Category: University of Waterloo
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.
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.
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!Read More
On a quiet Wednesday morning I took a break from my work at home to do some laundry in our basin behind the house. Having grown up with a washing machine always on hand, I will note that handwashing has been a struggle for me. I often find spots of residual red dust on my freshly washed shirt as I am heading out to the hospital in the morning. As I began filling the basin and working the washing powder into my clothes, I heard rustling in the bushes behind me. I turned to find five monkeys staring down at me from the hedges behind the house. A few dropped down to the ground out of curiosity, while the larger monkeys began to screech and snarl down from the upper branches. I shuffled myself inside and decided it was best to do my washing once Lauren and Breanna were back from the hospital… just in case.
It has been the smaller challenges and idiosyncrasies of life in Uganda that have been the most difficult to adapt to. The heat, unfamiliar smells, and chaotic traffic provided a shock to the system but we quickly adjusted. Learning to move with the slower pace of life, crossing the road while truck drivers shout “Mzungu!” at you, or becoming comfortable when a grown man continues to hold your hand for an uncomfortable period of time have been the real struggles.
Lauren encountered difficulty communicating to nurses and midwives during her first week. Not because they could not understand her accent, rather she would petrify them with her enthusiasm. A young nursing student was sat down in front of us to interview on our second day in Mukono Health Centre. Lauren managed to stun Nurse Susan in a handful of sentences and I found myself relaying her questions in a lower, slower tone of voice. We can say she has made progress on the communication barrier though. Last week Nurse Susan approached Lauren in the hospital and stated “We are friends now, Lauren!” This time Lauren’s ecstatic response was welcomed.
I have a feeling we will find ourselves at the end of our internship a couple months from now, just beginning to move with the rhythm of Uganda. For now, we remain the perpetually confused mzungus, seemingly infinite entertainment for the locals.Read More
FullSoul and the Co-op Student of the Year & International Co-op Of the Year Awards!
Christina has always been dedicated to her work, whether it was for academics or for widely known institutions and organizations such as St. Michael’s Hospital, Save the Mothers or FullSoul. Thus, it is only fair that she is rewarded for her hard work and determination. As a part of the Health Studies co-op program, she participated in four different co-op placements, first three placements lasting four months, while the final placement lasted eight months long. Throughout these co-op placements, she has shown strong work ethics, commitment and achievements.
[Christina & Dr. Eve (from Save the Mothers), on one of their 24 hour shifts at Uganda's National Referral Hospital]
The University of Waterloo is known as “the world’s leader” for its co-operative education program, which consists of six faculties with approximately 31,000 undergraduate students. The program annually hosts a Co-op Student of the Year award and only one student from each of the six faculties have a chance to win this award. Thus, students with exceptional contribution to their work term as well as community involvement and academic excellence are recognized. Soon after completing an outstanding work term at St. Michael’s Hospital as a project manager, Christina was honoured to be the Co-op Student of the Year representing the Applied Health Science Faculty. This marks as one of the early stepping-stones of her career.
“Christina is a fantastic communicator — both for the discouraged midwife in rural East Africa who Christina encourages to continue to help voiceless mothers… to the large crowd of Canadians who have gathered to hear Christina share her experiences. Her dedication to saving the lives of mothers and their babies around the world is inspiring. I’m confident that as she moves through her career, her influence will only grow stronger and deeper.”–Dr. Jean Chamberlain- Executive Director and Founder of Save the Mothers
Another accomplishment was just around the corner while finishing her last year at the University of Waterloo. She began teaching at Ugandan Christian University through Save the Mothers, an organization seeking to improve maternal health in Uganda. While teaching, she was given the opportunity to observe surgical operations in the maternity ward at a nearby hospital. But before she could wrap her head around the idea, she delivered 200 babies in addition to raising maternal health awareness in Uganda. This ever-changing life experience aspired Christina to co-found FullSoul and as a result, was then selected for the International Student of the Year award from WACE (World Association for Cooperative Education) as well. Amazing accomplishments, and such an honour for FullSoul to be recognized in such a way- we’re excited about the continued momentum of support and excitement surrounding the FullSoul message and cause!
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”-Pablo Picasso
Art is a great way to connect with people, nearly anywhere in the world. Whether at an exhibit in Canada, or a craft market in Uganda, conversations can strike up easily, and culture, ideas and emotions can transcend language, distance and difference.
This was the idea behind the fundraiser “Art for the Soul”, held on Sept 25th, 2015 at St. Paul’s University at the University of Waterloo.
