One week into my internship with FullSoul back in January, I quickly made the realization that Uganda would be my teacher over the next eight months. Thinking back to that time now that it is August and I’ve only one week remaining in the country, I could not have been more correct. Reflecting on the lessons learned during my time here, I don’t even know where to begin. How exactly does one go about recapping eight months worth of professional and personal accomplishments and growth? And let us not forget about the challenges and barriers that were overcome as well. Summarizing my eight months interning for FullSoul in Uganda is no easy feat.
At the most basic level, my role with FullSoul has been co-managing our Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Portfolio with Crystal, FullSoul’s Director of M&E. Together, we’ve made strides in preparing for a strong, high-quality evaluation of FullSoul’s project activities. In the past months, we’ve come to understand the context of working with our partner healthcare facilities, identified the main evaluation priorities of our partners to help focus our areas of assessment, as well as listened to how we can make the evaluation as meaningful and useful for our partners as possible. Engaging with our partner healthcare facilities as we prepare and plan for the evaluation has allowed us to be responsive to the needs of our stakeholders and the MMK program context.
Being that this internship has been my first real-life exposure to M&E outside of school, I feel as though I have grown considerably as an evaluator. Without debate, I’ve learned that one of the best skills you can have is reflexive practice, meaning that you are able to constantly reflect on both your internal and external experiences in a manner that fosters learning and development. Even eight months down the road, I’m always experiencing novel circumstances, environments, social interactions, emotions, opinions, and thoughts. Only through reflecting on all of those experiences and how they relate to one another have I learned how to thrive in my role. For example, it’s through reflexive practice that I’ve become accustomed to the social dynamics and important cross-cultural communication skills here. Being reflective has also supported me in identifying challenges experienced by our partnering facilities, including both those that are outwardly expressed by staff as well as the more subtle challenges that can be observed.
The learning didn’t stop with my work responsibilities either. Moving to Uganda required immersing myself in my new context and becoming comfortable with my new living circumstances and surroundings. Having to complete shift my life for eight months taught me many things, but most importantly it taught me the importance of community. I cannot deny that sometimes it can be difficult to be halfway across the world, feeling distanced from your family, friends, and regular routines. Yet, remembering the new relationships and routines I’ve developed in Uganda is what has helped me overcome those challenging times and feel grounded in my surroundings.
The lessons, perspective, and knowledge I have gained these past months are immeasurable and I know for a fact that I will be carrying these lessons forward even as I return to Canada. Through this internship and working with our partners, I’ve experienced collective leadership firsthand, evident in the gathering of like-minded, passionate individuals from both Canada and Uganda, joining hands to protect maternal health in this country. Although the time has come for me to return to Canada, I look forward to seeing what the future will hold and following along with FullSoul’s journey in the push for a better tomorrow.
By: Vinussa Rameshshanker
“In those days before the ultrasounds, it was a blessing to be the first person to know what sex the mother was carrying…”
FullSoul is ever grateful for our partners who join us as we work together towards improving the state of maternal health in Uganda, which is why I would like to share with you the story of one of our valued partners and how she came to be the midwife she is today.
Meet Sister Juliette, the lovely woman in the photo with a beautiful smile who greets me warmly whenever I visit Kawolo Hospital. Kawolo Hospital has been one of FullSoul’s partnering healthcare facilities since 2014. Sister Juliette is the In-Charge Senior Midwife for the hospital’s maternity department. In fact, Sister Juliette has been working at Kawolo Hospital for 26 years now!
Let’s travel back to Sister Juliette’s childhood. Visiting hospitals for various reasons during her youth, Sister Juliette always knew that she was attracted to the purple uniforms worn by some of the healthcare workers she would see walking around the facilities. However, she never knew what the purple uniforms represented. And so one day, she decided to ask and she learned that the workers dressed in purple were actually midwives in training!
Sister Juliette’s interest and passion for midwifery stayed with her as she finished up secondary school and studied to receive a certificate in midwifery. To Sister Juliette, it is a blessing to be the first person to know the sex of the baby carried by the mother. As a midwife delivering a mother, you are granted the opportunity to reveal the secret of whether the mother would be receiving a new baby boy or baby girl – how incredible! This was true especially back in the day, when ultrasound scans were not as common. In fact, even in the current time, many mothers are still unable to receive an ultrasound prior to delivery due to many different reasons. For example, the mother may not have the funds for transport to a clinic with a scan, or nearby facilities may be lacking functioning ultrasound scan machines. Recognizing these circumstances where mothers may not be able to access the care that they need, it is the work of delivering newborns, helping mothers, and bringing new life into the world that brings Sister Juliette happiness every single day.
