Sunday, March 31, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 31, 2013 (Day 12)



Name: Marcy MacAulay

Age: 57

Home Town: New Ulm, Minnesota

What you did before Peace Corps: Registered Nurse of 30 years

Program Sector: Community Health

Number of months spent in Uganda: 18

Host Organization: Arua School of Comprehensive Nursing

Site location: West Nile district, Arua town

Language spoken at your site: Lugbara

Marcy is living in Arua with her husband, who is also a volunteer. She is working with Arua School of Comprehensive Nursing where she is a ward supervisor, computer teacher, and administrative helper. She is making duty rosters and follows up with 400 students on the ward of the hospital. In addition to her primary project, Marcy has also worked on a couple secondary projects. She does marketing and transportation of goods made at a tailoring workshop on the hospital grounds that is run by and benefits HIV+ mothers. “The tailors create 100% cotton Congolese wax dyed napkins, placemats, aprons, pot holders, tablecloths and rag rugs. I have sought out markets at Christmas that we have participated in in Kampala, and I look for suitcases going to U.S. to take a bunch of our products for the Christmas season.” She has also made a video about malaria that was sent to a church in Minnesota that got them to donate mosquito nets for the pediatric ward of the hospital.

Marcy does most of her food shopping at the local market. She also has running water in her house, however in the rainy season she collects rain water.

Some of Marcy’s favorite things about her site are being able to volunteer with her husband, the people in her community, the town she is living in, the availability of fresh produce, other missionaries in the area, having a toilet and running water, and the kids that live around her. Her favorite moments at site are when she gets to be involved in births at the hospital and teaching the students at the nursing school. She says her biggest challenges are the lack of staff on the wards or the staff not showing up and all the last minute decisions that could have been made sooner.

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This morning, Marcy and Tom invited me to go with them to a sunrise church service for Easter. So we got up at 5 AM and made our way over to where the service was being held. There is a rather large ex-pat community in Arua and this service was just with the ex-pats, but there were quite a few of them. It was really nice despite the fact that it rained on us a few times. And then after the service there was a potluck breakfast, so a whole bunch of people made all kinds of breakfast foods. There were so many good breads and cakes that I couldn't stop eating. So by around 9 AM everything was wrapping up, so we returned to Marcy and Tom's house.

Two of Marcy's nursing school students
Once we got back to Marcy and Tom's house, I promptly took a nap. I had been up since 5 AM and it was time for some serious sleep. After almost a 3 hour nap, I got up and Marcy took me around to show me the hospital and Arua Town. She gave me a really nice tour. I had never been in a Ugandan hospital before and it is something that I don't think words can really describe. Basically for the most part, the hospital staff doesn't really do much more than care for the patients health, so every patient needs a caregiver, who is usually a family member, that cleans them up every day and brings them food. Many of the patients don't even get beds, they just lie on mats on the floor. There is no such thing as pain medicine and a lot of the hospital staff is not really qualified to care for patients. Even when there is a qualified doctor, they will often shirk their duties and go to lunch and maybe not even come back for the rest of the day. I think this was something I was definitely glad I got to see, but it is also something that you never forget.

One of the vendors in the fabric market
After touring the nursing school and the hospital, Marcy took me into Arua Town. She took me all the way down to the fabric market. Arua's markets are somewhat well known, at least among Peace Corps volunteers. The fabric market is one of the most memorable because you can get many different kinds of fabric not just from Uganda, but also from the Congo and Niger. Unfortunately there weren't many vendors at the market, partly because of the holiday and partly because of the rain. In fact, the entire tour Marcy gave me was in the rain. It actually started to rain much harder when we went into town and we waited it out in the market a little before heading back to Marcy's house.

Finally I ended my Easter day by going to another volunteer's house, Betty, for a small Easter party. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers in the area came as well as several ex-pats that are around. A lot of people made food and we ate and drank and had a good time. Betty's house is just outside town and I'm going back out that way to visit George tomorrow.
The group that came to Betty's for Easter

Overall, today was a good day. I couldn't have picked a better place to spend Easter.

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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 29, 2013 (Day 10)



Name: Brianna Schuyler

Age: 29

Home State: Wisconsin

What she did before Peace Corps: Graduate School in Physics/Neuroscience

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 4

Host Organization: Gulu High School

Site location: 5 KM west of Gulu Town in Northern Uganda

Language spoken her at site: Acholi

Brianna has been teaching herself  braille so she can work with her  blind students
Brianna is working with Gulu High School as a Physics and Math teacher. Currently she is teaching Physics for Senior 2 and Senior 5. Her favorite thing about her site is working with the blind students at her school and her favorite moment at site, so far, is teaching sets to the blind students. “When we discussed the set of A = {men with 5 eyes} I asked why this set is an empty set, and one of the students responded, ‘I am not sure madam, I am simply amazed.’ Then once they understood that empty sets were sets with no members, they got super excited about coming up with examples like ‘goats … with wings!’ and ‘bicycles with … eight wheels!’”

