Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Intrepid women #2 - AIDS work in Uganda

Loren Treisman is a mitra from the Cambridge and Buddhafield centres. She’s been in Africa for the past eight months working first on AIDS-related projects in Uganda with an NBO called Tasaaga, latterly in Malawi in an orphanage. This is a report from her. She says -

“So I thought I would start with a brief low down on the general situation out here and then go on to the specifics.

AIDS is affecting EVERYONE. It's not as simple as treating patients. Every family I have met has either lost a member or is caring for orphans which few can afford, communities are losing health workers, teachers, basically all skilled workers to this devastating disease. It's an endless cycle where poverty increases the risks of becoming infected with HIV and being infected leads to greater poverty. I've been reading so much literature out here and I could tell you so much more, it's verging on impossible to describe quite what it is like out here where few people have access to basic needs such as clean drinking water, education and health care and where ignorance is killing people.

At the start of this year, I was working on Jana island, which is 1 of the Ssese islands on Uganda’s Lake Victoria (which is so large it looks like an ocean). The only access to the island is on a rickety boat which only goes once every 2 days (and that's in theory, in practice it goes less often). There's no electricity, no water other than the lake (or bottles which noone but me can afford), no permanent structures (mud huts only), no secondary school, no nurses or Drs, I could go on but I am sure you get the picture. There are approximately 1500 people on the island, excluding children and the HIV infection rate is estimated to be around 29%, though it is impossible to know as few people have managed to get tested. Women have a really hard time and since I have been here in Uganda (about 2 months) I have only managed to make one female friend but many males.

Following interviewing, I realised that the most vital necessities on the island were education and income generation. I devised an education program and gave daily seminars ranging from lectures to informal gatherings in the various villages on topics including nutrition, family planning, child abuse and labour. The receptivity was incredible and I was astonished at how much people listened. I have had villagers flocking to me for free condoms and femidoms which oddly enough they really like out here, telling me how much energy they’ve got having drunk more water, telling each other off if they saw child violence, it brings tears to my eyes to see the difference.

4 people died on the island while fishing (the only way to make a living in Jana), all in their 20's, which really got to me due to being unable to swim so I arranged swimming lessons in the lake. It was fairly tough teaching adults but some of them were getting there and I have encouraged them to train others.

My main work on the island involved setting up income generating schemes. I don't believe in hand outs, and people expect them here from people in the west so I thought the best solution was to start some project which helped the villagers help themselves. After many meetings, establishing viability of different projects, the fertility of soil, the skills available, etc, 2 projects were decided on-pineapple growing and pig rearing. By the time I left, with the help of many inspiring villagers land was cleared for 300 pineapples and there are 400 more to go and the pig house had started to be built and piglets secured from the mainland. A committee was established comprised of trustworthy community members who will decided how to distribute the money, based on those who work hardest and those who are unable to work due to old age or bad health The aim is for the profits to largely contribute towards supporting orphans, school fees and health care as well as to expand the projects to generate more income. People are so incredibly grateful.

Since then it's been Malawi and the city of Blantyre where I've worked in a very cool orphanage, the contagious smiles of African kids never cease to make my heart go gooey inside, I can't wait to teach some of them in August! My meditation has gone to new levels which is most exciting too. So much inspiration out here! Miss you all more than you know, it gets painful sometimes but I can't help following my dreams, Africa rocks my world!

SADHU Loren...!

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1 Comments:

Blogger Bhante said...

I read some information on the blog of FWBO in Uganda. There is a person called Loren Treisman who volunteered in Uganda.
I am a Ugandan Buddhist monk living in the U.S.A Please contact her and let her know that we have a Buddhist Centre in Uganda. She is welcome to visit, medidate or volunteer at the Buddhist Centre. Let her visit our website:
www.ugandabuddhistcentre.org

All the best,

Ven. Buddharakkhita

8/7/07  

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