Our project, now in its fourth phase, has made enormous progress since our last update. This year’s Grassroots Onsite Work (GROW) team was fortunate enough to be able to document much of this progress during our five-week internship with GWED-G last month. We delivered 30 mama kits, courtesy of Delivering Hope, to the group of newly enrolled Phase IV HIV positive mothers. Recipients of the kits will now have the resources to have a clean birth at a hospital, where obstetric items cost money, or, in the event that the mother cannot make it to the hospital, at home. We also delivered livelihood support to a number of groups in the community: two oxen and an oxplow to each of two youth groups, and vegetable seeds (cabbage, eggplant, carrot, and okra) to phase II, III, and IV mothers, Coke and Palema youth groups, and VHTs. Items such as these will give members of the community the start that they need to support their families and pay their children’s school fees, as well as expand their agriculture or business and achieve economic independence. We delivered t-shirts for identification to all VHTs, as well as 10 more bicycles in addition to the 12 already delivered during Phase III, allowing all 22 of the VHTs involved with the GlobeMed/GWED-G project to travel deep into the village and reach a greater number of beneficiaries for counseling and support. In addition, GWED-G continues to support maternal health and gender equity by conducting sensitization sessions for community members, in which GWED-G staff hold open discussions about HIV/AIDS; and by conducting blood screenings, at which community members can find out their HIV status within 10 minutes of having blood drawn and receive counseling on that status.
But items delivered are not the end of the story. The GROW Team had the opportunity to converse with beneficiaries of our project, and invariably saw that, despite the benefits our project brought to these women, there still remains much to be done. This fact is well-illustrated by the story of 21-year-old Lakop Lucy. Lucy is one of the Phase IV mothers, and was among the mothers that received one of the 30 mama kits delivered during Phase IV. Eight days later, she gave birth. We met her newborn baby, named Rachel, just six days old, at her home in Coke parish. To our gratification, the baby was healthy, and HIV-negative. But our home visit emphasized more than anything that her HIV-negative baby was not the end of a happy story. In her own words:
“When I gave birth, my husband chased me away … this man chased me away, abandoned me, and has even refused to see the baby. I’m taking care of the baby alone. I’m the one who labored to farm during the rainy season. But after I raised and sold all my crops, he took the money to my co-wives. He kept on dating young girls in the trading center and he sells my things that I’ve troubled to bring home. I came back home and I found that he had sold all the goats I raised, and I’d bought them with the money I raised from digging. … He sold it all. Then he took the money to my co-wives. When I was pregnant and almost giving birth, I was beaten three times by my husband. And even now he might one day kill me. So when my mother came and tried to mediate, he abused both my mother and myself. So my mother decided now to pick me away and take me home. There are two official women but about five others, he keeps moving with them outside like girlfriends. He brings them but can’t manage them also because when he brings them he goes and gets another one so they keep on running away.”
She revealed that the hut she had taken us to, where we were interviewing her, was her former home—the home her husband had chased her out of. She was actually living farther away, with her mother, but had brought us here for convenience. “You should not take long,” she told us regarding our interview, “because such a man, when he comes and finds you here, it might not be safe.” The possibility that her husband might return at any moment and exhibit the same rage and violence she’d told us about was alarming to all of us. To avoid putting Lucy as well as ourselves in further danger, we cut our interview short, drove Lucy to her mother's home, and departed.
Our visit made it clear that the issue of HIV/AIDS is inextricably wound up with issues of gender-based violence and inequity, as well as lack of economic independence. The role of our project extends far beyond providing maternal health services that are not accessible to rural women: it must also combat prevalent views on gender and HIV/AIDS in the community; and equip women with the tools they need to combat stigma and violence, and to financially support themselves and their families.
Further, the need for those basic maternal health services is far beyond our current capacity to provide them. The distribution of mama kits was timely for Lucy, who was fortunate enough to receive a kit just before her delivery. But for many other mothers, the kits arrive too late, or are too few; we budget for 50 new mothers every year, but every year dozens of additional mothers hear about our program and begin attending meetings, and we do not always have the resources to provide mama kits for all of them. The cost and distance of transport to hospitals pose additional obstacles to safe births: many mothers miss out on necessary antenatal and obstetric care, and the coverage of VHTs and health workers is not 100%. The struggles of HIV positive women, vulnerable youth, and the community at large are numerous and deeply woven in the fabric of this war-torn region.
