This is a guest post, written by Bob Leone, Lead, Outreach and Communications, Global Health Fellows Program II, a program led by the Public Health Institute. This is the second of two posts, you can find the first here.
The elementary school students in Lyantonde, Uganda, some as young as seven or eight, are dressed in purple uniforms with yellow trim. We’ve come to conduct a permaculture class here. Off to one side of the large, dirt-floored classroom are several dozen jackfruit seedlings. They’ll be used as visual aids during the lesson and then distributed to the children to take home and plant. A colleague named Michael of ICOD Action Network is conducting today’s the class.
ICOD Action Network conducts one of these permaculture classes each month at different locations in and around Lyantonde. Today we’re at the Kyewanula Primary School where the headmaster has welcomed us. After the lesson, two GlobeMed interns and I introduce ourselves to the class. It is late afternoon and the class comes to an end as the children collect their bright green seedlings that sit in small plastic pots.
Later I tell Michael how impressed I am by the diversity of activities his organization supports. Currently, ICOD Action Network is working with HIV expectant mothers and children. The organization also focuses on education, shelter, sanitation, and safe water. An information and communication technology project provides the community with important data about farming, health and HIV/AIDS.
“We are dealing with people who have been cut off from some of the basic human rights,” he tells me, “including a right to food, right to education, right to decent shelter, right to clothing. [Our goal] is to make sure that each project and each activity has an impact on human rights.” Michael notes that to be successful in this work one must have “a willingness to serve and the ability to offer the best you have to the community.”
The organization’s biggest priorities right now are building as many partnerships as possible. On a practical note, ICOD Action network is trying to secure a reliable four-wheel drive vehicle that can be used for field work on the rutted dirt roads that turn into seas of red mud during the rainy season.
The next day, my visit continues in in the tiny Kyewanula Village outside of Lyantonde. Grassy hills and a big blue sky dotted with clouds are the dominant geographic features there. Just outside the village resides a family of four: three young children and their HIV-infected mother who is pregnant with her fourth child. Her husband has recently died. The family’s current living situation is difficult. They have no running water, electricity or sanitation facilities. The house itself is small and made mostly of mud and branches. Inside there is barely enough room for three adults to stand. Cooking is done outside under a thatch-roofed lean-to.
Thanks to ICOD Action Network and contributions from the community the situation is about to change. A new house, larger and more substantial, with its own pit latrine is being built nearby. This is the seventh house ICOD is constructing in the area; the majority house people living with HIV/AIDS and child-headed households. Families are selected through a participatory approach where the communities themselves identify the neediest households. Has the family been affected by HIV? Are the children under fourteen years old? Do they currently have access to sanitation facilities? And can the family take on some responsibilities such as childcare for themselves? tI is sobering to think that this family was chosen from among 50 in the area that met the criteria laid out by the community.
When I visited, their house—a two room dwelling—was in mid construction. The brick walls were mostly up and window openings framed views of the surrounding hills. As I watched, ICOD staff and interns under the auspices of GlobeMed scrambled up and down ladders and moved piles of bricks on the site by hand. Forming a human chain, held together by patience, humility and perseverance, they passed the bricks one by one uphill where they were piled waiting for the next phase of construction to begin.
Global Health Fellows Program II recruits, places and supports fellows and interns working with the US Agency for International Development and its partners in Washington, DC and overseas. Currently, the program has approximately 120 active fellows and supports a cohort of 35 interns in the summer and throughout the year. These program participants work in a variety of global health technical areas including HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, malaria, family planning, reproductive health, maternal and child health, health policy, and population-health-environment.