Too Many Goodbyes

Now in my last few days, there have been many sad goodbyes. Today was my last day at Mukono hospital, and saying goodbye to all the lovely midwives I’ve met here is sad sad sad.

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Mukono Hospital

I have had an amazing time and have learnt a lot. Not only in medical/nursing terms, but about the massive gulf in resources that separates the healthcare system here from back home. Today I was looking after a newborn boy who had been transferred from a different local hospital as he needed oxygen. The other hospital just didn’t have a way to give babies oxygen, and even this hospital has just one machine. Back home this is a very basic resource, available at each bedspace.
Similarly, there are basically no resources for caring for pre-term babies; pre-term pregnancies with complications such as a lack of amniotic fluid, or pre-eclampsia are induced and then ‘nature left to take it’s course’ with the baby. Thankfully I didn’t actually see this, but it happened over the weekend. Very upsetting for everyone, not least the midwives, who I imagine feel very powerless in such situations. On the other hand, scarcity of resources breeds creativity in professionals, and there is very much an attitude of improvisation and ‘make do and mend’. Last week I was pointing a phone torch inside an expectant mother, as the lamp was broken.
Spending time here has very much cemented my desire to be a doctor, and maybe to return here, or somewhere similar, to practice for a while. So fingers crossed they want me this time!

Another sad goodbye was to our missionary friends, who we went out for a meal with on Tuesday night.

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Elder Halliday, Elder Vihanga and Brother Alex

They have been incredibly kind and welcoming friends to us while we have beem here. I still am not sure that I am comfortable with the general concept of missionaries and with the idea of pressurising others into your religion. Especially given the historical issues with American missionaries in Uganda and spreading their attitude towards gay people. But I can’t fault the conviction our friends have in their beliefs. Which is in some ways refreshing, and in other ways saddening. I didn’t actually ask their views on homosexuality, but I’m pretty sure I know what their opinions would be 😦

On Saturday we went to the orphanage for the last time to see Robert and the children. We played and danced a lot, which was great fun.

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Mama Robert killing it in a dance-off with Lily

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I took some pads as a gift for the older girls, and also ran my workshop teaching them to make their own pads. It was incredibly humbling for me to hear from Lily that one of women who works at the orphange had told her that the workshop had been the best gift of the year. And this is very much the normal response to the workshop! Which is lovely for me to hear of course, but also crazy and amazing that something so easy and simple can make such a big difference.

Perhaps the most awesome display of gratitude was from some village ladies in a workshop I gave at their pentecostal church. There was a big turnout, which was great, and after the workshop was over and the pads handed out, the pastor said that they would like to pray for me. Being a very religious country this is a pretty standard ask, and I was expecting a kindly worded ‘Amen’ prayer. Oh no. They all raised one hand, placed the other on their heart, bowed their head and started praying furiously in ‘tongues’. Each person was praying individually and their facial expressions were so intense, almost angry – such a surreal experience. It lasted a good five minutes, and an old woman was still going at the back once everyone else had finished. It actually sent shivers down my spine!

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Some of the ladies outside their church (they all wanted individual photos with me - I will spare you having to look through them all!)

Saying goodbye to Joseph was another moment that I hadn’t been looking forward to. We have been working very closely, and his ambitious vision for the future of the sanitary products project has really inspired me. The parting was made less sad by the handing over of the sewing machine that my friends and family have very kindly donated. This will allow him to start production on a small scale, and get the ball rolling!

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Even though my flight home is on Saturday, Selina and I are leaving on Thursday to visit the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria (actually I am finishing this post on the taxi there). This meant the saddest goodbyes of all – Lily, Rosette and Isaac. Lily especially has been like a big sister to me here, always looking out for us, saving us from ridiculous Mzungu prices and going our of her way to make our stay as awesome as possible. I will REALLY miss her. But will see her again when she invites me to her wedding in Australia (…right, Lily??!).

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Lily, me and Rosette 🙂

With much love xxx

p.s. – on a slightly random aside,you know those Christmas shoeboxes that parents spend actually loads of money on filling with gifts each year?? Kids and families here actually get them and love them – they don’t just disappear into the depths of Santa’s grotto!

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The Equator, injections and an amazing Goodie Pack

I would like to start this post by saying thank you to those who sent kind and supportive messages after the sad events that I mentioned in the previous post. And also to those who took the time to explain their views on why I felt my experimental/desperate prayer had not been heard.

I don’t have many pictures to illustrate this post, so here are a few general ones to paint a bit more of a picture of Uganda.

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Our neighbour, Mama Shivan, invited us to eat paw-paw (papaya) with her family

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Typical roadside scene in a small town. This is Kalagi.

