Location: uganda

A Community Volunteer in Uganda

Bonny Ajala, pictured in the red  t-shirt, was an HHI trained Peer Educator, for his village of Odoro in northern Uganda. He was enthusiastic about HHI’s lessons on early childhood development and he demonstrated skill and commitment in sharing HHI messages with the parents and caregivers in his village.  He became a popular community leader, spreading HHI’s unique knowledge and skills, supporting parents and young children alike.

ECD in Uganda

Bonny’s HHI lessons were embraced and led to new, positive practices such as encouraging parents to talk to their baby while feeding and giving baby massage. Parents quickly noticed the positive results these practices had on their children and their appreciation for both Bonny and HHI grew.  The community benefited so much that they recommended him to the local nursery school director, asking him to engage Bonny as a mentor of the school teachers who would handle their kindergartners.  The director took up the initiative and employed Bonny to teach HHI lessons, such as ’’ taking care of myself’’, ‘’language development’’, and ‘’ health habits’’ among others.

Now the school director and the entire community see Bonny as a community resource. So, in addition to his job as an HHI Peer Educator for the parents of his village, Bonny serves as a mentor during school hours to cater for needs of the teachers and caregivers who developed trust and confidence in him.

Thank you Bonny!  We are so proud of you, your passion, commitment and intelligence.

*story shared by staff from Medical Teams International, HHI’s partner in Lira, Uganda

One Nurse’s Story

Nurse Apila is one of hundreds of community health workers that have been trained by Hands to Hands International and our partners at Medical Teams International to talk about early childhood development and health with her patients in Aromo, Uganda as part of a USAID Child Survival Project.

Messages about health and development, baby massage, baby cues and breastfeeding are given to patients visiting the health clinics. Nurse Apila told us these messages vary greatly from common village practices which sometime cause children more harm than good.

High fevers are often treated by removing the child’s canine teeth causing pain, possible infection, inability to eat and all sorts of complications.  On average, they used to treat 12-14 of these teeth pulling cases every month, with some of the children dying because of severe complications.  Since the HHI trainings, there hasn’t been a single case at her clinic in over a year! Educating parents through community health workers has caused a dramatic decline in teeth pulling, she tells us.  There are also fewer cases of fever, parents recognize signs of illness faster and bring babies in for treatment sooner, making treatments more successful.

Nurse Apila said there has been great change in her village. For the first time, babies can be seen in the health clinics to address problems early. This is a new behavior, as health clinics previously were rarely used for child health, with children only arriving if they were near death. Children are walking and talking sooner, receiving medical attention rather than seeing a witch doctor, parents have new attitudes about immunizations and more children are receiving them.

Because of what she learned she told us that she now knows a crying baby is trying to communicate with her, telling her he needs something. She also tells us she’s better able to recognize developmental delays and address them at the clinic.

The good news is spreading among villagers since mommies and other caregivers are seeing such positive responses from their babies.  Mommies and daddies empowered to be the best caregiver they can be- this is what HHI is all about!

“I’m proud to be a part of this change in my village. Now parents bring me gifts of sugar and grains to thank me for saving their baby’s life,” Nurse Apila said.

We thank her too, it’s the hard-working, dedicated women (and men!) around the world that are carrying HHI’s messages into their villages, saving lives and creating healthier and happier families!

Special Delivery

Northern Uganda has been a hot topic lately and we wanted to share a sweet little story about our most recent visit that was full of goodness and good people!

Occasionally, we have the opportunity to do something a little extra in the villages where we work. My last trip to Lira, Uganda was one of those times. Some of HHI’s youngest supporters in Portland, OR gathered up some of their gently used books and sent them with me on my trip. The Odwar Fund, a local, Ugandan-run organization, that helps orphans and vulnerable children gain access to scholastic materials (among many other things!) helped us distribute the donated books to a local early childhood development center in Lira.

Eddy, executive director of The Odwar Fund, hands out the book bags.

Children are delighted with their new books!


Special thanks to Ingrid, Carlisle, Kabir, Jack, Charlie and the students of Emerson School for making this special delivery possible!

See The Odwar Fund to learn more about their work.

Kony 2012 – My 2 Cents

I trust that by now you have heard of the Kony 2012 campaign, its lit up the internet, blogs, talk shows and just about everywhere else this past week.  I’ve followed this with not-a-little curiosity, as only two weeks ago I returned from visiting northern Uganda where HHI has been working for the last two years, and where Joseph Kony used to lead his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Where to begin?  I guess I would like to begin with a “Bravo!” followed closely by a, “such a shame.”  The bravo is for the fact that Invisible Children has created a whole new level of social media advocacy and they have engaged more than 70 million (and counting) in learning about Kony, the LRA, and the atrocities that have taken place in Uganda.  I am excited to see so many people talking about this, asking for more information, and wanting to get involved in a solution.  I am even more excited to see that there is such backlash against this, critiquing the information in the video (which is reductionist, somewhat misleading and completely dated, and is focused mainly on a young American boy with almost no Ugandans in it), as well as so many debates now being waged on the basic questions of: “what is good practice in international development?”, “when should external governments (ie., the US) get involved and how?”  and “how can I, an average citizen, make our world a better place?”  These are great conversations to be having!

To clear up what may be a few major misconceptions, I’d like to speak to my recent and historic visits to northern Uganda where I have worked with and been a part of discussions with more than 300+ locals – parents, health workers, government workers, as well as local and international aid workers.  To be clear, there is no longer war from the LRA or any other group in the area for years now.  Kony and his now loosely organized LRA  is estimated to number only 200-300  and is sporadically active neighboring countries.  In Uganda, the camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs, aka, refugees), some of which existed for more than 20 years, have all been dismantled and people have returned to their homes, or what remains of them.

