FullSoul blog

Growing Roots: Developing Strong Connections

“You Are Welcome”, a common phrase that I have heard most people say in Uganda and one that is used sincerely. Whenever you travel to a different country or interact with individuals from different backgrounds, culture is always a topic of conversation. Culture is the foundation for differences and commonalities between people and the locals in Uganda are delighted to share their culture and language to visitors. This sharing was foreign to me as I did not experience it growing up.

Meron_goats
Growing up in a small city in Canada, where the population of people of African descent is low, I never felt like I truly belonged. My heritage includes East African and it was challenging to create personal connections with people that came from the same culture as me. My elementary and secondary school experiences have not significantly contributed to my understanding of African history and culture. My knowledge was only limited to stories from my immigrant family members. I remember during my time in history and social science classes, these topics were either minimized or glossed over. The lack of emphasis on African history, culture, and legacy led me to believe that these issues were unimportant. Yet as I grew older and began to watch more news media, I became increasingly aware of the dissonance between what was reality and what people wanted to believe. I was itching to learn more about the diversity of Africa and to understand real life there. I wanted to learn beyond the struggles that I’ve seen from Western media, which can often shape the public’s view and misrepresent African identity. These representations have become rooted in the consciousness of most individuals I have met in North America. I sought out anything that I could learn—from books to university classes—but it wasn’t enough for me. Soon after, I came across an opportunity to work with FullSoul and the Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) program as a Project Manager Intern and was immediately hooked on the idea of experiential learning. The chance to interact with people in Uganda would give me invaluable insight that goes beyond what I would learn from school or news articles. Exploring and branching off into new environments have always been an aspiration of mine and I’m very grateful that life has brought me here.

From the moment I arrived in Uganda, I was greeted with warm smiles and friendly hellos. When you are in an unknown environment, your sense of awareness starts to increase. Residing in our guest house in Mukono, you are awoken by the sound of roosters crowing and the birds chirping in the early morning. The call of prayer from the mosque nearby is also a reminder to me of the diversity of religions that are within this community. The sound of taxi conductors yelling names of cities and the honking of cars gets increasingly louder throughout the day. Our neighborhood is filled with young children with wide grins and endless giggles who run up to you each time they see you walk by. Around the corner of our guest house, there is a music school with a performing band that plays almost every evening. The sound of trombones, drums, and laughter in the air fuels my soul.

View of Uganda
Because of these features, community cohesion is stronger than ever. You never feel alone here. So many of these aspects are like the glue that holds the community together. I constantly learn from the people around me through daily interactions, which helps me better understand diverse perspectives within the world we live in. My new friends share what is important to them, from their dreams to aspirations. This makes me believe that we are not quite different from one another. The interactions with people that I have met here have given me comfort knowing that storytelling strengthens relationships. It is also a reminder of the similar stories I grew up listening to as a child of immigrant parents. The harmonious connections that have been created is something that I have always been searching for back in my hometown. I am planting my feet firmly on the ground with confidence, knowing that I feel a sense of belonging here in Mukono and grasping the narrative of my family cultural roots. I am constantly exposed to an environment that continues to teach me some of the most essential values and lessons. These values include developing open mindedness and communicating effectively with people from diverse backgrounds, which have become increasingly significant than they ever were before in today’s diversity and culturally aware society.

The two months working with FullSoul with my fellow intern Vinu have been a whirlwind. Adjusting to our new environment has kept us pretty occupied. From getting accustomed to the hot weather and busy streets, trying the local food, and finding our way around health facilities, moving to Mukono with numerous things happening all at once felt like an emotional rollercoaster.

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I remember the feeling of shock during my first time walking into FullSoul’s partnered hospitals for introductions. The waiting rooms were crowded with people. The equipment were either old or not functioning properly. Other resources, such as beds and mosquito nets, were scarce since the hospital is low-funded. The fast-pace environment and the surplus of patients and low-staff can give you a sense of panic. Despite the conditions in which they are in, the midwives continue to push through and work with what they have. I continue to witness both patients and midwives greet each other with smiles and friendly conversations from all around the facility. It is evident that this is a part of Ugandan culture, which made me feel at home with my family again. It was encouraging to see how receptive healthcare staff were towards the work that FullSoul is trying to do in providing instruments and improving maternal health. However, I am learning so much more from the midwives and their tremendous efforts to be as efficient as possible to keep mothers and babies safe and healthy.
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Part of the work that Vinu and I do is conducting a needs assessment in the labour wards to see how instruments in the MMK and other resources are used. This is done through observations. Observation is one of the best ways of learning. It allows you to see exactly how a process is done and understand the technicalities of it. Learning through observation wasn’t easy for me initially. I caught myself deliberating Western practices, which greatly impacted my learning ability. Having discussions with the midwives and letting us into their world as to what they perceive as challenges has opened my mind in ways I never thought it would. For people living in the developed world, it is hard to swallow the truth that solutions to problems may look different in other places around the globe. Due to the lack of resources in hospitals, improvisation is common among midwives. Allowing yourself to take a step back and comprehending the bigger picture to the problem is tough but truly rewarding. I am grateful for the amount of patience from the people I am learning from and to have the opportunity to connect with the midwives while understanding the problems they face when working in the labour ward. Working alongside with them has been an enlightening experience as their resiliency and perseverance is always inspiring. I am growing strong roots in Mukono by making connections here that will last a lifetime and I look forward to what the future has in store.

