REALISING THE DREAM: RWENZORI WOMEN FOR HEALTH A FULL TIME PROJECT

12 Dec

On the morning of my first visit to Kagando Hospital, in January 2010, my friend Christine Pfluger & I were welcomed by Sr Kabugho Laheri the Senior Nursing Officer on duty. I had woken early curious to see what the surroundings looked like, for we had arrived in a blanket of darkness the night before. As I stepped out onto the verandah I saw the Rwenzori mountains in all their majesty, bathed in sunshine, and magical tiny lights twinkling in the hills. The scenery took my breath away and nearly nine years on, it still does.

The lights intrigued me: Sr Laheri told me that the sunlight was reflecting on the iron sheets which are used to roof houses…if you can afford them. There are many communities living in the mountains, Laheri continued to say. How do they access healthcare was my next question; “with great difficulty” came the sad reply “people die on the way”. 

How could I walk away from such a statement; such a state of affairs.

After barely a few hours in Kagando, having not yet ventured beyond the guesthouse, I already I knew that somehow, someday, I was going to take healthcare to the Rwenzori mountains. This was the start of a steep learning curve, a mixture of naivety and many a mistake, but always with great determination to make things happen

In May 2011 I was asked to speak at the annual Yorkshire Practice Nurse Conference about my trips to Uganda. I had just returned to the UK from a 3 month sabbatical working at Kagando Hospital and all my experiences were still very much alive. Following my talk a woman, who introduced herself as Cathy O’Dowd, asked if we could have a chat after the conference. She was the last speaker of the day: a motivational speaker, the first woman to climb Everest from both the North and South side…and yes I was very intrigued as to why an extremely experienced mountaineer should want to talk to me, of all people. If nothing else I had never climbed mountains, nor had I any intention to do so! Little did I know what was to come…

The conference ended and Cathy and I talked at great length; she asked many questions about Kagando and my work there. I told her as much as I could, which of course included the great difficulties many people experience in accessing healthcare, particularly in the rural areas and mountain communities. She asked what my dream was. ‘To take healthcare to the mountain areas of the Rwenzoris” said I without hesitation. One day I’ll be in a position to help you Cathy said, as we exchanged contact details.

A week before Christmas that year, Cathy called me and said she was now able to help. She told me that she and two friends had set up Astraia Female Leadership Foundation. Cathy then asked whether I could put together a health proposal to help women in the Rwenzori community: my thoughts went back to the first day at Kagando; my wish was still to take healthcare to the mountain communities for I knew the need was great, but I was hesitant – I felt that although the focus would be very much on the women I needed to include the men as well, whenever possible. It is a very patriarchal society, and gaining the men’s trust would be necessary to enable me to have access to the women. Moreover, when we approach topics such as sexual health and family planning we cannot exclude the men…but importantly if it involved me walking up the Rwenzori mountains I would want to ensure we would see as many people as possible! 

Cathy encouraged me to submit a proposal and budget to ASTRAIA. This was duly given the green light and Rwenzori Women for Health was born.

Behind ASTRAIA FLF are 3 incredible women Kerstin Plehwe, Jutta Kleinshmidt and, Cathy O’Dowd. Over the years the Foundation has supported RWFH, enabling us to take a once weekly Outreach to the mountains. Then in February this year, I met up with Kerstin, we  talked of course about RWFH, its success as well as its challenges and then there came a moment where history, repeated itself: Kerstin asked me what my dream was! Simple- it was for the project to progress to being a full-time one.

“Do it,” Kerstin said. So I did. I submitted a proposal to ASTRAIA FLF and wonderfully  they accepted. I have no words to express my gratitude, not only for their funding but for putting such trust in me.

Over the following months as I started planning the logistics of the project, other events were taking place in the background, which were to  influence the development of RWFH. 

Firstly thanks to the support of a friend, Jonny Rowland, head of Agri Evolve I was to be given a donation by Nestle to create a one off project linked to RWFH. It’s not easy to plan a project when you’re thousands of miles away from the point of implementation, as I was in Uk at the time, but I’d had an idea which would possibly fit the criteria. I took that leap of Faith and submitted a proposal to Nestle for teaching women how to make re-usable menstrual pads. This was duly accepted. Fantastic!

