Category: Life in Uganda
Written by Vinussa Rameshshanker
FullSoul celebrates the resilience of the midwives who operate under such challenging circumstances within public healthcare settings. Today, on International Midwives’ Day, I would like to share a story with you about a midwife whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of my internship. By doing so, I hope to bring to you – wherever you may be – a little piece of the endless inspiration I am exposed to on a daily basis and the motivation that drives me in my work with FullSoul.
Meet Sister Namaala Alex, a Senior Midwife and the Department Head for maternity services at Mukono Health Centre IV. Sister Alex’s professional journey to become the midwife that she is today started when she was in her mid-teen years. Her mother had fallen ill and had been admitted to the hospital. While there, her mother was tended to by nurses in both pink and blue uniforms. It was the nurses in blue uniforms (whom were also trained as midwives) that really stood out to Sister Alex’s mother. As a patient, it was their quality of care that she truly appreciated. And so, she told Sister Alex that she wished her daughter to be like the blue uniformed nurses when she grew up.
“As I move ahead, I am focused on building my career and I keep looking for more opportunities.”
Over the years, Sister Alex has prioritized furthering her education, upgrading her initial certificate from a local school of nursing and midwifery to a diploma, and then finally to a bachelor’s degree in nursing. These efforts were fuelled by her experiences in the field. As she was given more responsibilities on the ward, from standing in-charge to becoming a department head, it was the gaps she realized in her training that fuelled her drive to better equip herself as a healthcare provider. Now, Sister Alex wishes to build the younger generation, helping to mould midwives in-training into confident, competent healthcare workers that are able to provide high quality care to mothers. True to her passion for education, she recently returned to school to complete a postgraduate degree in medical education.
Being a midwife has its challenges, as does managerial positions such as the role Sister Alex holds on the maternity ward. For instance, as a midwife, you hold great accountability when providing care in a public setting with limited resources and a high workload. Sister Alex is acutely aware of how the environment in which midwives provide care greatly impacts their ability to perform their duties and is extremely passionate about lobbying to address these challenges. Yet, these issues cannot be addressed alone. Every Monday morning, the maternity ward staff and students at Mukono Health Centre IV come together as a group (or as a family as Sister Alex puts it) to share their problems, but also to rejoice in their successes.
Without question, our midwives, including Sister Alex, are not solely healthcare providers. They are the superheroes fighting for the lives of mothers and children, the advocates lobbying for improved healthcare for all, and the protectors of healthcare workers and their rights – the list is endless. So today on International Midwives’ Day, above all other days, FullSoul and all of our partners would like to take the opportunity to appreciate and celebrate the midwives who show selfless dedication to their profession. On behalf of all of us, thank you.Read More
Written by Vinussa Rameshshanker
Let us take a few steps back in time to my third visit at Kawolo Hospital, one of FullSoul’s three pilot facilities in which we first implemented our Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) project. It’s early February (which means it’s scorching hot in Uganda), Meron and I are outfitted in our hospital scrubs, and we’ve come to Kawolo to conduct an observation shift in the delivery room of the maternity ward. These shifts were extremely valuable to me at the start of my internship, as it helped me immerse myself in the context and learn about the inner workings of the hospitals.
Tentatively, I greet the head midwife of the ward and make my way into the delivery room to the back wall so that I can avoid being in the way. It is a cramped space with low air circulation, three delivery beds, and a small stand of basic medical equipment. There is a mother already on one of the beds and she is howling in pain more so than other mothers I’ve observed with previous deliveries. I can tell by her moans and restlessness that she is almost fully dilated and ready to push. As the midwife starts to make her way over, I lock eyes with the mother and for a moment I feel it all – her pain, her anxiousness, her fear, and her anticipation – as if it were my own. Without realizing it, I walk across the room, take her hands in mine, and try to soothe her as she pushes new life into this world. Just for a moment, the three of us are fighting and pushing together, wishing so deeply that in a few moments, she will be holding her pride and joy in her arms. Minutes which feel like hours pass and with a final push, a final squeeze of the hand, and one last scream, a baby boy weighing in at 2.8kg is born. As soon as this happens, I can feel the mother’s body relax as she loosens her grip on my arm. Yet, I am still tense as I wait to hear the baby’s first cry signalling that the he is alive and well, complete with a pair of pumping lungs and strong, kicking legs. Soon enough, I hear a high-pitched cry ring through the room. The mother’s fear and pain that I felt so deeply within me has now been replaced by relief and pure joy. We share a shy smile before I step back to make room for the midwife, who is calmly cleaning up the baby before placing him gingerly in his mother’s embrace.
Now, I’d like to bring us to the present – it’s nearing the end of April and I’ve come a far way in terms of finding comfort within my new home here in Uganda and my role with the monitoring and evaluation team for FullSoul. Despite the weeks that have passed, all the experiences I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned, I am constantly brought back to those few tense yet precious moments I shared with the midwife and mother in the delivery room on that hot February morning. What transpired was a true expression of empathy by both myself and the midwife. We allowed ourselves to step outside our own existence to join the mother in her experiences and emotions. Expressing empathy is an extremely powerful and significant act – one that places you in the life of another, where you are not only walking in someone’s shoes but rather feeling the ground beneath their feet at the deepest level.
Personally, I view the ability to experience empathy as analogous to a light switch. Like a switch that triggers a series of steps in an electric circuit to brighten a room, empathy has the ability to move us within, to touch us so deeply that we learn how to intertwine our lives and views of the world with those around us. To put it simply, empathy works to drive us to take action in the world. In fact, I feel that empathy might be the single most important ingredient for global citizenship, igniting our capacity to understand the workings of the greater world beyond our own circles and reflect on one’s role within these these complex systems. Without a doubt, empathy awakens the global citizen within us, pushing us to engage with the world and accept our part in protecting global welfare.
Since February, I’ve had several experiences similar to the one I recounted above from Kawolo Hospital. Some disheartening, some joyful, and some utterly frustrating; yet all which caused me to experience such intense emotions and drove me to act in some way. For instance, I have recently been spending quite a bit of my time working at a desk as opposed to within the hospital settings immersed in analyzing data from our recent efforts to assess the evaluation readiness of FullSoul’s maternal health project. Despite my physical distance from the healthcare facilities, its these experiences that evoked such strong emotions within me that serve as a constant reminder that every ounce of effort dedicated by myself and the rest of our FullSoul team towards achieving FullSoul’s mission matters. Whether in the field or in the office, its expressions of empathy and the recognition of myself as a global citizen that allow me to approach my work with drive, compassion, and a full soul, regardless of the task at hand.
Written by Meron Samuel
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…Read More
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.”
“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! 🇺🇬Read More