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Typical rural roadside scene. This is near Mpigi.

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Jackfruit. Like an amazing mixture of mango, pineapple and banana. (This is just a small one!)

Since my last post, I have spent a few more days in the hospital, where I have been based in the maternity department. This encompasses the vaccination clinic, antenatal/postnatal centre, maternity ward and labour ward. I am loving it! The staff are incredibly welcoming and keen to teach me things.

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Me and the lovely midwives, Grace (Auntie G) and Sarah.

Last week I was helping with deliveries, getting a really hands-on role, especially with the babies once they were delivered. Cleaning, weighing, cord care, dressing, applying medications and of course a little bit of cuddling! I am still finding it as awesome as the first time, and getting to help more and more as I learn.
There are many differences in how things are done here compared to back home, but one thing that surprised me is their policy on wearing gloves. I was told off several times for touching the ladies with my bare hands – giving back rubs or holding hands. Apparently we need to wear gloves for this, to prevent ourselves from getting infections. Back in my ward in the UK, those who were a little ‘glove-happy’ were even reminded that gloves were not necessary for such contact.
Another difference, which perhaps I expected more, is the difference in care. By no means are the midwives uncaring – they are lovely and very medically attentive and proficient – but resources are scarce, and there is not time to give the gentle reassurance and encouragement that I am used to seeing in the UK. Having spent a year working essentially as a carer, I could not help myself from giving this kind of attention to the mothers, especially as birthing partners are not really a thing here. If the partners accompany the mums, they are waiting nervously in the maternity ward. And although many of the ladies cry for their mums while in labour, they are very rarely there. So I think they appreciate someone with the time to spend with them.
I thought that seeing the delivery process, and all the pain, ripping and many bodily fluids involved, might put me off doing it myself, but has actually made me even more broody!

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Yummy (and free!) lunch in the hospital restaurant

I also got the chance to help the doctor perform an evacuation on a lady who had miscarried early in the pregnancy, to remove the rest of the uterus lining. As it was just me and him performing the procedure, I was able to help with things that I would NEVER be able to as an untrained volunteer in the UK! Such an amazing opportunity.
On a similar vein, the nurses let me prescribe some routine drugs in the antenatal clinic. I will be so sad to leave.

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The inpatient ward - around 12 beds split between men, women and children

In the vaccination and antenatal clinics at Kyampisi Health Centre that I go to on Mondays and Tuesdays, I was still helping with the weighing of babies and giving Polio vaccines. Midwife Florence also allowed me to give ALL the TT (tetanus) vaccinations at the antenatal clinic, giving me lots of practice at drawing and injecting vaccines.
I really really hope I get into medical school this time, as I have really enjoyed all of my ‘medical’ experiences here.

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Pretty Lily and baby Kate

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On the way to Kyampisi Health Centre

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Chickens wander everywhere here. Even in the health center. Hygienic.

The sanitary pad project is going very well still. Last week I ran workshops training a group of interested girls how to give workshops about the pads to women and girls in villages. They were fantastic, and have their first session on Saturday. I know they will make me very proud.
The support from back home with this project has been amazing – with special thank yous to Elizabeth, Grandma Rose and Gemma for funding the sewing machine which will be delivered within the next few days. As always I am ridiculously grateful for the support and hard work of Anna and Steph, who have finished an amazing parcel of professionally made pads and other menstrual products. They have been working hard for weeks and it looks awesome! I know Joseph is very excited to receive this.

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Amazing goodies from Anna and Steph! So grateful and excited.

Joseph has been working on his business plan for the pad production company, which I hopefully will be able to help with. And I have been trying out new pad designs to minimise material waste and fit in with the specific needs of the women here, such as being fast drying (they are embarrassed to hang pads out to dry) and easy to understand/use (formal education about how to manage menstruation is basically non-existant – many girls don’t know how to use pads).

I have also managed to set up a link with another group locally who sell pads, who hope to be able to join forces with Joseph for some of his future projects. So lots of exciting developments!

In other news, if you have read my previous posts, you might remember Mama Mugisha – the local lady who is rearing pigs. Selina and I bought materials to help with the building of the pig house, which Selina and Lily helped to build last Friday. Now the pigs have shelter when it rains, and don’t need to be tied up with ropes! Such a big difference. Fingers crossed that the extra food we are bringing helps them grow big too.

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Happy Mama Mugisha!

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Happy Pigs!!

