Sunday, August 19, 2012

GirlTech Uganda 2012

What is GirlTech Uganda?
GirlTech is a professional development program for early secondary girl students, encouraging them to pursue advanced education and careers in science, math, and technology. The week long program had 79 participants, all girls from secondary 1-3 levels, from all parts of Uganda. As far as we know, it's the first program of its kind in Uganda. Another PCV, Stevie Bergman, and I have been somehow planning this program for about a year now, and it was truly amazing to see it happen!

Activities included daily computer sessions, life skills sessions (re-usable menstrual pads, HIV/AIDS, assertive communication), science sessions, and guest speakers: female Ugandans who work in science or technology fields. We were fortunate to have a forestry supervisor, a fisheries biologist, a doctor, an architect, and a forensic scientist come and share their experiences with the girls. Science sessions included bottle rockets/forces of flight, projectiles, disease detectives (my shameless push for epidemiology!), and volcanoes, where girls got to make their own baking soda volcanoes. Each day was started with a "mad science" session, demonstrating a cool science experiment, intended to "blow their minds!" We also did an awesome astronomy night and two tower of strength competitions, where girls had to create the tallest structure out of limited materials. At the end of the week, we had a science fair where girls showcased science projects they worked on throughout the week.

Our "call to attention" for the week, which we used whenever we had to get the attention of 100+ people was:

Call: Pi
Response: Pi
Call: Pi
Response: Pi
Call: 3.14!
Response: 159!

It worked really well, and was also quite entertaining!

Willysha and Sara wrote the amazing GirlTech song, to the tune of "My Favorite Things:"

Girl Tech Anthem! 

Beakers and test tubes and Bunsen Burners 
Animal dissections and scientific learners. 
Chemical reactions and Goldberg Machines. 
These are a few of our favorite things. 

 Mercury and Neptune, Saturn and Venus 
Earth, Jupiter, Mars and Uranus. 
Planets and stars that shine like flames. 
These are a few of our favorite things. 

When they tell us don't do science, cause you're simply girls. 
That's when we prove to them using our brains. 
We're Girl Tech girls!

Each group of 10 girls was a planet, and staff was the sun!

The awesome GirlTech logo, designed by PCV Khayla Johnson!

Towers became too big to measure!

Kirk, the bottle rocket launcher!

The girls were a bit surprised to see the rockets fly!

Mary, teaching computers!

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years"

Oobleck, a non-newtonian fluid

Ruben's tube: we made fire dance!

What caused the disease? 

An epidemiologist in the making!

How to communicate assertively

Willysha, our lovely life skills teacher!


What's the right angle to launch a water balloon at the opposing team?

The science fair

Teaching others about composting

The sun!

Me and Stevie with Deborah, the amazing HT of our our host school!


Thank you to everyone who made GirlTech possible! We had the most amazing staff members who made miracles happen throughout the week. What a great way to end my Peace Corps service :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's that time: COS

COS Conference
Last week my training class had our last Peace Corps conference together: our Close of Service (COS) conference. While we mostly talked about administrative stuff (when exactly we'll all be leaving, what forms to fill out, etc.), we also reflected on our past two years in Uganda. Not only that, we got to stay at a super swanky resort! This place had multiple swimming pools, a view of Lake Victoria, garden pathways, and Uganda's only equestrian center! The resort was so big they had golf carts to carry guests throughout the resort! (Although, I knew I was still in Uganda when my golf cart "ran out of fuel" after going 3 feet...the carts are electric.) We also got to enjoy delicious food: homemade yogurt, bacon, curries, chicken, beef, fish, cheese (real cheese!), and awesome desserts like tiramisu, crumble cake, and chocolate cake balls.

Room with a balcony

Balcony garden

Part of the garden walway


One pool: with a lake view

Another pool!

On our last night together, we had a lovely barbeque dinner on the lake. One of my fellow volunteers, Chelsea, shared a lovely poem to wrap up our service. Thanks Chelsea!

