Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Fort Portal Mothers Group:A Study in Personal Similarities Under Different Cultural Circunstances

The Fort Portal Mothers Group:
A Study in Personal Similarities Under Different Cultural Circumstances

Photo credit: Stephanie Geddes
I loved our visit to Fort Portal, Uganda on Sunday, October the 28th, 2012.  Every moment of that day was filled with excitement and wonder!  As I went around on that beautiful morning I observed mothers’ faces and saw their love, tenderness and determination to make sure their children were protected against childhood diseases.   Every time I complemented a child’s beauty the mother’s face glowed with pride.  It was not difficult to tell which child belonged to which mother.
One of my favorite memories was the opportunity I had to meet and sit with 8 mothers from the local church’s women’s group.  Their names were Grace Night, Rose Mary Kobusinge, Rose Mary Kezabu, Elizabeth Kemiyondo, Gertrude Kyomuhendo,  Moregn  Kabasambu, Debra Kobugabe and Prossy Kobusinge.  Every Tuesday and Thursday these women, and many others, gather together at the church for serious conversation and each other’s company.  Some of them walk 5 to 10 kilometers (or more) to get there.  They come from different backgrounds, levels of education and socioeconomic status.  Some of them have 4 children, others have 5 or 6 - and still others have 10 children.  Many of them grew up together there in Fort Portal while some of them moved there not long ago.  Their ages vary from 16 to 68 years old - but the thing that unites them is their faith, their love for their children and families… and their country.  Yes, even the poorest citizens in this world, no matter where, have a love, hope and pride that burns in their patriotism for their native countries and cultures. 

I couldn’t help but to look at the group I was traveling with; we were so similar to these mothers who lived so far removed from our own day-to-day existences.  Our group was also diverse: one was born in Australia, another in India, and I was born in Mexico; we had 1 (one) single lady while 8 (eight) of us were married and had children; one of us had grandchildren, others were bloggers while still others in the group dedicated their personal or professional time as advocates.  Regardless of our own different professions and socioeconomic status we all have these things in common: we love our families and children; we all advocate and champion the Shot@Life Campaign - and we all want to make sure the no more children die from easily preventable diseases because of the lack of vaccines.

Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
Back to the local mother’s group meeting... we all sat together on two benches with one group facing the other.  This was our opportunity to learn from each other, introduce ourselves,  ask questions and to share some of our experiences as mothers.   To break the ice, we (the Shot@life Champions) started by telling them our names, where we were from and what our youngest children love to do.
After that we had a round of questions from the Shot@Life Champions and answers from local Ugandan mothers as follows:
1.     How long had the women’s group of mothers been together?   The women’s group has been meeting together since when the church was established in 1924.  In each generation they have had leaders appointed from among them to keep the group going.

2.      What are the things that you do in this group?  We make crafts that we sell; do gardening and farming; discuss financial situations and health issues like HIV and malaria; and before the Family Health Day we went from house to house and spoke to families about the benefits of vaccines and free services that would be provided for them by UNICEF with the help of the United Nations Shot@Life campaign.

3.     What are the things that you like to do with your family?  We like to work together around the house and fields, and make bread for sale.
4.     What do you tell your children over and over?  We tell them: Stay in school!  (The answer was the same from all of the mothers.)

5.     What professions would you like your children to do when they grow up?   Doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers.  (Sound familiar?)

6.     What is your one wish for all mothers of the world?  Peace and long life.  In addition we want the children to be educated because it is the only way to be autosuficient.