Last weekend Selina and I took a couple of days off from our projects and went on a little expedition. On Saturday we went to the equator, which is about 3 hours from here. It was a beautiful day, and although travelling in a cramped taxi, with our massive camping backpack on our laps, isn’t necessarily the best way to appreciate the scenery, we were driving through a stunning landscape. Green and hilly and a bit tropical. The taxi stopping at the equator was a bit of an abrupt surprise, as it is just a line across the road, a couple of circular monuments and a sprinkling of tourist shops along an otherwise mostly deserted road. It was great though! Now I’ve done the Tropic of Capricorn (Botswana) and the Equator, just the Tropic of Cancer (and the poles…?!) to go.

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After a good dose of touristyness we headed off to a forest reserve where we camped for the night.

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Campsite right next to the forest

The next day we went for a long walk in the rainforest – very tropical! We saw red-tailed monkeys, super loud hornbills, massive millipedes and horrifying spider webs. We waded through pools of water and clambered over fallen trees. It was fun.

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Disgusting massive spider web

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HUGE millipede!!

With my return date very close, I am trying to make the most of my last week here. It has absolutely zoomed by, and I really will be sorry to leave.

With lots of love xxx

Eggplant penises, surgical interventions and The Book of Mormon

First up, Percy’s surgery went ahead as planned on Saturday and was a total success! The procedure only took about 20 minutes, as it was relatively simple, essentially involving pushing the herniated tissue back in and sealing up the abdominal wall.

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Poorly Percy with her teddy 'baby'

It was a bit heartbreaking to see her straight after the surgery in a lot of pain, whimpering and looking incredibly small in the hospital bed. But she was discharged late in the afternoon and started to perk up once she was home. Lily and I went to visit on Monday, and Percy was as bright as a button – giggling with her sisters and running around the garden. Possibly not what we would have recommended back in the UK… but she was happy and pain free, which was such a relief to see.

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Excellent photography skills by her sister Prisca!

Her family were really overwhelmed with graditude, and her dad, Tom, went to pick us about 15 massive avocados, and a whole sugar cane from his garden as a thank-you (a very generous gift). Mama Percy cooked us lunch and gave us cups of super delicious wine that she had made from green bananas. Percy and her sisters drew me some really cute pictures as well 🙂 I really wanted to share some of their gratitude with you, especially to those who donated to ‘Percy’s Flat Belly Fund’. I was so happily surprised at the generosity shown, and I know that it has made a huge difference to the whole family, who no longer face a future of horrible complications and unaffordable interventions. So here are some small thank you pictures!

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While Percy was sleeping in the recovery ward, her mum braided my hair for me, proper African style! It looked very cute.

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Actually it was so pretty that the next day I went to have my hair braided at the salon. No jokes it took 10 and a half hours. Lily told me it would take 5, so I went at 8am in order to still do things in the afternoon. But no. At least it looks cool!

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Before visiting Percy on Monday I was at the health clinic. At first I was helping in the vaccination clinic, weighing the babies and giving polio vaccines and vitamin supplements. It was super cute getting to help with the babies, and especially as the little boy that I had helped deliver the previous Monday was there with his mum. She’s called him Marvin! But it was less cute when two of them peed on me… After the vaccination clinic was finished, Lily and I ran another drop-in reusable sanitary pad workshop. Again, the women really engage with these workshops and feedback that making and using the pads will have a big impact on their lives.

The sanitary pad project is going really well with Joseph and Generation Youth, alongside the continued guidance and support from my cousin Anna. I have had several informal meetings with Joseph to discuss his plans for the project, which are very exciting. Having heard back from the menstrual cup company, Ruby Cup, who will hopefully be able to start supplying the project in November, we want to conduct a small opinion study to review initial experiences and determine long-term feasibility of distributing the cups. Including a group who use the reusable sanitary pads instead will mean we can compare the two options.
Just this afternoon, after finishing at the hospital, I ran another workshop with Generation Youth. There were many girls who heard about our other workshops and had been asking Joseph to arrange more! It’s such a great feeling to know that people are getting interested in the project. I think Joseph counted 44 girls in attendance!! I felt very lucky that I was also able to hand out packs of pads that I had bought this morning to the girls, who were very grateful.

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After the main workshop, some of the girls and young women decided to stay behind for a training session on how to teach others about the pads and how to make/use them. Hopefully these girls are going to get very involved in Joseph’s project and company, and travel with him giving educational talks to the many schools that have asked Joseph to visit them. We have another training session planned on Friday, and our first outreach session, in which the girls will get to teach, on the 13th. Very exciting! As ever, funding is the biggest problem they are facing, but with each pack of 12 pads costing 8000 UGX (around £1.80!), a little goes a very long way.

Actually I was very relieved that the workshop went well, as I had quite a difficult day at the hospital. In general I am loving being there, and have been spending my time so far split between helping in the outpatients department and observing in the operating theatre. Last week I got to see c-sections, which was amazing, though pretty messy. Think: cutting into a water balloon… Much squirting.