Then on arriving at Kagando in August ready to discuss with management and others RWFH in it’s new format, I was informed that the hospital’s new obstetrician Dr Baluku Asanairi, was wanting to target cancer of the cervix in the district. This was an answer to my prayers. Some five years previously I had been approached by a  Kagando friend who told me that his young sister-in-law had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. “Our women are dying do something,” he told me. 

Yet again I was presented with a statement that I knew would haunt me if I didn’t ‘do something’….since that time I’d been trying to organise some structure for the Cancer of the Cervix screening and management programme, from hospital to district level, but for various reasons I wasn’t succeeding. Till now! It’s still in its infancy, but I’ve been greatly encouraged by what’s happening already.

Lastly, malnutrition is an ongoing problem in the area. This is not only due to the poverty,  and the inclement weather or parching sun affecting the crops, but for many there is also a lack of nutritional knowledge. Now as it happens the RainbowRoom has a ‘traditional oven’. When it became the Rainbow Room I was told I could have the oven removed to make more space for the children to play during bad weather, but I felt I ought to leave it as one day the oven might come in useful…and so it proved to be: Nutritional demonstration classes are happening twice monthly for the mums whose children have been admitted because of malnutrition and/or HIV. Once the children have been discharged from hospital RWFH visits the mums in the community to offer further support.

What of the Outreach programme itself? What started as a once weekly visit to specific villages has now expanded and busy throughout the week and even to w-ends, depending on the programme and needs of the community.

Behind RWFH there is a great team. Sr Laheri was the first nurse lead, supported by other  nurses and community health co-ordinators (2 field workers per village) after a couple of years Sr Laheri left the hospital to go to University, studying for a nursing degree. The Outreach was then led by the equally wonderful Sr Evanisa. However, with the expansion of the programme, more managerial and leadership experience was required, meaning that  the post was only suitable for one with a degree. The advert for the post duly went out over the radio and newspaper and who should be one of the applicants? None other then Laheri, having just successfully completed her degree! The project now has Laheri as full time Lead plus a deputy and one part-time nurse supported by the community health co-ordinators, as well as other nurses when needed. I’m so proud of them all.

RWFH together with its other ‘umbrella projects’ cannot come about without funding. I’m immensely grateful to Astraia FLF, and other donors who are supporting me in this journey, one which after several years feels as if it is only just beginning.

 Over time I have learnt to never give up. Dreams happen. 

In order to retain the blog content fairly succinct, I have kept the details of the outreach and various initiatives very brief; if you wish more detailed information please message me.

The very first outreach for RWFH at Nsenyi village with Sr Laheri
Taking pans to Buzira
People will travel distances and will even turn up if the weather is none too great
The weather can close in very quickly. It’s always a concern when we’re up in the Rwenzori hills.
Nutrition class at the mountain village of Buzira
Two of our lovely Community Health Co-Ordinators
Meet Fortunate – RWFH keep an eye on her.
Not easy walking up those hills
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WHAT CAN I DO?

30 Sep

Over the years people have approached me saying they’d love to come to Kagando to help. I’m always delighted to hear those words. However, they are generally accompanied by hesitancies and concerns. The worries range from family commitments, in that it’s not yet the right time to come out to Uganda (I fully understand what they mean, as I went through that process myself) to personal safety, illness/diseases and costs. I do my very best to reassure them and talk them through any of the concerns, but for some, not being a health practitioner, a nurse or doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist, or simply not very practical and handy, is their main anxiety.

They are very willing to come yet somehow feel inadequate – questions and comments generally follow ‘ How can I help? I’m not very good dealing with sickness. Will there be something for me to do? I don’t want to get in the way. I don’t want to go all that way and do nothing.

What can I do?

Some four weeks ago three lads, Jack, Harry and Johnny, from a boys brigade, down Brighton way, in the UK, and their leader Gary came to Kagando. They had done a fair bit of fundraising prior to their trip, and had arrived with brimming suitcases, as well as with various ideas what to do during their stay here, which included the painting of wards. On arrival they found that the departments were on the whole fine as some refurbishment has been done (and still being done). Not daunted, they went to Kagando Primary School, which is next door to the hospital and there the work started: from painting to mending, to organising and overseeing some refurbishment including classroom ceilings which were in a poor way and adding electric lights as needed…and the best bits were the painting of wall murals and the purchase of swing, slide roundabout and climbing frame for the children!

