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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Meeting Angela & Baby Sean

Our visit to Kolongo was powerful in so many ways. We met with our first midwife graduate. Angela conveyed how difficult it was to lose patients in her remote region due to lack of training.  As a TGF "scale up" scholar from Certificate to Diploma Midwife, Angela is grateful for the training that
translates to saved lives.

Our wonderful Sr. Carmel took us through the hospital where we saw mothers in various stages of labour. This photo shows a small bundle of cloth on the back counter. We opened the cloth and met Baby Sean. Baby Sean would have been the first born to his parents but died because his mother refused a cesarean section until the last moment. 

While sister was explaining the circumstances,
a woman in labour walked behind us to the birthing table. We were video taping Meg at the time and despite our mourning had to chuckle silently as we picked up the mother's groans as she pushed and then the "kerplush" as her water broke and baby cried.

Life and death in such a delicate balance. The incredible midwife (that had helped deliver Baby Sean hours earlier, while monitoring several other mothers in labour) came beside us with a beautiful new baby boy. No words.

Heading to Kalonga

We mentioned on Facebook that our meeting with Dr. Nelson Musoba ended with Nelson agreeing to be our newest board member. Nelson brings with him a wealth of experience as former Senior Planner for the Ugandan Ministry of Health; now working on the Ugandan AIDS commission. We are very excited about this news! 

We departed on Saturday for Kalonga in the north of Uganda. The trip was 7 ½ hours but the roads had recently been graded so the voyage was easier than expected.  That said, the driving in Uganda is very aggressive and they don’t give way to small children, pregnant women, or animals. We thought that a driver for a religious organization might have a soft spot; nope!  There were numerous times where we closed our eyes as we brushed past humans and animals at a very high speed. 

The trip was filled with sights not familiar in the US.  Perhaps the most difficult was driving past a group of women sitting on the ground in the hot sun breaking rocks into gravel with hammers.  I couldn’t help but think about how our scholars are saved from perhaps equally difficult lives.  By contrast we would pass children happily playing in a stream, turned red by the gorgeous earth. I had to chuckle at the sight of a solar panel, the size of an ipad, on the roof of a grass hut. Talk about two worlds colliding.

The land became more arid, and the water less visible, as we traveled north.  At each village we started seeing wells where children and women filled their “jeri cans”, then walk several kilometers with them balanced on their heads,.  Sticks were driven in the ground around the well to keep the free roaming livestock out. We passed a creek where women were gathered with their fishing baskets and boys with their fishing sticks. Apparently this small creek is well known for producing large fish.

Our arrival at the midwifery school, and affiliate, hospital was an experience I will not soon forget. The scholars began singing as they saw us arrive. We were presented with beautiful handpicked flowers. I was unsuccessful at keeping tears back. These young women are so grateful for support and know full well how their education is not only going to change their lives but the lives of all those they will serve.

We got a special treat when one of our TGF graduates from the midwifery program arrived to personally thank us for supporting her.  We recorded an interview with her. I don’t know who was more nervous, Angela being interviewed or me trying to put into practice all the wonderful equipment and instructions that our dear friend Rip Charbonnet had provided. After the interview we got a real treat as we watched the students in a “skills lab”. Sister Carmel stepped in to ask additional questions of the students; she soon had all of us laughing while learning at the same time. Sister should have her own stand up comedy show.

The hospital grounds are filled with pregnant women waiting to go into labor. These women are from remote villages with no midwife or health clinic. Our midwife scholars are committed to working in remote areas, upon graduation, to stem the risk of maternal and infant death. As we walked back towards our lovely guest house we passed a structure that was built in 2003 to house the hundreds of “night commuters”. More later about two of our scholars that lived thru the war.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

We arrived in Uganda Saturday afternoon after 35 hours in transit door to door.  All luggage arrived intact and only one leg of the three flights was delayed one hour.  All in all, pretty good! We spent Sunday getting essentials like cash, cell phone etc. squared away (yes, the ATM ate my card). 

