Thursday, July 26, 2012

The birds and the bees (+ pictures!)

Hi Everyone!

Hope you're all well!  Things in Bushenyi are winding down for the term!  Last week was our final week of classes, and after 2 weeks of exams our students will be out of here for another holiday, and we'll be off to Europe!  (could we be any more excited?!?!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Before the term finished off we put on a big event that we'd been building up for the last few months!  So, Saturday, we held what we called a "Health and Lifeskills Workshop."  Essentially, a souped up version of "the birds and the bees."  We divided our students into groups of girls and guys, and took the whole day to talk about issues of lifeskills, HIV/AIDS and STIs, reproductive anatomy, relationships/gender roles, family planning, and general health.  The girls also learned all about making RUMPS (reusable menstrual pads) - more about that later!  The theme of the day was "Health teachers for a healthy Uganda."  We hoped that through equipping our students (Uganda's next new teachers) about many of these important issues, the knowledge can spread out to their future students in the primary schools, as well as friends and relatives that we'll never have contact with.  Working with teacher training creates a lot of opportunities for ripple effects - sustainable work that we may never see the fruits of, and we hope that his can be one of those times!

The need for a workshop like this is huge!  Not only is Uganda one of the few countries where HIV/AIDS prevalence is actually on the increase, but many of our students have such limited knowledge about their bodies, their options in regards to their health, and what be practically done to prevent things like HIV transmission and unwanted pregnancy.  This year alone 3 girls have been sent away from school due to unwanted pregnancies, and there are surely more to come.  Although our students are in the 17-23 age range, chances are good that nobody has talked to them about many of the issues we confronted on Saturday.  There is an abundance of misunderstandings and complete myths in the minds of our students (i.e. America not only created AIDS, but has a cure for it and is not sharing it with Africa, condoms spread cancer, washing yourself with laundry detergent can prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV, etc.)  So, we really tried to get down to the basics and equip our young adult students with factual knowledge and the opportunity to make good decisions. 

The original impetus for the event came from a grant I received from the Minnesota Returned Peace Corps Volunteer association.  The grant is all about teaching the female students at the school about reusable menstrual pads (RUMPS) and helping them teach the primary school girls (P5 - P7) about them as well.  As I described in my grant application:

One challenge commonly faced among the young women of Uganda is the ability to attend school regularly and consistently.  On top of gender related duties at home, long distances traveled to get to and from school, and availability of funds for school fees and school related materials, many girls are also unable to attend school during their monthly menstrual cycle.  Many girls do not have access to proper materials to manage their menstrual cycle.  Instead of using sanitary pads or tampons, some girls resort to using rags, socks, newspapers, banana leaves, or feathers.  Others use the same soiled pad for days on end, while others simply stay home and miss school while they wait for their cycle to end.  In some cases, girls find a “sugar daddy” who will buy them things (including disposable pads) in exchange for sex.  Clearly none of these options are conducive to a girl’s development and each has the potential to increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections, low performance at school and high dropout rates.  In addition, the shame and confusion created by the cultural lack of communication about reproductive health issues often contributes to low self esteem and negative self image.

This project aims to address the lack of knowledge and abundance of misconceptions about reproductive health among young Ugandan women.  In addition, it seeks to provide an opportunity for girls to create hygienic, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, reusable menstrual pads.  This project will teach future teachers the skills needed to effectively and accurately teach reproductive health lessons, as well as provide the materials for workshops to create reusable menstrual pads.  Not only will it empower future teachers to speak to their pupils about reproductive health issues, but it will empower girls to manage their menstrual cycle in a hygienic and affordable way, thus eliminating the danger of missing school or making high risk decisions simply because “it’s that time of the month.”

On Saturday the girls not only learned about why RUMPS are a good option for them and their primary school girls, but also had the chance to make a set of RUMPS for themselves. (I should backup and include that there was a lot of prep work to make this happen!  Over the last few months, I've been cutting fabric, towels, ribbons with abandon - collecting buttons, needles, winding thread, and putting together over 300 RUMPS kits!  Each one consisted of enough material to make 2 pads and 3 cotton towel inserts, along with a card of thread, needle, and buttons to make "wings" on the sides of the pad.)  Each student also got a manual with a lot of helpful information about reproductive health, answers to common questions, and directions for teaching about and making RUMPS.  (Thanks to PCVs Chelsea, Bethany, and Audrey for sharing your excellent manual with me!)  When our students get back from break next term, I hope to support many of them as they lead health and RUMPS workshops in their individual primary schools during student teaching.  The girls are super excited to share the knowledge they have gained!  Many of them are already planning their own workshops, and some have already even bought materials and intend to get started at home in the village during their August vacation!  I was encouraged to see the passion with which the girls embraced the project and their eagerness to continue to spread what they've learned!

