FullSoul blog

“You are Welcome”

By Serena

Balcony

As I write, I am comfortably sitting on our vast balcony overlooking the so-far mystical Mukono. People’s homes can be seen interspersed on a sloping hillside lush with greenery. The apricot rooftops seamlessly fit into the landscape and nestle into the gentle curving edges and rounds as if they have always been one. Almost directly adjacent to my perch, a grand mosque obscures my view of some of the slopeside homes. The air is ripe with sound. My ears are encompassed by the chirping of birds, the sputtering of passing boda boda’s (motorbikes), the clucking of nearby chickens, the bustling horns of traffic and if I focus in closely enough, I can just barely pick up the soft rustling of leaves dancing in the breeze. The sights and sounds, all fresh to my eyes and ears seem to be brimming with possibility. Liminality reverberates in my surroundings, yet there is more to it than merely confronting the foreign. The novelty of foreignness is familiar to me. I have been to many places where foreign has been the cornerstone, at least if considered from my vantage point. This is something different.

The transience comes from being in a position imbued with temporality. There is a strange power that comes with knowing that each intern before us has had an experience akin to our own, apt to their own variations. Some have stood on the very balcony I am currently sitting on and have even been privy to the same view. It is likely that they too brought with them a sense of eagerness to advance the movement towards an equitable society. The very origins of FullSoul came from one such experience, through its founder: Christina Hassan. Her experience has amplified into a cycle of experiences, fuelled by intention. Intention has unfolded over and over and has unfailingly latched anew onto others. We are inextricably linked. Each of us has been united in the common pursuit of protecting the health of Ugandan mothers and their babies.

Perhaps, this is why the landscape seems to be alit with possibility. My surroundings are remnant with the like-minded aspirations of those once in our place and have become imbued in my perception. With each new delight comes a sense of awe, made all the more pertinent through its very sharedness. The sharedness comes in trying a Rolex, a popular Ugandan dish, for the first time. It comes in meeting locals and being able to put faces to the names past interns have recounted in their stories and playing with the kids that neighbour our guesthouse, who we had heard so much about. It comes in going to the market and coming across a vendor who fondly recalled an intern once in our place. Each of these sentiments reinforces the sharedness and makes me hopeful for what is to come.

Already, I feel I’ve experienced a whirlwind of unfamiliarity, despite knowing that I have barely scratched the surface. For now, I relish the unfolding of intention certain to take place during mine and my fellow intern’s time here and hopefully long after we leave. I will also take comfort in the relationships the interns before us have managed to build, the work they have been able to accomplish and the mothers and babies they have managed to impact, from a journey that likely had a similar start to our own.

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Meet a FullSouler: Greg Hoerdt

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Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hello! My name is Greg and I’m going into my 3rd year of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I was hired at FullSoul to be the Field Engineer, which means I will be working with Hansen and Serena on improving the Maternal Medical Kit program from a technical perspective. For this semester that includes implementing grants, helping to arrange for experts to come and give training sessions, and working with partners at the University back home on sterilization process design and optimization. Some of my hobbies and interests include tennis, playing music, backpacking, and sustainability research.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

I’m looking forward to exploring a brand-new culture! I have always been interested in travel because it allows me to see people with completely different perspectives than anything I have seen before. Learning new languages and traditions is one of my favourite things to explore and I can’t wait to do so on a continent I have never visited before.

I am also very excited about the work we will be doing for FullSoul! This will be my first time working for a non-profit organization, and I am looking forward to being able to do unique work in such an important field. It should prove to be very different from the internships I have done in the past.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Tons! The previous interns have given us advice on everything from how to befriend locals to how to plan meals with the foods available here. Overall they gave us comfort knowing they were able to succeed in a work and living environment so different from what we are used to.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

Books – very limited access to the internet means I will be able to read a ton, something I did when I was little but have had no time for since starting University

Language learning tools – I downloaded a Luganda textbook on my computer to help with vocabulary as we try to pick up the local language

Sunscreen and bug spray – Avoiding the Canadian winter is a great plus, but we’ll need to prepare for the sun and mosquitoes instead

How can we follow you on your journey?

The 3 of us will be managing the FullSoul Instagram account, as well as adding blog posts.