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Working with FullSoul: A Reflection from a Woman of Privilege

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Who am I? For starters, my name is Vinussa (Vinu for short), I’m 21 years old, and I identify as a woman. To add, I’m also a student at the distinguished University of Waterloo in Canada, I come from a middle class family who can provide food on the table and a roof over my head, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be influenced by numerous role models and mentors in my life that have inspired me to realize my own potential and shoot for the moon. Come to think of it, I’m more than just a young woman. Rather, I’m a young woman of privilege.

Privilege is an interesting concept though, ebbing and flowing in unison with the context you’re in. For instance, although not all Canadians are fortunate enough to attend post-secondary, my status as a Canadian university student carries a lot more weight in Uganda, where educational attainment rates are low and poverty is pervasive, than it does in Waterloo. In the past couple of months, realizations like the one I’ve described above have led me to question the role I play as a FullSoul intern and how the weight of my privilege impacts my work.

Coming to Mukono Town, Uganda, it is evident to both myself and those around me that I am a Westerner. I don’t look like, sound like, or speak like the Ugandans that surround me. Experiencing this stark contrast in my day to day life, especially through working within the global health discipline with FullSoul, I am constantly reflecting on the concept of white saviourism. Or in my case as a minority woman, Western saviourism. Rooted in centuries of colonialism and racism, the Western saviour complex operates under the assumption that those from the Western world should be or are able to ‘save’ those from lesser developed countries such as Africa. The Western saviour complex can take many forms, from creating social media narratives that feature a Westerner amongst a group of young African children to the absence of critical reflection on behalf of the Westerner working within the international development sphere in regards to their work and its true impact on the greater society.

Working within FullSoul’s partner health facilities, it can be inspiring to learn from the healthcare workers that face such strenuous circumstances in their daily lives, delivering babies without the proper tools or finding the needed medications when there is none in stock at the hospital. At the same time though, it can also be frustrating to see the needs within the facilities and the stresses of the workers. When those frustrations become too much to handle, sometimes it can feel like the only solution is to simply provide the funds to fill the gaps that I am observing in the moment, such as purchasing some medications for a mother with high blood pressure or some new medical instruments for a delivery. But would solely throwing money at the problem of poor maternal health in the country address the larger, more complex issues rooted in the country’s political and social systems that are at work? It may be the easier solution, but it’s not necessarily the correct path to take.

It is times such as these when I reflect back on Western saviourism. As a FullSoul intern, the concept of ‘helping’ in the developing world means a lot more than providing funds to address immediate challenges within the healthcare settings. Although based in Canada, FullSoul as an organization does not work alone, but rather with communities. Whether it be partnering with the local Rotary Club of Mukono to expand FullSoul’s Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) program or listening to healthcare staff to understand both the challenges that are spoken of and those that are unsaid, FullSoul aims to catalyze local communities to take ownership of both the problem of poor maternal health, as well as the solution. By working with these communities, we can create enabling environments that are conducive to supporting better maternal health in Uganda, through supplying medical instruments, providing training on proper sterilization techniques appropriate to each partner facility’s capacities, and adopting participatory approaches for evaluation of the MMK program to support growth and improvement in the future. With those considerations, the efforts to address the issue of maternal health reach beyond immediate gaps to support long-term impacts, helping to create a brighter future for mothers, children, and communities at large.

When I return to Canada, it’s not the stories of my work and my presence within the Ugandan healthcare facilities that I’ll share. In the end, I, as a FullSoul intern, am not the main character of the story. Neither is it FullSoul, standing alone as an organization to ‘help’ strengthen the healthcare system in Uganda. Instead, I will be sharing stories of the work accomplished by the communities I engaged with during my internship as they are the real protagonists in this narrative. Stories of the enthusiasm from Mukono Rotary Club members as they work towards supporting the MMK project or of the collaboration between healthcare staff to improve service delivery practices will fill the room when it comes time to share about my experiences in Uganda and my work with FullSoul. Just wait and see…

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Lessons Learned So Far: Swimming, Relationship Building, and Beyond

Have you ever felt as if you’ve been thrown into the water and have no choice but to learn how to swim?

