This page is Lois Pollock's description of a 2-day training in Gunda Village. It is a typical account of the kind of problems faced by communities in rural Uganda, and the practical approaches we take to assist.
In 2014 I traveled out to Gunda village with Kennie Mutabazi, who grew up there with his grandmother. She still lives there alone, growing maize.
Gunda is a scattered community of 97 households with a total population of about 450 people. It is 5 miles from a large army town - Bombo - and 45 minutes by car from the capital, Kampala. But with no public transport into the village, for the inhabitants it is a very remote place to live.
We wanted to cover a varied program, focused mainly on health and hygiene issues. Poor people and those in remote areas often cannot access basic information they require to live healthily. We have often taught practical ways to improve the health of an entire community through simple measures - like hand washing after visiting latrines, handling animals and before touching food.
The community in Gunda were largely unaware that they ought only to drink bore water, or water that has been boiled.
We demonstrated the benefit for every household to be equipped with a clean, functioning latrine. We encouraged women to use ante-natal services at the hospital in Bombo, explaining the services available to them. And we taught about improving nutrition, particularly for children.
In many communities in rural Uganda, people have largely uprooted food crops and replaced them with cash crops - in the case of Gunda, coffee trees. Unfortunately, the bottom has fallen out of the coffee market and so some families are left food-poor. We demonstrated sack gardening as a cheap, effective way for a family to grow food crops like tomatoes, beans, potatoes and cabbages.
You can see pictures from other sack gardening projects here.
We always consult participants when drawing up a training program. The program requested by Kennie and the village chairman was:
Basic training on cost-effective health measures to improve health of whole community
Tippy-taps & sack gardens
Protection from malaria
Day One: General Health & Hygiene Training
I was introduced to about 70 residents, sitting under the mango tree where the training would take place. As we talked, it quickly became clear that there were many health issues that needed addressing.
Individuals described fetching their drinking water not from one of the two bores in the village but instead from a nearby swamp. One bore had apparently run dry two years previously, and the other was a distant walk. They were not boiling the swamp-water, unaware of the connection between drinking unsafe water and consequent illnesses - diarrhoea and vomiting in both children and adults.
There was no birth attendant in the village and none of the women of child-bearing age was using ante-natal facilities in Bombo - instead giving birth behind the bush when their time came.
Childhood immunisation was virtually non-existent.
Many families had unsafe latrines - or no latrine at all, and simply defecated or urinated behind the bushes.
Hand-washing with soap after using the toilet, handling animals or digging in the gardens was most uncommon.
Knowledge of HIV transmission and prevention was almost nil.
The first day was focused on listening to the participants describe their lives, then teaching alternatives to unhealthy practices. A commitment was made that the fit and able men would dig latrines for any in the village who needed assistance.
We did a practical demonstration of a tippy tap - a simple rig for keeping soap and water easily accessible. We encouraged that one be provided outside every household and close to the latrines.
We discussed the importance of improving nutrition and demonstrated how sack gardening could be a source of tomatoes, potatoes, beans and cabbages - and provide essential vitamins through an improved diet.
We talked about malaria prevention. Facts and statistics about malaria in Uganda are available here.
Day Two: HIV / AIDS Training
I had been advised that a number of villagers had recently died from AIDS, and that they wanted information about HIV.
The audience was largely unaware about HIV/AIDS transmission or prevention and had no contact with TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) in spite of there being an active TASO group in Bombo, where I had taught several times.
For the second day we arranged a full day of training from a TASO counseling team, with the option of HIV testing. This was warmly greeted by all and an excellent start was made by TASO in networking and educating the community. The TASO team performed a session on HIV transmission, discussing safe sex, mother to child transmission, and safe male circumcision as a prevention against HIV infection.
About 70 of the villagers present lined up for pre-test counseling and then gave a blood sample and got an immediate test result. I was delighted that only one person tested positive for HIV, and will now be supported by TASO.
TASO will also return to Gunda Village with its own drama group of HIV positive people - who will attract others in the surrounding neighbourhood to come forward for training and support.
You can read more about TASO here.
Forward action for Gunda village:
Kennie Mutabazi will return to the village when his studies allow and will collaborate with the village chairman to continue the latrine rebuilding program. Since departing from the village in February 2014, the community has already dug one new latrine for an elderly, less able man.
Having established a connection with Gunda, TASO will continue HIV / AIDS training, testing and sensitization - encouraging any HIV positive pregnant women to use ante-natal facilities at Bombo.
When the Trust secures funding for a further visit, Lois Pollock will co-facilitate a Memory Book training with local leaders so they can carry on the project.
And ongoing appropriate printed resources will be sent to the village via Kennie Mutabazi. To date information has been provided on typhoid fever and malaria, and a set of laminated teaching resources on safe male circumcision.