Our Peace Corps Journey
by Chelsea Lenore Milko
We have walked the narrows
Shaken our fists
Sunk into spaces
Been illuminated.
We lost some wind
But found the route.
We haven’t saved these people
Because they don’t need our saving.
But we have lifted their song, our song.
Not every moment we lived did we love it.
But with love we lived it.
Not because we had to
but because we could do.
We’ve seen so much
And we’ve really seen ourselves.
We have so much to give.
The trick is to not fear the magnificence.
To not blasphemy the hope.
Take this experience as a promise.
Use it. Plant it.
The world requires our love.
All the strength and dignity we can give it.
Because it is better to be a light source 
than to suffer the damned darkness.

Food Break
On the way home after the conference, I was bombarded by the usual band of street-food vendors. These also include vendors selling bags of vegetables, and I was persuaded by a bag of delicious-looking green peppers for 1,000 ugx (about 40 cents). After I made my purchase, I started wondering how I could consume 8 green peppers before they go bad...solution: stuffed green peppers! Mary came over to enjoy them with me, and I stuffed them with rice, tomatoes, onions, and shredded ham (from a wonderful care package!). After topping them with some parmesan cheese (which I brought back from my Christmas trip) and baking them, we enjoyed!

They turned out so perfectly!

Mary really enjoyed!

Well, I couldn't stop there, so I went on to make oatmeal, chocolate chip pecan cookies with the remainder of my Christmas stash of American food. So good:


So Rashida, what are you doing with your last few months in Uganda? 
It's really starting to hit me that I only have about 2 more months in Uganda. Where did the time go?! While I'm ready to close this chapter in my life, I have one more big project to finish: GirlTech Uganda. I'm co-directing this project, a professional development program for girls interested in science and technology, with an awesome fellow PCV, Stevie. The program will run from August 5-11 (with a brief training from August 3-5) at a secondary school a few kilometers from my house. It's going to be pretty amazing, with a science fair, "mad science" sessions, bottle rockets, etc., but there's so much to do in the next two weeks to get it all ready! I'll post more details after the program finishes, but wish me luck!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Northern Camp GLOW

This past week I had the privilege to participate in a Camp GLOW in northern Uganda. Camp GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and the idea for such a girls’ leadership camp began in 1995 in Peace Corps Romania. Since then, Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world have held GLOW camps to empower girls and teach them valuable life skills.

All of us!

The Northern Camp GLOW in Uganda was held from April 24-30, 2012 in Gulu. During the camp, girls learned about HIV (including voluntary HIV testing and individual counseling), income generating activities (IGAs), teamwork, domestic violence, communication skills, and self-esteem.

The girls learned to make small purses as an IGA

Learning to make sack gardens with Karla

Learning to use condoms!

The week was exhausting, but extremely successful! I facilitated the HIV sessions, which included some structured activities and unstructured Q&As while the girls waited for their counseling sessions. I also got to work with some amazing Ugandan HIV educators and counselors for the day - thank you Jane and Simon!

Since Camp GLOW was held in the same town where we had Peace Camp last summer, we also got the opportunity to take the girls to The Recreation Project again, a ropes course with very active team-building and motivational exercises. Some of the facilitators even remembered me as the girl who greatly feared heights but conquered the zip line! This time around, I led a reflection for the girls before and after they completed the zip line, to put the session in context and relate it to overcoming fears and challenges throughout their life.

The course has changed a lot since my last visit, and in particular they’ve added a completing terrifying new activity called the Leap of Faith. This involves climbing a narrow tree (very high up, I might add), standing on top of the narrow tree, and leaping to try and catch a trapeze-type bar. See the pictures below to understand why my heart started racing whenever I looked at it! However, the girls are much braver than I am, and nearly all of the girls overcame their fears and attempted the leap, something the project facilitators say is very rare – usually only 60% try it!

The leap of faith - so scary!

Leaping with grace :)


More teamwork to conquer the impossible wall!

Tae Kwon Do!

Twice during the week we linked-up with the boys’ leadership camp (BUILD – Boys of Uganda in Leadership and Development) for some field day activities and domestic violence discussions. Having almost 200 campers in one setting was a bit overwhelming, but the activities were successful!

Just having fun!

Me and my friend Karla

GLOW and BUILD - a great team!

