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Meeting under the Mango Tree: Field Visit to the Local Community

March 20, 2010

Uganda, Gulu District, Awash Health Center, Thursday, 03/18/2010

Posted on 03/20/2010 due to lack of internet access

Meeting under the Mango Tree: Field Visit to the Local Community

Today we left the provincial capital Gulu to go to the local Health Centre in Awash. After a couple of hours drive on dusty red sand roads, passing children carrying water or walking to school and many, many bicycles, we arrived in Awash, a WHO drugs delivery in the boot of our jeep. Today was to be our day in the field, meeting with members of the Village Health Team (VHT) of different villages and staff of the Health Clinics in the region, some who had already been trained on a SMS-based data gathering system. Some members from UNICEF were also joining us.

After an initial round of introductions where everybody clapped or stomped their feet after each person had said their name, we split in two groups and talked to the different VHTs. Their role in the community is to give out basic drugs, do community education, write referrals and submit monthly epidemiological reports to the Health Centers. We were particularly interested in the monthly reports and the process of submitting and validating them. What was particularly surprising was the large number of households (100-200) each VHT (village health team worker) is looking after.

After the meeting with the VHTs, we had lunch all together. Rice, goat and really good spinach, called Boo.

For the second meeting we moved under the large mango tree outside the Health Center. Our research team split up, half of us stayed to do an interview with the Health Clinics’ staff and the other half went to visit households in the community. The people we interviewed in the community, sitting in the shade of their huts, children playing all around us, were mainly women living with their families in the huts of the former IDP (internally displaced persons) camp. Many were widows and the main health problem appeared to be malaria, many having lost half their children to Malaria. There was also a high prevalence of mental illnesses in the community and HIV was a problem. As my guide, a VHT who spoke excellent English, explained to me, this camp had been raided several times by LRA (Lord Resistance Army) rebels during the civil war. Now the rebels were gone but the military base remained.

Many insights in one day, we had a lot to discuss over dinner at one of the local restaurants in Gulu, eating rice with a gooey spinach-peanut sauce, a specialty for this region. What was particularly nice was the fact that the staff from the country office in Kampala who joined us on our trip stayed in the same hotel, so we found ourselves discussing the best solutions and new insights related to our project over dinner and breakfast.

What a trip so far, this was only our third day and we have already learnt so much! We are so grateful for the opportunity to come here and gain such an insight. However, so far, each meeting brings up more new questions than answers, a lot to think about once we get back to New York!

Karoline (Uganda Team)

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