We arrived safely in Entebbe, Uganda on May 17th. The two days of travel were tiring but Dr. Laura, Jerome, and myself were excited to arrive. After stepping off the plane I was instantly welcomed back to Africa with the familiar scents of fresh humid air, earth, and a hint of burning garbage. Due to lost luggage we had to spend a couple extra days in Entebbe. We met with Scott Hitchings, a former U of S political studies student. He will be helping with the group dynamic and micro finance portion of our project. The first few days were spent orienting ourselves to the culture, arranging cell phones, organizing supplies, and adjusting from jet lag. We left Entebbe to Mbarara on the 20th after picking up luggage from the airport. The drive from Entebbe, through the capital city Kampala, and on ways to Mbarara quickly brought me back to the reality of driving in Africa. Speeding buses, enormous potholes, jay-walking goats and many, many people made for a stressful drive.
We arrived into Mbarara in the early evening and were welcomed at the office by the FAOC staff and a magnificent feast. It was great to finally meet the people I have heard so much about from Laura in the past few years. The staff was extremely welcoming which made us eager to start work the next day. The past week has been spent in meetings, reading, and setting up our new lab. We have made it into some of the villages to interview our beneficiaries and health check some goats for purchase. The program has expanded to service over 20 villages and hundreds of beneficiaries so we have our work cut out for us. The village visits are always my favorite. Mbarara is a decent sized town that is swarming with people, animals and boda-boda (motorbike) taxis. The lush green and peaceful country side is always a welcome escape.
The week took an unexpected turn when we were called out to a village by a staff member to check on a sick child. The child belonged to one of our beneficiaries. His mother had been sick for over two years so he had been left in the care of his aunt. The aunt has six other children to care for so she would often have to leave for days at a time in order to produce enough money to feed the children. Due to this, the child (Brian) had been neglected and severely malnourished. He appeared to be no older than 6 months of age, but was in fact closer to three years. He could not walk, talk, and was severely emaciated. This is a harsh reality for many children where resources are spread so thin. Protein malnutrition has distended his stomach and left him severely underdeveloped both physically and mentally. Unintentional neglect has left him severely depressed and unable to smile. The aunt had been working tirelessly to be able to afford transportation into Mbarara to seek health care. After tracking her down in the field, we drove her and Brian into Mbarara hospital to seek care. A blood count revealed a severely weakened immune system which likely indicates a positive HIV status. Brian and his aunt will be staying at the hospital for one week while he receives treatment. It is unfortunate that even if he responds to treatment his current living situation will make it impossible for him to recover. We are currently seeking other solutions but it can be difficult to intervene if the family is unwilling. I will be checking on him this weekend, hoping to see an improvement and hoping to see a smile.
While difficult, this experience has made me realize the importance of my work this summer and the potential impact we can have. Talking with beneficiaries whose lives have been greatly improved by the project is very uplifting. Even though their lives consist of struggles which are foreign to most back home, their positive attitude and strong worth ethic is always inspiring. I am excited to get the project in full swing. We will be visiting farmers this week, ensuring they are ready to receive a goat, and also visiting farms for pre-purchase exams. On Sunday will be building a new goat pen at our demonstration farm which will be a good chance to get my hands dirty and appreciate the amount of work that is needed to construct one. We have a great team and I am expecting great things from this summer.
All the best,