Monday, May 30, 2011

Second(ary) to None

Despite still not having a primary project/assignment/objective at my organization, I have pursued a number of secondary activities, some of which I believe will ensure long-term sustainability in the community and all of which I hope will build people's capacities to improve and positively benefit their livelihoods.

Leading a Health Group at the Dispensary: Every Tuesday and Thursday, Rose and I will be leading a Health Group, coteaching patients about 9 different health topics: 1) Malaria prevention, 2) Water sanitation/purification, 3) Personal hygiene/handwashing, 4) Mental health/wellness, 5) Family planning, 6) Healthy eating/nutrition and lifestyle, 7) HIV/AIDS prevention, 8) Incoming-generating activities (IGA's), and 9) The "role" of motherhood. My goal for the group is not just to teach/give the information to the attendees, but also to provoke critical thinking, Q&A, and discussion. For example, if I were leading a session on Malaria prevention, I may first ask questions such as: What is malaria? How is malaria transmitted? How can malaria be prevented? If you do get malaria, what is the first thing that you should do? To make the project sustainable, nurses at the Dispensary are taking turns leading sessions with Rose and I. Not only does this increase their comfort level at talking about health issues to larger audiences, but also it encourages an exchange of learning across multiple parties. The nurses can teach a health topic to the patients, for instance, that I know nothing about, and vice-versa, or the attendees can surely teach new things to the leaders. I am excited to see if/how the group empowers community members to make positive changes in their own lives.

Coteaching S3 English and Geography: After a month hiatus, school just restarted last week. Since I cotaught the S3 students at the end of 1st term, I chose to remain teaching S3 English and Geography, two days and one day per week respectively. As I wrote in a previous post, I am not necessarily introducing new material to the students, but rather serving as a teacher's aid/student mentor; creating weekly worksheets to provoke critical thinking and Q&A; bringing in maps, pictures, and other teaching resources to class to enhance the quality of learning; answering questions about the class topics taught/American culture (I never get a shortage of questions); and hopefully serving as a good male role model to the students. Personally, it's been culturally enriching interacting with the students, both on a teacher- and a friend-level, on a daily basis, and has made me grateful for the school resources - computers, a library full of books, school supplies, sporting fields/equipment, and a cafeteria - I enjoyed (well, not always the cafeteria food) in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.

Promoting Little League Baseball to Ugandan Youth: A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Boys 12-13 years-old camp at Uganda Little League Baseball (an NGO) near Mpigi Town. The goal of the NGO is to promote baseball and softball to Ugandan youth. Amazed by the players' talent and ability, some of whom were just introduced to baseball weeks before, I became highly enthused to promote baseball and softball to the youth in Kachumbala. Ultimately, I'd like to form a team to compete against other teams that attended the camp (from Lugazi, Jinja, Soroti, and Kampala) in the region. First off, using Father Okurut's projector, I plan to introduce the sport to youth by showing a baseball/softball movie. Any movie ideas?

Volunteering at an Orphanage: Last month, I visited an orphanage with the hope of volunteering there weekly. I chose not to volunteer at that particular orphanage because the fit wasn't right, but I'm still hoping to find an orphanage (not religiously-affiliated) in the area at which I can volunteer once or twice per week.

Repairing the Community Borehole: As I wrote in a previous blog post, the community borehole, on the Kachumbala Mission side, has not been working since I arrived at site. With no tap water, residents are forced to walk 1-2km to fetch water from a community well, lugging a full jerry can on their way back home. Before arriving in Kachumbala, workers from Kampala apparently tried to repair the borehole, but were unsuccessful in their attempts. Currently, I am trying to get the team to come back to Kachumbala to determine whether the borehole can realistically be repaired or if a new one needs to be dug. Regardless of the option, it will cost money. As such, I am trying to mobilize a few community members to take ownership of the project by spearheading the request for donations from the rest of the community.

"Libraries for Life - Peace Corps Uganda": As soon as I'm done finalizing which volunteers will participate in the "Libraries for Life - Peace Corps Uganda" book project, I will send out more information about the project via email, and how you can contribute to the project's cause (the link is, under the Uganda subheading). Ultimately, the project not only aims to build libraries in community schools, but also to train preidentified teachers in library management, to teach students how to use a book's index and table of contents (the majority of my students have never used a textbook before), and to create an afterschool reading club to encourage reading as a fun yet educational leisure activity.

As always, thanks for reading. Congratz to my Bruins for advancing to the Stanley Cup!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Miracles Do Happen

"This could not be happening to me, again."

This was my first thought as I was breathlessly running down Jinja road in downtown Kampala, chasing after the matatu in which I had left my wallet (it fell out of my pants' pocket). To no avail, the matatu did not stop. I tried to get the matatu's license plate number, but it was a good 50-60ft in front of me. My vision was blurred. There was no hope. Everything in my wallet (passport excluded), including my credit cards, Peace Corps ID, and driver's license, was likely gone for good. It's a terrible, deflating, stomach-churning feeling when you realize 20 seconds too late that you are missing your wallet, then only to watch the matatu (in which you left your wallet) drive away in the distance with no intention of stopping.

I frantically called my parents (2PM my time, 7AM their time) to immediately cancel my credit cards, and then Peace Corps to let them know of the incident. It wasn't until Sunday night, the same day, that I got a call from Peace Corps staff, informing me that all my credit cards, Peace Corps ID, and driver's license were found, literally, on the side of Jinja road, and turned in to the police by a good samaritan. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. These kinds of miracles don't happen, especially not to Uganda.

