Monday, October 22, 2012

Uganda @ 50



Hi Everyone!

Hope everyone is well at home and enjoying the fall weather!  We sure do miss this time of year at home!  Crazy to think that next year we will be with you all getting out our mittens out and enjoying the fall together!  Weather in Uganda these days is rainy and “chilly”!  Everyone has gotten out their winter parkas and fur lined hoods to brave the sixties and rain! :-)  Even Ryan and I have complained of the cold - how will we manage the midwest during our Christmas visit?!

Uganda celebrated its fiftieth year of independence this month and I thought that deserved a blog post!  50 years ago this month Uganda transitioned from being a British colony to being its own independent nation.  October 9 is the official day, although celebrations have been ongoing for the last while and will continue on for some time to come I’m sure.  It’s kind of neat timing of our being here, as we will have celebrated 50 years of the Peace Corps (1961 - 2011) and 50 years of independent Uganda (1962 - 2012) during our two years of service! 

The anniversary has sparked a lot of interesting conversations with community members and students.  There have been lots of special editions of the news papers, public events, and radio programs to discuss where Uganda has come from, where it is now, and where it is going.  In the relatively short time I’ve called this country home, it’s been interesting to consider it’s past, see daily reminders of the past’s influence, and consider its future as I talk with students and friends about what they hope to see in Uganda in the years to come.

Many of the students we’ve talked to seem to think that Uganda should have come longer in the fifty years it has been an independent country.  America is often referenced, and Ryan and I try to do our best to remind our students that it’s taken more that 50 years to get where we are, and of course America is not without its problems as a country too.  Many of the students talk about their concerns over Uganda’s leadership, and issues of corruption.  In Uganda’s 50 years of independence, it has only seen three presidents, and has never had a peaceful transition of power.  President Museveni, the current leader of Uganda, has been in office for over half of its independence - 26 years!  Not only that, but it’s dealt with civil wars, violent dictators, and the AIDS pandemic....Not an easy 50 years.  Of course, there are so many great things about Uganda and its independence as a country, but many of our students seem absorbed in how far it still has to go, and what can be done about it.  So, I ask them what they think should happen, and what they will do to be involved in that change.  Their answers - vote, consider running for an office, and pray!

It will be interesting to see how the conversations continue and to keep following the news of Uganda after we leave.  It’s a beautiful place, not without it’s issues, but also not without plenty of hope!

And, while we’re on a patriotic theme - we have officially voted!  We sent in our absentee ballots a couple of weeks ago and are optimistic that the embassy will get them in on time!  The attendant at the post office made sure to give us a call when the ballots arrived, as she didn’t want to miss a potential vote for her beloved Obama!  (Another PCV was even offered money for an Obama vote on her absentee ballot from her Post Office attendant!  She, of course, declined the money!)  We’re planning to have an election party here in Uganda with some of our PCV neighbors to either celebrate or mourn the results on the day after the election. Either way, I’m painting my nails red, white, and blue and making some sort of patriotic baked goods in the dutch oven! :-)  It will be an interesting experience watching the election play out from the other side of the world (or, more realistically, going to bed with little news and waking up the next day with a new president!).  I am thankful for a fair and free electoral system that lets us cast our votes even from so far away!  So, may the best man (specifically the man bubbled on my ballot!) win...and, may that phrase not always apply to the presidential election! :-)

So - there you have it - my thoughts on Uganda at 50 and the American election from Africa. 

Love and miss you all!

~emily~

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Over the RUMPS hump


Today was the last of the school practice RUMPS workshops!  What an incredible experience this project has been!  Since the first student teacher’s workshop, which I blogged so excitedly about a few weeks ago, 8 more workshops have taken place at schools all around the region.  I’ve gotten to see many new villages, greet many new faces, and be totally blown away by the ownership and enthusiasm of my girls!