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Meet a FullSouler: Hansen Lu

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Hello!  My name is Hansen Lu, I was born in Beijing and raised in Toronto.  Growing up exposed to two different worlds has inspired me to travel and try to understand what we all share in common as humans.  I am going into my fourth year in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo with a biomechanical specialization.  I will be working with FullSoul as the project manager.  Now that the Global Grant has been approved, my time with FullSoul will be heavily dedicated to implementing new equipment and training.  In addition, I’ll be identifying design optimizations in the sterilization process of medical equipment in the local hospitals.  Fun fact about myself is that I love tree planting in British Columbia!  It’s an environmentally friendly, yet lucrative job.  National Geographic ranked it as one of the toughest jobs in Canada and it strengthened my confidence to face adversity.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

I’m looking forward to starting the decade by exploring Africa for the first time!  I’m excited to learn the lifestyle of Ugandans and experience the natural beauty of Africa.  This is also my first time working with an NGO and working with the locals will be an immersive opportunity to learn about the Ugandan culture.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

Don’t eat too much Rolex.  Rolex is a popular street food in Uganda that’s made from rolled up omelet and dough.  I hope I don’t gravitate too much around it, because there is so much fresh meat and produce from the local market.

I love to work and experience things in person, rather than through a screen. To me, fulfillment is found in helping others and watching them excel.  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post, Namaste!

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Meet a FullSouler: Serena Meghji

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Hi, I’m Serena. I’m a Health Studies at the University of Waterloo and will be entering my fourth and final year upon returning from Uganda. Until then, I will be working as FullSoul’s Public Health intern. Much of my work will relate to monitoring and evaluation of the Maternal Health Project during its implementation. This basically means that I will work alongside our stakeholders in order to better understand the activities of the program as they unfold. I am super excited to have arrived during a phase of the project, where I get to observe firsthand the culmination of all the hard work and dedication that has been invested by the FullSoul team to reach this point.

Fun Fact: My family is of East African descent. Both of my parents were born in Tanzania and immigrated to Canada as children. They have travelled back many times. I have only been once when I was just 8 years old. I’m happy to now be living in a country that is so close to where my family comes from and doing work to benefit mothers and babies who are not so far removed from my own origins.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

What I am most looking forward to most is immersing myself into the culture and adjusting to a new version of normal. I love to travel and actively seek out novel experiences that challenge my current perception and worldview. I find that exposure to difference enables deeper understanding of oneself and is thus critical to growth. I also enjoy being exposed to diverse customs and ways of life and look forward to learning more about Ugandan culture during my internship. In addition, I am beyond ecstatic to get to enjoy the local produce and delicious foods that Mukono has to offer, which I would not be able to access at home.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Some interesting advice I received that I will attempt to put into effect during my internship is to be useful to the midwives’ in any way I can while doing observation shifts. The previous interns told me that this eased the dynamics somewhat and was a great way to quickly become accustomed to the work environment. This will also allow me to more closely observe what is working well and what isn’t and gain a clearer understanding of how things are taking place from a grounded perspective. I also got the advice to pack Kraft Dinner from the previous interns, which I found quite funny. I have to admit that I did follow their advice.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

1. Movies-I made sure to upload a bunch of my favourites and a few that I’ve always wanted to watch on a USB stick. It will feel pleasantly odd to be watching a familiar film in such unfamiliar circumstances.
2. Snacks-I brought a bit of everything just in case I get a craving: chocolate, almonds, popcorn, and a couple boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese.
3. Flashlight-To be prepared for power outages.

How can we follow you on your journey?

My fellow interns and I will be sharing our experiences through FullSoul’s Instagram @fullsoulcanada https://www.instagram.com/fullsoulcanada/?hl=en  and the FullSoulCanada Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/FullSoulCanada. I will also relay some of my experience’s and reflections in a couple of blog posts.

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Snapshots of September (.. and October) – Reflecting on What We’ve Learned So Far

I think that every intern at FullSoul has experienced a whirlwind of questions and uncertainties the first time they step into the labour ward. For us it was no different. Even though each of us have our respective responsibilities, projects, and tasks for the Maternal Health Project, we all come into our positions as students ready to learn.

Alison has been working hard to iron out the last few details of FullSoul’s funding applications and implementation plans for next year, Anna is developing thorough evaluation and data collection plans to measure our expansion project’s impact, and Lorien is working with a few partnered organizations to answer questions about the patterns of tool sterilization that we’ve observed.

In addition to these specialized projects, each of us is working with University of Waterloo’s Oscar Nespoli to practice design thinking as it applies to our new setting. We meet with Oscar weekly to reflect upon a thought-provoking experience or need that we’ve observed, and we plan to dedicate part of our time in the second half of the co-op term to complete individual case studies based upon a need that inspires us.