Each year, the number of patients served at Kawolo Hospital continues to grow. Without a doubt, Sister Juliette alongside the rest of the hospital’s staffing team will be there to continue supporting and fighting for healthier communities. It is clear that challenges exist in the working environment, such as the limited resources for providing care. However, after both listening to and observing these challenges firsthand during my internship with FullSoul, it is equally as clear that the work of staff at Kawolo Hospital as well as other public healthcare facilities in Uganda demonstrates nothing but resilience worthy of admiration.
On that note, let us take a moment today wherever you may be to thank and celebrate our partners who, like Sister Juliette, commit themselves daily to serving mothers, children, families, and communities to help build a stronger and healthier nation. Thanks for reading FullSoulers, until next time!
FullSoul, Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT), and Rotary Club of Mukono are partnering to provide medical kits and training on surgical instrument sterilization to Nurses and Midwives in Uganda
In Canada, when women labor in hospitals they have trust in the healthcare system to use sterile supplies for safe delivery. In Uganda, chronic underfunding has left many health facilities without adequate medical supplies. Very often, pregnant women arrive at hospitals with their own medical tools and must pay for their own delivery supplies. If they cannot do either, they are turned away. In addition, shortages of consumables means that disposable items often get reused between patients, potentially increasing the spread of dangerous infections. To reduce post-delivery complications and deaths, FullSoul and Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT) are partnering to provide medical kits with reusable surgical instruments and training on proper sterile processing techniques to midwives and nurses.
FullSoul, a Canadian non-profit organization co-founded by Christina Hassan, implemented the Maternal Medical Kit (MMK) program in hospitals in Uganda. The program provides hospitals with toolkits containing artery forceps, scissors, kidney dishes, needle holders, and dissecting forceps that can be sterilized and reused.
With funding provided by a Global Rotary Club Grant, SPECT will provide training and mentoring in sterile processing practices to help ensure instruments provided through the MMK program are safe for reuse between patient procedures. In partnership with the Rotary Club of Mukono, SPECT and FullSoul will provide sterilization equipment, including instrument baskets, dressing drums and autoclaves where needed. The added tools, as well as SPECT training, will equip nurses and midwives with an essential understanding of the importance of sterile processing practices. SPECT’s research has found knowledge of effective sterilization practices motivates healthcare workers and decreases the risks present in the birth environments for mothers and babies.
“FullSoul’s number one priority has always been safe births for mothers, babies and healthcare providers. With the help of SPECT, we will make sure that our tools reach the highest attainable level of sterility so no one is left behind.” says Christina Hassan. “Thanks to Avenue’s Top 40 under 40, we came to know about SPECT and all the great work this Calgary-based organization does around the world. It is always great to meet people doing wonderful things in our global community, but even better when we find those connections at home in Calgary.”
Christina Fast, founder of SPECT, established the organization after visiting hospitals in Sierra Leone and learning that sterilization of surgical tools was absent in the hospitals she visited. Fast is an experienced sterile processing educator who has been teaching healthcare workers since 2011, both in Calgary and internationally. SPECT has worked in 7 countries in Africa, including Guinea, Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Benin. SPECT’s involvement and connection to numerous countries in Africa makes them suited to work together with FullSoul to improve healthcare in Uganda.Read More
Written by: Vinu Ramesh
“All fathers should always try to give a better future for their children, and that begins with giving love to their children and to their mothers. That’s the best a father can do…” -Bash
Six months ago when I arrived in Uganda, I had the pleasure of meeting Bash. Bash is part of FullSoul’s Communications team and the one that we go to for designing FullSoul branded materials or filming what’s going on with FullSoul in Uganda. Basically, Bash helps work the magic behind FullSoul’s public image, typically through social media.
On top of being part of the FullSoul family, Bash also has a family of his own. Pictured above is Bash, Ann, and their baby girl Elena – they are his pride and joy. In fact, he will be celebrating his second Father’s Day this June. Countries around the world differ in terms of when they celebrate this special day – Uganda will be celebrating Father’s Day on Friday June 21st this year. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I took the time to sit down with Bash to hear from him what he thinks about maternal and child health. As a toast to Bash and all the fathers of the world, I would like to share with you through his own words what Bash taught me on what it means to be a father.
In your perspective Bash, why do you think maternal and child health is important?
To me, I think the most precious thing anyone can do is to give love and to give life. To lose life on the other hand is unbearable. In Africa especially, it’s clear that we have a lot of mothers giving birth to children every single day. Which means each day, new love and life is brought into the world. Knowing this, we need to work together to see that the lives of mothers and children in our communities are taken care of. As a father, my family is what keeps me happy at all times, so if maternal and child health isn’t important, what is?
