This & That

It’s been a month since I last wrote, and even longer since I’ve posted updates. So, consider this a random highlight reel of the last few months and a peek at what is coming up. I can’t believe it, but somehow I only have 41 days left in Uganda!?

  • Soon after returning back to Uganda from Chicago, I attended GHC’s Quarter 3 retreat. All the Ugandan fellows convened in a lovely part of Kampala on Lake Victoria, Munyonyo, to check in one last time as a country group. As always, it was great to see everyone and to hear exciting post-fellowship plans.
  • I finally made it to Uganda’s biggest National Park, Murchison Falls! Five friends and I traveled several hours north of Kampala to spend one night in the park. My favorite parts were a boat ride on the Nile River, hiking to the top of Murchison Falls (and finding a rainbow there!), seeing giraffe for the first time, and getting up close and personal to a big, male lion. But beware of nasty tsetse flies there! They bite through anything, including jeans. It was unbelievable.
  • My lovely GHC co-fellow, Peter, got married! In Uganda, there’s a ceremonial introduction event of the groom to the bride’s family. Along with a few other GHC fellows, we traveled 5 hours to Masaka, where his fiance’s (Stella) family home is. Essentially, they were welcoming him into the family as he offered the dowry for his soon-to-be wife. Though I couldn’t understand a word that was said, the venue was really colorfully decorated, the outfits were beautiful, the food was delicious, and Peter & Stella were so happy. Then the following weekend, we bused up to Kampala for his wedding, which was a Christian ceremony in a church, with a reception at a nearby venue. Check out my gomesi in the photos – the traditional outfit for Buganda women.
  • Per my previous post, I kicked off my first ever Indiegogo campaign for a small project to distribute menstrual hygiene kits to vulnerable girls in our district. It just closed last week and I’m happy to say that we raised $3,160 in one month! We finished our first distribution earlier this week and ACODEV will be continuing to do so over the next few months. If you’re interested, there’s a full update here. Thanks to everyone that supported us in one way or another!
  • Lastly, and most importantly… on June 8th, I became an Aunt! My sister and brother-in-law had their first baby, Colter Hayden Stephany. He’s the first grandchild in our family so it’s quite exciting for all of us. As you can imagine, I’m counting down the days (69!) until I get to meet the little guy.

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Though I’m still figuring out part of my post-GHC life, there’s a lot that I’m looking forward to in the next few months:

  • In mid-July, we’ll be welcoming the next class of GHC fellows to Uganda, including two new fellows to be placed with ACODEV. We’ll be orienting them in Kampala for a few days, celebrating ACODEV’s 10th anniversary together, and traveling back with them to Kasese to turn over the keys to our house. So bittersweet!
  • On July 27th, I’ll have to say until next time to Uganda as all 106 current GHC fellows travel to Kigali, Rwanda for a five day end-of-year retreat. We’ll finally reunite with the whole class of fellows who have been placed in the US, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Burundi. Most of them we haven’t seen since last July at Yale University.
  • Before returning to the US, I’ll be visiting family in New Delhi, India for two weeks. In addition to lots of quality time together, I’m excited to visit a few spots with them including Jaipur and Agra. It will be my first time to Asia and I can’t wait!

I’ll do my best to check in here again, but imagine I’ll  have less and less time over the coming weeks as I wrap up my job here. And as the fellowship nears an end, so will this blog. But, that just means that I’ll hopefully be seeing many of you in person shortly. I hope that everyone is having a lovely summer!

Periods Matter

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Periods matter. And not in the grammatical sense, but in the menstrual sense. Many of us don’t think twice about the luxury of buying menstrual hygiene products each month and the kinds of freedoms they afford us. But for so many women and girls around the world, lack of access and lack of resources to afford menstrual hygiene products has a devastating impact. On May 28th of this year, WASH United (WASH=water, sanitation & hygiene) is coordinating the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day to help break the silence and build awareness. Why 5/28? Because average menses lasts 5 days and the average menstrual cycle is 28 days.

Did you know?