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Scrubbing up for my first c-section

Today started off well, helping with outpatients and watching a laparostomy – repairing damage to the abdomen/abdominal cavity and organs. After that there was another c-section. But the placenta had detached from the uterine wall, meaning that the baby had been starved of oxygen and had died. Seeing the little boy being delivered was incredibly sad, I had to try very hard to hold back tears – he was so small and still. Seeing the nurse wrap him up in a sheet, just like I was used to doing in my ward of old ladies back home, seemed like a cruel mockery. After this, the doctor stitched the mother back up, and all appeared (at least to me) to be going well until her blood pressure suddenly dropped very low. The anaesthetist (a midwife) and a junior doctor were trying for around 45 minutes to cannulate so they could get some more fluids and blood (she was bleeding heavily) into her, but she very sadly passed away, at only the age of 29. An absolutely tragic day for her family, but unfortunately not uncommon in Uganda.

Actually, while I was in the operating theatre, watching the mother struggling, I took up a challenge that I had been set a few days previously.
As most people here, my friend Lily is a member of a local church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormon church. A couple of weekends ago Selina and I went with her to church, where we met some missionaries called Elder Halliday and Elder Vihanga. Since then we have met up three times to chat both generally and about the church and their beliefs. Actually I have found talking to them very interesting – anyone who has talked about religion with me before knows that it is something I think about a lot. These guys are really great, very sincere and kind, and speaking with them and sharing our beliefs has made me think a lot. The last two times they’ve visited they have set us challenges to understand their beliefs, one of which was saying a prayer to God. They promised that he would answer. Even though I currently feel 100% confident in my (non-)belief, I am definitely open to the possibility that I am wrong. So I took up the challenge. One night I did as Elder Halliday had suggested and ‘poured out my heart’. Although it was a cathartic experience, I didn’t feel like I was being listened to or answered. So while I was watching the heart and blood pressure monitor wavering in the operating theatre, I decided to try again. I prayed and asked for the mother to be saved, thinking it would be the perfect chance for God to show himself. But she was not saved. Although I definitely am not questioning my beliefs as such, will still continue to enjoy their visits.

We had another very fun HIV workshop with just over 30 kids/young adults, which is the perfect number to get the message across and allow group discussion. We had some excellent questions including ‘Is there a medicine to cure lust?’, ‘Does drinking coke before an HIV test give a false positive?’ and ‘Can I use a plastic bag instead of a condom?’. No, children, no no no! We had our customary how-to-put-on-a-condom workshop, although this time Bigus Dickus was in the form of an eggplant rather than a carrot. Unfortunately eggplants have a shiny, slippery surface most unconducive to putting on a condom, leaving us looking slightly moronic as we struggled with our eggplant!

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It's not as difficult as this in real life, I promise!!

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Playing with condom balloons to prove that no, manufacturers don't intentionally puncture condoms, and that they are strong enough that you don't need two...

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Some of the workshop participants (everyone LOVES posing for photos!)

On Tuesday Lily and I went back to visit the orphanage. I had tremendous fun learning how to make the beaded bags that the kids make and sell, and learning the national dance Kiganda. This is essentially a lot of bum wiggling – which luckily comes quite naturally to me!!! What with my African hair and wiggly buttocks, I’m trying to ditch the Mzungu title and convince everyone I’m just an albino!!

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I have a video of me dancing Kiganda with the orphanage chairman, Lawrence, but I can’t make it upload! 😦

On our way back there was a torrential downpour, turning roads into rivers and flooding houses. Unfortunately our taxi had both a leaking roof and a hole in the floor through which the water came… It has rained every day for the last ages. Just like being back home!

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Road = River

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Taxi is drowning

Okay, I think that is enough for one post!

Much love from bella xxx

A Quick Update: Awesome News

We took Percy to the hospital this morning to get a proper consultation about her surgery, and good news! They are happy to operate, and can do the operation on Saturday. No NHS waiting times here!!! And the operation will only cost 270,000 Ugandan shillings. However this does not include the cost of any of the drugs needed, or any follow up appointments etc. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sit in on the consultation (as being affiliated with a Mzungu automatically pushes up the price of everything…), so I wasn’t able to ask for an estimate of the overall cost, but I think it is absolutely achievable. Especially as I have already recieved some very generous donations, which have left me smiling all day 🙂 So it looks like we are all set for the surgery!