When it comes to maternal health, what can men do to support their mothers? What is their role?
Of course, many men have no idea what to do when it comes to labour. But in my opinion, the most important thing that men can do is to support the women in their lives – whether it be the mothers, wives, or sisters – through their entire experience of motherhood. That includes ensuring that they receive the maximum amount of engagement with healthcare facilities before, during, and after birth, overall supporting the health and wellbeing of mothers, families, and communities.
If you were to share, is there an experience or life event that comes to mind which made you realize just how important maternal and child health is?
There was actually one thing that sparked a thought about just how important it is. During Ann’s pregnancy, I wasn’t able to be around a lot of the time because of work commitments but thankfully she was cared for and supported by her mother. When it came time for Ann to deliver, I was working in Kampala (the capital city), about a 4 or a 5 hour drive away from her. It was at that time that I received a phone call informing me that I had to be there as soon as possible for the delivery. Apparently, things were not looking good.
I made it to the healthcare facility as fast as I could, and was told that Ann was in the operation theatre for a Cesarean section. My heart skipped a beat just thinking about the state of the operation theatres here. Thankfully, both Ann and baby Elena made it out okay, but it was such a difficult time for all of us.
It was in those moments that I realized the possibility of losing a life at a time when you are meant to bring life to someone else. That’s why I think maternal and child health is so important.
And now, after just over a year of fatherhood, how would you describe what it’s like being a father?
It’s amazing. There’s a way that you change when you know that you have someone else to take care of – someone that you helped give life to. My little girl is stubborn, but I get the greatest joy from being with her. It’s the most rewarding experience that I’ve ever had, and it brings me happiness knowing that in a way, I have another version of myself running around. She is so precious to me, and I’m always feeling the need to fix everything in the world so that it is perfect for my little girl.
As I spoke to Bash that evening, I could physically feel the love and care he has for his family and his dedication towards improving maternal and child health. Clearly, the issue doesn’t just concern the women and children of the world. It’s an issue for women, men, children, and communities at both the local and global scale. FullSoul is proud to be working towards a better future for the state of maternal and child health each and every day, and we’re also proud to have a team of volunteers and supporters that believe in the same cause. And so today, let us come together and celebrate the fathers out there who play such an important role in making the world a better place for us all – Happy Father’s Day!Read More
I’m currently sitting comfortably on the couch in our Mukono Town FullSoul office, which doubles as our home. I’ve got one steaming cup of coffee on the table, neighboured by a now empty mug of coffee from the morning. The past few days have been full of rain and chilly weather, so I’ve wrapped myself in a blanket to keep warm. This could very well be what I would do in an afternoon at home back in Canada, the resemblance causing me to realize just how ‘at home’ I feel halfway across the world in Uganda.
I feel as if I went to bed in January and I’m waking up to find out that it’s May. I cannot believe all of the events which have transpired over the past months – I have become part of the community here in Mukono, made many friends, and I now go about my daily routines with a nonchalance that comes automatically. It all feels so surreal, yet its a reality that I am proud of as it symbolizes just how strongly I’ve immersed myself into the lifestyle over here. It’s undeniable that I’ve grown as a person through this experience. I’ve realized how adaptable I can be in a new country, how well I’m able to balance my introverted nature with Uganda’s rich social culture, and even how reflective I can be of my own experiences. Adding to those personal accomplishments, I’m equally as proud of my role and progress we’ve made in planning to evaluate the Maternal Medical Kit project.
The past few months have been filled with reviewing FullSoul’s program documents, organizing site visits to our partner healthcare facilities, and engaging with our project stakeholders – all in efforts to conduct an evaluability assessment of FullSoul’s project. Basically, this assessment is meant to identify the enablers and barriers to conducting a project evaluation in a valid and reliable manner. Starting off my term, I’d only known what an evaluability assessment was in theory. However, jumping right into the work in January, I was quickly becoming more familiar to the nitty-gritty of what preparing for an assessment actually entailed such as creating our own assessment tool and systematically collecting data on factors which will influence our future evaluation. To name a few, we explored the availability and quality of existing data collection protocols at partner healthcare facilities, the resources available for the future evaluation, and input on desired information needs and evaluation outputs from facility staff.
Before I knew it, it was May and we had not only finished preparing for the assessment, but we’d collected, cleaned, analyzed, and interpreted our data, eventually pulling it all together into a formal report. We’ve come across some interesting findings in the process such as the importance of selecting data collection approaches in the future that do not contribute to the existing challenge of work overburdening and stress experienced by staff. Knowing this, we’ll need to balance the reporting requirements of our funders with the real life challenges of our local partners, fnding creative ways to capture needed data in a way that does not disrupt the usual activities on the ward. Indeed, there is still a lot of planning left in order for us to execute our evaluation in a respectful and informed manner.
