Canada’s infant mortality rate (IMR; the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births) and maternal mortality ratio (MMR; the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) are some of the lowest in the world with 4 infant deaths/1,000 live births and 7 maternal deaths/100,000 live births recorded in 2015, respectively (World Bank, 2016). As a result of this, childbirth is not considered to be a risk to a mother’s or an infant’s life in Canada or in most other Western countries. On the other hand, “childbirth” and “a safe procedure” are not synonymous concepts in many underdeveloped countries of the world such as Uganda where delivery-related complications cost the lives of roughly 17 women per day (World Health Organization, 2013). Despite experiencing a slow decline in such statistics over the past few years (World Bank, 2016; Mbonye et al., 2007), Uganda still had some of the highest MMRs and IMRs in the world in 2015 with 343 maternal deaths/100,000 live births and 38 infant deaths/1,000 live births, respectively (World Bank, 2016). Rather than being a risk-free process that symbolizes the beginning of one’s life, in Uganda childbirth is more of a dangerous task that could cost the life of the mother, the child, or both.
With this in mind, an organization that is highly aware of the poor state of such health indicators in Uganda is FullSoul Canada, anon-profit social enterprise dedicated to reducing such alarming statistics within this African country. FullSoul aims to improve and protect the health and safety of delivering mothers, their infants, and the medical staff involved in the birthing process by providing necessary Ugandan hospitals with locally made, safe, and reusable medical kits. With each sterile kit consisting of a needle holder, a dissecting forceps, 3 artery forceps, 3 surgical scissors, and 2 kidney dishes, such medical equipment is believed to contribute towards significantly reducing the burdensome tertiary delays – delays in receiving adequate or timely care once present at a health facility due to a lack of available medical resources, personnel, and/or services – that are responsible for roughly 50% of Uganda’s high MMR (Thaddeus & Maine, 1994; AOGU, 2013).
With each medical kit costing $500 CND to produce, translating into an expense that is less than 5 cents for every baby delivered, each one is theoretically capable of assisting the birth of 2-3 babies per day for about 20 years thereby potentially safely delivering over 15,000 infants in its lifetime. With 15 kits having already been implemented in 3 different Ugandan hospitals, it is hypothesized that this will be able to statistically significantly improve the proportion of mothers and infants surviving childbirth in these locations. It is theorized that these medical kits will provide such hospitals with a larger quantity of safe medical resources allowing for more timely and efficient care to be provided which will lead to a significant reduction in the effects of tertiary delays on maternal mortality and therefore also significantly reduce the MMR in these respective Ugandan hospitals. However, in order to confirm that such medical kits are actually able to achieve these intended aims, their abilities must be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively; one way that this can be done is via a comprehensive program evaluation that systematically analyzes both the processes and outcomes of this initiative. The outcome assessment of such evaluations involves a step-by-step process that investigates how effectively a particular program is achieving its intended outcomes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). Alternatively, the process assessment is meant to specifically evaluate if a particular program is being implemented as planned as well as to deduce how the program is operating with respect to what tasks are being carried out, who is performing them, how these are being performed, and who is being affected as a result of such tasks in order to inform the continuous improvement of the program. Overall, both the process and outcome aspects are critical components of an evaluation because they determine not only if a program works and/or is sufficient for achieving the intended goals but also allow for exploring its strengths, weaknesses, and areas that can be potentially improved in order to better obtain the desired results (CDC, 2011). All of this is to be done while simultaneously and continuously incorporating the needs and desires of key stakeholders throughout the entire process with such findings then being communicated back to these individuals as a means of being accountable for the program’s effects on the projected goals.