Sunday evening we met with long time Gretta volunteer, and a Gretta Scholar herself, Sister Cathy from the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau.  Sister Cathy oversees all the nursing training in Catholic institutions in Uganda, considered by most to be the best.  We were thrilled when Sister Cathy agreed to join our Advisory Board; she seemed pretty excited too!

Monday we had a meeting for most of the day with our potential partner on our Private Practice Midwife program, Jhipiego.  The meetings will continue the rest of the week as we drill down on the details of implementation.

Tuesday was a crazy day.  After an exhausting but productive meeting with Jhipiego we dashed over to the Ugandan Catholic Medical Bureau.  Moving about in Kampala is truly an amazing feat in itself.  The traffic is horribly congested with boda bodas (motorcycles), cars, and pedestrians all swerving to avoid each other, and pot holes, while vying for space.  Oh yes, all with the smell of diesel exhaust.  Sometimes we just have to close our eyes.  At least the government finally outlawed livestock roaming on the roads! Ambulances aren't given any priority.  When asked why, our driver said people don't believe the ambulance is really on business but using the lights to get through traffic faster!

Our visit at the UCMB was short but impressionable.  When asked how things were, the Executive Secretary explained that funding has shrunk incredibly (as with most organizations).  Dr. Orach was so warm yet weary.  His plea was for us to help "scale up" the current staff in the Catholic hospitals to a registered nurse.  The patients in the hospital are suffering for lack of qualified nursing care.  We promised to do our best.

We then made a quick stop to drop off beautiful dresses from Dress A Girl at an orphanage run by the church.  We had the treat of visiting the toddlers.  We were immediately swarmed by adorable children all eager to be held.  There are dedicated staff and volunteers at the orphanage but never enough arms for all the loving children.  We wanted to stay and play but had another appointment so Sr. Cathy herded us to the car. 

Our next stop was at the Nsambya School of Nursing.  Seven of our TGF graduates were there to greet us in their graduation caps and gowns.  Many had travelled hours and days just to thank us personally for providing their nursing scholarship.  All were happily employed and shared with us amazing stories of life saving work.  Imagine travelling 500 km. on crowded, hot bus over bumpy, dusty roads just to spend two hours then return home.  One of the scholars had gotten in an accident on her way.  Another had problems with a vehicle that had broken down. 

Current TGF scholars at the school joined us and joined in a song of gratitude for TGF, donors, and volunteers.  There were signs and gifts as well.  We then celebrated over a typical Ugandan meal prepared by the school.  The picture above is of one of the graduates.  Two of the current scholars presented us with lovely letters of gratitude; one saying "I had actually lost hope and began to see no more future for me but big thanks to The Gretta Foundation who rescued me and brought me hope for a brighter future".  Talk about motivation for us during an exhausting trip.  Sister Cathy drove us home (it's comforting to have a nun/nurse at the wheel as we threaded the gauntlet of traffic).  How does she keep her habit so white?

Tomorrow is another day today of meetings with Jhipiego, and meeting tonight with long time friend of The Gretta Foundation, Dr. Nelson Musoba with The Ugandan AIDS Commission.  Thank you again to all The Gretta Foundation supporters, donors and volunteers.  Your support is making an incredible difference in the lives of thousands of people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Navigating the roads through Uganda

Most of the roads in Uganda are not paved. The streets are dirt roads with an abundance of potholes. You feel like you are constantly swerving to avoid the next hole in the ground. At times we would drive off the road, on the side, as there were not as many bumps.

Often drivers are passing up cars, kicking up dirt with their tires, and expelling thick black clouds from their exhaust pipes. I was constantly rolling the window up to avoid breathing in all the smog. Also drivers have to dodge pedestrians, people on bicycles, boda boda drivers, and oncoming traffic that is attempting to go around another car or truck. At times it can feel like you are playing chicken, then drivers switch back into their lane right in time.