They also helped with hospital activities such as taking part in the Kagando Clean up Campaign and Jaja Home day. This is a monthly activity where children and teenagers/young adults come to Kagando community hall: they are given a good breakfast and lunch, have fellowship, health checks,  and of course lots of singing and play and any activities visitors may have brought with them to do. This particular Saturday the lads had brought along white T-shirts and fabric pens for the kids to personalise the T-shirts. This activity was followed by a hand print session which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Towards the end of their stay not only did they give me money for the wonderful RainbowRoom slide but they also bought, weighed and bagged a month’s worth of food supplies for 100 people. The Chaplaincy organised for the elderly and destitute of the community to come to the hospital’s St Luke’s Chapel, where the food bag distribution took place. In all these years of coming I’ve never seen such a programme happening. I’ve taken note and it’s one initiative I hope to carry on.

So for those of you who are interested in coming, have a spirit of humanitarian aid, a wish to give directly to where the needs are, and to get to know this Church of Uganda hospital with it’s wonderful community, then give it some thought, and message me. 

You can do so much… so much and more.

 

 

 

 

DIGNITY FOR PEOPLE AFFECTED BY LEPROSY

8 Jul

My daughter Julia, is running the York 10k on August 5th for People Affected by Leprosy  who urgently require prosthetic limbs in the district of Kasese, Uganda, which Kagando Hospital, comes under. Several of these wonderful people are now amputees, many have had their prosthetic limbs for a number of years, which have now become troublesome, causing pain and sometimes requiring hospital admission. They tell me the pain is ever present, preventing them from walking any distance. They are unable to afford new ones.

Help Julz to offer dignity to Lepers. In her words ” I have the freedom to run: let me offer these wonderful, brave people the ability to walk.”

You can donate by clicking on the link below. Regardless thank you for reading this.

https://www.gofundme.com/10k-run-for-lepers-of-kasese

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LETTER FROM KAGANDO: APRIL 2018 Two weeks tizzy busy….and a day of rest!

24 Apr

The last time I went to Kagando for just 2 weeks was in 2011. That year I had taken a 3 month sabbatical from work to do a longer stint at the hospital and to basically get ‘Kagando out of my system’. On return to UK, I resigned from my job – how one great plan failed miserably!! From then on with the amazing support of Paul, Julz, family and friends, it was to become a regular twice yearly 3month stay.

Prior to departure I kept being asked the same two questions: the first was, would I be effective in view of the short duration of the trip? Now that is a question I frequently ask myself, whether I go for two weeks or three months makes no difference to my thoughts. I regularly wonder how effective I am. Even after all these years I worry that ‘I can do more harm then good’. Forever doubting, particularly when I get things wrong, and when the needs of the hospital and community become so overwhelming, my instinct is to walk away. It is then I remember the starfish story, that for the one starfish which was thrown back in the sea, it breathed life again, even though thousands still lay dying on the beach. 

The second question: was is it worth it?

Although I enjoy flying, the long trip can be a bit lonely, so I was delighted to be able to join two friends Maureen Moore (she was at Kagando for 15yrs, as a nurse, tutor and then matron of the hospital) and Paul Allen who for the past 12 years has supported Kalikikaliki school, as well as the hospital. Joining us were friends of Paul, John and Opi Foye on their first visit to  Kagando hospital. The journey doesn’t end at Entebbe airport, for to reach Kagando you need a further 8 hours by road before you catch a first glimpse of the breathtaking Rwenzori mountains. We required two vehicles, not only because of the number of people, but also the vast amount of luggage that came with us: suitcases filled to the brim with equipment, clothes sweets and toys, bubbles and balloons and other assorted resources and gifts. On top of all that, Allen & Overy, a London Company Paul and John work for, donated 4 complete large trauma bags. Simply amazing.

When the drive was reaching its final hour, Sabuni our driver (and friend) started to slow down, and to my and Maureen’s huge surprise we saw a group of Kagando nurses waiting by the roadside…me emotional? An understatement to be sure! I joined them on their bus for the final lap and Opi came too. We sang all the way, whilst waiting expectantly to catch the first glimpse of the majestic mountains, and the hospital. There was yet another surprise, for just off the roadside infront of the hospital were some very smart, shiny brand new containers (shops). The council required them to be resited, which was an added cost to the hospital. May I take this opportunity to once again thank all who donated to the ‘fire fund appeal’- truly grateful.