All in all, 9 workshops were held by BPTC student teachers over the last three weeks in government aided primary schools in various villages, towns, and trading centers in the Bushenyi and Sheema districts.  Over 400 primary students, 45 student teachers, and 36 local staff, head teachers, classroom teachers, and senior women were involved.  I figured out that, up to this point, the project has used 1,422 buttons, 711 needles, 12,000 meters of thread, 420 meters of ribbon, 59 towels, and 95 meters of fabric!  It’s exciting to think that all of it is now in the hands of girls all around the region, helping them take care of themselves and minimize their risk of potentially dangerous or unhealthy situations.

I’ve loved seeing the girls from the college step up and take on the project, and seeing the thankfulness for the project and eagerness to learn from the primary school girls.  It’s also been amazing to hear the support and enthusiasm of the local staff in the schools.  Many of the head teachers and senior women have participated in the workshops and expressed the need for this project even more eloquently than I could!  At the end of most of the workshops, a staff representative from the school gave a speech to close the day.  Again and again, these head teachers, senior women, and female staff members reiterated the significance of what the girls had learned through the project. They described how now they would not have to miss school because of their period, not have to resort to a “sugar daddy” to “help” them to get these supplies, and not have to use unhealthy materials to keep the blood from leaking on to their clothing and embarrassing them. Additionally, they implored girls to share their newly acquired knowledge and described how easily the RUMPS can be replicated with materials found at home.  Wow - could I ask for anything more?!  One teacher even described how excited the girls were - saying they might even wear the pads around even when they weren’t having their periods!

All in all, this has been such an exciting project to be a part of!  It has achieved even more than I could have imagined and has taken on a life of its very own!  I have been so incredibly proud of the girls, who have truly owned the project, and so blown away by the need expressed by women and children every where we’ve gone.  I can’t wait to see where it can go in the weeks and months to come, and believe that though many girls’ lives have been impacted, even more can still be empowered through this project!

So...what’s next?!  My first year students are already planning for Health Education and RUMPS teaching they hope to do over the holidays in their villages and in their student teaching next year.  And me?  I’ve already bought more towels, ribbons, buttons, needles, thread, and fabric and have a new audio book queued up on my ipod to listen to while I get more kits ready!  It is my hope that before the term ends in December, I can head out with some of my student teachers to even more nearby schools to keep the project going and share more about these important issues.  I’m also organizing a meeting with the Coordinating Center Tutors in the outreach department of the college to plan for next year and hopefully set up many more RUMPS workshops for the beginning of 2013.

So, although the school practice section of the RUMPS project is coming to an end and although the initial grant money has all been spent, I believe there is lots more potential for this project in Bushenyi!  There is still so much that the project can achieve and so many student teachers excited to keep teaching about Reproductive Health and RUMPS.

If you’re interested in contributing money or materials to keep the project going, shoot me an email!  ekjesbojohnson@gmail.com  I would so appreciate support from home to keep this already successful project going!  As student teachers have already been trained and equipped with materials and training manuals, the only ongoing costs are transportation and RUMPS kits.  At less than 75 cents per kit and less than $5.00 round trip for most local taxi rides, a little bit of money or materials truly does go a long way!  Feel free to email if you have any questions or if you are interested in getting involved in keeping the project going!

Truly - thank you for reading and thank you for the support!  What an incredible adventure this has been!

As always, we love and miss you all! :-)

~emily~

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

new pictures!

Hi Everyone,

I'm sorry if I'm flooding your inboxs a little bit!  Here's a link to new pictures that I added to the day-to-day Bushenyi album I'm keeping on facebook!

Enjoy!

The Best Day


Last Friday was the best day!  Really!  In the midst of it, I texted Ryan this message: “Seriously, my favorite day in peace corps!  So far…”  It was one of those days that made everything so worth it, and once again reminded me that I love being a PCV in Uganda!

It started as a result of the RUMPS (reusable menstrual pads) project that I began at the college last term.  I wrote about the first part of that event here – the lifeskills and reproductive health workshops Ryan and I held at the college during second term.  Now, it’s third term and we headed into the next section of the project –when the girls would take the information they learned at the workshop out to their primary schools during student teaching to lead health/RUMPS workshops of their own.  Coming back from the August holiday, I was hoping hoping hoping that the girls would take it on, but was uncertain how well it would go.  At this point, it rested in their hands, and I didn’t know if it would continue or just lose momentum and fizzle.  But, take it on they have!!!