But, we figured, why make the workshop only for the ladies?  Why not do more than just create RUMPS?  So the day ballooned into an all out health/life-skills, both gender event!  And we're so glad it did!  There was great participation, great excitement, a feeling of general thankfulness for the knowledge our students received!  And.....hopefully there will be a great impact too!  Our big hope was that our students would at the very least leave the workshops knowing the facts, so that they could make (hopefully good) informed decisions about their health and their lives.

We also were fortunate to be joined by 3 staff from the Uganda Peace Corps office, and many of the PCVs and volunteers from our region (thanks to Dan, Bailey, Nick, Andrew, Marianne, and Susie!) 

Our friend Susie snapped lots of great pics from the day!  I put them up on facebook, so if you're interested in checking them out - click here!

Thanks for reading - we love and miss you all!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Vlog #7 - 3 crazy days

Hey Everybody!

Here's the latest video blog we've made.  It includes videos from our MDD festival, the sports and games competition, and the fun day we had with the CBO Silent Voices.


We love and miss you all!


Thursday, July 12, 2012


Hey Everybody!

I'm super excited to share some of my favorite pictures taken over the last week!  Hopefully these pics can give you some visuals to go along with the stories shared in my last post. 

Click on the links below to see my facebook album of each event:

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

3 Crazy Days

Hi Everybody!
Although our blog posts are getting somewhat more few and far between, things are going great here in Bushenyi!  Thanks for the continual support, prayers, emails, letters, packages, and thoughts!  We miss you all and think of you often!  As of now we’re almost 17 months in - 9 or less to go!  Wow!  
Over the last week we have had enough events to fill an entire blog!  In our opinion, our lowest times of PC service have been those in which we have not been busy, and fortunately for us, this has not been a problem during the current term.  Rather, we’ve been wonderfully busy!  We’d love to share with you a bit about how we’ve been spending our time in the last few weeks.  So...if you’re game, keep on reading!  But brace yourself - this might be a long one!  
As I think we’ve mentioned, term 2 at the Primary Teacher’s College is the term to hit the ground running.  It’s the only term in the whole year that students are on campus for its entire duration.  No child study or practice teaching in the primary schools - just lots of time for classes, remedial lessons, meetings, clubs, sports, music, and the like!  It’s a great term and a great time to get things done, but it’s also a bit of a whirlwind!  And last week was an example of that!
Things really started to go crazy on Wednesday.  (Happy fourth of July by the way!  Being in Uganda sure does make us love the good ol’ US of A!)  Wednesday brought a “calm before the storm” staff meeting to brief ourselves for the coming few days.  Everyone was delegated responsibilities (which few would turn out to fulfill) and afternoon classes were canceled so that staff and students could prepare for the days to come!
Thursday - “We Live & Die in Music”
Thursday was our college inter-house MDD festival.  This meant that the four dormitories on campus prepared pieces and competed in Music, Dance, and Drama.  The four dorms on the BPTC campus are named after great universities in Africa - Johannesburg, Cairo, Makerere, and Ibadan.  Each dorm (boys and girls) competed in 6 different events - singing the national anthem, poetry, speeches, plays, traditional folk song, and traditional dancing.  The day started at 8 am (but, actually after 10.  Ah Ugandan time!) and trophies weren’t awarded until the sun was setting!  It was a very festive, very long day with lots of joy and lots of MDD!  During the obligatory event-ending speeches, one guest said that as Ugandans, “We are born into music, we live in music, and we die in music.”  So Thursday was a great celebration of that truth!
The lowlights:
  • Most of the folk songs presented all had some level of violence towards women
  • The guest adjudicators gave comments at the end and had absolutely nothing positive to say!
  • 4 performances in each category was a lot to handle - especially when 3 out of the 4 plays were exactly the same!
  • I can only endure hearing the national anthem so many times...
The highlights:
  • It was fun to see our kids have so much creativity and eagerness to be involved!
  • Traditional dancing is cool!!!
  • It was an entire day where nobody sat in a classroom and listened to a lecture!
  • The day overflowed with energy and excitement!
