Newsletter – Budaka update

Imagining the future – Budaka Project for Orphans and Vulnerable Children

By Dr Ellen Kraly – Project Coordinator

Eighth January 2015 was an excellent day. On this Thursday, the representatives of the six community organisations of the Budaka (Uganda) Project for Orphans and Vulnerable Children convened for a day long meeting to consider and compare their individual programs, each directed to meeting the needs of HIV orphans and vulnerable youth in the region, and to reveal their commonalities. In this gathering most effectively facilitated by Project Liaison Katooko Joyce, over 60 leaders discussed their problems and successes, and described approaches to problem solving. The long but creative day concluded with imagining shared activities and affirming common commitment to promoting the welfare of vulnerable children in their communities.

classroomindigo foundation has worked with the Budaka Project for Orphans and Vulnerable Children since 2011, providing funds to support the educational engagement of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), encourage health education concerning HIV/AIDS in schools and communities of orphans and vulnerable children, and promote the leadership and administrative capacity of the community based organisations partnering with foundation. The original partnership was forged with four community based organisations (CBO): Galimaagi AIDS and Grieving Orphans; Iki lki AIDS Community Group; Kakule AIDS and Grieving Families Association and NACOMAS, and recently has been expanded to include two additional organisations, Munaku-Kaama Community Development Initiatives and Trinity Childcare Ministries. These organisations serve well over 2,000 vulnerable youth in the region, a number which is expanding as a result of both HIV-AIDS orphanhood as well as limitations of government special services for the support of disabled children.

As indigo foundation Project Coordinator of the Budaka Project, I had the privilege of witnessing this exchange of information and generation of new ideas among the six community based organizations on this day in early in the new year. This was my second trip to Budaka, having visited in March 2014 as a visitor on behalf of indigo foundation.

This year, I arrived as ‘project coordinator,’ also a volunteer activity but with the benefit of training by my colleagues at the foundation and guidance by a mentor with several years of experience in serving as a project coordinator with other indigo foundation projects. The support of the foundation is a source of confidence and appreciation for its high standards for preparation and administration.

The four days prior to the group meeting were filled morning to night with individual meetings with each of the six CBOs, scheduled with precision, efficiency and grace by Katooko Joyce, who has served as Project Manager for for the past four years. Joy is an impressive women with a keen administrative sense of what is feasible, what is effective, and what is respectful. She moves among community leaders and within the community with the capacity to take the pulse of the people and monitor their needs.

classroom2Throughout my visits, I was impressed with the organsational and administrative savvy of my new colleagues in each of the CBOs, and was inspired by their dedication to their constituencies and the beneficiaries. Their future-sight is truly breathtaking: as they work to address the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children, they anticipate the challenges of supporting the needs and futures of adolescents, young mothers and caregivers. The leadership of the Budaka CBOs understand that they are participating in a process of social change and social and economic development within their communities. They are committed to making sure that change is moving in a positive direction for children and youth in Budaka. Education and health are their accelerators.

The individual meetings with the CBOs often began with engaging performances by youth of the organization. Business began with introductions of persons present, usually members of the CBO leadership teams and in two circumstances, members of the CBO, followed by a report by the leader, usually the chair, or the treasurer or secretary. I expressed greetings and good wishes from the leadership of indigo foundation and described my goals to build productive relationships – to become colleagues and to become friends, to learn from each organization concerning their experience before and after support from the foundation and to listen carefully to the aspirations of the leadership for the future of each organization – in the shorter run and in the longer run. Each of the individual meetings was followed by visits to projects (vocational training workshops and kitchens, goats, pigs and oxen, impressive community gardens) and homes of beneficiaries.

The children of Trinity Childcare Ministry made our morning meeting with songs (“We are happy to receive you…”) which had been customized for Australia. A second song repeated the phrase, “struggling to lead a better life,” in relationship to education. Individual children, girls, came forward during the song to relate what they wanted to be (a principal, policeman, teacher, nurse). Introductions of the members present of the nine member executive committee were followed by a clear and cogent report by Lydia, volunteer project coordinator (studying social work and psychology) on the history and perspective of Trinity.

Through their work on Sunday afternoons with children and youth (since 2000), they have come to understand that orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) need more than spiritual support but face to face issues holistic counselling that covers the socia and psychological aspects of their lives. In response they have changed their programs with children and youth by providing a place of personal contact, talk and listening, and a place for children to relax and refresh. Trinity has learned that counselling instills hope in these children, and good performance in school results; counselling helps reduce bad behavior and acting out; counselling, like scholastic materials increases self esteem. Chairperson Naomi says, “children have problems’’ – not just adults – children have problems; they come to Trinity to relax for a while, for a few minutes, to escape the abuse and poverty, often they don’t have a voice at home.”

Chairperson Michael of Kakule HIV/AIDS and Grieved AIDS Families Association (KAGA) provided his report on the history of KAGA and expressed, with pride, that KAGA was one of the original CBOs in the indigo partnership. The perspective and projects of KAGA have developed from the foundation of the provision of scholastic materials to OVC, which are essential for staying in school and for students to concentrate in their studies. With our support, members of KAGA have received training to counsel HIV+ children, and provide HCT; these volunteers continue to move from household to household to encourage HCT and positive living. In gaining experience, the organization has come to recognize the need for basic care materials such as sanitary pads to prevent girls from dropping out of school due to stigma of not having supplies. KAGA also encourages planting staple foods and have established a mother garden of cassava. Cassava are harvested by KAGA members for distribution to OVC families, and more importantly, cassava stems are also given to OVC households for planting.