  • “A study at a school in Uganda found that half of the girl pupils missed 1-3 school days a month, or 8-24 school days a year, due to menstruation.
  • In rural India, many women and girls use unsanitary materials such as old rags, husks, dried leaves, grass, ash, sand or newspapers because they do not have access to affordable, hygienic and safe products and facilities.
  • In one study by HERProject, 73% of the Bangladeshi garment workers they interviewed miss work for an average of 6 days per month (resulting in unpaid work days) due to vaginal infections caused by unsanitary menstrual materials.
  • In places lacking a waste disposal infrastructure, it is common to see used feminine hygiene products on public streets. Incorrect disposal of sanitary products can also lead to clogged  toilets and breakdowns of sanitation systems. These can both lead to public health problems.
  • The lack of information about menstruation often results in a lack of empathy by boys and men. Menstrual-related teasing and harassment is common. Many men think menstruation is something to be avoided or looked down upon.
  • All human rights stem from the fundamental right to human dignity. When women and girls are forced into seclusion, must use damp and soiled materials, or fear smelling or leaking due to inadequate MHM, dignity is difficult to maintain.” (Source)

Proper menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has the ability to increase education levels, improve economies, create healthier communities, reduce environmental waste, better sanitation conditions, decrease stigma, and empower girls and women!

So what can you do?

And lastly… support my new Indiegogo campaign, “AFRIpads for 100 Ugandan Girls,” in ACODEV‘s effort to provide 100 orphaned/vulnerable girls in Kasese District with locally-produced, environmentally-friendly, washable sanitary napkins to help keep them in school for one year. The campaign will be open for 30 days in total, closing on June 11th. We’ve already raised $920 in just two days! Just $10 will provide a menstrual kit to one girl to last her an entire year. But if you can’t donate right now, it would be great if you could help us to spread the word.

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Band-Aid

I wrote this post for Global Health Corp’s blog, one of our requirements in the fellowship.

I watched him for several minutes as he bent over, clapping his hands over his right knee. Wearing a blue and white shirt with brown shorts, the young boy seemed so frustrated with something. But what? Distracted and perplexed for several minutes, I finally peeked over to get a better look. There were flies buzzing around an open wound on his knee that were bothering him. My heart felt for him, knowing he may not own a pair of long pants to protect his injury.

This was a scene I observed a few weeks ago on a field work day in Kasese District, Western Uganda. I traveled there with my placement organization, ACODEV, to participate in a psychosocial outreach day for some of our orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) beneficiaries. My coworkers spent the morning leading activities focusing on staying in school; dealing with loss and grief; and the importance of community.

The children were so candid in sharing their stories and extremely appreciative for ACODEV’s care and contributions, even offering curtsies our way. Though I was happy to be assisting in the outreach, I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Why was I born into a privileged life where I had access to food, education, housing, clothing, and safety yet these children weren’t? It feels unfair. These sorts of thoughts often occupy my mind.

So what could I do for the boy? Earlier in the week, I had cut my finger chopping vegetables at home and remembered that I had packed an extra band-aid in my backpack. I frantically searched my bag, hoping I would catch the young, irritated boy as he prepared to walk by me after finishing one of the group activities. Catching his attention, I motioned him over. Separated by language, I checked to make sure it was okay if I touched him and received a nod. Peeling the band-aid open, I carefully placed the small bandage on his knee, just barely covering the open cut. He smiled and I knew he understood that I had noticed his injury and wanted to help. Now the flies couldn’t land on his wound.

At the end of the day, our staff piled in the car, inviting some of the children who lived a bit further away to join so we could drop them off on the way. Many of them clutched bags containing either all of or parts of the small lunch we provided, taking them home to share. Grappling with the inequity I was observing and feeling, I pulled out a bag of chips that I had packed as a snack. The teenage girl sitting next to me calmly distributed them equally to the excited younger children.

Then, she asked me to take my hair down and giggled at its funny color. As I was reflecting about what a wonderful day it had been and how I enjoyed connecting with the children, the teen asked me if I could buy a pair of shoes for her. I looked down, considering giving her mine for a moment. I quickly resolved that not only would that be unfair to the others in the car, but it would just be a band-aid solution, exactly like the one I gave to the small boy.