Because I was moneyless, Peace Corps picked me up early the next morning from my Kampala hotel, and drove me to the Jinja Road Police Station, where all of my lost possessions seemingly were located. Sure enough, 5 minutes later, visible to my relieved, overjoyed eyes, nearly everything that I'd lost was indeed found.

According to police reports, a passenger found my wallet inside the matatu, and proceeded to steal the money inside (100,000 UGX, roughly $40) and the wallet itself but threw everything else outside the window, onto the side of Jinja road. A good samaritan, returning from morning prayers, found the cards and turned them over to the police.

Other than swearing in as an official Peace Corps volunteer, I earnestly can't think of a time where I've been more relieved in my 9 months in-country.

What have I learned from the experience?
* To never again wear athletic pants, while simulatenously carrying my wallet and phone, when using Ugandan transportation (or any mode of transportation for that matter).
* To be more consciously aware and protective of my belongings.
* There are good samaritans everywhere, regardless of the country, state, city, or village.
* Miracles do happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Little League Baseball in Uganda

"There are 2 million orphaned children in Uganda, 45% due to Aids. Many work in the streets to survive. Baseball has given these children hope, a chance to have a dream!"

This past week, I had the privledge of working at the 12-13 years-old boys camp organized by the Uganda Little League Baseball NGO in Uganda. The mission of the NGO is to promote, build, and expand the game of baseball in Uganda, as well as eventually in adjoining African nations, so that the sport can be self-sustaining and achieve its long-term objectives. In a country crazed about football (American soccer), baseball introduces Ugandan youth to an alternative sport, provides them the opportunity to develop their skills, and encourages important concepts such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and hard work.

Upon arriving at the camp, I had no idea what to expect. Do youth really play baseball in Uganda? How much exposure have Ugandan youth had to the sport? Realistically, can baseball even be played when there is limited funding for equipment (gloves, helmits, balls, bats, uniforms, cleats), playing space (baseball diamond/field), and travel (to compete in international competitions). Most importantly, how can baseball become a self-sustaining sport in Uganda?

About 6 teams (12 players on each) throughout Uganda participated in the camp. As soon as I began watching the players compete in drills, batting and pitching sessions, and mock games, I was blown away by their talent and enthusiasm for the sport. My role was to help coach/give advice to the players, score the games, interact with the players, and simply serve as a good role model. Considering I have never played baseball myself, I did not play in any of the games, but my years of reading and memorizing the daily sports page and box scores, and watching games on TV certainly served me well. I also had the opportunity of working with and teaching baseball to Jackie, a female coach who will be leading one of the girls Little League camps in June. All in all it was a great week!

I hope to continue working with Uganda Little League Baseball in the coming months.


* To read about how Uganda Little League Baseball was started.

* To read the organization's blog written by Jay Shapiro, a fellow Clarkie (what a small world!), about Uganda's Little League team competing in Poland in 2010 against Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai, and South Africa for the right to advance to the Little League World Series in the U.S.

* To watch the 4 minute clip "Opposite Field" chronicling the 2010 Ugandan team playing in Little League World Series in Poland, and serving as the basis for a potential future documentary on baseball in Uganda.


I cannot take credit for taking these photos (they are fellow PCV Colin's) of the 12-13 years-old boys camp.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peace Corps Goals 2 and 3

In 1961, President JFK established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship through three underlying core goals:

Goal 1 To help the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women.
Goal 2 To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Goal 3 To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

While Goal 1 deals more with the work carried out at site (assessment of communal needs; sustainable, capacity-building development), Goals 2 and 3 underscore a different vision: the promotion of bicultural exchange, sharing, and understanding between the volunteer/his or her culture and the culture of the community served.

My first several months in-country and first few months at site, I was admittedly fixated on Goal 1. Immediately after carrying out needs assessments of my community, I had my workplan planned out in my head; I sought for tangible results. I've learned over time, however, that some of the best work I can accomplish while in Uganda are not tangible, the things that can't necessarily be touched or felt. Hence Goals 2 and 3.

This blog, while subjective because it provides a glimpse of Ugandan culture through only one lens, is intended to, in part, achieve Goal 3.

Blogging aside, how else can Goals 2 and 3 be accomplished in the next 17 months?

* By pairing my S3 English and Geography class (equivalent of 10th/11th grade) with a middle school class (similar in reading level) in the U.S. to create a "pen-pal"/postcard exchange of communication back and forth. I was psyched when a number of my students asked for American "pen-pals." What better way to promote bicultural exchange, sharing, and understanding than from the students themselves!

* By continuing to share my Peace Corps experiences with American friends and family back home through email, phone, and mail correspondences, as well as through pictures.

* By hopefully serving as a good ambassador of the United States.

Since Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary was celebrated last month, I am ending this post with Barack Obama's 2007 call to "double" the number of Peace Corps volunteers serving abroad, and ultimately, to mirror JFK's vision of world peace and friendship:

"To restore America's standing, I will call on our greatest resource - not our bombs, guns, or dollars - I will call upon our people. We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011. And we'll reach out to other nations to engage their young people in similar programs, so that we work side by side to take on the common challenges that confront all humanity...."