Saturday, March 30, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 30, 2013 (Day 11)



Name: Michelle White-Yates

Age: 28

Home State: New Jersey

What she did before Peace Corps: Private Investigator for Insurance Fraud

Program Sector: Community Health

Number of months spent in Uganda: 18

Host Organization: ClearWater Initiative

Site location: Northern region, Gulu District, Gulu Town

Language spoken at your site: Luo and Acholi

Michelle is working with Clearwater Initiative, which provides clean water to populations affected by natural or man-made humanitarian calamities/emergencies. “ClearWater Initiative is unique because we take a very strong stance on community involvement with all of our projects. No water source is installed or rehabilitated until the community has demonstrated a vested interest and ability to sustain the project once we have conducted all trainings and installation. My position at ClearWater Initiative is Management Coordinator. I work closely with the Country Director to ensure that we are running efficiently including tasks such as: advising on the annual and quarterly planning and budgeting, goal setting, program evaluation methodology and assist with partnerships with other organizations.“

Michelle is also working a few secondary projects as well. She is working with two other volunteers to improve a local library. They are currently organizing a space in the library to create a children's learning center. She also works with a local youth group, Break Dance Project of Uganda. “I have no experience with break-dance but I often meet with the youth to advise them on future planning, helping to edit letters they write to other organizations and I nominate leaders among the group for local Peace Corps leadership camps. During some of our meetings we discuss gender equality - including during times of camp nominations.“ Michelle was also a member of Peace Corps’ VAC (Volunteer Action Committee) for her first year of service and she is currently serving as Staff Liaison for Peace Corps’ Diversity Committee.

Michelle gets all of her food in Gulu Town in the local market and the supermarkets. She can get most anything she wants (including pizza, burgers, milkshakes, posho and beans). Michelle also has running water in her house. “We utilized the local borehole during my first year when city water was off for months at a time during the dry season. However, my organization has installed a new pump within our compound that enables us to have continual water, even when city water is off. My house often runs out of water but my office is within the same compound and I am lucky to be able to use this water source when needed.”

Michelle’s favorite things about her site are her co-workers, the proximity to town, and that she has power and water in her house. “My favorite moment at site so far was our annual office appreciation party. I was able to relax with staff and get to know them better outside of work. It was also great to see them 'cut loose' and dance.” Her biggest challenge is the inconsistencies in her primary project. “Starting a system for tracking our Project Costs is easy, but having that system followed is a more daunting task.”
Michelle's dog, Brutus

Michelle has quite a few friends in her community that she interacts with regularly. “I interact with my neighbors on a daily basis. There is a group of women two houses down from my site that provide left over's' for my dog, Brutus. I also have a neighbor 4 houses down that I often spend afternoons with talking, learning how to make local dishes and meeting her family as they come and go. The youngest of her children is a 12-year old boy that loves to draw. For Christmas I gave him a sketch pad and some pencils. He has since drawn dozens of sketches from super heroes to musical icons such as Sean Paul and The Game.”

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All of the projects for Michelle's organization organized in binders
After relaxing for most of the day yesterday and catching up on some much needed internet time, I made my way across town to Michelle’s site. She is working with the Clearwater Initiative and when I first arrived she showed me around her house and her office. Most of the staff was not around because it was a public holiday (Good Friday), however I did get to meet her country director and I got to see her office.

Michelle seems to spend much of her time organizing the office. This may sound trivial but when you really look at how much some simple organization helps, you will see how important her work is. She has organized all of their projects into files and she has gotten the staff to even become more organized themselves.

The mango tree Michelle saved by using her compost
Michelle lives in a nice house in the same compound as her office. And even though she works with a water initiative, they often times have water problems here. She has her house very organized and she has a solid plan for how to deal with possible water issues that could come up. She is also very into being ecofriendly. She tries to use as little water as possible and she is always trying to make the best use of the land. She started composting and she used her compost to help save a dying mango tree on her compound. This is just one example of how Michelle is really trying to be environmentally friendly.

This morning I left Michelle’s house at around 7:30 and I made my way to the taxi park. I had to travel from Gulu to Arua today and that is a trip that I have never taken before. I had also heard it is typically a trip that is not so easy. Despite the fact that Gulu and Arua look somewhat close on a map, there generally isn't direct transport between them. So when I arrived at the taxi park in Gulu, I got on a taxi to Pakwach, which is in the West Nile but pretty far south for what its worth. The road the taxi went on to Pakwach is direct and it is half dirt and half paved, so it only took about 2 ½ to 3 hours to get there. Once I got there, I waited about an hour and a half for the bus to arrive from Kampala which took me to Arua. And finally I arrived in Arua at about 3 PM.

When I first arrived I met up with several volunteers in town and had lunch and then a few of those volunteers walked me to Marcy and Tom's house. Marcy and Tom are currently at a wedding, so they told just come to their house and hang out until they get back. So right now I'm just hanging and relaxing.

Tomorrow afternoon there is a gathering at another volunteers house for Easter. So I'm sure I will be going to that. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure what the next few days will bring. But nonetheless, I'm in Arua for almost a week, so this is the point where I get to take a breath.

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