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

After being here for a while, there are still a few things I have not gotten used to. Everyone who knows me knows I like to be busy. I like to pack my schedule and do multiple things at once and get things done as quickly and as well as I can. I like living at a fast pace and constantly challenging myself in whatever I am involved in. I also like to have a schedule and follow it. That being said, integrating into the pace of life here has been a difficult transition and one that I don’t really see myself ever getting used to. I often find myself getting frustrated when things are not moving at the pace I’d like them to or when things do not happen as scheduled.

For example, on a recent trip to Kampala, the taxi I was in stopped in the middle of a main road in Kampala, in rush hour, so the driver of the taxi could talk to someone he recognized on the street. I had woken up at 5 a.m. to catch the earliest taxi available to Kampala, thinking that it would be a quick straight shot without any traffic. Of course, there was traffic and the driver made multiple stops once we got closer to the city so he could talk with a few people.

Another time, on a trip back from Masaka, the driver stopped at a trading center, got out of his car, and got a few groceries while all the passengers were stuffed inside his hot car. One time I got so frustrated with a driver after he made so many stops and stuffed his car way, way too much, I told him to stop and got out of the car pretty far from the clinic. I walked to the nearest place I could catch a boda and took that back to the clinic.

My patience has been tested multiple times at the ministry of internal affairs as well. Through the ministry, I need to apply for my work permit, which will allow me to stay in Uganda after my 6-month visa expires. Corruption is rampant in Uganda, and I have seen it firsthand multiple times. I have seen traffic police take cash from taxi drivers. An immigration official in Masaka tried to get me to bribe him for an extension of my visa. Although he did not explicitly say give me money, he was expressing how sorry he was that he could not do anything while his hands were palms up in front of him ready to accept cash. When I tried to leave he kept saying, “No, I am very sorry I cannot help”, while moving his hands toward me. On my last trip to the ministry in Kampala (I have had to go several times), I was told that they lost my paperwork for me to get a certain permit. In the nicest way I could, I told them they would have to physically remove me from the office until I got my form. A German guy, who was having the same trouble I was, looked on in horror. I was a little unsure of what would happen too, but I was so tired of dealing with them I didn’t care anymore. I think I may have been a little too aggressive but nonetheless, twenty minutes later I had what I needed and left. I am still waiting for my actual work permit but hopefully I’ll receive it soon.

Being alone here and figuring out the way things work has proved to challenging, but also pretty funny. For example, when speaking to people here, you need to be as specific and literal as possible. I learned this the hard way a couple weeks ago. I was in a taxi on my way back to Ddegeya in the back row, stuffed in-between two large women. One was younger carrying a baby and the other was a bit older. A few minutes into the trip, the driver asked where I was going and I told him Ddegeya. The older women next to me then said, “Ehh you are from the Engeye Clinic?” I told her I was. She then asked if the clinic had a gynecologist. I told her we didn’t, but that we had three great clinicians and are partnered up with Marie Stopes, an organization that deals with women’s reproductive health. Instead, I should have told her that there are no doctors at Engeye but that we have three clinicians. Because I didn’t say we had no doctors, and because I am white and live at the clinic, she assumed that I was a doctor.

Unfortunately, the woman started to tell me, in great detail, what her health problem was. I was shaking my head furiously and kept saying that I was not a doctor in English and the best I could in Luganda, but it didn’t matter. She kept going on and on, and when I tried to turn my head to the other side, I got an eyeful of the other women’s chest as she was breastfeeding her baby (breastfeeding is very casual here). There was no escape, so I just turned back to the older woman and told her to come by the clinic and she would be taken care of. From then on, I have been as clear as I possibly can when speaking to anyone here.