Report from the Field: David Branigan in Uganda

News released on: 
Mar 20th, 2013

David's bike being maintained in UgandaI arrived in Gulu, stepped off a bus and dropped the heaviest piece of luggage I brought with me which was filled with bicycle tools and BNB t-shirts.  Five minutes later my friend Paul and his son Junior picked me up and we headed around Gulu toward Lacor. We passed an abandoned military installation that has been reclaimed by the people, and we talked about the war, and how it affected his communities around Gulu across Northern Uganda. After getting settled my first task was to get a bike. Not just to have sufficient mobility while in Gulu but also so I could travel like most people – on two wheels.

In 2009, Bikes Not Bombs developed a relationship with the Village Health Worker Association in Amuru, Northern Uganda, a place that was in the center of the 20-year conflict. In 2006, the war ended and in the following few years about 30,000 people left the Internally Displaced Peoples camps in Amuru, and returned to their land to farm and resettle. After the war and people's resettlement back into the rural areas there was a significant gap in access to health care. The Village Health Worker Association in Amuru is composed of volunteers that connect people in their rural communities to health centers and health services.  In 2011, BNB shipped our first container to supply 325 Village Health Workers with bikes in Amuru. We sent a fieldworker, Omar, and hired a Project Coordinator, Mark, to train the mechanics, set-up the workshops, and build the capacity of the VHT Association to lead and manage the project going forward. Already, the project in Amuru has shown its impacts – specifically around the increase in Village Health Worker mobility and access to the households for which they are responsible, along with a significant increase in overall Village Health Worker organization, coordination, reporting and health program planning.

Kampala and Entebbe Road intersection in KampalaA few days after my arrival I sat talking with Paul into the night. He told me about the process of reintegration of young people, who were abducted by the Lords Resistance Army as child-soldiers and child-wives, back into their communities. He told me that the government used force to make people to leave the camps, but they would not go. Then, many NGOs brought outlandish strategies to achieve reintegration and resettlement, and later wondered why their strategies failed. Paul told me “they did not take an interest to ask the people what is challenging them in reintegration and why they will not leave the IDP camps to resettle their old land. When we actually listened to the people, they then told us what we need to do. It is that simple.”

Our goal in 2013, and the main reason for my trip, is to work with our project partners to explore the potential of scaling-up the project. I met with the Director of the hospital to explore ways to strengthen the project in Amuru, and its potential expansion into Pabbo, the adjoining Sub-county, to work with the health workers there that serve a rural population of approximately 50,000. Over the next week, I will visit each of the six parishes in Amuru, and will meet with the Village Health Workers in each parish, to learn from them about their experiences as health workers and how we can improve the project. There are roughly 90,000 people that need more access to health services in rural post-conflict Northern Uganda, and it is amazing to think about ways that we can one day reach even more of them.

My internet access is limited, but I hope to send one more report before I return. Thank you for all the support that has made this project, and this visit, possible.

- David Branigan, International Programs Director, Bikes Not Bombs