Jennifer Pasiciel, CAP Network IYIP Intern
I am just about half way through my contract here in Lira, Uganda with lots of exciting projects on the go! It’s been busy busy busy to say the least, which is great because it is making the time fly by, but also not so great because it is making the time fly by. It is hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner, especially with the 35° weather and flowers in bloom.
In this blog, I wanted to talk briefly about one project in particular that I, along with my co-intern, Aleksandra, and local programs coordinator, Lawrence, have been working on over the past few months with support from the CAP Network. The project title is a bit lengthy, but sums it up: “Decreasing Vulnerability of Young Girls and Women in Lira District, Northern Uganda through Home of Hope Transitional Shelter and Training Centre”. Basically, we want to use the CAP/AIDS – Uganda Building (aka Home of Hope), which is currently about seventy percent complete, as a safe space for sex workers to come and try to change their lives from one on the streets to an independent, healthy, safe, and economically-independent one. The project will also include an educational aspect for sex workers in Lira, where monthly health education sessions will be held for the vulnerable girls and women working on the streets.
The main goal of CAP/AIDS-Uganda is to help people resist, survive, and overcome HIV/AIDS, and I think that any programs supporting this highly vulnerable population can go a long way to reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS in Northern Uganda. Currently, in Uganda, sex work is illegal, and in Lira, the local police will round up these girls and women in know “hotspots” from time to time, arrest them, put them in jail, and then release them again, without any social, medical, or support services. Inevitably, the cycle repeats, and the many young girls and women that are forced into sex work for a variety of reasons often have no way of getting out. Additionally, the sex worker population is at a significantly higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, especially in a transit town like Lira, where many truckers and the virus are passing through on their way from Kenya to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So, to say the least, there is a significant need for a programming directed towards this vulnerable population that has largely been ignored in the past.
This is where CAP/AIDS-Uganda comes in. We are an NGO. We have a (mostly-complete) shelter/office space. And we have the drive to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and promote healthy living for people with HIV/AIDS. With that as out starting point, we set out to plan this project. We have had countless meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders, from the District Community Development Officer, to the HIV/AIDS focal person, to the Program Coordinator for Gender-Based Violence, to the Diocese of Lango, to the sex workers themselves (to name just a few). Based on the feedback and ideas discussed at these meetings, we have slowly developed a project builder, budget, and work plan. It has been so neat to see this project take shape, to develop partnerships with the community, and to start to see funding come in to get everything started. We are currently in the process of preparing funding applications for larger 1-year terms so the project can have more long-term sustainability.
It has definitely been a great learning experience for me, slowly figuring out the best way to make sure the program is a success for an area that is completely new to me (shelters for sex workers) in an environment and culture that is also completely new to me (rural Northern Uganda). It seems that each step is a slow learning process where I must decipher the sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in culture, government, NGOs, and just the general way of living. It will seem like each time I am getting the hang of how something works, Lawrence, the local programs director, will re-explain why something is done a certain way here and I will have a whole other layer of understanding to something that I was completely oblivious to before. For example, before holding a meeting with the sex workers to get their input on the project, it was very important to inform the CAO (County Administrative Official), who then informed the police so that we could ensure that the girls and women were in a safe space and did not have to fear arrest. This way of doing things can make a significant difference in terms of whether a project fails or succeeds. By doing things the Ugandan way, we are ensuring that the women have a safe place to meet and discuss their needs, and we were able to gain their trust that we have their best interests at heart, a key component for the eventual success of the project.
And so, I am learning lots each step of the way, and we are continuing step-by-step to develop this project. We will be applying for funding over the next couple of months, and with seed funds from the CAP Network in Canada, we will begin the final construction at the Home of Hope so it can be a livable, safe transitional shelter and training centre. It’s pretty exciting work, and I’m grateful for the experience to not only learn, but to be a part of a project that will change the lives of some of the most vulnerable girls and women in Lira.
Thanks for the read, I’ll keep you updated on how the project is going in the New Year!