Week 1 COMPLETE!

After a busy first couple days in Masaka, we had a much needed relaxing first weekend. On Saturday, Paul gave us a wonderful tour of Masaka, and then we watched the Liverpool FA Cup championship. After a disappointing loss, we all had many Niles (a Ugandan beer) to console ourselves – well mainly to console Tyler. Sunday, we were able to sleep in a little for the first (and most likely the last) time! We went to a nearby hotel to swim in their pool, and were stunned by the luxuriousness of it. We even considered splurging and spending our last few nights there until we realized it was over a million UGX (around 400 USD). We came back, napped, read, and watched Die Hard – the way Sundays should be spent!

We were all a little anxious for the start of our first full week at Kitovu and had no idea what to expect or what we would be doing. Charles wanted us to get a more in depth orientation of all the various departments and programs of Kitovu and decided it would be a good idea for us to split up so we could see as much as possible, and we all agreed – we were starting to get a little sick of each other J We each chose the department we most wanted to learn about: Tyrherh – pre-ART, Peter – Counseling and Training, Madrin – Orphan and Family Support, and Ireene – ART. Apparently, Ugandans have a hard time differentiating their l’s and r’s, and as a result, these are the names we were instantly given and so fondly accepted. We all had very different interesting weeks so we are each going to tell about our own experiences. ENJOY!

Eileen: The first department Charles mentioned when he was trying to place us was Home Based Care (HBC). No one immediately jumped at it so I decided to go for it. I knew practically nothing about it so I was equally excited and nervous to see what it was all about! I was placed in the ART portion of HBC. ART stands for Anti-Retroviral Treatment; ARVs (anti-retrovirals) are the medications given to AIDS patients at a specific stage of their progression. Within the first five minutes of arriving in the ART department, I was given an intense detailed briefing on the MANY ARV regimens Kitovu uses, and the various side effects of each. As Antonitah was explaining all of this fascinating information, I realized I was in the right department. After my quick overview, I hopped in a car with Francis (two of them), Joseph, and Martin (another visitor from an International Medical organization located in western Uganda). We made a pit stop at a local bakery to pick up some bread and delicious cakes that I later realized was for our break tea/lunch on the road. Joseph began to give me a run down of what we would be doing for the rest of the day: going to two health centers and one at home visit. When we arrived at the first center, Joseph explained they don’t have the funding to set up actual centers in all the various villages they work in so they make due with whatever local community/health centers are already in place or if there are none – a mango tree! Throughout the day, we saw many different types of patients: some that were about to start their ART for the first time or who were supposed to start but didn’t meet the requirements, some who have been on it for a few weeks and were being checked for side effects, and unexpected patients who just heard we were coming for the day. I sat and observed while Martin kindly explained all that was going on, and I even wrote my first prescription (I just wrote exactly what Martin told me to, but that is a minor detail!) During these visits, I saw the incredible amount of admiration and appreciation all of the Kitovu staff receives in so many of the surrounding communities and justifiably so. The level of thoughtfulness and respect that Kitovu staff gives to not only each of their patients, but also to us is astounding, comforting, and much appreciated. After a long first day, I was told I looked “tired” and “weak”, something I, along with the rest of the team, would be told many times over the next few days. Ugandans apparently have endless amounts of energy. The next day was an office day, and I must admit I was kind of relieved! I got to spend the entire day with Betty – Betty who I could tell you so much about, but the most notable is her unbelievably contagious smile. For most of the day, we input all the data that is collected during the type of field visits I went on the previous day into huge impressive books and chatted about Ugandan customs. Wednesday was another field day and to my surprise and excitement, Betty was joining us! This time I sat with Betty, and we filled the prescriptions that Joseph and Martin were writing. But mostly we just talked some more and discovered our mutual love of pork. Thursday was supposed to be another office day, but after running into Madeline during “break tea”, I decided to duck out of office work and join her to a meeting at a local primary and secondary school. An incredibly exhausting, and wonderful first week.