At the closing ceremony, some of the campers read poems inspired by their experience at GLOW. We thought they were so awesome that Karla asked for a copy after the ceremony:

About Domestic Violence
Women! Women! Women!
The mothers of the nation
Beaten and tortured by ruthless men
Whipped and raped by strangers
Crying with the poor child on her back
Digging from Dawn to sunset
With little to earn from the harvest
No food, much work
The ribs seen from a kilometer

Never! Never! Never!
Shall it happen again
You hit me, I take you behind bars
When sad lean on friends

Women! Women! Women!
Suffering no more
No more sorrows
Because we are strong and beautiful
And proud to be a girl
And I am the future leader of my country Uganda,
The Pearl of Africa
Women! Women! Women!
By Dr. Irene and Jacque
Camp Glow Closing Ceremony
April 29th, 2012 Gulu Uganda

Proud Glow Girls
Proud are we the Glow Girls
Beautiful we look, eloquent we speak
The bright zebras! Calm crocodiles!
Elegant giraffes! The humble Ugandan Kobs!
Gallant Rhinos! Cheerful Lions! Assertive Elephants!
Cherished Monkeys! Royal Hippos and the fastest Cheetahs!
All focused to be leaders of Uganda, The Pearl of Africa

Proud are we the Glow Girls
So useful to nations, our communities,
The world at large.

Proud are we the Glow girls
To have our nice and loving counselors, staff and co-directors.
We are proud of you.
Thank you Camp Glow
For teaching us.
Camp Glow Closing Ceremony
April 29th, 2012
by Aete Claudys Komakech,
Ocer Champion Jesuit College, Gulu, Uganda

Thanks for a great week everyone! :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Oh, by the way: my new home!

So in all the excitement of the past month, I've forgotten to blog about my new home! I'll admit, I was beginning to think it would never happen. Due to a crazy number of hurdles along the way, it took about 5.5 months to make this move happen.

So what is my new organization? It's called Medical Education Resources Africa (MERA). It's an NGO that, among other things, runs a college of health sciences. Of course, the college isn't yet officially registered, but that doesn't seem to stop students from attending the school anyway.

The new org

Unfortunately, my new organization didn't seem to understand the point of having a Peace Corps Volunteer at first... The job description they sent in with their volunteer application listed a whole host of things that don't quite fall in line with the "capacity building" aspect of PC. For example, they wanted someone to get textbooks donated from Europe or the US, to solicit for monetary and materials resources, and to write grants for the expansion of the organization.

You might be asking, well why can't you do these things? It's the difference between teaching a man to fish and just giving him a fish. For details on how foreign aid (including foreigners who come to African countries for a few weeks/months and do exactly those tasks outlined above) has actually been detrimental to the development of Africa, I'd recommend Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo.

Less curb appeal than my old place, but still nice!

Kitchen/sitting room

Where I try and work

Bedroom/more sitting room

A big plus to my place is that it's in Bugembe, a town 5 km east of Jinja town. This means that I have much better access to power and internet than I did in Mayuge. It also means that I'm close enough to town to have pizza delivered TO MY HOUSE. Now, this might not seem like a big deal to those of you back home, but it's a HUGE deal here! I didn't even think such a thing was possible! So the other night, my friend (who lives just a few more kilometers east of me) decided that we had to take advantage of this new miracle.

Delivery woman showed up on a boda!

Mary enjoying our pizza! It had feta cheese!

My house is also right next to a radio station, Baba FM. One day I decided to go and check out their offices and make some new friends. Well, since it's a radio station and can't afford to go off the air every time the power goes out, they have a huge generator that turns on immediately when the power goes out. They also have AIR CONDITIONING. It was heavenly! As I was leaving, I was asked to record a quick advert in Lusoga for an upcoming concert in June.

I'm famous!

Next to the radio station is the Busoga Kingdom headquarters, where the cultural leader for the Busoga region is supposed to work. Unfortunately, Busoga has not had a king for 3 years. When the last leader died, a new one was supposed to be elected from among 11 elders. There were two main contenders, one who is supported by the government and one who is supported by the people. Apparently every time they meet to elect a leader, fighting ensues. I found all of this information out when one day half a dozen police vehicles parked themselves all around the compound near my house to prevent fighting from occurring during the most recent meeting. It sure took me by surprise to all of sudden be surrounded by policemen every time I left my house, but after 4 days the threat had apparently diminished, and they all left. That is, until the next meeting.

Baba FM (reddish building) and Busoga Headquarters (white building)

So as you can see, life in Bugembe is anything but dull! Farewell, until my next adventure!