On my last visit in September I  moved  from my role of deputy principal nursing officer to focusing on  community services. During this trip I did my best to catch up with all that was happening in those hospital departments linked to the Community, as well as going out on some of the Outreaches themselves. I also attended various meetings for future planning, to work with on my return (some work I can be getting on with whilst in the UK). 

I was more than fully occupied with: Rwenzori Women for Health (of course!), leprosy outreach, two prison visits, and visiting Sr Justine who runs a ‘refuge home for destitutes’; within the hospital itself Jaja day happened, and I occasionally sneaked off to the Rainbow Room (which is buzzing!!), to play! The lovely nurse Harriet still opens up when she can, but I’m so excited as I’ve now been able to fund a full -time co-ordinator: Ruth started in December and she is doing an incredible job. It’s only taken me 5years to see the RainbowRoom reach the stage it is now and for the hospital to fully understand the benefits of play therapy….never give up, for dreams happen if you wait long enough!

I had a day with Rwenzori Women for Health at the mountain village of Kalingwe. This month’s health topic was sickle cell disease- fortunately the weather held long enough for us to climb up and get down with just a slight shower! I’m always so happy to join this Outreach and feel very proud that after six years we’re still taking education, screening and deworming to the rural areas in the Rwenzori hills. Last year I took a leap of Faith and expanded to another village. Now we monthly visit five villages and we keep being asked to go to others…watch this space! 

The first prison I went to was the local Nyabirongo prison. Every Sunday afternoon the chaplaincy visit the prisoners. They are accompanied by a nurse, for a prison health outreach and once a month a clinical officer also attends together with HIV counsellors. 

I was last there in October – when the numbers had more then doubled from the previous year, soaring to ninety. 

As the guards are few and there was no security boundary (there isn’t still), the inmates were locked up for most of the day- in one room, with 3 latrines at the end of the room – I remember entering and seeing the men sitting motionless, staring at the nothingness around, pungent and airless; I thought I saw the edge of hell. 

This time the prisoners were brought outside, the numbers not as many, or at least I don’t know how many were left inside, for we never entered, and we were never told the total number. The guards do their very best, but it’s not an easy situation for them.

The other prison we visited was Mubuku. On my last visit in November, (I had taken Julz with me as she came to visit me for 2 weeks), I met with one of the prisoners who was very disabled, walking, or rather propelling himself on his hands. I couldn’t do anything at that time as I was leaving a couple of days later, but he preyed on my mind, never forgetting him. So this time I went with Gloria the physio and Jackson, who not only is lead nurse for TB and leprosy but is the hospital OT. They were able to assess him and are now  in the process of adapting a wheelchair to suit his needs. 

Jaja day happened on the first Saturday of arrival. Always an absolute delight. My heart goes out to the kids, who through no cause of their own doing, have HIV. At the monthly reunion they have fellowship, health checks, a good breakfast and lunch, and of course lots of play and singing!! The teenagers are regularly joining us as well, but a few years back things were quite different. They had stopped coming. The reasons I was to find out didn’t surprise me, teenagers are the same world over, but these wonderful, brave beautiful kids, daily live with HIV, stigma ever present, some not taking their ARVs, battling with ill health and poverty….Sr Laheri, one of the nurses and myself decided to start the Teens and Twenties club to support them, give them a focus and to let them know that they are much loved. We initially had 7 members and now we have 17, with more to come. The hospital has generously given us a small area of farm land where they grow fruit and vegetables, at present they have maize.The money they get from their sale is put back into more seeds and each has now a chicken; however much more funding is needed for garden tools, education, healthcare….and I try to treat them to a day out at least once a year, twice if I can afford it! 

On Sunday I had news that one of our teenagers, beautiful Jakeline had died. I was really saddened  as over the years I’ve got to know and love these kids. I know they will all be affected by Jakelines’ death, all acutely aware of how fragile their health is. One day, a visitor to Jaja day asked the children what was it that they prayed for most: “that I may live” came the reply from one of the youngsters. Lovely Jakeline will not be forgotten.

