Category Archives: Africa

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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‘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.

 

 

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!

 

 

The dairy of the dairy cows…

I am happy to announce that Communities for Development has started rolling out its first income generating activity in Bulambuli district. Dairy cattle for milk production & selling has been selected as the IGA by the Buwebele Savings and Loan Association group after training and careful evaluation of the business plan. The micro-enterprise has 30 members split into 15 pairs looking after one cross breed cow. The cross breed (exotic) cows constitute less than 20% of the cattle population, yet they produce up to 75% more milk then the indigenous cows. Each pair has raised an adequate structure for the cow as advised and supervised by the veterinary officer in the district. This includes sheltered space as well as exercise room of minimum length and width specifications with separate compartments for treatment, feeding, milking and relaxing. Based on the budget prepared, Communities for Development have contributed a grant of 60% of the total start up costs while the group contributed the remaining 40% out of their savings pot. Members of Bwelebele Group are now a happy lot –  all 15 exotic cows have been purchased. Crucially, before receiving the cattle all members underwent a 2-day training with both, the veterinary officer as well as business woman, selling milk from the nearby village. This was a very important step in creation of the IGA as only by careful and adequate care of the cattle one can maximize the milk production and henceforth the income. The vet training covered the best types of feeds for the cattle, sanitation and hygiene on the milk side, insemination methods and pest and diseases prevention and treatment. The business side of selling milk included topics such as the importance of correct transportation of the milk, boiling and storage.

The next step is to open up a small shop in the village town where members of the group will be selling boiled and raw milk to local people and suppliers of restaurants. The profits made will be split equally between 30 members, excluding running costs of the enterprise. Additionally, 5 pairs whose cows produce the highest amount of milk will receive an additional income as a reward and incentive for others to look after the cows well. We’re working closely with the group to provide them with necessary tools and mechanisms to avoid conflict and ensure the accountability of the business takes places daily and is correct. This include further conflict resolution training and on-going monitoring of the IGA. The cows will also undergo a yearly insemination in order to produce an offspring to be used to extend the program in time or for extra profits in difficult times.

The group will also be helping out to spread the awareness of milk as an important nutritional element in children and adult’s diet as well as boiling the milk which is crucial for consumption in order to prevent diseases and fast detoriation.  This will be done by a short performances done by the local drama group, verbal advice given in the shop and workshops held together with the sub-county health officers.

It’s a very important and happy moment in Buwebele community as the members will not only gain extra income but also work together as a group to improve the livelihood of the whole community. 

‘Planet 50-50 by 2030‘- International Women’s Day

8th of March marked the International Women’s day and I’d like to tell all young women around the world to remember: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’ as Eleanor Roosevelt said. Throughout history, women have made extraordinary contributions to their societies. Some are well known, some less so but there’s no doubt that in light of the UN goal of becoming ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ we still have a long way to go even in the 1st world countries. For far too many women the ability to lead a healthy life without violence and hunger remains a distant aspiration.

Uganda has taken many steps forward in promoting and safe guarding the rights and dignity of women. Yet the gender position is often considered inferior to men. The reasons are countless: customary practices contradicting law against discrimination, deeply rooted patriarchal traditions and poverty – to name just a few.

Let’s start with the good bit: progress has been achieved in the past decades in many areas. Fewer women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. The access to prenatal health and family planning has improved. The African goal for 100% enrolment of kids in primary schools paved the way for many girls to access education. This has positive implications for other aspects of their lives and is, in fact, good for all of us, men included. Educated women and girls can make informed decisions about their lives.

Yet certain traditional customs amongst Ugandans contradict the country’s laws against sexual and domestic violence. Enforcement of the laws is haphazard and the inherent patriarchal traditions are abiding. Even though many recent laws were enacted to curb domestic violence, it has helped very little to change women’s state of affairs. The poorer the household the higher probability of domestic violence. Estimates vary but as high as 50% of Ugandan women have endured domestic violence at the hands of their partners.

Life of women in Africa is tough. They get married young, often at the age of 14,15, despite the legal age set to 18. After marriage, they immediately start ‘producing’ children. All of the daily chores are typically done by women, sometimes with help from children. In addition to cooking and laundry they also work in the gardens and fetch water often from far away. Most of them did not complete secondary school and lack vocational skills that would open up more opportunities to them. ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ established a series of strategic goals to achieve gender equality, which were summarized in twelve critical areas – including education and training of women. Women need more vocational training and help in establishing micro-enterprises which would in turn empower them and encourage to save. At Communities for Development around 80% of the saving group members are women. They are working hard to improve their household financials and providing their children with a brighter future.

