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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Goodbye to Uganda

April 12, 2010

Well I can't let Tania get the last word. So let me use it to extend my heartfelt "thanks" to Tania for her wonderful company and brilliant support during this incredible trip. I enjoyed all her blogging and vibrant storytelling which so faithfully brought our travels to others.

She was a real trooper and was gracious and generous in spirit and in deed. I can never thank her enough.

It has been a long time since we were discussing TGF over two years ago and we have come a long way since then. It looks like things are coming together and we have made important progress and it feels terrific sharing these times with my wonderful friend.

I'd also like to our Gretta family at home for all their continued commitment. You were with us in spirit...sans the jetlag and mosquitoes.

And thank you also to our extended family in Uganda. Everyone there is even more passionate about this work and the support is palpable. I am humbled and blessed.

Well, we are halfway home as I write this. We are so excited to see our families. Because of them taking care of business at home, we were able to take care of business abroad.

Much love to all.


Saying Goodbye to Uganda

Sunday, April 11

I am sitting in our plane on the tarmac at Entebbe Airport. I am sad to leave Uganda. Above all else, the people are beautiful. When you take a moment to say hello, you get the warmest smile and heartfelt greeting. Ugandans seem to have an inner peace and grace. "You are welcome" is the greeting you receive and they truly mean it. Even the children possess these qualities. As I mentioned previously, driving is a real adventure yet I didn't see one person yelling or using a rude gesture.

What was really different for me on this trip was being such an obvious outsider. We were often the only white people in sight. On our road trip back from Katonga, which was several hours long, I saw only three groups of white people on the main road. One thing that has been funny is that Meg and I keep getting mistaken for sisters. This morning we were asked if we were twins; we both had a good laugh. I guess we all look the same! I did scare a couple of children today when their parents tried to get them to sit next to me! All kidding aside, although a curiosity at times, we were always treated with kindness.

We met with my new "brother" Patrick this morning to debrief. Both the Ugandan Ministry and a US agency have asked that Meg come back in May so they can continue to refine how we can work in concert to assure the successful implementation of our plan. Now, the tough work, we have to find funding for Meg's next trip.

We had a funny coincidence at the airport. Two of the volunteer medical professionals that we met in the rural clinic are on our flight through to Portland. We discussed the hope that a local student could be identified that had the desire and aptitude to become one of our scholars and then return to serve her community at the clinic. We compared notes on the enormous medical deficiencies yet concurred that the Ugandans were incredibly appreciative of the smallest kindness.

This trip has been unbelievable. Only in our dreams did we ever dare to imagine such unilateral support of our program. The only thing that could have been better is if we already had the funds in our account to launch the first 1,000 scholars. Say a prayer that our friend in Washington D.C. can do some creative maneuvering to get the funding soon.

My one regret is that I didn't get the time to take photos other than from a speeding vehicle as we crossed the countryside. It seemed we always had appointments that kept us on the run and/or in offices. It's been a great trip but we are happy to be heading home to our families. -


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lessons in Culture

April 10, 2010

Well, we woke up feeling a bit dehydrated and lethargic this morning. It being Saturday, we took our time getting going then took care of some paperwork. I started packing. We had made an appointment with Patrick, our premiere Ugandan volunteer, and his wife to have dinner. We owe so much to both of them for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of TGF. But then, if you heard their personal stories you wouldn’t be surprised.

Patrick and Precious are two dear, amazing people. Both were born in the country to “simple people, peasants”. Both still have family that lives in the country. Their lives were not easy, especially for Precious who was turned out of her home by her uncles and brothers (from other mothers) when her parents died. Yet both of them have continued to value education and helping others. A good portion of dinner was spent trying to understand all the people that live in their own home! Nephews, cousins, nieces, and a sister all reside with them ranging from 1st graders to adults. Some are supported by relatives and others aren’t. These family members have come to Kampala to get a better education. This young couple juggles work, school, and their eight dependents and yet never complains, always smiles, and manages always to have time to help TGF too! What inspirations they are to us.

My favorite part about traveling is learning the culture. Uganda is a country of tribes. Each tribe has its own language and traditional dress. Our dear friends Patrick and Precious speak the language of Buganda in the home because that can be understood by all. Patrick has mastered ten tribal languages, including his wife’s.

It is still common to have men with multiple wives (I know, our American men are trying to figure out if this is good or bad). We have heard stories from our friends here about being born to the first, second, or youngest wife. For one, he was born to the middle wife but was the favored youngest child. He lived with his father and his youngest wife. Yes, he said this was hard for his mother. Then there were the girlfriends. Good luck trying to keep all the family members straight. I think I am beginning to understand why everyone calls each other brother and sister!

There seems to be a shift toward monogamy, at least in the city. Some of our Gretta Scholars experienced difficulty with polygamist families where their mother and/or father died and they were turned out of the home by the paternal family. It is mind boggling to think of the culture shock for someone from the country, living in a hut, tending the garden and animals, then moving to a modern city.

With the war over, and stability returning to the country, Uganda seems eager to jump into the modern world. Everywhere we go though, people are asking for jobs and poverty is prevalent. I digress.

We had a wonderful evening with our good friends and took the opportunity to speak a bit about the next few years for TGF in Uganda. We were all excited. Many hugs and kisses later, we made a date to meet with Patrick tomorrow to debrief and plans to go dancing with them next trip (we told them about our fun Friday night)!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Big Day!

April 9, 2010

The US agency that we have wanted to partner with was coming to our hotel at 8:30am. We set two alarms and asked for a wakeup call!