Exactly four weeks ago, I was thrown in the waters that I now call home – Mukono Town, Uganda. Four weeks ago, I was starting to pick up the local language. Four weeks ago, I was learning how to cross the road. Four weeks ago, I was becoming accustomed to buying freshly picked vegetables from road stands near my new home. Then, just as I was learning how to keep myself afloat, I officially started work as FullSoul’s new International Consultant – Public Health for the next eight months.

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Sitting in my living room as I reflect on the past month, I realize that both myself and my fellow intern Meron have learned how to swim quite fast. We now know how to schedule our own work weeks and are slowly falling into a routine. Personally, I find that the work I do is split between travelling to several of FullSoul’s partner health facilities and working from home.

As of now, most of my office work is planning for the evaluation of FullSoul’s Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) project in the coming months. I’m lucky to be mentored by Crystal, FullSoul’s Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, as we work through the logistics of what our evaluation might look like. Through this planning, I’ve realized quite quickly over the past weeks the difficulties of arranging virtual meetings with our FullSoul team members in Canada – dealing with eight to ten hour time differences can really be a challenge, but we find a way to make it work!

Aside from working from home, the other half of my work so far has been visiting our partner health facilities for introductions, touring the facilities, and completing observation shifts in the maternity wards to get a sense of how a typical shift unfolds for a midwife in the labour room. So far, we’ve visited two of our three pilot health facilities for the Maternal Medical Kit project (Mukono Health Centre IV and Kawolo Hospital), as well as Kojja Health Centre IV, one of our expansion partner facilities that we are looking forward to working with in the coming months.

As much as Meron and I attempt to plan for our hospital visits, we’ve really come to expect the unexpected. Sometimes when you visit a health centre, you’ll find yourself observing the midwives in the labour ward working together like a well-oiled machine, delivering a newborn every 15 minutes. Other times, you’ll find yourself trying to travel to one health facility but ending up lost on the way there or stuck in traffic. Just in these past weeks, I’ve come to accept that as much as I’d like to work on my schedule, it is much more likely that I’ll be working to fit the schedules of everyone else around me. This brings me to one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through my role so far – the importance of relationship building.

The work culture in Uganda is quite different compared to the North American context. Here in Uganda, there is a very significant emphasis placed on relationship building. For instance, meetings don’t happen when they’re scheduled to happen but rather when everyone whom should be there is present. Meetings don’t end until everyone has finished sharing their thoughts. And most importantly, business doesn’t take place until you’ve built a relationship with somebody, taken the time to genuinely learn about one another, and until you’ve gained each other’s trust and respect.

Reflecting on these lessons learned, I think back to my very first visit to a FullSoul partner health facility – Mukono Health Centre IV. Meeting the midwives and students whom were all bustling around the maternity ward, my mind was swarming with numerous ‘what if’ scenarios. What if the midwives didn’t want to meet me? What if they felt my presence wasn’t needed? The list of ‘what ifs’ could go on and on.

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Yet, it was a couple of weeks later that it dawned on me – there really wasn’t a point to all of my worrying. FullSoul continues to touch the lives of many mothers and midwives alike because of the partnership and relationship fostered between our Canadian and Ugandan counterparts. Just from the past weeks, I can pinpoint the changes in my relationships with the midwives and other hospital staff I met on my first day. Now when I visit Mukono and see someone I know, both of our faces light up in recognition, and we take time to talk about how we are doing that day, our families, and our lives. Worrying on my first day wasn’t helping me in any way, but what I really needed to acknowledge was the importance to allowing for the time to make connections, form partnerships, and build relationships that went deeper than the work I needed to do given my role as an intern with FullSoul.

Coming from Canada and working with our Ugandan stakeholders, it has been an extremely valuable experience to get to know everyone around me rather than view them as a means to an end. Another colleague (who is now truly a friend) that I’d like to talk about is Asha, our FullSoul Cultural Ambassador. Flying in to Uganda, I knew that Asha would be meeting Meron and I at the airport and helping us settle in. However, I could have never anticipated how much we would learn about each other, our cultures, the challenges in our work, as well as our passions and wishes for the future.

Vinu_Asha 

We all have our goals that we want to achieve, and we all have our own agendas that we’re working by. But with that in mind, sometimes we need to remember that the people you work with, yourself included, are all human. Together, we can make a difference, tackle complex societal problems, and make the world a better place. And togetherness requires looking beyond yourself, to see the world through the eyes of another, and to walk alongside each other as we work towards improving maternal health and strengthening healthcare system capacity.
It’s only been a month, but the lessons learned are numerous. With Uganda as my teacher, I look forward to the next months ahead as a student, learning more and more with each day’s passing.

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Meet a FullSouler: Meron Samuel

Hi! My name is Meron and I am in my last year of Public Health co-op at the University of Waterloo. I will be working with FullSoul as the new Project Manager intern in Uganda. My responsibilities include coordinating the Global Grant project to receive funding for implementation and to help conduct a needs assessment for the Maternal Medical Kit program. I enjoy learning new things and believe that every experience is valuable. My friends would describe me as someone who is always optimistic, which I believe is a quality that has helped me get through undergrad! You can catch me with a smile on my face almost all the time.

