Children clap to the beat of Colin’s music.
Last Wednesday, Colin and I visited the TASO Children’s Clinic. Each Wednesday, TASO’s young clients come for counseling, medical care, and pharmaceuticals. Most of the children are taking an anti-malarial & TB prophalaxis; others are fortunate to be on pediatric ART. The TASO children’s clinic used to be housed in a dilapidated, cramped trailer. That horrible trailer retired in January when TASO finished construction on a new wing of the building and opened the doors to a spacious, sunny children’s clinic.
Colin brought his guitar along and I carried crayons and coloring books. Two of the participants from the poultry project were there! Michael Wanaba and Yekosophat (and his mother, Lona). Michael looks like a different child. Last summer, he was terribly weak and suffering from malnutrition and stomach TB. The TB is gone, he’s gained weight, and he began taking ARVs.
Lona told me that, “everytime Yekosophat sees a muzungu he thinks it is you.” Lona, like many other poultry project participants, lost hens to New Castle disease. She said that when the hens died, she decided to sell the cock, fearing it too would fall sick. With the profit from the cock (4,000 USh) plus a portion of her savings (10,000 USh), Lona purchased a goat. Her goat is pregnant and she plans on purchasing a calf in the near future. Each of the poultry project participants also received a bicycle as an additional source of income and support. Lona lends her bicycle for use as a boda boda (bike taxi service) and uses the profits to pay for Yekosophat’s school fees. Yekosophat is doing well in school and ranked 26th out of 90 students in his primary-2 class.
Yekosophat sings a song about the impact of AIDS.
Colin brought smiles and laughter to the children (and their mothers) with his music. He played some folk songs and the children clapped. He sat in the middle of the straw mat strumming his guitar with all the love and soul he had. It’s hard to go to the children’s clinic. Last year, I remember excusing myself. Overwhelmed with emotion, I had to leave to cry, to hide my reaction. It’s hard to see sick children anytime, anyplace. Colin was so graceful. He didn’t need to leave. Whatever he was feeling – hopeless, confused, sad – was hidden by his song and smile. Yekosophat was so moved by the music that he stood up sang a ballad about AIDS. Colin played the guitar to the beat of the lyrics and the swing of Yekosophat’s hips. Lona sang along. It was so cool. The song he sang tells the story of an uncle that “used to sing and dance…now he is sick with AIDS and barely walking.”
On Thursday, we went back to TASO to discuss our plans for the poultry project. The biggest obstacle has been the scourge of New Castle disease (NCD). We believe that the majority of the hens we purchased were sick. NCD is a common virus that affects village poultry in developing countries. Although we paid for the hens to receive NCD vaccine, we cannot be certain they did. Fortunately, at the onset of sickness, many of the families were able to sell their birds and purchase more birds or goats, and the bicycles continue to provide most of the families with some supplemental income. And not all the birds fell ill. Considering the NCD obstacle and our limited time here, we decided to hold another training workshop and purchase 3 more hens for each family. The workshop will be Saturday, May 26. We contacted FARMAfrica about getting one of their trainers to facilitate the workshop. The hens will be purchased from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), where we bought the cocks last year. Another option is to allow each family to locate a vendor in their community and purchase the hens locally.
Workshop discussion topics will include: nutrition, bird health/vaccination, problems/solutions/concerns, marketing/business strategies. We want the workshop to be a forum for the participants to discuss the failures and successes of the pilot phase of the project…we want to respond to their needs.
We began mobilizing the families for the workshop last Friday. TASO gave us a vehicle to travel to the Budadiri sub-county to visit with three of the poultry project participants (Violet, Vaska, and Maimuna).
A TASO TEACH program participant examines Vaska’s 11-month-old daughter for signs of anemia and malnutrition.
We found Vaska in the front of her uncle’s home carrying her baby. Several TASO staff encouraged Vaska to take the child to a nearby health clinic for blood work, possibly a transfusion. The baby showed classic signs of anemia and malnutrition. Vaska said that she has had troubles with the poultry, but the bicycle has been profitable. She agreed to come to the workshop with another family member so that she can have support and assistance with the poultry.
Violet’s grandmother (her caretaker) greeted us with dismay and sadness. The evening prior her entire bird/goat house had been ransacked and all of her livestock was stolen. She said her birds never fell sick. She was so upset and we assured her that she had done all she could to protect her birds. In fact, her birds probably never fell sick because of the clean, well-kept house she built for them. News of the upcoming workshop seemed to cheer her up. Violet was in town buying a school uniform, which is a good sign. She got the money from boda boda profits.
Violet’s grandmother sits with her orphaned grandsons; she has lost all but one of her children. Her only surviving daughter was recently diagnosed with HIV.
We also had time to drop by Shamim’s house. She ran outside screaming when she saw the TASO vehicle, but made a quick u-turn back into the house. She emerged two minutes later with a different dress on – Colin told her how I also love to change my outfits several times a day.
Shamim holds a little lamb.
Shamim’s health has improved greatly. She is getting taller, her rash has disappeared, and her grandparents said that she has not fallen sick in months. Her energy levels have also improved and she continues to make her family happy.
We found Maimuna walking towards the TASO outreach clinic with a walking stick in one hand and her best friend’s hand in the other. Maimuna has a herpes virus on her right leg. She needs a cane to walk and the pain is excruciating. She got treatment at the TASO outreach Friday, and the TASO medical staff said that her leg should be healed by Saturday.
Margaret, me, Maimuna, and TASO community workers pose for a pic.
Colin got his suitcase on Saturday! The box of 64 Crayola crayons was scattered among his clothes. Clothes were unfolded and I think some things are missing. It’s here, though, and that’s all that matters. We went to Entebbe to retrieve the luggage and we stayed there Saturday night. Lake Victoria is gorgeous, but the lake flies that hang out there are annoying. There’s billions of ‘em. And together they make a piercing, terrifying noise that I believe has inspired the melodies for the most haunting horror film scores. We took public transport back to Mbale last night. Near Iganga, about 2 hours southwest of Mbale, we were stalled because of a horrible accident. A semi-truck hauling beer flipped and went off the road. Hundreds of cars on either side of the one-vehicle accident waited to pass on the bumping, unpaved road. People were everywhere; the only illumination provided by gigantic stars, a cresent moon, and car headlights. I hope the driver is okay…it didn’t look good.
I have to go to TASO now. It’s Monday morning, the sun is shining, and I promise to write more tonight or tomorrow morning.
A sign at the Budadiri clinic prohibits grazing animals. If you look closely, you’ll see a goat and a cow, grazing.
May 20th, 2007