This is the best part. After two years of great vision and hard work, we got to share our research and the TGF model of putting 1,000 nurses on the ground in the next four years. As mentioned, the plan includes not only the nursing scholarships and everything that goes along with that, but includes capacity building in the nursing libraries and skill labs.

The plan was enthusiastically received. We stressed how if we didn't move quickly, given the nursing school calendar, that we would have to wait another year and half to implement the plan. Again we insisted that this had to succeed if any advances could be made in addressing infant mortality and maternal death rates, family planning, stemming the advance of infectious diseases etc. We were thrilled to hear our contact agree and voice our thoughts that this was a small beginning of the numbers of nurses truly needed in Uganda. He recognized the perfect marriage of our program with the goals of his agency, and possible collaborations with another source. We showed incredible restraint in not jumping up and down!

The US official then went off to meet with the Ministry of Health to discuss the plan and their partnership.

We took off to see Mulago Hospital, one of two national referral hospitals in the country. The hospital was modern looking from the outside. The first thing that struck me was that severely ill and handicapped individuals had to move through the hospital unassisted. The few wheelchairs available were kept in emergency where they have only two gurneys as well! Again, this was a horribly emotional tour.

The most difficult for part of the tour for me was the emergency ward that evaluates 7,000 patients a month and admits 6,000. There is one intake nurse that determines if a patient should be given a red, orange, yellow, or black status; red being the most urgent and no imagination needed to decipher what black meant. Four patients at a time sit behind a screen in front of the nurse as she takes vitals and medical information. While doing intake the lone nurse "has to check on the waiting patients beyond the screen to make sure no one has died". The patients are seen by a doctor (in the hallway), given whatever services they need (x-rays, labs etc. with antiquated equipment), then sent to a ward segregated by sex (children and adults combined), where they are then monitored for an hour and given whatever care they can. I can't begin to describe what it was like to see one person after another laying critically ill or wounded in such deplorable conditions with few nurses or doctors to be seen. These are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters or sons.

After one hour, the patient is then transferred to a ward specific to their general health issue. In one of these wards there were broken windows, and patients lying on the floor. I saw one person adjust the IV drip for a family member that was on oxygen. All I could think of was the numerous times I have been in emergency with my parents and the stark contrast with their experiences and what these people were receiving.

I could go on about the horrific scenes I saw: women in labor lined up in a hallway without benefit of a bed, family member, or nurse to help. The few nurses were busy transporting a dead baby and removing soiled linens. The strain was evident on the nurses' faces. More women in labor were waiting outside the doors.

What a roller coaster after the wonderful morning. We then met with one of our collaborators from the Minister of Health for dinner. We got to hear more great news about their meeting with the US agency and that the agency is going to work to implement the TGF plan soon! We won't celebrate until it is a done deal but we were so encouraged.

We had an incredible evening and got to learn more about Ugandan culture and our new dear friend. Meg and I arrived back at our hotel about 10pm and realized we had to go celebrate! We headed next door to a local night spot and didn't come home until after 2am. Let's just say that our abilities to bring people together and get them enthused didn't stop at the office. We turned this chic bar into a party with everyone dancing, including the owner! What a day.

Visiting a Private Practice

April 8, 2010

Well we had little sleep between the heat and the noise in town. Of course we were sound asleep when it was time to get up and didn't notice that our alarm hadn't gone off. We woke up ten minutes before our departure time and paid a happy adieu to the shower (spigot on the wall with plastic tubs) with little regret that we didn't get to use it. With tea brushed and caffeine in our system we rushed to our next appointment, a private midwives practice.

The private practice was in a small town and the building itself couldn't have been more than 200 square feet. The trained midwife not only provides birthing assistance but also provides what gynecological care she can. The challenge is that many of her patients can't afford the $7.50 birthing fee. With cash flow constraints they can't afford to have even the most basic of medicines and tools. Tools are sterilized in an old pot at bedside. There was one 19 year old girl that had just given birth. She and her mother were very somber. The father was outside and appeared to be at least twice the girls' age.

We had moved quickly through our visit because of an appointment we had back in Kampala at 4pm. When we stepped outside, our vehicle had a flat tire! Our car karma on this trip has not been the best. While our driver changed the tire I went in search of some water. This was a wonderful opportunity to walk through this tiny, tiny, village and meet some of the locals. I stopped at the rice shop and the attendant gladly led me down a mud alley to a tiny shop that sold cold drinks as well as Indian spices! The Indian presence is huge in Uganda and you find Indian food even in the remote villages. Much to our pleasure!

Back in the car we drove straight through to Kampala. Along the way we found out there had been some miscommunication about the meeting and that we now had our evening free. We got back into town and stopped for a nice lunch. During out lunch at 2:30pm we got a call that a 4pm meeting had been arranged. Dirty from our road trip we dashed off to get cleaned up and changed. The timing was tight so Meg went off in a taxi while I waited for our colleague Patrick. Patrick and I took off just barely in time but then that darn car Karma kicked in again. The vehicle died right in the middle of rush hour traffic. We agreed that Patrick should continue to the meeting as I stayed with the car and waited for assistance. I sat on the roadside, very warm in my suit, until the mechanic came and managed to get the car started. He then drove me to the Ministry of Health where I waited for my colleagues. The meeting went very well with continued buy in from the Ugandan government.

What a day. We also learned that "the big meeting" we have been trying to schedule for two years was going to happen the next day at 8:30am! Exhausted, we went "home" and collapsed for another fitful night's sleep as the importance of the next meeting weighed on our minds.