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

I am always curious about other cultures and languages and love to learn more about them. I look forward to connecting with new people and being immersed in Ugandan culture for the next couple of months. My background includes African heritage and since this will be my first time travelling to Africa, the experience is very meaningful to me. I am also excited to develop new skills and knowledge regarding maternal health as an intern. My interest for sexual and reproductive health was cultivated from classes I took in university. I believe that working on the ground at hospitals in Uganda will provide me with invaluable insight that goes beyond what I would learn from textbooks at school.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip?

It feels unreal. I am eager to start my journey with FullSoul and learning more about the conditions of maternal health in Uganda. I do feel a bit uneasy about the long flight ahead but at least I will be able to catch up on my sleep on the plane!

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

I got the chance to connect with previous FullSoul interns, which was a great opportunity as I got a better idea of what to expect when I arrive in Uganda. Information that they have shared that I took to heart was to appreciate my time in a new country and take everything in. It made me realize the importance of being in the moment and learning to become an observer in order to properly adapt in a new environment.

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

  1. Books – To help me get through the long flight to Uganda
  2. My Journal – I enjoy reflecting and I find that it reduces stress
  3. My favourite snacks – I have a sweet tooth and obsessed with chocolate!

How can we follow you on your journey?

You can find me on the FullSoul Instagram page @fullsoulcanada or my personal account @mernx. I look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you!

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Meet a FullSouler: Vinussa Rameshshanker

It’s nice to meet all of you, my name is Vinussa (some people call me Vinu) and you can see me in the photo rocking all blue in the mountains of Peru.

I’m currently a fourth year Bachelors of Public Health student at the University of Waterloo, but for the next few months I’ll have the pleasure of joining FullSoul in the International Consultant – Public Health role. Most of my work will revolve around working with FullSoul’s present and future partner hospitals to better understand how the Maternal Medical Kit Project is being implemented, what’s working well, and also what isn’t.

Oh, and a random tidbit about myself – you may have guessed from my photo that I love to travel – the next destination on my list is Utah, they’ve got the most amazing national parks!

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

I mentioned that I’m studying Public Health, but that’s a pretty broad term. My real passion lies within the field of global health and development – I realized this at the young age of 17. At the time, I was starting to learn about just how enormous the world is, how much the lives of different people vary, and just how much of those differences are matters of social justice and human rights. The trickiest challenges that we face today such as poverty and maternal and child health are complex issues, and it can be extremely difficult to grasp how these problems continue to exist, let alone how these problems can be made better. As daunting as it may be, the first step is to learn – to learn about these wicked problems, to learn from my fellow FullSoulers in Uganda and Canada, and to learn from those whom are first-hand experiencing the problems that together we can solve. To sum all of that up, I think what I’m looking forward to most is to learn.

 How are feeling as you prepare for your trip? 

Never could I have anticipated how crazy of an emotional rollercoaster I would be riding the last few weeks prior to flying out to Uganda. I often find myself laying awake at night unable to sleep, completely and utterly excited to be embarking on my journey with FullSoul. Yet at the same time, I also find myself feeling stressed as I recognize just how much change I will be experiencing, especially during my first few weeks in Uganda. In a sense, I think both of these contrasting emotions are two sides of the same coin.

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

 The most interesting advice that I received from a Professor of mine was to, simply put, ‘roll with the punches.’ The line really struck a chord with me. As I prepare for this trip at home in Canada, there are so many unknowns about how the next few months will unfold. I am 100% sure that there will be much that I experience which will be unexpected and completely different to the experiences I am familiar with in my day-to-day routine. Rolling with the punches speaks to the importance of going in with an open mind, adapting to the ‘new’, and learning from whatever and whomever is around me.

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

Definitely a tricky question, but I would say the top three would be:

  1. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – this is my absolute favourite novel that I can never get tired of re-reading.
  2. A few photos of my family in a small envelope – they never fail to make me smile, and I can’t imagine not bringing some photos along with me.

My journal – I’ve been an avid writer since I was in elementary school and it’s definitely a core part of who I am.

How can we follow you on your journey?

Through the FullSoul instagram @fullsoulcanada and the FullSoul Canada Facebook page! From time to time I will also write a few blog posts.

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2018: A FullSoul Year in Review

2018 was a big year for FullSoul.

1. We expanded our Maternal Medical Kit program to 7 more hospitals! This meant we were able to impact the health of 15,000 newborn babies in 2018 alone. Check out our instagram @fullsoulcanada to see some photos from our hospital visits.

2. We participated in community projects including a visit to Salama School for Blind in Mukono District. Our interns planted fruit trees, renovated dormitories, and talked to the children about about schooling and career goals.