I thought by now I had understood the difficulty in travel, however, I found out I was wrong. I got to further understand the struggle many people face when we traveled into the bush.

We went to visit the practice of a delightful midwife, Constance. She is a very rural area. The road to get to her facility was a small trail which appeared no bigger than a bike path. There were high trees, bushes, and crops surrounding us on both sides. I didn’t know how we would make it on that small path, but our wonderful driver got us through.

It’s been eye-opening to see the infrastructure in Uganda. I can only begin to imagine what mothers have to go through to travel and get medical attention. Some of the midwives have informed me that many mothers means of travel is walking, as they can’t afford boda boda’s or taxis. That journey must be long and difficult. Although the travel is challenging, these mothers are lucky to have these midwives within their communities. They would face even longer and harder journeys if they had to travel to the hospitals which are much farther out than the local midwives. I admire the dedication these midwives have to their communities and equally respect them.

-Danielle Calhoun

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Hero in Kalongo

We arrived in the very remote town of Kolongo after about 10 very bumpy hours on terrible dirt roads.  Here, people are extremely poor and live in traditional mud brick huts with thatched roofs.  It’s so lush and idyllic here.  Looking over this beautiful part of the world is a mountain of stone.  Under its protection is St. Mary’s Midwifery School on the grounds of Dr. Abrosoli Memorial Hospital.

We were treated to the most magical of greetings.  The student body led us through the gate regaling us with song and flowers and welcoming us with a warm embrace.  We were so moved; who wouldn’t be.  

The Principal of this place is one of the most extraordinary women I have, and most likely ever will meet, Sr. Carmel.  She told us tales of her many years here in Kalongo.

For 22 years this place was subjected to an unspeakable hell.  Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army had made this place of healing and learning a constant target for kidnapping, gunfire and slaughter.  The Ugandan Army fought here trying to protect from the rebels but every day was a flow of rebel encroachment and then fighting to gain what was lost.  Every night for these many years thousands of women and children came to stay at the hospital for protection.  (Look up “night commuters”). There was never a promise they’d be safe but this was the best insurance people had to survive the night from death or capture.  The nuns here have saved countless lives.

Sometimes they would unknowingly take in rebels disguised as civilians seeking refuge.  They came to spy and report back.  It reminds me of the words of one our scholars, a surviving abductee, who would tell of these times.  She told us that no one in one’s community could be trusted, because the rebels were among them, disguised as them.

Sister told us that rebels came into the compound and collected approximately 100 people into large classrooms and hacked them all to death.  We visited a marker to the mass grave, with these few words, “Rest in Peace.”  To try and imagine the horror, the terror and bloodshed that took place on the very ground where we stood…..well, no words can describe.

Only a short distance from this school over 40 girls had been abducted.  She told us that this was a good time to be ugly. Ugly girls were sent back; not good enough for Kony’s monsters.  I might add, many of these monsters were once children themselves; taken, tortured and brainwashed.  Sister herself had been lucky to survive an attack when she was young.  Once while at church it was attacked (in a brief war before the LRA) where soldiers came in shooting and killing. She and 40 other women had to hide in the bush for over a week until it was safe to return. 

Sister talked about school life during these 22 years.  They often took class under explosions and the sounds of machine gun fire.  They would take cover, and when the gunfire stopped, started back to studies and laughed.  She told us that they had to laugh to survive.

When they closed the hospital down for a couple of years, she was told she should leave and close the school, but she refused.  She said if God takes me here, then it was meant to be.  More followed her example and stayed.  The school remained on site and is still thriving today.

That beautiful mountain I described also saved many lives.  On the one side, the school and hospital was safe from rebels. The army took ground there and gave them some advantage to protect the school.  But at night, on the top of this mountain, is a cross which lights at night and shines for miles.  Its hangs over, protecting the faithful under its glow, where many would follow the light to this place where a hero like Sr. Carmel committed to taking in those she could save.