Off to Soroti

April 7, 2010

Part of what The Gretta Foundation does is to tour nursing schools and hospitals to get a complete picture of the nursing and healthcare system in Uganda. We don't just want to just put nurses on the ground, we want to make sure that they receive a good education, and that we understand all the factors that play into "brain drain". One of the regions we had not explored was the northeast of Uganda. This region was affected by the war, drought, and recent mudslides. We departed early in the morning in anticipation of our five hour drive.

The drive in itself was enlightening as we passed through the slums of Kampala, then out into the country through rice, sugar cane, coffee, tea fields and across the Source of the Nile. The countryside is breathtaking. Everywhere you see the traditional round mud hut with the thatched roof. Everyone is out working in the fields with either hoe or ox and plough. The bikes too are loaded unbelievably high with every imaginable item including people. Other than a stop for gas, we drove straight through, arriving at the nursing school in Soroti after dodging potholes, goats, cows, pedestrians, bikes, and motorcycles. To drive in Uganda you have to have nerves of steel and be constantly aware of your surroundings.

This was my first complete assessment of a nursing school which included touring the dorms, library, kitchen, classrooms, and offices. The administration was very forthcoming about the challenges they face and were so gracious and generous with their time. Again, we found a recurring theme, 30 year old medical textbooks in short supply and skill labs that are woefully lacking. This further affirms our program that includes bolstering the infrastructure of the schools to make sure the nurses receive an appropriate education.

We then went to the local hospital at around 6pm and received a brief tour. On the approach to the hospital there is an amazing sight of hundreds of people camped out on the grounds either cooking, washing, sleeping or just patiently waiting. It is the responsibility of the family to provide food and linens for each patient and to care for the patient when the nurses can't.

We toured the OBGYN ward where those that had cesareans were given a bed; those that had given birth vaginally were on the floor. The chief nurse requested that we not take pictures because she didn't want people to get the wrong impression. The day staff had gone home and the night staff was much smaller. The ward was horribly understaffed even during the day. The beds and medical instruments were in terrible condition and terribly inadequate. This was so difficult to see. You honestly can't imagine what it is like to walk through these hospitals. This is the main hospital for the region too!

We asked how the student nurses from the nearby school assisted in the hospital. The girls did anything they were asked without hesitation. The boys would refuse many tasks. This reaffirmed what we have heard elsewhere. The boys tend to use the nursing education as a stepping stone to become doctors. Studies show that doctors are far more likely to migrate. It is also worth noting that the principal lamented not being able to interview the students coming in on government sponsorships (which was a significant percentage of her student body). The TGF scholars are screened and interviewed to assure that only those that are passionate about becoming nurses receive sponsorship.

We met with the director of the hospital and he spoke about the devotion of the entire staff. The staff they have cultivated, although woefully inadequate, works as a team to give the best possible care. Even the guards help move patients into beds. I can't imagine what it must be like to face the daunting tasks day after day. This is truly a calling for all of them.

Exhausted and hungry, we found a hotel in town (wouldn't even get a AAA one star rating but it had a flush toilet) and a delicious goat stew , matooke, chapatti and Bell beer. We collapsed into bed under our mosquito nets. Another full day and another to come.

Good night for now!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Requests for Assistance

April 5, 2010

Today is a legal holiday in Uganda, Holy Monday. All government offices are closed as are most businesses. The streets are much quieter. Despite the holiday, the Senior Health Planner for Uganda met with us so that we could explain in even more detail our plan for a nursing program, retention strategies, and strengthening of the nursing school infrastructure.

On our way into the deserted Health Ministry offices we ran into, and were introduced to, the Director General. We were tickled to hear that he too had been contacted by the Minister of Health and asked to work with us in any way needed. We are so pleased that the Ugandan government is earnest in partnering with us to make sure that the quality of the education is excellent, the nurses receive appropriate compensation, and that they work in environments that will not only strengthen the profession but induce them to stay in-country. The plan was extremely well received and the Senior Health Planner is anxious to coordinate all the various government agencies that will need to be involved. We laughed because as exciting as this plan is, we just added a huge work load to this very dear man.

We went to a local mall after our meeting for some lunch. It was fun to see the racial and national diversity. Malls are a new concept in Uganda but the populous has latched onto them. It is interesting though; the stores are much smaller than we are accustomed to and the lights are often off to conserve costs. With the stabilization of the Ugandan economy there is a new emerging middle class that is hungry for a wider array of goods. I feel myself wanting to give words of warning about corporations pushing out the local businesses, the dangers of fast food etc. It would be nice if emerging nations could learn from our mistakes. Oh, and don't get me going about the plastic water bottles that liter the roadways. One thing that is so wonderful is that interracial relationships seem to be completely accepted (at least in the capital city).

After lunch we went back to our hotel and followed up on some paperwork. We had opened our big window when we first got back and got so engrossed over the next few hours that we didn't realize that our lights had attracted every mosquito and insect in the surrounding area. Our poor neighbors probably wondered what all the shouts and slaps on the walls and ceilings were about. We suddenly realized it was after 9pm and we had better get dinner.

We walked over to a city park that is dotted with restaurants. The walk over was emotionally wrenching because young infants were set strategically along the sidewalk, sitting quietly, with no apparent family member in sight. The infants were perfectly spaced about 100 yards apart. We also passed mothers with young infants asking for help. Yet, even in these situations the Ugandans are much more delicate. Requests for assistance are quiet. If you do pull your wallet out, the risk is that every street vendor in the vicinity will surround you trying to sell their goods but in a much less aggressive manner than you would expect in other developing nations. Not a single homeless person was in the park, again, a contrast from the U.S. I am sure the security guards with rifle in hand must have something to do with it.

