Saturday, 28 January 2012

Apwoyo Matek! (Thank you!)

I would like to send my deepest gratitude to the following people:

Colleen Dishy Wes
Tai Norman
Lori Yi
Lucy Miller
Colin Wes
Izzy Bueno
Suzan Watanabe
Desiree Golmakani
Adam Wes
Amanda Lam
Bryan Sovich
Sally Vongsathorn
David Albert
Julie Holmgren
Mem Weights
Kathi Titus
Jackie Latif
Barb Cartmell
Bonnie Morris
Donna Pfeiffer
Linda Quinn
Ilana Pinsky
Lynne Brazg
Adam Wes
Faren Inglett
Bryan Jackson
Julie Bergeven
Elizabeth Ansel
Heather Cantwell
Christine Andreychuk

It is because of YOUR selfless compassion that Alimo Joyce and Akii Sarah will start their secondary school education next week.

So this is a shout out to those others who would like to support this cause. We need your help! Even though we have raised enough money to send these two girls to school this year, we have decided to send ALL SIX GIRLS. The hope is that there are more willing and able donors like YOU. Please, if you can, send your $10 donation via PayPal:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A request to help empower girls through education. My new project.

The war of Northern Uganda lasted for twenty years with little to no international assistance. An unthinkable amount of children were abducted to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Though the war ended just over five years ago, rebuilding is in its’ beginning stages, and much healing is needed.
In a country where half the population is under the age of 18, my focus will be with the youth-primarily the girls.
Culturally-and generally, education for girls is not as much of a priority as it is for boys. Girls, particularly in the villages, are expected to marry and produce at an early age-not leaving much room for alternative opportunities.

Primary school is affordable, so many girls go to primary school, but their education ends there. It is at this vital age wthat many of them become pregnant. Secondary school is generally too expensive to even consider, and like I mentioned before, many families and communities refuse to see the need.
Thus, this is where my work will begin.
I have connected with a school that provides free education to war-affected children, who have either returned from captivity or who were born in the bush. The school is only a primary level school, so many of these children-who crave education, repeat primary school over and over.
I want to find sponsors to send these girls to secondary school. The term begins at the end of this month, and I have identified six girls who are in the most need.
These are their stories: 
Akii Sarah was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance army in 2000 from her village. She escaped from captivity after three months and returned home in the same year of abduction. Sarah lost her mother to HIV/AIDS and her father has been very sick and can hardly care for them. She was later enrolled in the School of War Affected Children where she has completed primary seven level. Sarah is now seeking assistance so that she can continue with her secondary education.

Alimo Joyce was abducted and shot in the leg, causing disability. Joyce had remained with her only brother who was her only support until he recently committed suicide. She was left with the brother’s wife, who one night collected all the household utensils and some of Joyce’s belongings and disappeared. Joyce has always been forced by her extended family to get married but has refused, and now has limited support from her family. She lives alone and has no one to support her. Joyce is one of our critical cases.
Apiyo Scovia was left by her mother when she was only 2 weeks old. Her father whom she remained with was also abducted by the rebels and has never returned. When her mother finally returned, she was very ill with HIV/AIDS and died soon after, leaving Scovia only with her grandmother who was too old to care for her. Later, Scovia was enrolled in the School for War Affected Children and has completed primary level seven. Because of lack of fees, Scovia had to go back to repeat primary seven to keep her busy and to avoid early marriage. Scovia now needs support and care for better future.

When Aciro Melissa's father divorced her mother for having extra marital affairs, where she produced the rest of Melissa's siblings, he rejected her too, and disappeared. She has been left in the care of her grandmother who has been struggling with payments and is too old to cater to Melissa's basic needs. She is seeking support for her secondary education.
Atimango Brenda's father was killed by the rebels during the insurgency. Her mother later found another man who infected her with HIV/AIDS, but didn't realize her condition until it was too late. When she died, Brenda was left with her grandmother who is now too old to care for her, and does not have the means to support her school fees. She has completed her primary education at the School for War Affected Children, but needs financial support to continue.