With respect to the medical kits, their ability to significantly reduce the MMR will be evaluated in the three Ugandan hospitals where they have already been implemented. The overall objective of the outcome portion of this evaluation will be to determine if the MMRs in these three hospitals after the kits have been implemented are significantly lower than the MMRs in these same respective hospitals before the initiation of this program. Likewise, it will be assessed if the MMRs in these locations have been significantly reduced in comparison to Uganda’s average MMR to determine if this initiative improved the health of the mothers and their infants. Secondary data sources will be used to keep track of such rates at both the hospital and national levels in order to compare the pre- and post-treatment MMRs. For the process evaluation, how the medical kits are being implemented (i.e. if the medical personnel involved in the childbirth process are using the kits as they were instructed with respect to using them at the right time, applying the correct techniques, properly sanitizing the kits after each use, being the only qualified stakeholders to use such kits, etc.) will be assessed using site observations, interviews, focus groups, and case reviews with information being collected from the hospital staff as well as the mothers being cared for in order to evaluate if the program is being delivered according to plan and if the kits are being used as intended in order to achieve optimal effectiveness. This will also be used to detect if the delivering mothers are informed about and receptive to such medical kits by analyzing if more of them are choosing to have their babies in a hospital setting where such materials are available instead of attempting to give birth in private venues such as within their own homes. By evaluating the implementation of these medical kits in 3 distinct hospitals, the execution of this program within these different settings can be compared and contrasted in order to obtain information with respect to how the overall delivery of this program can be improved (i.e. by either having more kits, having more tools in each kit, developing better ways of teaching the medical personnel how to use the kits, etc.). Such a process can underline some potential barriers to the proper delivery of this program that may exist in one hospital and not in another whereas it may also point out if one hospital is doing something differently than the other two which could lead to a more successful delivery of this program.
All in all, implementing such an evaluation and disseminating its findings will inform the Ugandan mothers and hospital staff as well as the FullSoul team, the sponsors of this organization, and any other key stakeholders if the implementation of these medical kits is a sufficiently effective approach for significantly improving the safety of childbirth in such Ugandan hospitals. Similarly, this assessment will reveal to such stakeholders if this program is being carried out as planned with respect to the kits being used as intended and if they are reaching a sufficient number of mothers in need. Both components of the evaluation will be used to infer if this current approach is sufficiently effective and if it is ready to be implemented in more hospitals to achieve such goals or if more work needs to be done in order to develop this program into a more feasible and successful initiative before a significant impact on Uganda’s MMR can be attained.Read More
FullSoul has always been a team. Even from the time it was founded, Christina has worked alongside other organizations, within hospitals and health centres, University classes (both in Undergrad Applied Health Sciences and Masters of Public Health!), through St. Paul’s GreenHouse at the University of Waterloo, friend groups and of course her co-founder, Hyder.
Now, we’ve grown and changed in the 3 years since Christina first came back to Canada from a University of Waterloo Co-op placement in Uganda, with Save the Mothers. Today we have volunteers from and living around the world- each connected with their passion and dedication to living soulfully, for others, and helping to better maternal health in Uganda. We’re so proud of our ‘FullSoulers’, both past and present, and all of the amazing work that they’ve accomplished!
[FullSoul Team in Mukono, Uganda, Dec 2016] Photo by: Shazzar Kator Muhangi]
In addition, FullSoul has welcomed supporters to join us in Uganda, for the first time at the end of 2016. This group connected with our Uganda-based team who shared with them their home of Uganda. The team was part of the medical kit delivery to two hospitals, travelled around Uganda experiencing the country and culture of the people here. We look forward to welcoming more people to the FullSoul Family as more trips enable us to share the issues and beauty of Uganda!
Meet our current team in the ‘About’ Section of our website: https://www.fullsoul.ca/about/
Are you interested in joining our team? Follow our LinkedIn profile for volunteer postings, or send us an email to let us know how you think you can add to our FullSoul team!
Greetings from Uganda,
Can’t believe it’s finally happening !
We are excited to announce the news that our FullSoul team has just arrived Uganda, to began their journey of bettering maternal health. We will be posting daily live updates of the trip on our FullSoul Canada Facebook page.
Please stay tuned and follow and like our page and posts! #bettermaternalhealth #sindica
Facebook Page:Read More
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
After some soul-searching for the right model for us, our vision and our cause, FullSoul became a not-for-profit in Canada. With many new organizations now working from a for-profit model (and doing so effectively), this was an important choice for us- and one that now made, really defines FullSoul, and, what’s more, what living SoulFully means to us.
Our co-founder, Christina was interviewed for a piece by Susan Fish called “Reinventing the Wheel: Does Canada need more nonprofit organizations” (spoiler alert- if done well, of course!) for ‘Charity Village’ a networking site that allows non-profit organizations to post jobs, find volunteers, as well as host online education sessions and develop directories as a community, in 2015. She was quoted in saying “Had the Ugandan government filled hospitals with medical supplies, we wouldn’t have gone into that area. There has to be a gap where you can meet a need”- a need that Christina has witnessed and experienced first hand in Ugandan hospitals and clinics since 2013. She says, “as in any sector or industry, new initiatives in the charitable and social purpose sector come about when people see a gap”. In the case of FullSoul, non-profit just works better!