It is odd how quickly I have become accustomed to security guards with rifles and soldiers with machine guns. Another thing that is very different is the behavior of the men. The girlfriends and wives have one up on us. I have only twice now seen a sideways glance at a woman. These guys are pros! Well, enough for tonight. Wish us luck that we got all the bugs out of our room!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Watch Out For Hippos

Saturday, April 3

This morning we rose for our day off. We headed to the game reserve at 7am and headed out on foot for a two hour walking tour. The landscape was incredibly beautiful and we saw many wild animals. The closest we got to a hippo was startling one as we rounded a bend saw its splash as it hit the water. We then went on a canoe trip through the swamp with a wonderful young oarsman in front, us in the middle, and our guide (with machine gun in hand) in back.

We quickly realized that this was not the brightest idea we had had. The path for the big canoe had just barely been cut out and our poor oarsman had to dig us through several areas where hippos had pushed dirt into the narrow channel. The water was filled with hippo dung and smelled as good as it looked. We had to bail a bit of water out of the boat to keep from soaking our feet in the wonderful stew. Have you heard how territorial hippos are and how dangerous? How stupid were we! Suddenly our oarsman pulled the boat to the side and our guide tucked us tighter into the papyrus. Tiny air bubbles were surfacing feet from our tiny boat. There was a sudden movement of muddy water headed downstream and we saw the hippo surface several yards away with only his ears and eyes momentarily visible.

Luckily we returned without further incident. Having had enough adventure for one day, we headed back towards Kampala which was a lengthy drive. We have work that takes us up north later in the week that will require many more hours along rough roads and we thought it best to rest up.


Visiting a Rural Village

Friday, April 2, 2010

We took off this morning out of Kampala to visit a health clinic in a rural village. The drive itself was an adventure for me since I hadn't seen much of Uganda other than downtown Kampala and some select offices. It really helps to put things into perspective when seeing how people live and work. First, we had to carry an extra can of fuel in the car because there is a gas shortage. Uganda only has the capacity to store 10 days worth of fuel for the country. The drive out of the city was eye opening as we passed goats grazing in the medians and cattle grazing along the sides of the roads and in the garbage piles. The local creeks are used to wash clothes and motorcycles alike. Shacks and stone buildings are stuffed along dirt alleyways and makeshift vendor stalls appear wherever there is open space.

As we moved out of the urban area the landscape quickly changed and gave way to beautiful countryside. The goats and cattle were still everywhere as were the children tending them. It was common to see children as young as 4 working in the family garden, carrying firewood, or even carrying a younger sibling. We were on a main road that was undivided and traffic was constantly veering around potholes, livestock, cyclists carrying incredible loads, and motorcycles carrying up to four people. I was amazed to see women sitting sideways on the backs of motorcycles while holding on to an infant with one arm and the cycle with the other. Most living seems to take place outdoors as women bath their children, do laundry, and cook outside their mud huts or block buildings. Families all seem to have a plot of land that they cultivate. Many have a stand along the roadside to sell their produce, whether it be just a few pieces of vegetable or several items. Everyone seems to walk miles at a time. Women in beautiful traditional clothing are often seen carrying loads upon their head;. men and children too.

We arrived at our intended destination midday. The clinic was started on land donated by a local family and gradually built by volunteers from the US. We happened to be there when several medical professionals were volunteering during their spring holiday. The clinic serves approximately 2,000 people from the surrounding villages. The volunteers work with the simplest of supplies and with what medication they can secure. We were visiting because the clinic personnel would like to identify an individual from the community with promise, mentor them, then send them to nursing school, and have them return to the clinic to help their community. The hope was that TGF might be able to help. This of course is a model will whole heartedly support.

After our tour we headed out further into the country along dirt roads to a game reserve rarely visited by Ugandans no less Americans. It is amazing how many small paths led off the roads to tiny villages. The countryside was beautiful but the poverty became even more apparent the further out we drove. Several hours later we arrived at our destination, Katonga Wildlife Reserve. Quickly, local children gathered, for some it was the first time they had seen a white person. The children couldn't have been more delightful and we all had fun as we took photos and movies of the children and showed them their images on the screens. Having gathered the information we needed for our next days' adventure, we headed into town to find lodging.

The town consisted of perhaps 20 structures along a dirt road and our lodge was the nicest with a metal roof. We met a lovely family and got a real taste of local culture. We were served warm beer on the porch (no electricity) and relaxed while our dinner was killed and prepared. Our poor hostess was suffering from malaria and did her best preparing our dinner in three hours. While dinner was being prepared we became the object of much curiosity amongst children and adults alike as they lined the street and property line to watch us! A few brave young girls eventually ventured closer and again we used our cameras to entertain them and us.

We gathered in the main room of the home and had our dinner while the family looked on. We got an opportunity to learn more about them and were touched by the eldest son who was studying to be a doctor. Michael had tried once to gain entrance into a government program for medical school but had failed by two points. The openings are few and it is very difficult to be accepted. Michael has one more opportunity to repeat his courses and test again. This was an exceptionally bright young man with great compassion that wanted to return to his village and provide much needed medical services. His mother had managed to send him to boarding school in Kampala for his education but there was no way he would be able to afford medical school. It was heartbreaking to think that such a wonderful young man might not get the opportunity to help his country We continue to meet the most wonderful people with the purest of hearts that lack the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of others. This further galvanized my commitment to the mission of The Gretta Foundation. Think of how many aspiring nurses there are in Uganda with little or no opportunities to meet their dreams? It is one thing to say "providing scholarships to impoverished people in disease burdened nations" and it is another thing entirely to put faces to the words.