Brianna was staying with the deputy head teacher and her daughter and grand-daughter. Her biggest challenge at site right now is getting privacy and maintaining her mental health. She also has running water in her house. Being so close to Gulu she has many food options, but she likes to do most of her shopping at the local market where she gets eggs, tomatoes, beans, avocados, ect.

What makes Brianna’s community unique is directly related to her primary project and the students she is teaching. “Like much of the North, the people and institutions here have been severely affected by the war. People with disabilities and physical trauma are a common site on the streets and in the community, and many of the students suffer from psychological trauma, which makes them act out at times.”

Brianna just moved into her house two weeks ago and she is still getting settled there. Unfortunately, the day after she moved in the students at her school rioted and the school was shut down. It has just reopened this week. At Brianna's school the kitchen staff went on strike and this is what caused the students to riot, because they were not being fed. Luckily, I don't think anyone was hurt, however the students did tear down some walls and the police had to be called in to disperse them. Despite this uprising, her school seems to be recovering and I believe classes have resumed.

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I left Brianna's house this morning and traveled back to Gulu Town. Unfortunately, Michelle is not able to meet up with me until later this afternoon, so I am currently at a cafe in town. This actually works out well for me, because even though this project takes up all of my time for a month, my life does not stop for that month. I'm taking today as an opportunity to catch up on everything else I have going on in my life and I'm taking advantage of the free wi-fi I can get here in town.

Later today, I will meet up with Michelle and I'm staying at her house in Gulu Town tonight. Then tomorrow I'm heading to Arua. This could be a challenging task because there is no direct road from Gulu to Arua. I've never made this trip before, so I'm holding out hope that its not as difficult as everyone has led me to believe.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 28, 2013 (Day 9)


Name: Ellen Grim

Age: 24

Home Town: Hamburg, Pennsylvania

What she did before Peace Corps: Volunteered in Big Bend National Park, and she was a High School ESL Teaching assistant and Spanish language interpreter

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 4

Host Organization: Christ the King Primary Teachers College/Demonstration School

Site location: Gulu district, Lacor Village

Language spoken at her site: Acholi

A lovely shaded walkway on the PTC campus
Ellen has a very unique education site. She is working with Christ the King PTC (Primary Teachers College) as a tutor and she is also there to give support in science and critical thinking skills. In addition to this she is working with the demonstration school to increase literacy. Ellen’s PTC is also one of the few PTCs that is all girls. Because Ellen is so new to her site she doesn’t have any secondary projects yet, but she is hoping to start a running club that meets 3 or 4 times a week before classes.

Ellen does most of her food shopping at the local market in Lacor where she can get produce and eggs, but she can also get a wide variety of food in Gulu Town. Ellen has running water in 5 rooms of her house plus in her bathroom! However, for drinking water she carries a 10 liter jerry can from the local borehole .75 KM away from her house every day.

The Catholic church on the PTC campus
Ellen says her favorite things about her site are the location and her neighbors. She likes the fact that she is close enough to town for all the conveniences that it gives her, yet she is far enough away that she gets a “rural feel”. She also enjoys the families that live near her, who teach her Acholi. So far, her favorite moment at site was when the PTC students finally arrived after she had been at site for one month. Ellen says that her biggest challenge at site is that the school term started so late because they had to wait on last year’s test results.

Ellen was interested to find out some of the history of her site and it’s relation to the war that ensued in Northern Uganda for a long time. “During the insurgency/war in the north, people from outside of town came to campus at night for safety. My house often sheltered people traveling into town, including at one time the father in my host family.”

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Today was quite a busy day. I left Jacque's house at about 8 AM this morning and I had to wait for a vehicle to get me to Gulu Town. I made it to Gulu by about 10 AM and from there I got a taxi going toward Lacor, but I got off before that at Ellen's site. The taxi I took was the worst looking taxi I've ever seen in this country. This taxi looked like it was about to fall apart. From what Ellen says, that's what all the taxis going this way look like.
Ellen's kittens

Once I got to Ellen's site, she first took me to her house. Her house is HUGE! It is definitely the biggest Peace Corps volunteer house I've ever seen. She has 8 rooms and about 5 of them have running water. So when we got to her house, she showed me her cats (she has one momma cat and 4 kittens) and we sat and chatted for a while about her site and her experience in Uganda thus far.

Ellen is a very unique volunteer. She wants so much to become integrated into her community, so she often does not use the amenities she has so that she can truly see how the local people would do things. Despite the fact that she has running water, she still goes to fetch water from the local bore hole every day. And not only does she fetch water, but she also carries it back to her house on her head, just like the local women would. Ellen also does not typically use the electricity in her house. She will use it to charge her phone and computer, but at night she usually uses her solar lamp to light her house.