3. Our intern Lauren, started a segment called Midwife Minutes with local midwives at Mukono Health Centre IV and Kawolo Hospital. These sessions helped to build relationships and create a dialog around how to improve the safety of current delivery processes and the Maternal Medical Kit program.

Check out Lauren’s blog on the Midwife Minutes here.

4. We participated in Rotary Family Health Days.

3. We got some awards and a great media attention!

Our founders Christina & Hyder Hassan both were recognized by The Avenue’s Top 40 under 40 for FullSoul. Hyder was featured in the Calgary Herald’s Compelling Calgarian Series, and last but not least Christina was honoured with the People of Action Young Innovator Award from Rotary International. Check out FullSoul Canada Facebook page for photos and live videos from the day!

We are honored to have been featured in CTV News, Calgary Sun, Chatham-Kent Daily News and Huffpost for our work.

We are so excited for the year ahead. We hope to expand the MMK program to even more hospitals. A new group of FullSoul interns will be landing in Uganda soon. Stay tuned for an introduction to them!

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Welcome to Uganda! 🇺🇬

We’re here! We’ve arrived safely from a  journey close to 24 hours long. 10:50 PM and bedtimes have never been so exciting.

But of course, we have yet to meet our new friends Asha and Bersh, ‘Bash’.

Two lovely Ugandan young people who we soon learned have passion beyond their years to change their country and see it to become the best it could be. And since life is all about opportunities, to work with FullSoul and have a chance to make a difference one way or another, they became part of our team. They guide us through everything cultural and all things Uganda. 

We took our private hire car-a luxury as we soon learned- with 4 people at the back, the driver and one person at the front, no seat belts and loads of speed bumps. The car ride alone was an adventure.

We arrived at the Gorilla Guest House (it’s still crazy to think that’s it’s named ‘Gorilla,’ because there are real Gorillas in this country- like the ones you grow up watching on National Geographic).

We unloaded the car, and made our way to the cafeteria. We hung out with Asha and Bash for a while, talking about everything from our plans for the next day to child soldiers and world economics! Quite the dinner conversation.

Our accommodations that night couldn’t have been any more comfortable, in comparison to sleeping on a chair for a whole flight. Thankfully, we also had our mosquito nets to protect us. And a guard with a ginormous gun standing at the guest house gate. 

The next morning, we head to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Kampala is one of the 2 most visited cities in Africa, a city known for its nightlife.

Another adventure. The drive to Kampala was nothing we could have expected. 
First there are a few rules one has to keep in mind: 
– There will be traffic. A LOT of traffic. And so you can never have your phone out..
Wait, what? Why..?’
Oh, because there will be people who want to take them. If they see them, they’ll put their hands through the windows, and just take them’ ‘…Oh, Okay.’

And so, the journey to Kampala continues. We go to get our new Ugandan numbers, and we finally get our beloved- cannot-live-without-internet.  

We’re finally there. We’re in Mukono, at the HIHU Guest House. Our new home! 

Now, it’s time to meet our neighbours. On one side, we have a music school with a performing band, where we get our very own show. Every day, around sunset, the band comes out to practice their music. The daily sound of drums, trombones and cymbals fills the air with music. Another reason to love Uganda!

Around the corner we have our other neighbors, the kids. They’re a group of about 10 children who live on the same street. Their ages range from 4-10 years old. Daily, Devina and I would stand in our balcony (with amazing views) and say ‘hi’ to the kids. They will start waving so excitedly, jumping up and down, with smiles so wide and laughs so loud, you’d think they’re going to Disneyland! Then, they’ll call for us to come downstairs and play with them. It has become part of our routine around sunset, and they’re the most joyful, energetic group of kids you can meet. 

These are some of my first impressions on Uganda; but, enough on my recollection of memories. The following are some of Madhav’s and Devina’s thoughts on this beautiful country that we’re calling home for the next while,

Uganda, you’re not what I expected. But in the best way! It’s definitely been an adjustment to live here, and I can already feel my heart and worldviews shifting. Learning to get around using taxis and boda-bodas… Trying food that my taste buds have never been so happy to discover… Making new friends with the best sarcastic humour… Finding my way around the health centres and hospitals… It’s a lot of new things all at once. Yet, there’s something about finding comfort in the uncomfortability that helps me see the beauty in unfamiliar places and things. I’ve always been very in touch with my senses – and let me tell you – they are registering new sounds and sights at such a fast pace. Roosters crowing in the morning, dogs barking at night. Drivers honking at pedestrians, taxi conductors yelling town names. Little kids laughing, newborn babies crying. Mothers in labour screaming, midwives silently focused on delivering. There are rare times in my life when my current circumstances or surroundings will leave me in shock, but when it happens, I’m left speechless in awe. Settling into Mukono and into the role of Fullsoul’s Project Manager has been exactly that. I may not have many words to explain everything I am experiencing right now, but all I can say is that I’m very excited that life has brought me here.”

