Tribalism in Africa remains a huge obstacle to democratic progress in the region. Unfortunately, the battle for political reform is not won simply with the emergence of democratic institutions and processes. Although more and more political leaders are being elected to their offices, they are relying on tribal allegiance rather than effective platforms to do so. Elections are being won by the candidates who can buy the support of foreign leaders and who forge the most strategic tribal alliances.
It is going to take educated voters who understand the complexities of the issues they face and who form educated opinions on how those issues can best be resolved in order to address this issue. They are going to have to demand that political parties and leaders create and adhere to coherent and progressive manifestos. Currently, based on research conducted by US-based Atlantic International University, about 56% of Kenyans were unaware that their parties even had a manifesto.
Non-profits need to not only strive the institution of democratic elections, but also help establish a system where women and the rural, uneducated populations are empowered to not only vote, but to vote for genuine, viable candidates. In the end, it is the general public who hold the majority and they therefore hold the true power to change the systems in place that are currently deceiving and oppressing them. Africans themselves need to be encouraged and supported in leading their own movements demanding that the common goals of all citizens of the region be used for unification, rather than passively allowing visual and inconsequential differences to divide them.
Despite the many successful efforts of organizations and volunteers, millions of Ugandan people still lack access to clean and safe drinking water today. Even if citizens have access to water, if it is contaminated or poorly sanitized, it can have an adverse effect on the health of Uganda’s population. The lack of clean and safe drinking water directly and negatively influences quality of life, food security, social and economic development, and efforts to eliminate poverty. The necessity of providing Third World countries and their rural inhabitants with clean and safe drinking water is internationally recognized.
International organizations have made efforts to aid clean water initiatives in developing countries. For example, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation, leading to the World Bank’s increased financial assistance to developing countries for water supply and sanitation improvements. In 2010, the UN’s Millennium Development Goal was to cut in half the number of people in the world without sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water and basic sanitation. In 2012, the UN announced that the Millennium Development Goal had been met on a global scale. However, Sub-Saharan Africa was behind the international average of clean water improvements (including Uganda). The global target was met, but while 90% of the populations in most all other developing regions now have access to clean water supplies, only 61% of the Sub-Saharan population currently does. Almost half of the people in the world who lack clean and safe water live in Sub-Saharan areas.
The current situation in Uganda requires not an international or a regional initiative, but a national initiative to develop rural drinking water monitoring and surveillance. Since the countries in Africa all experience varying climates, geology, government policies, poverty levels, education levels, land use policies, etc., it is important for the Ugandan government and community to be fully engaged in planning and implementing clean water programs that will prove successful in their specific territory. This will require the help of both the Ugandan government and non-governmental organizations for funding, planning, installation, and sustainability. Small steps are already being taken, including the October 8th, 2012 inauguration of the Bujagali Hydropower Plant by Ugandan President Museveni, which improves socio-economic conditions, including clean water supply.
Thanksgiving is approaching fast, and it will mark the beginning of yet another holiday season. In today’s world, this season sparks two big phenomena: a nation-wide reflection on the appreciation and gratitude we feel for the blessings in our lives and, simultaneously, a consumerist dash, perpetuated by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to buy the best and newest items for our loved ones.
As a result, many complain that the spirit of gratitude is being lost in the materialistic commercialization of the season. They argue the true meaning of the season is being overshadowed by greed. A new initiative called Giving Tuesday, though, proves that these sentiments don’t need to conflict and compete. Rather, it reconciles them by encouraging everyone to use their purchasing power as an expression of their gratitude.
Consumerism, though it may carry a bad reputation, is undeniably an integral part of American culture. It spurs the economy, encourages invention and innovation, and has raised the national standard of living. So, instead of shaking our heads at the inevitable commercialization of the holiday season, let’s embrace it and use it for good. Let’s continue to buy our children, spouses, friends, and loved ones gifts to remind them that we care. However, let’s also help those who suffer around the world and right next door to us by helping them gain access to acceptable education, food, safe drinking water, health care, or any of the other amazing things that the Giving Tuesday partners support.
