Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Uganda Bites Back: Malaria Village Outreach!

Uganda Bites Back!!!

Malaria. For many in Africa malaria is as common as the flu. It is easy to get it and with medication it will go away but in developing countries where resources are few and general health knowledge is lacking something as common as flu or in this case malaria can kill you. I suppose the common flu in a person with a weak immune system can kill someone too but it is not very common. So to depict a small picture of the seriousness of malaria in Uganda and Africa here are a few statistics:

The Ugandan population is roughly 35.4 million people. 100% of the population is at risk of malaria. Malaria is responsible for approximately 70,000-110,000 deaths annually in Uganda according to stompoutmalaria.org. These are form mostly recorded deaths meaning there are most likely A LOT more deaths from this parasite. In Africa, one in five childhood deaths is caused by malaria. Every 30 seconds, a child dies from the disease.

Over the course of my two years spent in Uganda my passion for the fight against malaria has grown quite strong. When I first arrived to my rural village in southwestern Uganda I did a bed net survey using the help of VHTs (Village Health Teams) which consists of local volunteers that dedicate some of their time assisting government and local health centers. Most of their volunteering involves distributing health information (outreaches), providing surveys, and distribution of health resources such as bed nets. Unfortunately due to some communication issues okay well language barriers too, a majority of the surveys were filled out wrong but from the data that could be collected it showed that many families were in need of nets and the families that had nets were in need of repair.

Unfortunately, for over a year or more I wasn't able to do much with this information. I had surveyed a lot of families and even if I had received a Peace Corps grant I still did not have the funds to give them all nets. Thankfully this year, 2014, the Malaria Consortium along with the Government of Uganda provided a mass distribution of mosquito nets across all of Uganda. In theory this sounds great but due to poor communication and organization efforts some rural families either did not know of the distribution in their areas or lacked the resources to go to the distribution sites. All in all though many families received new mosquito nets! The distribution of these nets and the results from my surveys are what gave me the idea for my project involving the training of VHTs on mosquito net repair, care and maintenance as well as providing outreaches into the community to distribute this knowledge!

Getting Our Net Repair On!

 Lucky I heard about this organization called Pollination Project from a fellow Ugandan PCV who is currently working with them by reviewing grants for the East Africa region. Pollination Project gives, "...$1000 seed grants to individual change makers, every day of the year, emphasizing projects that expand compassion in the world," and I was lucky enough to receive one of these $1000 grants for training VHT Coordinators in Engari Sub-County on malaria education with emphasis on mosquito net repair, care, and maintenance! Pollination Project is a really unique and wonderful organization that many Uganda Peace Corps volunteers have utilized for their projects. Many Ugandans have also received grants for their projects too! I am currently helping one of my Ugandan friends to receive a grant for his youth project that he is trying to get off the ground. Anyone can apply from any country! If you want to learn more about Pollination Project click the link! http://thepollinationproject.org/

Also here is the link to my grant award page on their website!! http://thepollinationproject.org/grants-awarded/kendra-smith-uganda-bites-back-malaria-vht-outreach/

Also, through Pollination Project my own project made it onto the Huffington Post online!  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ari-nessel/communities-taking-action_b_4740854.html

Like I said before one of the main goals of the project is to train the VHT Coordinators on malaria education and prevention, specifically mosquito net repair, care and maintenance. The other goal is to increase the knowledge and skills of community members on malaria education and prevention, and to encourage change among villagers who use their nets for alternative purposes.

Stage 1

The biggest part of my project and grant goes towards the training of the seven VHT Coordinators that are based within seven different parishes within Engari-SubCounty. I know that may sound really confusing but just think of it as there are seven leaders in seven different areas which covers thousands of households. Most of my grant money when towards materials and supplies. Especially, the VHT handbook! The handbook consists of a variety of malaria information, facts, resources (example surveys), and games! All of which should be helpful for outreaches into the community to get community members attention and to make learning fun especially for youth. The handbooks I had for this training were all in English but I later got them translated into Runyankore which is the local language spoken in this region of Uganda. 

The training took place on April, 25, 2014 (World Malaria Day!) and all seven VHT Coordinators were present although some were quite late! It was a good think I had my counterpart/translator with me because only two of the seven spoke good English. We went through the general facts of what malaria is, prevention, treatment, assisting vulnerable individuals (women, children, HIV + individuals), practiced net repairing, discussed care and maintenance, played some malaria related games and ended with learning a malaria song! It went really well and the VHTs seemed satisfied with the training! 
The VHT Coordinators with their certificates for completing their training. My counterpart James and myself are the ones kneeling. 
Here is the English version of the VHT Handbook


Stage 2
The next stage involves having the malaria trained VHT Coordinators have training's of their own with the VHT's in their parish. Each of the coordinators have picked a day in June to do their training's. They will hopefully be very similiar to the one I conducted but I am giving each coordinator free reins to conduct the training as they see fit as long as the important information is covered. Also, VHT Handbooks will be distributed out to these VHTs so most of them will have a copy or one to share with another VHT in their area. Pictures hopefully coming soon!

Stage 3 
The FINAL stage will be the trained VHTs within each parish having community outreaches distributing the information they have been trained on!

Procrastinating, Packing, and Phenomenal Friends & Family

So I just found this draft of a post I meant to post before I left for Uganda two years ago! I wish I would have posted it then but it is better late than never.

AHHHHHH!!! Can pretty much sum up my feelings right now!! It is crunch time and I'm a little worried I'm not going to be ready to leave A WEEK from today! My procrastinating has allowed me to get to 7 days before my departure still buying essential items and getting my life prepared to leave. I am beginning to think the African lifestyle will suite me well, especially since there way of life is slower pace and deadlines are more of suggestions than requirements. Don't worry I always get things done on time, even if is a couple hours before. Which I fully intend not to do!!! My bags will be packed and ready to go the night before my departure...I'm positive...kind of...maybe...okay I'm hopeful but lets face it I'm sure I will be still packing at 4 am.

I'm honestly stressed out the most because of my freaking packing more than anything else. Bring on the bucket showers, latrines, big bugs, big animals, foreign foods and the heat but trying to pack for the next 2 years of my life?!?! Ugh the idea of it for a while made me want to vomit. I thought packing for 3 months in Europe was bad but this has been stressing me out for the past couple months. Of course I didn't start really thinking about what to bring until about two weeks ago. I guess I just tend to work better under pressure. I'm sure this sounds like something pretty silly to be worried about but in my head I still think I am going to be in an area where I won't have access to anything. Of course this won't be the case but I don't want to get to Africa wishing I had brought more or that I brought the wrong kind of clothes. Especially for work. I am required to wear skirts at or below the knee, business casual tops (no spaghetti straps), or dresses (no spaghetti straps). I'm sure what I plan to bring will be just fine but my mind has decided to make me stress just for fun.

One of the main reasons for this post is to address the fact that I have some of the most amazing, wonderful, caring, supportive, hilarious, and freaking phenomenal friends and family :) Throughout this whole process I honestly have never felt more loved and supported in my life!!! I would definitely be lost without my friends and family. They keep me in line, help me let loose, drive me insane, help keep me sane, support my crazy ideas to travel the world, and drive me to follow my passions whether they be big or small. Unknowingly or not they have helped me to make it to this point in the Peace Corps. As difficult as it will be to say bye on May 22, the thought that they will be following me on this crazy adventure via blog, fb, letters, and e-mails gives me comfort and confidence. 

So thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the love and support!!!