Week of 7-11 May 2012 Madeline: I started this week feeling very enthusiastic about the prospect of learning more about Kitovu Mobile and getting to know the people with whom we would be working. I decided that I wanted to start in the Orphan and Family Support program, hoping to learn more about different services that Kitovu provides, aside from AIDS treatment and support. Unfortunately, I spent most of Monday waiting for Steven, the director of the program, as I anxiously twiddled my thumbs, read, and re-read the literature he gave me to keep me occupied. That being said, I learned a ton from all the literature, case studies, and photo albums that I skimmed through. Additionally, I got to know Steven very well (for the time that he and I were actually sitting together in the office), learned more Luganda, and ate a very cheap, local, delicious lunch in town. Tuesday, I was able to travel into the field, back to Rakai district, to visit the Mobile Farm School (same place where we went to the launch on Friday). I travelled with Gorrethe (Spelling? Pronunciation? …Never quite figured it out), who is a counselor to the children of the school. Our driver, Augustine, is a sselongo. A sselongo in Uganda is a man who has fathered twins. This is highly regarded and considered to be very important- it means the man is very strong! J (In subsequent days, we met many other sselonogos, as it’s the first thing told about a man after you learn his name.) Gorrethe, along with many Kitovu counselors, provides any additional support the students might need and helps them work through the psychosocial problems experienced by those affected by HIV/AIDS. I watched her teach a class on relationship building- so interesting, so different, so surreal. Students often called each other out, asking questions like, “You always seem so sad and worried, why do you never talk about it?” Another mentioned, “I don’t like it when the boys touch my body.” — moments of real truth, vulnerability, and pain. It was an amazing day of cultural learning and witness. After a long day of driving the pot-hole infested roads, Gorrethe asked if I was feeling tired after the drive. Hilariously, I quote: “How do you feel, Madrin? We have very bumpy roads so it gets very tiring after all of the shaking. And for those of us who are married, we have to go home and ‘shake shake’ some more. Sometimes all we want to do is rest but there is no time for that!” Need I say more? Wednesday, I requested to travel into the field with the Home Based Care department, as I very much wanted to see some other departments, as well. I travelled with 6 others (all of us packed into a Kitovu Land Cruiser) to 5 different “centers” in order to provide clients with HIV/AIDS treatment and related prescriptions for other opportunistic infections. I put “centers” in quotes because only one was located in what seemed like a community building. The other 4 were a strange, yet amazing, combination of benches in a field, shade under a tree, and 2 in a vacant lot (as we filled prescriptions from the back of the car- hence Kitovu Mobile). Each day keeps getting better and better. Things still feel so surreal and unbelievable, in every sense of the word, but I am soaking in everything and keeping my eyes so wide open. The highlight of Thursday was the meeting that I had with Charles (our contact- Deputy Director/HR Manager) and Steven (previously mentioned- director of Orphan and Family Support) to plan and organize how our team would be spending our remaining weeks at Kitovu. Our water, hygiene, and sanitation project has been implemented in the village Kyanamukkaka (spelling to be confirmed later J), determined by Kitovu as the poorest of the poor areas. The project was launched into the Self Help Groups (SHGs), yet has faced many challenges. We worked out a plan for our team to first have a few days of familiarization and orientation to the village on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Then, we will be working with the Village Health Teams (VHTs) to put together trainings, educational workshops, and create a model home as an example of proper hygiene in the community. At the end, Steven would like for us to create a concept proposal for other potential donors to help this project get some leverage! So exciting, slightly intimidating, and incredibly fulfilling.  Thursday afternoon, Eileen and I attended the quarterly Orphan/Guardian planning meeting, where we spent roughly 4 hours listening to speeches in Luganda, playing hangman, and trying hard to control our delirious giggles. Interesting to sit through, yet difficult at the same time. Matooke, poshu, rice, mystery meat, and g-nuts (ground nuts) for lunch- slowly but surely, I’m learning to love matooke. Eileen, on the other hand, is learning how important a bottle of Coke can be to wash down massive amounts of food. J (Oh yeah, Happy Birthday on May 9th, Daddio Skills!) Also more than worth mentioning, all of the people we have met so far are so welcoming, knowledgable, helpful, and fun- a truly inspiring collection of people. Tomorrow, we go to Kampala! Looking forward to a fun weekend of adventure and discovery and a few more weeks of learning, processing, and experiencing. Over and out. MS °

May 7-13, Tyler: I started off Monday morning feeling very eager and excited to experience first-hand, what working at Kitovu Mobile is like. As Madeline, Eileen, Peter, and I split up to work with different departments of Kitovu Mobile, my excitement grew when I learned that I would be spending my week with the pre-ART (pre-antiretroviral treatment) department. From the small amount of knowledge I possessed about Kitovu Mobile at this point, I knew that this was one of the departments that travelled to the rural villages and distributed drugs to people that had tested positive for HIV and as someone who hopes to be a doctor someday, this line of work seemed very appealing to me. So I crammed into a small truck with a driver, a counselor, two nurses, and three large wooden trunks filled with various drugs and we drove into two different villages where I assisted a nurse in filling prescriptions and distributing these prescriptions to the clients. After doing basically the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well, I met some new friends and participated in many interesting conversations during the long drives to the villages such as discussing God with a pastor and talking about all of the English slang words that get incorporated into the Ugandan vocabulary such as “swaggerific”.

On Thursday however, I did not go out into the field. Instead, I stayed back in the main office and assisted three workers at Kitovu with data input. This provided me with a great opportunity to meet some more people and learn more about Kitovu Mobile from a different perspective.

