Saturday, June 25, 2011

So Peace Corps isn’t ALL fun and games…

I know I mostly post about vacations/non-work related things, but that’s mostly because I figure those posts make for a more interesting read. Also, I think pictures make for more interesting posts :) However, I realize it may come across as if I don’t ever work. So I wanted to make it clear that while the work here is slow and very often punctuated by fun and games, there is still work.

Case in point: I’ve been teaching life skills/health/whatever at a local secondary school. Since the kids are often shy around the muzungu (and in front of their classmates), I thought it would better to set up an anonymous questions box, where students can ask questions about health, etc. without having to ask them in front of everyone. Well, no one else seemed as excited about this idea as I was, so I thought the box would just be forgotten about, or maybe even stolen by a trouble-making student. Imagine my surprise when I came back to the school two days after setting up the box to find it overstuffed with questions. I was a bit overwhelmed by the volume of questions posed to me, so I told the students to let me take them home and prepare my answers for next week. Well, here are some of the questions that I got:
  • If you have sex during your menstruation, do you get pregnant?
  • Is it true that if you kiss someone who has HIV, you’ll also get HIV?
  • There are some boys who disturb me during my leisure time, but if I see them I feel like vomiting. What can I do, please help me? 
  • Is it true that if young people play sex before menstruation begins you can still get pregnant?
  • How can I know when playing sex that sperm is coming through the penis?
  • Is it true that if you delay having sex you become an abnormal person?
  • Is it bad to practice homosexuality?
  • People usually tell us to have sex when we are still young in order to become perfect in sex. What is the meaning of perfect in sex?
  • I am 17, but my fellow students say that I can’t get somebody pregnant because I do not erect. What am I going to do? Because I like studying more than playing sex.
  • Is it true that menstruation breaks your virginity?
  • How many times can you use a condom before it gets destroyed?
  • If your uncle admired you and you stay in the same house and he pays your school fees and his intention is to fall in love with you, how can I avoid that?
  • If you are disliked at home because you were raped by a certain man you don’t know, and your guardians and neighbors are harsh, and you are shy, what knowledge do you give to that person who is in such a condition?
  • If your father takes drugs, how can you avoid that problem if you want to study?
  • If I am a boy and I have not experienced wet dreams, am I infertile?
  • I am a girl of 12 years. I have aborted 2 pregnancies. Can I manage to give birth the next time?
  • I have AIDS, but I feel like I’m in injury of playing sex. What can I do?

This is just a sampling of the questions I received after two days. TWO DAYS. Some of the questions can be addressed with sessions on facts about HIV, menstruation, safe sex practices, etc., but some of the questions are more difficult. How do I address the issue of homosexuality in a country where it is illegal, and gay activists get beaten to death? There are still discussions of passing a bill penalizing practicing homosexuals in Uganda with the death penalty. How do I address questions of rape and stigmatization, drug use, and a relative who wants sexual favors in exchange for school fees? Good grief! Well, that’s the challenge of the day, and only time will tell what questions I’ll get next time!

On another note, I recently visited an orphanage near my town. My presence was requested by the orphanage’s director, who saw me at an event at my health center. After making it clear that, although I’m white, I’m not hear to give their organization money, I went for a visit. While it’s still a new organization, I was shocked (and I thought I was over being shocked in this country) by what I saw. The students have class under a wall-less temporary structure (so of course, no class when it rains). They sleep 40 students per room, with no mattresses, on a dirt floor. They fetch their water (for washing, drinking, cooking) from an open pond with gray water a 15 minute walk away. On the weekends they have to work in the garden to grow their own food to eat. Sometimes they perform songs/dances/skits about HIV and family planning around the district to earn money for the organization. They walk miles each way to the performances because they can’t afford transport. When I talked to the kids, one girl asked me to be her mother.

The director told me they need money to fix the place up (no-duh). Since the students perform (they performed at my health center) to make money, I was a bit confused about where the money went. Are the kids seeing any benefit from the money? Why are they still sleeping on a dirt floor then? I told them I would try and help the organization develop some income generating activities (clearly not something I know much about though) if I could have full access to their financial reports. We’ll see how this turns out!

ttfn :)


  1. Rashida, good luck with this one. It's a tough and touchy situation you're in here regarding all of the sex related questions - especially those that go beyond mere physical health issues. One of the all time great books for volunteers is "Where There Is No Doctor: a village health care handbook, by David Werner with Carol Thuman and Jane Maxwell. Here's a brief summary: I'll actually be back in Uganda myself in early August. It's a great country with some backward public policies. Also, for what it's worth, I would like to share with you an article I wrote some time ago specifically for young volunteers like yourself. I hope you find it helpful. It's called "Staying for Tea: Five Principles for the Community Development Volunteer"

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am glad that you have taken the initiative to help the orphanage generate funding.