After hanging out at Ellen's house for a while, she took me on a tour. We saw both the PTC (Primary Teachers College) and the demonstration school. The PTC was somewhat deserted because many of the students left for the Easter holiday. However at the primary school, we saw all the students at their final assembly before their short holiday.

All the unripe mangos on the trees
Then after spending a few hours with Ellen, I made my way over to Brianna's site, which is just a couple kilometers from Ellen. When I first arrived here, Brianna and I walked to the local market to get some food for lunch and we came back to her house to eat. Afterwards Brianna took me up to her school and showed me around. She even introduced me to some of the blind students. Brianna even picked some unripe mangos for us to eat. They taste kind of like granny smith apples. We were eventually chased back to Brianna's house due to the rain and that is where we will probably spend the rest of the night.

So I'm spending tonight at Brianna's house and then tomorrow I will make my way back to Gulu Town and spend tomorrow night at Michelle's site in Gulu. Another day down.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 27, 2013 (Day 8)



Name: Jacqueline Demko

Age: 24

Home State: Colorado

What she did before Peace Corps: Worked for Fishbio, an environmental consulting firm

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 25

Host Organization: Iceme Girls’ Secondary School

Site location: Northern region, Oyam District, Iceme Village, Owiyo trading center

Language spoken at her site: Lango

Jacque is working with Iceme Girls’ Secondary School where she is a teacher of Biology and Computers. Iceme Girls’ Secondary School is a very big school with almost 1000 students. The school is run by the diocese which also runs the community health center. Jacque is also working with Peace Corps’ “Uganda’s Young Stars”, which is a youth based nationwide creative writing newsletter, which encourages youth of Uganda to write about “Gender and Development” topics. She is a founder and editor of the project. In addition to this, Jacque also has a writing club, which focuses on creative writing based around Uganda’s Young Stars essay prompts as well as pen pal writing.

Jacque has worked on a project for World AIDS Day 2011 and 2012. She hosted, with another volunteer (Liz Skeris), a World AIDS Day 5km run/walk and health fair two years in a row, where they addressed driving factors of the epidemic, methods of prevention, and proper condom usage.

Jacque can get some basic food items in her village (tomatoes, rice and onions), but she has to do most of her food shopping in Lira Town. Jacque also has running water in her house that comes from a rain tank. Sometimes the water shuts off, but she usually doesn’t go more than 3 days without water.
The beautiful "un-Ugandan" Catholic church near Jacque's house

Jacque’s favorite thing about her site is that she is close enough to her school, yet she is also far enough away. She enjoys the privacy she has by living in the convent, but she is close enough to her school, which is a boarding school, that she can go to school and find something to do if she gets bored. Her favorite moment at site occurred while she was working with the Senior 2 girls during their PE (Physical Education) class. “I raced the PE instructor in front of the girls, and I almost beat him and the girls went WILD, they didn’t realize I could run fast.”

Jacque defines the biggest challenge at her site in two word: “THE HEAT”.

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I left Liz's house this morning and made my way to Lira Town, where I got a taxi to Iceme. I arrived at Jacque's trading center around 11:30. Her site is only about an hour outside of Lira Town. Her trading center is so small and very “village”. There is barely anything here. There is one restaurant and she can't even get much produce or other food here. When I first arrived I dropped my stuff off at Jacque's house. She lives at the convent and he house is somehow big compared to other volunteers' houses and she even has running water with a shower and a toilet.

Once I dropped my stuff off, we went down into the trading center so she could show me around. There wasn't much to see, but I think I came on a good day. We were able to get bananas and chapati, neither of which Jacque can get on a regular basis. We also searched the local dukas for macaroni, but to no avail. We did not find any.
Jacque on top of Pride Rock

After seeing the trading center and picking up a few things we walked through a local primary school to get to this rock structure that we climbed. Jacque refers to this as “Pride Rock”, because it actually looks like Pride Rock from The Lion King. From the top of this rock we could see for miles. Everything else around here is so flat. All the way up to the rock we had the primary school children following us. They even followed us all the way back to Jacque's school.

Finally, when we got back we went to Jacque's school where she showed me some of the classrooms, the library and the computer lab. I couldn't believe it when Jacque told me there was 1000 students because it seemed so quiet with all the students in class.

Now we are back at Jacque's house just hanging out and eating some of the food we bought. Later this afternoon we will probably cook some rice (because we found no macaroni) and vegetables. Tomorrow I have to leave this quaint little village and go to Gulu to visit a few volunteers up there. I didn't get to spend too much time in the Lango region, but I've seen enough to know that it definitely has some of the best villages around. I'm really glad I got to see Jacque's and Liz's sites before they COS (Close of Service) in a few weeks and it was also really nice to see some sites that are truly village.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 26, 2013 (Day 7)



Name: Liz Skeris

Age: 29

Home State: Florida

What she did before Peace Corps: Kindergarten teacher

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 25

Host Organization: Canon Lawrence PTC (Primary Teachers College)

Site location: Northern region, Lira district, Boroboro Village

Language spoken at her site: Lango

Liz is working with Canon Lawrence PTC (Primary Teachers College), which is a PTC in northern Uganda. It's not a core PTC so they don't have a coordinating center but they do have a demonstration school. She is working there as a math tutor (teacher) and her primary project includes teaching math lessons, preparing students going for school practice (marking and advising them on schemes of work and lesson plans) and supervising their school practice and giving feedback.