As a non-profit social enterprise, FullSoul can focus on our vision- of allowing mothers access to a safe delivery, regardless of where they live. Non-profit means that we work with giving- from beginning to end; connecting with like-minded soulful individuals and groups around the world to raise money- and compassion- for women and their families in Uganda, where 6,000 women die each year from pregnancy related causes; this number does not even include those babies that die before, during or shortly after delivery. Giving support, giving money, giving interest and attention, from both groups and individuals, and moving with this support to those that give medical assistance to those mothers who are giving life.
If living soulfully, and helping others to do so, is a cause you’d like to join, let us know!
FullSoul’s work is only possible due to the generous contributions of our donors. You can donate here to help better maternal health in Uganda- 100% of your contributions will go towards FullSoul’s Medical Kit Program.
Working together to make Non-Profit Happen! How collaboration and community makes FullSoul function.
“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of dedicated people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead
I came to volunteer with FullSoul unexpectedly. In a chance meeting with founder Christina Hassan, I came to the realization that I could help create positive change in a field that I was unfamiliar with by applying my skills and interests in developing revenue streams for social enterprises.
The more I learned about FullSoul, the more right the fit felt. I believe in long term solutions and I dream of a world free of poverty. Yet I also need to separate myself from ‘ground zero’ when working to alleviate some of our world’s most complex global issues. It’s too emotionally costly for me. So finding a volunteer role at FullSoul that would allow me to tackle backstage tasks to move the enterprise forward in its mission to equip Uganda with specialized medical kits was both meaningful and supportive of my needs.
My background in business and fund raising turned out to be a useful addition to the FullSoul team. Whether developing the first business plan for the organization or preparing funding applications for global health competitions, I appreciate being able to hone my skills. That particular ‘right mix’ is what I found in volunteering with FullSoul. I am able to work for a cause that I believe in and that allows me to see the direct impact of my work. I’m able to refine my business plan and grant writing skills. But it’s the culture of FullSoul that keeps me most motivated in my work.
[Supporters & volunteers alike listen to co-founder, Christina Hassan-2015]
I appreciate the changing structure of our bi-monthly meetings. While core elements (such as life updates and goal setting) remain constant, different volunteers’ work is highlighted at different meetings. Sometimes we have check-in style meetings, other times we have visioning sessions. The frequency of our meetings is also just right for me; I have enough time to set aside time to work on my goals but not so much that I lose interest or lose track of what everyone is doing.
Other volunteer experiences that I’ve had employed a more delegated work routine, where tasks were assigned to volunteers. At FullSoul, I decide what I’m going to work on and what time frame is most appropriate for me to complete the work. I contribute in ways that allow some of my strongest skill sets to shine, while developing others that I would like to improve upon. It’s so valuable for me to exchange feedback on various projects because it makes me feel included in all the work that happens at FullSoul. It also contributes to how connected I feel to other volunteers.
While we are spread across several provinces, sometimes countries and even continents, we always start off meetings by updating everyone on our personal life. That sense of connection increases my enjoyment of our meetings and motivation to produce high quality work. I’m not just volunteering with a group of strangers; I’m volunteering with a team of people I can relate to even though we’ve never met. I’m very appreciative of the experiences I’ve had in volunteering with FullSoul.
-Written by former FullSoul volunteer Jenn Harvey
Interested in volunteering with us as well? Follow FullSoul on LinkedIn to be notified of opportunity listings! Feel free to connect with any of our volunteers here as well!
There is a well-known Nelson Mandela quote that reads:
“there is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered,”.
For Christina, there are no better words to better encapsulate what it was like returning to Canada. Nothing was quite the same anymore, not the big things nor the little. Everything was how she remembered it, there hadn’t been intense cultural changes in the four months she was away, but it was also completely different. The familiar was no longer familiar but it was because she had changed so much, it was as if she was seeing things through an entirely different set of lenses.
[Pictured: Ken Corlett (left), Christina Hassan (Marchand) and Greg Kett- those who nominated our Christina for this award!]
As time passed she adjusted to these new lenses – they became her new normal. Christina was home for three months when she was invited back to her hometown, where she grew up and went to school, to receive the YMCA Peace Medallion for her experiences in Uganda.