This may sound vague; it sounded vague to us too, at first. But all three of us are finding that these assignments are becoming really powerful tools for us to reflect on gaps we see inside and outside of the labour ward. FullSoul is always looking for ways to expand its capabilities and address problems on all levels of maternal health. By engaging in this reflective practice, we give ourselves time to take a step back and ask why we notice the things we do during our observation shifts. The type of problems we may talk about may be about communication, they may be about ergonomics, or they may even be about environmental sustainability.

One of the exercises the three of us completed together was to try to find connections between problems that the other two had expressed. This was an interesting way to identify common themes between very diverse problems. It also helps us to ask questions about how maternal health may be impacted by factors that are far removed from the labour ward. We like teaming up in activities like this because each of us brings different ideas to the table, usually related our respective programs back at the University of Waterloo 🙂 

Because we are living and working in a culture and setting that is brand new to each of us, the weekly reflections have helped us to monitor the role that we play in our project with FullSoul’s partnered healthcare facilities. The practice of design thinking has put us in a strong learning mindset, which is essential both as co-op students and also as visitors to Uganda. We are thankful to our teachers: midwives, students, Rotarians, administrative staff, and other friends we’ve met so far along the way.

To commemorate the moments and memories we’ve made so far, here is a video;

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fullsoul/48996822071/in/dateposted/

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Meet a FullSouler: Alison Elliott

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Heya, my name is Alison Elliott, I’m in my 3rd year of Planning, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my FullSoul experience! This will be my third co-op term, and my first international placement. I’ll be taking on the role of Project Manager, working alongside my colleagues Lorien and Anna to distinguish problems and solution in maternal health. I’ll individually be working on the ongoing Global Grant application with the Rotary Club of Uganda, the implementation plan, the FullSoul budgeting scheme, and the blogs/social media. I’m a very outgoing and adventurous person who loves skiing, horse riding, hiking and travelling. I’m very excited to begin this journey with FullSoul 🙂

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

I’m most looking forward to embracing a new place. I’ve never been to Uganda, let alone Africa, and I know I’ll learn many valuable lessons when there; whether as simple as learning to cross the road or as complex as communication and personal growth. I’m also looking forward to building the FullSoul family and working for an NGO that has such an important call to arms. Never in my undergraduate degree did I think I would be working in an organisation in maternal/public health, and I now cannot wait to start doing so.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip? 

Part of me is feeling extremely ready to jump into it, but part of me is quite nervous. I think the idea of being so far from home physically and not exactly knowing how often I’ll be able to contact home is scary. I think my colleagues and most past interns have felt the same way at times, and reasonably so! But all things considered, I am feeling excited and prepared to start working for FullSoul, and I know that once I’m settled in Uganda, I’ll feel settled in my mind as well. I am someone who can adapt easily and can see the positive side of situations, so I know that I’ll be okay!

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

One of the most important notes I got was from Olivia, the last terms project manager. She told me to be confident in myself and feel assured that I can do my job well. As a co-op student it’s easy to second-guess yourself and feel overwhelmed by the real time demands of the workforce, but she reminded me to take a breath and remember that I am capable of doing my job and doing it well.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

  1. Notebook: for journal and drawing purposes as well as note taking on the fly
  2. Cliff bars: quick easy boost of protein!
  3. Vitaminsgotta stay strong

How can we follow you on your journey?

You can follow my journey (as well as my colleagues’) on the FullSoul social media account, but additionally you can check out my personal Instagram (@alisonfielliott)!

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Meet a FullSouler: Lorien Boyce

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Hi, my name is Lorien, and I am a third-year student of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I’ll be taking over as the field engineer intern for the next few months, meaning that I’ll be working closely with the other interns and some of the hardworking midwives in Uganda to identify and improve any shortcomings that may exist with FullSoul’s MMK (maternal medical kit) program. Something about myself is that I love talking to people and hearing their stories! My interests include worldbuilding and storytelling, the great outdoors, and waste management.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

I am incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to learn about a problem space by talking to those who know it best. My experience so far has taught me that there is a lot to learn from simply listening to others and asking questions. I’m looking forward to gaining new friends and teachers from all walks of life as I work to become a better engineer.

I am also excited to see Ugandan geography and flora! Hopefully I’ll get at least a few chances to see and learn about the local plants, climate, and landscape. At home, I’m happiest when I’m walking or hiking with my family, and I’ve been told there are a few hikes in Uganda that I might be able to plan for.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip?

