After months of preparation, the day finally came to start my journey to Uganda, Africa to volunteer for S.O.U.L Foundation. I received my vaccines, packed my bags, and obtained my visa, but was I really ready for what Uganda had in store?
I will have a lifetime connection and contribution to S.O.U.L., and just as importantly, I will continue to be emboldened, uplifted, and fueled by what S.O.U.L. and its community provide me.
Connecting with my student from across continents amped up my desire to live and understand his and his family's lives – to be able to look each other in the eyes and empathetically share our lives.
The maternal health program at S.O.U.L. Foundation aims to reach every individual in the community with up to date maternal and child health information in order to reduce maternal and infant mortality in the region. This is currently being achieved through various information channels, including the Village Health Team (VHT) workers, who are the first health care responders at the grassroots level of communities. Because S.O.U.L. Foundation recognizes the significant role and influence the VHTs have within the villages, the maternal health team recently worked with district and sub-county health officials to train a cohort of 34 VHTs from Budondo sub-county on maternal and child health.
As an Information Communication and Operations Specialist, I work closely with this passionate cohort of maternal health ambassadors, who are now able to identify pregnancy danger signs, refer mothers to the nearest health centers, extend maternal health education to the broader community, and collect data about health indicators. My role includes managing and training the VHTs on data collection, analysis, and reporting skills. Furthermore, I engage the VHTs in feedback sessions where they share their experiences, challenges, and solutions so that the program is fine-tuned to meet community needs.
As the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at S.O.U.L. Foundation, I get the distinct pleasure of assessing the impact of the various initiatives in the Maternal Health Program. While during a typical workday I spend endless hours coding data and writing reports, I also get to take the M&E nerd out from behind the computer and spend time with 150 pregnant mamas who come to S.O.U.L. each day. These women, of the 450 women we plan to serve in the first year of our project, are representative of S.O.U.L.'s commitment to community-driven development, a model that focuses on creating programs that are directly rooted in the needs of local communities. In 2014, S.O.U.L. listened to its community members articulate the maternal and child health needs of their villages, through the dissemination of a comprehensive needs assessment. The result – the Antenatal Education Class, a collaboratively developed education program that teaches a patient-advocacy and empowerment-centered childbirth education curriculum.
I first learned about S.O.U.L. Foundation earlier this year when I was searching for maternal health jobs in Uganda. When I came across the posting for a Maternal Health Program Manager, I just knew I had to work for this organization. What struck me the most about S.O.U.L. was the thoughtfulness that had gone into the development of the maternal health program, specifically the focus on the Three Delays Model.
As a maternal health professional, specifically focused on the reduction of maternal mortality, the Three Delays Model is the foundation of how I would ideally approach every project. This model highlights the three different points in obtaining health care where delays contribute to maternal mortality: the delay in seeking care, the delay in accessing care, and the delay in receiving appropriate treatment.
For me, service is a way of life. I’ve seen a wide range in the effectiveness of service. I spent my 20s lending support to a myriad of social causes: tutoring 7th graders, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for food drives, counseling women to transition from homelessness to employment, and on and on.
I was left wondering what happened to the people I served. Did my tutoring actually make a difference? Did the women that I had a one-off resume review sessions and mock interview sessions with go on to find a ways to support themselves? Were my interventions too late? Too few? I yearned to know more about the aftermath. I yearned to see the faces of people that ate the lunches I packed. I yearned to talk to them. I yearned to know them and their stories.
It’s 9:00am on Monday morning. I start down the red dirt path to the S.O.U.L. office, eyes to the ground in effort to keep my shoes reasonably dust-free. The twinkling of women’s laughter drifts through the banana trees to my ears. “What day is it?” I think to myself. As the answer hits me, I abandon my careful trek and tear off wildly towards the sound. I turn right at the sweet potato garden, scurry down the trail between the maize fields, and with a flourishing swipe of the matooke fronds in my path, I land among the most beautiful sight: 60 Ugandan women, bedecked in their brightest kitenge, patiently awaiting for the opening of the S.O.U.L. Antenatal Education Center.
In today's market, technology is a driving force. Everywhere you go, people are connected. Not just in the Western markets, even in a developing country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job without even the basic computer skills. The technology field is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide and as we are educating our students through to university level there is still a educational gap between them and their urban counterparts in the way of computer skills. Through strategic partnerships with local schools, S.O.U.L. Foundation is aiming to change and bridge that gap.
“S…E…X…” I read the letters aloud as I scrawl them across the poster paper taped to the wall behind me, and the room erupts with a cacophony of laughter.