After pondering such sobering matters, it was hard for us to complain about the pit toilet with leaf toilet paper, the crude beds with mosquito nets, or the single portable battery operated light bulb provided us. Hey, it wasn't as easy to see all the lizards and bugs crawling on the walls! The night's lodging for both of us was $7.50. We went to sleep to the sounds of a neighbor blasting their stereo off a local generator.


Friday, April 2, 2010

A Pivotal Day for Uganda


I had the privilege today of being present in what could be a pivotal day for Uganda. TGF gathered together seventeen senior ranking members of the public and private sector in Ugandan healthcare as well as honored members of the Ministers cabinet.

The vision that TGF has crafted for the Ugandan healthcare system, as it pertains to nurses, was the result of two years of exhaustive research throughout the country, much of it conducted with the support of those assembled. When the plan was revealed, the assemblage was ecstatic and resoundingly in support of the plan. The uniform comment, beyond jubilation, was that none of them could have fashioned a more perfect plan. Of course, we at TGF know that no one has had the opportunity to do what TGF has done, thanks to the continued support of our donors.

This is of course the beginning of a long road and many, many meetings but our Ugandan partners are excited about working with TGF to divide, conquer, and implement various aspects of the plan. We also received the news that the Minister of Health's officials had a meeting this morning with the American Ambassador to present the TFG vision and have arranged for TGF to meet with an agency that could be key in supporting the plan.

I honestly can't convey the excitement in the room after the presentation other than to say "imagine young children opening holiday gifts".

Now, let's see if I truly have editorial license here. The accolades that Meg received and continues to receive are incredible; she is a true visionary and architect. Meg has been adopted as a Ugandan and honorary nurse! There were many hugs and much excitement as our honored guests left.

We leave tomorrow to visit a clinic in a small village that supports over 2,000 people from the surrounding villages 30 km outside of Masaka. I am excited because this will be an opportunity for me to get out of the city and see more of the country. Our access to the internet is questionable over the next several days. Until my next blog, I wish you all a wonderful weekend and thank you again for making this possible.


Meeting our Gretta Scholars


Today we got to see the fruit of everyone’s efforts; we got to meet with five of our TGF scholars. Two of the girls are in their second year of nursing school and three are in their first. It was such a pleasure for me to meet the young ladies whose pictures I have seen and whose heartfelt emails I have read. First I want to convey to all of you the thanks from each one of the girls. The opportunity that all of you have given them is an enormous honor and blessing that they don’t take lightly. These young ladies have faced incredible odds to make it as far as they did in their education and none of them would have had this opportunity without you.

I also got to meet the wonderful ladies at their school who watch over them both in a professional and personal capacity. These ladies are part of our TGF volunteer family and have become a second family also to these girls.

This was my first opportunity to venture beyond the hotel and ministry meetings so it was a real treat to see “the real Kampala”. Just driving to the school was a an adventure as our driver deftly maneuvered around trucks crammed with livestock, boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), ladies in traditional Ugandan dress carrying loads on their heads and babies on their backs. After meeting with the scholars at their university, we all walked through the clay streets to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I was so busy speaking with the girls and maneuvering around ruts and debris in the road that I hadn’t noticed the young children waving and speaking to us. The girls explained that they were calling out to us using a term that translated means “precious vessel” or honored person.

At the end of the evening we all squeezed into a van to drop the girls off. You should have seen the worried look on one of the girls’ faces when she thought we were going to go inside and see her room. Just goes to show you that teenagers are the same the world over!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meeting the Ministry of Health

Wow, where do I begin? The day couldn't have gone any better. It was surreal.

We arrived at the Ministry of Health in Kampala and met with our dear friend and TGF family member, Patrick. Like any national government office we had to pass through a guarded gate, through metal detectors, and passed armed guards in the hall (carrying rifles) We first met with the Senior Health Planner for Uganda, who prepped us a bit on protocol We were joined by the president of the National Nurse and Midwives Union, and the Commissioner of Nursing.

Meg gave a presentation summarizing the two years of research The Gretta Foundation has compiled. We then set a vision for the future of Ugandan health; a future that could only flourish with more nurses, trained in country, and retained in Uganda. The Minister listened attentively, asked probing questions which Meg deftly fielded.

Hearing about our conference on Thursday with the major stakeholders in Ugandan health, the Minister reviewed our list and asked if there were any that were not attending. Upon hearing that a few were not, he asked that the message be conveyed that the Minister requested their attendance at our conference. The Minister than asked the Senior Health Adviser to coordinate efforts with TGF in submitting a proposal to a major health donor. The Minister was also happy to help facilitate a meeting with a major government agency operating in Uganda.

Meg facilitated a wonderful presentation which was later confirmed by all in attendance. The Minister concluded with the statement "Anything we can do to keep you here, we will do". We took pictures then walked out in a daze. Two years of research and hard work had been validated by the Minister of Health who embraced the vision of The Gretta Foundation.

What more can I say. A good day's work!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Back in Uganda! (by Tania Hanson-De Young)

Meg and I have arrived safely in Uganda without incident, other than a flat tire on the Bay Bridge on our way to SFO! The trip took us 32 hours total and although we felt fine, we both slept 12 hours last night. Meg is preparing for our meeting tomorrow with the Ministry of Health and we meet this evening with our wonderful in-country volunteer Patrick for dinner to strategize about our conference on Thursday.