Every time I travel, I have a hard time knowing how to feel beforehand. Mostly, I can just sense the mountain of unknowns that I will have to face in the coming weeks. FullSoul has done a great job at preparing us as much as possible for living and working in a new culture and climate, but I’m still anticipating some culture shock, some exhaustion, some confusion, and some many more hours of researching and learning and reading. The hardest part of any internship is building new habits and adapting old ones to work in a new environment. I am glad I have two other interns that I’ll have as a support system, and I am eager to reconnect with them in the coming days!

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Absolutely! I’m prepared to make a lot of homemade suppers with beans, rice, and fruit (YUM – these are already my staples) and I’m bringing some Tupperware for meal prepping. I had to find some long skirts for the hotter weather I’m about to experience, which means I won’t be able to count on my trusty jeans and threadbare pullovers anymore. Other advice I’ve received is to learn to conserve cell data for daily work, use bodas and taxis to get around, and walk slower than I would at home.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

  • My notebook for scribbles, doodles, and letters
  • Good shoes for walking and [hopefully] hiking
  • One or two good books

How can we follow you on your journey?

The FullSoul media outlets and this blog! I hope to contribute a few entries during the next few months.

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Meet a FullSouler: Anna-Kay Smith

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Hey everyone, my name is Anna-Kay (my friends and family call me Anna) and I am super excited to be sharing my journey in Uganda with you all. I am currently in my third year of Health Studies at the University of Waterloo, but for the next few months I have the opportunity to work with FullSoul as the Monitoring and Evaluation Intern. My job entails working with FullSoul’s partner hospitals to understand the Maternal Health Project and conduct an evaluation to see what works well and if there are ways it can be implemented better.

A fun fact about me is that I absolutely love anything music related, whether it’s playing instruments (I can play trumpet and piano), listening to music or watching musical theatre performances (the next show I want to see is Hamilton)!

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

Going into University I knew I wanted to travel abroad – either on an exchange term or a co-op abroad. When I heard about Christina and FullSoul I was enthused to find a position that allowed me to travel and combined that with my passion in Global Health. When I think about my time over the next couple of months, I don’t know if I can just pinpoint a single thing that I am looking forward to the most. This past semester I took my favourite class of university – ‘‘social determinants of health’, where I learned about social and economic conditions that influence the health of populations and individuals. I am grateful for the opportunity to take the knowledge that I have gained in school and further learn about the complexities of maternal and child health issues. I also cannot wait to immerse myself in the culture and build new relationships and connections with the locals.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip? 

As I’m writing this there are three more days before I fly out to Uganda and it still doesn’t feel like it is actually going to happen. I have definitely experienced a rollercoaster of emotions these past couple of weeks. Although this experience is something that I have envisioned for myself for a while, there is still so much uncertainty and change that comes along with it that makes me anxious. Despite that, I know that the experience is going to be life-changing and am super excited to be in the country.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

I love this question because I’ve gotten so much advice from friends and family that has physically and mentally prepared me for the trip. Something that I really appreciated was advice from the previous interns on how to communicate with the locals. They taught us some common Ugandan phrases and told us about different mannerisms used there that would help us communicate better. My role as the monitoring and evaluation intern is heavily focused on relationship building so going into Uganda with this knowledge makes me a lot more confident with my day to day interactions.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?
  1. Camera – instead of writing in a physical journal I wanted to try making video journals, as well as create ‘day in my life’ videos that I can share with future interns
  2. Chocolate! – highly advised by a previous intern (thanks Olivia!)
  3. Books – I plan on reading (and sleeping!) a lot during the 17 hour flight!
How can we follow you on your journey?

You can follow my journey on the FullSoul Instagram page @fullsoulcanada and the FullSoul Canada Facebook page, as well as my personal Instagram page @annakay_1999.

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Reflecting on Our Journey

By Olivia and Colette

 
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We saw it rather fitting, that since we have done everything together since arriving in Uganda that it be the perfect ending to our journey to write our final reflection together.  

If you could tell the next interns one thing, what would it be?

If there is one thing, we have learned from our journey here in Uganda, is that every day you come home with a new story to tell. Often times we step back at the in the evenings and think to ourselves “How did this all take place in just one day?!” Every time you leave home you can expect a new adventure as you are surrounded by a different culture, people, landscape, and energies. We have learned how important it is to engage with the culture and you will often find when you do, you will be welcomed with open arms. We didn’t know the language coming in, and often got it wrong but people here are so appreciative for your effort and will love taking on the role of teaching you new things. It is through these interactions that we have been able to submerse ourselves so deeply and would recommend you take the leap as well! If you do, you might find yourself having your every own “Rolex Man” just like us!

