Hi everyone! It’s been an eventful few days here in Gulu, so there’s a lot to catch you up on. We actually haven’t had power at Pamela’s house since Thursday night, and it’s now Saturday afternoon, so it’s been difficult to use our computers enough to post to the blog. Right now, we’re at the Coffee Hut in town, drinking coffee and using their wifi to check up on everything. It’s referred to as the ‘mzungu cafe’ – mzungu is the Acholi word for white person, because they’re always hanging out here. Jude, a GWED-G staff member, told us that it is run by someone from the U.K. and that most Ugandans prefer taking coffee in their own homes, anyway.
On Wednesday, it rained all morning so our trip to the field was cancelled. Instead, we stayed in the GWED-G offices with the staff, and in the afternoon Kristina took us to the Gulu market for the first time. They have EVERYTHING you could think of, from fabrics to shoes to carved dolls to, of course, food. We even saw white ants for sale, although we haven’t tried them yet! In contrast to the U.S., where you can buy all the food you could want in a single market, produce and meat seem to only be sold at stalls like this, while Ichumi (the local grocery store) has mostly breads, drinks, and packaged food, like biscuits and crackers. The only fruit we’ve found there are tiny apples, which are imported and expensive.
We also had the opportunity to interview Martin, the Gulu District Chairman. We actually met him last week when he came over for dinner at Pamela’s house. They’re quite close – he calls her his ‘sister.’ He answered all of our questions articulately and eloquently, from his view of the role of partnerships in rebuilding Gulu in the post-conflict period to his experiences with political corruption and what development means to him. It’s so powerful to see a public official who is so dedicated to empowering the people of Gulu through policy, and we can’t wait to share the footage with you all!
We’ve spent the last two days in the field, and have met many inspiring men and women who have been affected by our projects. In particular, we met three of the 30 HIV positive women who were chosen as beneficiaries of our 2010-2011 project to receive antenatal care, PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) services, counseling, and income-generating projects.
Alice, pictured above, told us that the livelihood component of the project actually had the greatest impact for her and her family. There is land available to many of these women, but they lack the seeds to plant sufficient crops. With the seeds she received from GlobeMed and GWED-G, Alice labored to produce a good harvest. She then used the profits to buy alternative feeds for her baby at 6 months, so that he was not susceptible to transmission through breast milk and could grow strong. She was actually pregnant during the 2010 GROW trip, and the baby she brought with her is her second HIV negative, GlobeMed baby!
Nearby, we visited GWED-G’s human rights counseling office for the Lamogi sub-county, and met some of those who had been trained through the Community Access to Justice program. The goal of the project is to increase awareness in the community of what human rights and human rights violations are and to resolve cases, commonly including land disputes, domestic violence, and child neglect. To accomplish this, local Human Rights Volunteers (HRVs) are trained to conduct community sensitizations, talk to people about their rights, and mitigate local conflicts. This reduces the work of community leaders and police, although they still support HRVs through referral pathways.
While these programs help the community become politically and socially empowered, one volunteer raised the question of how they could be adapted to promote economic growth. Bosco, a GWED-G programs officer, responded, “The Bible says that we should knock until the door is open. Have we knocked?” In particular, this village lies on the road from Uganda to South Sudan, which should be paved over in the next year and on which trucks carrying supplies are constantly passing. As Franny said, the market is there and they need to “plant wisely” – how can they use this road for their benefit?
When we ask people the main challenges that their community faces, we’ve frequently received the response that they need transportation to access services as well as livelihood projects to be able to afford them. However, it seems that some communities simply need to be enabled to take advantage of the opportunities and possibilities around them. Rather than simply providing aid, projects need to build the capacity of the communities to improve their own well-being in a sustainable way, like the VSLA (Village Savings Loan Association) we saw last week. We need to keep exploring the reality of this on the ground, especially as we think about how we might be able to address the demand for income-generating projects we’ve seen so far!