The current challenges in the area are profound, the population used to live primarily on subsistence farming and after years in IDP camps they return to barely accessible roads, overgrown fields, no livestock, and eroded homes.  There are too few: health clinics, health workers, medicines, schools, teachers, water pumps, and almost no ways to earn an income.  While there is an overflow of: HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, malnutrition, food scarcity, PTSD trauma, alcoholism, and likely general depression.  The people I have met here are smart, motivated and active in creating a better future for themselves and while they greatly appreciate international assistance, they would rather be able to provide for themselves and this is what they are working very hard on doing.

See more pics from my recent trip here.

So, what can you do to support the children, the people of Uganda? If you are reading this, you have already begun. That is that you are interested in learning more about the issues and I encourage you to continue to investigate further, I’ll add some links here to assist in that.  I do not believe that the purchase of an Action Kit is making any sort of positive impact. I also do not believe that a campaign focused on catching/stopping one bad guy is any type of meaningful solution, consider that the US capture or killing of Sadam Hussien or Osama Bin Ladan have not brought peace.

I could tell you to just donate more to HHI, as we have been and continue to work with Ugandans, training them to lead caregiver trainings in their communities, and that the impact of this has been both positive and dramatic in improving the health of more than 11,275 young children, by training over 5,737 parents and health workers. HHI’s work is directly bettering the health, well-being and education of young children, in northern Uganda, but tying a fundraising pitch to the Kony 2012 campaign feels cheap and sordid to me.  One very small, completely locally run organization that I have fallen a little bit in love with is The Odwar Fund. I met with founder/director of this non-profit a few weeks ago and I can attest that they are a local, Ugandan-run organization doing great work for their community and that they are doing so with very meager funding.

Beyond all of this, I encourage you to keep asking questions and seek your answers as close to the source as is possible!  The world is a better place when we learn about each other and reach out to do our part to making it a safer, healthier and more loving place for all our children, all our global sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.


Other articles about the Kony 2012 campaign:


Miracles of Love in Uganda

It has been a very full week here in Uganda!  I’ve been working with our partners, Medical Teams International, to evaluate the impact HHI is having on child health in the area. I’ve heard some astounding new stories of love awakening, health flourishing and lives being saved – literally!  Here are just a few highlights.

Around the world, and particularly in Uganda, corporeal punishment is still common and is seen as the way to instill morals and discipline in the children.  Its not all that long ago in my country, the US, where the saying was, “spare the rod, spoil the child”.  But once parents participate in HHI training here in Uganda, one of the number one outcomes I hear is that they “no longer beat the children.”  This is quite the radical change, and I think such change can only be caused by love awakening.  After the parents learn about how children are communicating with them non-verbally, all the time, they begin to see things in a whole new light, from the baby’s perspective. Babies do not cry because they are “bad babies”, but because they are tired, hungry, don’t feel good, etc.  Both parent and child benefit and life gets a little easier, as parents become more successful in responding to their baby’s communication, and their bond grows.


A great story from a father in Lira is that after HHI he began to spend more time with his youngest child and he not only grew to recognize the baby’s needs, but he taught the baby basic signs to communicate even more. Their relationship has blossomed and he is so proud of how bonded his baby is with him. He did not have this relationship with his two older children, who he always turned away and sent to their mother, and who he used to punish with beatings. But, he is not looking back with sadness, rather he is now building new relationships with them as well and he proudly tells of how all of his children now run to greet him and want to spend time with him.   — Way to go Papa!

A few snippets of other success stories from Uganda are these:

  • Parents are saying that their younger babies are developing more quickly, talk earlier, walking sooner and are smarter than their older siblings.
  • Women used to have been forced to go to the health centers for treatment, they feared the staff and the medical treatments. But since they have now built relationships with the health workers as they learned HHI, they go willingly and are taking their children for immunizations.
  • An HHI parent in Ogur learned massage and practiced on her neighbor’s son  who has a disability that kept the knee pulled up to his chest and he couldn’t crawl. By giving and teaching massage, the child can now crawl.  Now the father of child has learned and is continuing the massage.
  • “Me and my immediate neighbors now compete in cleanliness of our homes and keeping our children clean.” (parent, Amuca)

And lastly, the story of a life directly saved ~  The story comes from the district of Aromo, where for years thousands of people were confined in refugee camps to escape the savages of war that surrounded their homes.  In the camps, food was scarce, health care even more so, and survival was the daily task.  The majority who survived these camps were left with little dignity, no homes to return to and with HIV.  This is where a young mother was at her wits end with exhaustion and frustration with her baby who had been chronically sick with diarrhea and was not responding to any treatments. She was taking the baby to the river to take drastic action, she was going to throw him in and drown him. At just this time, she came upon Gloria, an HHI Mommy Leader.  Gloria counseled her deeply, listening and offering comfort and hope. After some time, Gloria was able to convince the young mother to take her baby to the Health Center, and she offered to walk her there and stay with her. The outcome is that the baby received treatment and made a full recovery. The veil of the mother’s despair and depression lifted, she returned to her village and now cannot stop talking about how Gloria saved her baby’s life!

Yes, when we say “HHI saves lives”, we are speaking literally.  See Gloria in the red shirt in this picture – Thank you Gloria!