Limpe Grace was born in the bush when her parents who were formerly abducted met. On their way to "Teso", her father was shot dead. Her mother returned home with her, but also died in 2000, only a year after her father's death. Grace was then enrolled in the School for War Affected Children. She has completed her primary levels, but has no one to support her in continuing her education.
I am connected to these girls personally, and am developing a mentorship aspect to this project that would provide them with trainings that would focus on assertiveness and life skills, business development, sexual health and education, and of course, trauma healing.
It costs roughly $1,000 to send a girl to secondary for a year. This amount would pay for their classes, books, materials, uniforms, food, living and medical expenses.
However, I know that is a lot of money, especially during these times. So, we are aiming at finding 100 people to donate $10 or more.
If you are interested in sponsoring, donations can be made through PayPal -
Thank you so much in advance.
Love, Jenna

My Secondary Project

Deciding on what to focus on in a sea of seen issues is daunting. Right now, there are children screaming below my building. I can hear them being beaten. Making my presence known so that they stop this one time will not solve the problem. Breaking the cycle of violence is an overwhelming task. And really, what can I do?

I came here having an idea of what I wanted to do as a “secondary” project. I wanted my focus to be trauma healing from war, rape, and domestic violence.  Though that is still a major need, after working in certain communities, different-though related needs have presented themselves as vital as well. One thing I still know for sure is that I want to focus on women. 50% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 18, meaning that 25% of Uganda’s population is young women. I believe the answer to many of Uganda’s standing problems is to educate and empower these 25%. If there was ever a time for feasible change, it is now.
My original project idea was to provide sponsorship for girl’s secondary education. Secondary school is kind of like high school, and I decided on it as my focus for the following reasons:
1. The government “somehow” provides funding for primary education, making primary school more affordable.
2. Many girls drop out after they have completed primary school because many families can’t afford to send all their children to secondary school, and the girls “don’t need it as much as the boys” since their future in the village has already been laid out for them.
3. This is the time when many girls get pregnant, and/or married.
In addition to sponsoring these young women, I would also provide continuous mentorship in the form of business management, assertiveness and life skills training, and sexual health education. Of course, this would just be the beginning. A long term (and maybe very long term) goal I have would be to start a progressive girls school that would focus on areas like these.
This project took a turn in development when I ran into a Peace Corps language teacher/mentor/friend. He noted that I seemed to have a lot on my mind, so I proceeded to tell him that I felt overwhelmed by all the pending needs I see on a daily basis, and asked him for his advice. I told him about my project idea.
He suggested a different approach.
Instead of providing sponsorship for school fees, I could work with these young women on an income-generating project that would allow them to fund their own ways through school. I could provide these girls with chickens, and give them the tools to generate income through breeding. Such a project would be sustainable as the chickens would continuously breed-long after I was gone.
I loved this idea, and held onto it fervently even when others discouraged me, until recently when I discovered that it wouldn’t work for two major reasons:
1.  Secondary school is much more expensive than primary school (roughly $1,000), and it would take a hell of a lot of chickens-not to mention time to earn that kind of money. I fear that it would be during this preliminary fundraising stage, the girl would get married and/or pregnant.
2.  To provide a good education, girls need to be sent to boarding school, thus the responsibility of breeding would fall onto the parents who may or may not be interested, and who may or may not be willing to use the income generated from this project on their daughter’s education.
So as it goes in the field of development, my project plans have once again changed-or progressed depending on how you look at it…

