Wednesday, July 16, 2014

More Than Just AIDS


As we’ve settled into our new home and adjusted to the early morning wake-up call of goats and cows grazing just outside our windows, I’ve learned just how much can be accomplished in a day despite the “pole pole” pace of African Time. Our crash course on WOPLAH’s wide-ranging work has only just begun, and yet we’ve already gained numerous insights into the scope of and processes behind WOPLAH’s impact. In the past two days alone, it has become clear that WOPLAH’s reach extends far beyond those who have been directly affected by HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday we joined Edwin at the Maternal Child Health Center to generate an outline for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) questionnaires. In addition to the kitchen gardens, goat, poultry and jiggers projects – of which I already had an understanding – we discussed in depth WOPLAH’s village banking and community dialogue programs. Even more interesting however, were Edwin’s instructions on how such questions would be delivered. Prompts must be broad and inclusive of many questions so that respondents may answer in a story-like manner. While Americans are accustomed to numerous specific questions, Edwin warned that respondents would become bored and uninterested if we were to list out our many inquiries. Furthermore, when determining weaknesses within the program, it is better to ask generally if there is anything else they would like to share. This ensures that beneficiaries do not think they are listing problems they have experienced – which they would shy away from out of respect – but rather allowing them to illuminate details that convey such issues tacitly. We were all grateful for his attention to these small details that were to us unexpected potential cultural barriers.

After a long midday walk, we took our reliable piki pikis to visit the Siowote (Not All) Self Help Group. Formed in March and comprised primarily of men, the members use WOPLAH’s village banking system to raise pigs for income generation. They were extremely friendly, and very eager to make their way into our photo albums. Only after returning to our compound did Edwin mention the group’s unique background: all members had been male sex workers since childhood (and some still are). Some of the men are HIV positive, and those who still engage in sex work are provided with condoms and continued education regarding prevention. Over time, as the pigs and other future microfinance projects return a stable profit, we hope they will no longer feel dependent upon the sex industry.





Over the next few weeks we will conduct interviews with the majority of WOPLAH’s beneficiaries in order to gain insight into the intricacies of implementation, define the impact these programs achieve, and determine opportunities for improvement. Witnessing a group of 18 men debate their individual debts and collective assets, when just months ago they were selling themselves on the streets, was incredibly inspiring. And while not every group that WOPLAH collaborates with is explicitly composed of those living with HIV/AIDS, the impact is just the same. By empowering all members of a community together, WOPLAH is creating a healthy integrated environment in which people living positively may flourish.



- Shannon (International Political Economy Major / Urban Studies Minor, Class of 2016)

Monday, July 14, 2014

We Have Arrived!

We arrived at our Kisumu home after dark, feeling lucky to have made it at all. After four of the five of us were delayed by an airline that strictly obeyed the policy, “in Africa, there is no hurry,” and a treacherous taxi ride that involved tying 6 suitcases to the roof and many moments when I thought I might never see the light of day again, we were greeted with warm food, hot sugar water, and welcoming smiles.

Singing from a local church was the soundtrack to our introduction to Mumias the next morning. The music followed us as we walked along a path through corn and cement homes until we reached the main road in Mumias. Sunday is market day, so Mumias was bumping with music, shouting, and colorful produce. We were the talk of the town wherever we went; it’s hard to be discreet when five mzungus (foreigners or white people) are seen carting bags full of groceries from one fruit or vegetable to stand to the next. It was a day of endless shopping, termites for lunch (politely refused), goats in the kitchen, rats in the bed, and cockroaches on the porch. It was after 1 a.m. when the World Cup game ended and we finally crawled under our mosquito nets and fell asleep, completely exhausted.

Today, we attended the WOPLAH monthly meeting. We were first introduced to Khamis, a nurse who works at the Maternal Child Health Center (MCH). Khamis explained to us the challenges involved with pre- and post-natal care and family planning. The clinic’s services are offered free of charge. He talked about the pervasive myths and stigmas that prevent women from feeling comfortable using contraceptives, getting tested for or talking with their husbands about STIs, or continuing treatments once they have been prescribed. Khamis then stated that WOPLAH has been an answer to a prayer. He explained that Edwin, the Program Coordinator for WOPLAH, an ARV distributor, and our Dad/supervisor for the next six weeks, has been instrumental in coordinating a successful movement to reduce the stigma around STIs and improve the health of the women and children of Mumias.

