By Penny Cook
The Teams4U motto is ‘real people making a real difference’, and one of the aims of the programme is to give the volunteers a life-changing experience. Some of the volunteers already knew each other and have done this trip before; others, like me, are new. It is amazing how quickly everyone has bonded and started to work as a real team. See my previous post for more information about the interventions. The games that we play with the children during the morning continue to be enormous fun, both for the volunteers and the children. The ‘Develop with dignity’ element has been refined and developed as we go along. The team members that deliver this element include a doctor, a nurse, a teacher as well as me. The final team member is a social worker from the local area. Fortuitously between us we have a combination of relevant skills, knowledge and experience.
Training the teachers
On day three, our usual format of our day was to be extended–after the main school programme, we went to a different school where we delivered a training session to all the senior female Primary 6 teachers in the district. The Head of Education in the district is a big supporter of the programme, and has strongly encouraged the teachers to come and facilitated their journey to the school where the training is to take place. P6 children are the target of the intervention–they can range in age from 12 up to 17 (because those who do not pass their exams do not move up to the next class). Whilst this was going on, other Team4U members did games, stories and face painting with the school children.
For the train the trainer session we decided to give an overview of our aims and then present the same material as we present to the children to the teachers, so that they could see exactly how we delivered the intervention. It seemed to go well and was enjoyable from my perspective. At the end we asked the teachers for their views and feedback. We had a long discussion about the other contexts of the child’s life, and how for some children there is a lack of encouragement to go to school. Some are given no money to buy the necessary equipment, many have no food for the middle of the day. Teachers commented that some children were spending the time away from school, with neither the school nor the parents knowing where they are. This potentially puts girls in situations where they are at risk of rape. Teachers often saw their school girls alone after dark–again this is risky. The teachers felt that we needed an intervention for parents, a suggestion that we agreed to take back for consideration. We had a long discussion about whether the intervention was aimed at the right age, and while there was a feeling that some children at that age were innocent (and it was tempting to ask why they needed to know about sex and condoms), there was general acceptance that children of this age can and do get pregnant. We heard a shocking story of a 9 year old girl who had given birth recently.
On the way home we stopped and visited one of the little mud hut settlements in a very rural area. A father showed us around. He allowed us to see into each hut: the smallest was where there was a simple fireplace made of stones on the floor. The cook pot rests upon stones, and the smoke is chokingly thick. Three children were in one of the other huts and the father had his own hut. His wife and baby slept in a different hut.
Day four and a Ministerial visit
The Games in the morning were great–the smile and excitement on the girls’ faces when they had a ball in their hands was just a picture, and it is so hard to put into words the satisfaction that we get from doing this. It seems to be reciprocated! The headmaster of today’s school made a special effort to tell us how important this visit was for him and the school, and a senior teacher told us that they will be adopting the games to play with the children every Monday from now on. I loved the pink uniforms in this school!
In this school many children received a school lunch, for which the parents have to make a modest payment. We learned that in some schools parents do not pay for lunches, and nor do they send food from home. School days are from 8am until 5pm in Uganda, which is a long time to go without food.
Other Team activities proceded as usual including the HIV counselling and testing. We have tested hundreds of people this week, both school children and their parents, and it is really good to be able to report that we have found very few people with HIV. About 7% of adults are estimated to be living with HIV in Uganda. Substantial progress has been made with testing and treating HIV, so that between the years of 2005 and 2013 the number of Aids-related deaths dropped by 19%.
In the afternoon were were honoured with a visit from Vaughan Gethin (Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, Welsh Government) and Jon Townley (from Wales for Africa). They were able to see Teams4U at their best, with an action-packed afternoon of HIV/AIDS & TB testing, Reproductive & Sexual Health Education, our Develop with Dignity programme; and of course, the smiles of hundreds of children having enormous fun with our enthusiastic volunteers!