I sometimes have a hard time processing emotions. For better or worse, I have an amazing talent at compartmentalizing so I can feel perfectly normal and have all the crap I’ve experienced in a day sitting, unprocessed, on the shelf completely removed from my mind. Once it builds up (something I’m unaware of if I don’t take the time to think about it), it starts coming through the cracks more and more.
I started noticing it this week. I was getting snappy at things that really shouldn’t be a big deal. I was having trouble falling asleep and tossing & turning for up to an hour (which might not seem like a lot, but it is when I am notorious for being able to fall sleep in under 3 minutes once its dark and I’m lying down). I was having trouble seeing the bigger picture of this project and getting bogged down by the smaller things (which isn’t good since I have been officially designated as the project lead). I was losing focus. My eating was all over the map.Since I’ve grown a lot in the last few years, I realized this and have being taking the packages off the shelf one by one and started to unwrap them. Some of my discoveries are below.
It’s funny how things start normalizing as you get familiar with them. Dan and I have been doing the survey for 17 days now. This means get to work before 9 and this gives me about 45 minutes to make sure everything else for the M&E project is underway and going okay (aka lots of talking with people, checking forms, setting deadlines & goals and working with staff to change things that aren’t working) before heading out for the day. We are out from 10-530 usually walking, surveying and asking people where we can find other street children & youth. The survey is paired with other outreach so we stop to answer questions about how youths can get their National ID Card (needed to find work), directing people to medical facilitates as needed (severe cases involve actually putting the person on a motorbike and sending them to the hospital plus coordinating with others to make sure they get care) and telling people about Tumaini (when we are open, what we have to offer). I say we, but this is mainly Dan. I am more like a magnet to get people to come talk to us, but Dan does most of the explaining. A bit of a self-administered shoulder pat, but I am getting less useless as my Swahili gets better. I am able to now explain what services we have and when we are open… plus tell them to come and about the next day we are open J. We have visited 5 of the surrounding slum areas as well as spend significant time at all of the bases [areas the street kids hang out] within town. It’s weird because mud houses smaller than my room in Toronto with 4 people in it, half-naked babies running around, children working who should be in primary school and the other hundreds of other shocking sights start becoming less shocking. I’ve been going from sitting in bases me and observing their daily lives (which are completely outrageous to me as a middle class Canadian) to going to eat lunch with Dan like I had just had any other morning at the office. I was not processing. Most of the women have scars on their faces from fights with razor blades and broken bottles. Children are sniffing glue and smoking cigarettes. Children (like 15 year olds) are having children because they don’t have the power to enforce condom use… and most of these women are shared among the boys in the barracks with as much thought as you might have with sharing the food in your fridge with those you live with (some like the sharing and others it happens by force). Most are HIV positive and have other STIs that they don’t know about. I often see children and youth with injuries inflicted by the police. I saw a pregnant woman smoking yesterday and it actually took me until Dan yelled at her to register shock. Most of the people we talk with are younger than I am and yet have lived through so much more.
Before you start worrying about me having a break down or something (or to stop you from worrying if you are my mom or Shannon reading this! Worrywarts!), know I am okay. Admitting the problem is step one and so it’s moving forward from here on in. I have started doing yoga again, which I find really centering and the endorphins do wonders. I have also started journaling outside this blog to help me process my emotions both in what I see and how these experiences influence how I see myself & the world around me. I am also working harder to connect with my support system at home, who are wonderful and ground me. I also started playing dodgeball regularly and whipping balls at people is really therapeutic. Overall, I am really loving the experience… I just needed to admit that they are challenging and life changing so that they don’t just bottle up. I think I am gaining more from these experiences than the people I am suppose to be helping…
On a more work related note, we have finished all the interviews with the base leaders (12 in total) and I will be analyzing those next week. We also had a frustrating week of being out and about with only maybe 20 surveys done all week (in about 25 hours of walking around in the hot sun), but we brainstormed a new strategy that should help us capture more of the street children so I am excited (other than it requires be at the locations at 7:30 am so there are very early mornings in my future). We will go to the places in the morning before they kids go to wherever they get money (i.e. collecting metals or cardboard, working at a market). We are also going to spend the afternoons at the shops where kids go at the end of the day to sell their lout…. So I have high hopes and we will be able to get to 400 by the end of the week. Next week also marks week 3 of the IREC ethics application so I will be going there on Tuesday once we get back from our early morning adventure to check on its status. I am also going to be bringing cookies to my roommates research coordinator who knows the IREC people really well to plead with him to take my amendment under his wing to help it make it through the convoluted system that is IREC. UofT ethics should be getting back to me in the next week or two so fingers crossed Photovoice gets approved. Photovoice is basically on hold until we hear back from UofT and get an ETA on IREC… but I’m optimistic that we will be started by June (only three months late… not bad in TIA [this is Africa] standards). Most things are in place (I have applications for an RA and the interview material all ready , all the cameras have arrived, I have a place that will give me a discount on photo development, and we have Tumaini staff buy-in) so once we have ethics, it’s go time. I am a bit short on money still, but am hoping some kind-hearted blog readers (or people they forward this website too) might have an extra few dollars burning a hole in their wallet and want to donate towards an awesome cause.
