A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Women and Development

Today I went out into the deep village in Kumi District with my friend Amy. One of her teacher's wanted her to go to his home village and check in on a woman's group who is involved in a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). VSLA's are a micro-finance group at the very root of grassroots. In this case, it is a group of women in a village who save money together and take loans from the money they save together. They gain interest and are able to make a profit after 9 - 12 months. Throughout the time together, they are also able to pick projects they want to use the money for. These women take turns every 2 weeks using the project money fund to buy dishes for their houses. They want to have enough dishes so that they do not need to eat in shifts with their families or when they have visitors. I think VSLA's are the best savings and loans option in the world!

While meeting with these women, and really for some time now, I've been contemplating the role of empowered women, specifically those in Uganda. When reading the newspaper or watching the evening news, there is always mention of some woman who is being honored for her entrepreneurship skills, her courageous fight to end stigmas against those with HIV/AIDS or her role in community development through local government. Uganda talks a lot about empowering their women and sings their praises in the media. Yet, with all the empowered women I know and hear about what are they really capable of doing in a male dominated country? The most empowered woman cannot really succeed when everything is controlled by men. The men control not only politically but also, most importantly, socially/culturally. How do you transcend that?

This post may seem strange after having just participated in a Girl's Empowerment weekend. I do believe in Girl's Empowerment and think it is very important to continue working on empowering the girls and women of Uganda and the World. However, I also think more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching and empowering men to be men. It is hard to know what the balance is of using culture to shape people in a positive direction and telling them their culture is damaging their country and needs to be changed. Where is the balance?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mwereerwe Secondary Girl's Empowerment Weekend

This weekend I went to the village Mwereerwe where my dear friend Lizzie teaches secondary Math and Physics. She put on a Girl's Empowerment weekend for all the female students in her school. Fellow PCV's Christine, Mandy, and Celeste also came. We each took a different topic and worked with the girls over the weekend. Christine taught the girls how to make paper beads so that they can adorn themselves but also as a way to create income. Mandy covered self-esteem, Celeste helped students make goals for their immediate and long-term lives, I taught the girls self-defense, and Lizzie tried to dispel HIV/AIDS myths and give out truthful facts regarding sex and this devastating disease that is growing world-wide.

The girls were so excited and happy to have us there. They asked some thoughtful questions, made some beautiful beads, affirmed each other, and gained some practical ways to keep themselves safe and defend themselves if need be.

Flower Garden

A few weeks ago I finally got around to planting a flower garden around my house. I had planted the seeds months ago and grown the flowers in basins until I was ready to plant them in the soil. I arranged them around the front and side of my house and was happy with the way it looked. I have a small herb garden on the side of my house too. Over the last week, several teacher's have come over and thanked me for beautifying my house. But they always give me strange looks when they look at my plants. Finally one of them told me that I had planted rabbit food. All my flowers are weeds, according to them. I tested this one theory out on other Ugandans who would stop by. I asked if they thought my flowers were weeds or rabbit food. Sure enough they all think my flower garden is weeds and only fit for rabbit food. I told them that in America we call these flowers sunflowers, chrysanthemums, daisies, and portulacas but they do not believe me.

Another problem I have with this flower garden is that it used to be a path for people to walk along. They don't like taking the extra step out to not step in my flowers and so I continually find footprints in the soil. I came home from being away and even found a small pair of unmatched flip flops which I know belong to my sweet little friend Francie. No one likes to be inconvenienced do they?

Primary Leaving Exam

Last week was the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) for all P7's in Uganda. All these students, country wide, took the same test, started at the same time, ended at the same time, and had to have their exams sent in at the same time. It was a big stress. This exam determines what kind of a secondary school the students can get into. Secondary education is just starting to be covered under Universal Secondary Education meaning secondary education is open and free to all. Currently, USE is open to S1 – S3. If students do well on the PLE they have a chance of going to a good secondary school and them maybe University. However, if they do poorly on the PLE they will either go to a bad secondary school or stop their educational career here. A lot of pressure is put on these students at the age of 13.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Skills

This is from an e-mail I wrote a friend earlier.

I attended a Life Skills Workshop last week. It was a mix of Ugandans and PCV's. It is so interesting to see the differences in knowledge and opinions between American's and Ugandans. We talked about the spread of HIV/AIDS, Stigma & Discrimination, Peer Pressure, Self Esteem, Goal Setting, Assertiveness, Gender Roles, Culture, Sex Education, etc. There are so many myths out there and cultural taboo's that we got into heated discussions. These are the things I have learned from the Ugandans:

- If you wash yourself in Coca Cola immediately after sex, you won't get HIV/AIDS.
- You can't produce (become pregnant or impregnant anyone) if you ever masturbate.
- You can get HIV/AIDS from being bewitched.
- Women can't climb trees.
- Only men can ask for sex
- African men have a greater sex drive than any other men in the world

As you can see, we have much work to do here. But it is hard because they think we are inflicting American ideas on them and not simply wanting them to know the biological/scientific facts and also the importance of sensitization so that people can make informed decisions regarding their health and behavior. They are tricky topics.

Daniel, the Ugandan I brought to the conference, asked me to teach him how to put on a condom. Very awkward to say the least. He is also one of the more vocal Ugandan's at this conference and has no qualms with asking any question. He wanted to know, "exactly what is masturbation? Practically." He also told everyone when we were discussing the gender roles that men are more intelligent than women. It's a fact.

And so my job continues. Oh Uganda, may God uphold thee...

Rock Star Party!

This is a picture of Evanescence, Regina Spektor, some British 80's punk boy band member, and Mary from Peter, Paul, and Mary.

During a week long conference on Life Skills, we PCV's had a little costume party to celebrate being together, Miranda's birthday, and Halloween. It was a themed party titled, "Rock Star." From this picture you get a glimpse into the wide range of rock stars that chose to attend the party.

Also, thanks to our friends and family back home, we were able to share our precious supplies of candy and gorge ourselves throughout the night. Thanks mom for the leaf table setting. We put it on a table and spread our candy on top. Oh, and the candy corn was a hit:)