In addition to her primary project Liz has worked on a few secondary projects as well. She has been training the PTC students and staff how to make R.U.M.P.S. (Re-Useable Menstrual Pads). “I organized a workshop where we went over all of the health information, we made a sample pad, and made a visual aid of the menstrual cycle on a rice sack. Each participant got all of the materials needed to teach the program and we talked about how to use local materials for the pads, or have girls bring in material. This term my second year students will be on school practice and I've told them that if they want to teach this to their pupils that I have a balance of material and will come to the school to help them teach it. So from this point, the continuation of the project depends on their wanting to teach it.”
A girl at the local primary school posing for a snap (a picture)

Liz has also organized a World AIDS Day event with a fellow volunteer, Jacque Demko. “We organized a world aids day event two years in a row. We hosted a 5K race and a health fair at my college and used the members of the PIASCY (Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy Communication to Youth) club to teach the community about HIV.”

In her village, Liz can get flour, eggs, sugar, soda, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes milk, bananas, and other vegetables. However, she does most of her shopping in Lira Town where she can get more varied vegetables, pasta, rice, spices and condiments, etc. Liz also has running water in the bathing area of her house, however the water is only on about 50% of the time.

Liz’s favorite things about her site are the location of her house and the people who live near her, the people she works with and northern Ugandans in general. “The set up at my house gives me way more privacy that other volunteers and I recently got new neighbors who are awesome and friendly. Also the people I work with get my sense of humor and like to joke around. Also I find the people in the north in general to be more welcoming and friendly than other regions.”

Liz has two favorite moments at site. The first was the first Thanksgiving she spent in the village: “The first thanksgiving in country when I had eight other PCVs at my house and all we did for three days was cook and drink and laugh. It was my first big holiday away from home but spending it with my PC family was amazing.” The second was when she had a workshop to teach her students about R.U.M.P.S.: “I did a workshop for the girls at my PTC on how to teach the RUMPs program that PCVs teach at primary and secondary schools. Of course it started late and people meandered in and out as they pleased, but I had a core group of girls who were really into it; asking questions, volunteering information, helping one another. They even came to find me the next day so they could continue to work on their visual aids which were made using rice sacks.”

The biggest challenge Liz has found at her site is working with her college. “My college doesn't really utilize me other than as an extra tutor and it's been hard getting support in projects I am working on. This is seeming to change as we just got a new principal, but unfortunately I'm leaving soon so I don't know how much I will be able to get done in my last few weeks. Also my college is somehow disorganized so the time table is usually remade every term, it's done a few weeks into the term and even then it's *rarely* followed. Most of the time tutors just jump in when a classroom seems free and teach until someone kicks them out.”

The things Liz found to be most interesting about her community is “African time” and the communal culture. “It really is African time, nothing is done in a hurry, nothing merits freaking out over... Also how much of a collective culture it really is here. When it's tea time or lunch time, everyone takes tea or eats. There is no ‘no thanks, I'm not really in the mood for tea right now.’ It's really not in the culture anywhere for someone to refuse food that is offered because they're not hungry or have already eaten. Maybe it's related to poverty though?”

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I left Soroti this morning. I was easily able to get a taxi from Soroti going to Lira and I got off the taxi at the turn off for Liz's village, Boroboro, about 7 kilometers outside Lira town. The road from Soroti to Lira is one of the best in this country. It was so nice to come back here. I was here almost two years ago to visit Liz, but I haven't been back since.

Liz showed me around her school campus and then we took a short trip into town this afternoon to do some food shopping. After getting back we hung out at Liz's house and cooked dinner. We even made mango salsa!

Tomorrow I'm on to Jacque's site in Oyam District and then from there to Gulu Town the following day. I didn't spend much time in Lira, but it was definitely nice to come back and see it one more time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 25, 2013 (Day 6)


Name: Ashley Givan

Home State: Kentucky

What she did before Peace Corps: Finished grad school and worked at a book store

Program Sector: Community Health

Number of months spent in Uganda: 9

Host Organization: Stop Malaria Uganda

Site location: Soroti Town, Soroti District

Language spoken at her site: Ateso

Ashley is a Peace Corps Response volunteer working with Stop Malaria Uganda. Peace Corps Response is a part of Peace Corps where they offer shorter volunteering positions (from 3 months to 1 year) to RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) and now even people who have many years experience in a particular area. Ashley previously served in Peace Corps in China from 2007 to 2009.


