Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nutrition Training in Bushwere

A short course on nutrition had been piloted in a few communities near Mbarara. Numerous studies have been done which show malnutrition to be a major problem here with as many as 40% of children under five years being identified as malnourished. This is despite the fact or maybe because of the fact, that south western Uganda is the producer of matooke, a form of cooking banana, which is the main staple food for much of Uganda,.

Matooke has little nutritional value other than calories. Men ride and push bicycles loaded with as many as 6 huge bunches of matooke long distances to reach the main pickup points on the highway for trucks carting matooke to Kampala.

Matooke is much beloved by Ugandans, well southern Ugandans. If you have a dinner with corn, potatoes, salad, chicken, rice, fruit, cake, cassava, meat and ground nut sauce and you don’t have matooke, your Ugandan guests will inquire, “Where is the food?”

You think I am joking? Well think again.

The nutrition workshop involves one or two of the community volunteers from each parish cooking the noon meal together. They bring their own food and prepare the meal together one day in the traditional way.

The following day the trainers help them with the same food but make a number of changes. They mix various food together; leave the pumpkin seeds in to be steamed for added zinc and add more local greens. In the workshop they talk about the added nutrient value and food groups. But it is the delicious taste that convinces the volunteers. That and the fact that they have assisted in the preparation so are able to replicate it at home.

I have been asked to attend the training and give them feedback. I haven’t been actively involved in the training but some of the training exercises and pictures used in our child health manual have been incorporated.

Both the male and female trainers are doing an excellent job. While cooking largely falls to women at home, the male trainers are demonstrating some wonderful skills. Doudi peels a pineapple holding the green leaves with one hand and wielding a machete in the other, leaving a totally clean pineapple. Oscar shows how quick he is at peeling matooke, which unlike the yellow banana, had a hard, thick, sticky skin.

I watch a group of women make short work of cassava, which I have never before seen being peeled. They skilfully remove the thick skins and center piece, breaking it into smaller pieces sometimes with a knife and sometimes not. A huge pot is filled with matooke, then layers of other food placed on top and the whole thing covered with banana leaves so it can steam on an open fire. Because some people prefer roasted matooke, unpeeled matooke is also placed in the fire to roast.

I ask them, as they prepare the food, about the manual they are using. It is confusing and not much help, almost all the trainers tell me. Someone points out it is unclear and goes from one topic to another. The issues are mixed up says another trainer.

This surprises me, not for the usual reason, for I also have found the manual disorganized. What surprised me is that they are reading and relying on the manuals. Almost all trainers appear to pick up what they need to know about a topic and about how to facilitate it from watching other trainers. I have come to this conclusion by noticing that certain ways of facilitating sessions and certain messages that do not appear in the manual are being circulated whether they were right or wrong.

If trainers were referring to the manuals regularly, I thought, these deviations would be identified and corrected. But it seems I have been jumping to conclusions and some of the trainers are using the manuals and what is more are able to identify a well-written one from one that is not. Remembering that many of the trainers have just basic schooling, I wonder if what I am seeing is that they are getting more used to using manuals.

I praise the trainers for their facilitation, for how they incorporate the new cooking skills and techniques into the training and for using labelled rice bags representing the three food groups.

I suggest that the trainers identify a couple more interactive nutrition exercises for the classroom work, maybe some pictures of the appropriate size of staple food for different ages and collect more colour photos of food used in the area to add to their collection. They agree with me that they could cover the same material in two days rather than 3 or 4. I concur that the manual needs work but as they are doing a good job with the training at present, think it can be postponed for now.

Photos: rice bags used for identifying food group; laminated food photos; pumpkin put on top of matoke; more greens added; covering with banana leaves for steaming.