- Meg Styles 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Observations from Uganda

We have a long day of travel upcountry ahead of us to far off to Kalongo.  For decades, this area was terrorized by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  This is my first time to Kalongo, although I have been upcountry many times.  While driving along and watching the comings and goings, I thought I’d take a moment and blog and talk about Uganda a little, or more specifically, how so very different it is to life as I know it.

One thing I don’t seem to get used to is being taken advantage of simply because I’m white, or American or not Ugandan.  It’s assumed that I have lots of money and don’t know the customs.  It is a fight to negotiate many things from cab fares to even food prices at times.  Fortunately, our Ugandan friends here help speak for us but I’ve had to learn to do a lot on my own.

Last night there was a storm that seemed more like a typhoon.  Storms come in suddenly and are often short.  Last night’s dumped enough rain that would have singly remedied California’s drought crisis.  I’ve lived in many places in the US where big storms are common but I’ve never heard teeth-clenching thunder like this before.  When the rain comes down like this, you wonder how the so many here living in not much more than sheds or mud brick homes are withstanding the storm.  Incredibly enough, all was dry when I woke up early this morning and people were moving about doing their usual daily business. Where the hell did all the water go?

Now the city is behind us and I’m starting to see the more traditional round mud huts with grass-thatched roofs.  The children are far more curious when we drive by and like to wave enthusiastically. We see trucks on the road with dozens of people on top, many hanging on the sides for dear life.  This is getting from place to place for some here; men and women alike.  Many are getting their water from bore-holes.  The Ankole cattle here have horns so huge that they would make any Texan steer self conscious...if in fact size does matter. 

You’ll see young men with buckets of grasshoppers to sell as food.  They have important protein and are cooked without oil as they have so much of their own healthy oils.  They taste, yes, like chicken, more precisely, fried chicken skin.  Pretty tasty but you’re done after a few.  After all, they are grasshoppers and you don’t forget what you are eating despite how it might taste.

Saw some zebras driving along a main highway, and monkeys and baboons once as well.  Many stray dogs which is sad, but although they flee-ridden, they don’t seem to be starved and I’ve never seen one mistreated…unlike some countries I’ve been too.  It’s incredibly lush here, but as my colleague noted, not so many flowers in relation to all the greenery. 

Driving is different. They drive on the left side and between all the pedestrians, boda bodas (small motorcycles carrying anything from four grown men at one time to windshields, etc., it is really more like a free for all and the only semblance of order is they tend to veer to the left side…if available of course.

Went to a popular pit stop.  It’s idyllic for a petrol station but along the back with pretty landscaping and chickens and goats, you kinda feel like you’re walking up to family resort and not a public restroom. But despite the pretty surrounding, they are still pit latrines, and they still stink.  These are moments where sayings like, “It’s a man’s world” comes to mind.  In moments like this I wish I were a man. 

Back to bumpy roads and crazy driving.  Will report next from Kalongo.
- Meg Styles

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Life

One wish I had for this trip was to see a mother give birth, and today my wish was answered. This was the first time I saw a live birth. It was very different in person than on television or film.

A first time mother was in labor and she graciously allowed us to be in the room for her delivery. Watching new life come into the world was beautiful and remarkable. It also looked painful. Yet, this woman was so tough I barely heard any noise come from her.

The midwife had to perform an episiotomy. An episiotomy “also known as perineotomy, is a surgical incision of the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall generally done by a midwife or obstetrician during second stage of labor to quickly enlarge the opening for the baby to pass through.”

The mother did not scream loud as I expected. She remained relatively quiet, only making a moderate level of noise. Keep in mind she had no pain medicine to aid her during this delivery.
It was fascinating watching the whole process, from delivering the child, to cutting the umbilical cord, and finally delivering the placenta. 

Thankfully this mother had a safe birth and healthy baby. I was appreciative the mother allowed us to be in the room. I will never forget this day. It was an extraordinary experience that I will cherish.