To achieve ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ – world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030, there’s plenty to be done. From political and regulatory framework through education of boys and girls to worldwide support for the most vulnerable women and girls. Above all of that I’d like to encourage all women to not make themselves feel inferior but to have courage and fight for a more equal world.

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3-month milestone!

Hard to believe but I’ve been now in Uganda for 3 months! Not even half a year ago I was sitting in my London office desperately wanting to go out there to help people and get out of the rainy city I’ve spent my last 8 years. Time flew by when you doing what you love. Those 3 months were wonderful yet challenging. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the type of work is what I want to do – marrying up travel with doing good to people and communities. It’s incredibly fascinating to live in an African village and watch the community grow and benefit from your work. How did I overcome some of the difficulties?

  • Chill out! Uganda and in fact the whole Africa doesn’t perceive time in the same way we, Westerners do. Time for us is more of a linear concept, a road with clear marks of past, present and future. Africans don’t regard future as time. It’s a ‘no-time’ hence the concept of time itself is more liquid and fluid. In Africa people tend to value other things like interpersonal relations more than time. Unless there is a strong drive for time management, everything in Africa will always be behind schedule. Being quite a punctual person this one definitely has taken me the longest to get used to! Typically, am the muzungu arguing with the matatu driver who told me ‘sister the vehicle is leaving now’ (and it’s obviously not).
  • Food. Glorious food. I have written a post on it here. I love it but had to break up with cheese! Sigh.
  • Muzungu… how are you? I heard that probably 100 times every day and I won’t lie – in the beginning it could annoy me especially when you are trying to talk with your companion! I got used to it now 🙂
  • Things just take time… this is truth for doing a simple bank transaction to something basic like a greeting. You stop, you smile, you exchange a series of questions: how are you? How’s your wife? And kids? And neighbours? How’s your mother and father? How are things in your end? And it goes on and on…
  • It was incredibly hard to see poverty both in the village and in town for the first time.

I am excited for the next 3 months ahead and loving my Ugandan life!

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The ugly world we live in

Since childhood I have been fascinated with the idea of travelling and exploring the deepest corners of our world. I remember seeing one of the first ‘Incredible India‘ advert on a foreign TV channel and thinking how indeed incredible it would be to see an elephant or that colourfully dressed lady with brown skin. I also decided I’d visit places off the beaten track – I saw somewhere a documentary on Azerbaijan and decided that’s the place I will visit one day.  I haven’t done that yet but I was lucky enough to start travelling outside Poland at a very early age. I’ve been travelling abroad with my parents and their friends and friends’ kids abroad, be it Croatia, Germany or France. At the age of 6 I joined the Polish Folkloristic Group ‘Wielkopolanie’ and soon after I joined them in promoting Polish culture and dance in various festivals around the world: Russia in 1997, Taiwan in 1999, Shanghai in 2006, most of Europe throughout my 12 years of dancing career. I left to study in the UK and pursued travels in and out of London: Malaysia, Australia, India, Europe again (you re-discover many places when you older!). Majority of my trips, like the majority of people, from let’s call it 1st world countries, were for pleasure and relax – you visit the prettiest and most interesting places according to your preferences and the Lonely Plant guide. Some of us like a luxury setting, some backpack and scale mountains, others prefer the big city thrill.

We often think we’re the hub of the universe. However, we’re only a smart part of the Big Rock. The privileged part of the world may I add. Huge percentage of population of the planet Earth lives in the ugly, lives in the dirt and poverty beyond our imagination. A cow dung hut, few pots, firewood and often behind a smile a pair of sad eyes – that’s what you see there and you find it hard to understand it, to comprehend this world that’s so different to yours. You begin to feel something shifting in you – you ask yourself questions: how did I not realise this earlier? I watch news, hear about the poverty, I know Africa..

Thanks to this experience you get to understand the emotions inside the people, the way the world is shaped  for them, their unique beliefs and in what conditions they live and function in. If you travel and stay for a bit longer in places not advertised in a guide, not as a tourist with a fancy camera but as a human being you start to feel solidarity and an overwhelming need of help. You discover that to help is to simply be there and that’s often enough. I wondered before coming to Uganda whether I get the feeling that helping one person is only a drop in the ocean and that would put me off it. On the contrary – you feel like you in that moment you’re giving hope and a smile and the day before there was no hope and no smile.

I want to tell people about what I saw in Uganda – about the world which isn’t glamorous and glossy. I want to dedicate my time to search for ideas and solutions that would actually help them, even one person. I want to leave small footprints around this world. I’ll teach my children that giving is so much better than receiving, that to experience the world, travelling comfortably isn’t going to be enough. While working in the 3rd world countries might not suit everyone, I’d encourage people to find time to travel and experience the real dirty and ugly side of Big Rock even just once. I guarantee you won’t regret it.