Friday, July 18, 2008
Drum roll please…after a full month of observation and needs assessment at TASO, I have come up with at least a tentative project goal. Following TASO’s 2008 theme, “scaling up HIV prevention among adolescents, the future leaders,” my goal is to work with youth in rural areas on TASO-related themes through partnership with secondary schools in the targeted communities. I’m expecting two more weeks of thorough needs assessment at four identified rural secondary schools after which I’ll develop a very specific workplan for the year. I’m thrilled! Having direction is egregiously underrated!
Beginning to find my place at TASO this week has come at a perfect time. This afternoon the three other interns, our two program coordinators and I will be traveling about five hours east of Jinja to Sipi Falls located in Mount Elgon Natinal Park in what’s called Kapchorwe District for a weekend retreat. We’re planning on taking what I hear is an epic hike past several waterfalls, enjoying the spectacular views, and relaxing by bonfires at night. I am excited for the rest and change of scenery!
The last few weeks here in Jinja have been rolling along smoothly. I feel I am integrating into my host organization and host family more and more as the time passes. The TASO drama club has even given me a Lusoga name, “Nangobi.” It makes me smile when I’m on my way home from work everyday and patients of Jinja Hospital (TASO is located right next to the hospital grounds) call out “Nangobi, Nangobi, Olyotia!” Of course, I also introduce myself as “Nakadama,” or daughter of the Kadama family, my host family name. It’s customary here to call people by their last names…So in addition I hear people calling out “Williams” as I walk around TASO grounds!
I had the privilege of traveling with TASO’s outreach team to a rural village to carry out a base-line survey. TASO works in partnership with 14 different communities, providing Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT), Home Based Care (HBC), support for income-generating projects, peer support groups, counseling trainings, and other activities. This particular community, Idudi, will be the 15th. We were collecting information on what the community members know about HIV/AIDS, where they get their information, and what local and cultural issues factor into the psycho-social components of the disease. We traveled a few hours away from Jinja, about 25 of us jam-packed into a taxi, to meet one-on-one with community members and ask them a series of TASO-developed survey questions.
After I met with a few community members, a young man named Grace showed me around the village. We strolled down the dirt roads hand-in-hand (Ugandans, like Cameroonians, love the strictly friendly hand-holding) passing the mud huts, boar holes, piles of mud bricks drying out in the sun, the maize fields, mango trees, and smoke clouds rising from families’ traditional kitchens. After a few minutes of meandering, we came upon a group of about 10 people who were mourning the death of a loved one. Grace explained to me that the large cloth canopy raised a few feet off the ground was the telltale sign of mourning—the family buries the body under the cloth canopy. I learned that it is a Bantu tribe custom to bury the body underneath the canopy until proper mourning is completed, after about one or two weeks. Once the relatives have mourned the death of the loved one, the cloth is lowered back down onto the ground.
As I sat around with the group and explained (through Grace, acting as my translator) that I was working with TASO, I ended up conducting an impromptu HIV/AIDS sensitization. The community members had so many questions: can a person get HIV if they wash an HIV-positive person’s clothes, can an HIV-positive mother prevent her newborn baby from transmission if she immediately turns the baby upside-down after birth, once a person starts taking ARV’s do they still have to wear condoms, is there a cure for AIDS in America, can TASO build a clinic in their community? It was disturbing and simultaneously fascinating to listen to the community members’ concerns. I was overwhelmed at how much misinformation they had, but inspired by their apparent desire to learn more about HIV/AIDS. I was emotionally moved by the welcome this group and several others offered me as Grace toured me around to greet the village in Luganda and Lusoga.
I am so grateful for the kind embrace I’ve received here in Uganda. Walking around Idudi felt like a unique homecoming, finding family among strangers.