Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nutrition work in Kampala

Reading over all my blog entries, I realized that there might be some confusion about whether or not I'm working while were here. I am. :) The two clinics that I somewhat randomly contacted before we left DC have been great places to volunteer. One is an HIV/AIDS organization started by a Catholic Church really close to Sarah and Dan's home. Its called Reach Out Mbuya. I've been working with Juliet, their nutritionist. I've helped her to design some nutrition classes for the staff and also help to assess malnourished children who need nutrition therapy (PlumpyNut). I spend 2 days per week at Reach Out

The other 3 days of the week I've been volunteering at Hope Clinic - a somewhat smaller clinic with a more broad target population (not just people living with HIV/AIDS). Lexi, a fellow American who is volunteering as the community outreach coordinator, has done a wonderful job coordinating nutrition classes for me to teach in the community. I've loved these classes. I'm still doing Tuesday afternoon "Train the Trainer" courses, but we've also been holding child health classes for parents, staff training at the clinic, and health talks with local salon workers. Below is a picture of me with one of the groups outside the house where we held the session.

One of the main nutrition messages that cuts across all of my work is the importance of diet diversity. Literature shows that the best way to decrease deficiencies is to diversify a population's diet. So I spend lots of time saying things like, "add some greens to your posho (thick maize porridge) and g-nut sauce (peanut sauce)...greens are not just for poor people!" When I first arrived in Uganda I thought most people simply could not afford healthy foods like greens, but I soon learned that many could buy them but don't because they are associated with living in extreme poverty. Of course this is anecdotal - I haven't taken any formal polls - but its interesting!

Last, some good news! I think I have finally nailed down my project for my final paper at GW. The title will be something like this: Improving nutritional care of orphans through sustainable farming in East Africa.

Happy Halloween! Nate and I are going to a costume party tomorrow night as The Green Goblin and Poison Ivy - 2 villains from early comic strips. Hopefully we'll have some fun pictures to share soon.

Love,
Alicia

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Climbing Mountains in Africa

Nate and I seriously discussed climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro while we're here in Africa, but unfortunately the cost is a bit prohibitive. Instead we opted for a mountain that straddles the Ugandan/Kenyan border - Mt. Elgon. Our guide book describes it as "a mountain that has never really caught on with hikers...partly due to security problems but its also probably the case that Elgon lacks the popular mystique of Kilimamjaro, Mt Kenya or the Rwenzori." Regardless, we loved it! We covered roughly 45 miles over 3 1/2 days with our friend Brady - another volunteer at eMi. The Uganda Wildlife Authority requires that hikers travel with guides and guards, and highly encourages that you hire porters to help carry your luggage. So our party of 3 quickly turned to 9. We definitely enjoyed the company of Jimmy and Tom, our guides. One of my favorite memories from the trip is hiking behind Jimmy as he marched along with his gun and a large cabbage that he held by the root.


Mt_Elgon_12, originally uploaded by Nate Bosscher.


We each carried our own backpacks but the porters carried most of our food and our 2 tents. At each of the 3 camps we slept at along the way, there were pit latrines and a shelter where our entourage would make a fire and sleep. It was really nice to arrive at camp each evening and have a fire burning within minutes!

If I had to sum up the trip in 10 words or less, these are the words I would choose: challenging, beautiful, muddy, peaceful, awesome for our marriage, rainy and cold. While we don't at all regret hiking up Mt. Elgon, if we could do it again we'd definitely go during the dry season.

Not to sound too cheesy, but another favorite memory is simply walking along singing worship songs and praying silently. I did this to distract myself especially during the stretches of the hike when my body was just aching (or 'paining' as they would say here in Uganda) or I was horribly miserable due to the rain.

Speaking of praying, some of you have been asking how you can pray for us. The main thing we're wondering about is where we're headed next. For a while we were praying about staying in Uganda longer, but currently we're feeling like we should come back to the US. Nate is waiting to hear back from 4 more grad schools, but even once he hears from each he still needs to find specific funding/research. So the main question we have for God is whether or not grad school is a go and if so, where.

Stay tuned for more! Sarah, Dan and I are running the Kampala 1/2 marathon in 3 weeks. Plenty of running, yoga and spinning between now and then should get me good and ready!

Love to you all,
Alicia

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Come Let's Dance Trip Pictures!

I finally got to upload the pictures from the last two weeks. The internet here at work is mind-numbingly slow, so it takes a little while to get all the pictures up and organized. I’ve divided the pictures from our project trip into five different sets. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but I wanted to at least provide a small introduction to each. You should be able to click on the picture to see the whole set.