GWED-G and GlobeMed at Columbia are working to combat these obstacles. For Phase V of our project, in addition to continued services, we aim to fundraise for a vehicle that will be dedicated to emergency transport of pregnant mothers to the hospital. We also aim to provide bean seeds for Phase III and IV mothers so that they have enough strength to dig their gardens. We will implement Gender-Based Violence training for VHTs and incorporate GBV training into community sensitizations, so that both community health workers and community members themselves are better equipped to counsel and mediate conflict. We will provide for the maintenance of VHTs’ bicycles so that their outreach will continue to expand in breadth. In order to involve the husbands of HIV-positive women in community sensitization, we will pilot one group of Male Role Models consisting of 30 men from Coke and Agwayugi.
To accomplish all of this, we need your help. With your support, we have accomplished so much; but the need remains so strong in the region, and we have a long, long way to go before the people of northern Uganda can live the way that any human deserves to live. Visit our page at GlobalGiving, our tumblr, or our Wordpress for more information about our project, including photos, videos, and the GROW 2014 blog, and please reach out to us at email@example.com if you want to know more!
As our project for this year is underway, we'd like to take a moment to thank all you for your support! Your willingness to contribute to and learn about our project is instrumental to the health and progress of Gulu women and children. Following are a few updates regarding the progress of our project, as well as the ambitions and concerns of GWED-G staff as they strive to improve the health of their community.
Pamela, the executive director of GWED-G, and Juliette, the interim coordinator for GlobeMed's project, recently skyped with a few members of our chapter to provide updates about recent developments in the field and the progress our project has made in the community. The discussion was both educational and entertaining, with Pamela and her nephew Prince expressing their excitement for the GROW team’s visit in May.
The project has seen great success in the past year, with 15 mothers giving birth to HIV negative babies. As the rainy season begins in Uganda, the old mothers and youth groups, who were beneficiaries of our project in previous years, are also beginning to open up their fields, which they plant using the seed grants funded by GlobeMed’s project with GWED-G. Pamela said that the youth groups are hoping to add rice and onions to their crop as well. In addition, the old mothers are now receiving Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) training, which will allow them to save money and take loans as a group. Juliette expressed her excitement for the success of the Gender Based Violence awareness component of the project, stating that many of the mothers’ husbands are now accompanying them to their antenatal care appointments and are being more supportive. Both Pamela and Juliette were very proud of how much the project has grown, and are looking forward to the further expansion of GWED-G’s impact in the region.
Despite these successes, Pamela and Juliette also expressed some concerns about the lack of resources in Uganda. Though our project accounts for 50 mothers, GWED-G currently only has 20 mama kits, and will need to receive at least 30 more to fully account for the babies’ safe births. These kits contain items that are often discarded by US hospitals, such as gloves and gauze. They are full of basic, but extremely important supplies needed for healthy births. Pamela is hoping to receive more than that so that GWED-G can donate the kits to the local health centers and by doing so encourage other mothers to receive proper care. The biggest concern, however, is the HIV testing kit shortage in Uganda. There are currently no HIV testing kits in Gulu or Amuru, which are the two main districts where GWED-G’s activities take place. Though GWED-G is trying to make connections to international non-profits to receive kit donations, Pamela is worried that the shortage will hinder GWED-G’s ability to test the newborns in our project. Pamela also hopes that the new GROW team can help establish a relationship with a local auto company and thereby address the transportation concerns that have only increased as people from IDP camps are moving back to their original homes, increasing the distance between villages and health centers: many mothers are not able to get to the health centers in time to have a hospital delivery, or are transported using bicycles or motorcycles, both of which are very dangerous for a mother in labor to travel on. Pamela hopes that GWED-G can come to some sort of agreement with a local auto company, and perhaps commission a vehicle to transport the mothers to the hospitals when needed.
