Why I’m so very sad about Syria.

Syria. The word almost synonymous with war, conflict, refugees and death. The worst crisis in our era.

BBC has created a short story of the conflict here, for those who need a refresher on the timelines and how the events unfolded over years.

6 years ago what has started as an uprising against Mr Bashar’s’ oppressions has turned into a bloody proxy war between various political and religious fractions. 6 years since the start of the war has plunged 80% of Syrian’s into poverty, reduced life expectancy by 20 years and led to colossal economic losses (UN-backed report, source: Guardian).

Syria’s conflict continues to be the deadliest in the worldThe numbers are horrendous and I’m sick to my stomach seeing them – as the violence intensified, the number of deaths in the conflicts rose dramatically nearly 500,000 (source: I am Syria)Some 50,000 Syrians are estimated to have died so far this year only—including civilians, soldiers and rebel fighters. The Islamic State is growing alarmingly in both Syria and Iraq, where its brutal fighters are likely to push up the death toll even further. The country now has the second-largest refugee population in the world after the Palestinians. And 3/4 of the refugees are women and children. 

Syrians are dying and their country is being literally wiped from the world’s map. Try looking at the infamous photos of Syrian kids to even attempt to comprehend what’s going on there. It makes me feel guilt for all the ‘luxuries’ I enjoy – food, warmth, work. The need to help, not just the refugees but anyone who isn’t privileged enough to enjoy them. So if I keep talking about it for a while, forgive me. I’m having a hard time finding importance in anything else.

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Source: Al Jazeera

 

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‘We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave’

Worth watching Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code talking about allowing half of the world’s population to be comfortable with imperfection.

Women with unmet needs

*Information / Statistics taken from the Guttmacher institute website, Population Reference Bureau and FamilyPlanning2020 and 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (DHS).

Women with unmet need are broadly defined as those who want to postpone their next birth for two years+, or not have any more children, but they are not using contraception. 

Living in the UK for the past 9 years, access to contraception and sexual health clinics wasn’t something I thought twice about. It was always close by places I lived and the services were free of charge. I could consult my GP or indeed get all the suite of services at the sexual health clinic. While I was aware of the high fertility rates and difficulties in accessing family planning services in developing countries, living in Uganda has made me fiercely aware of the magnitude of this problem. I have also touched this subject previously in my post what do Ugandan women want?

Unintended pregnancy is common in Africa and Uganda isn’t an exception. This leads to high levels of unplanned births, unsafe abortions, and maternal injury and death. As high as 4 out of 10 pregnancies here are unplanned and Ugandan women, on average, give birth to nearly two children more than they want (6.2 vs. 4.5). This difference—which represents one of the highest levels of excess fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa—illustrates just how difficult it is for women to meet their fertility desires. As you can imagine the level of unmet needs is much higher in rural areas than urban areas. Given 84% of the population lives rurally.. well, you get the picture. 

Another grim statistics regarding unmet needs: about 56% of Uganda’s population is below 18 years of age and 70% below the age of 24 years. Teenage girls constitute the largest proportion of these age categories. Sadly, only 11% of them have access to reproductive health information, services and family planning services.

Teenage pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue. Why? When girls marry and have babies young, they drop out of school. The result is poor health, lost potential, lack of opportunities and often poverty.

Given such a high ration of unintended & teen pregnancies: why is the contraception use so low?

The reasons are many. Lack of access to family planning services and information is often a barrier—especially for rural women. Often, the male partner is against his wife/girlfriend using contraceptive (read a bit more on spousal intricacies in family planning in my previous post). Some believe that contraceptives can cause health problems, such as infertility and cancer, while others felt that contraceptive use might cause women to have extramarital affairs. We also shouldn’t forget the stigma around sex outside marriage often for religious and cultural reasons.