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Percy wearing her best clothes for the clinic visit on Tuesday

With much love xxx

Babies, Happy Periods and Percy’s Flat Belly Fund

I helped to deliver a baby! Yesterday morning as I arrived at the village maternity centre in Kyampisi where I help out on Mondays and Tuesdays, the young mum was already in labour. Having zero experience helping with deliveries, I felt a bit unsure what to do to be useful. It did not help that she didn’t speak any English! But midwife Florence was great at telling me how to help, and I felt I was at least a little bit helpful. Obviously the real hero of the hour was Mum, who delivered without so much as a paracetamol, and barely more than a little yelp of pain. Just before 11 we welcomed a little boy, 7lbs, into the world!! He was beautiful – what a brave and clever (and exhausted!) mummy 🙂

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A beautiful little boy! (Despite how it looks, I am NOT pinching him, just rearranging his blankets to keep him warm)

Despite the centre being relatively high up the healthcare centre hierarchy (level 3, where level 5 is a big city hospital and level 1 is a small village drop-in centre), the facilities were incredibly basic.

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The delivery room

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The medical equipment/drug cupboard/sluice

A few days ago, while working with members from the microfinance project, I got the chance to meet an adorable little girl called Percy. We instantly got on really well, and spent a good while playing together.

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Percy, my sunglasses and me

However, within a few minutes of meeting her, I noticed that she had an umbilical hernia – and a pretty big one at that, especially as she is only four years old. It was really upsetting to see actually, as I know abdominal hernias such as these can cause some pretty horrible intestinal problems. Yesterday Lily and I spoke briefly with the doctor at the clinic about Percy, and the possibility of surgery. This morning we arranged for her and her mum to come over to the clinic to be seen by Dr Tonny. He confirmed that it is an umbilical hernia, and that it can be operated on at a hospital not far from here. Her parents have never even been able to consider surgery for her, because of the cost. The saddest thing is that Dr Tonny estimated a cost of 200,000 to 400,000 USh, which is only around £50 – £100. Tomorrow we are taking her to the big hospital for a proper consultation and exact price.
I’m sure you can imagine what is coming next, and I apologise in advance as I never intended to use this blog to ask for money. But this surgery is really important and will prevent many possible horrible complications – and the cost is so low, relative to the huge impact it will have! So I am asking if any of my family and friends would be willing to donate to ‘Percy’s Flat Belly Fund’. Even amounts that seem small to us go a long long way out here.

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Please contact me on facebook, or by email (isabella.rose.penny@gmail.com), or even comment on this blog, if you would like to help.

In other news, the reusable sanitary pad project is going well! We had another drop in session at the health clinic today, and will continue having these every week while I am here. I have become an expert in explaining in mime about the pads and how to make them – which I’m sure you can imagine looks pretty ridiculous – as most of these very rural women don’t really speak English. 
Also, I have been in contact with Joseph, the leader, ‘CEO’, of Generation Youth that I mentioned in a previous post. He has high, high hopes for the project and I hope to be able to help him. I am in the process of linking his project up with a company making menstrual cups (ie mooncups) in Kenya. I know that many people think these are icky, but for a woman with no money to buy pads or tampons each month, and maybe even no money/time to buy materials and make reusable pads – these seem like a godsend! You need just one, it is made of durable, comfortable and boilable silicon, and it can last up to 10 years! So fingers crossed that we can get this company involved.
Obviously reusable pads are still a great option, especially for girls. Joseph is ploughing ahead with plans for manufacturing these, hoping to build a company (with employees!) to realise this ambition. I would love to be able to help with this awesome project, and seeing as I’ve already smashed through the asking-for-donations boundary in this post, perhaps you can forgive me in continuing. Sewing machines make production of pads tens of times quicker, and will mean that the project can really get started quickly. They cost around £85, and I would absolutely love to be able to see the look on the faces of Joseph and the rest of Generation Youth if we could donate a machine (or two??!).
My cousin Anna has been fantastic in continuing her support in this venture by raising awareness and sharing ideas. The project also desperately needs materials for making pads, underwear for the women to wear with their pads (as many don’t have knickers) and even ready-made pads if you have any, or feel like making some! Please visit her facebook page
https://m.facebook.com/?hrc=1&refsrc=http%3A%2F%2Fh.facebook.com%2Fhr%2Fr&_rdr#!/pantsideascornwall
if you are interested. Again, please contact me or comment on this post if you would like to help – I think we can really make a difference!

To update on Mama Mugisha (the lady with the pigs that I mentioned in my last post), Selina and I have been buying food for the pigs, it’s great to see their little tummies growing! I have also bought her some wood to help with building the pig house, and I think Selina will be helping her to construct it later this week. Just in time too – there have been lots of very heavy thunderstorms in the last week, and the poor piggies are getting wet! (It also means our electricity keeps going down – we’ve currently been electrictyless for over 24 hours).

