I’ve been struggling with what to write about for my first blog post. Should I dive headfirst into the myriad issues with the health care system, political system, and international development industry that I’ve already witnessed since I landed in this new place? Or should I just give everyone back home a sense of how exciting, nerve-wracking, and surreal it’s been to adjust to life in this beautiful, if dusty, community? I think I’ll go with the latter for now. I’m just not ready to process all the heavy stuff yet.
I’m also not ready to put things into narrative form, so please accept this bulleted list of experiences as my first official post. Thanks, dear ones!
So, I’ve been in Uganda for only two weeks and already, I’ve:
- Received a surprise welcome at the airport from a bunch of the other Ugandan fellows (henceforth, the ‘U-Crew’) – an ambush organized by my lovely Ugandan co-fellow Mary;
- Visited (and nearly fainted in) the overflowing maternity ward of the country’s national referral hospital (more to come on this one…);
- Endured a jarring 12-hour bus ride to Kisoro in the extreme southwest of the country (and an 8-hour bumpy, sleepless night-bus ride back to Kampala – yeesh);
- Attended a traditional wedding ceremony (known as an ‘introduction’) dressed in the appropriate Ugandan attire of course;
- Settled into our simple two-bedroom cottage on Uganda Christian University’s lovely campus (and then were promptly “shifted” to a new apartment, just as we’d finished decorating);
- Received an orientation to the local market and purchased way too much beautiful local produce – avocadoes galore!;
- Zipped around on most major forms of transportation – boda bodas, matatus, and special hires (basically our version of a taxi);
- Survived crossing the street in Kampala (if you only knew how much of a feat this is);
- Eaten my fair share of Ugandan favorites such as rolex, matoke, G-nut sauce, posho, roast pork, and chapati;
- Drafted my first letter of inquiry ever to a potential funder (thank goodness for Google… how did I get this gig, again??);
- Dabbled in some favorite local beverages – Nile Special beer, waragi (local gin), and – a U-Crew favorite – Fangria (red wine + orange Fanta = pretty delicious);
- Gotten pretty accustomed to things not starting things “on time” (currently waiting for our 10am staff meeting to start… and it’s 11:09am);
- Come to terms with the fact that my feet will be perpetually dusty for the duration of this year; and
- Met a slew of wonderful people – from my co-fellow Mary’s family and friends, to the unbelievably passionate and tireless Dr. Eve Nakabembe of Save the Mothers. Plus, two energetic, new interns who just arrived in country from Canada on Friday (new neighbors, yay!).
Here’s some background info about what I’m doing here in Uganda (other than all of the exciting things listed above!).
I’m doing a one-year fellowship with Global Health Corps (GHC), an organization started by Barbara Bush (yep, George’s daughter) to develop a new generation of leaders who are promoting health equity and social justice across the globe. Each fellow is placed at an organization – ranging from small grassroots orgs to big, international NGOs – in Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, the United States, or Zambia to fill a specific need identified by that organization. Each fellow also has a co-fellow who is a national of the country in which they are placed. So, here in Uganda, we have 30 fellows total – 15 are American, and 15 are Ugandan. We work with our co-fellows at our placement sites (and sometimes we live with them).
Mary and I are working as fundraising and development fellows at Save the Mothers (STM), an international nonprofit organization started by a Canadian obstetrician, Dr. Jean Chamberlain-Froese. The organization operates two programs that seek to address the high maternal and infant mortality rates in the developing world through capacity building and health systems strengthening.
To effect change at the system level, STM’s Masters of Public Health Leadership program equips multidisciplinary professionals from across East Africa with the skills and knowledge to improve the health of mothers and babies in their various spheres of influence, ranging from journalism to education to public service and beyond.
STM’s Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative focuses on improving the accessibility and quality of maternal and neonatal care at hospitals and health centers. Here in Uganda, this can be as simple as building a waiting room shelter for moms at a local health clinic, or having curtains installed between hospital beds so that mamas can labor and deliver their babies in relative privacy. It currently operates in eight health facilities throughout Uganda, with plans for expansion in Uganda and beyond.
I plan to share tons more information with you through this platform as the year goes on, and you can expect my next post to be more issue-focused. But for now, thank you for reading! I send you all love and hugs from Mukono.