This year, Giving Tuesday will fall on November 27, the day after Cyber Monday. It will be a day for charities, families, businesses and individuals to come together to transform the way we participate in the giving season. Giving Tuesday encourages everyone to find their own way to give, whether it is through donation, service, corporate sponsorship, or by simply spreading the word. This national effort aims to collectively create ways to “give more, give better, and give smarter”. Visit the website (givingtuesday.org) to get more information on ways to get involved and make a true difference this holiday season.
This year, let’s take the holiday season to the next level. Let’s dig deep and really reflect on our blessings, but let’s also remember those who do not benefit from those same blessings. With the dollars and cents saved from our daring Black Friday excursions and our Cyber Monday purchases, let’s donate and use our privilege to make the desperate dreams of those less fortunate a reality. America represents many things around the world; let Giving Tuesday add generosity to that list.
Uganda’s ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom) model of HIV/AIDS prevention was once upheld as a model in the region. Today, despite massive efforts to decrease HIV prevalence in the country, Uganda is now experiencing “troubling trends of increasing prevalence and incidence” of HIV, according to an article in The New Vision entitled “Uganda’s AIDS response moving in reverse.”
Uganda is currently the only African country reporting an increase in HIV prevalence, although it is receiving much aid from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Other countries receiving assistance from PEPFAR consistently report decreasing HIV prevalence rates.
What are some possible causes of this increase of HIV in Uganda?
In light of recent elections, discussion of the national budget in Uganda has reached the forefront of public debate and news coverage.
Members of Parliament are threatening to block the approval of the current budget proposal until provisions are made to address heightened concern over funding within the health sector. Current issues including high mortality rates associated with childbirth, insufficient supply of health workers and medicine, high incidence of HIV, substandard family planning, and abortion are all cited as areas in which an increase in government funding will make enormous positive change. The health budget in Uganda makes up only 8% of the entire national budget. In the case of funding for HIV programs, individual donors contribute about twice as much as the government does. Experts are projecting that if Uganda were to dedicate the target amount of funding as set by the African Union in the Abuja Declaration, 15% of the national budget, to the health sector, simple educational programs about family planning and HIV transmission along with improved medical training will allow the nation to take huge strides.
Abortion remains to be a topic of huge contention as moral arguments meet arguments of economic practicality. On one side, those who support the condemnation of abortion as immoral and as a form of murder believe that abortion should remain illegal. Increasingly, though, doctors and politicians are arguing that by legalizing abortion, a lot of money would be saved by eliminating the costs associated with the huge number of unsafe and home abortions that are being done behind closed doors. Many women are either dying or suffering from severe and chronic health issues as a result of unsafe abortions that in the long run require specialist care and high utilization of health resources. If the government chose to legalize abortion they could potentially recover some of these costs and redirect them elsewhere in the health sector. The discussion about abortion in Uganda is far from settled, but whichever side wins, the outcome will have a vast impact on the future of the healthcare system.
The prospect of implementing national examinations in both Uganda’s primary and secondary schools has also generated a great deal of debate. Education experts are proposing that the Uganda National Examinations Board, or UNEB, set uniform examinations to be taken nation-wide, not just at the university level, but starting with primary schools. These exams would promise a more subjective and consistent way of measuring academic performance and progress across Uganda, and while the necessary initial investment for these exams is high, it could be the first step of many towards providing youth with a proper education.
Many politicians and citizens in Uganda continue to push for education and healthcare reform despite the high cost it would incur because of the immeasurable value a healthy and educated population can add to the prosperity of a nation.