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Mama Mugisha, Selina and Lily (left to right)

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Mama Mugisha saying a healing prayer for Selina's poorly tummy

Tomorrow I will be starting work at the big hospital in Mukono, which I am pretty excited about – it will be very different from the little health clinic in Kyampisi. I think I will be working with HIV positive expectatant mothers, but I will have to wait and see.

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Kyampisi Health Centre

I am really starting to get used to the Ugandan lifestyle now, and feeling at home here 🙂  The unusual timekeeping and general organisation standards are starting to get a little bit frustrating, however. Whenever there is a thunderstorm or heavy shower (which is most days at the moment), everything stops. Transport stops, shops close, some people don’t go to work and often the electricity even goes! I guess it is kinda like when it snows in the UK, except it’s everyday… It is a bit annoying having to wait around all the time. I’m clearly not quite a chilled out African yet!

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Waiting, stranded because it started to rain mid-journey

With love from bella xxx

OMG, pictures!

So I decided to give up on trying to upload pictures from my camera, and I have taken a few today on my phone instead. I hope they work alright. Here are a few of our base:

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Home sweet home!

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Isaac - the big boss

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Some excellent interior decor. Forvevr.

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Big Mama's Store

This store is just over the road, run by a great lady known to us as Big Mama. She has a TV in the store that all the local kids crowd round to watch in the afternoons, and makes her own yummy passionfruit and pineapple/ginger juices (that we probably drink waay too much of).

The next few snaps I took this afternoon when we were visiting a local lady that Beacon of Hope are helping with a pig rearing project.

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A typical rural house, that could quite possibly accommodate a family of 6 - 8

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Lovely Ugandan sun, and a standard outhouse building, which probably used to be a small produce stall

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Kids playing with homemade guns fashioned from yam stems

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Stack of clay bricks

These stacks are EVERYWHERE, villages stack and store these locally made bricks for construction work, often under thatched covers to protect from the rain. Wherever you go, whether out in a village, or in the town centre, there are construction projects underway. I guess with an annual population growth of 3.6%, new houses are always in demand…

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A boda boda!!

This is what we get around on, and we can (relatively) comfortably fit three passengers on behind the driver if need be.

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Goat!

There are goats tied up everywhere, even if you feel you are way out in the middle of nowhere, you will be sure to come across a goat or three. Maa-aaa-ah.

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One of the two pigs that Mama Mugisha is rearing. There were originally six, but two had to be sold so she could pay for her five children to go to school (she is a widow), and two died because of a lack of suitable food and shelter. Pigs are a great investment (as long as you can afford to raise them), with their value raising from around 50,000 to 400,000 shillings (approx £90) in six months. However, Mama Mugisha hasn’t been able to afford to feed them as much as they needed, so they are still pretty small even though she got them in January. Selena and I are going to buy and take up some maize every other day. It costs only 800 shillings (20p) for this feed, but that isn’t within her budget, and the pigs end up eating foliage – not ideal piggy food. Also we (probably more Selina than I actually, as I am quite tied up at the hospital now) are going to help her finish the pig shelter than will protect the pigs from the coming rainy season.

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Before her husband died, the family of 7 lived in this tiny house. It is hard to believe that there was even space for them to lie down. Now they have a bigger house, with a bedroom and living room (complete with christmas tree), that BoHU helped to build her. It’s still a world apart from the houses and lifestyle that I am used to. She is an awesome woman who works for hours in other people’s gardens everyday to pay for her kids to go to school, in addition to attending to her own garden and pigs. I am really looking forward to helping her 🙂

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On the way home, we passed this lake in an old quarry. This is where Mama Mugisha and other villagers come to collect water. If you squint you can make out some people collecting water in the picture.

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Lovely Lily!

We walked/climbed up to this awesome vantage point, on a sheer drop over the quarry-lake, and with views for miles in all directions. We met some super knowledgable local school boys who had come to see the quarry in their own time after learning about it in their geography class. It was a lovely place to hang out and soak up the beautiful scenery (sentiments clearly shared by a canoodling young couple and an old guy getting high and singing love songs).

That’s all for now, but expect more pictures from now on!

Much love xxx

Welcome, welcome Mzungu!!

Having now been in Uganda for nearly two weeks, I wanted to take a little time to explain what life is like out here.