7.     What makes you happy?  (As an example, Cynthia Levin from the Shot@Life Champions said that what makes her happy is “when her girls laugh silly.”)  The local mothers’ answers included “when my children are in school;” “when my children are healthy;”  “when my children are not hungry;” “when my children come back from school happy because they learned something new;” and “when my children work together.”
Some of the mothers were not shy about sharing their challenges and hopes.  Prossy (a single mother of 8 children, grandmother of one, a teacher and a former reporter for Uganda) told us the biggest problem they have is with computers, because one computer can take away the jobs of 20 people.  Prossy also said that they need more tetanus vaccinations for children until the age of 14 years – and HIV testing for older men.  HIV testing, health concerns and education were permanent worries for all of these mothers.   
Photo credit: Stephanie Geddes
We were so alike in so many ways!  Just look at our similarities!  …and all of us with the same worries that mothers around the world have for their children.  As a mother, now, that was born in Mexico - I still remember very well the same hopes and dreams of many mothers when I was growing up, during my missionary service, and later in my nursing career.  To be honest I still see the same hopes and dreams expressed by the minority parents - and other parents, in general - that I serve now in Oklahoma.  In the end we all want the same things for our children.  We want them to grow up healthy; have great educations; to be productive and to have a better future; and most importantly, we want them to be responsible members of the human race.  We want these things so badly that it is common to see parents working 2 or 3 jobs, willing to sacrifice everything just to make sure their children succeed and have a better future.
Indeed, we are not so different from one another, just in our circumstances and the luck of how or where we were born.  To be honest our worries here in the United States are very small when compared to these stoic women in Uganda who, nevertheless, consider themselves blessed.  We don’t have to worry about losing our children to easily preventable diseases because of the lack of vaccines, to HIV or to malaria.  We are lucky enough to live in a country where every child can be vaccinated, where we can provide food for them more easily - and where we have public shcools that also can provide 2 free meals a day for families with low incomes.  Our students can, and are expected, to go to school from kindergarten through 12th grade without worrying if the parents can afford it.  We also have many fine charitable organizations that provide assistance and food throughout the year and during the holidays.  I am not saying that we do NOT have poverty here in the United States; but our poverty is nothing compared to the average daily norm for the people in Uganda and so many other parts of the world.  We live in a country that is so rich in blessings where sometimes we take it for granted and forget where they come from.  Yes, we are all one and the same people, but the needs in Fort Portal and throughout Uganda are different.  Don’t forget that Uganda is but a small part, or microcosm, of what is found all over the African continent.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
I was touched so many times during the day.  I felt honored, humbled and so lucky to be among these great people.  Their teachings put so much into a perspective that I could relate to and understand so well.  Their love for God, their families and their fellow man was remarkable.  Their unity, respect and loyalty to each other reminded me of my own culture - and of what I have heard referred to so often in the United States as the “good old days”.  Ah… in times like these I wish I was a writer or a poet in order to express better all of the beauty I saw in this day.  Even though I can recognize easily that I lack these talents of expression, one thing for sure is that the United Nations Foundations Shot@Life campaign is saving lives.  UNICEF is working miracles also with the resources that are being provided to them, and we (the champions that were there that day) were blessed to be among great leaders and the pure souls of the mothers of Fort Portal, Uganda.

Monday, November 5, 2012

No Parents Left Behind: CountingBlessings and Saving Lives in Fort Porta...

No Parents Left Behind:

