Thank You

Six years ago, when I first stepped onto Union’s campus right before I started my senior year of high school, I knew that Union was where I wanted to go to college. About an hour later, during the tour, I first heard about the Minerva Fellow program, only a year into its existence, and I knew I wanted to be a fellow. From then to now, Union provided me with a college experience I never thought possible and this fellowship gave me an education that could never be learned in a classroom. It is impossible for me right now to fully understand the impact Ddegeya and this fellowship has had on me. Instead, in my last blog post, there are a lot of people I want to thank before I leave Ddegeya.
First, thank you Union College, Tom McEvoy, and Hal Fried for giving me the opportunity to be a Minerva Fellow and for placing me in Ddegeya. This turned out to be the right placement for me and I cannot thank you enough for selecting me and knowing where to put me.
I could write a few pages about each member of the Engeye Staff, but I’m going to keep it short: Olivia, Rita, Resty, Immie, Bridget, and Tush, you are all amazing women and it has been an honor to get to know each one of you and see the work you do everyday. Resty, Boss, thank you for being patient and teaching me how to do things in the dispensary. Eddie, thank you for being a friend when I was the only Mizungu around and when I really needed one. John, you are an inspiration, and if there were more people in the world like you, it would be a much better place. Mama Jackie, you’ve been Mama Ben since July, you are one of the hardest working people I have ever met and one of the nicest. You all made me proud to say that I lived and worked at Engeye Health Clinic whenever anyone asked. You are all the best at what you do and I know when I return in a few years it will feel as though I never left. I am incredibly grateful for everything you all have done for me.
Everyone that donated to the vehicle project—-Thank you. The vehicle has made everything from outreach, to picking up clean water and food in Masaka, to transporting patients so much easier. It will continue to be a helpful tool for the clinic for years to come. Your donation has made a big impact and we are all very grateful.
All of the former Minerva Fellows I spoke with mentioned that during the fellowship, you find out who is really there for you and who isn’t. They said many people stop talking to you, but that a few will always be there for you. They said that it was going to be a challenging experience and that it could be made even more challenging by dealing with strained relationships back home. All of this turned out to be true, but for me, there weren’t just a few people who always said hi and wanted to talk. I can honestly say that every one of my friends was there for me at some point or another. I truly have the best friends in the world and I am grateful to have all of you in my life. There were some really tough days and there was always at least one of you who would send me a message and want to talk. I’ll be thanking all of you personally as soon as I see you, I love you guys.
Mom, Dad, Ross, and the rest of my family, thank you for the support. I cannot wait to see you. Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this. I know the last 9 and half months have been tough for you. Thank you for supporting me in everything I’ve set out to do and pushing me to be the best I can be in whatever I do.
Ddegeya and Engeye, I’ll be back in a couple of years. Thank you for everything, webale nyo.

December and January

The past couple of months have flown by. For the first time since I arrived in July, we had visitors at the clinic in early December and since then, we have had many volunteers come and go. It has been amazing to meet new people, particularly some of the board members of Engeye, who I had only communicated with through email. Elaine Hickey, David Robinson, Julie McMurchie, and Dennis Deeb, it was so great to meet and speak with you all and Engeye is lucky to have you all at the helm. A former Minerva Fellow, Alexis Deeb also came for a visit. it was incredible to see the relationships she formed and the work she did and is continuing to do here. She’s an amazing person and her return to the village showed me that I have to return here to see the friends I’ve made.

Having visitors made me realize how far I have come since I arrived here. When I first arrived, Uganda was basically Mars to me, I didn’t know what I was doing or what was going on around me. Yet by December, I was showing the volunteers around, introducing them to people, and just generally guiding them through whatever I could. I also had this feeling while at a burial recently. Last week, the clinic staff traveled to the rural village of Kalibubbu for the burial of a friend’s father. Burials in Uganda are a major community event, hundreds of people come to pay their respects, and enormous amounts of food are brought and then cooked to serve the community. There were around 1,500 people at the burial in Kalibubbu and the cooking operation was like nothing I have ever seen. Across a yard behind a house, there were about 15 enormous vats cooking over wood fires. There were hundreds of people around the perimeter and some around the vats of food. We found an area by the perimeter and were soon served plates with mounds of mattoke, rice, and beef. After a few bites I stopped myself and realized what I was doing. I was in a low squat position, with my butt almost touching the ground and eating the food with my hands, if it weren’t for my skin color, I would have looked just like every Ugandan eating at the burial. If you had told me 6 months ago that I’d be squatting and eating with my hands at a burial I would not believe you.

