Saturday, 9 June 2012

Goodbye to the village...

Can you imagine that as I am typing this we are having one week remaining in Butagaya?! Because I definitely can't! Its a little scary and sad all rolled into one because I can't think where the time has gone and I am most certainly going to miss all the friends I've made. Looking back on our time here however, not only can I see the physical changes in the landscape as a result of the rainy season (ie a lot more green and maize is growing everywhere!) I know that we have made a positive change in the community. Evidence of this is perhaps seen through two things this week. First thing - we formally registered a new youth group, specifically for disabled young people, with the local sub-county chief which will enable them to access government funds more easily and other practical support for their work in their particular village. We were very excited to have helped those guys acheive that, especially as we have seen them right from their formation. Now they have even received livestock training on how to maintain a piggery and have applied to our office for start up funds. Just a brief snapshot too of our work surrounding agriculture and livelihoods!
The highlight of this past week has also seen us hold a demonstration festival event for the whole community to showcase our work from the last five months. The event, held at our Secondary School, was really well attended by the community and most especially our local leaders and local government officials. This meant that they were not only able to see what we've done but could also recognize their responsibility to carry on the work and support our groups as we prepare to leave. We had presentations from all our school groups and out of school youth who brought role plays, songs, dancing, poems and demonstrations about many different themes; HIV/AIDS, Gender, rights for disabled people and sustainable organic farming techniques. It was such a fun day, if not a little hectic for us facilitators but we couldn't have expected a better event! 
So now, preparations for our departure begin, not only packing up but also saying our farewells to our friends - wish me luck as I know we are going to be busy right up until the very end but I am still very conscious to spend time with everyone before I go!! 
After leaving Butagaya, we all head back to Jinja town for a debrief at our office and then it really is goodbye to all our friends and then I am let loose on Uganda and the surrounding area for 6 weeks!! Not sure as yet of my plans, apart from a very much anticipated visit from Vickers junior, aka Alice, for a couple of weeks so if anyone else has a last minute summer holiday plan - make it for Uganda!!! Thanks everyone for your continued support and see you in a couple of months!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Just a brief check in...

Hi everyone! Greetings from Jinja town! This is just a quick update to all my lovely friends about life here in Uganda - which I might add is feeling increasingly like home!
After a fab break with Mum and Dad, I met up with all my fellow volunteers for a weeks worth of top up training before heading back on placement. It was great to see everyone again and find out how they were doing in their respective villages, and also somehow a comfort that the challenges we were facing were also being faced by others - so we really weren't alone and we are doing a good job!!!!
So since we've back in Butagaya we have been working closely with our youth groups to try and draw alongside them and support them in not only issues of sexual and reproductive health but also with their income generating activities. One of our groups wants to build their poultry keeping - of which they have 20 chicks! We have also recently set up a drop in centre for the young people of our area in the village trading centre where we are hoping young people will feel free to come and talk to us, receive advice and support, and also interact with one another. So the next couple of weeks will see us really promoting it and trying to get some regular times when we can be there to hang out with the youth!! We have also recently facilitated a community dialogue on domestic and gender based violence - an issue that is rife not only in our sub county but across the whole of Uganda. This was a real success and both the women and men who attended were really bold at vocalizing their issues, although it was only a small step to tackling a large and very much culturally related problem, I hope we at least encouraged a heightened sense of communication and compromise between couples - as that was our aim.
In the coming two weeks, before our next reporting day at the office, the schools are coming back to term after the holidays so we will be back working with our classes and the school clubs. I am very excited about seeing my secondary school pupils again - I really love drawing alongside them and they ask great questions - as well as us being able to have a bit of a laugh and have fun- after all, we are not their normal teachers but more like their peers! We also plan, in our partnership with the local health centre, to take a health talk on HIV to a local community slightly deeper in the rural areas, an area as well we know has a lot of people living with disabilities (more on that in my next blog I think!!). Looking forward, please pray for a successful final six weeks (can you believe it?!) in placement, and especially that we can achieve everything we set out to do as well as leaving a lasting impression in our community - that the community themselves can really grab hold of and move further when we are gone.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The reality of Ugandan life...

So I can hardly believe that I am writing this post to mark the half way point in my placement! Time really is flying by! Currently, I am on a mid-placement holiday break and mummy and daddy Vickers have come to visit! It is amazing, if not a little strange, to have them here and to show them this country and its people that I love so much. So far we have spent Easter in Kumi, the community which I worked in last year and tomorrow will be heading to the banks of the Nile in Jinja for some much anticipated R and R! Although I'm hoping to squeeze in a small day trip to Butagaya so they can see my stomping ground.

