Rachael’s volunteering (Part 6 of 7): Busy, Busy, Busy…

Hello everyone!

We’ve been very lucky recently, as Alex, Michele and I came less than 5 metres away from a pride of lions when we went to Kidepo National Park! (in the far North East of the country).

I also went back to Rwanda and had an amazing time catching up with my former colleagues at FCYF and all the children, including the deaf children (including a new intake of 15 students) and the two 6-year old girls I sponsor at Wisdom Primary. They are both doing really well at school.

As usual I’ve also been incredibly busy working, as Emily the accountant / administrator and I, are part of the way through analysing the “community mapping” questionnaires that were given to the 900+ youth group members that the centre works with.

Nearly all the respondents that we analysed so far are subsistence farmers, many earning less than ugx 20,000 per month (around £5). The majority did not complete their education (many did not even start).

Many do not have access to primary health facilities or even a latrine, but there is some positive feedback coming through. We asked these young people what motivated them to join their youth group and they were very positive about how the group provided emotional and practical support, helped them with education on social issues and provided them access to VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Associations) schemes.

Sadly the HIV infection rates in this part of Uganda are exceptionally high – predicted by local NGOs to be more than 10% compared to the already high Ugandan rate of 7%. We included questions asking the respondents on how they avoid HIV infection and most knew how to avoid this (sadly too late for some) and this is a product of the training that has been made available in their groups and in the community.

Whilst the centre can only work with a limited number of young people in the town, it seems like they are making an impact.  A few training sessions and other activities that has been going on recently in town and surrounding villages include:

– VSLA training by Joseph initially for 5 of our 30 youth groups. I sat in on the training for one group, which lasted 3 days, and was really inspired by the level of interaction and engagement by the young people (who travelled 7km in each direction daily to attend the training – some had bicycles; many walked). Joseph is a really good trainer – high energy and funny and he built a really good rapport with the group.

-Some recent discussions highlighted that since the war there appears to be less interaction between the Elders in the community, who historically provided guidance to younger people and the youth, so this meeting kicked off, which we hope will now be a monthly event.

The Elders comprised a panel of around 12 people, and around 80 young people attended. The dialogue was open and funny at times (well, everyone was laughing a lot, except me since the discussion was in Luo and I think quite a lot got lost in translation!).

-A series of discussions on Women’s Rights. Women do have an exceptionally tough existence here. Patongo and Agago District are mainly subsistence farming communities. Women do nearly all the work in the “gardens” (local term for land used for farming), raise large families of children, prepare food for the family, fetch water and organise water for bathing. Marital rape is prevalent in the community and hearing some of the men speak about their conjugal “rights” was really shocking to me.

-A community dialogue meeting between the Elders and youth regarding early marriage. Early marriage (under 18yrs) is a real problem for girls here. It’s often encouraged by parents since they receive a dowry; typically some combination of goats, cattle and money.

Also in many cases the girls want it themselves as they want their own home. But it continues the cycle of poverty since the girls typically abandon their education (if they were at school in the first place) and start having children very early. In many cases as young as 13 or 14, while there is no money in the household.

-Groups of volunteer medical students with qualified medical staff from Kampala and Gulu have spent time at Patongo Health Centre providing free medical services to the community.

-We have kicked off our Slow Food garden at the youth centre and those who know me well will be surprised to hear that I have my own “garden” here! The Slow Food movement is about preserving traditional farming methods and local crops in a given community. I’ve planted boo (local type of greens sort of like spinach) and okra in my plot!

Anyway, apologies for the length of the blog, but lots of things have been happening!! Hope you enjoy the photos!

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