Contemporary Uganda

by Rebecca Bell, Assistant Project Coordinator

Contemporary Uganda is a globalizing Uganda. It is a place where you can get traditionally made matooke or a cheese pizza at the local restaurant, Stoneys ginger soda or Coke zero, or see a Hollywood or Bollywood movie at the cinema (and get your Nollywood fix on television). Even in the most remote villages, the influence of the outside world is visible, even if it takes a bit more searching.

Explaining this experience to friends and family back home, it is difficult to describe life in a small village. There are cows on the roads, children as young as five carry machetes in hand, and women carry babies on their backs and pineapples on their heads. Not exactly the picture of cosmopolitan culture. Yet in Kasana, ‘top 40’ hits can be heard blaring out of a small wooden hut near the market, illegally copied foreign movies can be bought on the sides of the street and I even took a matatu yesterday with a guy wearing a t-shirt from one of my favourite shops in Toronto. Heinz ketchup is available alongside local ‘Top Up’ at the local supermarket. These global influences are even more apparent the minute you step into the capital, Kampala.

IMG_4134_2Top Up Chili Sauce: We go through about a bottle a week. I have a theory that it helps kill any sketchy bacteria in our food- haven’t been sick yet!

This past Saturday, searching for some creature comforts, I went out to the latest Hollywood release, “Kingsmen” at the movie theatre, sorted through piles of imported clothing at Owino market (second hand H&M is a top notch find!), to an Italian restaurant for dinner, and finally an Irish pub. Moments like these feel a bit surreal- at any given moment, you really could be anywhere in the world. They feel even more surreal in drastic contrast to Kasana town, a little less than a two-hour drive away.

The multicultural dynamic here at the volunteer house also makes for interesting conversation and learning opportunities. Our project coordinator, Trine, is Danish. None of the current volunteers have ever visited Denmark and we often grill her with questions of what to see and do, what life is like and we whine about how jealous we are that all of Europe (and the world!) is at her fingertips. The rest of the current interns are Canadian; we await an American later this month! We hail from different provinces and try vainly to find ways in which we’re different. And we are, despite our citizenship. We discuss our travel experiences, our favourite Canadian coffee shops and destinations and our shared and not-so-shared political ideas. We share music from across the globe.

Shanti itself is an example of multiculturalism in the best way. Ugandan staff hailing from all across the country work with Ugandan clients and international interns to provide services like yoga! Yoga is definitely not originally Ugandan…

DSC00035Women taking a pre-natal yoga class at Shanti. I guess there is plenty of Indian influence in East Africa!

Although this experience is drastically different than, say, that of my parents’ generation of travels, I am constantly amazed at the ways in which outside influences change Ugandan culture and not overtake it. Ugandan traditions and languages are still alive and well, and they’re not going anywhere. But the influence of people and things from all across the globe are subtly changing the ways people live and interact. People are taking what works and leaving what doesn’t.

There is no one experience of Uganda, and that is what makes this such a personal and unforgettable experience.

Chai with Shanti’s Women

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by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern

When working on development projects in countries like Uganda, I am constantly amazed by the assortment of people I meet from around the world with interesting stories and backgrounds. WIGG momenMeet Teopista, Jesca and Racheal – three women from the income generating group. Under the shade of a protective straw hut, we sit and talk together…

How long have you been coming to Shanti’s Women’s Income Generating Group (WIGG) for and how did you hear about it?

We started coming to Shanti in 2009, and since joining WIGG we’ve been coming most Thursday’s since then. We heard about Shanti through Bishop Asili Hospital, where we were being treated for HIV/AIDS. They teach us to make things that will help bring income for us so that we can live.

What type of things do you make?

We have learned to make beads which we string together to make necklaces, bracelets and earrings. We also have sewing machines and textiles which we make laptop bags, cosmetic bags, diaper bags, yoga bags, banana bags, baby bags, backpacks, coin purses, oven mitts and nalongo bags – oh, and table mats!