Returning to Chatham, it could have been easy to focus again on the new perspective Mandela described… but instead she found herself reflecting through a different lens. As she met with her family, community members and the people who educated her, Christina realized she was reconnecting with the people who helped her to build the foundation of who she is. These people, together, create the community where she learned how to dream, challenge herself, ask questions and care about the lives of others.
Yes, Christina definitely returned to her hometown a changed person, but in the moments she spent there, she was grateful for all of those who helped her become a person that pursued these experiences that cause such fundamental change. They are her champions of motivation, education and believing in the good of this world. This community… her family… they are the ones who first taught her what it means to live SoulFully.
We at FullSoul are so very excited for Christina to have received this award for all of her amazing work in Uganda and now with FullSoul! Recognition is so important, and we’re honoured to have Christina recognized with such an important award! Continue reading for more on the YMCA Peace Medallion!
Most FullSoul followers have heard of GreenHouse at St. Paul’s University on the University of Waterloo campus. And many have also heard of an ever-growing impact radiating from the small social enterprise incubator- so I sat down with GreenHouse’s Director, Tania Del Matto to chat about Social Innovation, FullSoul and how GreenHouse works to tackle complex issues- like maternal mortality in Uganda!
Christina has has often said that she “came into GreenHouse with an idea and came out of GreenHouse with a business” that business is the FullSoul we know and love today.
But what is so special about GreenHouse that allowed our co-founder to give her time, support and hard-work while going to school full-time?
As a bit of background, the University of Waterloo is world-class when it comes in innovation. “Idea’s start Here” Christina echoed when she first shared the FullSoul idea on the Tedx Waterloo stage. The GreenHouse program is one of the University programs at the heart of innovation, more specifically- social innovation and entrepreneurship.
The GreenHouse students live on-campus, and build connections to accelerate their own start-ups and social change initiatives. GreenHouse is designed to allow students the opportunity to develop and hone in on their own ideas and goals, while managing a full course load.
GreenHouse gives a place where students can actually tackle the problems they see in the world today. Said wonderfully by Tania, with her economics perspective, “we have a vast supply of young talent here at the University of Waterloo”, but we also have demands: “that is unmet problems that we don’t have answers for”…
GreenHouse encourages students to tackle complex societal issues, to see where they can “make an impact on a pressing societal problem”, perhaps setting them apart from other ‘incubators’ as a place where non-profits and for-profit social-enterprises can thrive. There is an additional focus on the students personal growth and development; Tania mentions that “At university we don’t necessarily empower young people to do these things- here, we give them opportunities to get out of the building and talk to people”. Encouraging GreenHouse participants to network and interact with their idea and issues in a real-world setting helps to ensure that “regardless of where their venture goes, they’re going to do great things”. They are learning how to build up their skills, and use what they have to tackle these problems. Students are encouraged to use “a wide lens in imagining what kind of impact they can make- some are big venture’s like Christina’s, and some are more about policy change”.
After her co-op placement abroad— working with an organization called Save the Mothers in Mukono, just outside of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala— Christina was more than inspired to do something. She was determined and needed to create something to change the huge systematic issue of maternal mortality. Women in Uganda face a 1 in 44 chance of dying in childbirth or a pregnancy related complication, this problem plagues more than just women – it strains the entire population. Husbands’ lose wives, parents’ loose daughters, siblings’ loose sisters and the remaining external family such as grandparents, are often called upon to take in their orphaned relatives. The children, who grow up motherless, are vulnerable and less likely to reach the age of 4. Everyone is impacted, but what is more is that; “The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has highlighted maternal mortality as an issue bearing not just on development, but also on human rights” (WHO, 2012)– every mother and child’s deserves the right to health, equity in health and gender equality.
Tania notes that when Christina applied to the GrennHouse program,” Christina came in with a lived, on the ground experience, from co-op- [and] knew from that that she wanted to do something about it”, GreenHouse was ready to take on the task with her.
The GreenHouse method, which encourages students to “Get out there, Start talking to people, test their assumptions [about where there are gaps and needs in a social issue, and get a] Better understanding of the problem, before they go into solution mode.” Christina had an issue that she was passionate about, which fit well with GreenHouse’s idea of encouraging its innovators to “get as close to problem as they possibly can. [This] enables them to better understand it, better understand what’s been done, what’s worked, and what hasn’t worked in the past, what gaps there are [in the climate surrounding this issue]”.
