LBJ School of Public Affairs

Thinkers & Doers

LBJ SCHOOL SUMMER INTERNSHIPS

Land of the plenty

Uganda is commonly referred to as “the pearl of Africa.” Its landscapes include rolling green hills, vibrant crops  and lush soil. In rural Uganda, the majority of families do some type of agricultural work. Common crops include maize, potatoes, and greens. And then there is the wealth of fruits available wherever you look. In our backyard alone, grows papaya, mango, eggplant and banana. Nearby grows jackfruit, passion fruit and pineapple. The abundance of food is not limited to fruits. Goats, cows, chickens, pigs roam throughout each and every village.

So my question is….knowing all of this, why is there so much hunger in Uganda and the rest of Africa? I would estimate that 90 percent of children of under the age of 5 in Buwaiswa are malnourished. How can this be? Even after living in the village for 9 weeks now, I still am unable to answer this question. However I have noticed several characteristics that may contribute to the continuation of hunger in the country. These characteristics include the following:

1. Many villagers do not know what a “healthy meal” includes. They do not understand that eating foods like posho, maize and potatoes (all carbs) may leave you feeling full, but they do not fulfill the definition of a well-balanced meal.

2. Eggs, chicken and other sources of protein are often raised by villagers but immediately sold for profit instead of being consumed by families. Many people do not understand the importance of protein in their diets.

3. It is common in Ugandan culture for men to receive larger and better portions of food.  This means that men are more likely to consume more food and the women and children in the family are left with smaller, insufficient amounts of food.

4. There are so many mouths to feed. The average number of children per family is 8, making it difficult for each family member to receive adequate nutrition.

I realize that the problem of malnutrition does not have a simple solution. However, my teammates and I worked this week to contribute to the solution this past week by holding a nutrition sensitization in our village. We also  invited a local drama group to present on the issue of eating smartly. It was nice to present the issue of nutrition in a different, exciting way.  Since we always attract lots of children during our meetings, the drama was also an opportunity for the younger audience members to learn something as well.

On another note, this will be my final week in Uganda. I have really enjoyed my time here and I hope to return to Uganda in the future. This experience has solidified my desire to work in Africa in the area of international development.

posted by emilyadams in 2010 and have No Comments

A Desire for Immediate Results

Much of the work that my fellow interns and I do in the village focuses on education. However, sometimes this can be frustrating – at least for me – because we do not see instant results. I realize that educating people about the need for safe water, better nutrition and family planning is important but many times the results are not visible for many months or even years to come.

This past week was especially rewarding because we completed several de-worming outreaches in Buwaiswa in which we hope to see immediate results. There are several types of worms that affect a large percentage of children and adults throughout Uganda. Young children with worms have huge bellies and unfortunately most young children in Buwaiswa display this characteristic. The good news about worms is that it can be treated with a simple tablet taken with water. Although the treatment is simple, most families in Buwaiswa cannot afford treatment or cannot access the drug. So this past week my teammates and I distributed de-worming tabs at the government-run primary school and at two private primary schools. Although schools are an excellent place to reach a large number of children, many kids do not attend school so we also held an additional outreach at the village center. Women brought their babies and stood in line for several hours to receive the tabs. In the end, we de-wormed nearly 800 children in Buwaiswa. I was excited to have the opportunity to have an immediate impact on the lives of children. I hope that these de-worming initiatives will continue after we leave because they are essential to the health of children and their ability to develop into healthy adults.

posted by emilyadams in 2010 and have No Comments

Water is life.

I saw the above slogan a few weeks ago during a visit to the Nile River. At first glance it seems to be a simple statement but it got me thinking about the importance of water here in Uganda and around the world. At home in the states, I take water for granted. I can take a hot shower, turn on the faucet or pour a glass of water any time I want. Life is not so simple in many parts of Uganda.