The Stop Malaria Project (SMP) is a 5-year project of the Uganda Ministry of Health that commenced on September 26, 2008, with financial support from the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI). SMP is designed to assist the government of Uganda to reduce malaria morbidity and mortality. This will be achieved by reaching 85% coverage of children under 5 years old and pregnant women with proven preventive and therapeutic methods.


Ashley works with Stop Malaria in a support position. She worked with a net distribution and she trained some government leaders and sensitized them to net usage. She promotes the Stomp Out Malaria initiative and she is encouraging other volunteers to get involved in the initiative. She has also attended some workshops for Stop Malaria. And she is in the middle of organizing a World Malaria Day event in Soroti.

Ashley's favorite thing about her site is the people (her co-workers, other PCVs in town and Soroti in general). Her favorite moment was actually getting involved in saying goodbye to another volunteer. “I really felt like I was part of the group.” They went out to one of the villages and they had an interesting experience in transport back to Soroti. It is hard for response volunteers to really get involved with other volunteers and feel like they belong because they don't have a group of people that they came in with and trained with. So Ashley really appreciated the small things like when other volunteers included her in their group. Her biggest challenge at site is the lack of structure and that she has no clear role to take in her office. There is also a lot of downtime between field activities and sometimes it can be too long. She has also had a lot of frustration in getting any secondary projects off the ground. “It would have been easier if I was here for two years, but in one year it is hard to get a project off the ground.”   


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This morning after we got up, got ready, and had a cup of tea, we made our way across town to go visit Ashley at her office at Stop Malaria. So when we got there we met up with her, she showed us around and we got to meet everyone in the office.

What the different groups bring in from their hives to be processed by SOCADIDO
Once we were finished visiting Ashley, we went to Joanna's office at SOCADIDO. When we first arrived we had tea with some of the other staff members. Their tea time reminded me so much of my place in Kinoni. I was able to have some really good milk tea with accompaniment (aka a snack) of chapati and hard boiled eggs. After tea, Joanna showed me around and introduced me to everyone. She even showed me their warehouse for making honey. One of her biggest projects is working with different groups in the surrounding sub counties to make bee hives and produce honey.


We stayed at Joanna's office until after lunch and then we went back to her house to relax and hang out. In the evening a few volunteers and ex-pats came over and had dinner with us.

Tomorrow I have to leave Soroti to move on to Lira. I guess I'm glad the project is progressing, but I am sad to leave this place. Joanna has been very hospitable and welcoming and Soroti, despite it being so hot, is a nice little town.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 24, 2013 (Day 5)


Name: Joanna Groepper

Age: 32

Home State: Colorado

What she did before Peace Corps: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics and she worked in retail management

Program Sector: Community Economic Development

Number of months spent in Uganda: 30

Host Organization: SOCADIDO (Soroti Catholic Diocese Integrated Development Organization)

Site location: Soroti Town, Soroti District

Language spoken at her site: Ateso

Joanna is a third year extended volunteer and she is working with the Soroti Catholic Diocese Integrated Development Organization. SOCADIDO is the development arm of the Catholic Diocese in Teso. They work in the entire region building livelihoods, monitoring and evaluation of VSLAs (Village Savings and Loan Associations), and promoting farming as a business. Joanna assists on VSLAs and FaaB (Farming as a Business). They target dairy farmers and beekeepers and are currently working on increasing production, establishing farmer organizations, savings and credit, access to markets, and lobbying and advocacy.

Joanna has also worked on many secondary projects. She worked and is working on events for World Malaria Day in 2012 and 2013 where they promoted basic education and awareness and painted murals. She also worked on an event for World AIDS Day in 2011 where she did a condom demonstration and a sack gardening demonstration. In addition to these events she has also worked on promoting kitchen gardens and has worked with other volunteers on RUMPS (Re-Usable Menstrual Pads) projects.

Joanna does all of her food shopping in Soroti Town. There is a large market there and several supermarkets. “Soroti has everything you need, if they don't have it, you don't need it.” She also has running water in her house, which is connected to the town water lines.

Local Brew
Joanna’s favorite things about her site are the organization she is working with and Soroti Town, in general. “They are the reason for my extension and why I did not change sites. My co-workers are honest and hard working.” Joanna has a hard time naming one favorite moment at site. “My first day in the field for work I was treated to songs and lunch. They are still my favorite group. I love being called by my local name when I am in the field working.” Her biggest challenge at site is being productive with her organization. “My organization is so well established that I have to find ways to help what they are doing and have little ability to design projects with them. I save these for small scale secondary projects elsewhere in my community.”

The most interesting thing that Joanna has found in her community is the local brew and how the locals consume it. It is usually drunk warm through a three foot long straw.



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Today was truly a day in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer. We did very little and very little was accomplished. Being a Sunday, I shouldn't expect to see much. It is truly a day of leisure and relaxation.

Joanna and Stoney in Joanna's house
However, even though it is Sunday and we didn't go anywhere, I can't say that Joanna didn't work. This morning she made us an amazing breakfast. She made scones and eggs for Ibrahim and me. We sat on her back porch and had some good conversations about everything from volunteer projects to taking the GRE in Uganda.