But first – a quick update on the cloth sanitary pad workshop that I mentioned in my last post. In short, despite me having a horrible fever and sweating everywhere, it was a roaring success! As people started to file into the hall we started to feel a little worried that they weren’t fully aware of the nature of the session as about half of them were guys. But no need to worry, it turned out that they were members of a youth group ‘Generation Youth Uganda’ that had recently become familiar with the idea of reusable sanitary pads as a sustainable and economically viable way to help rural women. But the project was still new, and consisted of buying in and distributing/subsidising pads for the women. Obviously this is expensive and demand far outstrips supply, so the group had come to learn explore a new direction for their project. The boys and girls alike got stuck into the session, producing some awesome prototypes and leaving with hopes to buy some sewing machines and eventually set up production and distribution on a national level! I felt so privileged to be a part of this project and to be able to give these inspirational youths an extra tool in their tool-kit. I really can’t emphasise how humbled I am by this group – these kids, who are by no means well off themselves, are willing to give up significant time and efforts to help those less well off. Watch this space for ways to get involved!!

 

So, I want to tell you a bit about life in Uganda. (I know this would be an ideal place for some pics, I’m still working on it!)

The people! (Nearly) everyone goes out of their way to be friendly and make you feel welcome. People everywhere, even just passing in the street, say hello and ask how you are. All of the people and groups that we have worked on projects with have been super grateful to us, and often give small speeches to tell us so. Very un-British. But very heartwarming. Important officials are keen to chat and get to know us, Selina and I have even been invited out with the Deputy Health Minister for the district. Last week we were welcomed to a local funeral – a big community affair with gospel singing, bible readings and prayers. Standing in a clearing outside a small building, many many people from the village sat and stood to sing and pay their respects, both during the initial ‘service’, and the later burial, out in the back among the banana and coffee trees. At first I felt a little intrusive, but the villagers took it as a sign of respect that we had come along. Literally everywhere we walk children shout out ‘Mzungu, mzungu, hi mzungu!’, waving and smiling. Probably this is more curiosity than hospitality, but it’s certainly cute! Though sometimes it would be nice to be able to ride to town without feeling like the morning entertainment of all the local children! Oh the perils of fame….. 😛 

‘Uganda time’ is something that takes a little getting used to. All timings are approximate. Someone might not turn up for a 10am appointment until 12 and no-one bats an eyelid. Even if you are already running ‘late’, you will stop to chat with a neighbour or help with the washing. I still haven’t quite got my head around this, arriving 30 minutes late to the clinic this morning, I felt like grovelling on the floor to the doctor on arriving. But there was only one patient, and we ended up waiting for ages until others properly started to arrive. Also, people really don’t seem to mind waiting. Just waiting around for customers, transport, service seems to be a massive part of most people’s lives and they just expect it. I think I could get used to it. People here have a much more chilled lifestyle which is very appealing (as long as you’re okay with productivity being much less than in the UK!).

Food. A typical, local meal here might be a massive portion of carbs with a little helping of beans and cabbage. People seem to eat a lot. I am getting fat. The other day I had for lunch: posho (cornflour and water – very dry and somewhat tasteless), matooke (mashed green bananas, much more carby than yellow oones), rice, potatoes and a piece of cassava (a powdery, starchy root vegetable), and this is very standard. My mum would not be impressed! Vegetables are somewhat expensive, but not ridiculously so – people just seem to prefer carbs. I have only eaten meat a handful of times, and the majority of the serving is bone. Meat IS expensive, and most people seem to rarely eat it. From a health point of view, it’s not fun to think about the effects of this type of diet. It definitely explains the prevalence of diabetes. Chapatis and samosas are sold as street food everywhere, relics of the large Asian population before Idi Amin. Yummy, but more carbs!!

I mentioned the boda boda taxi motorbikes before, and the other main method of getting around is by taxi minibus – rattling little tin cans that can cram in 18 passengers plus children at a push. These are ridiculously cheap by UK standards, 2000 shillings for the hour ride to Kampala, the equivalent of less than 50p. Actually I’m pretty impressed with the public transport – you never have to wait for more than a minute or so, whether for a boda boda into town, or a taxi to a far-out city, and the price is cheap. It’s probably best not to think too much about safety though… 

So basically – life here is good! Though a bit more sad since fellow volunteer Diego went back to Germany on Sunday, he is already much missed here, and undoubtedly at the community centre construction site he was working on. But bring on the next month for Selina and I!! I will update soon on the project work that I’m doing at the moment (basically health clinic work).  

With much love xxx

 

Sanitary pads, condoms, and squat toilets

I’m almost at the end of my first week in Uganda, it has gone so quickly! Apologies for such a long post – it’s been a bit more tricky than I thought to get to a computer.

Arriving on a Friday meant that I had the weekend to settle in before starting project work, so I really got a chance to see a bit of the country. My first impression on arriving was how green everything was, with banana trees. coffee plants and other tropical-looking plants growing everywhere. And the roads are almost continuously lined with tiny stalls selling all manner of things, from fresh produce to bed-stands to internet top-ups.