This past week, UVP broke ground for a shallow well in Buwaiswa. The well will provide better water access to more than 60 households in the village. Building a well may seem like an easy task, but in reality, it is a complicated process. First, UVP worked with community members to decide on the best location for the shallow well. We wanted to improve water access for the greatest amount of people possible. UVP also took into consideration factors such as nearby crops, use of fertilizers, animal grazing and possible flooding. After several land surveys and community meetings, the residents of Buwaiswa chose a location for the well and began digging this past Monday.

It has been an exciting week as the digging of the well begins. My fellow interns and I visit the site each day and observe the progress made. It is amazing to see how the community is working together to construct the well. As the men dig each day, children surround the hole and women set up a cooking area to sustain their husbands’ work.

I am hopeful that this new well will help improve the lives of many villagers. Immediately next to the well is a pool of dirty water where families currently collect water for drinking, cooking and bathing. I hope that with the construction of the new well, this dirty pool of water will no longer be used. I am also hopeful that this well will be maintained and sustained by the community. I have heard countless stories of organizations sinking wells in villages and then vacating the area and leaving the community without knowledge on how to maintain the well. To prevent this from occurring in Buwaiswa, UVP organized a sanitation committee that consists of community members who are trained on how to maintain the well and what to do if parts break or are damaged. The goal is to help villagers help themselves. We do not want Buwaiswa to become dependent on us, but to instead be able to solve problems on their own. Water really IS life and safe water is the key to improving livelihoods in Buwaiswa and around the world.

posted by emilyadams in 2010 and have Comment (1)

Getting to know Buwaiswa

This past week was very eventful here in Buwaiswa. We started the week by holding focus groups for the men and women of the village. These meetings give us an opportunity to hear from the villagers about what health issues are most important to them and what they would like us to focus on during our time in Buwaiswa. Malaria, worms, diarrhea and vision problems seem to be common issues among both groups. Misperceptions about HIV and family planning also seem to be prevalent.

In addition to the focus groups, we began to conduct household surveys. Our goal is to complete about 35 of the total 350 households in the village. Although these surveys are very time consuming, they provide much needed information about how people in Buwaiswa live. We ask questions such as “How far away is your water source? What meals do you regularly prepare for your family? Has anyone in your family ever suffered from malaria?” These surveys give us an opportunity not only to learn more about our village but also to get to know more of the villagers on a personal level. I am looking forward to compiling all of this information and using it to help plan our education outreaches in the coming weeks!

In other news, we (myself and the 5 other interns who I live with) were kicked out of our house in Buwaiswa! Don’t worry – it’s only temporary. We realized on Friday that we are not the only ones living in our house. A group of bats also reside in our home. Because bats can carry many diseases, we had to move out all of our belongings for the weekend so that the house could be fumigated. Hopefully this will scare away the bats! I am actually more concerned about the other critters. Each night I wake up to lizards, frogs (and maybe mice??) scurrying around my room. Definitely not my favorite thing about Buwaiswa! At least my mosquito net provides some protection :) That is all for now….wereba (“goodbye” in Lusoga).

posted by emilyadams in 2010 and have Comment (1)

Hello from Uganda!

I am excited to begin my first post! I am an intern with The Uganda Village Project, a nonprofit organization that works on issues such as clean water, sanitation, family planning, HIV/AIDS, malaria and nutrition. I am working in the village of Buwaiswa, located about 4 hours east of the capital Kampala. I am living and working with 3 other American interns and 2 Ugandan interns. The Ugandan interns, Reagan and Irene are lifesavers!! Without them, we would be so lost. Although English is the official language of Uganda, very few people speak it in our village. Our Ugandan counterparts serve as our translators and help us to learn the cultural norms of the country.

This past week was our first official week of work in our village. We held several community meetings in which we asked the villagers what health and sanitation issues they would like to be addressed during our 2 months in the village. Buwaiswa has never had much NGO assistance so I was a little worried about how the village would receive us. My fears quickly disappeared when the village meeting area (under a huge tree to protect from the blazing sun) filled with people from all over the village! The turnout was spectacular. Both men and women seem very eager to work with us and learn from us in any way they can. Yeah Team Buwaiswa!

posted by emilyadams in 2010 and have No Comments