Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Partnerships and Murole

Hey there!

            I’m Anne, I’m a rising junior double majoring in biology and women and gender studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer, along with two other UNCCH students, I have the privilege and opportunity to intern with Raising the Village as a representative of our university’s GlobeMed Chapter.
We’re spending 6 weeks in Uganda: a week in Kampala followed by 4 weeks Kisoro and then another back in the capital. At the Kisoro office, my job is to work on monthly and quarterly M&E reports, but we also go on village visits. So far, I’ve been to Grace, Kagezi, Murole, and Rugongwe.

            Visiting Murole, was one of my favorite experiences. Getting to the village showed me exactly what Raising the Village means by hard to access, as it required a winding two hour drive into the Kisoro mountains, and then another hour hike filled with steep inclines and sharp declines. By the time I set foot in Murole, I was already gasping for air.
            Murole, although considered a village, is a collection of households spread out in the mountains, with a central gathering point that they use for community meetings. This is also the location of their school. When Raising the Village arrived at Murole, the villagers had already constructed a mud classroom for their children. After discussions with the community, it was decided that in addition to Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) training, as well as agricultural support, Raising the Village was going to help construct classrooms for the school.
            When we arrived in Murole, we found one RTV building being painted, and another occupied by students. The mud hut that the villagers built is also still in use.  
            Aside from observing how the construction of the school was, we also went to perform water quality testing on the two water sources community members draw water from. This sounds simple, but actually resulted in a four hour hike, that at one point involved scaling a wall using footholds that were at best 7 cm wide. It was exhilarating. Of the two water sources in Murole, one was an underground spring where someone had inserted a hollow bamboo stick to function as a spigot. The other was little more than an overglorified puddle, and even had tadpoles in it. It was important to see the sources not only to check the water quality, but also to see how feasible it was for Raising the Village to protect these sources. As you may have guessed, the first water source was protectable, the tadpole one? Not so much.
            This was decided at the community meeting that we had once we arrived (exhausted) back at the school. There, members of the community gathered and had a discussion with RTV about which would be better, a rainwater harvesting system or spring protection. While Raising the Village had originally planned for a spring protection system, villagers asked for a rainwater harvesting system instead.
            It was interesting to watch the discussion back and forth between both sides of the partnership, particularly because both sides were deeply invested in what the other had to say. After seeing the water sources firsthand, it was clear that protecting both springs would not be practical. Instead, Esther, the financial officer at Raising the Village, told the villagers that while one spring would be protected a rainwater harvesting system would also be implemented. This led to more discussion, in which the villagers suggested having three tanks at different hubs of households. Throughout the entire meeting, it was great to see openness in the partnership of RTV and Murole, and watching the RTV staff sincerely consider each one of the villagers' requests. In the end, it was decided that one spring would be protected, and the school would begin a rainwater harvesting system, as it is the center of the village.

            One of the reasons I was interested in interning with Raising the Village was because I wanted to learn more about coalition building. Coalition building is difficult work, and in the cause of Raising the Village’s model, a new partnership must be formed with each village it interacts with. In Murole, community members were excited to have RTV there, and were willing to do all that was necessary to see the projects through successfully.
This, I think, is why Murole has been my favorite village visit so far. When you see a school that has no textbooks or furniture still filled with students, and a supportive village providing lunch and offering to carry any materials necessary up and down the mountains, as well as RTV staff members willing to alter their plans for village concerns, there exists a strong partnership. I know that in Murole, due to this wonderful working relationship, all RTV projects will have wonderful impacts on the community.

Water Testing

Hello! My name is Danny, and I am one of the three students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who are interning with Raising the Village this summer. My project has been water quality testing; we've been going to different villages that RTV has partnered with and testing the water for bacteria. Essentially what I do is hike to each village's major water sources with a community member as my guide and then collect 2-3 small samples of water from each. I then add PathoScreen media, which detects the presence of different types of bacteria. The media turns the sample yellow, and then I check the color of the samples after 24 hours and after 48 hours. If the color changes to black, the water is positive for bacteria; if it stays yellow, then the water is safe to drink. Some of the sources have been protected by RTV, while others are still unprotected, so I've been finding pure and impure water sources.

            Testing the water quality has made me very appreciative that I have the luxury to drink water straight from my sink at home. I've never had to think about what goes into water treatment--I've never had to imagine my life without access to clean water until I started working here. By hiking to all of the water sources, we have to hike all over the village, which is incredibly exhausting. We plan to go early in the day so that the sun isn't too hot during our hike, but if villagers are thirsty during the day, they still have to make that journey when it is even hotter. I've asked repeatedly asked the local guides if villagers really do make the same trek that we are making, and they always tell me that the villagers' houses are even farther away than where we started, so their hikes are much worse than ours. Because RTV partners specifically with remote villages that are hard to access, many villages are very mountainous and the houses are very far apart. It's hard to believe that people need to climb up and down a mountain just to get a drink of water!
This point really hit me when we were in Murole. At one point, our guide told us that we needed to be careful because we needed to literally climb alongside a mountain. We all had to pass one at a time along the mountain, desperately grabbing for footholds, and the guide ultimately had to help most of us find the final steps back to the path; one of the members of our team was even screaming for help because he was afraid of heights! I thought that that was difficult while holding my water testing supplies. Just imagine trying to cross that alone while holding an entire jerry can of water! I have so much respect for the villagers who do that on a daily basis for themselves and for their families.
    I've really had a great time visiting each village, and the guides and locals have been incredibly friendly. The locals who take me to the water sources seem genuinely interested in what I am doing because they care about their water, and they are appreciative of what I am doing. However, I can't help but feel bad that I'm not actually doing much to help; my job is just to let them know that their water may or may not be safe. I wish that I could do more, but RTV is implementing projects to continue to protect these water sources. At the meeting at Murole, the RTV project officers discussed with the community different options for how to improve the quality of the water. They made plans to not only protect a source but to make water more accessible to people so that they will not  have to spend so much time and energy each day collecting water. I really understand how important these efforts are now, and the villagers were clearly invested in purifying their water as well. It's clear that RTV's work is important, and hearing these discussions gives me faith that RTV will continue its efforts so that more villages in Uganda will have access to clean water.
            As much as I admire the villagers, it's disheartening for me to see them go through so much effort to collect impure water. In Kagezi, there are four springs that were either reconstructed or repaired by RTV. Although all of these springs looked clean, I found out that one of the springs had been contaminated. The villagers couldn't have had any idea that this was the case; I saw a child collect water from that spring while I was collecting my samples! They are going through so much effort just to get water that they think is clean. In Murole, neither of their two water source have been protected. Although the first one looked fine, the second was a little bit shocking. It was a very small, stagnant pool of water, and in the water were tadpoles and a blue solo cup for the villagers to collect water with. It couldn't have been more than a meter in diameter and a few inches deep, and yet people rely on this pond as a source of water for their families. It's devastating to see that people are so in need of water that they are willing to use a clearly contaminated source.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace
By: Mia Lei, GlobeMed Intern