And Madhav’s,

To visit new places around the world has always been my dream, and when the opportunity to work in Mukono, Uganda, as a field engineer and consultant arose, I couldn’t resist applying. In no time, I was already here, making new friends, and meeting people who grew up in a completely different world! My impulse to learn and achieve new experiences has contributed to my growth, and this trip so far has given me many opportunities to do such. I’ve realized this when I met several kids in school at the floor below, first showing them how to juggle, and then teaching them! By doing this, they’ve reminded me that sometimes the best way to learn is with a playful spirit. Uganda is an amazing country, with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I was very excited to visit Rotary, they’ve shown me that there are people out their working hard to make their own communities better. A truly inspiring club, with motives and actions that don’t get enough attention. I know the adventure has only begun, but if feels like it’s been on for the longest time, welcome to Uganda!”

And there you have it! Some of our insights on the first few weeks here in Uganda! 🇺🇬

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Working Together: A Tale of FullSoul’s Midwife Connection

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A re-occurring issue I have seen in Uganda, these past few months, is inconsistent support from non-government organizations. Within the Global South in general, organizations, both government and nongovernment, run in to donate aid, and then run right back out. Some organizations look like they provide a large amount of support through the aid they give, but aid can be pointless if you do not also provide the support needed to use the aid. If a contact is given to a health centre or hospital, chances are, in a couple months, that contact will have changed and healthcare facilities are left with their “aid” sitting in the corner to collect dust. As FullSoul Canada Co-found Hyder Hassan would say, “we want to provide good giving”, which is the giving that will have a lasting positive impact on as many people as possible. As I mentioned above, it is not just about providing the aid, but creating strong partnerships that allow for support to be given as well. Which is exactly what FullSoul is working towards.

FullSoul does not wish to only donate the Maternal Medical Kits (MMK). Neither does the MMK program just consist of the kits. In order for the Maternal Medical Kits to be used to their full potential, in the delivery room, the reason for their existence must be understood and appreciated! Through the implementation of the MMK program in health centres and hospitals, FullSoul has strengthened their relationship with each of the healthcare facilities. Providing support to midwives and nurses throughout the continuation of the program is an integral part of FullSoul mission to success!

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This is where the Midwife Minutes presentation comes in. One of the biggest projects I worked on during my time in Uganda was a presentation that I would show to midwives in Mukono Health Centre IV and Kawolo Hospital. I named the presentation Midwife Minutes, and this particular segment was about The Three W’s (Why, why and why). The purpose of creating this presentation for midwifes was to encourage the use of FullSoul’s Maternal Medical Kits by providing an understanding of their importance. Midwifes are skilled and comfortable using their improvisation techniques when they do not have access to delivery instruments. However, Ryan, Breanna and I observed that even when sterile instruments are available, midwifes still improvise. A large contributor to maternal death is infection, which can arise from not using sterile medical instruments. Through my Midwife Minutes presentation, I explained why using the MMK can benefit mothers giving birth, midwifes conducting the birth, and also the hospital or health centre the birth is taking place in (the three whys)! Not only does the MMK equip midwives with sterile instruments to deliver babies, it also creates a safer birthing and working environment, decreases infection, increases work efficiency, and gives credibility to hospitals and health centres! It is important for midwifes to understand that the impact of their work surpasses just the mother and baby. It is also important for midwifes to feel supported throughout their work, and the Midwife Minutes presentation allowed for FullSoul to show its dedication to their partners. As I repeated many times, it is not just a health centre or hospital on its own, and it is not just FullSoul Canada on its own. FullSoul partners with health centres and hospitals to create relationships that will allow for progress to be made! This is something that I have experienced firsthand living and working in Uganda.

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During my final Midwife Minutes presentation at Kawolo Hospital, a midwife made a comment about how the MMKs would be much easier to use if they came as a “kit”. Although the Maternal Medical Kits have the word “kit” in their name, they do not stay together past the time of donation. The midwife went on to explain that it would be ideal to be able to grab a “kit” off a shelf, put it on the delivery bed, and then you’re ready to deliver a baby! Her idea seemed to be agreed upon throughout the audience because shortly after, Head Midwife, Sister Beatrice, was running to grab a government provided safe circumcision “kit” to show me. They told me that FullSoul should provide an actual kit, similar to the circumcision kit, explaining how it could work in the delivery room and allow their work to be more efficient. I was really amazed by their ideas and passion to work with FullSoul! This is a real-life example of how positive partnerships between those giving aid, and those receiving aid, can allow for action to be taken not only by an organization such as FullSoul, but by the people living the real need!