It’s always a pleasure to visit and support Sr Justine, at the fishing village of Katwe. She has a simple home for the destitute, of around 20 beds for both the young and elderly. Typically people come to her  because they have been abandoned by the family, as in the case of one elderly lady who is blind, or like the man found wandering in the woods, who has dementia and who must have been brought from another area as no one knows who he is (it’s not a big village and the villages nearby would also know him were he local); another resident is a young girl rescued from child sacrifice.

And finally the leprosy Wing and Outreach! A wing comprising two very smart large ensuite bedrooms has been built as an addition to the guest house. This building has been funded by the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem (Malta). They have been supporting Kagando hospital/Leprosy community for the past three years. 

The rooms are ready to take in guests- 80% of guest payments will go to the Leprosy compassionate fund. Paul Warren who is a member of the Order came out to Kagando for the blessing of the wing; this being his third visit. Various outreaches and visits to those affected by leprosy were organised for Paul to go to, as well as a couple of planning meetings to address future needs of the leprosy community, which is still growing.I was only able to accompany Paul on one of the trips, as unfortunately I was busy with other happenings. Thank you Malta!

As for the day of rest- I went to  Queen Elizabeth Safari Park, with my travelling companions…I love to go there: stunning scenery, good food and of course the incredible wildlife that can be seen in the savanna, or at the water’s edge, or in the lake itself. What’s there not to love? The perfect day off to recharge the batteries! 

I don’t want to end this letter without a very important thank you: The generosity of many  overwhelms me; this is at a time when requests for donations to various charities and global needs, are ever constant. Monies given, are used in many many ways, such as helping individuals (I used to worry how I would choose who to give the money to when I see poverty all around, yet somehow I seem to be guided to the right person/family) or a response to a direct request. It’s not only about money but so many individuals continue to give donations of clothes, books, toys, wonderful woollies, medical resources…all of which I receive regularly and distribute from hospital lowlands to the mountain highlands. Those of you who support my projects, I wish you could come and see for yourselves what you have achieved. 

My apologies to all, that I don’t mention you by name as I worry I’d leave one of you out. For your thoughts and prayers, for your support, for your advice, for just being there, I’m truly grateful. To each and every one of you, know that you are making a difference.

To go back to the second question posed at the start: Was it worth it?

Absolutely! With every trip my life is enriched and I feel truly blessed.

With much love

Rita x

 

 

FIRE AT THE CANTEENS – a fire fund appeal

10 Oct

 

On the night of 2nd October four shops, also known as canteens, infront of Kagando Hospital were destroyed by fire. The end result has impacted not only on the shopkeepers, their livelihood reduced to ashes, but also on the hospital itself, as these shops produced a regular rental income. The impact doesn’t stop there: numerous repair costs will follow e.g repair to the steel containers (the wooden one was totally destroyed), as well as the replacement of the 16 fire extinguishers that were taken from the various hospital departments to fight the fire: hospital staff had battled bravely with the fires  using the extinguishers and the one tap and hosepipe available. The ‘fire truck’, stationed some 40 minutes away in the town of Kasese, came when the fire was nearly all put out. It is a miracle no-one was hurt.

Early the following day the acrid smell of fire still lingered in the air, a reminder of the night’s events though none was needed. I saw a bleak scene: a community motionless in  silence.
There was movement though, men on their hands and knees appeared to be painstakingly sifting through the ashes. On asking what was happening, I was told they were looking for any coins that may have escaped the fire.
The largest coin value is 500 Ugandan Schillings equivalent to around 10p …desperate.

Looking to the future- well, discussions have already started by hospital management, about the need of measures to reduce the risk of future fires.                                                 The hospital also wants to quickly restore these canteens so the shopkeepers will start rebuilding their lives.

If you feel you can contribute towards this fire fund no matter how little, we are all truly grateful.
You can donate directly to the Charity Friends of Kagando : http://www.kagando.org.uk – or you can just send me a message either via this blog, (at the end of this blog site) or any of my other contact details you may have, and I’ll email you with the relevant charity bank form.

Please rest assured that every penny you give and referenced “Fire Fund” will go as designated.

My heartfelt thanks
Rita.

MENTAL DENTAL..and balloons, of course!

