Working with FullSoul: A Reflection from a Woman of Privilege
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…