Uganda

What Can a Rabbit Do?

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO)  have both identified malnutrition as a major factor in preventing the Ugandan people from moving out of poverty and into more substantial development. According to the WFP:

One in three Ugandan children suffer from stunting, a lifelong condition that results when children miss out on critical nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals while in the womb or in the first five years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely to suffer from illnesses, drop out of school, be less productive at work and live shorter lives.

When one visits Uganda’s rural areas, you see hills rolling in lush greens – cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and other grains and vegetables growing – but this oasis of vegetation does not prevent malnutrition by itself. It is the right combination of foods and healthy activities, including intensive breast feeding, which can prevent malnutrition from occurring in a child’s early years.

Uganda “spends [millions] per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition” (WFP), while also losing revenue as the citizens underperform in school and at work due to stunted childhoods. Western Uganda is suffering from malnutrition even more so. There, 44% of children are affected by malnutrition. Proper prevention of the causes of malnutrition would have immense positive impact on Ugandan families and the country as a whole. So, KIHEFO is tackling the problem.

So, what can a rabbit do (to solve malnutrition)?

Actually, quite a lot!

Rabbits feed families. Farmers gather inedible material like weeds, grass, and vegetable scraps to use as food for rabbits, which are a great source of protein and nutrients.

Rabbits breed quickly. If properly cared for, a female can produce a litter of half a dozen rabbits each month.

Rabbits produce fertilizer.  Rabbit droppings can be collected easily and used as an organic fertilizer to improve soil quality and overall yields.

Rabbits generate revenue. In the market, a rabbit can be sold for 15,000 Ugandan Shillings (equivalent of $6 US Dollars) which helps generate small income for poor households.

For these reasons, rabbits can be the vehicle to solving the problem of malnutrition in Uganda (and other countries). Rabbits can improve people’s diets and current farmland, but also provide the income to source other necessary components of a proper diet.

KIHEFO has researched using rabbits as a solution to malnutrition over the past few years, which led to the constructed of the Kigezi Rabbit Breeding, Training, and Processing Center outside of Kabale.

Inside you will find an assortment of cages. They are filled with five breeds of rabbits, to ensure diversity in future generations. Males and females are further separated, to allow for proper growth.

Cages are simply designed, made of wood and wire mesh. A door is needed to feed the rabbits and then remove the bunnies once they have matured.

Managed by Alphonse, a staff member of KIHEFO, the Center acts as not only the distribution hub for future clients. It also provides education through example. Outside is a small plot of kale that provides the food for the rabbits of the Center. Having everything locally available means that the Center is self-sustaining and requires low resources to operate.

In addition to setting up the infrastructure and initial supply of rabbits, KIHEFO is also conducting nutrition surveys in the outlying rural communities, identifying the most vulnerable populations – those dealing with disease and large numbers of children, many orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The villages of Rubira and Kicumbi have already seen the advantages of this program, with both families and communities starting their own rabbit breeding facilities. These are smaller in scale, but have the ability to grow.

If you want to support KIHEFO’s Rabbit Breeding Center and those families most in need, please let me know.

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Uganda

Conversations in Rubira

Last Tuesday brought me to the sister towns of Rubira and Rwakashande. These farming towns are located less than an hour’s drive from Kabale and are home to 3,000 people–mostly subsistence farmers.

My mission for the morning and afternoon was to survey the area’s water and sanitation facilities to add more content to KIHEFO’s growing research on the area. But I was in store for much more in my conversations.

I was fortunate to be assisted by the primary school’s P7 teacher, Simon Peter. Together we spent the morning visiting some different parts of the hillside and speaking with people.

WATER

From the school’s central location along the main access road, we headed east toIMG_1126 the closest water source. As we walked, I started to unleash the prepared questions I had arranged the days before; they were hit-or-miss.

How many functional and non-functional water pumps are in the town?

“The town has no water pumps.”

Does the town have a water committee to do monitoring and maintenance?

“No. The town has village health teams (VHT), though.” (They said that these VHT’s do hygiene awareness, but this I did not receive with confidence.)

Are there any community latrines? Maybe provided by an NGO or the local government?

“No. There are no community latrines. There are latrines at the church, but those are only for churchgoers and only during church hours.”

After this initial round of questioning, I realized that my plan was off base and that I should just slow down. I would wait to see what Simon would show me and build discussion from there.

On the west side of town, about a five minute walk from the school, Simon showed me a “spring” – as he called it. It consists of a underground pipe of constantly flowing, clear water, which is filtered somewhere upstream. This infrastructure was funded by the district and sub-county authorities in Kigezi. If the water is not collected at the point of exit, it either sits in the concrete basin around the outflow or finds its way through irrigation channels to farmer’s fields and then ultimately to the nearby river.

