Monday, June 9, 2008

Challenges and Successes

One of the things I love about Africa is that an experience I would be talking about for months at home is just one more day here. Opportunities that would never come up at home happen all the time.

For example, two Thursdays ago I went with two other volunteers to Kabale Hospital where we helped out for the day in the operating room. Not everyone's cup of tea, but it was an amazing experience. None of us were qualified health care professionals, but we learned quickly. And we weren't entrusted with anything too arduous, just getting gauze and syringes and that sort of thing. The surgeons were very good, and arrogant and darkly sarcastic like surgeons all over the world I think. They often conversed with the patients during the surgeries, all but one of which were conducted under local anesthetic, and were very amusing. The one surgery that was done with general anesthetic (a man had fractured his leg and it had not been set so it was healed badly and was getting infected) he did not fall all the way asleep and we had to hold him down. I privately decided not to get any operations while I'm here. I have a really great picture of the three of us in our scrubs.

What we couldn't get over was how we would never have been able to do something like that at home. Not without extensive training. I'm sure it had a lot to do with us being white, but it still goes to show how easy incredible opportunities are to come by.

Another example: last week I helped teaching English in a grade 1 class. I was not planning on it, but the teacher pulled me in and told me to go ahead. Imagine 60 small black faces looking up at you expecting you to teach them something, when you don't have a clue what to do. We started talking about the weather and I drew some different pictures on the board and got them to repeat teh names of clouds, sun, etc. Then I got them to name various objects and actions, such as stirring a pot and asking them what I was doing ("you are cooking!"). Then they sang me a couple English songs they knew and I left.

This last week, we painted two of the classrooms at Kyabahinga Primary School where we conduct workshops two days a week. We did a couple layers of white, and then got the kids to put their handprints around the room in various colours. It was great fun. When we still had some time left before break, the children did a traditional dance for us, which we joined in on as we figured it out. They sang and clapped in time while a few danced. It was really special. None of those children have electricity in their homes, no radios or TVs, no CD players or iPods, but they are certainly not music deprived.

This week in swimming lessons, I helped teach a group of grade 6 girls the breast stroke. I'm getting the hang of teaching swimming and we had a really awesome lesson plan figured out. By the end, a bunch of them were really doing it.
It feels really good to see successes like that, and so much better when you know you had to figure it out on your own. At home, it would take a lot of training to be able to teach swimming, or design workshops for children or help manage a program for a non-profit organization. Here you are thrown in, and it can be daunting, but its amazing when you find out that you are up to the challenge. People believe you can do it here, so you do. At home, I think we are conditioned to assume we cannot do something until we are properly trained and ready, but I think we would all be surprised at how fast we can learn when we need to.

This week I am taking some time off and going to Tanzania, where some friends of mine are holding a conference. They asked me to do a workshop there, then I'll hang out in Tanzania for the week and head back to Uganda next weekend. When I get back, a bunch of the volunteers who I have gotten to know over the last few weeks will be gone and new ones will be here. I'm going to miss them. As I haven't mentioned them much, I would like to write a post introducing you to them. It'll be something for me to remember them by as well. And I think you'll like them. I have a pretty horrible busride ahead of me, so I'm going to go get some sleep.
I'll write again very soon.

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