Thanks to the time and energy of an amazing team of volunteers, we had many groups and individuals come and showcase their talents during this event, from visual artists, dancers and slam poets; it was an evening of creativity and innovation. FullSoul’s own co-founder, Christina Hassan, joined the evening to speak about how creativity, collaboration and innovation shape- and re-shape- FullSoul as well.
Thanks to all of those that came out to support, and those that put this event together.
The non-profit industry requires a certain level of collaboration to function effectively and properly; perhaps influenced by the Ugandan way of life, where community comes first. One of the greatest issues is making sure that, as an organization, we are continuing to work effectively to fill these gaps that exist. Again Susan Fish’s article for ‘Charity Village’ in 2015, Fish quotes FullSoul co-founder Christina in saying that
“[FullSoul] is another strong believer in partnership. “We decide it’s right time to have a partner when someone does something better than us. We can then focus our time and effort on what we’re really good with. You have to know what each other’s values are. When you find a partner whose values are on the same wavelength, it’s a great relationship.”
Indeed, FullSoul has been inspired by countless other organizations throughout our years- and each volunteer brings many of their own influences as well. Christina’s first-hand exposure to the issue of maternal mortality in Uganda was during her co-op placement in 2013, working at Save the Mothers in the East African country.
Save the Mothers is one organization that has inspired, influenced and advised FullSoul from the beginning!
Working with and learning from other students- any who were forming their own organizations at the same time- at St. Paul’s GreenHouse at the University of Waterloo, was another great way for Christina to connect with passionate individuals- and volunteers! Students in this program are encouraged to reach out to those in their industry of interest, and work with them to see not only what is needed, but what has worked and perhaps more importantly, what has not in the past. It takes collaboration to know exactly where those gaps are and what is needed to fill and resolve them; With years of collective experience among organizations, it makes sense in the non-profit world to work together to create change. At times, collaboration that comes in the way of just talking- having a conversation about the reality of situations and what is realistically happening to solve issues; With FullSoul, Christina is not one to shy away from conversations- even the difficult ones that may be necessary in forming an organization, or working with an issue as sensitive as mothers and babies dying during childbirth.
“Talking with a larger organization gives us the experience we don’t have, someone to talk to who has been there before, to remind us to dot our Is and cross our Ts — somewhat like a mentor relationship. And larger organizations can recognize that smaller organizations are doing great things too.”
Considering the big picture is important in these organizations, and understanding that there is collaboration that needs to take place- no one- person or organization- needs to do it all, nor can they! In working together at an organizational level, we can hopefully create an environment and culture of commitment and collaboration among those communities we work with as well- which then truly benefits everyone!
To ensure that our collaborations are indeed creating a positive impact for those involved on every level, there are some questions that must be asked before entering into partnerships, mentorship and collaborations:
The ‘Three R’s are something that FullSoul, and our co-founders specifically seek to consult when we are looking to partnerships with other organizations and groups. Outlined and beautifully stated as well in Fish’s article, these are:
Reciprocity (“making sure it’s good for them and good for us, and no one’s values are compromised”).
This is important as an organizational stand-point- with so many incredible and very important causes, it is important to have a focus; we can’t do everything! Being able to find what we (or any organization) excel at allows us to do the job well- and others to do the same! Teaming up can assist in larger projects succeeding, which is beneficial for all those involved!
Relationships (communication, follow-up, etc.); and,
Treating people with respect! Allowing those important communications at a higher level in the organizations really does come down to how we treat people at an individual level as well. When we can have those honest, open and effective communications in planning meetings, we can take that same attitude when we’re ‘on the ground’- and vise-versa!
Reality Check (“being realistic with what we’re talking about so we don’t take on too much and we can keep our commitments”).
Again- knowing what we are and what we are best at. Where our reach is and what we can do most effectively with our resources. Sometimes large projects are the dream but not accessible at a certain time- and that is okay! Allowing others to take on a good idea instead of holding it back to be our own- that creates the change that we are all working towards.
Much of what a non-profit, especially FullSoul means is working together- from metropolis Canada to rural Uganda- we are all working for people- to allow others to live and thrive and do the same. Everyone has a part to play in this and as a non-profit organization, FullSoul is one example of soulful individuals collaborating to create something big- reducing maternal deaths and bettering maternal and child health in Uganda. None of us could do it alone, and FullSoul could not do it without you too.Read More
To read this post, please visit: Save the Mothers – How is Africa?
People heard, and continue to hear the realities of not just Christina’s story, but the stories of the thousands of women of Uganda.