6 Sep

Five years ago Rwenzori Women for Health was launched – an outreach programme that takes health care to the rural communities in the beautiful mountains of the Rwenzori. The Outreach focuses primarily on health education, but we also provide screening programmes e.g HIV, Hypertension, Diabetes, HPV testing, malnutrition checks.
In May this year, we held our first dental programme: I had heard that a British dentist, Rob Dobson, from York (coincidently my home town!) was going to visit Kagando hospital and as I’m not one to miss an opportunity (working on the principle ‘they can only say no’) I asked if he would consider being part of our dental programme. He very kindly agreed…at that point I hadn’t exactly elaborated where we were heading to! Rob was coming with other visitors from the amazing charity **Accomplish Childrens Trust

Rob together with the lovely Sr Sidora, Kagando hospital’s dental nurse, joined the RWFH team as we set off for Kalingwe village early one morning. He was the first ever muzungu dentist to visit and, I was told, the first ever dentist to go there anyway!
The programme consisted of a teaching session followed by dental check ups, should anyone wish to take up this opportunity….around 170 men women and children did!

Sr.Sidora not only assisted Rob, but was his translator. Following every dental check up Rob & Sidora advised on oral care: whether it was how to take better care of their teeth and gums, and/or whether there’s a need to go down to the hospital’s dental clinic for a procedure. Amazingly we had brought with us enough toothbrushes for everybody and both Rob and I had small tubes of toothpaste to hand over as well. Rob had brought a supply with him and over the years I have been supported through donations of several boxes of toothpaste by my dentist in York at Castlegate dental practice (thank you so much!)

When I asked Rob what condition the teeth were, he told me there was not much tooth decay. This surprised me, as sugar cane is a great favourite among both old and young, always chewing on it – but of course it’s unrefined sugar, hence good teeth: sweets/biscuits/cakes and fizzy drinks are a luxury in this area. However, despite the poverty, he felt that as western influences increase so will tooth decay. Gum disease was bad though, due to poor oral hygiene and reduced immune response in general. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by the fact that RWFH team can continue to re-enforce the importance of oral hygiene and hopefully healthier gums will follow!

Men women and children kept on coming through the chapel doors, where we always base ourselves when at Kalingwe. The children were entertained, and distracted (anxious looks at Rob, wondering what will happen when it’s their turn to see the dentist) by two other visitors, Jess Acton and Dr Amogh Acharya, who had brought what seemed to be a never ending supply of balloons.
As the day progressed, although Rob was very willing to carry on, I had to sadly take the decision to close the chapel doors.
When up in the mountains you always keep one eye on the weather: I noticed dark skies gathering and I didn’t want us to be caught in the torrential rains that can happen around the region. The rains can be monsoon-like and they could be accompanied by some very dramatic thunder and lightening. We would have been given shelter but storms can go on for some time and then the descent to the lowlands would have been treacherous. I have a responsibility for the team and sadly had to take that decision.
We did get down safely and we reached our vehicle just as the first drops of rain started.

Unfortunately Rob was only able to join the team for one outreach: he was on a two week visit and RWFH teams go out once weekly (funds permitting, we hope to expand as the need is great). He was also involved with Accomplish going on various community visits and seeing their work at Kagando village and other areas in Uganda.
However the great news is that Rob will be returning in 2018, for a longer spell and also to be accompanied by a maxillofacial surgeon.
From little acorns…amazing things happen.

**Accomplish Children’s Trust is a Christian charity supporting children with disabilities and their families in Africa

SIGHT RESTORED

29 Jul

It was a Saturday- the day the Rwenzori Women for Health (RWFH) Outreach team came to Karibu house for our quarterly ‘get-together’. A day of updates, teaching and planning, chatter and much laughter. When it was goodbye time, Roz, one of our Community Health Co-Ordinators (CHC) said “Sister the new neighbour he is blind, he is young with family, help him.”
I trusted Roz and knew that she wouldn’t have approached me unless she felt I could be of some help; not from the financial aspect, but practical help. I asked a couple of questions which led to the answers: ‘no he wasn’t always blind, and no he’s never been to Kagando hospital. However, a ‘health unit’ where he used to live before, did a diabetic check and told him he was fine, but that he would never see again.’                                    Instead of feeling downhearted, the replies filled me with great hope and I told Roz to bring him to the hospital on Monday.