With the community based, live-in approach of GreenHouse, it makes sense that it can produce an effective way to tackle a complex societal issue in Uganda- the collectivist culture, of supporting, sharing and building with each other mirrors many aspects of the East African country’s own way. “Students can be inspired by their peers- it’s great when Christina gets back and gives these talks, it really inspires other students to go ‘wow, she did that, maybe I can do something too’” Tania says of how, even now that Christina has been graduated from the program for 3 years, they remain connected. “She was in our second cohort- Not short of praise for our co-founder either, Tania speaks on how Christina- and FullSoul- really were able to grow in the program, and become the force that they are today; “Gosh, how do we get more Christina’s? how do we create the conditions so that more Christina’s and can thrive, and can step forward […] get engaged with these problems [..]she’s been the inspiration for a lot of pieces of our program.
In the years since FullSoul’s first days in GreenHouse a lot has changed! Our team has grown, both in size and in our passion to live soulfully, FullSoul has gained hundreds more supporters globally, and best of all we’ve travelled back to Uganda, delivering our first safe-birth kits to clinics in Uganda. We’re so thankful for our founders’ passions, and of places and networks like St. Paul’s Greenhouse that really allow these ideas to become reality- some of our past FullSoul volunteers have gone on to start their own initiatives for social change too! We’ll keep up the ‘Sindica’ for safe-motherhood in Uganda, and we’re glad and honoured to see everything that GreenHouse and its fellows push towards too.
Read more about Christina’s experience with St. Paul’s GreenHouse here: Life is TriageRead More
A Fullsoulers’ return home from Uganda…
As a part of an academic-based service-learning experience program, I found myself living in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, for the summer of 2013. Throughout my three months in Kampala, I had met FullSoul’s very own co-founder (pre-FullSoul!) Christina, and we met up a few times to explore some of Uganda together. As the three months sped by, and my time living in the quiet(er) district of Kampala was coming to a close, I was preparing, however reluctantly, to return home to Canada— back to school and life in Southwestern Ontario.
Tearful goodbyes, and nkwagala nyo (I love you so much in Luganda!) to each of my house-mates and friends, and into the van to the Entebbe airport for the first time again in just over 100 days. After a quick move through security, we were on our first plane in a 24-hour journey home. A quick re-fuel in Rome and then a very long overnight flight forward through the time-zones that had kept me quite confused for the past 3 months, and the flight landed in Pearson International Airport in Toronto and that was that— 102 days of living abroad done, and we were back.
That first day back, with a lot of jet-lag, I stayed awake with my family, partner and excitement of another new location. The tiredness did not really dissipate for a few weeks- time-change is a very strange thing, and I was feeling groggy, nearly constantly tired and had little appetite, especially for this strange Canadian food. In the years since, I have come to see that there was more than jet-lag in this. Coming home is so much more. Even three years later, their are parts and pieces that still feel like they are returning, and some I’m quite sure will not come back to me.
Christina has told me a story of her own return that I think encompasses many pieces of my own experience; Coming back from her own 4 month co-op placement, she went right back into classes at the University of Waterloo- which also meant finding a place to live here. This meant house-searches and tours with some of the many landlords and property managers that thrive in the University-Student market in Waterloo. In the days just following those goodbyes, flight(s) and essentially time-travel, she found herself in the laundry room of a rental home in Waterloo, crying. She had spent that 4 months hand-washing her clothes- a process that I also experienced as as an often enjoyable source of bonding with my house-mates, but non-the-less difficult, especially having never experienced this before. Now, she was faced with a washing machine- and dryer- all within her home-to-be. The contrast is striking. I’m sure somewhere in that difference is a sense of relief to not be spending hours to clean one’s clothes, but like I mentioned- that was often a time of community and conversation for me in Uganda. A time where my Ugandan roommates would tease and teach me how to properly wash my clothes and shoes; a time where you could literally feel the red Kampalan dust and dirt come from your clothes, all by your own power. Now, standing stilling inanimately in front of her was a machine to take away this dirt-it would get the job done quickly, rather quietly and completely out of sight.