Friday, June 17, 2011

More from Mpigi Marsh

Mpigi marsh is magical and not just because of the shoebills. There is plenty more to see. I am sure you want to see more of the marsh. There are lots of birds moving around the marsh, settling on the papyrus or taking up residency in a tree. The pelican is especially majestic as she floats around taking lunch.
Then I also have some more of the Shoebill as she flaps her wings to take flight. She looks a bit like the dinosaur she is, as she mobilizes all her energy and intention to take flight. A flurry of effort and determination after hours patiently and silently watching for eels moving slowly among the reed on the marsh bottom.
Here is a closeup of the eel, so enjoyed by the Shoebill. The eel is lying in the middle of bottom of the dugout. We didn't realize it was not a fish until the fellows hauled it up to show us that it had no gills and looked more like a snake than a fish. I suspect the presence of the eels is one of the main reasons for this grouping of Shoebills in the Mpigi Marsh.
The people of Mpigi Marsh are hardworking, frugal and resourceful. They have to be. The repairs on this dugout are a testament to all three qualities, showing how they use plastic jerry cans to repair their canoes.
Life is also hard. The morning we spent with them in the Marsh, we found them at a communal dinner, part of the funeral for a young child who died from malaria, a scourge of this swampy area, but something that can be prevented with bednets and access to early treatment. It isn't an easy life, for people or for shoebills. Many of the "fisherfolk" are children, likely bringin in extra food and extra cash for their family.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Community Facilitation CE Launched

Our trainers are drawn from local health centers in SW Uganda. Many of them are the only health worker at the Health Center II or III level. The majority are nursing assistants with three months of formal training. Often they have been stationed in the same place for more than ten years.

Our training, first in child health and more recently in community development, has given them additional health information, more confidence and provided motivation as well as social stimulation. They also appreciate the certificate of attendance we provide at the Training of Trainers courses.

For several years they have been asking if they could receive more formal recognition for their training from the university, which would mean for us to make the training a regular continuing education course. After much to and fro with the university, including development of a detailed curriculum, course description, outline, objectives etc. our training has been accepted as a Continuing Education course, perhaps the first to be provided at Mbarara University of Science and Technology.

The first Training of Trainers course was provided during my recent visit and included a number of university faculty as well as our field-based facilitators. Now with our trainers prepared to provide a university continuing education course, we have offered the first Continuing Education course in Community Facilitation facilitated by three of our own trainers.

Much to my surprise we had ten applicants sign up for the course, all of them university graduates and willing to pay for it. By the second day several more people, who had heard about the course from their friends who were attending, came to say this was exactly what they needed and they wanted to join us. We are now hearing from others eagerly inquiring as to when our next course will be held. The trainees come from local and international NGOs, faith-based institutions and recent graduates from developement studies. I am amazed how, with minimal advertisement there are so many people interested. The trainees are exceedingly enthusiastic, so already a second course is being organized for later in the year.

During the first week of classes, which were held in the Red Cross offices, a number of students visiting the Red Cross from a college in Kampala as part of the field work of an adult learning course, ask if they can sit in. It seems they get the theory of adult learning but not the coaching or practical skills needed to put it in practice. Looks like this could be a growth industry here.

The facilitators for this first certificate course, could not be better. Bernadette, Charles, Theresa and Clotilde are sensitive and supportive to participants, providing just the right amount of encouragement and direction, giving helpful feedback and jumping in when needed. Each of them has selected specific new skills they want to develop themselves and new sessions they want to try out. I think I have produced facilitators who are not only superb but who are better at this than I am.

Photos: Consulting with Charles; Food groups with Bernadette; Problem Tree for Domestic Violence; circle counselling; Richard creates his own flannel pictures.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shoebills in Mpigi Marsh

We are out the door at 7:30 am Sunday, a thermos of tea, hats and sunblock in hand. We have warm shirts because the day is still cool and its looks like it is going to rain. We head south from Kampala on the main highway to Mpigi on the lookout for a sign indicating St. George's School. Schools in Uganda are better marked than cities or highways.

Traffic in Kampala, usually clogged with vehicles, is light at this hour. as we head out to see one of the remaining groups of Shoebills in Uganda. Shoebills, also known as Whale-headed storks, are found in Sudan mainly but there are two groups in Uganda, one group of seven in Mpigi Marsh and another group of about the same size in Murchison Falls.

The Shoebill looks a bit like a dinosaur would if it were a medium-sized bird. The cover of Brandt's Uganda travel book provided my first exposure to them. Since then I have taken a photo of a shoebill through the chain link fence at Entebbe Zoo so it would not appear to be in captivity. Now I am going to have the chance to see it in the wild.

