Friday, June 11, 2010

Hygiene Promotion

I realized I haven't really posted about anything Uganda. A lot of what I have been doing is getting my feet, learning my way around (both the office and Gulu), and learning what my job is exactly (I didn't really have a clear picture when I started...).

Last week I went out with the Hygiene Promotion team. After dropping one of our team off in Olony to mobilize the community and carry out water committee elections, Harriet, Josephine and I heading off to Olik. We were down one man that day, so instead of being around when the community at Olik held it's elections, we told to community the positions they had to fill, and they carried out the process in our absence. We had some difficult communities to work with.

We arrived in Launo and were greeted by hundreds of children, smiling, waving, and running after us as we walked toward the village chief's house. Baby butts and naked children posed for the camera, and didn't want to see us go when we had to get to work. After waiting in the shade of a tree alongside twenty resting chickens, we continued down the path, through the thick grass some 10 feet tall towards the chief. When we arrived, we sat on a mat in the shade of a magnificent tree - I was only given the Luo name (which now I forget).

Josephine and Harriet talked with the village chief about the location of the proposed borehole that we were to drill. Currently, there was a dispute between where to place the borehole - one half of the community wanted it near them, and, well, that location just wasn't anywhere near the center of the village. When community members began to resettle in Launo after living in camps for many years, settlement was random. And unlike other communities we were working in, it was also very spread out, so households were almost 2 kilometers from one another, and the whole village covered a huge area.

After talking with the village chief (all the information I received was translated through H and J), we decided to walk to one of the springs that was nearby where people collect their water. The water wasn't very clean (I forgot to bring my water quality tests), and on inspection, I wouldn't drink it. We then continued walking almost an hour to get to the proposed site for the borehole. The grass was well over our heads, and at points the yo (path) was almost indistinguishable. The first site we reached had, just days after our survey, been transformed into someone's house, and the location of the potential borehole was smack in the middle of his hut. Next site. Literally fighting through the bush (there was no path now), we came to the two new sites proposed by the geophysics team. Yes, a long distance from the first part of the community (and the difficult ones) but still just in the center of the whole village. When we returned back the way we came, I stopped to take a picture of the thick grass that we dug through, and literally almost lost my group, and they ventured further into the grass. I can't imagine what travel was like without some guidance by already-lain paths...

We visited a few more springs, and decided that the borehole would have to be placed in the center of the village, especially since the part of the community who was causing difficulties had access to a borehole in a school just next to their homes. The geophysics team actually has to return to Luano to do another survey - the locations we visited had results that were conflicting, so there could yet be a change in Luano.

We continued on to Aywee (ah-you-eh), where the problem was much the same: dispute over where the center of the village was, and where we were going to drill the borehole. The community of Aywee ended being much more agreeable, and we left with everyone (we hope) content, and an agreement made. While Josephine and Harriet are part of the Hygiene Promotion team, much of their work relates to education and communication - making sure a community understands the importance of hygiene and sanitation, whether it be as it relates to health, well-being, nutrition or livelihoods. And with this comes the importance of solving community disputes - after all, if no one will agree on where a water point should be located, no one will use or maintain the water point once it is constructed.

All along the way, driving down the red-mud roads throughout Northern Uganda, the vast green and blue landscape is interrupted by dense clusters of houses - abandoned resettlement camps from the years of conflict that this region faced. The camps are all closed now, and many aid organizations have ceased work in these areas. The majority of people have returned to their home villages, moving away from so many services that were provided to them in camps (such as food handouts and access to water wells). While still some remain in the camps, either because they haven't yet moved away, or they feel content living there, those who have moved feel the pressure of moving away from a much more provided life, moving away from well-designed latrines and high-yield boreholes (provided at the expense of many aid organization). The years of conflict have taken a toll on the future generations in Northern Uganda, from simply no longer knowing how to farm (as my previous post mentioned), to dependencies on handouts, to moving away from somewhat healthier lifestyles. And hopefully these groups can get past difficulties in their communities and realize that everyone is facing the same challenges, and working together will be the only way to move forward, move out of a history of violence.

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