Meg was asking how I felt to be in Uganda and to tell you the truth, we were all so focused on V-Day Lafayette that I haven’t had a chance to give it enough thought. I am very excited to have firsthand experience with our work here and to meet with all the major stakeholders in health. I am also looking forward to meeting the wonderful volunteers here that are dedicated to the mission of The Gretta Foundation. I look forward to understanding Ugandan culture too as I feel it is imperative to the success of any program functioning internationally. Now if Meg and I can just remember to walk on the left that will be a start. Good thing we aren’t driving! More soon.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Graphic Designer's Update (by Laura Windisch)

I had a chance to see a preview of the performance last night and it was AWESOME. We are so lucky to have this ensemble! Our marketing team has been working hard to share the news of this important event. On the visual end, I've been working to create a look and feel for the materials and environment that ties The Vagina Monologues to The Gretta Foundation, while staying true to the vision of the production team.

TGF. TVM. What binds the forces behind these acronyms?

As an organization, The Gretta Foundation (TGF) stands for the same traits as the nurses it supports: it is empowering, caring, personal, and professional. The Gretta Foundation identity and logo, based on Gretta Styles’ signature, is about the exponential power of one.

Providing a nursing scholarship has an immediately profound impact on one woman’s life and tremendously improves her family’s outlook. When you consider each individual of that disease-burdened country that she will provide care for–especially given the severe healthcare shortage–the number of those positively impacted becomes enormous. Add to that all the individuals whose fears of losing a loved one are relieved, and the number becomes countless. And all by enabling one education.

The Vagina Monologues (TVM). Mono. One person’s story, now seen and heard by millions, sparking conversation, action, and change.

The overlap between TGF and TVM lies in the widespread effect of one individual’s innate power to touch another human, both physically and emotionally. A donor has this power. A cast member has this power. And certainly, a nurse has this power.

At the Lafayette venue, in addition to the performance, we will be communicating the power of one visually through portraits of Gretta Scholars, with quotes serving as mini-monologues. We've used quotes since the creation of our identity (on the website, in the brochure, etc) to express this message, so it fits well.

And what's up with the paint splatters? Bold, feminine, personal expression. Limitless opportunity to influence the canvas.

Welcome to the venue, and I hope you enjoy the show!!

From the Director (by Marian Rutenberg)

The debut of the "Vagina Monologues" is officially one day away. Last night I was reminded yet again what an amazing cast we've assembled. Not only are they breathing new life into Eve Ensler's monologues, but they are a wonderful group of women. I'll let the women tell you a bit more about themselves, in their own words:

Jay-Marie Garcia
, a spitfire "Woman 1" in the opening monologue, comes to us by way of the Gretta Foundation. When asked about her life, she said, "I have a great husband and I rode on the back of his Harley to Reno Street Vibrations in 2008. I have three awesome children and four dachshunds. I also own and operate an independent insurance agency business. I've been a member of Soroptimist since 1987 and helped start the Monument Crisis Center in Concord. I love working with Seniors. I also love music and singing. Baseball is my favorite sport. Go Oakland A's!"

Nariza Paras, our official "moaner" from the monologue, "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy" states, "I’m the luckiest mommy in the world. I'm mother to Alyx, Skylar, Devin and Ava. I'm married to my best friend, Kevin. I've been singing and dancing since I could remember. I’m a ham for musicals. Yes, I am a certified massage therapist. Also work as part of wonderful Ob/Gyn practice In Walnut Creek by day. I love to snowboard! It’s such an honor to work with all the wonderful people involved with The Gretta Foundation. Go Forty-Niners!" Looks like we've got a couple of sports fans on the cast.

Marcy Dubova
is a perfect example of the diversity in our cast, people are already blown away by her performance in "Flood". We're so lucky to have her. Marcy says, "I am a proud septuagenarian in the prime of my life. Rachel is my amazing daughter and we love to giggle. I love Playback Theatre and am a member of the Bay Area Playback Theatre troupe. I am still working as a counselor and I find that aging gives me an amazing ability for compassion, love and insight. It's a job where "too old" is not a part of the vocabulary. My family, friends and one-eyed cat Punim supply me with ample connection in my life. I am blessed." We are truly blessed to call Marcy a member of our cast.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, we get a fresh perspective from Olivia Zuffi, the star of the monologue titled "6 Year Old." "I am 17 years old and I’m a junior at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek. I play volleyball and run track. The “Vagina Monologues” is my first performance, and I’m really excited to be a part of it!" We can't wait to see her on the stage.

Jennifer Perlmutter, who ends the show with her wonderful rendition of the monologue "I Was There in the Room, " had this to say, "I live in Lafayette with my husband and 7 year old son. We recently moved back to Northern California after being away for 25 years and are enjoying every breath of fresh air. I have had a professional art career for ten years and keep a studio in the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley. I am passionate about organizing community for a positive cause and am dedicated to the creative process. I believe in equal opportunity for all people which is why I'm so committed to the Vagina Monologues and the Gretta Foundation."

Besides Melanie Bandera-Hess, we can count four additional drama therapists as cast members! Melanie has quite an acting background in addition to her psychology degree, "I have a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Sonoma State University and a M.A. in Psychology specializing in Drama Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. I began preforming at the age of 9 and made my debut as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, lots of tears for a nine year old! I have performed in productions of "Angels in America", "Electra", "Twelfth Night", "A Midsummer Nights Dream". My life changed when I gave birth to my son Colin in 2008, in a peaceful and beautiful homebirth assisted by a Midwife. I am grateful to my amazing husband Scott who has made it possible for me to be home full time with Colin. I am hoping to start part time work in the next year as a MFT intern working towards my license, or teaching Theatre or Psychology at the College level. In the meantime, I have started my own small children's party entertainment company specializing in Balloon Twisting and Face Painting ( I am honored and delighted to be a part of such an amazing project. Eve Ensler's work is profound and inspiring and the women of Uganda that will benefit from the funds we raise have touched my heart. I am so happy to be able to work in service of them and the women, men and children that will benefit from their skilled nursing." Melanie stars in both "Hair" and "Angry Vagina".