In early December, the clinic held its annual Scholars holiday party. I’ve heard from previous fellows that this is an amazing day but no words can describe the party this year. Over 1,000 people from the nearby villages came to dance and eat and celebrate at the clinic. We served and fed a little over 1,000 people throughout the day and through the rain. Not only did the clinic staff serve, but every Engeye Scholar, no matter the age, pitched in to help. I initially thought the party was for the scholars, but later learned that the party was for the community. The way the scholars acted and helped showed that the scholars are not only very bright, but they are also community leaders. For about four hours, they helped everywhere they could. When it was all over and everyone had eaten, they finally got on the line to get food. I was so proud of each one of them and proud of the work the scholars program does.

In January, my parents and brother came to visit. They spent a few days in Uganda and then we all flew to South Africa for a safari and a few days in Capetown. If any of you know my mother, it was very funny to see her in Africa. I really appreciated the opportunity to see another part of Africa. The trip was truly incredible and I am so lucky to have such an amazing and supportive family.

The most exciting thing I want to share is about our vehicle project. In the past two months, Rogan and I met our fundraising goal of $12,000. After several trips to Kampala and meetings with mechanics, we purchased a van to serve as an outreach and emergency vehicle for our community. After only a few days of having the van, we have already used it to transport a patient to our clinic. For a low fee, we were able to pick up an elderly handicapped woman from a nearby village. It was amazing to see the project in action and to see how grateful the woman and her family were for our services.

Along with transportation of patients, the vehicle will also enable us to go on more outreach trips to remote villages. We have partnered up with a clinic in Mbirizi, a nearby town, to go on outreach together. They go on outreach, but only offer immunizations. We will provide transport and offer general treatment to the patients they see. Through this partnership, more Ugandans will be able to receive immunizations and general care. We are looking forward to continuing the development of this project and having the future Minerva Fellows develop it even further.

Halfway

I’m almost finished with the second of my four boxes of malaria pills, so I know the halfway point of my fellowship is coming up.  The first half has been challenging, rewarding, and nothing short of incredible.  I have learned a lot about myself and the world and have changed for the better in my four and a half months here.   

 

That being said, the next half of the fellowship is going to be even more incredible. Since I arrived here, I have been the only Minerva Fellow and volunteer. On Tuesday, one of my best friends from Union, Rogan Quinn, will be here and we will be finishing out the fellowship together. In December, January and February, other people will be visiting for a few weeks at a time. After being alone for the first half, I know the second half is going to fly by.

 

But there is still much to accomplish in this short time. Recently, the Engeye Board of Directors approved my proposal for the Ambulance and Outreach Vehicle project.  The goal of the project is to raise $12,000 to purchase a vehicle for the clinic to be used for transport to the hospital and community outreach.  In 9 days, we’ve raised over $4,000.  

 

This project will do so much good for the clinic and the community.   Not only will the vehicle provide emergency transport for patients of our clinic, but we will be working with several clinics and midwives in our area to provide transport for their patients and pregnant mothers.  The vehicle will also allow us to expand our outreach program to more villages where people do not have access to quality care.  

 

A majority of our patients come from villages and trading centers west of the clinic on the Mbarara highway. Because this vehicle will mostly be heading east towards Masaka on the highway, we will be increasing Engeye’s exposure in those trading centers and villages and hopefully see more patients as a result.   

 

I frequently hear of mothers dying during and after childbirth or people waiting too long to get to the hospital. Just a few weeks ago, a child died on his way to the hospital from a nearby clinic.  The only transport available on short notice was a boda (motorcycle), which was not fast enough to get the child to a hospital.  These tragedies do not have to happen. 

 

Please consider making a donation. If we raise the $12,000, we will save and change lives. 

 

Here is the link to our Razoo fundraising page where there are more details on the project and the effect it will have:

 

http://www.razoo.com/story/Ambulance-And-Critical-Health-Project

 

If you have any questions, please email me at weiner.benjaminl@gmail.com; I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the project or anything in general