Otherwise known as that time I went to Uganda to teach First Aid Classes and ended up teaching about sexual health! May as well continue the post titles referencing old songs… But just for the record this is a kid friendly blog post… well, pretty much!
I arrived in Kisoro to visit Bonnie with a tentative plan to teach first aid courses. It’s what I do for work in the US, why not try it out in Uganda right? Bonnie pulled together a group of her closest friends and we did a pretty comprehensive class. It was really interesting to get out of my comfort zone of teaching. What do you do when you usually teach “call 911”, and now you can’t? I couldn’t teach that help is just far away, like in a wilderness situation where we are teaching how to care for someone as we evacuate them. I realized that in Uganda when people are hurt or sick they may not seek treatment at all- due to lack of money, fear, lack of faith in western medicine, or a perceived lack of benefit from care in relation to the distance, inconvenience, and cost of traveling to a medical facility. Answering questions about local beliefs- ideas that fall well outside of western medicine, well that was really a learning experience for me as well! I decided to focus on teaching when an injury or sickness would benefit most from seeking treatment with a doctor, when should someone talk to a pharmacist about if antibiotics would be helpful, preventing dehydration, splinting a bone or joint injury, understanding what a spinal injury is and why they are dangerous, burns, cuts, infections, clean drinking water, and many other topics. The response was good, lots of smiling, and although we were all pretty shy around each other at first, some great questions and observations about how to incorporate my ideas into everyday life in Uganda. During our last break I asked Bonnie, “Should I talk about HIV? Or STD’s? Is that inappropriate?” We agreed that it couldn’t hurt to slip in a quick 5 min discussion on the topic and if people were offended we would stop. Well, 2 hours of questions later we were still answering questions! The jury was in, splinting and dehydration were interesting, but what everybody really wanted was clear, straight-forward information about sex. And I can’t blame them! It’s not a culture where people can run out and “Google” an answer, or ask a teacher, or easily find a book on any subject. HIV is rampant, there is a culture of fear surrounding STD’s, and a lack of understanding about proper condom use and it’s benefits and limitations.
When we got ready to do our first class with outsiders, at a nearby village, we decided to focus almost exclusively on STD’s and especially HIV, and then only a small bit on nutrition, hygiene, dehydration, and antibiotic use. I decided to tailor the class to the audiences interests. We made our way out to a nearby village for our first class. I am used to riding on motorbikes now, but I still found the singletrack disconcerting. We found ourselves surrounded by a group of men, with the women a row back, and the kids in a group off to my right. My friend Mark was at my side, ready to interpret. I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, I’m here to talk about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and condom use.” The mob of people surrounding me fell quiet. I held my breath for a moment, wondering if they were offended, and when nobody moved, I just dove right in. For a moment I thought they might riot. And then the questions came flying! “How many times can I wash out a condom and reuse it? Can I reuse my condom with different women? If I am HIV positive should I use a condom with my wife? I want to have a baby but I have HIV, will the baby have HIV? Can I get Syphillis by just sleeping next to someone? Will Gonorrhea make my private bits fall off?” And on and on it went. At the end, most of the men wandered off once they felt their most important questions had been answered and I threw in some info on clean drinking water, proper nutrition, antibiotics and dehydration. Around dehydration I felt interest had waned and I said my goodbye’s, feeling like I had just done something radical and pretty happy to see people smiling as we said our goodbyes. I hopped on the back of the motorbike, closed my eyes and held on tight as we flew over the singletrack and back to the main roads.