I just got back from my first trip to Africa. I spent a total of 24 days in rural Uganda, where there was no running water and no such thing as baby wipes or tissues. Children walk around with jerry cans filled with water, either balanced on their small heads or lifted by their prematurely muscular arms. I could barely tip one of those things over to fill a bucket for bathing. It’s no wonder some women called me ‘baby one’.
I traveled to Uganda on my own to develop a curriculum for use in educating Village Health Teams (VHTs) about malnutrition in children under 5. I worked with an organization called Omni Med (omnimed.org) and piloted the educational materials I had developed with a small group of VHTs. This curriculum will be used to educate the 1,000 community health workers that are trained by this organization, with a focus on the signs/symptoms and treatment of malnutrition in children, as well as increasing knowledge of food groups. The Omni Med/VHT approach works to empower the community and create sustainable change.
This blog has always been a creative outlet for me, the only place I could turn to outside of my day to day academic and scientific work. But public health is what I have decided to make my profession, and this experience has helped open my eyes to the way things really are beyond the pictures of people holding cute African babies. Information is powerful, but only experience contributes to true understanding,
The first week and a half of my trip was a mixture of both wonder (it consisted of a lot of waving at children from the car – I felt like the Queen!) and anxiety. I was worried about malaria, and I had to confront my cockroach phobia at one point. I even felt bitter at times, with peoples’ unstructured and relaxed way of doing work on a day to day basis (at least by American standards). Besides that and the language barrier, another major challenge was being completely unable to blend in. Many people, especially children, in the villages have rarely ever seen a white person (muzungu). Attracting a lot of attention on the way to get toilet paper helped me appreciate the inconvenience of celebrity. That being said, people in Uganda are friendly and welcoming, and watching children walk for miles with calloused feet and dusty clothing served as a reminder to shut my mouth and deal with it. I handled the latrine and bathing situation quite well, but loneliness and homesickness were the hardest things to deal with. I was later joined by three other volunteers, which made the trip much more enjoyable.
One thing is for sure: if I ever want for anything in life, I will remember how people in the most impoverished places make the most of what they have despite the fact that all the odds are against them. Public health is a tough field to work in, and this trip confirmed how challenging it is to create change. There is no simple solution, there is no heroic one-minute intervention that can solve the world’s problems. But there is the strength and resilience of the people who live in the harshest conditions. They just need to be met halfway.
Without further ado, here are some pictures I took during this trip. These are all very special to me, so please do not distribute or use these without my permission. Thank you and enjoy!