We were met at the Iki Iki AIDS Community Initiative (IACI) by nearly three dozen committee members as well as a very well disciplined youth committee. The youth presented a program of original songs and poems concerning the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and response, and also the importance of education. A young women, Rosemary, a former participant in the youth programs of IACI led the program; she is now training to be a teacher. The Chairperson, Yusef, provided detailed information on the origins and current programs of IACI which serves the region within Budaka with the highest number and rate of HIV cases. Many IACI members have been trained in HCT to promote awareness and provide support for OVC and youth and continue to participate in refresher courses. Members of IACI recognize a direct relationship among HIV/AIDS in the household, child vulnerability and poor school performance. The members also described the good effects of access to scholastic materials (SM) on school attendance and engagement. Other health issues – TB, epilepsy, also exist. Poor nutrition at home, and lack of food during the school day are considered critical issues. The contact of IACI members with parents and guardians is also considered essential to supporting OVC and youth.

One IACI member, a pastor, appreciated my presence and my hope to build friendship with members of the organizations and communities. He expressed the importance of my understanding of the homes of people with whom I seek to be friends: ‘Friends should know what is taking place in home of their friends, and where they sleep; life here is not easy; visit our homes – see what is on the ground.’

The Galimaagi AIDS and Grieving Orphans (Galimaagi) is characterized by strong community participation and ownership in the mission and activities of the organization. With a member of the police as well as the chairperson of the village present at the meeting, the Chairperson assured me that the meeting was secure. It was a lovely joke on my behalf. The original project supported by the foundation has grown beyond the provision of scholastic materials to include school uniforms, food security projects (cassava, livestock and field cultivation with two oxen and the plough) and music, dance and drama for child and beneficiaries. The members of Galimaagi work closely with the school headmasters concerning the SM who report the importance of the books and pens for the progress of OVC and youth. Changes observed in the community do include a decrease in the number of dropouts from school. Galimaagi leaders work directly with schools to monitor these trends.

The Wednesday morning meeting with Manuka-Kaama Community Development Initiatives (Manuka-Kaama) began with visiting beneficiaries in the nearby neighborhoods and witnessing the progress of their building of the nursery and primary school which they hope to open this coming summer. The nursery and primary school will provide more proximate educational opportunities to the many OVC and youth in the community served by Manuka-Kaama. We walked through the “HIV prevention forest” on the way to visiting families and households with OVC and youth and discussed the problems with the distribution and survival of poultry for food security and also some income generation. One of the members of Manuka-Kaama, Rosemary, had invented a cooking stove which was much more efficient in the consumption and burning of wood. The arrangement was very impressive and is a striking illustration of innovation poised to make positive and sustainable change in the community.

Leaders articulated the relationship among health status, vulnerability and school progress. Rosemary identified the need for access to medical treatment for OVC and youth. Malnutrition, malaria, cerebral malaria, typhoid fever and epilepsy are cited as key illnesses. The government health center is 2-3 km from the community and is often deficient in supplies and personnel. Beneficiaries lack transportation to health care centers. Bedding for OVCs also emerged as a health issue. The Treasurer, Eunice, described a relatively recent initiative of a finance program for members of Manuka-Kaama and presented to record books showing deposits, withdrawals and savings among members. She noted that most persons (approximately 35) enrolled in the finance program are committed to growing their savings.

During our visit TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) arrived to distribute medication to beneficiaries present for the meeting. The Treasurer was an advocate of positive living and the erosion of stigma associated with positive HIV status: ‘We are living with energy, we are full of energy and can go to garden to dig and to meet our needs.’ She sees clear benefit of empowering individuals and families to live positively.

The meeting with NACOMAS Community Action for Social Development took place at the government school on Wednesday afternoon. Eight members of the NACOMAS executive committee were present for the meeting which was led by Chairperson, Juma, and the Secretary, Jacob. The mission of NACOMAS is to empower members and to promote sustainable social, economic change in the community. The program of scholastic materials now serves over 400 children. NACOMAS has responded to the influence of proximity to Mbale and exposure of youth to urban health problems of Mbale, and HIV in particular by extending its program of counselling. NACOMAS also seeks to promote environmental awareness and has encouraged the community to plant trees for firewood, and to enrich the environment. NACOMAS promotes gender equity and has sought to support the adoption of sanitary napkins among girls; they have also tried to create time and space for girls to discuss these changes in themselves. The organization has also organized an effective drama program for HIV education; in participating in the program, youth imagine consequences and also develop skills and thereby increase confidence. The leaders see big impact of their programs on women in the community and would like to also support more vulnerable in the region. Their aspirations are to ‘see their children smart!’

Throughout these individual meetings, and as we came together on Thursday for the day long planning and visioning session, our hope, of Joy and me, was to create environments of discussion with community leaders which was open and honest, critical and constructive. During the convening of the full partnership questions and comments were indeed forthcoming: Questions about money, variability in exchange rates; interest in ongoing support; frustrations with challenges about increasing needs in the community.

More importantly, the CBO leadership posed questions and offered comments to each other: they were curious about successes and the problem solving strategies of each other; they reflected on their common goals and dreams for projects; they lingered with each other discussing the details of administering their programs, listening and learning from one another, expressing respect for one another.

Thursday was a day of creative and constructive conversation among the community leaders.

It was a privilege to be present.