Volunteering in Uganda: Kelsey & Rebecca share their stories
“It’s really amazing how resilient these children are when they are taking care of their siblings, trying to go to school and find food to eat.” – Rebecca an Kelsey are from Duxbury, MA
This week was great in Uganda. We spent a lot of time at the orphanage helping to wash and feed the kids. On Wednesday we went “digging” which basically means an intense African workout. We worked in the farms of the child headed families weeding with a hoe. These children depend on these fields for their source of food and because they are also trying to go to school, have little time to tend to the crops. It was very intense work though and proved how very out of shape I am! I looked over at one point and saw a woman at least twice my age digging much faster with a child strapped to her back.
This week the students at the high school had a debate about colonization of Africa. It was very interesting to watch and the students who were debating that colonization were detrimental to Africa won. Then they had a huge football (soccer) game which was a blast to watch.
The HIV curriculum is continuing to go well. This week I taught about prevention and had to do a little sex education because they did not know the definition. My students admitted they were having sex but without a condom. The girls said the boys forced them to do it and the boys said they would buy the girls donuts if they did.(Donuts cost about 10 cents here) I realized quickly that the students were having sex but didn’t know what it was or that they could become pregnant or contract HIV from it. They also had no knowledge of condoms. Maureen told me that children would not even be given condoms at a clinic if they asked because they are so young. It was a frustrating lesson but I’m hoping that the education will help them to at least realize the risks of what they are doing. Also, as these students continue primary education they will receive more health education through their schools.
We also started our HIV classes at a different school this week. This school is a private school so it is very interesting to compare the education systems. I am teaching an older class of 7th graders and it is going very well. I don’t even need a translator which is really exciting!
Everything is still going so well in Uganda and I love it. This past week I got the opportunity to visit some child-headed homes and help with some digging (landscaping). It’s really amazing how resilient these children are when they are taking care of their siblings, trying to go to school and find food to eat. The government in Uganda “pays” for public education but in reality it ends up being an additional twenty dollars per student per semester to go to school. This is due to uniform fees, food fees and maintenance for the school. Twenty dollars does not sound like a lot to us but when you live on a dollar a day it’s a fortune for these families. We are going back this week to help paint one of the children’s houses which I am really looking forward to.
We have been spending a lot of time talking with locals about the government here. They have a president named Musevini but he is more of a dictator than anything else. He has been in power far too long and is very corrupt. During elections he orders the military to stand next to his opponent’s election box with a gun. The area I am in is called Buganda and the people here still respect a king or Kabaka. They have their own government inside of a government which is pretty crazy.
Becca and I have continued working at the orphanage. Last week we spent the night there so we could help wash and feed the children. I woke up to a cockroach on my head in the middle of the night…yup it was gross. Anything you can think to complain about though is ridiculous because the children and people I work with deal with this kind of thing everyday.
I have also been getting involved in two health clinics in the area helping with immunizations for tetanus. Young woman receive four different tetanus immunizations here before they have children. Men only receive a vaccination at birth. I guess the tetanus is due to sanitary issues in the hospitals during a delivery. It was crazy though because these girls have dealt with so much in their lives (losing parents or siblings to HIV, malaria, ext.) and as soon as they saw the needle they started crying hysterically. Becca and I tried to comfort them but it was just surprising to see such strong woman so upset. At the same time though, it was refreshing…we were beginning to feel like huge wimps here.
Becca and I went to one health clinic and I donated some gloves that I had gotten from the U.S. There was an HIV patient who had walked in and was so sick he could not leave. He owned no clothes and had no family left. Becca literally took the shirt off her back and gave it to him. It was amazing.
I have still been teaching math and english to fourth graders in the afternoon. I decided though to change it up a little and taught some science. When I was explaining what a disease was, I used Malaria as an example. I realized then that none of my students knew the meaning of the word nor owned a malaria net. It was a huge shock. I decided to teach them about malaria instead and am organizing ways to get them all nets as soon as possible. It is the rainy season here so it is the most dangerous time to contract malaria, especially for children. I have to imagine that they do know people who have passed away from malaria but just did not realize it was because of that.
Becca and I started our HIV awareness program this week and it went really well. I taught about 100 3rd and 4th graders (The ages ranged from 12-17) and Becca did the older kids. It was really challenging at first because the younger students knew very minimal English but luckily, Maureen translated for me. The students at first thought that HIV could be spread through sharing clothes…Their misconceptions just go to show how important HIV education really is. This program will continue for another seven weeks (even after we have left) and we are teaching at three different schools.
We also painted a house this week for a child headed family. Some previous volunteers had raised the money to build this home. We got the chance to help at a health clinic with immunizations. I brought some more gloves and they were very appreciative. I gave polio mouth drops. Instead of a shot, I just had to give two drops in the child’s mouth. It was fascinating to see how the health care system works.
On Friday they had a party at the high school. They stopped classes at 10am and had a DJ come in and play music all day. It was really fun to see some of our students in a non academic setting.
On Saturday, we helped with syphilis education in a nearby village for adult woman. It is a real issue here because of polygamous marriages and is commonly spread to children at birth.
The highlight of our week though was helping at a special needs school! It was so inspiring to see this Ugandan man who had started his school from scratch in a culture where disabilities are not accepted. The children do not speak English but I’m going to bring music next time and try a little dance therapy. Most of the children have so much trouble with coordination so Becca and I are going to try to get them stretching and moving a little.