CountingBlessings and Saving Lives in Fort Porta...
: Counting Blessings and Saving Lives in Fort Portal, Uganda                         Sunday, October 28, 2012 Today we visited and attend...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Counting Blessings and Saving Lives in Fort Portal, Uganda                        Sunday, October 28, 2012
Today we visited and attended church services in Fort Portal.  As soon we arrived, a tall man walked in to welcome us with a warm smile and hugs.  He introduced himself as the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda of the Archdeacon-Rubona Church.  He had been in charge of the church for only five months but was in the Mukole Archdeaconury before.  We also met Rev. Joshua Kidegeko, the Diocesan Health and Community Coordinator of Keeping Children and Mothers Alive.  Katusabe M. John Baptist, our host, and our UNICEF focal person, Kabarole, of the district local government told us to follow them inside the church where many of the families were already sitting on wooden benches.The beautiful music was loud and inviting.  
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services were in the native language and no matter that I did not understand what the speakers were saying, reading or telling us, I understood the language of love.  I could see how much the venerable reverend cares for his congregation.  While his words were encouraging and his smile sincere, I felt at home – and suddenly it was not a matter of distances, language barriers or different religions.  We were there together worshiping God.  I don’t know if I can explain this well, but I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and reverence.  I know that Cynthia Levin, my fellow champion, felt it too.  Without any words we looked at each other and with tears in our eyes we embraced in silence.  The reverence of the people, especially the little children, was incredible.  The church was at full capacity but you didn’t hear many noises from the children.  They were attentive and sometimes looked at us with a smile and curiosity.  It was a lovably scene that could make your heart melt!  My soul was so full of love and gratitude for what these wonderful people were teaching us, that I could only cry with joy and happiness! 
At the church services the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda invited his congregations to attend the Family Health Day; and Katusabe M. John Baptist, from UNICEF, gave a clear description of all the services that they would receive. 
Outside the day was beautiful and warm, and the mountains and hills looked so alive.  The greenery and shrubbery were vibrant, making a beautiful contrast with the colorful outfits of the mothers, fathers and children.  In front and to the side of the church a doctor, couple nurses and health workers were busy setting up the stations for services that would be provided throughout the day.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services would include: Pre-natal exams for pregnant women, testing for HIV/AIDS, blood pressure and diabetes for adults.  The children would receive birth registration, vitamin A to boost immunity and prevent blindness; de-worming tablets to treat parasitic infections and iron deficiency anemia; routine measles and polio vaccines, growth measurements and monitoring to track nutritional status.  I was not surprise to see how well they work with the leaders of the community and the   resources available to them.  I could remember using the same approach in México - if the mountain will not come to you, then you go to the mountain and form partnerships with the churches and town leaders.  UNICEF-sponsored “Family Health Days” four times a year is a clever way to reach the most underserved areas to deliver a free comprehensive health package targeting every child in a community; all in “one-stop” convenience.  “Convenience”, of course, is a very subjective word used relative to the local area where we were today.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 I was truly in my element!  Memories of my Nursing experiences in Mexico flashed back as I looked around me.  Here I was, now, on a different continent and the same images played out all around of people as they lined up patiently and went from line to line receiving the services provided.  Meanwhile, the children played and the town leaders came out to welcome us warmly.  I immediately noticed a big difference from my experiences in Mexico long ago, where as soon the children saw us walking into their villages they ran and hide from us, because they knew we were there to give them shots and vaccinations.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 Here, the children were smiling, staying close to their parents and ready to get a check-up.  I was amazed at how this team pulled together and what they accomplished that day.  It was not so difficult to see that the demand was bigger that the human resources available there.  Before the day’s activities started I went from station to station and spoke with the medical teams to learn more about them and to see their perspectives and challenges.  I was surprised to see the pregnant mother’s examination room with no blanket to cover the table, no pillows, and no blankets to cover the patients, nothing to help them raise their legs, no electric lamps and only the sunlight coming from the tiny window for illumination.  I watched the attendants using a funnel to listen to the babies’ heartbeats - I was shocked that these funnels were still in use!   I had not practiced rural nursing for many years, but that was how I used to examine mothers - and it was not very reliable then.  I remember we lost babies because you could not hear their hearts beating.  WOW!   I spoke with Dr. Richard Mugali, the District Health Officer, and learned from him that he had been practicing medicine for 7 years.  He said that he loves his job and the people he serves, but that he is frustrated with the challenges they face in offering basic medical care.  When I asked him about his biggest challenges, this was how he answered:
1.     Limited human resources for health care; we don’t have an adequate number of nurses and health workers.  The number of patients has increased and doubled with only 58.5% of needed staffing to serve them.
2.     Lack of modern basic equipment especially in maternal and child health.
a.     We have lost some babies because we are still using old and outdated stethoscopes.  We would like to have adopter fetal scopes at least at every Level III Health Center.
b.     We do not have ultrasound scans to diagnose incomplete (spontaneous) abortions, so most of the time we also lose the mothers.
3.     Limited Infrastructure; as the population increases, more people go to clinics that don’t have the resources needed to provide help in the community.
There you have it - a reality check of the basic medical services needed in Uganda and throughout Africa.  It sounds so familiar to me.  I know how difficult it can be to work in these circumstances.  I remember how powerless I felt as a young nurse in Mexico for not being able to help every patient with their needs, or to alleviate their suffering. 
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
However, today was different with a happy ending because of the help of many champions - and your donations to the UN Shot@Life campaign.  With the help of UNICEF many services were provided, many lives were saved and there was sufficient medicine for today’s objective.  Most of all, I saw a miracle of many making a difference, serving God by serving His children on a sunny Sunday at a small church on a little hill in Fort Portal, Uganda.