I've also been spending a lot of the day playing with Joanna's dog, Stoney. He is about a year old and he has a lot of energy. I'm obviously missing my doggy time. I can see how much fun it would have been to have a dog here and how much he adds to Joanna's life and her service.  Spending time with Stoney is amusing.  He is afraid of Joanna's neighbor's kids and he will run around and bark at them when they are around.  The kids find it so funny and just laugh at him.  They are not scared.

Our laundry hanging and the brush burning behind it
This afternoon the neighbors started to burn the brush around the compound.  We were hanging out inside Joanna's house and we heard this noise that we couldn't identify.  So we went outside and we noticed that they were burning the surrounding brush.

Our plan for the rest of the day is to have dinner at Joanna's house (she's making chili...MMMMMM) with a few other volunteers and ex-pats and possibly watching a movie that I've been meaning to see, Searching for Sugar man.

So far, I've definitely enjoyed staying with Joanna and interacting with the other volunteers in Soroti. Joanna is an amazing cook. And as much as most volunteers are obsessed with food, Joanna takes it to a whole other level. She is really an amazing host and I'm definitely going to miss it here after I leave in a few days.
There are some of the best sunsets here



Saturday, March 23, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 23, 2013 (Day 4)


Name: Ibrahim Syarikin

Age: 23

Home Town: Washington DC

What she did before Peace Corps: Finished school and worked part time

Program Sector: Community Economic Development

Number of months spent in Uganda: 11

Ibrahim is in the process of a site change. He was working with Village Enterprise in Soroti Town, but things did not work out there so he is trying to find a new site. He has looked at sites in Jinja and Mbale, but he also wouldn't mind staying in the Ateso region around Soroti.

Many volunteers do get site changes for many different reasons. Some people don't like what they are doing at site. Some don't have anything to do. And some just don't get along with their organization or their organization falls apart. I don't think changing sites is ever real easy. You have to pick up and move and start all over again when you are already maybe 6 months or a year into service. Although sometimes volunteers really like getting a site change. In Ibrahim's case, he is now trying to find his own site. So his site development is in his own hands and in many ways he can get a site that fits him and his interests very well.
Ibrahim enjoying his down time between sites playing his ukulele

Ibrahim's favorite thing about the Ateso region and Soroti Town is the people. He likes how kind they are and how learned they are. “You can go to the villages and find an old mama and she knows English.” He feels the people are what has really kept him in Uganda. His biggest challenge as a Peace Corps volunteer is that time moves too fast. It scares him that he only has about 18 months left. In conjuncture with his site change, the time he has left worries him because he is afraid it may not be enough.

He thoroughly appreciates the love and support he has had from the Peace Corps community, not just in Soroti but all throughout. He feels they have been very helpful and supportive through such a tough time it can be changing site.


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Soroti Rock (a large rock structure in the middle of town)
Joanna and I spent this morning hanging out at her house relaxing and drinking tea/coffee. It is very calm and enjoyable out here. Even though she technically lives in Soroti Town, she is not in the center of town, so it is very quiet. She lives in quite a large house. It has 4 bedrooms, electricity and running water too. She has referred to some things in her house as “third year upgrades”. She is a third year extended volunteer and she got things like a refrigerator and hot water after being here for two years. She also just moved into this house after extending.

After having a lazy morning, we got ourselves together and walked to town. We went to do some shopping to get some food and drinks for the next few days while I stay here. Then once we returned to Joanna's house, we watched a movie and eventually Ibrahim came over. For the rest of the day we will probably just hang out, make dinner and wait for power to come back (its been out all day).
We found this girl in the market and she had the cutest outfit ever

I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, but that makes it all that much more fun.


Friday, March 22, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 22, 2013 (Day 3)


Name: Andrew Boston

Age: 31

Home Town: Baltimore

What he did before Peace Corps: Project Manger for JP/HRO in Port au Prince, Haiti

Program Sector: Community Economic Development

Number of months spent in Uganda: 10

Host Organization: Aisa FM Radio

Site location: Ngora District

Language spoken at his site: Ateso

Andrew works for a new community radio station sponsored by the UN for post conflict areas of Uganda. He is helping them with developing technical skills, as well the general operations of the radio. He hosts programs weekly on the radio covering topics such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and gender equality. The average audience for his daytime show is 10,000 and his evening show is even higher than that. He also teaches ICT (computers) at the local PTC (Primary Teachers College).

In addition to working on his primary projects he is also helping coach and develop the Ugandan National Men’s Lacrosse team outside Kampala to get them ready for the World Championships in Denver, Colorado in 2014. They will be the first African team to compete in this competition.

Andrew gets most of his food locally, but sometimes he does his food shopping in Mbale Town or Soroti Town. And his water comes from a rain tank, but it hasn’t rained in months in Ngora.