In happier news, GWED-G is greatly expanding their impact in Uganda. Pamela told us about a recent meeting where civil societies in Uganda got together to discuss good government and socioeconomic rights, and was particularly proud of their “Uganda 2020” plan, which entails a strategic vision for growth on a national level. She also talked about GWED-G’s plans to “domesticate human rights tools” by providing literature to local universities such as Gulu University. Pamela hopes that these materials will give background on human rights mechanisms in the context of international law and practice, and make local workers aware of the tools at their disposal and how to use them. Finally, Pamela told the GlobeMedders that GWED-G’s website is being revamped to look more lively and feature more content, and will hopefully have a consistent site manager in the months to come. Clearly 2014 has already been a very productive year for GWED-G, and Pamela shows no signs of slowing down.
When asked if she had a message for GlobeMed at Columbia members, Pamela said, “I want them to know that we are grateful for the strength of the work that the GlobeMed team does. I am happy that you are working together as a team to foster global health, and I hope that you continue that unity. I also want them to know that my door is always open, not just to speak to the leaders of GlobeMed but to anyone who wants to talk or who has questions for me.”
Before she signed off, Pamela brought her nephew Prince onscreen to say hello. He wanted the new GROW team to know that he still likes dragons, and is very excited for them to come (especially now that the team has another boy). He then proceeded to giggle and run off screen into another room.
In other news, the recent conflicts in South Sudan have resulted in an influx of South Sudanese refugees into Uganda. According to UNHCR, as of February 25, over 82,000 refugees had arrived in Uganda from South Sudan. The refugees, 70% of whom are women, largely lack the support that they need to maintain their health and well-being in the refugee camps: the facilities put in place have proven insufficient to provide for the needs specific to women and girls. Refugee women, about 15% of whom have been widowed by the conflict back home, have out of necessity taken on the additional burden of searching for water and firewood for their families, doing household chores, and helping to maintain their households' temporary lots of land. Further, gender-based sexual violence and other forms of human rights violations against women have been reported to occur in refugee camps. The presence of refugees in Northern Uganda has put an inordinate strain upon the resources of host communities, including that of Gulu: in the nearby camp of Nyumanzi, there are over 22,000 refugees in over 5,000 households. As director of an organization devoted to the health of her community, Pamela expressed a few weeks ago her sense of obligation to provide some means of relief for the refugees. Accordingly, she rallied GlobeMed at Columbia University as well as other friends and contacts to help raise money during a month-long campaign to provide emergency health kits for refugee women, including essential items such as soap, salt, rope, a dish towel, a washing basin, sanitary pads, underwear, and educational pamphlets designed for the refugee population on topics such as peace-building, emergency health, and refugee rights. We hope that these simple provisions will help displaced women and children maintain their health and dignity, and that the progress of ongoing peace talks will allow them to return home in the near future.
Although the emergency relief effort for South Sudanese refugees is tangential to our project, we felt a distinct obligation to support GWED-G in its time of strain, and, like Pam, an inability to ignore the suffering of refugees. GWED-G will continue to move forward as planned with our project even while juggling a plethora of other ambitions, concerns, and obstacles, and GlobeMed at Columbia will support them every step of the way.
Thank you again to all of our supporters, and we wish you the best that spring can bring!
Happy New Year! This is a time for us all to refresh our lives and consider what is most important to us. As we enter 2014, we wanted to share with you a Story of Change about Bosco, who was also able to have a fresh start because of GWED-G. Please consider supporting our project and helping more men and women like Bosco be role models in their communities.
This is Bosco's story:
Bosco is a personal testimony to the impact of peer education. Before joining one of GWED-G's youth group, he recalls being very angry with his situation in the world. Now, he says he has hope to one day have a family where the priority is on health and education.
Bosco is the Secretary for the Palema Youth Group supported by GWED-G. Part of GlobeMed at Columbia’s HIV/AIDS prevention project involves engaging men in the fight against HIV/AIDS and targeting younger generations to adopt healthy behaviors early. As a member of the Palema Youth Group, Bosco acts as a “Positive Male Role Model,” advocating for healthy living through his actions. Instead of formal educational events, Bosco will start conversations with his peers during normal recreational activities and teach youth about safe sex practices and the consequences of gender-based violence that affect an entire community. The Palema Youth Group also has their own Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), where every month youth save a portion of their income in a village bank and gain interest on their savings. The group can loan money for members’ investments and provide emergency assistance to members in needs. In phase 3 of GlobeMed at Columbia’s project, the youth group will decide on a communally owned income-generating activity to supplement their VSLA savings.