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Working with FullSoul Canada and living in Uganda these past few months has really opened my eyes to the NGO industry. Although giving aid is important, it is equally as vital to ensure that you are giving the right aid. This is a concept that took me a while to fully understand, and I still struggle with defining what “good giving” is. More than anything, those who are living the need will be the ones who are best equipped to identify the need. Even though I’ve been living and working in Uganda, I do not work as a midwife delivering 15 babies a day. FullSoul’s partnerships with hospitals, health centres, midwifes, nurses and doctors allow for our efforts to be steered in the right direction, proving the best “good giving” we can!

Author: Lauren McLennan

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Rotarians Working Towards FullSoul’s Mission

You’re an expecting mother and it’s time for the baby to arrive. We have all seen the drill either first hand, second hand or in one movie or another. Water breaks and all involved bee-line it to the hospital without stopping for a moment to ask why? Surely it is not for the scenery or ambiance, and it’s definitely not for the food. We go to the hospital because we need the help of medical professionals. We need them to use their training, compassion, and tools at hand to help us through and keep us safe.

What if you arrived at the hospital and they had little to nothing to offer you? The medical professionals are available to provide care but there is no gauze, no forceps, no clamps, no gloves and nothing is clean. This is a reality for many pregnant women in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. These deaths are not dispersed around the world. These deaths are concentrated in the rural areas of developing countries. Rural Uganda is one of these places.

The many reasons women in rural Uganda are 49 times more likely to die in childbirth than their Canadian counterparts are complicated and vast. There are multifaceted issues including local cultural practices and beliefs, along with the lack of adequate infrastructure that create barriers to accessing maternal health care. However, within this complexity there are simple, actionable solutions.

In Uganda, women must arrive to the hospital with their own supplies and women arriving empty-handed have to pay for supplies or are often turned away. A shortage of supplies also means that disposable items get re-used between mothers, potentially spreading dangerous infections. This is why FullSoul chose to intervene with a maternal medical kit program. FullSoul is a not-for-profit organization equipping hospitals in rural Uganda with medical supplies. The program provides hospitals with toolkits containing necessary non-disposable tools needed for childbirth and are able to be sterilized and re-used again and again.

Rotarians have been at the heart of this project from an early stage. With many of the FullSoul Team being Rotarians and most of the cost of the initial kits coming from the generosity of clubs across Canada, it is fair to say that none of this could have been done without Rotary. In developing countries, having friends on the ground is integral to success and these friendships have been formed with the Rotary club of Mukono.

There is a lot of work to be done if the world is going to reach the UN’s Sustainable development goal of reducing maternal mortality to 70 deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. FullSoul’s maternal medical kits are part of the solution but they are not stopping there. Through Rotary partnerships they have received a global grant to expand the program in the coming year.

So if you find yourself in a maternity ward take a moment to look around and appreciate how lucky we are to live in a place where medical professionals can use their training, compassion, and, of course, tools at hand to help us through and keep us safe. Every child and mother deserve that, and organizations like FullSoul are essential to ensuring families in every corner of the world have a chance at a healthy start.

Author: Emma McDonald

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Uganda 2018: A First Look at FullSoul’s Intern Experience

Wow! It is unbelievable that three weeks have already passed. At the same time, it is equally baffling that we have only spent three weeks here in Mukono, Uganda! Truly, now, our accommodations at the Ugandan Christian University feel like home. These past three weeks have been nothing less than an exciting whirl of events. Events much different than what we are used to back in Canada! In order for these blog posts to not be too terribly long, we will be reporting on a weekly basis, so stay tuned!

It all begins with our arrival at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on January 16th. Breanna and I had travelled from Toronto together, and Ryan, coming from Vancouver, had arrived earlier the same day. Dragging our luggage behind us—well somewhat, my luggage was unfortunately left behind in Amsterdam—we were met by our first two Ugandan friends, Asha and Vincent. As a side note to this, Breanna and I were lucky that Ryan had arrived first so that he could serve as a familiar Canadian face among a sea of waving Ugandans! Since it was late at night, Vincent and Asha took us to the Entebbe Gorilla Guest House, where we were to experience our first taste of what it is like to live in Uganda. As exhausted as I was, after settling into bed covered safely by mosquito netting, instead of falling straight asleep, I couldn’t help but think about how my journey had just begun! I was excited, yet nervous and anxious of the unknown yet to come. Most of all, however, I was grateful. Grateful for this opportunity to travel to Uganda, to work with Fullsoul Canada to improve maternal health, and to have two awesome people by my side the entire time—meaning Ryan and Breanna if you did not catch on.

The following morning, after a brief—cold—shower, Asha, Vincent, Ryan, Breanna and myself were served breakfast. If you’re wondering what we had, it was not much different from a typical Canadian breakfast! There was cereal, toast, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, coffee, and tea. More than enough food to fuel us for our trip all the way to Mukono. The drive from Entebbe to Mukono is just less than 60km, but with the awful traffic here in Uganda, that can take over 2 hours. I was extremely thankful that I was not the one navigating through the seemingly impenetrable stream of cars, taxis, and motorcycles—called Boda Bodas. Vincent honked his way all down Entebbe and Jinja road, where we took a brief pit stop at his home, and then finally arrived at our destination of the Ugandan Christian University (UCU) in Mukono.