There’s a lot to be done in the sphere of reproductive health and family planning in developing countries. First and foremost we should dig deep (data!) and understand the key causes and problems in a given country to better tailor aid programs.
Some of the crucial next steps to be taken in Uganda and beyond: 

  • EDUCATION and once again EDUCATION – a fundamental and most crucial aspect in preventing teen and adult unwanted pregnancies. Not only sexual and health education but education from the early age as a whole. The more educated the girls are, the more likely it is they’ll take informed choices about their lives.
  • We’re not talking about just the girls: we should reach out to women and their partners at multiple stages in their reproductive lives to better satisfy changing needs.
  • Making family planning priority for the government: it should ensure that free or affordable public-sector contraceptive services reach all women, especially those who are poor, are young or live in rural areas.
  • The quality of post-abortion care services needs to be improved, and the scope of such services needs to be expanded.
  • Let’s not stop only at that – we got to seize the opportunities. Child survival programs, community health programs, and HIV services among others should also be integrated as a all-round service available to women.

I support the work of Family Planning 2020 – a global movement that supports the rights of women and girls to decide – freely and for themselves – whether, when and how many children they want to have. Access to family planning should be a basic human right. 

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Book review: Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Sen has written this book in 1999, a year after receiving a Nobel Price in economics for his contributions to welfare economics and social theories. At times dry and repetitive, his work however, provides a broader understanding of development. The academics have many postulates that shaped various aspects of development and tackling poverty but not throughout any of journals and books can one feel the compassion and humanity to such extent as it is in Sen’s book.

The author argues that relationship between poverty, income, inequality, unemployment, mortality, quality of life should be looked through a broad definition of development rather than narrow definitions of utility, efficiency or growth rates. 

Importantly, Sen doesn’t tend to advocate specific approaches to solving problems, but instead seems to have a broader goal of changing the way people discuss and think about developmental issues. Lesson? Development is not simple! There’s no one single problem that we can solve to fix the world and no magic solution for any problem, but rather a variety of factors to consider and several kinds of individual’s freedoms and capabilities to be worked towards.

I highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn something new and willing to tackle difficult subjects.

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‘Thousands have lived without love, no one without water’

‘Thousands have lived without love, no one without water’
W. H. Auden.

I have recently been involved in a potential shallow well construction project. This came on the back of a UK donor visit in February this year and her assessment of the exsiting wells in the Bukhalu area (Eastern Uganda). It was discovered that the failure of constructing a borehole in Busukuya community a few years back has left the local people with a very limited access to water. A few months back the donor has contacted me with the great news of having money available to construct a new shallow well over there.

The work has been initially stalled by the rainy season, however we have now started the pre-construction work. This is the actually the most crucial part : ensuring community involvement from the very beginning. We held an introductory meeting together with the head of the project – Masindi Juma – local engineer from Muyembe, whereby we have informed the community about our plan. Full and enthusiastic involvement of the community in all phases of the water supply process including operation, maintenance and management is the key to a long-term sustainability and success.  We are now working on identification of the possible location of the shallow well, which involves work of a local district water engineer. I am hopeful we can start the construction phase in the next few weeks.

While it’s the first of such type of projects for me, being involved only with micro-finance and community work previously, I have been thinking about water a lot recently. The world is still not fully aware of the water crisis many of these countries face as a result of climate change. The scarcity of water can lead to conflicts between communities and countries (already present in India, for example).

Worldwide, sourcing of water is rising faster than the growth in the world’s population. The rise is not just due to higher human consumption of water but is also the result of an increased supply and expansion of existing economic activities. One example is the rising demand of animal protein which is highly water intensive. Food insecurity will likely lead to social unrest, as has been the case in the past.

Speaking to communities in Bulambuli – Nabbongo, Simu, Bukhalu and Muyembe in particular – frequent floods and droughts caused by climate change, pollution of river and expanding population mean sever water shortage and poverty since the crops here depend in 100% on the rain water. Our work is to make them aware of these problems and encourage them to rely more on animal rearing and conduct skill trainings to make them less dependant on farming to sustain the families. If we are to end hunger in Africa by 2025 we need to encourage farmers to move away from cash crops and fragile cropping systems and to adopt sustainable and climate-resilient practices. Apart of moving more to rearing, we could also advocate the mitigation of climate change impact through the use natural systems such as drought-resistant varieties of crops, inter-cropping,more crops variety and more efficient methods of water storage. 

