Thursday, May 12, 2011

We Don't Do Roads

We have travelled half way up the mountain behind Mbarara to visit Kibera parish, in Kinoni subdistrict. Here Keneth, one of our enthusiastic Trainers works as a nursing assistant in the very village where he grew up. Keneth meets us in another more remote village in his parish where the "road" has shrunk to little more than a cow path. He is combining today's agenda of community engagement with a clinic for the under 5 year olds. He sits his chair in the shade and a long line of women and children line up for their mebendazole, (worm medicine) Vit A and to have their Child Health Cards checked to see if they are up to date with their immunizations.

I leave Keneth to do his clinic and have the volunteer health workers show me around. One mother is giving her young infant a bath. A number of goats are tied up outside the home, indicating they are somewhat better off. We are taken next to the woman who won the model home competition. She also has goats as well as an energy efficient stove which she proudly shows us. Even though we have come unannounced there is a functioning Tippy Tap to provide for hand washing and the yard and the compound area is sweep. In the corner is a treadle sewing machine holding pride of place, a testament to her industriousness.

Election posters are plastered over the mud walls of one house. Elections in Uganda have just taken place. We both notice that the posters cover the whole range of candidates and parties and are exceedingly colourful.

The clinic seems to have been a good idea as we have accumulated a large group of the community for health education. I have come with a reporter from the local government newspaper, The New Vision. Ostensibly, he is there to report on our Child Health project and the work we are doing in the area.

He takes pictures and talks to people and even translates for me when the Local Chairman comes to ask if we can build a road for him. The Local Chairman has prepared well and recounts the story of how all the men in the village came out to help create a road and collect stones. But the heavy machinery never arrived and the road was never built. I sympathize with him, acknowledging that the lack of a road has contributed to the lack of schools and teachers in his area. Also that it prevents them from easily getting their produce to the market and from materials and people reaching them in this remote spot.

After a wonderful community meal of matoke (banana), ground nuts and local produce, the discussion about the lack of a road continues. I have no trouble agreeing that the lack of progress, access and development in this community affects their health. The Chairman is engaging and concerned and shares with us that until recently they had no supply of clean water and had to draw their water from the swamp. While other communities around them were assisted by ACTS, a Canadian NGO working in water in this area, his community did without because ACTS couldn't get to them. But, he goes on, just recently they have provided the community with a spring fed well. I have no doubt that it was largely due to his perseverance that this happened.

He seems convinced that because our project has strong vehicles that we can help him with his road. We have only one 4WD because many of our communities are far off the road. I explain again, that we are a child health project. We train and support the village health volunteers in his village so that mothers and their children are healthier, stronger and live longer.

Finally I say, wondering at the same time how it will translate, "We don't DO roads."

I soften it by adding that when communities are active, people are more likely to pay attention to them and that we all sympathize with him and agreed roads would make a big difference to this community. Then I point out that we have brought a reporter with us.

Keneth has prepared the volunteer health workers to do several of the new community development exercises. They stand in front of the group and lead a group discussion about development and what it means to them. They agree that they need more schools in the area so all the children can attend. The chairman notes that at present there is only the primary school established by Sacred Heart in the sixties.

The volunteer HW follow the discussion with a short version of the Development Game which demonstrates how even well-meaning projects for the poor can inadvertently favour those who are better off. They conclude with an energizer called the Knotty Problem which highlights the fact that those who create a problem know best how to solve it.

The volunteers have done a wonderful job of health educating. I am thrilled that they have done so well on their own and congratulate Keneth. Faces shine with the praise heaped on them. Even their volunteer leader who has come from another village is thrilled with their facilitating.

It has been a long but a satisfying day if somewhat unsettling seeing first hand how much the lack of a road can affect a community, its health and development.

Three days later an article appears in The New Vision. Our project gets a brief mention but better still, a fair amount is said about the lack of a road in this remote community and the need for it.

A couple of days later we learn that the district has sent out graders and heavy equipment to start work on the road.

Hallelujah, I think. Maybe we have a role to play when it comes to roads. Maybe we do DO roads after all.

Photos: Chairman & I talking to women in Keneth's line; mother washes babe; election posters; the chairman & New Vision reporter; kids watching.



Blogger Green Tamarind said...

Hello BB - just catching up!
I agree - sometimes we do much more than what we are being funded to do. Providing a voice is the main thing. Some of us already have a voice and we can share it with those that have much of importance to say.

8:48 PM  

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