Today was a “rest” day from the orphanage, but that by no means meant it was relaxing or boring. We had a full slate scheduled, and didn’t get to a lot of it.
We started off the day at Makerere University, which is the largest health sciences university in the country. Several of the BTC medical staff had a meeting with the Dean of the School of Public Health and his staff about building a partnership between Makerere University, Be the Change, Idaho State University, and Nsumba Orphanage. 20 minutes into the meeting though, the dean abruptly got up and left. Our BTC team didn’t know exactly why, and assumed that the meeting must have been going poorly. 20 min later though, the dean came back in accompanied by the head of the largest orphanage in Uganda, whom he had apparently wanted to join in our discussion. The meeting ended up going VERY WELL, with Makerere and ISU going forward in applying for a MacArthur grant for Nsumba . The dean was also very supportive of starting up a full on medical clinic at the orphanage, which could be used to train students from both Makerere University and Idaho State University.
During that time, I led the majority of the other BTC members in our first leadership training session outside in the grass at the university. It went pretty well, with some excellent group discussions about what defines a leader, examples of leaders that we admire and why, as well as some self-reflection about what leadership qualities you do well, and which qualities you could improve on. We’ll be continuing these discussions throughout the trip, and I think they’re valuable for everyone. Volunteer work, especially internationally on a multi-week project, brings out quite a few situations where leadership is required in some way or another, and reflecting on and sharing our experiences with the rest of the group can be incredibly worthwhile.
Once the Makerere meeting finished, the entire BTC team got a tour of one of the MU buildings and listened to several of their staff speak about a number of research initiatives and projects that they’re involved in which we’ll be able to take advantage of via our partnership. These included project management courses relating to medical clinics, HIV studies in rural fishing communities (some having as high as 48% HIV occurrence), and infectious disease control between animals and humans.
After a nice lunch downtown and some shopping for supplies, we gathered again to travel and meet Destiny Friends International, a group that has come together to form a network of support for their many unfortunate circumstances – being single mothers, international refugees, and HIV positive to capture the big ones. Through all this, they earn a living to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families, pay for their children to go to school, and yet they do not lose hope. And they do not beg for money. They only ask for us to support their projects, which nclude making and selling bead jewelry (we’ll be bringing these back to America to raise funds for the women), growing and selling mushrooms, and supporting their local communities. Be the Change has maintained a partnership with Destiny Friends International for several years, and it was clear that the group had been anticipating our return for quite some time. They were especially excited to see Peggy and Judy again.
Our visit started out with the women singing and dancing some traditional-style songs for us, then grabbing our group up out of our chairs and dancing with us! Man, some of those women can really move their bodies. Not sure I’ve ever seen leg/chest/booty shakes like that, haha.
After the dancing was finished though, their leader Vikki spoke about how they have learned to celebrate, dance, and rejoice every day “because yesterday we never died. Today we are alive.” And for these women, surviving to take care of their children is a concern that they have to think about every day. Their bravery and determination to not beg for help, but rather to support each other and find projects they can undertake to raise their own money is inspiring. And all the while they celebrate life and sing and dance! It’s a great organization and some great people to admire and support as we’re able.
We purchased as many wonderful bead necklaces and bracelets as we could, then returned for the night (and dinner) to our hotel Pope Paul Memorial. Everyone in the group is doing well, and I haven’t heard of any health/traveler’s sickness issues yet. Jason even brushed his teeth with the water from the sink and was ok. Bessie’s luggage showed up last night too, so she got to wear some new clothes today, haha! Somehow one of my hands got 14 mosquito bites on it though. Not sure if I washed all the Deet off in the sink or what, but it’s a little frustrating (and a lot itchy!) Definitely gonna have to be rock-solid on taking my malaria pills every day right on time. Besides that, things are good! We’re headed back to the orphanage tomorrow for a full day of HIV testing with TASO (the HIV/AIDS organization), which should be quite an experience. Can’t wait to get back and play with the kids!
Love you all, thanks for all the support, and will update again soon! (internet willing)