Awareness and understanding of the power of vaccines can save lives 

 Four weeks ago I stayed home after almost a week of feeling sick.  I was having difficulty breathing, coughing spells and chest pain.  I thought this was a common cold and would pass soon, but it became worse to the point that I could not breathe.  I went to the doctor and he said it was bronchitis.  Before I came home he gave me a shot, prescribed some pain medication and strong antibiotics.  So I went home to rest, and when I was there in my comfy bed feeling horrible, memories began flashing back in my mind of the times I saw people with bronchitis and pneumonia when I was a nurse in Mexico, and of how these very simple treatable diseases were sometimes the cause of death.  That put everything into perspective.  The families in the rural remote areas do not get it so easy like I do.  What I mean is that if I, or members of my family, get sick here in the United States it is as easy as a phone call to the doctor, or to get to the Emergency Room – or as in my case this week, just show up at my doctor’s office and wait until they can attend me.  I was lucky to arrive in time and they were able to take care of me right away.  I am glad they did it because it is a horrible feeling gasping for air in between coughing spells.

 Treatable diseases like diarrhea, measles, bronchitis, pneumonia and polio are fatal in developing countries because some of the governments do not have the resources to provide medical care for their citizens.  In the most remote and rural area communities the only way to get there is by walking, riding a donkey or if you are lucky you may get to ride a horse.  Many of these people are too poor to even own a donkey or horse.  As you can see, transportation is a major factor why many families and children do not receive treatment.  If a doctor cannot get to the people, it is less likely that the people can get to a doctor.

Another major factor is poverty.  Even if a patient and doctor can get together, not only medicines, but basic services like X-rays, lab work and analysis, etc. are luxuries – or nonexistent.  Perhaps the biggest factor in the suffering of these people is the lack of education, understanding and awareness of the seriousness of illnesses that affect them and, especially, their children.  I think this lack of awareness is something that really hit me hard because as a nurse in Mexico many years ago,I saw the pain and agony in the faces of many mothers, and I knew without a doubt that they would do anything - or everything - in their power to save their children, if they only knew how.  They would walk 10-15 miles (or more) to get to a little clinic and stay in the hot sun waiting and holding their child without complaining - but because they do not know or understand the seriousness of these illnesses and diseases, often they will wait in their homes hoping “that it will all get better.”Finally, when in desperation they come to seek help, it is too late.

These mothers are poor and without any access to medical care and vaccines... they accept their situation with humility, courage and tears for what might have been.  I saw resignation, quiet suffering and stoicism in these women.  I saw them crying in desperation and quickly wiping their tears, then turning to go home to make the funeral arrangements for their children...  It is so funny how your mind race to many years ago and back to the present in a second or minute to get me to another point that I want to make; in developing countries a child die every 30 seconds.  So when I was there lying in bed precious kids were dying.  Mothers are mourning the dead of their kids.  I know the doctor told me to rest but how can I rest with all this in my mind? 

 I always have been a huge advocate about education, equal education for minority groups, poverty and help issues like vaccines for children wherever I had lived all these years.   Shot@life, resounds to me and should resound to anyone who cares about human life.  I have been supporting, advocating and championing United Nation Foundation Shot@life vaccination campaign because I believe in their mission and goals and because I know firsthand the vaccines saves lives.  So the question for me was; what else I can do to support a cause that I am passionate about it and that I believe with all my heart.  No child should have to live without hope when we can make a difference just by creating awareness  (writing this post) from bed, writing letters or calling your members of congress or pledge yourself to share this message with all your friends personally or online.   
It is incredible how just a few dollars can make a big difference between live in death in developing countries.
Your donation could:
·        Protect a child from polio and measles for his lifetime for only $5
·        Pay for vaccines to protect a child from the two most deadly diseases – pneumonia and diarrhea for just $15
·        Give a child a lifetime of immunity to protect her from pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and measles for $20

So, please join me and help us protect, save and give children around the globe a shot to live by providing access to vaccines.