We have a cell phone number for a guide called Hannington and have let him know we are on our way. Mpigi exits are spread out along the Kampala-Masaka Road for miles so we have been told to keep an eye out for the sign for St. George's School. We reach one large crossroad with numerous signs-- for St. Joseph's, St. Henry's Girls, St. Theresa and St. James, but no St. George's. We call Hannington on the cell phone. He tells us to keep going. The rain is starting to pelt down. We drive about 10 km further south. Now when we contact Hannington he tells us we have gone too far.

The rain is coming down fast and furious. Abby, our driver, is beginning to think it is not such a great day to be out in an open canoe in Mpigi Marsh. I am still hopeful as rain in Uganda usually clears up quickly bringing the sun, but I can see her point, especially given the trouble we are having locating the turnoff and Hannington.

We turn back along the highway, still no St. George's. Another U turn and just as we are about to give up in exasperation, we return to the original crossroad with multiple signs, locating Hannington in a red shirt, black pants with binoculars strung around his neck.

If our guide's name was James or Richard, we would have likely given up long ago, but the very name Hannington has us going, as we run through all we can remember about John Hannington Speke, one of the early British explorers in Uganda. At this point we are speculating that maybe Speke died going back and forth looking for the source of the Nile.

We head down a murram road, slippery from the rain, several stalled trucks skewed on the uphill slope. Hannington takes the wheel and maneuvers the vehicle around the trucks. It is at least a half hour off the main highway to the edge of the marsh, thick with papyrus, with hand-built raft in various states of disrepair littering the edge, men returning with the morning fish and hand-hewn canoes bearing motorbikes from the off shore islands. As Hannington arranges for our dugout and paddler we settle into the dugout.

The sun is coming out and beginning to dry out the area, birds are twittering, a black and white hornbill takes off over the papyrus as hand-hewn paddles.

A perfect day to be out on the marsh propelled forward with paddles shaped like heart-shaped leaves, similar in shape to those found in early drawings and photos of the Lake Victoria region. Fishermen are bringing their catch, including an eel, the preferred lunch of the shoebill. At first we don't discern between the fish and the eel so they hold it up for us to see it is more like a snake, lacks fins and has long feelers.

Two young boys are sent out to push a larger raft to the side of the narrow channel and off we go. Purple water lilies line the edges as we scoot along the water way silently, manuevering in and out. The marshy edge looks as if it goes on for miles without breaking into the open water.Not long out we come to a female shoebill standing in the marsh intently watching one spot. We sit and watch as she patiently waits, then quickly grasps an eel, bites it with the sharp end of her bill and swallows it. I can hardly see in the bright sunlight but my camera does its work and I have several lovely photos. It is a female we note from the tuft of hair at the back of her head.

Photos: Mpigi Marsh in the dugout; Shoebill on alert; Shoebill snags an eel; Shoebill waits; Pelican; African Jacana- the Jesus bird that walks on water


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Selling Snake Oil in Uganda

I took the Swift Safari bus back on Monday from Kampala to Mbarara- a 5 hour journey with capable driving. My friend's driver dropped me off at the bus park early in the morning when the bus was almost fully loaded so I only had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus to be full.

The gals in the seats beside me were negotiating for jean jackets out the window. Several jackets were passed back and forth through the open window as the bus edged closer to the bus park gate. They haggled with the vendor until the deal was concluded. The imminent departure of the bus just seemed to add spice to the bargaining as they tried each jacket on until they both had the jacket and the price they wanted at 15000 UgS., about $6. Nice looking jean jackets too and they fit.

A woman was moving back and forth in the aisle as we headed out of the bus park selling cold drinks and snacks, oblivious to concerns she might end up in the next town. Outside people were buying maize and other edibles. I had brought water and a few guavas with me so was content.

As we headed out of Kampala, a man standing in the aisle opened a briefcase stored in the rack in the middle of the bus and began loudly hawking items throughout the bus. He worked the bus for about 10 minutes, then he got off the bus at a bus stop. Quiet reigned in the bus with his departure. Some dozed. Some talked quietly. Some read newspapers. Long distance buses have been improved significantly so now you don't have to share your seat with one or two others.