Which do you prefer making?

Most of us enjoy making beads because we all sit down together and spend the afternoon working, talking and sharing difficulties together. Making banana bags is also fine because they are more simple than oven mitts.

Your fabrics are so vibrant and colorful. Which are your favorite colors?

Well, when we are making textiles for Canada, we use colors that are good for the seasons. Blue, reds, browns, greens. We like browns and greens the most though.

Teopista, the blue dress you are wearing is stunning. Did you make it?

Yes!! I learned how to sew about 13 years ago from my auntie, and I made this one myself in only 1 day! (Shy giggle)

Jescac and Racheal, who taught you to sew?

Jesca: A friend taught me.

Racheal: I learned here at Shanti!

How long does it take you to make a necklace?

About 6 hours on average.

Well you guys are making some really beautiful items. Thanks for sharing your story with me.

 

Everyday Living

by Madelaine Thiel, Development and Partnerships intern

I am well into my internship at Shanti Uganda and I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by.  Ugandan time is “loose” at best and one loses track of time as the heat stretches out the hours.  Then the sun sets and before you know it, it is dark within 30 minutes.

Shanti UgandaI really like my Project Coordinator, Trine.  She is a very practical person, and she clearly loves Uganda.  She has so much experience here and has learnt to embrace the culture and go with the flow, all the while sticking to principles that prevent her from being swept away by the river.  And this RIVER IS WILD.  What has surprised me most is how blunt some people are.  Ugandans are very polite and hospitable; they are always worried about saying what you want to hear.  However, they don’t mind showing up 2 hours late or asking you if you have frequent sex with your husband.  Yes, I am married to all drivers and vendors who ask.

My job is starting to look pretty cool.  I am applying for grants and will meet with business partners in Kampala.  Lately while in the capital, I have been checking out new markets, specifically ones that cater to ex-pats, to sell the handmade jewelry and handbags produced by the women’s income generating group that meets weekly at Shanti.  I am also to help procure a new guest speaker for an upcoming fundraiser.  Politicians attract the most funds, so we had the Minister of Transport as our VIP speaker but he got arrested this week on corruption charges. Welcome to Uganda.

Power OutageI was worried that applying for grants was going to be a job easily done from Canada, so I wondered why I was travelling to Uganda to do it.  Turns out there are many opportunities for professional development and I am enjoying meeting the staff.  Getting to know them and the dynamics of the clinic means that I am better able to assess what exactly they need funding for.  I am particularly enjoying Ssanyu, our head mid-wife.  She has a lot of great ideas about what she would like to see happen at the clinic and it is always nice to sit down and chat with her.  The sunshine is definitely a perk, compared to all the snow back home, so how can I not love Uganda?

The other night, while I was peacefully falling asleep on my top bunk, a cockroach FELL ON MY FACE.  I wish I could say I was cool about it, but I yelped loud enough to wake my two roommates.  He used the distraction to make his escape.  We then searched both bunk bed cots’ linen because the only thing worse than a cockroach is a cockroach you know is there but you can’t see.  We eventually found the little guy after he crawled onto the lower bunk and disappeared behind my laundry hamper.  Trine, summoned by the sound of our shenanigans, picked it up and flushed it. She said it was dead when she touched it.

A cockroach can survive radioactivity, droughts, pesticides… Crawls into my dirty laundry? Dies.

The funny thing is I was thinking of all the bugs of Uganda right before one fell on my face.  I went back to bed thinking of money, ice cream, and grad school acceptance letters.

So far, being Partnership and Development Coordinator has gotten off to a great start!

Chai with Sarah

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by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.

 

Laboratory Medicine is one of the most common – if not the most common modality used for the diagnoses of patients entering a health care facility. Even in resource stricken regions around the globe, a rudimentary medical laboratory often exist to detect common diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other sexually transmitted infections. I sat down with Shanti Uganda’s medical laboratory technician Sarah Makawande to discuss her roles and responsibilities at the birthing center.