Monday, 2 January 2012

My Work

I came to Uganda not knowing where I would be living, or who I would be working with. Based on my language assignment, I discovered the region I would be working in within the first week of my service. During week five of my training, I learned the organization I would be working with, and a few days before I was to leave to site, I learned that my assignment had changed. Today, I am living in Gulu town (which is more like the projects then my originally signed placement of living in the bush) and I am working with an NGO called Aid Africa.
Aid Africa started just as the war in the North was ending. The work began in the IDP camps, providing tools to make energy-efficient mud stoves, and providing transportation for sick and dying children to the hospital. As the times changed, the efforts of Aid Africa increased. Amongst the previously mentioned programs, the organization now sponsors a handful of kids in their schooling, builds and repairs boreholes, and shelters water springs. I was brought on to the team to help the NGO develop, and to introduce new projects based off the needs we see in the villages, and my own personal skill set.
As we look forward to a new year, we are taking steps to potentially add the following foci:
Health Education and Prevention
It’s heart breaking to take these children to the hospital, as the problems they face seem to arise again and again. Additionally, the hospitals tend to focus on malaria and typhoid, leaving many conditions unnoticed, and unrecognizable. Our goal this year as Aid Africa is to introduce health programs that would focus on prevention rather than on treatment. Such areas will include, but are not limited to: clean water, sanitation and nutrition. As a long term goal, I’d love to introduce reproductive and sexual health workshops… but such a topic must be introduced slowly, with an immense amount of cultural sensitivity, once trust within the communities has been established.
Income-Generating Activities (IGAs)
I came here having a clear idea of what I wanted to do. But like so many things in life, things change where adaptation is needed. For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my life’s missions is to empower young women. Well, rather than the original plan of providing workshops concerning the manner, Aid Africa and I are taking a different approach. The resources in Uganda are plentiful, as is the creative talent of most women. Where the guidance is needed is in production and marketing. In helping these women find alternative sources of income, we are indirectly empowering them. For beyond introducing the idea that they have a purpose beyond taking care of their husbands and their children, we are giving them alternative options that might not have existed otherwise. For example, if a woman is in an abusive relationship, she does not leave, for how would she survive financially without her husband?
Which leads me to the final project we hope to implement:
Gender-Based Violence

…Which I won’t get into right now, in fear that I will inevitably stick my foot in my mouth. However, I can assure you that I will approach this topic eventually-as it is one of Uganda's many secret killers.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my alliance is not only with the organization I am working with, but with the needs I see of the people, and I am encouraged to develop my own secondary projects… which I hope you will read about in my next post.


They tell me I’ll get used to it. I hope I never do.
On the way home from the field today, a car intentionally tried to veer us off the road. We were going too fast, and I closed my eyes, anticipating the crash.
But we were okay.
On the way home from the field today, we saw a woman sitting on the edge of the road. There was a pool of blood beneath her leg. My co worker and I stopped, as everyone else seemed to be passing by unconcerned.
A fifteen year old with epilepsy, she had walked an hour from her village to the hospital in town to get her drugs. On the way back, she had a seizure, fell, and gashed open a wound that had already tattooed her body by a fire.
We took her back to the hospital, where we had to beg someone to help her, eventually wrapping the wound ourselves. (Yes mom, with gloves).
It was in the emergency room that I noticed one girl in terrible distress. She was convulsing, moaning in severe pain, had only a sheet covering the bottom half of her, and her eyes bulged out of her head as though she had just seen her own death pending.  She was completely alone. “Why isn’t anyone helping this girl?” “What is wrong with her?” “Hello!?”
I can’t even begin to describe my frustration/fear/anger... Is this the way people are treated here? No wonder there is so much death, I hated to think-but I did. The place was filthy, no one was paying any attention-or even seemed to care, and when the girl fell off her bed, a nurse said “just leave her.”
I stayed with her, trying to hold her hand and calm her down. I stayed with her hoping my presence would put pressure on the doctors to act. I stayed with her, hoping to protect her-asking questions, and suggesting tests. “That ward is closed today.” “That drug is over.” I stayed with her because no one else was there for her. I stayed with her, because even though she wasn’t able to talk, and I couldn’t speak to her, I wanted her to see in my eyes that she was not alone.
Finally, a girl came. The sister. She sat by her head, trying to calm the hysteria, while I sat by her side-trying to keep her from pulling her IV out. Language was our wall, but we kept looking at each other, and she kept looking away, hoping I wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
I left to go get the sister some food and water, and to bring the girl a pillow and sheet (which of course, the hospital didn’t have). But when I came back, the bed was gone.

How does someone tell someone else that someone has died? As a profession, I have never understood it. Do they say it the same way each time? Does it get easier? Or does a new hole rip in their heart each time?
I ran outside and into the arms of the sister, holding her as we cried together. They were both only teenagers.
The doctor came outside and whispered to me that she hoped I would still continue to support the sister, as the two of them lived only together-and only had each other.
Women began to gather, as African women do-supporting each other; one tribe of sisters, daughters, mothers and friends. I stepped away now, only supporting her with my presence… tears of course, still drowning my eyes.  One of the women approached me and said “Be silent. Be still. Do not cry.” And I stopped. I turned off all emotion to be “strong” for the sister, but in turn, I felt as though I was isolating myself from her.
I left the sheet for the body to be wrapped in. It was a pretty one. Pink and ironed, with little lilac flowers.
Tomorrow I will help them transport the body.
They tell me that I will get used to this. I hope I never do.