I got a call early last week letting me know that the first of the workshops was in the works!  Two of my first year girls club members headed up the effort at their school – coordinating with the head teacher and their fellow student teachers, organizing the girls, and getting a room prepared.  They told me we would be beginning at 3 pm, and when I arrived at 2:45 they ran to out greet me, hugging me and welcoming me, and letting me know that they had been waiting for me!  What?!  Yes….I walked into a room full of almost 60 p4 – p7 girls and nine of my PTC ladies, ready to go!

The workshop started with my girls club members teaching a session in local language about the menstrual cycle.  It was amazing to sit in the back of the room, and hear them explaining the process, using the same words and explanations that I shared with them during last terms workshops and times in the club.  They also allowed for some questions and answers, handling sensitive issues with poise they never would have had six months ago!  I was so proud – I just sat in the back of the room and smiled – one proud mama watching her girls all grown up and out on their own! I have watched these girls develop over the last year and it’s hard to describe how incredible it was to see them taking this on and doing such a truly fabulous job!

After the education component, the PTC ladies taught about the benefits of using RUMPS, and taught the girls how to sew their kits into the pads and liners.  The primary girls were so excited to get going on the project – they were already talking about teaching their friends, sisters, mamas, and aunties, and I think I made their day when I told them that they would be keeping the pads they made, as well as the needles that came with the kit!  During the sewing, my PTC ladies walked around the room helping, talking, and sharing.  I overheard more questions being asked, and great, honest answers from the girls I had trained.  They really stepped up to the job of mentors, teachers, and friends.  I was so, so impressed!

So, the workshop was a really, really huge success!  I went to the school planning that at some point I might have to step in and salvage some rough moments, or do most of the teaching on my own, and was absolutely blown away by my girls ability, confidence, accuracy, and utter lack of needing of me!  It was exactly what I had hoped would happen as I trained them all a few months ago and I couldn’t have been prouder of their success! 

In the midst of conversations with my PTC girls, I also found out that they started their very own girls club on their second day in the primary school!  Although they will only be there for four weeks, they have already recruited over 50 young members, and are doing a lot of the activities that we have been working on together the last year or so – tackling issues like leaderships, health, decision making, HIV/AIDS, and communication.  Additionally, one of the girls shared with me that they had been using the manual I distributed as part of the training last term as a textbook for teaching in their student teaching classroom.  They have already used it for their HIV/AIDS lessons, as well as different health lessons from the curriculum!  I was so pleased to see that every one of the nine had their manual in hand, already looking well worn and much used!  What a joy to realize that what was prepared for them was being utilized in ways I never could have foreseen!

At the end of the event Evelyne and Charity, two of the girls who had really spearheaded the day, walked me out to the road and proudly flagged me a taxi and negotiated the price for me.  They were so excited about the day, so pleased to have shared it with me, and sent me off with greetings for the college and many thanks for the support. 

This really was one of my favorite days.  It felt like so much of my service – building relationships, seeking out needs and solutions, working to empower the girls at the school – really came full circle.  I’ve done my best, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of fulfillment, pride, and achievement that comes from knowing that all the work you put in really is making some small difference here in Uganda!  More workshops are in the works now, and I have every hope that they will be as exciting and meaningful as this one!  What a joy to be at this place in our service!

We just posted a video blog of parts of this project from last term up to now, and I think it gives a great glimpse of this fantastic project and the way our students have totally stepped up to the plate.  You can see it here!  Also, I added some pictures from the event to the end of this album on facebook!

Thanks for all of the support and encouragement from home – we truly could not do it without all of the love and prayers! 

Love and miss you all,

~emily~

Monday, October 1, 2012

Video Blog #8

video
Hi everyone!

Here's a video blog from our reproductive health/lifeskills workshop at the college last term (read about it here), as well as what's been happening with the RUMPS project this term!  Enjoy!

We love and miss you all!

~emily~