Thursday, June 21, 2007

The mzungus are coming! The mzungus are coming!

On Tuesday we met with the NACMU directors and Anneke to map out our project. I am working on the community appraisal with three Dutch volunteers Lenne (Anneke’s niece), Mirjam (a nurse who has been here for several months) and Renske (a lab technologist). The plan is for the four of us to go two by two (no pun intended) into the four villages in which 80 of the school children who attend New Horizons Nursery and Primary School (run by NACMU) live. These children were specially selected after a previous survey of community members to identify the most vulnerable families in the villages. So, we think that choosing to sample these families will give us a good picture of the overall living and health conditions of the poorest villagers.

Tuesday and Wednesday we designed our survey tool, which was no small task given the frequent power outages and printing problems. The NACMU directors and New Horizons’ Head Master approved of the survey questions, which was good. Then the Head Master called a special meeting of the executive committee of the school, so that they could hear our plans, comment, and then inform the villagers that the mzungus are coming. As I am the only native English speaker, I had the lucky task of presenting our plan to the committee. I was really nervous. I think it was obvious to the woman next to me, because she held my hand and patted my arm for about one hour. The meeting went well, and the committee agreed with the plan.

Thursday morning we started our survey of the villages. Lenne and I went to Nsambwe, while Mirjam and Renske went to Kinkubankima. We surveyed 10 homes each, noting the state of the house and building materials, type of toilet facilities, food supply, and asking questions about illness and treatment. I wish I could post the pictures now, so you could see how these families are living.

But, my hastily composed posting will have to suffice. Most live in mud walled homes with metal sheet roofing. Some have an enclosed pit latrine, and some have no latrine at all and just use the bushes. All families have a chicken or two, most had goats, some had pigs, and one had a cow. One grandmother keeps her goat in the kitchen during the night. By kitchen I mean a free standing tin shack in which there is space for a fire and a few pots and pans, and goat excrement everywhere. Many of the women are keeping their orphaned grandchildren, or children who were abandoned. A few of these grandmothers live in a home for older women, and their grandchildren stay there as well.

Most of the families only eat what they can grow, and their main crops are cassava and sweet potatoes. They eat carbohydrates almost exclusively. Most have to spend at least 45 minutes fetching water, but some spend an hour or more. They cook on open fires, and when the crops are bad or not plentiful enough, they do not eat. Every family said there is not enough food for the children to eat, and most noted that their diet is not balanced.

Most of the babies were naked and sitting in the dirt, and the older children maybe had a shirt or a dress that was tattered and soiled. Almost all the children had ringworm, and many had open sores on their legs from insect bites. Of the nine homes that Lenne and I visited today, three had children sick with malaria. However, here the word malaria also means fever. Most of the families do not see a physician or trained medical provider when they are sick. To avoid paying provider fees, they just go to a dispensary to obtain any type of medicine they think they need. One can walk to these roadside druggists and ask for antibiotics, or anti-malarial medicines and get it, as long as one can pay.

The families must walk three miles to and from the health clinic, with the sick child. The same is true for pregnant and laboring women. Most of these families cannot afford the boda boda (which is about 50 cents to the clinic). Often they do not take their sick children to the doctor because the clinics around here do not stock the treatments they need, and they are much too far away for people to reach them by foot.

The people were very kind to us, and always offered us the only chairs. They encourage their children to bow to us, which I was glad I was forewarned about. It’s very disturbing to me, but Mariska (the volunteer coordinator here) asked us to just accept that this is their custom, and not make a fuss about it. She also taught us how to shake hands respectfully to an elder or someone of high societal position, so it was good to be prepared for our visit to people’s homes.

The children followed us everywhere, shouting “Mzungu, Mzungu, give me a sweetie!” But I do not dare take candy with me because I think we would be mobbed by children.

Last night we had a dance party down at the containers. A troupe from Kamapala came and performed traditional Ugandan dances, with drumming and costumes and everything. It was really great, especially because all the Ugandan aunties really enjoyed it a lot and were familiar with the dances and the stories from the different parts of the country. The dance troupe was comprised of street youth and orphans, so it was really great to see them performing and taking pride in their art.

Well, that’s all for now.

Hope you all are safe and healthy, which, comparatively speaking, you are.


ArtCricket said...

I'm so glad you are doing some things that you find meaningful.. Loved the pics you sent, Father Abraham is a cutie indeed! I am soooo jealous of the shower and your cool washing machine. Brian tried to call on the newest number today but it didn't work. Rachel said she had success this morning (your morning). I tried yesterday but no success and I will try tomorrow at about 9PM your time. Love you bunches- Oh, I was in Kizito's Cookies today and she is from Uganda and another girl who was there today. I couldn't remember the name of your town but will stop by there again. The art in there is from east AFrica including Uganda. Love again-j

Dos Blessed said...

wow, reminds me a lot of the conditions in haiti. thank you again for the work you are doing that is and will change so many people's lives! i'm really so touched by you following your heart and life purpose! thanks for the photos too...father abraham looks just as you described him! i've found if you add some shampoo to your bucket you can experience an invigorating bucket bubble bath...just in case you want to change things up a bit!! love you! vic