At the time of our visit, no one was there collecting the water that was falling to the ground. This puzzled me, but Simon remarked that families typically collect water twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. They may collect a third time, at midday, if needed.

We then took a long walk from here to the complete opposite side of town to see the second spring. This one had a high flow of water and was being attended to a woman with two jerry cans. Just opposite, there was a man cleaning his motorcycle in some standing water. A cow joined him to have a drink, showing the maximizing use of water here.

SANITATION

I further researched the sanitation facilities in the area. The typically household – parents, their children, and possibly elders – would have their own ‘latrine’. These latrines are made from local earth and wood materials. They have a wooden floor and a hole where waste is excreted.

I was very fortunate to actually view one in mid-construction. A group of men were digging a rectangular hole with vertical walls. The man in the hole was already 6 feet deep and was moving towards a final depth of 15 feet. The reason for this new construction is that the old latrine had collapsed. Most of these styles of latrine only last for two years before they collapse. The rainy season intensifies the deterioration by eroded the earth walls.

As I am learning more about public health through my outreaches with KIHEFO, I was happy to see that most latrines are a safe distance away from cooking and living areas. The one worry I have in the openness of these latrines and the potential for flies to transmit disease.

EDUCATION

We returned back to Simon’s primary school, where the 320 childrenIMG_1149 were slowly heading back home for lunch. In the small window of time before they departed, I was able to interact with many of the young ones. Or at least try, as their English was building and my Rukiga was non-existent. Through the help of another teacher, Innocent, I was able to introduce myself, ask them about their favorite sports, and see what futures they saw for themselves.

After the morning schedule, all children have to walk back home – up to 30 minutes uphill – to eat before returning for the afternoon activities. I was lucky, as the teachers invited me to eat with them in their Teacher’s Room.

Rubira Primary School hosts three levels of nursery classes – baby, middle, and high – although I suspect they are grouped together less rigidly due to available room. Then there are the seven classes, from P1 to P7, which children pass through before they can move into secondary school; there is no secondary school in town.

According to Simon, of the 100 students you might find starting P1, half would disappear by P4. The reduction continues into the next levels, but at a slower pace, as only 20 students would be found in a P7 class.

As Simon was the P7 teacher and I have an interest in understanding gender inequality, I asked him if what the male to female ratio was in his class. He said that there are 13 girls and 7 boys. I was surprised by these results. From what I’ve read and seen, girls are always devalued compared to boys. They are seen as having less future potential and bear the brunt of household duties – cleaning, cooking, collecting water, childcare – preventing them from attending school and reaching their full potential. It seems that either Rubira is a special case or that I need to investigate further to find the truth.

If someone makes it all the way through these classes and fairs well on Uganda’s Primary Learning Exam (PLE), they can move into a secondary school, if they can afford the expenses. Secondary school consists for 6 ‘forms’.  There are two paths on offer. If a student intends to go to university, then they would finish Form 6 and start their degree. But if they intend to study a trade – nursing, for example – then the can enter a vocational school after Form 4.

During our lunch break, I was able to talk with a larger group of teachers – both male and female – and learned about the community I now inhabited.

CULTURE

I was most surprised to hear their views of polygamy and bride price. These old, religious traditions, held by both Christians and Muslims in Uganda, but rarely found in the West, were deeply engrained in the minds of even the highly educated.

Would a woman be able to take two husbands?” I asked. TheyIMG_1117 all laughed – as expected by a question that would not normally be asked in normal conversation – but one woman noted that there was in fact a case where a woman took a second husband, as she was the primary breadwinner in the family and therefore, could make such a non-traditional move. But, on the whole, men are the ones who can take a second wife, a third wife, or really any number of wives. They also noted that many people – both men and women – might have additional partners that are not classified as either ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.

Another part of marriage that is widespread is the traditional of dowry, or bride price, where the husband’s family pays the wife’s family for their loss of a daughter. The price is not set in stone. Instead the two families meet and negotiate on the price. This acts as remuneration for the parent’s, who are losing a valuable member of their family and allows them to better prepare for their older years. A dowry might be paid in cows or goats, which hold value; in practical items, like pots and pans; or can be paid in money.

The teachers were eager to question me on if Canada had the same type of marital systems. I responded that we are a mixture of many peoples from many different lands. This creates a mosaic where traditional overlap. Rather than a Ugandan marrying another Uganda, you could find Brazil-English partnerships or Aboriginal-French unions. With this mixing of cultures, Canada and other Western nations have chosen very strict legal explanations of marriage that have eliminated dowries and polygamy. They seemed to be receptive to this counter approach of life and I think they enjoyed exchanging information as much as I did.

I have much to learn.

