Last week the GROW team packed up Mama kits for new HIV+ mothers. We brought the donated supplies with us from NYC and owe a huge thank you to Karina Yu and Delivering Hope for donating the supplies. Karina is a GlobeMed at Columbia alumna, and we are very lucky to have obtained enough supplies for 30 kits. The supplies in a mama kit can be used to facilitate a birth that occurs at home or in the hospital. Frannie explained to us that most hospitals do not have these supplies available, and once the mother obtains a kit she will take it with her to the hospital at the time of the child’s birth.
We passed out 50 bags to the mothers that David spray painted before leaving for the GROW trip. These bags were passed out to mothers that had not received a bag last time as well as to the new mothers that received the kits on Monday. The mothers were very excited about receiving a bag. The “I heart NY” logo was spray painted on every bag and David creatively inserted the GlobeMed symbol into the heart.
Before passing out the mama kits to the new HIV+ mothers group, the GROW team had the opportunity to interview a few of the mothers. The women enrolled in this group had found out about GWED-G through the local health centers, such as the one we were at, which was Parabongo Health Center. The mothers told us about learning about their HIV+ status and the challenges they faced and still battle. Most challenges stemmed from the husbands refusing to get tested for HIV and accepting treatment. The women told us that stigma is a huge problem and some shared that their husbands did not even want to know about their status. Another challenge was the need for help in the fields, both in farming crops and education on farming. The women also requested that GWED-G donate oxen and ox plow so that their work in the field would be easier.
The GROW team also enjoyed a snack of soda and crackers with the mothers before passing out the kits. One soda, called Miranda, tasted like grape, while the other was Mountain Dew. Passing out soda to new mothers groups or during a sensitization session has now become a tradition. Juliet explained that soda is a treat for many people out in the field and is used as an incentive for listening and being respectful to those conducting a session. After all of the sodas had been passed out, we carried on to the next step – distributing the mama kits.
The process of passing out the kits was fairly simple. Juliet asked the mothers who had not received a kit yet to line up by the GWED-G car. From there, the GROW team unloaded the kits and bags to pass out to the mothers. Upon receiving their bags, many of the mothers responded with “Apwoyo” or “Apwoyo matek”, which means “Thank you” and “Thank you very much”, respectively. Apwoyo is also used for hello and good-bye, while apyowo matek is used exclusively as a means to express appreciation or respect.
Along with receiving the materials, the women also learn how to use each item in the kit. Frannie opens a kit at each session and explains to the mothers how to properly use the items incase they cannot make it to the hospital. For example, the best way to cut the umbilical cord is to use the clamp on each side of the cord and then make the cut. Before we left Juliet thanked everyone for their time and promised to return with bags for two women. We had only brought 30 because the other 20 remaining bags did not have mama kits inside. Luckily, the two women had received a kit the last time and only requested a bag. One woman, Rose, asked if she could take a photo with me because she has a daughter named Sarah. The other women in the group took this photo opportunity too and joined in, smiling and laughing as I jumped when one hugged me from behind.
Being able to see a crucial aspect of our project first-hand was incredible. Not only were the women appreciative of us spending time with them, but they also stressed that they wanted to listen to what we had to say. This caught me off guard due to the fact that the GROW team and I have been expressing the same thing to each village we have been to. During the interviews the GROW team has been voicing that we want to learn from our interviewee. This trip is as much a learning experience for the GROW team as it is for village community members. The women of this group wanted us to know that they valued what we had to offer, not only the mama kits, but also our words – our understanding of their hardships. I had to mentally take a step back to process this – and ultimately came to the conclusion that even though I have learned so much in the two weeks I’ve been here – I still have a long way to go. While I realize it is impossible to fully wrap my head around what the Ugandan Civil War has done to these communities, I am beginning to understand how much both GWED-G and our project are benefitting these people. Because I was so perplexed with the idea that these women wanted to listen to us, I had nothing to say. If I could go back in time I would thank them for all that they do for their children – both the ones not yet born and those that were conceived years ago. I would thank them for not agreeing with their husbands on the idea that visiting a hospital and getting tested for HIV is a waste of time.
Only one out of the eight HIV+ women we interviewed had a child that was HIV+. Seven out of eight HIV- children is amazing, especially considering what these women endure from their husbands and communities. The women in these groups unite because of their status, but ultimately gain support from one another. This support is as critical as a mama kit. It allows the women to gain strength, to leave the isolation they felt when their husband told them to not come home if they test positive, to leave the negative aspects of their status and to focus on what is important to them – which all eight women unanimously agreed was the future of their children.
Later in the week we will pass out bicycles to the VHTs as well as t-shirts. The GROW team collaborated with Pam to create the message that is printed on the back and we are very excited to meet the VHTs. Keep a look out for our next post!