Visiting AMREF's work in Northern Uganda
You may have heard about Uganda lately, after all, the internet phenomenon that is Kony2012, just crashed the scene a few weeks ago. With over 70 Million views in less than a week, suddenly northern Uganda, and the children of the region were thrust to the forefront of many Americans minds.
I spent a week in the country in early April, and had a particularly interesting time in Gulu, a district in the northern part of the country. As we all are aware - a trip really starts before the travel begins. Preparation, thoughts, expectations and wonder fills our minds, not to mention questions from family members and friends. Why are you going to Uganda? Where is that exactly? Is it safe? Can you drink the water? Most of us Americans don't know much about what it’s like in Uganda or in most parts of Africa. After all, why would we? Other than stories of gloom and doom, news outlets just don't cover much about the region.
I must first make clear that while many challenges remain for the people of Gulu, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Joseph Kony are currently not one of them. Most people have moved back home, no longer forced to live in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps.
The day arrived to travel to Gulu and Vincent, my new AMREF friend, picked me up at 5:45 in the morning to start the 200 mile-drive from Kampala.
[Vincent and I]
The drive allowed me to see much of the country, and - I must say holy fruit! - bananas, pineapples, mangos, papaya, and jack fruit, the largest tree fruit in the world which can weigh up to 75 pounds, dotted the countryside. Why is there so much fruit? Well, water is quite abundant in Uganda, in a marked contrast to many other parts of East Africa. The Nile River even flows through the country on its long trek north to the Mediterranean Sea.
Five hours later we arrived - an hour ahead of schedule. The roads were horribly narrow. In fact I saw a bus slide across the road, and almost tip over, as it swerved to miss an oncoming car. But the traffic was better than expected. When we got there, we were told that the AMREF Gulu staff did not expect us so early, and therefore many of them were still over at the District Offices.
Talk about stumbling onto something special - we were handing over medical equipment and drugs to the district. Intended to supplement current government efforts to further build up various health centers in the district, with the goal of improving the health of mothers, AMREF staff was handing over maternity beds, microscopes, blood pressure monitors, antibiotics and more. It was a rather formal affair, with thank you speeches by various government officials including the District Health Officer. Representing AMREF was Dr. Moses Olwenyi, who leads our Sexual & Reproductive Health Project in Gulu (seen below in front of some of the new maternity beds).
Afterwards, we headed over to one of the health centers that will receive some of the equipment to meet the staff and find out more about their work. This health center is very remote – it’s at least a fifteen minute drive off of a paved road. It seems like you are heading into the wilderness yet this facility is here to provide care for a target population of 17,200.
Even though every staff member I talked to seemed to be very engaged and it was obvious that everyone was doing their best, the health center is battling a huge staffing shortfall, in addition to the lack of equipment. The recommended and desired number of skilled health workers for this particular facility, including midwives, nurses, lab technicians, and physicians, is fifteen, however they are currently employing only five. The primary reason for the low number of skilled health workers? There are simply no applicants – there are not enough people with the requisite skills to fill the open positions.
Across Africa this kind of staff shortage is unfortunately not uncommon. This is why AMREF is training health workers at all levels - from volunteer peer educators within communities to surgical specialists.
I love what AMREF does and has been doing for years to improve people's health - which I believe to be - the first step to becoming a productive member of society. Hearing the government employees and community members speak about us, it occurred to me that we at AMREF are treated like family. Our work with communities across Africa - with the African people themselves– has led to strong relationships and shared interests. They see that we are not in it for them, or us, we are in it for all.
Comment by Dotty Brown Posted on 13th Feb 2013
A fascinating insight into a country I know little about