CSR is collaborating with Katie Rose, a resident of Maryland, U.S.A. and Master’s student at the University of Dublin, Ireland. Rather than perform
the more traditional literature review or internship required by most programs, as part of her thesis requirement in pursuit of a Master of Science in Global Health, Katie was required to travel to a destination of her choice to conduct her own individual research. She chose as her topic area the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers and child mothers in Northern Uganda.
CSR will be helping to publicize and disseminate Katie’s research work and subsequent findings.
CSR’s Director of Research Projects Kate Davey caught up with Katie via email while she was conducting field research in Uganda this past June.
Why the interest in Global Health?
I have known that I wanted to work in the field of global health for about ten years. When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to become involved with an annual medical mission trip to a small town in the mountains of Honduras. My first year, I did odd jobs at the clinic, like bathing babies infected with
scabies and lice, counting vitamins, and running between the doctors and pharmacy. But the experience continued to touch me so much, that by my sixth trip, I had taken two years of Spanish in university and graduated with a BS in Nursing, and so was able to work alongside the clinicians and assist with translation.
Although I hadn’t originally intended to, I chose to work as a Registered Nurse (RN) on a post-surgical floor at a city hospital for the first three years after [college] graduation, in order to solidify my clinical skills and become comfortable with a variety of patients and medical personnel. The time I spent there was very important to my development as a nurse, but in the back of my mind still lurked the need to do something more global. The health disparities that exist between and within countries are truly appalling, and I felt the need to go abroad while I was still young and, for the most part, unattached, to see if there was a place for me to help.
Tell us about your current research project.
Specifically, my focus is on the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers and child mothers in Northern Uganda. Child mothers, as they areknown here, are those who upon abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) were given to rebel leaders as “wives” and generally forced, through continued physical and sexual abuse, to bear [the rebel leaders’] children. While all former child soldiers face challenges upon their return, these girls are particularly vulnerable, bringing with them not only additional mouths to feed, but ones who may be regarded by the community as rebels, like their fathers.
I was fortunate, through websites like Child Soldier Relief, and from various networked connections, to link up with KICWA, Kitgum Concerned Women’s Association. KICWA is the reception center for children returning from armed forces in Kitgum district in Northern Uganda, and has an amazing track record of rehabilitating well over 4,000 children in the last decade. That’s equivalent to receiving a new child every single day, dwarfing even the numbers of highly regarded organizations like GUSCO in Gulu, Northern Uganda. While the center still receives occasional children, recent efforts have focused more on follow-up with resettled kids, and facilitating child protection in collaboration with Child Protection Committees at district and sub-county levels.
Because they are one of the few organizations which focus on the unique needs of child mothers, they were an ideal match for my research. In addition to taking me on as a sort of intern, the KICWA staff members have been immensely helpful in facilitating my data collection. My data collection involves conducting focus group discussions with returned child mothers about their views on reintegration, the challenges they have faced and what has helped them to overcome them, and also interviewing some key informants who work with this population to gain their perspective.
How did you choose Uganda to do your research?
Uganda was the best choice for me, given the population I was seeking. I knew I wanted to come to Africa, and, while there are many countries that have used, or still do use, child soldiers in Africa, only a few have had recent conflicts and are also relatively safe now. That narrowed it down to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. Northern Uganda’s conflict with the LRA ended more recently than wars in the other two countries, which made access to recently rehabilitated former child soldiers and child mothers more likely, and is arguably more stable than the others.
Kitgum and Gulu, two towns in the north were seriously affected by the war, and as a result, have a strong NGO presence, which adds to their safety and reputability, particularly for foreigners. And both towns have been largely rebuilt and while not as bustling or modern as Kampala, are now secure, thriving, and easily accessible by intercity bus. I also managed to make a few contacts in Uganda who were extremely helpful in linking me with other contacts, and eventually, with KICWA, who agreed for me to come and work with them.
Can you describe a typical day conducting your fieldwork? Did you have any difficulty adjusting to your life there?
At this point, I have adjusted pretty well to life here. I have become comfortable with the concept of time here, which basically just requires some flexibility and patience; things usually get done, just maybe a little later than expected, which is very different from the American view of time as an absolute.
I think the thing that took the longest for me to get used to was the constant surprise and curiosity of the people here. While Ugandans in general and the Acholi in particular, are very warm and friendly, it can be a little intimidating to walk down the street feeling all eyes on you as a foreigner. Especially up in Kitgum district, it is not unusual for me to go a day or two without glimpsing anyone from other than African origin, so it is natural that the occasional muzungu (in Kampala) or munu (in the north) is something of a spectacle. Even more astonishing is when I open my mouth and speak a few words of Acholi; people frequently laugh over the oddity, but I’m getting used to that too.
On a typical day here, I get up around 7:30, though the roosters have been trying to wake me for a few hours by then. I get ready for work and walk the short distance to the KICWA compound, do some transcribing of interviews or read some articles for the literature review portion of my thesis, maybe check email if I’m lucky. Most days involve leaving the office either to go out into the field to meet with former child soldiers or child mothers, or to tag along at various child protection meetings in Kitgum town or further out in the sub-counties. If we’re traveling within the town, we usually go by motorcycle, but outside of that, it’s by four-wheel-drive vehicle over bumps and potholes on worn dirt or mud roads that cut through the bush.
In the late afternoon, I pack up and head back to my motel, where I usually sit outside and read or write in my journal for a bit before dinner of local fare, which can consist of any combination of the following: rice, millet, posho (kind of a stiff maize porridge), sweet potatoes, beans, cassava, greens, fish, chicken, goat, beef, and dishes made from sesame and peanuts. Most nights, we are able to catch some local and international news on the TV on the motel’s veranda, or a bit of one of the Spanish or Nigerian soap operas which are so wildly popular here, before I go take a freezing shower and bed down under my mosquito net for the night.
On days off or weekends, I usually do a little bit of exploring around the town, and also wash my clothes, which takes a little longer without a Western washer and dryer. I found my journey to be a bit lonely at the beginning, but it is much less so in Kitgum, where I have met lots of people and also become friends with some of the KICWA and motel staff, and begun attending some Rotary Club meetings with a friend here.
Stay tuned for an update of Katie’s work next month.