Pictured above: GROW intern Harveen and her students from Primary six class.
GROW is an amazing experience, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. It has been quite surprising how simple it is to fall into our daily routines and habits in the U.S. I am already losing some of my appreciation for modern plumbing. But more than anything, I am afraid of forgetting what I learned on GROW.
I remember the first few days back in the U.S. How petty it seemed that people cared about their appearances, how petty it was that they worried about reblogging funny dog videos or gaining likes on their Instagram page. These judgements ran rampant in my head during that initial culture shock. And don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the arrogance in those thoughts. Here I was, after spending a mere seven weeks abroad, coming back and judging my peers for habits that I myself held. Habits that I would begin to return to as I resumed my daily life. Yet, it is in those initial judgements that I also saw some truth. I realized my need to remember. The need to remember what is important and what is not. During my experience in Uganda and through my work with our partner, the Mpoma Community HIV/AIDS Initiative, or MCHI in short, I was confronted with far more problems than solutions. It seemed that even the problems had problems.
One of the most difficult situations for me was when I taught a simple lesson on the importance of brushing your teeth. It was my ignorance that allowed me to assume that every child would have a toothbrush. Thus, it came as a surprise to me when a student asked what to do if they did not have a toothbrush. However, another student was able to answer that question by suggesting using natural materials such as twigs with bristles at the end. Yet, this question, so simple in its intent, stuck with me. A toothbrush is seen as a necessity amongst my peers, yet many children across the world lack the access to proper materials for oral hygiene.
The amount and extent of the disparities both within Uganda and between Uganda and the U.S. are shocking, to say the least. But it also makes you question a system that allows such disparities to exist. It makes you question what is really important, even in your daily life. But, more than anything else, it makes you appreciate the people who actively fight against the disparities, such as our partner, MCHI. To say that I was inspired during this internship would be a major understatement. I was extremely lucky to hear the stories of several students and those of our fellow partners. It is through these stories that I learned the power of community-led organizations.
MCHI was started by a group of people who were either living with HIV/AIDS, or had a loved one that was impacted. This organization started as a school for children under the shade of a tree and now enrolls approximately four hundred students, many of which are also affected by HIV/AIDS. Not only does MCHI educate these students at its model school, Johnson Nkosi Memorial Primary School, but it also operates a clinic and a WASH program. Evaluating the impact of the WASH project was especially interesting while on ground, as we realized that behavioral change in sanitation practices was actually happening. Moreover, the passion of the members of MCHI was evident during each outreach as we asked the villagers about their water source and sanitation practices. I was extremely humbled by the appreciation that many of the villages had for GlobeMed’s participation in the WASH project.
These are the feelings and the memories that I must remember. It is so simple to return to our old habits and to forget. However, this inspiration must not only be remembered, but also shared with our chapter members. It is vital to recognize the importance of our commitment to our partner, and the impact that our project is having on the community. It is just as important to remain critical of our project, and challenge ourselves to do better. It is just as important to continually challenge a system that allows such disparities in socioeconomic status and lifestyles to exist. It is not enough to do minimal charity work a few times a year, we must challenge ourselves to work with community-based organizations and to trust in the power of a small group of determined individuals.