Bruna Palmiero
will take your breath away with her rendition of "My Vagina Was My Village." Her journey to us is a fascinating story in itself. "I was born in Brazil and moved to the United States when I was sixteen. Now, I am almost twenty. I am always on the move, because I love learning new languages and cultures. I am also fascinated by photography, music, literature and cinema. But mainly, I’m in love with theater. Since I was a little girl, it was a pleasure to pretend being someone that was not me, experiencing other voices, bodies and souls. My dream is to make people connect their lives to what I represent in stage. My dream is to be a truly devoted and respected actress." Folks, Bruna is a talent to watch. I look forward to seeing her future endeavors.

Kim Cohn Wilks
, who stars in "The Vagina Workshop," says, "I hold undergrad degrees in Theatre and American Sign Language, a Master’s in Psychology and am a Soroptimist Scholar. Favorite past projects include one-woman cabaret at Enrico’s in Northbeach, playing “Gerty” in The Sea Horse, and every mother-character in a studio version of Sondheim’s Into The Woods. More recently, I’ve enjoyed creating self-revelatory theatre as both writer/performer as well as director, choreographer and consultant to others’ self-rev process. I enjoy working with graduate students as a faculty member of the Institute for Developmental Transformations and as guest lecturer of Drama Therapy at The California Institute of Integral Studies, JFK University, St. Mary’s College and as a Board Certified Trainer with the National Association for Drama Therapy. I salute my fellow actors and am humbled to be on this stage." Kim is a wonderful addition to our cast.

One of our professional actors and the star of "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could", Shanique S. Scott has performed in venues as diverse as theater festivals, AFRO SOLO theater festival, 2004 and 2005, the San Francisco theater festival 2006, 2008. She has also performed in upscale comedy clubs such as New York Comedy Club, Stand Up New York Comedy Club, and The Punch line in San Francisco. She has also performed in high schools, prisons, group homes and halfway houses. “PRISONS”, her latest one woman show was premiered at The Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco and The La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley. Ms. Scott has been seen in: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, A Song For Coretta By Pearl Cleage and Well By Lisa Kron. Shanique also has a Masters Degree in Theater and Women’s Studies.

Catherine Debon, our sexy French siren in "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy." Originally from France, Catherine (pronounced Cat-reen) has created dance and theater pieces since 1983. Originally a dancer and currently a physical theater improviser, she integrates body awareness when directing self-revelatory performances with students at CIIS and when creating original performances. Her solos have been performed at the San Francisco Fringe, in various Bay Area venues and at conferences around the country. She will performed her next solo at The Garage in San Francisco in April.

Last but not least, I'm happy to introduce Pamela Greenberg, who says, "I have a BA in Theatre from the University of Florida and have performed in productions of “Curse of the Starving Class,” “Off the Map,” “Love, Sex and the IRS,” and stage managed productions of “Marisol,” “What Are Tuesdays Like,” and “The Seagull.” I came to the Bay Area to pursue a Master’s Degree in Drama Therapy at the California Insitute of Integral Studies and currently work as a therapist specializing in the treatment of early psychosis. I am currently working on writing my second self-revelatory performance, a solo piece that I will perform in San Francisco in April." Pamela will leave you in stitches with her hilarious take on the monologue "Because He Liked to Look At It".

I'm blown away by the truly brilliant jewels we have as cast members and I can't wait for you to meet them starting March 19th! I also look forward to meeting you, our audience member, as we all celebrate life, love and a women's most precious part for three fabulous nights!

Monday, March 15, 2010

V-Day Countdown (by Meg Styles)

Yesterday I had the tremendous pleasure of working with the cast and seeing all the hard work that they have put into preparing for this extraordinary show we have ahead of us this weekend.

As we all know, Eve Ensler is a brilliant writer. I’m thrilled because I feel she would be very impressed with the incredible talent of V-Day Lafayette. Their performance will no doubt pay a beautiful tribute to her work.

Yesterday I got to see a full run-through of The Vagina Monologues performed by our incredible cast. I found myself at times shocked, always mesmerized, sometimes laughing out of my chair, or crying through my Kleenex, and overall just blown out of my socks.

Behind the scenes is our wonderful director, Marian, who directs her talented actors through inspiration, intelligence and great care and appreciation for their artistry. She herself is gifted. Sean, the stage manager has been an extraordinary support and masterful organizer and facilitator. And our executive producer, Marie-Louise, is passionate and clearly dedicated to this entire process.

I am the president and founder of The Gretta Foundation, and as the beneficiary of this benefit performance, I was very moved to see all the hard work and incredible creatively expended to make this weekend one that will not soon be forgotten.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved. Because of a lot of dedication, hard work, inspiration, passion, and creativity, we are all in for a real treat this weekend.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Producer’s Update (by Marie-Louise Juslin)

Here's a peek at the behind-the-scenes of V-Day Lafayette's "The Vagina Monologues" benefitting The Gretta Foundation.

If you were to walk into the Lafayette Veteran's Memorial building tomorrow, you might wonder to yourself, as I did, how are they going to pull off a theater performance here? The venue is beautiful, yes. Neutral tones, tall open room with polished hardwood floors, windows and exposed wooden beams. But it's a community center. Nothing says theater. No stage. No lighting. No curtain. Nada.