What is your greatest take away from conducting hospital observations?

Maternal and child health is often a top concern throughout many developing countries due to lack of funding in the healthcare sector, often leaving them without the necessary medical equipment, resources and adequate staffing needed to have positive patient outcomes. We are very fortunate to have gotten the chance to bear witness to the extraordinary efforts of the midwives who somehow always greet these challenges with a smile on their face. One thing we often hear in hospitals throughout Uganda is “it was challenge but we pushed through” it has been a true gift to be able to partner with such motivated hospital staff, who not only seek change but makes it happen every day. Our greatest take away is that despite the barriers that these hospitals face, we have seen how dedicated and eager the staff are to help mothers and continue a strong relationship with various supporting organizations to give mothers the best possible health care available.

What has working for FullSoul taught you?

It started with one person, Christina Hassan recognizing a need, through hard work and dedication she was able to assemble a team that reaches beyond borders. We have learned that it takes a village to implement the change and have seen the importance of building community relationships across the globe. Having had the chance to work with Rotary, SPECT, and the hospital teams here in Uganda we have come to understand the value of a strong partnership that feeds off each other to turn one person’s vision into lasting change. We hope this is a lesson that we can take with us for the remainder of our academic journey and then into our professional career.

Sitting here on our balcony writing this, it is crazy to think our time here in Uganda has already come to an end. It felt like it happened in flash but I know we are always going to remember the people we have meet, and lessons we have learned from working in maternal health as a proud FullSoul intern.

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Carrying It Forward, Uganda to Canada

Written By: Vinu 
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One week into my internship with FullSoul back in January, I quickly made the realization that Uganda would be my teacher over the next eight months. Thinking back to that time now that it is August and I’ve only one week remaining in the country, I could not have been more correct. Reflecting on the lessons learned during my time here, I don’t even know where to begin. How exactly does one go about recapping eight months worth of professional and personal accomplishments and growth? And let us not forget about the challenges and barriers that were overcome as well. Summarizing my eight months interning for FullSoul in Uganda is no easy feat. 

At the most basic level, my role with FullSoul has been co-managing our Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Portfolio with Crystal, FullSoul’s Director of M&E. Together, we’ve made strides in preparing for a strong, high-quality evaluation of FullSoul’s project activities. In the past months, we’ve come to understand the context of working with our partner healthcare facilities, identified the main evaluation priorities of our partners to help focus our areas of assessment, as well as listened to how we can make the evaluation as meaningful and useful for our partners as possible. Engaging with our partner healthcare facilities as we prepare and plan for the evaluation has allowed us to be responsive to the needs of our stakeholders and the MMK program context.

Being that this internship has been my first real-life exposure to M&E outside of school, I feel as though I have grown considerably as an evaluator. Without debate, I’ve learned that one of the best skills you can have is reflexive practice, meaning that you are able to constantly reflect on both your internal and external experiences in a manner that fosters learning and development. Even eight months down the road, I’m always experiencing novel circumstances, environments, social interactions, emotions, opinions, and thoughts. Only through reflecting on all of those experiences and how they relate to one another have I learned how to thrive in my role. For example, it’s through reflexive practice that I’ve become accustomed to the social dynamics and important cross-cultural communication skills here. Being reflective has also supported me in identifying challenges experienced by our partnering facilities, including both those that are outwardly expressed by staff as well as the more subtle challenges that can be observed.

The learning didn’t stop with my work responsibilities either. Moving to Uganda required immersing myself in my new context and becoming comfortable with my new living circumstances and surroundings. Having to complete shift my life for eight months taught me many things, but most importantly it taught me the importance of community. I cannot deny that sometimes it can be difficult to be halfway across the world, feeling distanced from your family, friends, and regular routines. Yet, remembering the new relationships and routines I’ve developed in Uganda is what has helped me overcome those challenging times and feel grounded in my surroundings.

The lessons, perspective, and knowledge I have gained these past months are immeasurable and I know for a fact that I will be carrying these lessons forward even as I return to Canada. Through this internship and working with our partners, I’ve experienced collective leadership firsthand, evident in the gathering of like-minded, passionate individuals from both Canada and Uganda, joining hands to protect maternal health in this country. Although the time has come for me to return to Canada, I look forward to seeing what the future will hold and following along with FullSoul’s journey in the push for a better tomorrow. 

 

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