Andrew says his favorite thing about his site is that he is on the radio 4 hours a day. “The reach via radio is awesome. While in my community, people continually come up and discuss programs that I have run and the response is great.” However life in Ngora may not be as glamorous as it seems. His biggest challenges at site are transportation, food, water and power. Although despite these difficulties, Andrew has many friends in his community and he rarely leaves his site.

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Mid-morning this morning I made my way from Kumi Town to Ngora District where Andrew's site is. His house is on a PTC (Primary Teacher College) campus and he is working with a local radio station out there. So when I first arrived he briefly showed me around the campus and then he took me to the radio station. He has a radio program he does in the afternoon from 12 to 2, so he had me join him for that. The first thing he did was put on the BBC for about a half hour to start off the show and then he had me explaining my project and then, more generally, what I've been doing in Uganda and how I've liked it here. So we were on for about a half hour. Then for the second hour of his normal show he had someone else take over so he could take me to town and show me around.

The Radio Studio
There are a few volunteers working with radio stations in Uganda and I really think they are some of the best projects. It's one of the best ways to discuss issues with a huge number of people. One observation that I made was that, unlike teaching, you don't get the instant reaction of people who you are talking to. You can never tell if they understand what you are talking about or not. However on the other hand, teaching only reaches about 60 or 100 kids at one time and the radio reaches thousands.

After we finished the radio show we walked back to town. Along the way, we collected a small army of children following us from a local primary school. We tried to get them to wave so we could take a picture. It didn't work. Once we got to town we had lunch at a local restaurant. I had millet bread (the staple food of this region) and chicken.

Then once I said goodbye to Andrew I traveled back to Kumi to pick up my things from Chelsea's house and I made my way to Soroti. Once I got into Soroti Town I met Joanna and another ex-pat at a local restaurant. Throughout the night we collected a few more ex-pats and we eventually had dinner. As the night was ending and we were heading back to Joanna's house it started to rain. First a little, then a little harder and we eventually got pretty wet, but we got in with no major issues.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 21, 2013 (Day 2)


Name: Van Tran

Age: 27

Home Town: San Jose, California

What she did before Peace Corps: Volunteered at a Free Clinic

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 4

Host Organization: Wiggins Secondary School

Site location: Kumi Town, Kumi District

Language spoken at her site: Ateso

Some of Van's students taking an exam
Van is working with Wiggins Secondary School where she is teaching Biology and Chemistry. “They [staff members] are family centered where they care for each other and are religious since my school is supported by the church. “ Because Van is so new to her site, she has not had a chance to start any secondary projects yet, but she has high hopes. She wants to start a girls club and a science club. She also wants to start a computer class where she can teach the teachers at her school how to use the computers.

Van can get a variety of things at the supermarkets in Kumi, such as pastas, tea, spices, oatmeal, Pringles and soft drinks. She can also get fresh produce at the local market. Unfortunately she has not been able to get her stove working yet, so she hasn’t done much food shopping. As for water, Kumi Town pumps water from boreholes at night and distributes it in the morning to specific sites. Van’s school is one of the sites that receive this water delivery Monday to Friday. “The duka [small shop] that distributes the water on the compound is about a minute walk away from my house.” If she needs to get water on the weekend she has to go to the local borehole, which is about a 2 minute walk from the school gate.

Van’s favorite thing about her site is that she has privacy and she feels safe living on the school compound. Her favorite moments at site, so far, are attending the school assemblies because she feels that the students are more relaxed than when she sees them in class. She also identifies her biggest challenge at site to be that the staff members often ask her for money and favors and she can’t give them anything because it will set the wrong precedence and it will make it more difficult to do work in the future without providing money.

One of the most interesting things that Van has found out about her community is their views on marriage and how traditional they are. “The community still pays dowry during marriage and accept men having multiple wives.”

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This morning we got up and made muffins and had tea and after breakfast I went to Van's school, Wiggins Secondary School. She took me around and introduced me to all of the teachers and the other staff members. Her school is pretty large and we saw all of the different classroom blocks, which were all label (ex. “Senior 2 Classroom Block”). I also got to see all of the science labs and the computer lab (of course, my favorite). I even met the computer teacher.

After seeing Van's school, I went with Chelsea on one of her outreaches. She goes out into the field with her organization and they have a short health talk with pregnant women about prenatal care. After they talk to them as a group they give some of them ultrasounds, but only the women that are over 7 months pregnant. We drove out to one of the nearby villages to their health center for the outreach. They gave scans to over 30 women today and one of them was having twins. I don't think I've ever seen so many pregnant women in one place in my life.
Chelsea collecting data while Moses does the ultrasound


After the outreach we came back to Chelsea's house and had lunch. Then we went back to Wiggins S.S. because Chelsea wants to start teaching life skills there to one of the clubs and we were going to sit in on their club meeting. Unfortunately, the teacher who normally runs that club was not around, so we weren't able to see their meeting.

