Kigezi Healthcare Foundation – Official Blog

KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda

“Day in the Life” of a Medical Volunteer

Jessica Lee, a medical resident volunteer from Montreal, Canada, is currently enjoying a month-long volunteer experience in Kabale, Uganda, working with KIHEFO. In an interview, Jessica shared with us some of her reflections on her experience from landing on the air-strip in Rwanda to arrving at KIHEFO and the adventures of learning hands-on in Uganda.

1. How do you arrive at KIHEFO (from airport)?

Option 1:

Land in Rwanda (Kigali International Airport), and a KIHEFO guide will meet you after baggage claim!  Most flights arrive at night, so you will likely spend a night in Kigali (we stayed at Chez Lando, a B&B) and make way to Kabale the next morning.  Take time to drop by the Kigali Memorial Center to remember Rwanda’s genocide victims.  (Tip: don’t forget to get a Rwanda visa.  You apply online for a single entry visa and they reply fast!)

Option 2:

Land in Uganda (Entebbe Airport), and a KIHEFO guide will meet you after baggage claim!  You will spend one night in Kampala (capital) and then head over to Kabale by bus (9 hours…).  Consider spending 2-3 days exploring Kampala before heading west to Kabale.

2. When you arrive at KIHEFO…

Day 1 of your arrival is orientation – so just relax.  Someone will show you through town and take you to the clinics.  You will greet the staff and meet with Dr. Anguyo to discuss your responsibilities.

The KIHEFO clinic is located very close to the volunteer apartments (3 min walk).   It consists of 3 parts:

(a) General Clinic, with inpatients

(b) Nutrition Clinic, with inpatients

(c) HIV/AIDS Clinic

3. Where you sleep (apartment), showers, privacy need…

You will either stay at the main house (with Dr. Anguyo’s big family) or in the volunteer apartments a few steps up, in double rooms.  The twin beds are covered with bed nets, so no need to bring your own!  Bedspread and sheets are also provided.  There is a communal shower with hot water.  Occasionally, power outages cause the water pump to stop running water but it returns soon enough.  Headlamp – essential!

4. Meals and food…

Patricia, our “dorm mom” in every way but in name, prepares delicious breakfasts and dinners.  Breakfast usually consists of toasted bread, boiled eggs, chapatti, coffee/tea and bananas!  Bananas are the staple in Uganda and they come in all varieties.  Dinner varies from salad, rice, chicken, you name it!  For lunch, you may choose to go out to eat (suggestion: Little Ritz) or share traditional Ugandan food with the KIHEFO staff at the Nutrition Clinic (Jocelyn is a great cook as well).

5. On your way to work from apartments…

On the way to work, you will cross the main road where many taxi drivers will call out to you (Hey Muzungu!! (“white person”))  Try not to be offended, they mean no harm.  You can just ignore them or, if you are brave enough, you can answer “Hey Bachiga!” (the local people)  They will be surprised.  After a few days, it tunes out.

6. A medical volunteer at work…

Ugandan time is different in that it is not strict.  There is no time you MUST be at the clinic – you go after breakfast.  Typically, you will arrive at the clinic around 9am and find the doctor who is seeing patients.  You will round on the inpatients first then see the walk-in patients.  This can vary, depending on how busy it is – if you get many new admissions at once, you may not get to round until after lunch!

Your tasks will depend very much on your level of training.  Clerks and residents will take histories, do physical exams and come up with differential diagnoses.  Expect the first few days to be more of observation (you need to understand how the clinic runs first).  Bring a copy of a tropical medicine handbook to read (i.e.  Oxford Handbook of Tropical Medicine).

7.  After work

Depending on how busy the day is, work ends anywhere between 3:30-5pm.  You head home to relax a bit before dinner, after which you can spend time reading, watching TV or conversing with your roommates (anything you want to do, really).

8. Outside of clinic…

Whenever there are interesting events that would be of a valuable experience to you, Dr. Anguyo and other staff will warmly welcome you to join in (and put clinic aside).

As learners, your primary goal is to learn.  Outside of clinic, I visited a local primary school and spoke with the headmaster/teachers to better understand the health of the students.  We visited hot springs where locals believe their ailments may be cured.  We also spent time at the public hospital to compare the different health systems.  These experiences are necessary and invaluable in understanding the health of Ugandans.

9. Freedom to do or access to any personal interests. Are there any restrictions?

Ugandans are the most welcoming people I have ever met.  You will feel (and be told numerously) welcomed over and over again.  It is normal, however, to still experience culture shock – recognizing it is the first step to dealing with it.  If you need some personal time, go for a walk or just relax in your room with some music.  You can purchase a modem USB stick and have access to Internet all the time.  Bring books, magazines, personal items that remind you of home…

If you like to exercise, there is a safe, quiet path for jogging close-by.  I suggest you run with someone and the best time is the morning (7am).  It’s a good way to start the day, watching the sun rise and the mist clear away from the hills.

10. Any other experiences…

We took full advantage of our weekends to explore the local area.  Kabale is very conveniently located to access many attractions:

1)    Lake Bunyoni – stunning lake, gorgeous islands, visit traditional healer

2)    Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest – gorilla tracking!

3)    Queen Elizabeth National Park – wildlife (lions!) and boat ride on the Kazinga channel

4)    Lake Mburo National Park – the only place in Uganda to see zebras

As with any type of travel, be flexible and keep an open minded.  Uganda is a beautiful country and KIHEFO is a remarkable organization.  I wish you all a life-changing experience!

-Jessica Lee


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This entry was posted on February 26, 2013 by in International Volunteers.
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