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.