The Rains Down in Africa

One of my fondest memories in Italy was running barefoot through the bare streets in the pouring rain with my dear friend, Carly, as the rest of the city ran for cover. The rain brings me to life. And as a Seattleite, I am more than used to it. In fact, I own 1 jacket-though I never use it, and the only reason I have an umbrella is because I like the leopard print pattern.
Here, everything stops when it rains. At the first drop, people run for cover, waiting for the skies to dry-no matter how long it takes. The rain is a perfectly acceptable excuse for being late, or missing an appointment all together. In fact, it is expected.
One day, as my German colleague and I sat in the office alone, we called a co worker to inquire why they were not at work. Their response, “I feared the rain” made us chuckle, as we wondered if such an excuse would work in either of our home countries…
Though the rain makes time stop, soaks clothes that are drying on the line, invites all the white ants inside, halts business, and makes the roads worse than they already are… No one seems to mind.
In the States, we tend to curse the rain. But here, it is seen as a blessing. Because many women have to travel long distances to fetch water, once the rain begins, they run inside their homes to fetch every bucket and basin to collect the water from the sky. Additionally, people in the villages rely on their crops for survival. Rain is seen as a gift from God, as it makes their crops flourish. There are only two seasons here: Rainy season, and dry season. And though natural resources are abundant, it is the dry season that brings about draught and famine.
My Acholi name is “Akot.” Kot means rain. And though it is given to a child when they have a watery umbilical cord, I like to think it means “rain goddess.” I find the rain tragically beautiful, and I feel like I belong in its’ dance.
Still, I find myself running for cover at the first sign of rain like all the others. This is something I have never done before. Maybe my cultural adaption is becoming a psychological reflex, for I certainly know it’s not because I fear the rain.

Revenge of the Cockroaches

(Written in Wakiso)
Last night was the worst night I've had since I have been in Uganda.
I woke up to thunderous rains like I’ve never heard before. It was as though Noah's Ark was coming. The time was 2am, and I did not go to sleep after that.
Lying in bed, thinking (like I do too much), I noticed a large-not to mention, grossly juicy cockroach crawling on my mosquito net. (Okay okay, I know this is Africa, but due to a traumatic experience in Sri Lanka, I have a deep fear of these little “animals.”)
Frozen in fear, I noticed another… then another… and another… It was as though I was infested!
Immediately, I felt trapped. I began to panic.
I had to leave.
So at 5am, I quickly gathered my clothes, toothbrush, and notebook… and ran out of the house just as I was.
It was pitch black, as there are no street lights, and it was still pouring with rain.
With a lantern and alarm in one hand, and my knife in the other, I set out to my training site.
Having only taken the swampy-like “short-cut,” and knowing it was the more “dangerous” choice, I opted for the longer route on unfamiliar roads.
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I was utterly lost, in absolute darkness.
Before long, I crossed paths with about thirty army men dressed all in black. It was so dark, I only recognized them by the whites of their eyes. Great, I thought, this is it. I clenched my knife, knowing I would not be much competition, but walked on by without incident.
After maybe an hour, or an hour and a half of walking “on instinct,” I noticed the headlights of a matatu taxi bus, and didn’t even need to flag them down, as they always stop, hoping to pick up a mzungu. Though there were only two men inside, I weighed my options, jumped inside, and asked them to take me to the “Wakiso Taxi Park” as I knew I could find my way to the training center from there (even though the walking distance from there is quite a trek too).
After driving for what seemed like too long, I realized that they were taking me to the bus park in the next town! Beyond irritable at this point, I got out of the taxi without paying, and waited on the side of the road for another half an hour before getting picked up by a taxi going in the opposite direction.
Exhausted, I arrived at my training center just a few minutes before my language class started, and only three hours after I had left my home.
This experience made me ponder... Do you stay in an uncomfortable situation even if you feel trapped? Or do you leave, unaware of the dangers ahead?