As easy as and seemingly effective hand-outs are, my time with ACODEV has demonstrated to me the need for truly sustainable and community-led development efforts. Though I’m distressed by poverty that I observe around me, I am so grateful to work with a local, grassroots NGO that provides solutions to their own communities from the ground up. By training community health volunteers, running a vocational skills-training center, and building the capacity of smaller NGOS, we are providing our beneficiaries with tools that will empower them and their communities. They will break themselves out of the cycle of poverty.

Though it is personally challenging to feel so aware of the inequities between my US and Ugandan homes, I know that by working with ACODEV to strengthen their systems and build capacity, I am doing the best that I can. The immediate fulfillment of placing a band-aid on my small friend can’t compare to the benefit he would receive from long-term solutions that ACODEV, and many other organizations, are working to build. Band-aids stick, but not for long.

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With ACODEV’s youngest team member.

“Rotaractors deliver free health care in Uganda” – Rotary Voices

As of late last year, I joined my local Rotaract Club in Kasese. In February, we organized a health outreach in a neighboring community. I’m excited to say that a short blog I wrote about it was recently posted on Rotary International’s blog! You can check it out here.

And for a special bonus, here are a few more photos from the day…

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Tasty Times in Chicagoland

I was recently fortunate enough to take a quick 12-day trip to visit Nick in Evanston, IL over his spring break from school. We had a lot of fun relaxing and exploring Evanston/Chicago, but what sticks out most was… the food! I really love all the fresh food available in Uganda, but it was such a treat to eat food that I sometimes crave while away and that I don’t have access to in Kasese. So from an aspiring foodie, this post is a bit about what we did during the trip and a lot about what we ate. Bon Appétit!
(Disclaimer: I don’t always eat this unhealthily!)

 

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Luciano Pavarotti​

 

Homecoming

After a full day of travel, I landed in Chicago mid-day and napped away the rest of the afternoon. But when I awoke – voilà! A delicious homemade fettucine alfredo a la Chef Nick. And for dessert, fancy Neuhaus chocolate from my connection at the Brussels airport where I reminisced about my study abroad days there.

Pho Fun
After two full days of conducting phone interviews for my fellowship program, we finally got out of the apartment and did some typical “welcome back to America” activities – a trip to Target and a movie! But on our way, we stopped at the best pho restaurant in Chicago – Tank Noodles. Yum! I really missed soup; it’s way too hot in Uganda to ever crave it.

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“Eataly is Italy”
That weekend, we did a little exploring in the area and saw the Baha’i Temple outside Evanston, a Puerto Rican neighborhood & café near Division Street (Paseo Boricua), and Humboldt Park. But the last and best stop: Eataly. Eataly is a  huge, two-floored gourmet grocery store that also has several embedded restaurants specializing in wine, pizza, seafood, etc. The only US locations are in the US & Chicago (and DC soon!) – I’d highly recommend checking one out if you’re in those areas. I could have gotten happily lost in there forever. But after an hour of googly eyes, we emerged with ingredients to make more food than we really needed. So we spent Sunday evening whipping up a fantastic meal: cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, homemade butternut squash ravioli with a browned butter sage sauce; a cheese, olive, and roasted garlic plate with fresh bread; and white wine. One of the prouder moments of our cooking endeavors! Food coma and movie night followed.

Fun fact: Remember Nick and I visited a Baha’i Temple in Kampala? We wanted to stop at this one in Evanston because there are only 7 of them  in the world at the moment. The only in North America and Africa are in Evanston, Il (right) & Kampala, Uganda (left).

Farmhouse
Monday evening we went out to dinner at a local farm-to-table restaurant in Evanston with a seasonal menu that I had been wanting to try since last being there – Farmhouse. After indecisively studying the menu for a little too long, we ordered “Amish” roasted chicken with rosemary dumplings and caramelized carrots/turnips and cider-brined pork with an heirloom bean salad. Wow! For a sweet ending: pear sorbet. Did I mention their cocktail and local beer menu was amazing? It sort of reminded me of my favorite restaurant in DC – Founding Farmers.  Will certainly be going there again!