But what can I tell you about our programme since the last time I wrote?! So much as happened as usual and we are keeping busy but there are two things that I want to share which will hopefully keep you entertained! The first is a story about a boy called Eric. He lives in a village in our parish and for the last two months I had been teaching him in my P7 class at primary school, which is equivalent to Year 6 in the UK. He had always been a really good student with a really good level of English and asking me lots of questions so I had come to know him a bit. One day I realised that Eric wasn't turning up to classes anymore and it was when he came to talk to us at one of the community activities that he told us he no longer had enough money to pay for school fees so couldn't come to school. Both his parents have refused to support him and he lives with his grandmother who is herself struggling to feed her family so, to earn his school fees, he is currently making bricks (by hand!) to generate some small cash for himself. He came to us for some advice and support because all he wants to do is to be able to study! We sat and talked with him about how he can sustain his brick making as well as how he can plan financially with savings and things so that he can be able to fund his tuition for many more years to come. Although it is so hard to come to terms with the fact that children here have to work to simply go to school, Eric's passion and enthusiasm for learning and for other things like music and singing too really humbled me. I wondered how many of us, when we were in school, struggled to get out of bed in the morning and find the will power to put on our school uniform when boys like Eric make thousands of bricks just to get an education. But my hope at least is that Eric can persevere with some small income generation activity and then his father will perhaps realise how serious he is about learning and decide to support him further in the future. We are continuing to support him and to just encourage him as peer mentors as well as racking our brains for more things we can do to help but there is no doubt that the reality of life here can definitely hit you in the face!

As part of our community outreach here in Butagaya this month we ran a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) event in regard to HIV, encouraging community members not only to test for HIV then but to do so on a regular basis and to promote the services offered by the health centre. We conducted it in the trading centre of one of the local communities and, with great help and support from the village health workers and community members, we had a great turnout! The health centre nurses came along to test whilst some HIV positive people, who run outreach in Butagaya, helped us with both pre and post test counselling. It really was a great success as 113 people tested and it definitely served to raise awareness about HIV and how we can protect ourselves as well as the importance of regular testing. One of the nurses who have been working closely with out here also taught me how to test people by pricking their finger so I, the prospective student nurse, was also testing people!! I loved it as it really made me feel part of the community work we are doing and some of my team mates said that the fact that a 'muzungu' was testing people attracted more!! The hard hitting thing for me was when we discovered our first positive person - a 22 year old boy. I hadn't even thought about how I would react if we found someone to be HIV positive but I think again, it made the reality of life here even more poignant for me. Although HIV is certainly not a 'death sentence' as many people believe here, and treatment is available, that one test has now altered that boy's life forever. I think it also highlights the importance of education and promotion surrounding how people can live positively and have fulfilling lives even with the virus. 

So, as you can see, everyday here brings another aspect of the reality of daily life for our community and I can only hope and work hard to see that the programme we implement here serves and helps them in the best way possible - not just now but for the future!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The only 'muzungu' in Butagaya....

Mwasuze Mutya basebo ne banyabo! Or for those of you who are clearly not as fluent in Lusoga (the local language) as I am 'Good Morning Everyone!'
So hopefully that gives you a slight hint into the fact that I really am now settling well into the village and fully embracing my status as the only 'muzungu' or white person around! Our daily tasks like teaching in schools and working with the out of school youth groups are continuing to go well and I am particularly enjoying having sessions with our secondary school kids. With fewer students in a class and a better level of english I feel like I can really draw alongside them and offer them support as well as knowledge; as a mentor and peer rather than a teacher. 
Now that our baseline survey is over for February, our work is getting a lot busier with more events and activities that are intended to reach out to the whole community. Just this week we have had community outreach talks about HIV and condom demonstrations in partnership with the health centre, meetings and sessions with people living with HIV and a gender dialogue with community members about issues such as gender equality and gender based violence. I have really enjoyed these events, which have been on the whole a great success in spreading knowledge but also making Restless Development and our presence in Butagya more known!
The thing that has really struck me over the last week or so is my real love for the community and for people and for working at a local level. Even a simple thing like walking through the village centre and being stopped by and talking with people we know and have met makes me love living and working in a village and it gives me a real sense of community. On Sunday I went into the town to buy some tomatoes and some cassava (a local staple food) and was able to ask for what I wanted and how much it cost in Lusoga - all by myself!!! Much to the surprise and hilarity of the people around! But its the way of trying to fit in and draw alongside people that reminds me just why I came here in the first place!! So Praise the Lord for that!!
My prayer request point this time is for the smooth planning, mobilisation and implementation of a sports event we are holding for the entire community this coming weekend. With limited funds, our aim is to involve as many youth as possible to come and to participate as well as to acquire support from local community elders and political leaders to really promote Restless Development once and for all! Please pray, or think of us, as a team as we put our final plans into action and that it will be a successful day! Once again, thank you SO much to all of you who are praying for me and keeping in touch, whether through email or letters. 
I think that is enough for now so take care my friends and until next time!!!!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

There's no place like Butagaya

10 days into life in Butagaya and it is already beginning to feel like our Ugandan home. I have had so many wonderful experiences of village life already, and of course a few challenges along the way too but I will try and just give you a snapshot of life and work in Jinja District. For the most part of this month, our work is focused around conducting a 'baseline survey' with meetings and introductions and us gathering information that can inform our work over the next 6 months. From meeting flamboyant political leaders like the local council chief and other councillors, to meeting Primary and Secondary School teachers and health centre staff, we are slowly by slowly getting to know the community - and especially their attitudes towards young people and what we can do to help them. For me, a highlight has definitely been meeting with some out of school youth groups who are so eager to start up some income generation projects but are just desperate for the skills and knowledge through which to do it that they approached us and said they really need our help! Sandra and Susanes who are heading up the 'livelihoods' pathway of our work are going to work with them around entrepreneurship and savings so that they can begin poultry keeping. And in terms of SRH (Sexual and Reproductive Health) starting our introductory sessions in schools has been great - trying to introduce a new way of learning with lots of activities and fun games is really encouraging, especially when you see lots of smiling faces looking back at you - hopefully they are understanding our message too!! The next few weeks will see us finishing our baseline activities and consolidating a regular timetable for sessions and meetings as well as additional events to bring the community together like sports events, gender dialogues and voluntary HIV counselling and testing.