 

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Did you grow up around this district Sarah with your family?

I grew up in a nearby town called Nakasongola, with my mother, father, and six siblings (four boys and two girls). I am the eldest of the girls in my family. I did all my schooling from P1 to S6 in Nakasongola, and then spent two years training in medical laboratory sciences at Kiwoko Hospital. It is a great learning center and I met lots of interesting people there.

How did you hear about this position at Shanti Uganda?

I had a friend named Danielle who was leaving his posting at Shanti to continue his studies in Kenya. I applied for the position and got it. I’ve been here for six months now and like it because it’s not too stressful, it’s a quiet and peaceful environment, and the staff are nice to work with. I also like it because I am promised a paycheck at the end of the month and I get it on time – unlike other health care centers here in Uganda.

Let’s dream a bit Sarah. If you or I had a million dollars to spend on the lab, what would you have done?

First off I would paint all surfaces white, so that I can be sure that all areas are clean. For example, if blood was splattered, I would see that it needed cleaning with a nice white surface. I would also tile the floors as it is better than concreate.

Secondly, I would buy lots of new equipment that would increase the services we provide here at in the lab.  I would buy a hemocue machine, which would detect conditions like anemia…etc. That machine would cost about 1.5-2M UGS which is about 450 CND. I would buy a new fridge that would be able to run off the solar power we generate here at Shanti. Currently it cannot run because we don’t have enough power to run it. Things like reagents, vaccinations and medicine that needs to be cold stored would have a place if we had a working fridge. I would also buy an autoclave or sterilization oven so that slides, urinalysis containers and other equipment can be cleaned properly. And then I would buy an agitator which is helpful when we do our blood testing. I would like to see routine blood testing’s like CBC’s, WBC, RBC, platelets, thrombolytic testing, sputum analysis for TB diagnosis and electrolyte testing available for our community.

Finally, I would like to go for some continuing medical education where I can learn the latest best practices and apply them to the lab here at Shanti. Oh, also, I would also replace the light bulb in the ceiling (laughing and pointing upward)!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time Sarah?

I would like to be married to my (boy)friend named Abel, who I have been seeing for two years now.  I would still like to be working at Shanti. Eventually I would like to also go back to school to continue growing in my profession of laboratory medicine. Mulago Hospital trains people very well so perhaps I will have the opportunity to further my studies there.

Mother Centred Care & Health: Shanti at Save The Mothers

by Rebecca Bell, Assitant project coordinator

Shanti is incredibly fortunate to have some wonderful people both interning and working for us here in Luwero. Yesterday, a few of us were lucky enough to see these colleagues being recognized for their hard work through another organization, Save the Mothers.

Save the Mothers has its Canadian headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario where current Monitoring & Evaluations intern, Dena Thomas lives with her husband and three grown kids. Dena is on the board of Save the Mothers, and so brings an incredible understanding of organizational governance, an academic background in public health, and vast maternal health experience with her to Shanti. We are lucky to have her!

Victoria Acen, Shanti’s competent and motivated Project Director has her academic background amongst the Save the Mother’s Masters of Public Health Leadership Program.  As a current student at the Ugandan Christian University, she works within the Save the Mothers family whose program is centered upon educating up and coming Ugandan leaders in the health profession in maternal health care.

Yesterday, Save the Mothers held a 10-year anniversary party in Kampala to celebrate what has been accomplished in this time. Myself, Trine, Dena, Ssanyu and Fred all trekked to the function in our high heels and snazzy outfits to support the incredible work others are doing surrounding mother centered care and safe births. The day began with a number of current students presenting a short dissertation of their research (their abstracts) in front of a panel of professors and a number of their colleagues. We were exposed to how individuals are working with the Village Health Teams (VHTs) throughout Uganda, a component of Shanti’s outreach that the current cohort of interns has been keen to improve. Similar themes were present throughout a number of presentations including the need to get women to go to clinics sooner, varying contraception options, the challenge of bringing in male (partner) involvement and the lack of financial resources to do all of this.