  • A special lunch was served - instead of the traditional (and oh so boring) posho and beans - we got gnuts, meat, cabbage, matooke, rice, fruit, and even sodas!  Bon appetit!
  • Throughout the day, we witnessed various students embrace leadership opportunities and perform with total confidence - such a stark change from their day to day role as meek, Ugandan students.
The day ended with flasks (thermoses for hot/cold beverages) being awarded to individual best performers, and the overall best trophy going to Johannesburg house!  They were absolutely thrilled and embraced their victory with elation!  
Friday - "Cartwheel Crazy”
Friday the competitions continued - this time in Games and Sports.  So, again, the houses rallied their best athletes to participate in four different events - gymnastics (seriously!), netball, football (soccer), and volleyball.  Ryan and I were in and out throughout the day, as we had Saturday’s event to prepare for, but we were able to participate in some of the events and cheer on the various houses!
The lowlights:
  • Our girls are not great at football.  The majority of the game consisted of the ball ricocheting across the field from out of bound line to out of bound line!
  • Sunburn!!!
  • Staff who laughed at students rather than encouraging them.
  • Absolute chaos in the organization of the event!
The highlights:
  • Great energy and lots of participation!
  • Learning how in the world netball is played!
  • Seeing our students participate in the gymnastics section: headstands, walking handstands, weird squatty stand things, and my favorite - the cartwheel!
    • During the cartwheel the students worked together to do what I can best describe as continuous team somersaults.  One student laid on top of the other, head to toe and toe to head, and they proceeded to cartwheel across the field.  Keep in mind, these kids  are between 16-23 - grown young adults “cartwheeling” across the grass (and occasionally face planting) with the utmost seriousness!  I loved it!
  • Observing as some of our inspired staff throw decorum to the wind to attempt some of the obscure gymnastic feats.  I think the memory of our college Principal attempting a head stand will linger forever in my mind!
  • Seeing some really spectacular athletes!
  • Having time to connect with students who were not participating at the time and realize the great depth of relationships we have with some of our students!
  • Team unity - so much cheering and excitement for their houses!
The sun set as the football matches were not yet complete.  So, the finals and awards were postponed until Saturday afternoon.  But, at the end of the day, Jo’burg was again victorious!  Another fun, albeit exhausting day!
Saturday - “Soundless Excitement”
Saturday was an event we have been working up to for months, and I am thrilled to report that it turned out to be an absolutely incredible day!
Silent Voices is a local NGO who works to train the parents of deaf children in Ugandan Sign Language and trains them to help reduce stigma and isolation of their special needs children.  Additionally, it works with local schools, units, and teachers to accommodate the education of deaf children in the region.  On Saturday, we partnered with them to host a “fun day” for 150 deaf children from Bushenyi district here at the college!
The day consisted of three different stations - carnival games on the pitch, arts and crafts, and “speakers” - secondary school students who have been able to succeed despite being deaf and came to share their life story through signing with hopes of inspiring younger children in their same position.  Deaf children in Uganda face significant challenges, and it was an inspiration to realize that they can succeed despite the many barriers that lay ahead of them.  It was a chance for the deaf children of the region to have fun, explore a new place, and meet other children like them.  For many of the children, this was the first time they were able to meet another child who was deaf, let alone 149 others!  The children also got a special lunch that day, complete with sodas!  They had giant smiles as they faced their mounded plates of food!  There was so much excitement and joy throughout the day, and we were thrilled to be able to be a part of making it all happen!
Ryan and I took the lead on the carnival games and had a wonderful time! We recruited 30 of our PTC students to help us run the event.  As most of our students have not had many interactions with children with special needs, it was an amazing experience for them to get to practice working with these children in a positive and fun way, as well as see first hand just how resilient and capable they are!  So, with the help of our wonderful PTC students, we ran 8 stations of games - pin the tail on the bull, obstacle course, bean bag toss, limbo, drip drip drop, sack race, water race, and spoon race.  It was an absolute blast!!! 
The lowlights: