Lessons Learned So Far: Swimming, Relationship Building, and Beyond
Written by Vinussa Rameshshanker
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.
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.
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.
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.