After the greeting, our hosts, Santina and Santa, brought us for a tour of the Acholi Quarter. The homes are built one on top of another; it’s hard to know the front from the back. The hops and slopes that make up the dusty and hilly terrain can be treacherous. As we watch our step and try to keep up with Santina and Santa, children appear out of every nook and cranny crying out “Mzungu!” for white person. We pass home after home with people of all ages sitting in the doorways – rolling beads, cooking, hanging out clothes to dry, playing games. I realized that some huts were actually businesses: shops selling soda, airtime, and staple foods, tailoring shops, hairdressing salons, and even little restaurants or pubs. The Acholi Quarter represents ecosystem of people trying to make a living for themselves in the small plots they call home. It’s small, dusty, and seemingly impossible to navigate, but to many it’s a life they are forced to live, with many children knowing nothing else. The Acholi share this slum outside of Kampala because they are also united in their dark history. The Acholi are not native to Kampala, but rather were forced to flea their native lands in the North during the war. After our tour, we returned to the PHH Headquarters where the women took turns telling us how they came to live in the Acholi Quarter and how PHH has changed their life for the better. To read some of the stories we heard, visit the women’s profiles section of the website.
The greeting we received in the Acholi Quarter was nothing like we could have expected. Still finding our feet after our first boda boda ride, (an experience on its own) we realized that there was a group of women waiting for us. Upon our arrival, they burst into song and we marched up the path to the PHH Headquarters. One by one, children quickly joined our “parade” and grabbed on to our hands. We have a new name now, “Mzungu.” We entered the PHH Headquarters where the women welcomed us with song and dance. We tried to join in drumming and dancing, but realized that we don’t have the moves. Even with our lack of rhythm, they were so happy to have us there, and we just hope that we can leave a lasting impression.
When we got back to the Community Centre following our tour around the Acholi Quarter, we were very hot. It is considered Winter over there but for us the heat, along with the terrain, was challenging. We were glad to get the respite of the Community Centre where we next sat and listened to a small group of the women tell us their stories of how they came to be in the Quarter. We had heard many of these stories already or had read the women’s profiles on the website.. Hearing these stories from the people who lived was a far different experience. They were harrowing, heart-wrenching stories of lost loved ones, livelihoods destroyed, and their migration south in search of respite from the heat of war.
We ate a lunch lovingly prepared for us by some of the women in the Quarter and consisting of all of the local delicacies. Thankfully they had knives and forks for us as they all ate with their hands. Having spent a full day travelling and going straight to the Quarter coupled with the heat, we were incredibly tired at this stage. We had seen a snapshot of life in the Quarter and been acquainted with the women and children we would be working with over the coming days, and while they were very much ready to continue into the evening, we were not. Thankfully we slept through to the next morning and were well rested and ready to help in any way we could the next day.
In March, Project Have Hope brought a group of volunteers to the Acholi Quarter. Among the volunteers was Katie Kaizer, a photographer based in Nantucket. She volunteered her skills and talents and captured some truly breath-taking photos. Here is a small selection of her great work.
The June issue of N Magazine featured some of Katie's work. To read the article and see even more great photos, go to: http://www.n-magazine.com/arts-entertainment/africa-through-an-islanders-eyes/
The first morning I entered the ward for child cancer patients, all eyes turned towards me. Apprehensive. Curious. Unsure. The doctors definitely weren’t keen of my presence. It seemed that I was expected to walk in, snap some pictures of sick children, the most grotesque wounds most eagerly directed to me. But instead of snapping photos, I huddled in the corner near the doorway leading outside, and watched. And smiled. Shyly. And weakly nodded my greetings to wide eyes. Among me were fighters. Courageous fighters in the battle against cancer. Children too young to suffer such horrendous conditions, silently suffered. Swollen hands from permanent IV tubes, sad eyes and gentle smiles. Equally courageous, their caregivers – mostly parents, mothers primarily, and sisters.