Cabin Cooking
During my second week there, we drove about 3 hours southeast to a small town in Indiana to stay at a lovely cabin overlooking the Wabash River. Fishing for Nick and hot tub and a book for me! Was a very relaxing two-night getaway. While there we grilled beef kebabs and marinated chicken. For lunch one day, Nick patiently roasted hot dogs over a bonfire. And what’s a fire without s’mores? On the drive back to Evanston we were able to grab coffee with a friend of mine from the area – shout out to Marni!

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Lunch Dates
As my trip was wrapping up, I spent a bit of time running errands, making time for a few quicker lunches around Evanston… one at Todoroki (Japanese/Hiabachi) and the other at Joy Yee’s Noodles (Pan-Asian). Both scrumptious. Not pictured here is Nick’s gigantic plate of sushi… he finished all of it. The only non-local food in Kasese is Indian, so this really hit the spot.

Hopleaf
We ventured into Chicago one last time for dinner at Hopleaf, a Belgian bar/restaurant. There, we ordered some typical Belgian dishes including moules frite (mussels and french fries) and a Flemish beef stew. The food was deliciously rich and the beer perfection. I’m pretty sure that Kwak is my new favorite beer (pictured in the funny glass below). Topping off the evening, we met some really good friends from DC out at a bar later on.

Last Dinner in US for a few months…
… homemade parmesan-crusted sea scallops. As a seafood junkie, this was my request. Lobster tail on sale too? Yes, please. Between all the starchy foods in Uganda – cassava, “sweet potato,” yam, “irish potato,” and pumpkin – none of them taste like what we call sweet potato in the US, hence the random side dish here. And as an ever-proud Vermonster, Ben & Jerry’s released these new “core” flavors since I’ve been away. Had to try!

Goodbye for Now
So after 12 full days, it was time for me to head back to Uganda. On the way to the airport, we stopped for some Chicago-style deep dish pizza because neither of us had ever tried it before. Essentially, cheese pie! Heaven.

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The scary part? I didn’t even plan to write a blog featuring food, this is just how many pictures I take of food on a normal basis. Ha! Anyways, I’m back home in Kasese now (enjoying my daily rice and beans) and have just under four months left in my fellowship. I’ll have a bit of down time in April but almost all of the weekends in May are be busy with travels: my housemate/co-fellow’s traditional introduction ceremony to his fiancé in Masaka, his wedding in Kampala, our Global Health Corps Quarter 3 Retreat in Kampala, and a weekend trip to Murchison Falls, the biggest game park in Uganda (where I’ll finally see giraffe!). So I’ll be keeping busy over here. But this brief trip home certainly got me excited for post-fellowship plans to move to Evanston and re-unite with everyone in the US. I’ll leave you with this…

I am not a glutton, I’m an explorer of food. – Erma Bombeck

#SoTheWorldMayHear

“So the World May Hear” is the mission for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Minnesota-based Starkey hearing aids company, the largest hearing aids manufacturer in the US. Each year, their Foundation staff, including Starkey CEO & his wife, travel 70% of the time (that’s ~250 days!) to deliver ~100,000 free hearing aids annually across five continents. This past weekend, thanks to a partnership with Global Health Corps (GHC), I was able to volunteer at a 2-day mission in Gulu, northern Uganda, where we distributed 400+ hearing aids. Since the Foundation doesn’t employ staff in the countries they work in, they rely on local volunteers to assist in everything from set-up, to ear cleaning, to counseling, and everything in between.

On Sunday, March 9th, sixteen GHC Ugandan-based fellows/alumni set off early morning from Kampala for a six hour journey north to Gulu; this was my first time in the North of the country. On the map below, you can see the route we took, which passes right by the biggest safari park in Uganda, Murchison Falls. That evening, we had a brief training prepping us for the next day and were awake bright and early Monday to get started…

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When we arrived at the venue, there was already a crowd waiting that had been there since 2AM! Over the course of the first day, 211 people cleared through each of the stations: registration, ear screening/cleaning, fitting, counseling, battery distribution, and final fit. Though I was assigned to the data entry team and spent some of the day behind a computer entering patient information, I was able to observe and participate in some of the other stations as well. While entering data, I saw birthdays ranging from the 1920’s-2010’s, mild to profound hearing loss, and various causes for loss including illness (malaria, meningitis), drugs (quinine), trauma (bomb blasts), increased age, or just from birth.

