Human Trafficking and Sanitary Pads

So, the last two service learning days have been jam packed.

First, Monday night we met Agnes Igoye, a Ugandan immigration official, who spoke to us about human trafficking.  Uganda has not escaped this global plight.  There is internal trafficking (one example is that families often unwittingly “sell” their children into various forms of labor and sex slavery thinking it’s something else) as well as external trafficking (an example of which is advertising for “jobs” in the Middle East that turns out to be labor, organ or sex slavery).  Agnes is SO impressive of an individual, having sought out – because of her passion for this issue – training from the USDOJ, FBI, UK officials, Netherlands officials, UN, etc. – to become an African (not just Ugandan) expert on this issue.

Second, we got to spend Tuesday morning in the glorious company of Anita (last name unknown), a professor of ethnomusicology who played some music and sang for us with her group of young musicians who have researched all the local, traditional forms of dance and music in Uganda.  This was a really fun group and we had a great time together!

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Third, yesterday (Tuesday), our health sector student team (led by the amazing Sue Birch) set up a meeting with the Minister of Health (i.e., the Ugandan Kathleen Sebelius) and the Minister of Information (i.e., a presidential cabinet member) to discuss areas for public-private partnership to support social factors influencing health.  We walked out of there (students silently witnessing this high level meeting) with an agreement for the University of Colorado-Denver and Global Livingston Institute team to write up proposals for three areas:  a stay-in-school incentive plan for girls, a capital resource funding plan (to encourage self-sufficiency for communities with matching grants), and a youth corps trained to work in support of healthy families and schools.  This was quite a big deal for GLI and all involved were very excited.  We students have been busy borrowing the only laptop anyone brought on this trip to draft official looking concept papers.  One of the key areas of concern for the Health Minister was the school dropout rate for girls.  This is driven by two main factors:  the onset of menstruation (because there are few sanitary pads available in rural areas, girls end up staying home, getting farther and farther behind in school) and teenage pregnancy (because there is absolutely no sex education and little to no availability of contraception or abortion services).  Mortality rates for teen mothers are very high.  Which led us to our adventure this morning…

One of the students looked up sanitary pad information in Uganda and found a professor here at Makerere University who has developed a papyrus-based pad that is intended – the whole point of his work – to help schoolgirls stay in school.  We searched for his laboratory and ended up finding his team, learned all about the project, connected his program with a rural development program (who was SO excited to learn about this product).  It’s amazing how much people don’t know about their own country.  It was very gratifying to connect these two groups, and possibly find a way to get these pads (12 US cents each) into the schools so girls can stay on board.  Dr. Moses came to speak with our class tonight and described his business plan and how it can be expanded to make sanitary pads truly affordable for rural Ugandans.  We don’t know yet how to create a supply chain, how to pay for the pads, how to convince parents that they should buy these pads instead of keeping their daughters home…things so basic, yet so critical.

Finally, we met tonight with an American private equity investor (Mike Davis) who is here in Uganda to MAKE MONEY.  It is so clear that many of Uganda’s problems relate to the lack of JOBS JOBS JOBS, so if this man and others like him can invest in businesses that create jobs, then yeah!!  Mike told us his two biggest challenges with building businesses here is that (1) the educational system (including business schools) does not train Ugandans in basic business knowledge such as income/expense and profit/loss statements, break-even points, strategizing for expenses, etc. and (2) there are no systems in the financial system that ease business transactions (e.g., credit checking system, records such as birth certificates, collateral loan systems, government incentives for business development, etc.).  Mike believes the potential for East African business is building these systems and TRAINING (for than anything) in ways of thinking about business.  The current development of the East Africa Union – which is similar to NAFTA – has the potential to standardize some of these systemic issues.  China is investing heavily in East African infrastructure because it sees the market potential and is really out in front of this issue.

Tomorrow is a field trip to Jinja, the source of the Nile!

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