About the half way point of our trip after a short pit stop in Masaka, a young fellow boarded, and as all the seats were full, he stool in the middle of the bus. After five minutes he too proceeded to open a briefcase that was strategically located in the middle of the bus. He introduced himself in a loud voice, that was heard throughout the bus, using the vernacular interspersed with English.

He began by flogging herbal soap that could treat syphilis, impotence and sadness. He kept up a continuous chatter and had people laughing and asking questions. Distributing bars of blue soap, he invited people to smell it, continuing to extol its virtues. He followed up with blue, scented candles said to reveal the secrets under your bed.

"What don't you know that you should know about?” he asked.

Of course we could all think of many things and again the laughter and chatter broke out. Candles were passed over the tops of seats for people to hold and soon bills were coming back to him. After a surprising large number of people had purchased these blue, tell-all-the secrets, candles, he moved on to a very special cream to get rid of hookworm.

"Just rub it on your belly," he invited everyone. People clamoured for them. Transactions were made. He was clearly entertaining. He also hollered the whole time and spent much of the time right beside me.

As the only mzungu, (white person) on board, I felt I had to keep quiet but I wanted desperately to challenge him and even to throw him off.

But for pure entertainment, I hadn't seen such a show since as a kid I had attended the local circus and heard the carney's spiel about the bearded woman and 3-headed calf. It certainly takes you back.

Photos: Views from the Window: Selecting the best roasted maize; Crested Crane Pair grazing.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Matter of Faith

At first you don't notice them. They move in small bands, rarely more than 6 or 8, on the wrong side of the road. The roads in Africa are lined by pedestrians moving to and fro, but these walkers along Mbarara-Kampala highway are making the annual pilgrimage to Namagongo Church in Kampala, the site of the Uganda Martyrs
Pilgrims come from across Uganda and even beyond the borders. Groups stream along the roads from Gulu, Soroti and Arua in the north; from Kisoro, Mbarara and Masaka in the south; from Kasese, Fort Portal and Masindi in the West and Mbale, Jinja and Tororo in the East. This year groups from Sudan have been dropped inside the borders to begin their pilgrimage while Tanzanian groups move their way up from Bukoba.
They come with their requests, prayers, intercessions and hopes, seeking absolution and bringing their gratitude.
Most groups cover about 40 km. a day.They travel lightly over the land--a rag- tag group bearing small plastic bags glimpsed from the vehicle as we pass. Babies still on the breast, youth with their exuberance, a 73 year old woman coming all the way from Kabale, about 400 km. to the south who started off a month early because she knew she would need frequent rest stops.
The pilgrimage looks on the surface haphazard. If you aren't paying attention you might not even notice it. We are speeding by on the road for an hour or more before I notice them. Only when I recall that it is getting close to June 3 does it dawn on me that these are the Uganda Martyr Pilgrims.
There are no hiking boots, or fancy, over-stuffed backpacks, no signposts along the way or special way side stops. There are few hats and only one umbrella. Everyone carries some sort of sack or bag with many of them slung over the shoulder as Huckleberry Finn might do. No refreshment stops or sculptures adorn the route. I spot one wooden cross and a small banner carried by the Mbarara group. This pilgrimage bears little resemblance to the popular Spanish pilgrimage of Camino del Santiago! But if anything, it is even more touching in its simplicity.
Behind the scenes each group has a daily route between two churches where they will be fed and provided with somewhere to sleep. Churches are kept informed of the progress of the pilgrims by Radio Maria, the Catholic station. In the noonday heat, here at the equator, groups often pause along the way. Each year when they arrive at Namagongo Church a different diocese is responsible for hosting them. Last year it was the Karamajong Diocese, and I am told the entertainment and dancing were fabulous. It is almost impossible if you don't have a special invite to get even close to the church on June 3rd.
In many ways this pilgrimage reminds me of the pilgrimage held each year in northern Alberta at Lac Ste. Anne which draws aboriginal people from many tribes and from as far away as BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, NWT and Ontario. From hundreds and even thousands of miles, many aboriginal groups including the Cree, Blackfoot, Dene, Sioux and Metis peoples have gathered for spiritual renewal and social and cultural rejuvenation at the end of July.
Although I worked up North with aboriginal people for many years, I only stumbled across Lac. St. Anne pilgrimage on a canoe trip on the Clearwater River years ago. Relatively unknown in the rest of Canada, Lac Ste. Anne is an important traditional summer gathering that almost certainly predates contact. It has been recently designated a National Historic site in Canada hosting more than 30,000 each year for the annual pilgrimage.
People don't talk about it a lot and don't seem to spend a lot of time planning, but whole families make their way to the site every year. Lac Ste. Anne for me captures the same sense as the Ugandan Martyrs pilgrimage. It is about a people's focus on what is truly essential, on their spiritual center. As they said on the TV here, it is a matter of faith