In terms of home life I am absolutely loving it!! Sometimes things can take you somehow by surprise, like the bat that paid a visit to our living room the other night, but the way of life is keeping me busy and enabling me to rise to the challenge!! One of my favourite daily activities has become going to fetch water in the evening - I have now worked up to being able to carry two 10 litre jerry cans for about 15 minutes up a hill! But after a tough or frustrating day, it can be a great way to actually relax a bit and meet some of the community at the well! And it also reminds me that, whilst this is most definitely a reality for me for the next  months, this is a constant and daily reality for my neighbours - and yet they are so happy and welcoming and even becoming my friends!!! 

In terms of successes and challenges (and prayer points!); thanks for my wonderful team mates and the fact that we have found a natural rhythm in terms of living together and doing chores as well as thanks for the community and the fact that I am slowly settling in. The one prayer request/challenge that I'm facing is adjusting to the work pace here in Uganda! Although I was totally aware of it before, it has I suppose highlighted to me my own characteristic of always wanting to be busy!! So please pray for a sense of motivation and energy within my team that we will get all the work done we need to complete, as well as for me to be patient and adjust to life.

One final thank you to all of you who have been praying and thinking of me - I really feel God's love guiding me here as He has blessed me with great friends (both home and away) as well as keeping me safe and healthy! So until next time, when you are putting on your wellies to go out in the snow I hear you have been having, think of me under the heat of the African sun to bring you some warmth :)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

One more thing....

Yes, one more thing, I just remembered that I promised to leave my postal address for some people. It is
Rachel Vickers
Restless Development Uganda
PO Box 1208
Jinja, Uganda

And for those who want to know - I also have a Ugandan cell phone number - +256 771 469 831.

Any contact is (as Ugandans would say) 'most welcome'!!!!!

Training commences....and is nearly at an end!

So I am now three weeks in! And the fact that this has been my first real chance to get into town to update you all is probably evidence enough to how busy we have been! Nevertheless it has most certainly been a fantastic three weeks; there is so much to say but I will try and keep it brief! From arriving in the heat of Entebbe and driving through Kampala to our training centre which is located just near a town called Mukono, I felt like I was back in familiar surroundings! It is simply great to be back, eating Ugandan food, enjoying Ugandan weather and spending time with lots of Ugandan people!!  

 We are staying at the centre from which we are training and sleeping in dormitories of about 12 people, a mix of ‘internationals’ and Ugandans. It has been pretty intense so far with both core sessions about Restless Development and the work of the NGO sector in Uganda as well as specialist training about, what will soon be, my area of expertise  - Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH). Despite the information overload sometimes, I feel both a little bit more equipped for and a little bit more passionate about the positive change we will be bringing into our rural communities and the lives of young people!  My work as a Peer educator in SRH will take me to both local primary and secondary schools as well as trying to reach the out of school youth and to increase youth friendly services in our local health centre. I really can’t wait to meet all these young people and draw alongside them in support and to be a role model for them, and I won’t have long to wait – we are officially ‘moving out’ on the 1st Feb! Talking of our communities, we were also assigned out placement teams last week! I am going to be living and working in a sub-county of Jinja District called Butagaya (look it up on a map if you like!!) and will have one volunteer from within that community and three other national Ugandans working alongside me. Within our team we are also divided by specialisms so that we can reach as many youth as possible. Susanes and Sandra are my nationals who will be working with livelihoods and agriculture whilst on my SRH team I have Richard and our local volunteer, Rodgers. I am so happy with our team and I think it is going to be great getting to know them and working with them over the next 6 months!  Wow, there really is so much more to share about the work I will be doing but hopefully as I start to report back on our activities, you will grasp a bit more! 

So I wanted to finish each of these blog posts with a summary of a few highlights and a few challenges I’ve faced so far (praise and prayer points for those of you who pray!) . First of all I am so thankful for all the new friends I’ve made, both international and Ugandan; I can’t express how much joy it has given e just to spend time with all these people!!! And it has also been amazing how at ease and comfortable I have felt being back here straight away – its like being in my second home! The challenge now though for me is leaving all my new friends and settling into my new placement community (but  I will have  chance to make even more friends there!) and also the steep learning curve I am going to face in delivering sessions, alongside my fellow Ugandans, about sensitive issues to young people. I really must stop rambling now but I hope you can sense my excitement and enthusiasm for the weeks ahead!