Week of 7-11 May 2012 Peter

Heading to the deputy director’s office in the morning of 7th May, we did not have much of an idea about what the introduction week would be like.  Charles, our friend the deputy director, had agreed with us when we offered to split up and go individually to different departments.  I was given the Counseling and Training department headed by Joseph.  This department deals with psychosocial support for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) throughout different communities in Uganda along with psychological counseling, training, and sensitization of the community on the various factors of HIV and AIDS.  This week we worked specifically on the need for psychosocial support for OVC in communities by presenting to the adult members of communities.

My first three days were very similarly structured.  We would wake up around 7AM, get ready for the day and grab breakfast (which has the most delicious potato/ home fries I’ve ever had), and get to morning prays at Kitovu Mobile by 8:30.  At first we had Paul drive us to Kitovu, which was great because we all enjoy Paul’s company, but we decided that we should walk in the morning to save them the trouble and because it’s a nice walk.   After the interesting and entertaining songs of the morning prays, we would break up and go to our respective groups.  The Counseling and Training team is made up of Ugandans who have received formal training and education to become counselors.  They are all interesting, friendly and easy to talk to, as one might expect because of their job title.

The first day was the busiest; we went to two different communities.  The morning I introduced myself and read up on what the team does.  At 10:30 AM everyday we would have “break tea”.  All activities would stop and we would go to a center two houses down the street and have tea, chapatti, bananas and samosas.  The tea tastes like a candy version of the normal tea we would have because of the amount of cane sugar put into each cup.  Spoonfuls on spoonfuls on spoonfuls of pure cane sugar – which I thoroughly enjoy.

After break tea we would squeeze the team into the Toyota Prado that our trusty driver Wind Blood uses.  Wind Blood, whose name is most likely Winslow but he pronounces it as Wind Blood, is a very interesting Ugandan full of personality.  Wind Blood also has 40 brothers and sisters.  Yes, that’s right 40.  Not all from the same mother, but all from the same father.

We would travel to rural communities 40 – 60 minutes outside of Masaka town.  The drives would take place on dirt roads for the majority of the time.  Driving in Uganda is reckless in every aspect.  We would be flying along roads passing other cars, who are passing boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) who are passing bikes who are swerving around the goats and cows that graze along side the road.  Its chaos, but the drivers are confident in what they are doing.  The presentations discussed how parents and the communities have acted towards OVC in the past and how they should learn to act differently in the future.  This was done in a very interactive method where the community would discuss for themselves and decided the best way to proceed- guided by the counselors.   I acted as an observer, or as I’d like to call it, one of Kitovu Mobile’s token muzungu (white person).  I learned a great deal about how discussions and presentations to communities are carried out and about the issue of psychosocial support for OVC, but the most interesting thing I learned how to do was to introduce myself to groups of community members of 50 – 100 people large in Luganda. This created excitement among the members because for some reason when a muzungu introduces themselves or talks in the native language, many believe they are fluent.  Ugandans would come up to me after the presentation and ask me questions and talk in their native language.  I just smiled and said “kali (OK)” and “yes” over and over again.

Between presentations, our team would get lunch at a local restaurant.  This turned out to be my most dreaded part of the day.  Although in America I feel as though I am always hungry even after a meal, in Uganda I am put to shame by absolutely everyone I go out with.  We receive mounds of their local food for 1500UGX, approximately $0.60 and I have yet to eat everything I am given.  I try my hardest and even when I do I sometimes receive comments like, “Why are you not eating today?”.  My stomach has never been more full at all times.  After lunch we went back out to the field for another presentation.

Tuesday and Wednesday followed the same procedure as Monday, however we only visited one community a day and spent the mornings preparing for the field.  On Thursday I joined an ART group and went out to the field doing the same work that Tyler and Eileen did that week.  I assisted filling and distributing the prescriptions of the AIDS patients that the nurse gave to me.  Each day I would return back to the hotel sometime after 6:30 exhausted and in need of a nap, but feeling thoroughly impressed with Kitovu Mobile and its ability to treat the people of Uganda in such a holistic, comprehensive way.

 

 

Check back for our post on our weekend trip to KAMPALA! And it’s a little belated, but a very Happy Mother’s Day to Deana, Pam, Alison, and Caroline!!

 

 

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4 comments

  1. Rachel S · · Reply

    Guys, this all sounds incredible. I’m really enjoying the updates. Seems like youre learning so much and meeting awesome people – I’m so happy for you!

    1. Rachel S · · Reply

      Ps mads – was cracking up at the shaking quote

  2. Steve S · · Reply

    All I can say: WOW !!! and thank you so much for sharing (in every sense)

  3. Mike F · · Reply

    Awesome stories!! I am so glad that this experience is everything and more than you dreamed. Keep sharing.

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