We had a lot of fun
taking pictures on this trip, I hope you enjoy them!

eMi East Africa – Come Let’s Dance Project Trip


CLD018 - The Three Amigos, originally uploaded by Nate Bosscher.

Come Let’s Dance is a ministry that was founded by an American filmmaker, Shane Gilbert, after she visited Uganda to film a documentary about street kid ministries. The ministry serves the poor and destitute of Kampala through a kid’s home, micro-finance and micro-business support, vocational training, and church ministries. It was really fantastic getting to be apart of the work they do. I was amazed at how grounded Come Let’s Dance seemed. They approached problems with realistic goals and expectations and it seems like they have been very successful so far.

Come Let’s Dance recently purchased a 20-acres plot of land, which they want to turn into a farm to feed 60 “orphans” at their kids home. They also hope to create a vocational school on the farm to train young men trade and farming skills. CLD does a similar thing with a guesthouse they use to train 8 young women at a time to become house help.


Amigos Site Visit


Amigos007 - Big Cow, originally uploaded by Nate Bosscher.

The Amigos Farm is a site that eMi (with Adam Both) designed a few years ago. It is very similar in scope to what Come Let’s Dance hopes to have for their farm. We spent an afternoon early in the trip touring the farm and asking lots of questions about agriculture in Uganda.


Katanga Slums Visit with Come Let’s Dance


Katanga006 - Slum Kids 5, originally uploaded by Nate Bosscher.

Many of the children came from the Katanga Slums on the north side of Kampala. Come Let’s Dance has started helping some mothers in the slum through micro-loans and micro-business opportunities. We had the opportunity to meet some of these women in their “homes” and to see what Ugandan slums look like. The kids seemed happy, but the poverty and filth these people are forced to live in is pretty horrible.


Team Trip to Jinja


Following our final presentation of our work to Come Let’s Dance, we took a two-day trip to Jinja to relax and recover.


East African Birds #2


As part of a trip to Jinja, we went on a boat trip to the source of the Nile River. We got to see tons of birds and we were able to get up close to some of them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Engineering Project Trip Thoughts

Well, we've finished with our project trip to Come Let's Dance ministries.  I am currently sitting in our guestroom overlooking the Nile River watching hawks building a nest and cormorants catch fish, listening to the sound of the river and of bird calls.  I am starting to process, not only this last week, but the last month.

On the surface, both project trips were structured very similarly.  The short-term volunteers are picked up at the airport and we immediately head out to the ministry we are going to serve.  The first day is spent touring the site and then sitting down with the ministry leaders to learn about their vision and their needs and desires. Following this introductory session, the eMi team meets to talk about the roles that we will be filling during the coming week.  We have devotions together before going to bed.  The next morning we wake up early and start on our tasks: surveying the property, sketching site layouts, taking soil samples, testing the water, assessing possible building locations, etc..  We don't return to the guesthouse until after dark for our dinner, devotions, and bed.  We wake up and do it again the next day.  At the end of the week, we present our work to the ministry.  Following the presentation the eMi team heads off for a day of relaxation and rest.  We share a "closing time" with each other, giving our highs and lows of the week and what we appreciated about our teammates.  It's really an awesome way to finish out the project trip.  Heading back to the eMi office in Kampala, the short-term volunteers will get on a plane back home and the rest of us will begin working on the final report, which we will provide to the ministry in the next couple months.

Reflecting on the past two project trips, I am surprised by how different my experiences have been.  The make-up of the team and the mission of ministry being served resulted in two very different experiences despite the similarities in engineering work.  The first trip consisted of a very young team, the oldest being 35.  It was a very lighthearted group that had a lot of fun together.  The group chemistry on the second trip was much different.  The group was significantly older and more experienced, as a result, the trip felt much more professional.  I enjoyed both teams thoroughly, gaining lessons and valuable experience from each.

The thing that I have been wrestling with the most lately is my differing reactions to the two ministries that we worked for.  It has been a real struggle to keep from being overly judgmental of the work being done by the ministry and the motivation behind the work.  I have found that my emotions toward a mission have really impacted my enthusiasm and energy when working for them.  As an engineering organization that donates its services, eMi is very deliberate about the ministries that it chooses to work for.  But when you're working in a third world country with a variety of Christian ministries, there are going to be inevitable differences in values and visions.  Some are going to be very different from my own.  I have to keep reminding myself that it is not up to me to judge the heart of an organization or a person.  Whether I like the people involved or not, both ministries that I have worked for so far are doing good and necessary work in Uganda.

Its been a good few weeks.  I have learned a lot about engineering in the developing world.  I have become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in working here, and I have felt incredibly blessed to be a part of the two eMi teams that I have worked on so far.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers!

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