Community Health Center! I am super excited and can’t wait for them to begin construction!!!
My upcoming projects will hopefully include mosquito net distribution within those four parishes and hopefully more parishes. The other big project I will be working on is the start of a library/internet café. The construction for the library/internet cafe will hopefully be built this year but then I will probably be asking family and friends for funds so that I can fill the library with books and buy around four computers for the café. The internet café will have multiple purposes besides revenue for my organization LICHI but also as educational tools for the community and students. I would like to help train and set up classes for computer skills and research skills especially for the students. 
It’s kinda funny how I hear other PCVs say that the first year is the longest and the second year flies by. I think the first 3-6 months in Uganda were the longest and now it feels like time is flying by. It does help that I actually have things to do now but lately I have been thinking of home a lot. I am definitely going to need a break from Uganda and travel somewhere soon even just to another country nearby like Rwanda. There are times when I feel like I’m never leaving Uganda and I need to prove to myself that I can and will be going home eventually. Sounds silly but I think anyone living like a PCV in an African country can relate. I have talked to a lot of PCVs that said at the beginning of their service they were not going to visit home at all in the two years but a year or so into their service they decided hell with it and went home to visit. I am trying to hold true to mine and stay here the full 27 months without going home but the temptation is there and grows stronger each month. Although hearing about the below zero temperatures and several feet of snow that Wisconsin has right now is not very tempting for me since I’m currently enjoying the equatorial sun and dry season right now aka extremely HOT! Plus I think this is the best tan I’ve had in my life! I know I do this to myself every time I travel and as soon as I leave or go home I’ll wish I was back where I was so that’s why I’m trying to enjoy my time here and appreciate all experiences (pleasant or not) before this adventure comes to an end and I’m forced back into reality.