As our very own Jill Boorman readies to head back to Uganda in a few months, we can reflect back on her previous trips with this moving story she wrote:
Reflections of Uganda 2011: Sharing a piece of my heart.
As I prepare to go back to Uganda for the third time, I realize how much Uganda has affected me. In my thoughts, words and prayers…I have left a piece of my heart there. Let me share with you what I know and have experienced of Uganda so far: Fifty percent of the population is under the age of 15. The average life expectancy is 47. The average number of children a woman has during her life is 7. There is very little medical care available for the number of people in the country. Mostly because many of the Ugandan trained physicians leave the country before they honor their commitment to provide service to the country; never repaying the government for their schooling. The hospitals are so bad many people chose to deliver their babies in the bush or seek care from witch doctors. There are no hand washing stations in the hospitals and there are needles strewn all over the grounds; creating a very unsafe environment.
People often chose to pull their family members out of hospitals, or orphanages and “kill them” either by neglect or poison if they cannot provide or care for themselves. They look at the individual as an unwanted drain on the family’s resources, which is barely life sustaining for those working. Children are often seen: (1) picking ants off the side of the road as a supplement to posh. Posh is similar to grits, however, with less nutritional values, hence the reason they add ants. (2) walking miles carrying water jugs back and forth along the roads either on their heads or balancing the jugs on a bike so they can carry more water, (3) walking along side huge cattle/ steers trying to keep them out of the road while moving them along to other pastures to feed, (4) walking miles to school if they are able to pay for their school fees. School is not free unlike the USA. School fees range from $60 to $90/ semester for primary through college; which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, most people are “diggers”, they live off the land. This is a very tough living; very physically demanding and you are completely dependent on the weather for food. You are considered well to do if you have chickens or wealthy if you have cows. There are NO Physical Therapists in Uganda…NONE.
If we (PMI) did not go, many of these people would never receive medical care. We travel an hour (minimum) by car on treacherous clay packed roads into areas that very few cars travel. The main mode of transportation is their feet. If you have money, you may own a bike or if you are really lucky a bota bota (aka. motorcycle). Very few people own a car. The people who do own cars are government officials or van drivers; which is Uganda’s version of a taxi/ bus. The vans are “throw aways” from Japan. They have no less than300,000 miles on the engines, and interiors. They have 4 rows of seats including where the driver sits. On average they transport 21 people at a time. Without seeing them you cannot appreciate just how cramped that is. To put it in perspective, when our team travels out into the community we travel with 12 per van and there is often grumbling about being uncomfortable/ crowded.
We as Americans are SO SPOILED! If nothing else, I want you to be thankful every day for all you have no matter how little you may consider it is. These people live in clay homes with a thatch roof, if they are lucky. They often sleep 4-8 in the size of a bathroom by USA standards. They don’t earn enough money to buy shoes or clothes. Many people don’t own a pair of underwear…just think how many pairs of underwear do you own? Even the simplest medical condition (ie.scrape, absessed tooth) is rarely treated for lack of accessibility to a medical provider. They may not be anywhere near a medical facility, lack funds to see an MD, or are unable to afford the cost of travel to get to an MD.
Do you realize even the homeless here in the USA have better living situations than the people of Uganda? The homeless (here in the USA) are given money by the government for food/ goods, there are countless free shelters for them to stay and/or receive meals, and they have free medical care any time they need it! This is NOT so in Uganda. They are not given money, there is no one to feed them except by their hands or their family members, they often sleep out in the elements risking malaria, in climate weather, animals, etc. and do not have access to medical care. And yet these are the most gracious, trusting, loving people I have met on this earth. They thank us continually for loving on them and are grateful for whatever we bring or do for them.
Palmetto Medical Initiative is a fantastic organization. They realized short term mission trips fell short of people’s long term needs so they created a sustainable health care system. Sustainable in that they leased a 4 acre plot of land from the local church, so the government could never take control of it, and have been building clinics on the property. The first building was an outpatient clinic, which they hired local medical people and supplied all the training, medicines, equipment, and support (which is where we come in). Teams come 4 times a year to support, bring supplies, train the staff, and bring funds to transport people in the community back to the grounds for ongoing medical care. They recently completed an Inpatient facility and have hired local nurses. They are currently building a Labor and Delivery center. There are plans for a Surgery Center, Physical/ Occupational Center, and another Inpatient Clinic on the grounds.
Each team works from the time we get to the hotel. We package pills for the pharmacy at night and in the morning we travel to the local orphanage to love on and treat the kids medically. Then we start our week traveling to the outlying community churches/ areas where we see about 300+ patients a day; for a grand total of 1500 patients/ week. We use local people as translators who volunteer all day in return for being treated themselves or pass it to a family member. The selflessness of these people is amazing. We had a grandfather work hard all day so his granddaughter could have her keloid scars removed from her ears. If you are wondering how she got keloids on her ears, she pierced her ears in an attempt for beauty, her body didn’t respond well to the piercings, hence the keloids. The deformity caused her to be shunned/ made fun of by her peers and so she stopped going to school. The embarrassment caused her to wear a scarf over her head to cover her ears everywhere she went. We work LONG hours. We are up eating breakfast by 6am and often return to eat dinner at night from 7-9pm but just to touch one life makes all this worthwhile. Webale muno. (Thank you very much…in the words of a Ugandan.)