I never got the chance to see Van teach because her school is in the middle of mid-term exams. And sadly, Van has decided she wants to ET (Early Terminate). She wants to go back to America (who can blame her), although she hasn't told her school yet. She will probably be gone in the next few days.

Overall, I really like Kumi. It's a cute little town with a lot of really nice people. Tomorrow I'm going out to visit another volunteer in Ngora District just west of here and then tomorrow afternoon I'll make my way out to Soroti to stay there the night.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—March 20, 2013 (Day 1)


Name: Chelsea Geier

Age: 23

Home Town: Norwalk, Wisconsin

What she did before Peace Corps: Worked as both a Member Service Representative for Minnesota State and Public Programs at UCARE (State of Minnesota welfare programs) and as a leasing agent at Stadium View Apartments in Minneapolis.

Program Sector: Community Health

Number of months spent in Uganda: 10

Host Organization: Midas Touch Medical Services

Site location: Teso region, Kumi District, Kumi Town

Language spoken at her site: Ateso

Chelsea is working with Midas Touch Medical Services, which is a private hospital. Her primary assignment is data collection and monitoring of a USAID funded STRIDES project to improve maternal and child health. “Every day there is an outreach at one of 21 hospitals we work in. At the outreach we assemble all the pregnant women gathered to talk to them about what makes a healthy pregnancy. Then, we offer ultrasound scans for them. This is really cool as it offers them the chance to see their baby and allows the health workers to ensure the baby is in a good position and viable (cephalic, or head down, and alive). The mothers are tested for HIV and given IPT2 doses (medicine to prevent malaria, which causes miscarriages and other complications in pregnancy) and those who complete 4 ANC [antenatal care] visits are given both a caverra [plastic bag] and gloves, which they are required to buy and bring for the hospital staff when going into labor. We give these for free to encourage mothers to complete the 4 ANC visits, which are recommended by the WHO [World Health Organization]. Additionally, any mothers who experience complications or necessitate a caesarean section are referred to our private hospital and all costs are paid out by the project. The people I work with are all friends. It’s a welcoming environment and very inclusive; they make serving as a PCV in Uganda worthwhile.”

Even though Chelsea spends so much time on her primary project, she is trying to start a few secondary projects. “I’m looking to start a Community Health Insurance Scheme as well as several girls’ clubs at nearby high schools. I’ve had preliminary meetings with one of the schools (Wiggins) about teaching Life Skills classes, and hope to eventually expand that to several other schools.”

Chelsea does all of her food shopping in the supermarket in Mbale Town and at the local market. Bananas, pineapples, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes are most common as well as various millets, dried beans, and peas. As for water, Chelsea can get it from a tap next to her pit latrine, which is about 10 feet from her house. The water comes from her neighbor’s borehole, so when the borehole runs dry so does her tap.

Chelsea with her neighbors in front of her house

Chelsea’s favorite thing about her site is that she can get 3G+ internet. And her favorite moment at site was when someone offered her a baby. Her biggest challenge is the sexual harassment and devaluation of women in Ugandan society.

One of the most interesting things Chelsea has found in the culture she is living was some statistics she had found in a District Health Survey. “According to District Health Survey, the majority of men (70%) have had sex with someone other than their partner in the past year. Promiscuity is very prevalent in this district. Sex within the confines of marriage is seen only for the purpose of reproducing. Men have sex for pleasure with mistresses.”

Chelsea may have only been at site for several months, but she has formed some strong relationships and friendships with people in her community. “My entire organization is very close-knit and supportive. I consider each of my coworkers close friends. Additionally, I have 2 close Ugandan female friends, Hasfa and Stella.”

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Sparkling Juice
Today being the first day of my project I traveled from Kampala to Kumi. To get here I first took a bus, the Elgon Flyer, to Mbale. I've taken this bus before and I think it is one of the best, most well established bus companies in this country. The bus was supposed to go at 9 AM, but it left at 10:30. This was the only bad thing that happened taking the bus today. The bus was not very full. I ended up getting a two seater to myself. This bus company also offers napkins and the conductor comes around with a trash can after we stopped at a food stop, so that people don't throw their trash out window or on the floor of the bus. I've never seen this happen on any other bus in Uganda.

After getting to Mbale, I took a taxi to Kumi. To get from Mbale to Kumi the road is one of the worst PAVED road I've seen in this country. In most places it's not wide enough for two vehicles to pass and even on the paved part it is littered with pot holes. In many places the vehicle would just drive on the dirt shoulder of the road because it was better than the paved part in the middle of the road. Then finally at about 5 PM I arrived in Kumi Town.
Sparkling grape juice with strawberries

So when I arrived Chelsea and Van met me at a local restaurant and we had dinner. After that we came back to Chelsea's house and we are currently drinking sparking grape juice with freeze dried strawberries.

Tomorrow's plan is to possibly go into the field with Chelsea and also go to Van's school.