Photos: Uganda Martyr Pilgrims on Mbarara Kampala highway


Pair-Wise Ranking

We began introducing community development ideas and exercises into our child health project fairly early. In the beginning, our funding was short term. In order to continue, when funding came to an end, our volunteers had to be prepared for even their meager transport allowances (one dollar) to enable them to attend monthly meetings, to come to an end. Our volunteers thought because international partners were involved, that funding was limitless.
To explain sustainability and dependency we introduced picture codes: one based on Teach a Man to Fish, the other an adaptation of the Pit of Ignorance. The exercises and discussions that followed proved useful, even illuminating for the volunteers. A sense of commitment and a greater understanding of the importance of their role in improving health in their communities took root.
The change in attitude was most noticeable when our original volunteers were incorporated into the larger groups of volunteers being established by the Ministry of Health in Uganda as Village Health Volunteers (VHV). When VHVs began asking for allowances, gum boots and umbrellas, it was our original community volunteers, not the government or project staff who would explain to the new recruits the importance of sustainability and volunteerism. To sustain themselves many of the groups began income generating activities (IGA) and "cash rounds" to pool the small money they had to enable them to start IGA as a group.
As volunteers started income generating projects, additional sessions on community development were introduced. Finally, last year we had enough interactive exercises that had been adapted and piloted that I began to compile a manual and short workshops for both trainers and village volunteers.
Training of Trainer workshops in community development were done with our senior trainers last November as well as the first two pilot workshops with our village volunteers in development we could identify and iron out the difficulties. They were enormously successful, even more so than our child health training. Now with a small grant from a UK organization, groups of our trainers are taking the community development workshops to all the VHV teams in Kinoni sub-district.
I have been able to watch them in action. I miss the fine points of discussion without an interpreter but am able to follow the facilitation skills they are using and the flow of the sessions. One of my greatest delights happened in Ryaminyonga, one of our most remote communities this past week.
Kevin was training of group of 37 VHVs with three other trainers. Kevin had attempted a Pair Wise Ranking exercise at the TOT which hadn't worked. As a result, I was thinking of letting the exercise drop completely and hadn't used it since that time. When I saw it on the timetable at Ryaminyonga, I was a tad worried. I wasn't sure why it hadn't worked and hadn't been able to figure out what we needed to change in order to make it work. It had been a new idea to everyone and somewhat complicated.
Then I watched in amazement as Kevin, who had organized all the bits and pieces that are part of Pairwise Ranking, execute it flawlessly with a colleague assisting him. I was beside myself. A little more preparation and presto, it worked.
But an even better aspect to the exercise was that Kevin was ranking the six items the VHVs had identified as their prime motivation for volunteering. The items included: T-shirts, allowances, confidence, training, improvement in child health in their village and community respect. For his example he used one volunteer from the community. For this volunteer, training and confidence scored highest with 4 each; child health improvement and respect were next, with 3 each; T-shirt only 1 and allowance scored 0. Training, of course, is the what produces the confidence, the child health improvement and the community respect so I was doubly thrilled.
A shot indicating that training scores highest, of course, makes for a good photo! Another challenge for me is to convince the trainers of the importance of having our visual aids written in the local language, and not just translated verbally by them at the time, as few of our volunteers are proficient in English. But that is for another time, today I am still savouring the thrill of having seen Pair Wise Ranking done perfectly.
Photos: Keneth does Pair wise ranking; Ryaminyonga VHVs, Oscar facilitating; Training wins!


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