On Saturday the two other volunteers, Selena and Diego, and I went to the capital city Kampala with Lily (officially the ‘director of operations’ here, and unofficially an awesome friend, tour guide and cook!). It was definitely an experience. The city was crazy – jam packed full of people, little stalls, cars and boda bodas (local motorcycle taxis that are awesome fun to ride on). Very noisy and very alive. The following day we went to Jinja, a town on the coast of Lake Victoria and close to the source of the river Nile. This time we didn’t take Lily with us, and the difference was definitely noticeable. There was a lot of attempted Muzungo (the local word for ‘white person’) scamming.
The plan for the first week was to visit several of the different projects that Beacon of Hope (BoHU) are running. The first day was the construction site in a small village called Kasala, where Diego had been working for the couple of weeks before Selena and I arrived. The plan is to build a community centre complete with health centre, pharmacy, school and community resources such as adult education and computing facilities. And it’s going pretty well!! As construction work isn’t necessarily my true calling, I helped out by digging some holes and planting fruit trees, carrying bricks and wood and trying out laying cement.

The next day Selena and I went with Lily to the orphanage that BoHU supports in a suburb of Kampala. It was a very humbling experience. Robert, the guy who started and runs the orphanage for 30 children, is an inspiring guy. After growing up in a very difficult situation he wanted to reduce the suffering of other children as much as possible – by starting up an orphanage from scratch, and even travelling to Iraq for work to raise funds. And he’s done a great job, the children were happy and overwhelmingly excited to see us. We spent the morning playing with them, and the afternoon talking with Robert, touring the orphanage and watching the singing and dancing that the children performed for us. They are all such amazing kids, and I can’t wait to go back.

The next day we spent preparing for some outreach/education projects that will be making up a large portion of my time here.

Firstly: sexual health, family planning and HIV programs. I had already researched these topics before coming here, but Lily was able to talk with us and let us know what would be appropriate for our talks. We wrote up the HIV presentation on flip charts, which we gave to the young people of Kasala earlier this afternoon. A part of this was education on condom use. We had excellent fun reconstructing the condom-on-banana (we actually used a carrot) workshop that we all received in school. Sadly the local youths haven’t have the same exposure to these workshops, so I really hope we’ve made a difference with our teaching on this, and also on HIV in general. HIV is a massive problem here, with 1.4 million people in Uganda infected, and over 62,000 deaths a year. The great thing is that there are (generally) free antiretroviral drugs available – but this is only good if people know about it! (And the same goes for information about HIV prevention).

Lastly, before arriving in Uganda I had thought about the idea of re-usable sanitary products for girls and women. The internet informed me that many girls skip school once a month because they can’t afford proper sanitary products. Inspired by my cousin, Anna’s, work with making cloth sanitary pads and nappies at Go Real! (www.goreal.org.uk), I thought that we could design a program teaching girls and women in villages how to make their own pads, which would allow them to continue their education and generally have a much more comfortable time during their monthly period. Selena and I bought the materials we will need, and using Anna’s pattern I am teaching Selena and Lily how to make the re-usable pads ready for our first workshop tomorrow morning!! I will keep you updated on how it goes (probably….)
Lastly, just to explain the last bit of the title – toilets here are almost exclusively latrine style (aka a pit in the ground). Excellent. Actually we are very lucky here in the volunteer house, as ours has a flush – luxury!

I will try to post some pictures soon, but in the meantime check out the facebook page for a few pictures!
Much love from bella xxx

ETA: 48 hours

In only 48 hours time I will be arriving in Uganda! Literally SO excited. For six weeks I will be helping out at Beacon of Hope Uganda (a small grassroots NGO based in Mukono). No doubt you know this already as I’ve been wittering on about it forever… I have promised my lovely family and friends updates about my adventures, so I decided I would be super brave and computer literate and Do Blogging. Ta-daa! Depending on internet/computing device availability in Uganda this may or may not be my only post…

Beacon of Hope is a fabulous organisation – have a look at their website for all of the projects that they are working on: http://www.beaconofhopeug.org. Specifically I will be helping at healthcare clinics, including the brand new Kasaala Community Health Clinic, and on health education projects. This will involve travelling out to lots of villages and rural communities, so hopefully I’ll have some interesting things to talk about! I’ve been a-thinking and brewing up some ideas for workshops and mini-projects that I’m getting pretty excited about, but I’ll save the details for a later blog once I’ve sussed out what’s already happening education-wise out there.

Right, must go do my packing!

Lots of love from bella