However, I think more impactful and what continues even three years after our first time “Coming Home”, is how much those differences separate that experience- our lives in Uganda- to what we know in Canada- perhaps in many ways changing this to what we knew…
For myself, and as documented by many fellow travellers to those ‘lesser-developed’ regions of our world, returning home brought- and continues to bring- what has been commonly termed as “reverse-culture shock”; ultimately, this is the same experience as when one enters a new, different country or area that has a different culture than what they experience as home. Reverse, therefore, is having experienced this new culture, and returning to one that is familiar, but changed, questioned or perhaps even un-relatable through the experience of the new culture. One example for me helped me to further understand this: I had been driving myself in Canada for at least 4 years, yet after 3 months in a country where traffic drove on the opposite side of the road, I was suddenly questioning which way I was supposed to do it. This did not help with taking my G test a few months after returning, and sometimes still it is something that has to be a conscious though- not instinctual, as it was before. As more time went on, I felt frustrated with this experience. Many of the things that were making me feel this aversion were questions of human interaction- why people would not share space on a bus when in Kampala folks would make room for as many people as possible. I missed the community and close connections that I experienced in the big city of Kampala.
Since coming home, I have taken to building my experience of Uganda into my every-day- I began a placement at my local HIV Organization, doing similar work to the AIDS Service Organization that I was working with in Kampala, where I had had all of my training and learning of HIV to that point. It was interesting to be in a similar space here, comforting in fact to continue to work within a topic that I had grown to love while in Uganda, yet interesting that the way stigma, HIV status and testing differs from Southwestern Ontario and Kampala, Uganda. Having these reminders, not only of the beautiful and positive parts of the trip, but also the social issues and struggles that were connected to it, can be incredibly powerful in keeping that experience alive and well. It is easy to ‘sugar-coat’ the stories when we come home, sharing the cute antidotes and fun photos with our friends and families- almost keeping on those rose-coloured sunglasses even when we move farther away from the equator’s sun. Perhaps this is ‘easier’ because that experience was ours, your own feelings and memories may not translate, for reasons more than just language differences. It can be difficult to instead share those more difficult experiences- of witnessing poverty and slums in a very real and close context, perhaps working with HIV, TB or malaria- diseases that are either rare or ignored in our own countries, striking differences in the availability of education and employment. Yet, as those who have experienced these contrasts- these details can be the most riveting, empowering to change and well, life-changing, for both those that experience them and hear of them.
Personally, I struggled greatly with this change, and ended up reaching out to a lot of counselling services in trying to manage and understand what I had experienced and was experiencing since coming home. Many folks who travel speak of their experience as life-changing, and while this is sometimes considered cliche, it often seems to be the most accurate description when coming home. Many will say things in comment to how little those that they connected with in this new country had, yet they are happier or more grateful than those familiar faces at home. Of course there is something to be said here for perspective, cultural standards and traditions, and how these travellers are interacting with those of their host country, but the point remains that a difference is noticed, often more-so in the reflections of returning home.
There is often a lot of privilege in travelling, and I question my own bias and status in this experience often. Firstly, an international experience, through University, in a country where I became a visible minority (therefore I am not usually), so even in Canada I come from a very privileged place. Then going to a country where I am viewed as even more so, I have really tried to be open to every part of understanding where this places me in the world and my experiences. Working in a social-justice, anti-oppressive service setting is something that I was already quite set on, and this experience opened infinite questions for me, all which I was trying to answer here at home. Being a part of FullSoul has been therapeutic, inspiring and life-changing in its’ own way; I remain connected to those that are also passionate about positive community-based change, the Uganda that I adore, and connecting with others that share these passions.
The most sense that I can make of coming home is this:
I have scarves bought in Uganda that still have some of that dirt-red colour to them. Those red marks were created there from walks to the market, boda-boda rides home after work, afternoons laying under the mango tree, nights cooking with my Ugandan family. They, for some time after still smelled of the busy copper and ruby streets in Kampala and the country. These scarves were strong and well-made- they made it through safaris, long work-days and a flight across the globe- yet delicate in their cloth, the fine fabric which makes them up and holds them together. They must be washed by hand, even here in Canada. I am sure that on a delicate setting, with some special detergent and fancy settings on a machine they would be okay. But I missed washing by hand, even now, but I know other ways are possible and perhaps more efficient. Now, however, I avoid this process to maintain the dirt. Sometime having those changed experiences, having some of that red dirt in my life, just seems right now, and washing, by hand, as gently as possible, keeps some of that red in my life. So I will keep hand-washing, I keep some of that dirt in the fabric, I keep working with FullSoul and finding ways to bring into my days the lush and harsh beauty, busied calm and complex simplicity of the life and love that experienced in Uganda, until I can return to my Ugandan home.
Social Media Manager at FullSoul