During January, five students from Colgate University, Hamilton New York, had the opportunity to visit two projects supported by Sustain for Life in Kisoro, Uganda. The undergraduate students were sponsored by the university to accompany Ellen Percy Kraly, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Colgate, to learn about community based health projects in Uganda.
Students spent a full day at St Francis Mutolere Hospital in Kisoro to learn about the hospital programmes and the impact they are having on the community’s health and health education status. Professor Kraly and the students also toured the hospital and hospital gardens project before attending a community health outreach. The hospital’s public health staff demonstrated the benefits and use of treated mosquito nets and led a spirited discussion of HIV prevention and treatment.
Professor Kraly and her students were very excited to learn the progress of efforts to increase the health status and health-seeking behaviours among the Batwa peoples within the region. A hospital presentation on a recent survey of the Batwa population living within the Kisoro District stimulated a good discussion about the benefits of both quantitative and qualitative data for monitoring and evaluation of programmes, as well as the identification of emerging health and community issues. The dedication of the staff to the specific needs of the Batwa in the region was evident and inspiring.
The group also discussed the sustainable living programmes developed by the hospital to support positive living with HIV/AIDs, encourage growing of highly nutritional crops, protect the environment and land, and potentially generate income. Students engaged the new information about the lack of access to land and the significance of ‘veranda’ gardens. Despite this evident challenge, St Francis Mutolere Hospital has found ways to work with the environment they are given and it is evident in their current and future programme plans. Looking to the future, the Colgate group sees much growth from the hospital given their strong commitment to sustainable living.
The students also visited the Kisoro Demonstration School for the Blind and Deaf. The purpose of the visit was to better understand the mission and programmes of the school and specifically projects supported by Sustain for Life. With interests in pursuing careers in global public and community health, the students were interested to learn how the leadership and staff of the school were meeting the learning challenges of children and youth with visual and hearing disabilities and also learning what needs remain and are emerging in supporting children with special needs in Uganda.
The headmaster of the school and his dedicated staff articulated their goal to both monitor and evaluate their programmes and efforts to improve the learning environment for students with special needs. During the lively discussions, Professor Kraly noted that it would be possible and beneficial for her to provide training on project evaluation for the school in the future. The school’s project to provide computer training for visually impaired students was very exciting. Staff shared their need for basic computer education and a simple manual in order for the children and staff to learn how to complete computer-based tasks such as copying files. Students at Colgate University are currently in the process of creating this manual in order to fulfill this need. Further, one of the teachers who works with the blind and deaf children, expressed how she is concerned that there is a lack of specialisation for teachers in college seeking to help special needs children.
Though structural challenges persist, the Kisoro Demonstration School in partnership with Sustain for Life has created an environment in which children have access to new facilities and engage with passionate teachers who truly care about their well-being. Looking to the future, the school hopes to include the community in special needs awareness through sensitisation trainings and community discussions.
To learn more about the Colgate Connection with Uganda, visit here