IMG_0326Victoria represented Shanti with her own presentation of our project and our goals, and how things have been going in Luwero. She was later able to make a plug about our work in maternal health care, as well as a quick comment about the HIV positive women’s income generating group (WIGG), whose textiles and beading work we had on display in the large banquet hall.

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Both Victoria and Dena were asked to go up on stage to present certificates of achievement to Save the Mothers faculty who were being recognized for their contributions over the past 10 years. It was wonderful to see some of our own recognizing the achievements of others in the field. Not only that, but it meant that Victoria and Dena themselves had been selected as important players in their own right within the Save the Mothers community.

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Finally, we were able to celebrate with the whole group, getting into the largest group photo I’ve ever had the chance to participate in. The dinner buffet was no small highlight either! As we left that evening, happy and well-fed, Ssanyu, Victoria and Fred picked up professionally printed portraits of themselves that the photographer had taken throughout the night. What a perfect souvenir for an inspiring evening!

Motherhood

By: Rebecca Bell , Assistant Project Coordinator
It has been a busy first three weeks here at Shanti. Amidst the unavoidable culture shock, name learning and sunburns, there is work to be done. The other interns here are phenomenal: inspiring, committed and hard working. We discuss the challenges we face, laugh over the staff’s antics, and share nightly pineapples (Luwero must have the best pineapples in the world!). Although at times the estrogen-filled house can feel a little small, these women share what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a sister and a woman in both subtle and overt ways.

IMG_3758_2Our Project Coordinator and two of the Shanti interns out for lunch on the weekend. Conversation ranges from what movies to download when we have WIFI to why corruption runs rampant in the Ugandan government.

I’m at that crazy age where some friends are getting married and having kids, while others, a decade older, are just starting to settle down (and some never will!). Personally, I am by no means ready for motherhood. The logistical part of the equation, the one that would seem the biggest challenge back home, barely comes to mind here. The women who come to Shanti haven’t had a chance to save up for the college fund, there are probably no babysitters lined up, and, if they are lucky enough to get maternity leave, they often begin their 3-months off the day the baby is born.

Rather, it’s the role of being a mother that occupies my mind.

Mothers here are strong.

It’s part of the culture that women make little noise during childbirth. Sitting outside the labour room at the birth house, you’d never even know someone is giving birth right on the other side of a thin wood door. We often see brand new mamas washing pots and pans and cooking food only an hour or two after delivering. Then they ride off on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) with their newborn back home. One of my favourite images so far is of a woman I walked past last weekend with a baby strapped to her back, a whole stalk of matoke (like large plantains) balanced on her head and a machete in hand.

Mothers here are inspiring.

Yesterday, I spoke with Yvonne, one of the women in the Income Generating beading group. She told me that she moved to Luwero with her husband 15 years ago. When he passed away, they were only renting their home. She has now been able to buy a plot of land and a house where she lives with and cares for her own kids and several grandchildren. She mentioned that if the interns ever have extra soda bottles, to please pass them on to her—she’ll use them to bottle her homemade pineapple wine! Did I mention how entrepreneurial women are?

Mothers here are supportive.

Yesterday at Shanti, there was a workshop on making liquid soap. All the women in the Income Generating Group were invited, as well as any interested staff. All who participated were invested and engaged. Some of the women also brought their kids along or sent their kids in their stead if they were unable to participate. When the facilitator brought around caustic soda and water, the women eagerly held out their hands to feel how the chemical reaction had made the cup hot. When the stirring began, multiple women got up to put on gloves and lend their strength to 45 minutes (!?!) of stirring. Long after the facilitators had left and the soap had been distributed, the women stood chatting, cooking and sharing food. It is energizing to see them under the hut each week, sharing their knowledge and supporting each other through their individual and shared challenges.