Below – assessment of local water sources in Busukuya village, Bulambuli district, Eastern Uganda.

 

 

African Village Support: hello new placement!

Monday marked my first day at the African Village Support community centre which will be my second home for the next 3 months. I have now officially finished my half a year placement with Communities for Development in Bukhalu sub-county which was focused on micro-savings and income generating activities

African Village Support (AVS) is a small charity set up by Marie Cates following the time she spent as a volunteer for Voluntary Services Overseas. Marie lived and worked in a small community in eastern Uganda working alongside local head teachers and teachers. Upon her return she set up this charity to support small villages in eastern Uganda with the aim of helping to improve the quality of life of both adults and children in some small way. The needs are wide and varied ranging from support for the development of basic living conditions, to support that adds some enrichment to daily life. Working as a humanitarian, community based organisation, AVS helps with sustainable community projects, with maternal health, hygiene and education, working with students, women and youth groups in the area.

I’ll be directly responsible for supporting the rural communities through development of livelihood projects, organization of skills / business training and providing various opportunities for economic development for local women, girls and the most vulnerable. Key focus points will be on:

  • Development of the existing and new livelihood projects with women’s groups including needs assessment, business training, budgeting, data processing and analysis and evaluation of the projects.
  • Development of the newly opened community centre through support in fundraising activities, marketing including social media outreach, financials and social activities.
  • Supporting development of the 3-years growth strategy for AVS together with the managers of the community centre and executive committee.

I’m very excited to be on board this incredible organisation! 

 

End of my placement on the horizon, however…

I’ll be staying in Uganda till end of August! More on this in the next post..

Six months ago, I stepped onto Ugandan soil and started my first development work experience in Africa. In the blink of an eye, I finished my placement. Although six months’ social work seems to be short, I did learn a lot of things and got many inspirations. This experience has already played a huge part in my future career path. What did I learn and were my expectations pre-departure met?

1. Development work, in particular community work is very rewarding but has its challenges. 

Working with communities feels a little bit like sailing on a windy day. Hard work, overwhelming at times, and thrilling. I wasn’t sure what to expect before leaving London, all I knew is that I have certain goals and objectives to meet ‘working together with the community’. But how does one define a community? What are its boundaries? Who do you talk to when you “work with” a community? Who are its leaders? A few personal remarks:

  • Anticipate low turn out – at least initially. And bad time management throughout the work. Community takes time to gain trust and patience to teach the importance of respecting time.
  • You cannot solve all their problems, actually you cannot solve most of their problems. In rural Uganda almost everything needs attention: hygiene, infrastructure, access to clean water, education, literacy… the list is endless. Tight focus work on particular task works best. Slowly but surely together with the people you can move forward.
  • Give people voice and make them feel appreciated and valued. Even if this means taking a snap of them, listening to them. Appreciation of another human being isn’t that common so giving people a small gesture of love is something they treasure.

2. The rewards of community work exceeds its difficulties. 

At least for me. This was probably the most challenging work I have ever done but it has brought me the biggest satisfaction. Offering people your time, advise and giving them skills which will improve their lives on unthinkable scale is just something that cannot be described.

3. Africa is big, bold and beautiful.

Before coming to Uganda I haven’t even have Africa on my ‘bucket list’. Oh that has definitely changed now! Ugandan landscapes, its culture and people have won a place in my heart and I’m very eager to explore more of the continent.

4. The work done over the past 6 months has confirmed I’m heading in the right direction. 

This placement was very much a trial step for me in order to have an absolute certainty that international development is something I want to a) do a master in and b) pursue a career going forward. I’ve always dreamed of doing something on a voluntary basis abroad, however life has taken a different course for me until recently. The work I have done in Uganda has given me the peace of mind I needed that this is indeed something I want to be doing for a living, in a long-term future. And I am very happy to announce that I have been accepted into the London School of Economics for the Development Management MSc degree starting September!