Things are also really moving ahead on my idea so I’m happy about that. Every Monday medical students here on rotation from the USA come to Tumaini to give a talk. It’s suppose to help expose the students to the vulnerable population of street kids, help teach the kids important information and help inspire students (who will one day be rich & influential doctors) to help with fundraising for Tumaini once they do back to the USA (Tumaini runs basically all on donations so this is really important for operations). Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t work in reality. The kids have short attention spans and so never listen as the student talks (in English, which many cannot understand) and the health coordinator translates leaving the medical student frustrated (especially as they try to apply their American model of learning to a completely different context that is pretty incomparable). Some of the topics that are choose show a complete ignorance to the unique situation of working with street children (i.e. teaching them about the electric slide… I love biology and, having worked with many slides in my undergrad, appreciate their use – and I would still be bored with this topic. Take children that may have gotten up to grade 4 or 5 at the most and definitely have never seen a microscope or really taken any science mix that with really short attention spans…. And you get a disaster!). The kids are bored. The health coordinator is not able to do one of the hundred other important things he needs to do. Some of the medical students have tried to make this better by bring in things that the kids would otherwise never have experienced (i.e. chocolate to teach about the importance of calcium, balloons to teach something about displacement or volume)… which, again good in theory, results in chaos. The kids are so excited and unmanageable they are don’t listen and just want the new item. The excitement prevents any meaningful learning for the rest of the afternoon. The worst point, in my opinion, is that this reinforces the misconception that all foreigners (mainly whites) are here to give them things and looking at foreigners as opportunities to gain something is justified. It’s also a waste of the medical student’s specialized skills, especially since there are so many medical needs within the street children & youth population. Basically a long winded way of saying the current method doesn’t work…. In comes the new model of health clinic days. Monday afternoons will shift to a two hour free medical clinic for street children & youth hosted at Tumaini and open to any street individual (whether or not they attend Tumaini all the time). Medical students would come in twos or threes and give a 5 minute talk about something health related for 5 minutes (the topics would be picked by Tumaini staff). After, each student would be paired with a Tumaini volunteer at a station at the centre and people would be served on a first come, first serve basis. This would be supervised by the health coordinator and an American nurse who is here for a year… who would make sure things were happening appropriately, support the students, and would be sent the more serious cases so they can write referrals to the hospital (street kids are suppose to get free medical care, but they often need referrals or else they are sent away). Dan would be in charge of giving out condoms to those who wanted it and answering sex questions should there be some (I’d like this to morph into sexual education sessions, but not sure the feasibility of this yet). I snuck this question into the base leader surveys and all of them seemed on a board with the idea. They also said that they would work to make sure that those who need health attention at their base attend it and know about the idea so I was really encouraged! I’ve love for portable HIV testing to happen once a month also, but I figure I should get it operational first before adding extra elements. Other Tumaini staff and volunteers would help make things organized and would talk with the kids & youth to help build relationships as well as would identify candidates for other Tumaini services (basically to engage those who don’t participate). I would also make sure that visiting doctors are made aware and were invited to come… the more the merrier! This worked in my mind anyways… so last week I went around talking to people to see if I could get them on board (the health coordinator, Dan, Tumaini’s director, Tumaini’s social worker, the American nurse, and the other person on the M&E project) and have written a proposal for everyone to give their thumbs up to (and to make any changes they deem needed). I am going to talk to my supervisor on Tuesday (she is on the board at Tumaini) and hopefully will have an edited proposal ready to be sent to the IU lead of the medical students by Thursday. My goal would be to have things underway by May 1st so bit of work to get done before then… but I’m optimistic (and, as you might have experienced in either a positive or negative way, my stubborn nature and extreme persistence will hopefully pay off).
This has become epically long! Thanks for reading… It makes me feel good to know that I am supported by so many amazing people back home. I am going to post another entry with pictures from outreach as pictures really do a much better job than I could ever do explaining.
Happy Easter… I hope wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you are surrounded by love & laughter as well as chocolate and time for relaxing!