South Sudanese refugees in Adjumani refugee camp.
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!