Olyotya!

I’ve been slowly learning Lugandan, the local language they speak here. My jaw’s sore from trying so hard to form the words of a different language. However, “Olyotya!” is one that I have down. It means “How are you doing?” and is a greeting you say to someone when you approach them.

A little bit about what I’m doing with Twezimbe. We’ve isolated 6 schools, 2 of high socioeconomic status (SES) and 4 of low SES. The four low-SES schools are each from different sub-counties of Uganda. The idea is to get together a group of 20 girls ages 11 to 21, broken up into a younger group and an older group, to provide a safe place for them to talk about girl problems. Most girls even in our own country don’t like to open up about their awkward encounters with boys, problems with periods, and disproportioned body parts. Hopefully through these small groups we can facilitate a discussion about these problems, with an emphasis on physical fitness, obesity, and diet. St. Lawrence, one of the high SES schools, is completely on board. Their PE teacher has had trouble getting the girls to participate in gym class, so I proposed dedicating a session for yoga and pilates, something they’ve never heard of before.

We’ve also spoken to two schools of low SES, and I’ve had a few more problems with those. The headmistress of St. Mark didn’t understand what exactly was the benefit of our program, and the headmistress of Bulamu questioned whether our time spent would be effective. Both of those are valid points. Indeed, it’s hard to understand why physical fitness and non-communicable diseases even matter when you’re still struggling to scrape by with just enough food to eat. Yes, it’s an up-and-coming problem for the world’s low-income countries, but I only know that from days of reading articles and looking at statistics. The locals have more dire issues to worry about. But I suppose our presence there is to assess their knowledge and thoughts about these issues, not necessarily to solve a problem.

Today, we visited the Twezimbe office that is in charge of Mudwma sub-county where Bulamu school is located. They were having a sub-committee meeting, where the representatives from all the villages in that sub-county meet and discuss issues. It was inspiring to see the young people that lead Twezimbe speak so passionately (in Lugandan of course) and the village leaders listen so intently, under the shade of a tattered blue tarp supported by tree branches. Yet, an air of professionalism was expressed in the straight rows of chairs lined up one after the other, and the notepads and pens in the hands of many of the sub-committee members. Suddenly the speakers started pointing at me, and the next thing I know I was to “say a few words” to the group. I had nothing prepared and those that have had me in class know that I am not the best presenter. Of course to make matters worse, not a minute into my introduction everyone started laughing. They couldn’t understand the English I was speaking and needed a translator. Through exaggerated hand motions (my nervous habit during presentations), I spoke for about five minutes about our project and the importance of awareness of non-communicable diseases in the next few decades for Ugandans so that it does not end up with the monetary burden that the US has had with diabetes, heart disease, and the like. I saw a few heads nod. I’m not sure if the rest of the group bought my speech but I gained confidence as my speaking picked up momentum. I’m proud of how it went!

The site of the Twezimbe office was also the place where girls were put through a 9-month training program to learn the skills necessary to make clothes of quality high enough to be competitive in the market. At the end of the program, each receive a sewing machine to take home.

Till next time!

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