Although I have many reasons for being in Uganda this summer, the main reason is to complete an internship for my public health Master’s program. There were lots of wonderful opportunities for internships in New York, but for me, the chance to travel and explore a new place could not be ignored.
But what am I actually doing here? Great question.
My role at the Engeye Clinic: I’m helping with data collection for weekly and monthly diagnostic and treatment reports that must be submitted to the Ministry of Health. I spend my mornings reviewing patient information from previous days and tracking vital statistics. I’m focusing a lot on malaria (which is a huge problem here), immunizations, family planning, and overall demographic spreads for key diagnoses. Although the work gets repetitive, it’s interesting to learn so much about the health problems in this community.
After completing those morning duties, I get to focus on the fun part, my internship project. Engeye offers trainings to local community health workers on various health topics, and I am working with the training program.
Here’s what you need to know to understand what I’m doing: In Uganda several years ago the government selected four people from each village who were leaders in their communities to be trained as VHTs (Village Health Teams). Each village should have a team comprised of individual VHTs who were given some sort of training by the government and are responsible for helping to spread knowledge on health practices and prevention of disease to people in their villages.
But, that was a long time ago and the VHTs still need more training and support. Engeye (the clinic I’m at) has connected with the local VHTs to offer them additional trainings and create a bridge into the local villages. Engeye wants to see preventable diseases being prevented, so they are partnering with the VHTs to increase knowledge and health at the community level
Here’s the cliff notes of what I’m doing: I’m working with Engeye to help make the VHT trainings even stronger. How? There’s this thing called an “Exploratory Evaluation”or “Evaluability Assessment” that looks at a program and makes sure it has all the pieces it should have to function correctly. So right now I’m learning as much as I can about the trainings and the VHTs to have an idea of the program’s goals and objectives. There’s a bunch of things that go into the project, but the next step will be to work with the people who plan the trainings to define a clear program goal and various measurable steps that they will achieve to reach that goal.
Here’s the cool part: John, the Ugandan man who runs the clinic, suggested that I go visit each of the seven villages that make up the area surrounding the clinic. That way I could interview the VHTs in their own villages and learn from them, but also see more of Uganda and learn about village life. John has awesome ideas.
Visiting the seven: Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these visits are like going on an epic adventure… but that’s how it feels to me. It’s so exciting! One of my friends at the clinic helps me contact the VHTs in a village and set up a meeting. I get the name of the person who’s house I’m headed to and the village they live in. Then me and my friend Barbara (she translates for me) hop onto the back of a boda (motorcycle) and hope the driver actually does know how to get to the place we ask him to take us to. Then we ride!
Sometimes the ride is just 5 minutes, sometimes its 25 minutes over winding, eroded, bumpy red paths through the bush. And I never know how long it will be, what it will be like, or where we’re going. I think that’s what makes it so exciting.
We arrive and meet the VHTs. We have good discussions about life as a VHT and the impact of the Engeye trainings as I lead the group with questions. I have so enjoyed these conversations. There is often lots of laughter, but also serious, even poignant moments when people share about the needs in their village or their passion for helping people. I am so lucky to get to meet these amazing volunteers and learn from them. They are ordinary people making an incredible difference.
Between this week and last I have visited five of the seven villages and I am already scheming up reasons why I should need to go back and visit again! It was on one of these visits that I found my favorite spot in Uganda.
We had ridden the boda for at least 20 minutes over some of the most uneven paths I have seen so far. When we finally emerged through the thick bush, to our right was a sweeping view of miles and miles of green hills, to our left was the biggest tree I have seen in Uganda. It was incredibly thick with huge sprawling roots and massive branches reaching up and out in all directions. If you know how I feel about trees, than you know how excited I was. We passed the amazing tree and turned up a path to a house with a matching sweeping view behind it. Between the tree and the views I was in love.
I am frustrated that I can’t figure out a way to be up at that house for a sunrise or a sunset to record a time lapse with my gopro. It is absolutely the prettiest place I have seen this month and I would LOVE to witness the cascading colors of sunset and the vast starry sky from it’s remote perch.
This adventure in Uganda has been incredible so far!