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The WIGG women gathered around the liquid soap workshop facilitators, paying close attention and taking notes.

What is most remarkable is that women are respected and their potential is recognized. As we entered a schoolyard on Monday for Liberation Day activities, the sign at the edge of the road displayed, “Educate a girl and educate the nation.” I have no doubt that my perception of motherhood is changing daily and that I will leave Shanti with hugely different ideas than the ones I came here with. Who knows? Maybe I will leave convinced that I would like kids of my own someday.

Chai with Madelaine

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by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.

 

Madelaine

When working on development projects in countries like Uganda, I am constantly amazed by the assortment of people I meet from around the world with interesting stories and backgrounds. One of the best ways to learn about where they came from, why they’re here and where they’re going is to sit down and have a favorite drink with them and talk. I sit down with Madelaine Thiel who comes from Calgary, Canada, and is part of the ShantiUganda team as a Program Development and Partnership Intern. She is also very modest about sharing that she is a nationally ranked rower and avid athlete.

It’s so nice to be working with you Madelaine and thanks for showing me around on my first few days here in Kasana. How did you hear about ShantiUganda and what made you decide to spend the next 4 months of your life volunteering ?

I found ShantiUganda after weeks of research trying to find an internship that didn’t have exorbitant placement fees and which offered me the opportunity to develop the skillset I wanted as a development worker. I also had strict criteria for deciding which organization to work with, such as their sustainability model…

Where else have you travelled in the world?

I was born in Guelph, Ontario but my family moved to France until I was in grade 5 when we came back home to Canada and settled in Calgary. I caught the travel bug from my parents, and have been to England, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and through the northern US with them on family trips. In the 3rd year of my undergrad, I studied abroad in Guatemala and travelled throughout Honduras and Nicaragua.

What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be here at ShantiUganda?

For me personally, I think my critical thought process might limit me from trying new things and allowing myself to learn and make some mistakes. I want to do a good job in my role, and above all do no harm to the people I’m most trying to help. I over analyse myself and sometime freeze with paralysis, so that’s an area I’m looking on growing in. I also want to keep up my fitness level, which may be difficult since a lot of my work is sedentary at the computer, so I need to build in time for morning runs before it gets too hot.

What do you think your biggest reward will be working at ShantiUgana?

To gain a practical understanding of the theory I learned in my undergrad. I’m looking forwards to the hands on work within the community. I also feel that I will gain knowledge from the other members of our team who have such diversity, both in terms of experience, age and background.

Chai with Flora

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by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.

Under the cool shade of a Gasiya  tree at Shanti, long time employee Florence Nagawa and I sit down to talk about her life and her experience working here at the birth house in Kasana.

Flora

Flora was born in the Kiboga district of Kasaga in 1964. She would visit her grandmother as a young girl of 13 years, when she began to learn the skills of a traditional birth attendant. She stopped going to school in S2 when her dad refused to pay her school fees further.  She shortly married and had 8 children with her husband who was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident in 2009. She has also lost one daughter to HIV/AIDS at 24 yrs old. Florence was one of the original Ugandans involved in the Shanti project. She began as an advocate for Shanti Uganda in 2009, moving from one neighbourhood to another. Flora mobilized the community by placing posters at churches and township offices, and by talking to women about the services that Shanti provided. She was hired in 2010, originally for birth support and sanitation staff at Shanti, but her responsibilities have grown to include leading yoga sessions for the women every Thursday, advising mothers on health education: post natal care, nutrition, hygiene and family planning. She is also a doula for the mothers in labour at Shanti. Flora is very proud of her personal growth and over the past 5 years. She aspires one day to become a midwife and increase her involvement in the safe delivery process for Mums in the Kasana region.

 

She dreams about one day having her own set of scrubs that say:

Shanti Uganda

Florence Nagawa