Roz was one of the CHC’s from Kalingwe, a rural village up in the remote hills of the Rwenzori Mountains: I knew her journey wouldn’t be an easy one; it’s difficult terrain at the best of times but guiding a blind man down to the lowlands was going to be particularly challenging for her. However, she is a wonderful woman, committed to RWFH and importantly, committed to the health of her community.

Monday came, and sure enough I found Roz waiting at the hospital’s Outpatients’ Department. As I was walking towards them I felt a sense of anxiety, wondering if my decision to bring Bwambale to the hospital had been a foolish one. Who was I to think I could do something to help him; to raise his hopes for nothing. What if I was wrong about Bwambale’s eye condition (for I had an idea of what could be the cause). Thoughts were jumbling up in my head, amidst prayers for guidance.
Roz told me they had left Kalingwe very early before the sun shone. She turned to Bwambale and said my name to him. I greeted him and as I reached out to take hold of his hands, he turned his face towards me, looking expectantly, yet with eyes unseeing.
Bizarrely the opening verse from one of John Milton’s poems came to mind…                       ” When I consider how my light is spent ere half my days in this dark world and wide…”
‘On his Blindness’ was one of my favourite poems in my teenage years, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had thought of it. Yet in an instant those few words strengthened my resolve and I knew I would do all I possibly could to help him.

We went to the Eye Clinic Department, where the lovely specialist nurses Michael and William, took a detailed medical history followed by various eye tests: it transpired that Bwambale’s sight had been deteriorating for a few years now and he had been blind for about the last couple of years. I did my best to catch what was being said, but there was no need, for just from the nods and smiles I sensed I was right to bring him here.
Bwambale had cataracts.

His face absolutely shone when he was told he would be able to see again. There were smiles, and tears all round. Further good news was yet to come: the next Eye Camp was due in a couple of weeks time and Bwambale would be able to have his cataract operation then. Perfect! It was all coming together and a thank you prayer went silently up to the Good Lord.

The Eye Camp duly arrived, as did the operation day. That evening I met up with             Dr Keith Wadell, the amazing eye surgeon who led the Camp. He told me that Bwambale’s operation went very well. He had operated on one eye and would operate on the other eye at the next Camp.
The following day I wasn’t able to be with Dr Keith and his staff when they removed Bwambales’ bandages, but they were pleased with the result..
Fortunately however, RWFH had an Outreach at Kalingwe the following week and I heard that Bwambale was coming to meet up with us.
We normally hold our teaching sessions in a chapel that’s still in its construction phase (and has been for many years!) but it’s got its roof on, which means shelter from both the heat of the day or the wetness of the rains, and it’s accessible. A good meeting place.
We were nearly coming to an end of our session and I was starting to feel disappointed, and lose hope that I may not see him, when he walked through the chapel door.
Automatically, I raised my hand and gave him a wave – then thought silly me his sight may not be good enough to see me as I was some distance away, and he’s only been operated on one eye; however, the wonderful smile that followed, told me how very wrong I was.
Still smiling, though more shyly he walked over to me. As we held hands he said in English, “it is good now I see”

                                   The world is no longer dark for Bwambale.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having field workers and the invaluable work they do in the community. So grateful to them

 

 

 

2016 WHAT A YEAR!

16 Jan

As I start my ‘to do’ list in preparation for my next Uganda visit, I find my thoughts drifting (as they frequently do!) reflecting on the past year and the incredible support that I received.

I know my blogs have regularly included thankyous, but I make no apologies, for I simply cannot ignore such immense kindness. My one regret is that many of you never see, or experience the impact you have made, and continue to make, on the lives of people at Kagando Hospital and in the Rwenzori Community. Through my blogs, newsletters, anecdotes and photos I endeavour to give you some understanding of this, but I feel it’s inadequate and struggle with it, for I myself know only too well the incredible privilege and blessings that your kindness bestows.