The most incredible part of the day was watching people, both young and old, hear for the very first time in their life. Emotions ranged from shy to scared to happy, with a spark lighting in each of their faces. Many of the patients, never having heard before, had not developed speech.  Though translators were used extensively at all stations (usually for guardians), it was amazing how little verbal communication was needed to help find the right power level for each person’s hearing aid, just based on facial expressions and hand gestures. A child hearing their mother say their name for the first time. A woman excitedly exclaiming that now she wouldn’t be fired because of her hearing loss. A smiling boy bopping his head to music for the first time. There were so many of these powerful moments.

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On the second day, about 200 additional patients were treated, joined by several NFL players and Forest Whitaker, who were there in partnership with Pros For Africa and Hope North, respectively. Making the weekend even more meaningful, the distribution took place at St. Monica’s Tailoring Center, run by Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe. Sister Rosemary won the 2007 CNN Hero of the Year Award for her 30 years of work helping victims of the Sudanese Civil War and those seeking refuge from Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Sister Rosemary has plans to travel to the US again this year where she will receive a UN Woman of the Year award. Newly debuted, she stars in documentary “Sewing Hope,” narrated by Forest Whitaker, which depicts the horror she lived through caused by the LRA and her work to restore hope and dignity to those affected.  Below are a few shots of her and the children at the school who were thoroughly excited by all the new faces around.

*Side note: Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award for Best Actor in his role as Idi Amin (ex-Ugandan dictator) in the 2006 movie, The Last King of Scotland. He supports Hope North, a vocational center and school in northern Uganda for orphans and former child soldiers of the civil war.*

As if this was not enough, I even had the opportunity to visit Invisible Children’s offices, a nonprofit known for their work in advocacy and mobilization against the LRA. You’ve probably heard of their short film “Kony 2012,” which went viral and sparked controversy just over two years ago. We also popped by their handbag workshop, Mend, which employs and provides personal development to 22 seamstresses directly affected by LRA conflict. Here’s a short video about Grace, one of the seamstresses that I met, describing her story and how IC has made a difference in her life. Check out their handmade products here on the online shop - they’re beautiful! Big shout out to my friend, Erin, who used to work for IC and arranged the visits.

After two full days of work, we arrived back in Kampala at 3:00AM on Wednesday morning. It was such an inspirational few days and an excellent reminder to be thankful… thankful for what you have and thankful for amazing people and organizations improving lives in their communities. When working in international development, having an opportunity to witness positive impact that you work for and hope is being made, can sometimes be rare. But what I saw in Gulu was proof that with dedication and passion, you can make a real difference in lives… and so many people are already doing just that. 

Even though there is so much more work to do, as a global community…

“Today I am reminded that there is good in the world.” Kobi Yamada

GHC Fellows, Alumni & Staff

GHC Fellows, Alumni & Staff

Little Things

“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault 

This post is not about an exciting trip or deep revelation. It’s about a few of the everyday moments, places, people and things that bring a smile to my face and make me feel at home in this special place I call home. In no particular order…

Flowers - So many stunning colors and shapes everywhere.

Naps - Anytime, any place. Tired after a big lunch? No problem!

Children - Being an Auntie to my coworkers’ children and watching them grow up so fast.

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“Chicken Friday” - A beloved weekly gathering of friends old and new to devour roasted chicken and chips from our favorite vendor, Bogere.

Animals - Everywhere, all the time. The baby goats are my favorite.

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Jambo! Cafe Sipping tea and munching on cinnamon rolls with Alice and Eliza.

Office Antics - Work hard, play hard, eat hard.

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Letters - Rediscovering the lost art of letter writing. “To write is human, to receive a letter: Devine!” Susan Lendroth

(If you want a postcard from Uganda, send a little note my way and I’ll respond. My address is on the right column!)