Monday, July 18, 2011

This is how we do it

                Meeting Point has implemented so many programs in response to the multitude of needs expressed by its clients.  In my first weeks at MPK, I got to tour and work at most of these places.  While I think there are still more programs in the works, I’ll outline what MPK is up to right now.

                Cecilia and Paul Learning Centre:  The LC is a primary school that hosts about 300 students every day.  The ages range from the adorable 5 year olds in the nursery classes to the 15 year olds in the seventh grade.  Many of the students stay at the boarding house on the school grounds during the term.  The Ugandan school system is 3 months of class and then one month of vacation.  At the school they serve lunch every day and those students that board are also provided with breakfast and dinner.  Education is expensive by Ugandan standards and many of the students have sponsors that pay for their school fees.  I get to interview the older students to get an idea of their progress and their needs in order to help them better.  I have also started tutoring several of them in math.  The number of students that come grows each day.  I am hoping that they are coming out of an intense desire to learn rather than the novelty of being taught by a white girl but that may be a foregone conclusion.  Oh well, they are learning fractions and binomials either way J

                Vocational Training Centre:  The VTC is a way for older students, or those without an academic nature, to learn a profitable trade.  In a small cement house about 50 students learn either tailoring, leather work, or hairdressing.  The VTC has a great track record and many of the students that complete the leatherwork course and pass the exams are taken up in government contracts.  This is steady, reliable work the kind of which isn’t at all common in Uganda.  The tailoring girls are amazing in their skills as well.  To practice the designs they make them all out of paper so there are tons of paper shirts, every day dresses, and traditional wear all over the classroom.  When they finish their two year course, the students will all be given a sewing machine to help them earn a living.  The hairdressing girls are great fun.  When we were first visiting the VTC to be given the grand tour they plopped me down on a stool and began braiding my hair into the tiniest braids you can imagine.  Thankfully we had to go that day but not before they made me promise to return.  My return led to 3 hours of sitting still while 5 or 6 young women wrestled my hair into literally hundreds of braids. 

                Music, Dance, and Drama:  This group is made up mostly of students but also some adults from the community.  They write, produce, perform plays and dances that help raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the community.  Some of the younger girls have yet to realize a lost cause when they see one and are intent upon teaching me their traditional Bugandan dances.  I am pretty sure that my hips will never move like theirs but I am trying.  Every time I try they are reduced to fits of giggles which are a little embarrassing to be the subject of but at least they are laughing.

                Clinic:  Staffed by two nurses, a laboratory technician, a medicine dispensary, and a physician’s assistant, then clinic handles the medical needs of the people of area who can’t afford to go to the hospital; pretty much all of them.  All of the clinic workers are there six days a week and provide kind and comprehensive care to the community.  The clinic’s main clients are the children from the school and those children which are HIV positive.  The staff makes sure each child takes their ARV drugs daily and treat the opportunistic infections that are bound to show up because of their comprised immune systems.

                Monthly Medical Outreach:  While the clinic does great work, it isn’t accessible to potential clients that can’t travel all the way to Kampala.  The solution is to pack up and take the clinic to them.  Once a month, the staff of the clinic and the HIV testers and counselors take their show on the road and drive into the boonies to set up a clinic in the rural areas.  In a mutatu and one pickup truck we packed three large tents, lots of tables and chairs, testing equipment, a sound system, all the possible drugs we thought we’d need, and LOTS of people for a long drive out to our destination.  When we got to the host village there weren’t many people waiting for us but by the time we had everything set up there was a long line of people trying to get the medical attention they usually have to do without.  We stayed until we helped everyone, somewhere around 500 people I would estimate, with whatever complaints they came with.  After the doctors had finally seen everyone we still had to dole out the prescribed medications.  Six of us working against the failing light while everyone else packed up eventually got everyone helped.  Then it was time for a long and bumpy ride home in the jam-packed cars.  Luckily, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” was on the radio along with other classics so we got to end our day on an especially high note (haha) with a bus-wide sing along.  We worked from 5am to 9pm that day, but it was well worth it.

                Home Based Care:  Many times people with HIV/AIDS are abandoned by their families because of the stigma and misinformation that surrounds the disease.  So they have this disease, they are getting other opportunistic infections, they can’t afford their drugs, and they are alone.  This is where MPK steps in and does what I think is its most humanitarian based work.  Volunteers and staff will come to the client’s home and provide for all their needs whether it is medical care, monetary support, doing their laundry, cooking their food, cleaning their house (all of which the clients themselves are too weak to do) or just showing them love.  Sometimes the HBC workers will even live with the clients like family until they are not in need of such intensive service any longer.  All of the clients also have access to counseling care that comes monthly to their homes to see how they are doing and what needs of theirs are not being met.

                Welcome House:  The Welcome House is the orphanage run by MPK.  It is hard to pin down how many orphans are actually living there at any given point but the most consistent number is 50.  These children have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS and were without relatives to care for them, some of them are infected as well.  Now they all live, school, and play together in an example of love and caring that is beautiful to see.  The children are full of questions and really want to play so my partner and I come visit them on Saturdays when we all have free time to just enjoy each other’s company.

                HIV Testing and Counseling:  In the month of June the HTC team would go out into different communities every Wednesday and Friday.  We would test about 250 people everyday and provide counseling and support to those who tested positive.  While incidence of HIV/AIDS in Uganda was previously down it has started to rise again as of late.  The amount of people that tested positive was much lower than the rates I saw in Zimbabwe, so that is encouraging.

                Adult Literacy:  MPK realizes that education is the key behind success.  In that vein it sponsors adult literacy courses aimed not only at helping the older generation become literate but also raising the regard for education in general.

                Wakiso Farming:  As I said before, the Learning Centre provides for the nutritional needs of 300 students once a day at least.  Even on the diet of posho (a corn meal dish roughly the consistency of thick mashed potatoes) and beans, that is a lot of food every day.  This was getting too expensive very quickly so they bought a plot of farm land where they now grow a portion of the food they need and sell the rest to the markets to offset costs.

                Microloans:  They are no real ways for Ugandan people to save up money for large investments like business.  Here it is like living paycheck to paycheck, just minus the paycheck because unemployment is so high.  Many of the MPK’s clients list their annual income as less than 150,000 Ugandan shillings a year.  The current exchange rate is 2500 Ugandan shillings to 1 US dollar.  How people manage to live on 5 dollars a month is beyond me.  MPK provides microloans to business prospects and has so far seen a lot of success in the lives of people who have benefitted thanks to the support of this program.

                All these programs do great works in the community.  Even better, MPK almost exclusively employs its clients where their skills match the job description or they can learn the work.  All of the people who tend the farm at Wakiso are clients and are now earning an honest living.

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