But, lucky us, with a production like "The Vagina Monologues" we hardly have to worry about being "alternative." So that's where our all production crew comes into play.

A word about our team. All professional. All volunteer. All cool. Actually, totally awesome. You may get bored reading if I were to continue on about how incredible the team is, so suffice it to say: they are amazing!! (and I don't usually use exclamation marks, so that should really mean something here).

How did I meet them? Marian (our director) was a referral of a referral of a referral, and I knew from the moment we spoke that she's is not only The One (and there's a lot of very intentional weight in capitalizing the T and the O) but it turns out, she is incredibly also my long-lost twin; Sean (our stage manager) was serendipitously at a 10-year reunion party where I announced that, "eh… if anyone wants to be involved in The Vagina Monologues, dot dot dot" and to my incredulous delight Sean spelled it out for me: "you know, I AM a stage manager by profession" (though, pay attention non profits, he's making a career change into the realm of charity… snatch him up if you want him before The Gretta Foundation claims him); Maura (our set designer) replies to a blind classified ad "seeking set designer…mrrrwrrr"—who knew that those ads actually procure someone fabulous(!) (oh there's the exclamation again) who has a vision for the set that you will L-O-V-E; Ben (our lighting designer) I love the guy, and he's not afraid to bonk me over the head when I ask things like, "Can we put the generator outside?" Yes. ML. Duh.

And, wait until you meet our costumes/props designer, audio designer and hair/makeup… Ya, I'm still waiting too…

So here we have a team that is not only committed to a rocking production, but they're also completely gung-hoe on The Gretta Foundation. I'm serious, and I'm not just saying that because I'm on the board.

So there's your inside scoop on who's gonna make it happen—but to see how this crew is actually going to pull it off, you have to check it out for yourself. Get your tickets online.

See you in March!


Director, The Gretta Foundation
V-Day Lafayette 2010 Executive Producer

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Introduction to The Vagina Monologues (by Meg Styles)

When the suggestion of a benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues first came up I have to say that I was instantly drawn in. At the time I was with a large gathering of TGF volunteers and two of our board members, Marie-Louise and Laura, were sharing their own V-Day success stories to the group. By the end of the evening, the excitement had spread and we conspiring towards our own V-Day success story.

There are two things I love most about TGF; seeing our work change the lives of young women through nursing scholarships and seeing our Gretta family grow.

Not only will this benefit production increase our mission on the ground but it has been, and continues to be, a privilege to work with the most incredible crew of committed, passionate and creative volunteers making this all happen. In these last couple months, I have been truly blessed to witness the multitudes of wonderful people putting in their energies and artistry and enthusiasm into a project we collectively believe in.

March 19th, the opening performance of V-Day Lafayette's The Vagina Monologues, will mark the celebration of what would be Gretta's 80th birthday. Her birthday has also been designated National Certified Nurses Day. I know that she will be with us all. Gretta was a visionary leader. Our mission was the progeny of her admonition, "Imagine a world without nurses." As I have seen with my own eyes, there are many places where imagining this seemingly inconceivable world takes no imagination at all.

Well TGF, V-Day Lafayette and all its volunteers, imagine a different world, a world where we combat violence against women through education and through the provision of tools to enter into the one truly indispensable profession, nursing. We imagine a world where legions of Gretta Scholars impact their communities exponentially and give the battle against child and maternal mortality and diseases like HIV a real fight.

And I can't forget to thank Eve Ensler and The Vagina Monologues for this extraordinary opportunity. I am privileged to be a part of this production, a production which over the years has done so much to support efforts that empower women around the world and break down stigma, embarrassment and shame.

Most importantly it is with great pride and humility that I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in the production and the support of these performances. You know who you are.

It's amazing to me to think that a word like "Vagina" can make such a huge difference in so many lives. Who could have imagined?

Friday, February 5, 2010

V-Day Lafayette Presents "The Vagina Monologues"

supportPlease join us as we raise funds and awareness for The Gretta Foundation through a benefit production of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

SF Bay Area Vagina Monologues Auditions - Set for January 30 - Event Proceeds to Benefit the Gretta Foundation

V-Day Lafayette is putting on a benefit production of "The Vagina Monologues" as part of the V-Day Community Campaign, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. The “V” stands for valentine, vagina, and vict...ory over violence. For more information about V-Day and its other campaigns to end violence against women and girls worldwide, please visit The performance dates are March 19 & 20, 2010. Proceeds will benefit The Gretta Foundation.

The Gretta Foundation’s mission is to increase the global “Nurseforce” by providing full nursing scholarships to impoverished persons living in disease-burdened nations. Nursing scholarship recipients, or Gretta Scholars, attend in-country nursing programs. In repayment for the assistance, graduates serve for a predetermined period of time in their country. For more information about The Gretta Foundation, visit

V-Day Lafayette is opening auditions to perform in "The Vagina Monologues" to all women, 18 yrs to 150 yrs old, from all walks of life. Previous acting experience is NOT required. This is an all volunteer production. Please pass this along to your friends

What: "The Vagina Monologues" Audition
When: Saturday, January 30
Time: noon - 5pm
How to audition: visit

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Library Fundraising Drive Update

Happy New Year!! All the best to you in 2010!!!

Thanks to your support we have reached $6,500 toward much needed books for the nursing library in Uganda. Our goal is $15,000 and we are still campaigning to make that happen.

Donations can be made easily and securely on our website...

Go to the website and just click on Donate Now. Any and all amounts are a huge help.

Thanks for your continued support and help in spreading the word about the great work The Gretta Foundation is doing in the world.

We can't make it happen without the support of great folks like you.

Thank You!!