Next, we joined the circle of 14 Ambassadors of Hope and 1 intern, Mark, under a tree outside the clinic. The meeting started with a general check-in, in which each person was asked to report on the progress of his or her projects. Next, the AOHs introduced themselves and their role in WOPLAH to us, and we introduced ourselves to them. Together, we discussed our assigned reading from last night, Article 25 (http://join25.org/) and Story of a Girl (http://www.storyofagirlproject.org/). Over the next 6 weeks, we will be brainstorming ideas for how WOPLAH and GlobeMed can best contribute to these internationally-oriented health projects. After a soda pop refreshment, we outlined a plan for the coming weeks and listened as the AOHs discussed Village Banking balances—a project that entails lending money to to the WOPLAH support groups in order to fund microfinance projects. Tomorrow, we will get to see one of these microfinance projects in person, a mostly male support group that works on pig raising.


The GROW interns with the Ambassadors of Hope and WOPLAH intern, Mark (bottom right)
When the meeting ended, we took motorcycles (piki pikis) to the market so that we could pick up a few more things before heading home for the night. After our full day of shopping yesterday, one would think there would be nothing left to buy, but, alas, we had somehow managed to finish all 12 bananas in 24 hours. It was our second motorcycle ride of the day and the second of our lives, but already we felt like naturals as we rode through the streets of Mumias. We are transitioning, pole pole (slowly), and soon we will begin to feel at home (dskia nmbani).

-Claire McNellan, Neuroscience Major / Bioethics Minor, Class of 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anticipation Leading Up to GROW 2014

With only two and a half weeks left until our GROW internship, we have each been preparing, packing and anxiously awaiting our respective departures. Each of us (there are 5 of us in total) are leaving from different parts of the world to meet up in Tanzania for two weeks of travel before our internship begins. Our pre-GROW travel will include hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, a safari in Serengeti National Park and a visit to the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania.
         For those who are not familiar with GROW, this stands for Grass Roots On-Site Work and we will be interning for 6 weeks in Mumias, Kenya with the Western Organization of People Living with AIDS/HIV (WOPLAH). WOPLAH and GlobeMed at Colorado College have a unique partnership which allows each organization to mutually benefit from one another. GlobeMed is able to raise money and provide interns for WOPLAH while the ability to work with WOPLAH affords Colorado College students a unique educational opportunity; students learn about the value of a 1 to 1 partnership, how to monitor and evaluate the progress of a global health organization and the ways in which an organization such as WOPLAH can participate in helping to reduce stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the situation pertaining to other local health issues. Please visit this link to get a better idea of what WOPLAH does: http://woplah.wix.com/woplah As the 2014 interns, we are very excited to finally meet the Ambassadors of Hope who work for WOPLAH that we've heard so much about and to see the progress our partnership has made in its first two years.
          Last summer, the GROW interns helped WOPLAH with a variety of projects such as writing a grant to obtain seeds for their community gardens, applying for school fees assistance, the creation of a WOPLAH brochure explaining its various goals and projects, and conducting numerous interviews of WOPLAH's beneficiaries in order to monitor and evaluate its progress to date as well as its capacity for the future. This summer, we will be expanding on the work already started by last year's interns in order to create a new "MOU" or Memorandum of Understanding which will outline the terms of agreement, goals and responsibilities for GlobeMed and WOPLAH's partnership during the 2014/2015 year. We are also anxious to learn what new projects WOPLAH has underway as well as their visions for the future and how we can be of assistance in helping them achieve their goals. Please follow our blog to learn more about what we will be doing during our time interning with WOPLAH! Stay tuned!

-Nicole (Colorado College '14, Religion Major, Global Health Minor)