Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HIV Outreaches

So for a change the Mrs. Graves is going to be writing this blog post. Hopefully you won't get too bored with it because Devin is a much better writer than I am but he wanted me to write this one, so I hope you enjoy :)

Ever since I was in high school I have wanted to go to Africa and work in some kind of HIV/AIDs outreach. Well with only 6 weeks in the country I got busy and was not only able to accomplish this once but TWICE!! And they were planning on doing another one after I left. But there was no way I could have done this with out the help of my wonderful husband.
Although Devin considers this my project, I feel like we worked really well as a team. It took a lot of planning and working with an amazing organization called Aids Information Center, AIC, which is located in Mbale. AIC provided us with 3 HIV counselors and 1 Technician and they were absolutely a joy to work with! The first outreach was in a village called Bumbo, which was located right on the Kenya border. While I ran the logistical side of things and recorded the results of the tests, Devin taught a family planning class to those waiting for their results and Dillon (another HELP volunteer) helped mobilize the community. I was able to over hear Devin's classes and he did an amazing job, I think the hot pink condoms helped :)

At the start of the outreach we were all interested to see how the testing was done so Dillon decided he wanted to get tested. Luckily he tested negative or else he would have a lot of explaining to do! The test is very basic, they just prick your finger and put a few drops of blood on the little tablet shown in the picture below. Then they drop several drops of a solution on the blood and after 15 minutes you will see a line show up. If there are 2 lines it means the person was tested positive and if there is only 1 line then they are negative. Out of the 212 people we tested at the two locations only 10 were found positive. I was really surprised with this number, I always thought it was more prevalent but I'm sure if we would have gone to poorer villages that were more secluded or hard to reach then the numbers would have been a lot bigger. But I was happy to see that only about 5% of the people tested actually had the disease. And with the AIC team they provide great support to those who have HIV and how to live with it but still have a fulfilling life.

On the second day of the outreach I was so pleased to see that several of the same team members from AIC were coming with me again! They don't always send out the same people you have worked with before, it just depends on what outreaches are happening that day and who is available. I had such an enjoyable time with my first team that I was thrilled to be working with some of the them again. They truly became some of my greatest friends while I was in Uganda! 
The team! (Lorna, Nancy, Devin, Paul, Dillon, Violet, Caitlin, and James)
Day 2 team (Violet, the Technician, Caitlin, Lorna, and Gretchen) 

The second outreach was a little bit different. It was located in a neighboring village from Mbale called Mukaga. We started out with a few bumps in the road as the venue fell through at the last minute. After many phone calls and working with some of the community members we came to an agreement on a place to hold the outreach. But once everyone was set up and things were rolling it ended up being another great day of testing and education to this community.
Devin had to leave early for another project he was involved in that afternoon so I was able to teach a few of the family planning classes myself. Towards the end of the day there was a group of young teenage girls who came to be tested. After one of the girls was tested and was meeting with the counselor, Lorna called me over and asked if there were still condoms left? She pointed to this young girl and told me "she has the disease." My heart broke in half the minute I heard those words come out of her mouth. I beckoned to the young girl to come with me to the other room and had a one on one talk with her about the importance of using condoms and showed her the proper way to use them in order to keep other people save from catching HIV from her. I sent her home with a full box, which contained 100 condoms, in the hopes that she understood how important it was to use them. 
It was sad to see that girls at such a young age are put in situations, sometimes against their will, to have sex and as a result this young girl had contracted HIV. It was a very humbling experience for me and made me grateful for the life I have. Sometimes I feel guilty for how easy my life is especially when I see how hard life is for others, and in this case for this young girl. She will be living with HIV for the rest of her life and will eventually die from it. I'm grateful to have these experiences and to be able to help in some way, but I always wish there was more I could do.

Devin preaching to the patients about condoms. Can I hear an Amen?!
All in all these 2 days were probably my best days in Uganda. I loved working with AIC, learning about HIV testing, and working closely with the two communities. If I ever live in Africa permanently I would love to be a HIV counselor, they were very inspiring! And of course at the end of the day we had a little bit of fun taking some pictures. Africans don't like to show their teeth when they smile so I was trying really hard to get Violet to give me a real smile, it didn't work out so well.

Violet and I (I couldn't get her to smile!)

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