Saturday, 24 March 2012

Learning about life in the villages...

The last couple of weeks I have been conducting in-depth interviews with residents in four of the parishes of Bunambutye. It has been a totally incredible experience and I have met some wonderful people and learnt so much about life in the villages and the many challenges facing the people living here.

We have been working non-stop to try and meet with as many people as possible before the rain arrives and everyone will be out in their gardens and farms planting their crops. I really would not know where to start with trying to discuss the many findings but taking health for example, some of the findings are that;

The vast majority of children sampled have been born at home with no trained health professional present,

The majority of families have lost children to preventable diseases,

All families are affected regularly by malaria and only one family I have spoken to have enough mosquito nets

The health centre has very poor facilities and resources, it has no midwife, and frequently no drugs.  People quite often do not even go to the health centre as they fear they will need treatment which they will not be able to afford. This lady for example wanted me to take a picture of the painful growths she has on her body which she has not sought any treatment for. (Sorry, I know this is quite a graphic start to my blog!)

Some photo’s of the health centre...

The drug store

The incomes of the villagers are extremely low as most of them are subsistence farmers who only sell their crops to pay for essentials such as soap, sugar, school fees and medical emergencies. All of the families interviewed are aware of ways in which they could increase and diversify their incomes but simply have not been given the opportunity and do not have the resources to do so. Facilitating access to microfinance and business skills training are certainly areas for potential development and ones which I will endeavour to explore.

The recurring pattern of drought and famine is quite shocking, there is basically a food shortage every year at around this time and malnourishment is a serious problem. There are no irrigation systems in place so they only harvest once a year in July / August and by this time of year (March / April) they have used or sold all of the last harvest and they are just trying to scrape by until they harvest again. The extent of the food shortage depends on the previous years harvest which is getting worse due to climate change and the resultant unreliable rain. Many people look for work as laborers at this time where they can earn around £1 a day which is just enough to buy some flour to make posho for the family.  Posho is the staple diet here, it is a stodgy, flavourless food made of maize flour. At this time of year it is often not supplemented by any other foods and is often eaten only once a day.

Food security is definitely a priority need and something which the government is attempting to address. It is a complex and large scale problem however and huge amounts of resources are needed in order to tackle the problem effectively, resources which the government unfortunately do not appear to have. Irrigation on the other hand does not seem to be high on the government's lists of priorities, despite the fact that irrigation could well be a key factor in improving food security.

Robert, the Parish Chief is passionate and knowledgable about the development of his community and has been a great support, he has organised all of the interviews and patiently sat through and translated each of them....they are very long with each one taking about 2 and a half hours!

Me and Robert (red t-shirt) conducting an interview

An introduction to a few of the participants...

This lady (Jennifer) is looking after 15 of her children and grandchildren, all of the grand-children’s parents have died from aids and so have four of her grand-children. She looks after the remaining children on an extremely low income in a very small house, all of the children are in school and doing well...she is incredible and I literally don’t know how she does it!! She would love to have her own shop one day to help pay for all the school fees.

This lady (Anna) is one of Bunambutye’s buisness women / entrepreneurs. She sells matoke and tomatoes on the side of the road. She would really like to receive business training and a small loan so that she can grow her business and to expand her range of products to increase her income.

This lady (Naome) and her family are living in severe poverty, they live in a one room mudhut and are really struggling to survive. An example of the effect that poverty has had on their life is from a couple of years ago.  One of her children fell ill and she took him to the medical centre for treatment, they referred her to the hospital 10 km away as the child needed a drip which was not available locally. She had no money for transport so she started to walk carrying the child and the child died on the way to the hospital. I found it heartbreaking that this could actually happen and felt more motivated than ever to try and make some positive changes in these villages so that occurrences like this can hopefully someday become a thing of the past.

Despite the hardships the families are evidently facing they have greeted me with openness, positivity, warmth, enthusiasm and hope. I have also been shown great generosity with many of the families giving me a gift such as eggs, tomatoes or some milk, this is a big sacrifice especially at this time of year and never fails to be extremely humbling.

Some pictures taken in the villages...

Another outcome of the consultation is meeting a lovely little girl called Pheobe. After watching a documentary based in a local hospital I decided to add a question about hydrocephalis onto the questionnaire. Through this I became aware of Pheobe who is 3 and a half and was born with the condition. She did not complete her treatment as her parents could not afford the transport costs (the hospital is 30km away) and has not been to see a doctor for almost three years. We went to visit her at home and found that she is very underdeveloped for her age, her head appears large and heavy and she struggles to hold it up and she cant crawl or walk and isn’t toilet trained. I went with her and her Mum back to the hospital where they taught her about physiotherapy and gave her some exercises.

Phoebe's home

I have also had the opportunity to attend a 4 day training course for local civil servants developed and funded by USAID on development planning, local and national government and it's initiatives, environment, HIV, health and was very interesting and a great opportunity to meet people.

Anyway, that’s quite enough for now, if you have any questions / comments or suggestions please get in touch and ill reply as soon as possible

Thanks for reading!


  1. Fantastic blog again Aimes. I'm really interested in the consultation you have been doing and I hope the clearer picture you get will help to empower villagers and overseas supporters to improve life expectancy and conditions. I wonder if you asked any questions about their happiness/peace/satisfaction/social/family functioning. I find it interesting that sometimes in difficult conditions these facets of our lives can actually be enhanced. Any thoughts?

    I can't wait to get out there. Will inbox you progress on that.

    Also, I have contacted a fellow Unltd buddy as she partners women's health care programmes (particularly to do with pregnancy) in the UK with a few African countries. I've asked her for more information... actually, you may have already met her? Angela.

    Really good to have an update and keep up the fantastic work and enjoy the experience.

    Lots of love, as always, Sar xxx

  2. Hello! Thank-you for your comments!! I can send you a copy of the consultation of you like, there are some cultural questions such as satisfaction with living in the area, vision of the future. I was unsure about asking some questions about family due to gender dynamics but have had some interesting insights nevertheless just through the process. Would be fab to be put in touch with Angela, will definitely be exploring UnLtd and other schemes in the near future!
    Lots of love

  3. Another wonderful blog Aimee, thankyou for sharing your experience with us, it's fascinating, yet heartbreaking, and you are doing an amazing thing by being out there. Everyone loved the photo of the children wearing their rugby shirts, we've put it on our school website!! Take care xx

  4. Aww, amazing! Could you send me the link for the website please?! Hope you are having a nice weekend x x

  5. great to hear from you and though i appreciate being here i really wish i was there with you! i have looked into linking my imac up with yours (can't remember what the site is called now!) and i think i subcribed but haven't done anymore.... besides which all my photos are on a different computer. guess another football kit for school haha! will keep my ears peeled/find out about a frame for pheobe.
    for mothers day, charlotte made up a book of a few of our photos which was really sweet...anyway battery is about to die so toodle pips and say hi to all in the teachers block xsxxx

  6. Really interesting blog Aimee, and great photo's. You are doing a fantastic job in what must be very difficult circumstances. Look forward to hearing more and seeing you on your return. x