I am not sure what I expected our accommodations to look like, but I was definitely not disappointed! Ryan, Breanna and I all stay together in a residence style housing unit in the Tech Park community. Our unit has two bedrooms—Breann and I share—a bathroom with a shower, common sitting room with two couches, and a kitchen equipped with a fridge, toaster, and gas stove and oven. Tech Park is a little friendly community consisting of 8 units decorated by flowering gardens and surrounded by lizards, exotic birds, and monkeys! The neighbors we have met so far come from Toronto, Nebraska, and Uganda, all equally as welcoming as everyone we meet.

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Once we had settled ourselves in, Asha guided us on our first walk across UCU campus and down the hill into Mukono Town, where we were nothing short of overwhelmed! In the more populated and developed areas of Uganda, the streets are busier than a Canadian mall on boxing day. Asha showed us around Mukono town, allowing us to get acquainted with our new home. She showed us the market, where you can find basically anything you may need, and the grocery stores, where you can find products similar to Canadian stores. I was happy to find some foods I was unsure were available in Uganda, including cake! On the way back, we ate at the campus canteens for the first time, experiencing all the traditional Ugandan foods including beef, chicken and fish—bones included—beans, peas, lots of rice, matooke, cassava and posho—a type of cooked bananas, a root vegetable, and a dense, white, spongey bread. At this time, we also learned that the serving sizes in Uganda are even larger than they are in Canada! After this initial meal, we usually opt to share.

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After our brief introduction to Ugandan life in Mukono Town, we got right to work! Asha introduced us to our new primary mode of transportation; Ugandan taxis. This is not the typical Canadian taxi you may be picturing. Taxis in Uganda are large vans able to seat 12+ people along with chickens, produce, and mattresses. To figure out where a taxi is going, all you need to do is listen for the conductor yelling out their destination, and then simply wave a hand or node your head in their general direction and the taxi will stop for you. We traveled to Lugazi our first taxi ride. Lugazi is a small town about 30km down the road from Mukono, that is home to Kawolo Hospital, one of three locations of the maternal medical kits (MMK) Fullsoul provides. This was the first hospital we had encountered so far, and we were quick to observe the differences between Canadian public and Ugandan public hospitals. Built in the 1950s, Kawolo is definitely due for a facelift, but of course the hospital has much greater concerns to deal with first. We met with Kawolo hospital administrator, Dr. Wamala, who was very welcoming and open to Fullsoul’s presence over the next three months. Dr. Wamala discussed with us the concerns of the hospital. He informed us that not only did they act as a referral hospital, but that they also had to commonly refer patients to larger hospitals due to lack of staff and equipment. As representatives of Fullsoul, Ryan, Breanna and I explained to Dr. Wamala exactly why we were there, and what we were looking for—our goal to assess the MMK program Fullsoul has implemented by observing delivery techniques, sanitation practices, and instrument conditions. Shortly after our meeting with Dr. Wamala, we made our way to the Maternity Ward where we met Sister Beatrice, the head midwife at Kawolo. We also met Sister Juliet, another dedicated midwife, who took us on a tour of the Maternal Ward. In our short time at Kawolo, we observed crowded rooms, rusted beds, and broken equipment, all which the staff of Kawolo did their best each day to work around. Needless to say, after only one visit to Kawolo we already knew we had some big problem solving to do!

The next hospital Asha introduced us to was Mukono Health Centre IV. As said in its name, this hospital is located in the heart of Mukono, much closer to UCU than Kawolo, so no taxi needed! We had a brief meeting with Dr. Geoffrey, the hospital administrator, and then went on to meet the head midwife Sister Alex. Again, we communicated as best we could what our intentions were for the next three months, explaining that we did not want to hinder their work, but work alongside them. We also had the pleasure of meeting Sister Jessica, another senior midwife. Every staff member we met greeted us with warm hearts! Mukono, although different from Kawolo, shares many of the same disadvantages. The delivery and post-natal beds are rusty, waiting areas are overcrowded, and the sever lack of equipment and instruments leaves patients at risk every day. But just like Kawolo, the midwives of Mukono work through their shortcomings to provide the best possible care. After visiting Mukono Health Centre IV, we finally understood Ugandan time, meaning time is never scheduled, and things will get done when they get done, no pressure!

Our first week living in Mukono, Uganda has given all three of us a good dose of culture shock! There is no doubt that as each week passes, we grow more and more familiar with our new settings, and cultural practices. We have monkeys in our trees, lizards in our kitchen, and an occasional chicken in our yard, but we can see the sunset every night and it is always amazing. Thank you for reading this increasingly long blog post, there is just so much to say and so little time! Make sure you stay tuned each week for more updates on our amazing experiences in Uganda!

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