Happy New Year!
Menaka and Nicole
As GlobeMed at Columbia continues our Individual Giving campaign this holiday season, we wanted to share with you another story of change about the impact that our project has had on individual lives in Gulu, Uganda. This story is Lucie's. As you read her story, please consider supporting our project so we can write more stories just as impactful as hers.
This is Lucie's story.
Lucie is an HIV positive single mother of four children. She is trained as a Human Rights Volunteer, Community Health Worker, and caretaker with GWED-G. As a Human Rights Volunteer, she holds sensitization events in her community about human rights and HIV/AIDS awareness, and as a Community Health Worker and caretaker, she makes regular visits to rural villages to educate people about their HIV/AIDS status and to make home visits and referrals to sick people in her community. Even though she has four children to take care of, she gives up time farming her own land to do all her work on a volunteer basis because she believes in making a difference in her community.
Before her involvement with GWED-G, she was not receiving treatment for her HIV/AIDS, and she was too weak to farm her land. Her neighbors started taking parts of her land away from her, saying she did not deserve to own land that she was not going to use. As a single mother of four children, she was unable to support her family and did not feel like she had enough authority in her community to fight for her right to property and health care. After attending a human rights education session organized by GWED-G in her community, she was connected with legal counsel that got her back her land and was referred to a local health center to receive treatment for her HIV/AIDS. She no longer believes her status as an HIV positive woman justifies her marginalization. Now, she is not only one of GWED-G’s most active volunteers, she is integral to all of GlobeMed at Columbia’s project objectives.
To our friends, family, and supporters,
To celebrate the beginning of GlobeMed at Columbia's Individual Giving campain, we asked our chapter members to write "This I believe" statements to share with their family and friends as they talk about what GlobeMed has meant to them. The responses were beautiful, with members saying "I believe that inaction towards global disparity is unacceptable," and "I believe that everyone deserves to achieve happiness." And we began to think about how GlobeMed's partnership with the Gulu Women's Economic Development and Globalization has influenced what we believe in. Some of the most meaningful lessons we have learned have come through the stories we have witnessed in our time at GlobeMed. And so this will be the theme of our Individual Giving campaign for the winter of 2013: the stories that shape what we believe. Every other week, we will share the story of an individual who has inspired us to believe in the work that GWED-G is doing. Our Individual Giving campaign is dedicated to these men and women. As you read these stories and consider the values and beliefs that have shaped your life, we hope you consider supporting our project during this holiday season.
Alice: age 29
At first, Alice didn’t know she was HIV positive, but she heard rumors in her village that her husband was infected. However, she ignored them because she didn’t want to take the issue seriously. When asked to get tested, Alice refused, afraid that she would have to take drugs. It was very difficult for her to believe that she might be positive. Even when she became pregnant at age 26, she decided again not to test herself.
Finally, a GWED-G campaign changed her mind. A few of Alice’s friends convinced her to attend a community sensitization session with them. As she listened to the program, she heard about other mothers who were able to have healthy babies, despite the fact that they were HIV positive. When she went home that night, she talked to her husband and told him that they needed to go to the hospital to get tested. Unfortunately, when the results came in, both her and her husband were diagnosed as HIV positive.
After realizing that she had the virus, Alice became incredibly stressed and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Feeling helpless and confused, Alice approached Grace, one of GWED-G’s Village Health workers and HIV caretakers, asking for help. Grace counseled Alice and visited her in her home. When Alice heard that GWED-G’s HIV program was looking to support HIV positive mothers, she said she was interested. After talking to her and her husband, GWED-G enrolled her in a program focused on prevention of mother to child trasmission of HIV.
Thanks to the services provided in the program, Alice delivered an HIV negative baby. She says that GWED-G’s intervention changed her life, because otherwise she would have just given birth at home with no antenatal care and her baby would most likely have been HIV positive. Because Alice shared the knowledge she learned from the sensitization with her husband, he chose to support her decision to become part of the program and even joined with her. When GWED-G gave the family bean seeds, her husband helped her farm the land and plant them. Currently, Alice has given birth to two healthy HIV negative boys.
This story inspired us to believe in the power of community action to create tangible change. If you believe in the power of this story as well, we hope you will consider supporting this project.
Nicole Dussault and Menaka Dhingra
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