Written by Ashleigh Gerhardt
The day started with a group breakfast asking the question, how did you sleep? Most had a great rest and were ready for day 5( counting a day of travel) of our journey. As we were chatting we had an opportunity to take the chance on an impromptu visit with the US Ambassador who was staying at the same hotel to provide him with a preview of all of the great work Pipeline has done and has yet to do. Additionally Issac was able to see and meet up with his “school-sister,” Florence, who he has not seen for almost two decades. She recently left the police force to take a job as security detail for the Ambassador. Her resume was quite impressive and she is so deserving of the opportunity. We can’t wait to partner with her on future projects.
We then hopped on Big Bertha and made our way along the border of Sudan saying “goodbye to civilization in style-Apolo” with iPhone in hand, air conditioning and an unlimited supply of snacks and water. Issac was even able to try a Twizzler and dried cherry for the first time. He prefers the dried cherry as “it creates more appetite.” We were able to catch the 11a ferry to cross the Nile River. But first, we registered and received our “blue dot” on a finger of our choice, acting as our admission ticket on the ferry. After a quick 15 minute ride, we unloaded the ferry, hopped back on the bus and headed toward the mountains, managing to stop only once to “check the tires”.
The long travel day afforded me the chance to ponder about some differences in life between the US and Uganda. Top of mind was the school attendance rate- not many attend due to cost and living situation. However, for the fortunate few, many begin to drop out as they get older. Girls enter womanhood with their first menses and for most, they do not have the means to maintain feminine hygiene causing them to feel ashamed amongst their peers. Others are seen as entering marrying age, allowing families to “sell off” their daughters. As boys grow older they become stronger and are viewed as more useful around the homestead. They are quickly put to work disengaging from the academic life. For the few “lucky” ones, you will see them walking miles in their uniform, unknown if they ate breakfast or will receive a lunch but still persevering.
For those not attending schools, they are walking miles, carrying their load (bundle of sticks 10 feet long, corn, grain)either on their head or in both hands to sell food products at the market, fetching water by pumping one Jerrycan at a time, tending to the crops, sweeping out their huts with grass brooms, washing clothes in buckets of water and hanging them to dry, or herding their cows and goats. This is quite different than the hustle and bustle we force ourselves into everyday in America.
After a bumpy, safe (thanks to George),hour ride we reached the village of Kweyo. It lays in the most majestic place with mountains and greenery to suck you in. Kweyo is one of two villages that has an ambulance donated by Pipeline. They met us with a very warm welcome and village dance. Apollo was able to show us his moves as he joined in. Once inside the health center we were able to provide a brief description of the visit and review the agenda. In attendance we had several expecting mothers, mothers who recently delivered, and members of the Health Committee. We were also joined (thankfully) by the Village Community Officer who acted as my interpreter during our educational sessions. We then divided and conquered into two groups. Dr. Jeff, Jamie and I were able to stay with the women’s group to provide education around the importance of monitoring kick counts during pregnancy. Additionally, we provided information around the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure (preeclampsia) during pregnancy. After completion of training, each woman was given a baby bag. Each bag was filled with a baby blanket, sanitary pads, a pair of underwear and a baby hat… all of which was a new item they had never had been provided before. And while some may have thought that was a big deal for the women, we finished it off by offering each pregnant women the opportunity to listen to their baby’s heartbeat using a newly purchased fetal heart tone monitor. The smiles and tears it brought to all in the room was remarkable. Mothers stated, “while the midwife checks for the heartbeat using a stethoscope, we have never been able to hear.” We finished off the lecture by giving each woman an ambulance voucher and education on when to call the ambulance for delivery.
Next on the list was to provide the Health Committee with infection prevention training for the drivers. We also took note of their inventory within the unit and completed a process assessment for emergency calls.
While we provided educational lessons to the women, Chip, Kelly, and Rick were off to gather input from the community members regarding the solar lights distributed by Pipeline Workwide earlier that year in June. As they descended from the Health Clinic into the village the people welcomed them with song, dance, and endless smiles. The Village leaders were eager to thank the Pipeline team for once again returning to the community with assistance. Isaac, Pipeline Worldwide’s local project manager, introduced the team and the objective of today’s meeting. The task was to collect verbal feedback and written surveys from those community members that have used the solar lights in the home for the last six months. The group opened up the dialogue asking for general feedback on the use of the solar lights. Immediately it was obvious that the lights had influenced their lives significantly. Two major themes that benefited the members, first, the lighting system allowed children to do schoolwork/reading well into the night. And second, the ability to work in the gardens earlier in the morning than ever before. The light also gave them protection as they walked to and from their homes. Collectively the community members recognized that the lights will forever change their family’s life.
After a 3-hour visit, we experienced a great send off, headed to town and checked into the Nesera hotel where I hear the amenities are better than the Multipurpose Hall where the team usually stays (although we did opt for the mosquito nets during our sleep). We stayed at the hotel for dinner where we shared our “highs and lows” of the day and off to bed we went, full bellies and ambition for the next day.
As I laid in bed attempting to fall asleep I couldn’t help but to think about the children of Africa… the next generation. What I witnessed today on our ride to Moyo was a girl about 7-8 years old carrying tonight’s dinner or a meal to sell; a dead chicken by both legs, big brother, with a child in each arm and another boy chasing from behind laughing so hard; three kids around 3-4 years old having a dance party on the front porch of their home; another child wrangling three pigs, and the lonesome one perched against the wall holding his stuffed monkey. Here in Uganda, a hand wave to each child is always met with a smile, ear to ear, but it is MY heart that is exploding with joy for the love they give.
Today was a great reminder that it’s the simple things in life… but for our African family, it’s not so simple.