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Travel Diary – June 5, 2023 - Christmas in Uganda

Written by Ken Kobs

Today is June 5th, 2023, and I am in Gulu, Uganda, with 12 amazing, unique and talented teammates, all on behalf of Pipeline Worldwide. But, it’s not December and Ugandans do not celebrate Christmas in June. So, why is it “Christmas in Uganda”? I hope to be able to explain more about that through my experiences today.

The day started with our team casually meeting for a nice breakfast at our hotel, where we shared stories about our families back home, spoke about future baby names (others!), and complained about some yard dogs barking incessantly at 3am. This led to very little sleep for some of us, as if we were waking up early on Christmas morning to open a great days’ worth of presents in Uganda!

After breakfast, we piled into our “GOD IS GOOD” Bus and headed out to St. Monica’s Vocational Training School. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe (named by TIME: Top 100 Most Influential People) and her nuns have spent their lifetimes saving the lives of the young girls in need. Back during the LRA war here, they literally saved the lives of hundreds of orphanages. Today, they do so figuratively by teaching them an array of life skills.

But, before we could meet some of the students and tour the huge property, I was told we were going shopping. Now, for those that know me, you know that I do enjoy shopping for clothes. I consider it one of my finer talents! But, these clothes were a bit different. They were traditional Africana shirts that were all handmade by the students at St. Monica’s! They were beautifully sewn in a wide variety of bright colors. Each of the men picked out their favorite “gift” so that we could wear them later this week at the groundbreaking ceremony for Lonyi Village, Pipeline’s new training campus.

However, the gift of these lovely shirts did not stop there. All the men were then instructed that we were now going to model our new shirts for the sister nuns in a runway performance! Reluctantly, we conformed and strutted our stuff. You just cannot say “no” to a nun. It’s against the law in these parts. Now the truth is this performance wasn’t a pretty site, and I think I even heard some of the nuns booing me! But, we all had fun with it laughed a lot at ourselves.

After this we got to work. We toured their facilities and examined some areas of possible collaboration for Pipeline and St. Monica’s. This included the bathrooms that are used for the 200 girls and the staff. Two of their three bathrooms have been deemed “condemned”. That word probably could have been used to describe all three bathrooms, actually. They were really bad and broke my heart for these young ladies. Luckily, we have great teammates that are in the construction space and a plan is in place to help restore some dignity. Kelly Davis, Pipeline’s Project Manager, said it best: “These bathrooms need to be restored to bathrooms that our daughters would want to use!” Watching the team devise an initial, immediate plan to help, made me very proud to be part of the Pipeline Team.

Lastly, we were able to visit the kindergarten and were treated to dancing, singing and cheers from the most beautiful little ones you have ever seen! Just thinking about it as I type, brings a gig smile to my face. St. Monica’s, Sister Rosemary, and the nuns are working miracles, and I thank them for the gift that they are to so many Ugandans.

Besides shopping, one of my other favorite hobbies is orthopedics. I have loved doing this “hobby” as my job for the last 33 years! It’s really this hobby that led me to get involved initially with Pipeline.

So, as our bus headed to our last stop for the day, St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital, I was brimming with excitement. You see, St. Mary’s is one very special (charity) hospital that treats the majority of all the orthopedic injuries in Northern Uganda. In fact, they treat over 500 lower leg injuries per year with only one full-time orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Sylvester. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, Pipeline has partnered with Sign Fracture Care International to supply Dr. Sylvester with an unlimited number of implants to treat most lower leg fractures. Before our Sign partnership, these poor patients would have to lay in bed, with their leg stuck in traction for months, and could not move during that time, all because he did not have the implants available. Now, thanks to the Sign implants, these patients can walk almost immediately, they are healing quickly, with their bones aligned correctly. They return to work, and their families are not thrown into generations of unthinkable poverty.

But, how about all those other broken bones? Ankles…elbows…forearms…etc.. How are those treated by the talented Dr. Sylvester with very limited implant availability? Well, today Pipelines was able to donate thousands of surgical implants to help him perform his job. Two giant suitcases full of implants, weighing almost 150 pounds, were generously donated by some wonderful friends in the orthopedic industry.

As we feverishly opened these donated implants to show Dr. Sylvester, his smile beamed from ear to ear. Looking into his eyes, you could feel a sense of relief on top of his pure excitement. He was a kid in an orthopedic candy store, so to speak. One who can now treat his patients with the appropriate implants. As we were finishing up, a nurse opened the door to our small room and said that his next patient was ready for him. He replied, “One Second, please. IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS IN HERE!”

At dinner tonight, Dr. Sylvester thanked Pipeline Worldwide for all they have done for his patients and for the donated gifts. However, I would like to first thank him and the staff of St. Mary’s for being so caring for the underprivileged. They are doing an amazing job with extremely limited resources.

Everyday is like Christmas for me when working with the people of Uganda! They have a tremendous fighting spirit, a strong will to thrive, and are so generous to give love to others. So, thank you for the true joy you bring my heart and for the love that you have shown to us. I am proud of the work we have done so far and look forward to more great work ahead together! God bless.


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