For the numerous blessings in 2016: the woollies and toiletries, shoes, crocs and clothes, high vis-jackets, stationery and school books, support for those affected by leprosy (which included a special lunch and funding to have a house built); for toys, airplanes, hand puppets, food, mattresses, monies to distribute as the needs arise, or for specific areas such as the VVF women, compassionate fund, and my projects with Rwenzori Women for Health, Rainbow Room, Teens and Twenties Club, bodaboda workshops, plus other funding such as Jaja day and the wonderful Staff Day Out… the list goes on… and I can only give thanks
When I stop and think about the source of all this kindness: Australia, America, UK, Germany, Andorra and Malta, countries from where prayers and practical help reach me, I am humbled; your hugs and words of courage usually arrive at times when they are most needed- and as for graciously listening to my numerous Ugandan tales ….you are true friends!!

From my husband Paul and daughter Julia, to friends and family and strangers alike, you are all truly amazing people and I feel proud and thankful to be part of your lives.

Whilst thanking you for a bountiful 2016, I send you love and God’s Blessings for a beautiful 2017.

A never-ending list of kindnesses…far more satisfying then my to do list!
xxx

CAN YOU STILL GET IT?

2 Oct

Can you still get it? Is it very contagious……aren’t you afraid of catching it?

It. Leprosy.

These are all the kind of questions I’m asked when I mention the word leprosy.
Leprosy -a biblical word, a word that conjures up thoughts of deformity, suffering, and stigma, ostracised by family, shunned by society’ isolated – a disease of times gone by.
A disease that sadly is still very much active today.

I’m told that in Kasese district alone, which Kagando comes under, has over six hundred people affected by leprosy. The hospital started as a leprosy hospital and gradually developed into a more ‘generalist’ one. However, lepers still come here today for treatment. Although they may live near a health centre or another hospital, and would be well looked after, many see Kagando as their refuge. A place where they find care and kindness, where people understand their suffering and reach out to them in any which way they can. A place where they are accepted and much loved. We have a wonderful nurse Jackson, who for over 20 years has cared for these clients not only in the hospital but out in the community and is supported by several other hospital staff. Thanks to Jackson and the team, many clients are no longer ostracised but are integrated in the community. A great achievement.

On my last visit here I was taken to see Isaac’s house (not his real name!). A lovely man with two little girls, wife long gone. Isaac is affected by leprosy and is a regular patient at the hospital. I know him well. Sadly his mud house had more fresh air then it had walls, and was in the process of falling down…actually one wall did collapse following a bad storm soon after our visit.

Fortunately I was aware of an international organisation:The Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, whose HQ is in Malta and whose primary focus is fundraising for lepers. Through one of the members of the organisation Paul Warren, I was able to ask for help. They most generously and without hesitation, donated the money for the building of a brick house. And Isaac has now got the smartest house on the block…!!

At the end of August, Paul very graciously came to visit Kagando: he met our leprosy patients who were at the hospital at the time, as well as meeting Isaac and his children and having a look at the house.
We also spent that day visiting various clients’ homes and leprosy support groups. We were made so very welcome and for me it was lovely to meet and catch up with several ex patients who I hadn’t see for some time.
However, our trip did end on a sad note – on our last support group visit of the day, we were introduced to two brothers, one 17yrs of age and a 13yr old, both showing signs of the early stages of leprosy. On a positive note we arranged for them to come to the hospital to start treatment, and we also checked out other family members. Jackson will keep an eye on them and advice and support them as necessary.
So yes leprosy is still happening.

As to whether I’m worried of ‘catching it’, the answer is no. The majority of the time I’m with clients who have undergone treatment and the disease is no longer in its active stage. In its contagious stage, those at risk and most vulnerable are prolonged close contacts.

One thing though with leprosy, that is highly contagious even after treatment…the beautiful smile! There is something special in their smile, when they see you, when you reach out to them and hold their hands, or give them a hug, or just say a hello, the warmth of their smiles radiate and make my day.
Lepers, these beautiful people, with their highly contagious smile.…ah well I’ll settle for that anytime.

For those of you interested in the charity: http://www.grandcommandarymalta.org

 

KINDNESS IN A VIDEO – II

9 Sep

Another fundraising video from Sandra Webb….really grateful and touched by all her amazing fundraising support. Wonderful parcels arrive regularly full of delights to share. She’s even helped two very special girls whose name you may recognise, Rosie and Fortunate…but in reality it’s me whose fortunate to have such support from people like Sandra and the never-ending support of Paul & Julia and other family and friends, each one knows who they are. I feel incredibly blessed.