Unlike hospital wards in the US where each room only has one or two beds, dozens of beds and cribs were crammed into a single room. There were no nurses to care for the children, to bathe them, to feed them. Those jobs fall upon the caregivers. With limited funds, simply providing treatment is a struggle for UCCF and the families with sick children themselves. Families struggle to simply find enough money for transport to bring their devastatingly sick child to UCCF and then they face the continued challenge of paying for medicine, food and other basic needs. UCCF tries to fill the gaps, but the gaps are just too big.
Most children don’t receive a proper diagnosis until the cancer is in an advanced state, often identified by large, inoperable tumors. When a child initially becomes sick, malaria is too often considered the culprit. In a society that has limited access to reputable healthcare and even less knowledge of cancer, it makes sense that the disease goes undetected.
Together, these children and their caregivers fight the battle for survival. Sadly, too many lose that battle.
One afternoon, I arrive to greet some of my new friends. I notice one bed is empty. The bed that Rose, cared for by her sister, Harriet, slept in. I remembered Rose well. That first morning I entered the ward, my heart lurched as a nurse assisted Rose onto a scale. Frail, an understatement. Brittle. Fragile. How her thin legs were able to bear the weight of her swollen belly mesmerized me. Her sister, Harriet, had sat by her side.
Early that morning, Rose had died. Bittersweet. At least her suffering was over. Now, hours later, Rose’s body lay on a bed outside the entrance to the ward with a sheet protecting and comforting her. And Harriet wandered around the compound looking for money for transport, the equivalent of about $10, to bring Rose’s body home. Ten dollars. Just another indignity suffered by these courageous fighters.
On my last day before leaving Uganda, I brought photos of the children to distribute as a gesture of my appreciation for their willingness to open their hearts and their sorrow to me. It reminded me of my first trip to Uganda back in 2006. I had only been photographing in the Acholi Quarter for about a week when one Saturday morning I came to greet my “surrogate” mother, Esther. As I approached her house, I knew something was terribly wrong. Dozens of shoes were on her doorstep. I slipped mine off and added them to the mass. Inside a tiny body lay on a woven mat, wrapped in a sheet. Women sat quietly, tearfully murmuring. This was Esther’s grandson. 4 years old. A victim of malaria.
I sat with the women silently for some time. Soon a tiny coffin appeared. The photojournalist inside of me could no longer be stilled. I was in Uganda, in the Acholi Quarter to tell a story. Their story. Their story of struggle and survival. This was part of their story. I finally worked up the courage to ask Esther if I could take a photograph. She was silent. In the extended silence, my heart pounded so loudly I thought the walls were vibrating. Here I was, a visitor, a guest, asking to photograph the unexpected death of a child. New to the community, but trying to create a strong enough bond which would enable me to tell their stories. Had I just ruined this newlywed relationship?
Finally Esther looked up at me and broke the silence. Directly and clearly she spoke. “Will you bring me back a copy of the photograph?” I paused in disbelief. In the US we have albums and framed photos chronicling our lives. It never occurred to me that someone might die and there would never remain a photo to immortalize a life. I nodded, assuringly.
So now, here I am at UCCF saying farewells, knowing most of these children will die before I return and they will be replaced with more children who will also likely die, and will most definitely suffer. So these photos, these will be the reminder to the family of all the Roses. As I give them out, there are two children I can’t find. I go to their beds. Empty. I show the photos to others, seeking their assistance. But they are no longer there. They have both died. In just 4 days, 3 of these children have died. I keep passing the photos around, “But what were their names?”
This is my humble effort to give life to the nameless faces.
Today, April 30, is the last day of the GlobalGiving Open Challenge.
Acen Jacinta, a Project Have Hope member, will attend tailoring school with the funds raised in the April Challenge.
Greetings from Uganda. We are in the first week of March and here with volunteers Mandy Darnell, Emma Sabella, Katie Kaizer and Heidi Jarvis who are here from the United States.
Wednesday morning, my last day here. I get up bright and early and am in the Quarter by 6:30 to make the most of the unfolding morning light on one of the few rain-free mornings.