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!

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