Despite our progress, it definitely wasn’t a smooth journey the entire way. For instance, I distinctly remember the frustration I felt while trying to communicate our findings in our final report – all of our healthcare facility site visits were jumbling together and there were so many findings that I wanted to get across. There were many days where I started my mornings staring at the computer screen, thinking to myself that the report had taken a turn towards becoming a bit Frankenstein-esque. All challenges aside though, FullSoul is now at the point of moving forward with our evaluation planning, and the evaluability assessment was fundamental in better understanding the feasibility of an evaluation within the program context. As for me, I feel as though there is finally an opportunity to take a few breaths after what felt like treading in the deep end for a few months. Soon enough, we will be drafting our evaluation plan which will serve as the guiding document for conducting the evaluation, outlining everything from our key evaluation questions to our proposed data collection tools.
In whole, what’s been the most fulfilling in working towards FullSoul’s project evaluation is the recognition of how fundamental such efforts are in maintaining our accountabilities. Not only are we accountable to ourselves to create a learning culture where we rely on evidence-informed decision-making for program development, but we are also responsible for reporting to our key stakeholders, from partnering healthcare facilities to major funders. Without question, I am looking forward to the challenges and successes the new few months will bring as FullSoul takes on the task of evaluation within the development context for the purpose of better supporting the communities we serve.
Hey my name is Colette (my family and friends call me Lettie) and I am a third year Biomedical Engineering student at the University of Waterloo. I will be joining FullSoul in the role of Field Engineer. I will help design and develop test prototypes and processes for the sanitation of the medical kit. A fun fact about myself is that I am the youngest of 5 kids. We all love to travel. This summer we will be spread out between 3 Continents.
Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?
Going overseas for this crazy, cool opportunity is amazing, but I think what I’m most excited for is the hands on experience I will gain as a field engineer working at FullSoul. I am an avid hiker and adventurer and I am excited to see what the country of Uganda has to offer. I am looking forward to experiencing the culture and meeting as many people from this part of the world as I can.
How are feeling as you prepare for your trip?
It still hasn’t sunk in that I will be leaving soon. It might not actually hit until I step off the plane. I’m preparing as best as I can for the trip, the culture and the weather. Its hard to think of everything, but I am talking with the people that I will soon be meeting at my work, and I am getting lots of ideas.
Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?
My brother went to Uganda on a work experience a couple of years ago. He is my best advisor on what to expect, different foods I should try and potential adventures I could go on. I have heard from past FullSoul interns that I should bring skirts and dresses to work in as the clinic is quite hot. The only dress in my closet is from prom so I will definitely need to go on a shopping trip!!
What are the top 3 things that you are for sure packing
- Some books
- My journal
- Good hiking boots
How you can follow me on my journey
Instagram – @LettiemckeeRead More
Hello, my name is Olivia and I am in the Honours Arts and Business Co-oP program at the University of Waterloo. I will be FullSoul’s newest Project Manager on the ground in Uganda! I will be in charge of the global grant initiative and working with FullSoul’s partnering hospitals in assessing the needs for Medical Kit program. I love to explore the great outdoors. I spend every summer camping with friends and family, taking in everything this wonderful planet has to offer in the rawest way.
Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?
It is extremely fascinating to me getting to see and explore how other people in different countries live and I am enthused about having the chance to submerge myself completely into their culture through everyday activities and the opportunities to meet locals. I want to be able to come away from this experience having fully experienced all that the Uganda way of life has to offer and be able to really understand and appreciate their culture as it is so beautiful.
How are feeling as you prepare for your trip?
I am very excited to be on this journey with FullSoul and cannot wait to actually touch down in Uganda. I am a bit anxious to be leaving family and friends but know that I will make friendships there that will last a life time.
Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?
One piece of advice I got from past interns is the importance of “Going with the flow.” It is important to keep in mind that Uganda doesn’t work the way we do here in Canada but rather it works in “Uganda Time”. This means that things tend to be more relaxed and easy-going and we need to be adapting to that. Personally, a break from the crazy hustle and bustle sounds amazing to me!
What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?
- A sun hat – I am super pale and burn super easy, so a big sun hat is an essential for me!
- Chocolate – I am a sucker for chocolate and can’t take the risk of not finding any for the next couple of months
- My camera – I love taking pictures of nature and new places. I hope to get some amazing shots while in Uganda!
How can we follow you on your journey?
You can follow my journey on the FullSoul Instagram page @fullsoulcanada and FullSoul Canada Facebook page.Read More
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.