Hi there! My name is Mia Lei, and I’m a rising junior studying Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am also the incoming internal co-president of GlobeMed at UNC, the student organization partnered with Raising the Village. I am very excited to intern with RTV this summer with 2 fellow Carolina students, Anne and Danny.

For our 6 weeks in Uganda, we each have different tasks. My main tasks include working with the staff on basic computer training (like DropBox and Excel), creating a skills training plan, and developing user-friendly data collection worksheets. Because all of my tasks revolve around working with the staff and getting their input, I accompany the staff and my team on their village visits to gain an understanding of the challenges they face in data collection.

For our first day of work, Naomi, the Uganda Programs Director, planned for us to do a field visit to Grace Daycare Nursery and Primary Orphange School as an “orientation”, per se, to RTV’s methodology, projects, and stories. Grace is in the first village that RTV partnered with in 2007, and has progressed immensely since. Because their ultimate goal is a self-sustainable village, RTV is not intensively involved in projects at Grace anymore, but they still go to Grace occasionally to check-up on the status of projects, which was our goal for the day.

After a couple panic attacks that we were driving on the wrong side of the road (Uganda drives on the left of the road, the US drives on the right), we arrived at the front door of Grace, in Nanga village. 

We were greeted by Madame Liz Mukiibi, the Director of Grace, who invited us into the office to talk about the story of Grace. Although she is small, Liz is by no means a weak woman. She projected this elegance and strength as
she walked; she was soft-spoken but her words were powerful.

In 1996, Madame Liz’s sister Regina founded Grace Daycare and Orphanage School with the vision of providing a space to care for and educate children orphaned by AIDS and other circumstances. She herself was HIV-positive and had lost 3 brothers to the disease, each with children, so she saw great need in her village. “It was her heart and desire,” Liz said. Since then, Grace has faced many challenges. Four years later, Regina passed away from complications due to AIDS and Liz, who had been teaching part-time, stepped in full-time to keep the struggling orphanage and school open. The wooden buildings were ravaged by termite destruction, and Nanga was suffering as more and more were lost to the AIDS epidemic. Liz called a meeting and soon the village envisioned a cement and brick building filled with desks for the village children, orphaned and unorphaned alike.  They bought sand and cement, which parents used to make bricks. Through community effort, they built the first cement classroom.

What made Grace successful was the enormous amount of community support that poured in; the village believes that Liz is doing great work and support in any way that they can, whether it is funds, food for school lunches, or labor.

But still Grace struggled with financial issues, as most orphans needed full scholarships and others with parents had difficulty paying the 3000 shilling (USD $1.20) school fee. Many struggled to purchase uniforms for their children at a cost of 2000 shillings (USD $0.80). To put it in perspective, we spent that exact amount on 4 mangos several hours later.

In 2007, Raising the Village began its partnership with Nanga. Liz had the vision, but the means simply weren’t coming together. Seven years later, Grace is now flourishing and self-sufficient.

 We walked around the grounds with Madame Liz, and saw the projects the community and RTV had built together. In exchange for the community's construction efforts and labor, RTV provided leadership training and the materials to construct 4 additional classrooms, bathroom facilities, and staff quarters. We saw the rainwater harvesting system, a pig co-operative, and community garden. On the way, we passed many villagers who smiled at Madame Liz; it was clear that she was an admired figure.

The school is thriving as one of the best in its region, with 13 orphans and ~150 students. The orphanage is sustained by the income generated by student school fees, pig cooperative subscription fees, and profits from the community gardens. The village is flourishing.

Liz was the one who brought the village together to build that very first cement building in 1998, and once more in 2007 when the partnership with RTV began. She continues to build community throughout the work in the gardens. This extraordinary woman, with all of her ambition and vision combined with resources from RTV, has quite literally "raised a village."

I think this is a perfect description of what RTV does. Despite its fantastic staff that are equipped with experience, expertise, and economic aid, RTV doesn’t swoop in and assume that it knows the needs of the community and how to best approach them. Aunt Liz had a vision for Grace, she knew what the community needed, and she knew how to fix it. She was simply lacking the means to do it, whether it was funds, supplies, or training. And that’s where partnering with RTV comes in. But the story of Grace started before RTV with a vision and a dream for a village, and will continue long after, equipped with the means to be sustainable. It was astonishing to see the real effect that RTV can have during its involvement; I came in with the notion that long-term sustainable aid takes is slow, immeasurable, and unseeable; that was smashed on the first day. I can’t wait to see what the next 40 days will bring.