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Uganda

First Days in Uganda

My first exposure to Uganda consisted of a midnight crossing of theKIHEFO international border that is shared with Rwanda along the three-hour drive from Kigali to Kigezi district. Along with KIHEFO’s driver Enock and four University of Calgary medical students, I filled out the appropriate forms and showed my passport, with a newly acquired East Africa Visa, enough times to make it through the gauntlet of road stops and gunned border agents. With the darkness around us and only a few stars above, we drove the short distance from the border to my new home of Kabale – a southwestern, hilly town of around 50,000 people.

I was thankful to be the first one in our van to arrive. It was 1:00 am and I was in desperate need of something other than a car or airport terminal to call home. My apartment companions Trina and Atayo greeted me and gave me the short version of their home tour before calling it a night. I was running on fumes, but took them up on the offer of a shower, as it would be my first in over 72 hours of travel, layovers, and a night asleep on the benches of Toronto Airport’s Terminal 3.

That first day of work – Monday – would set the tone for the rest of the week, as it was filled with continuous learning and interaction
after interaction. I met more students – these ones were American – who were here to learn about public health in a East African context; some of whom arrived a day before me. We started with a great presentation on the history and work of Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO), an organization that does amazing work in providing health care to the four districts of Kigezi. In addition to their permanent clinics – medical and dental care, HIV/AIDS, child nutrition – in Kabale, KIHEFO does several outreaches each month in surrounding communities. In the afternoon, we were able to actually tour these clinics and the town of Kabale. The town is flowing with hills, houses set into them like blocks, with stores and the artery roads running through the valley.

Over the next two days, we were given presentations on the health care uganda mapoptions in Uganda, which range from village health teams and traditional healers to formal national hospitals; and on the conditions mothers face in during their pregnancy, during childbirth, and while caring for children.

Thursday allowed me to start looking at the Village Nutrition Surveys that have been developed to find out what families face in Kigezi. With questions covering access to water, illness, foods consumed, and household assets, it will allow KIHEFO to have quantifiable data for future initiatives in their communities.

I was invited to add additional questions related to water access and sanitation facilities, so that information from these sectors could also be used in future planning.

The last day of the week gave all of the new arrivals, including myself, our first look at village life in Uganda, with a tour of a primary school in Ibumba. After speaking with teachers and having the most amazing welcome by their students, we traveled a short distance away with the school’s deputy headmaster to speak with a women’s group that she is leading. Together, this group of widowed and orphaned women have found strength. They farm together, save together, and learn together. They also helped us learn, by describing the challenges they face in their remote community.

The weekend gave me time to rest, relax, and do a few errands. On Saturday, I started the process of making some custom shirts with local fabric. Two yards of fabric, which comes in amazingly bright patterns, sells for 10,000 Ugandan shillings (or $4). This is enough to make a single men’s shirt, tailored to your exact measurements, costing an additional 20,000 shillings (or $8).On Sunday, I washed clothes. To hand wash clothes completely and in a reasonable amount of time is an art form; I am not there yet.

Looking forward, the second week will see me going out into communities and participate on maternal and child health surveys. There will also be the opportunity to discuss new ways of small-scale agriculture with local youth. Both of these projects have me excited to learn more about Uganda and the issues that people live with each day.

More updates to come.

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Uganda

Hopes for Uganda

1280px-Flag_of_Uganda.svgToday, I will be flying from Edmonton en route to Uganda. This will be my second time on the African continent and a new chance to explore the world of development in depth. In Ghana, my biggest take-aways were adjusting to being a first time international traveler and doing development research projects. In Nicaragua, I focused all of my time and energy leading a team of other travelers.

This time, I will have the freedom to explore and to develop projects organically, based on what I find. I will be partnering with the Kigezi Health Foundation (KIHEFO) in Kabale, Southwestern Uganda. Some potential projects include local sources of nutrition and greater access to improved water, but these may change with time.

Some of my personal goals include:

  • growing my photography skills, so that I can share my experiences with people back at home;
  • improving mt writing, through regular blog posts here; and
  • becoming a better collaborator, by interviewing people and using their points of view in my work.

Stay tuned for more in-depth reports.

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Nicaragua

A New Chapter

The past two years have seen a complete change in my life´s focus. This came about from my first international experience, working with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana at the end of 2012.

The next year – 2013 – say we go in and out of different project management jobs, as I stuggled out of an engineering-focus and more into a development-focus. I attempted to get a second international placement but did not succeed. I volunteered with a number of organizations, as a way to increase my understanding of poverty and global development work.

Luckily, 2014 will be much more promising and transformative in relation to my new work focus.

I will be living and working in Nicaragua during the month of May, in partnership with Project HOPE, an Edmonton-created initiative between Ceiba Assoication and MacEwan University. Myself, my co-team leader, and 11 students will be working on the repair of 6 classrooms in Esteli, as well as the construction of a multipurpose room with the dual ability to provide a space for teacher planning and student counciling.

When I return to Canada, I hope to set out new horizons that include more travel and work in other countries. Grad school is also my intention starting in September.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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