KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
It takes many heads, hands and hearts to put together medical outreach camps. Beyond the main role of doctors and dentists to see and treat patients, there’s a lot of tasks that must be done: construction of make-shift tents, registering and screening patients, crowd control, sterilizing equipment, dispensing medications, cooking lunch, carrying water, hooking up generators…
The list goes on and on. That’s why KIHEFO has assembled a volunteer team of over 40 Ugandans and Canadians, from TO – the WORLD, to do the ‘dirty work’ (quite literally when setting up, or operating in the rain) and help make it possible for patients to receive the services they so badly need, before and after their visit with the doctor or dentist. A lot of the work done is often less ‘heroic’ than prescribing treatment, or pulling teeth, but certainly no less important – in fact, a medical camp would fall apart if it weren’t for the efforts and dedication of volunteers who work hard to ‘get the job done.’
Taking Registration & ‘Keeping the Camp Peace’…
Mercy’s face split into a smile when asked about some of the ‘challenges’ of working at the registration tents throughout KIHEFO’s series of health outreach camps in rural communities in Kigezi, Uganda.
“It isn’t easy,” she said with a laugh. “People come and they’re so many, and they all want to see a doctor or dentist. You know, people can be so, so, so tough!”
Registration serves as the ‘buffer’ between patients and health professionals. All patients must pass through Mercy and other registration volunteers to fill out ‘patient forms,’ obtain patient cards, and be directed to medical or dental waiting-lines. KIHEFO’s medical camps are advertised as “first come, first serve” although, as Mercy explained, they always give priority to mothers with babies, children, and elders. At most camps, health professionals have been able to treat, on average, around 300 people; however, as most rural facilities lack electricity, it becomes difficult to see patients after dark, and sadly, there’s always people who have to be turned away.
“If you fail to register someone, it becomes tough,” said Mercy. She reflected on the hard task of not being able to register patients in the village of Muyumbu, where over 100 people had to be turned away due to the shortage of time. Mercy explained that it’s a delicate balance of trying to reassure and ‘keep the peace’ with people when they’ve been told they won’t be able to be seen by a doctor or dentist. KIHEFO attempts to hold multiple clinics in villages where people fail to receive services, but it’s no easy task reasoning with people whom are ill and desperate for medical attention.
“Some days you go home with a headache in the evening,” she admitted.
But it’s not all hard times for Mercy at KIHEFO’s medical camps. She enjoys waking early to travel with colleagues to “new places” and the communal nature of the camps. “We have fun,” she said with a big grin.
She also commented on the rewarding feeling of knowing so many people are able to access health services through KIHEFO’s camps.
“There are people who are really appreciative,” she explained, “and some even try to give us money to pay for the services, and we always say ‘No – please keep it for yourselves. And they are always surprised.”
First-time “Pharmacy” Experience for Canadian Volunteer
Jill Cherniak, a Canadian-based volunteer from TO – the WORLD organization, took a rare moment of rest and reflected on the scene before her eyes: a row of large tents, a long bench where a group of women sat, waiting to be seen by a doctor, their children playing in front of them. The make-shift dispensary tent – where Jill had been working over the course of the five clinics to provide patients with treatment and medication – and the larger facility housing the dental clinics. The area was crowded with people moving in different directions – organized chaos, so to speak.
“Just taking a minute to look around…it’s incredible,” Jill mused aloud.
Jill arrived in Uganda last week from Toronto, eager to participate in KIHEFO and TO – the WORLD’s series of health outreach camps. She was accompanying her son, Bill Cherniak, who had volunteered with KIHEFO in 2011 as a medical student, and was also returning as one of the camp organizers.
As it was Jill’s first time traveling to Africa, and her first time volunteering in a medical camp, she was unsure of what to expect. However; she was surprised when she arrived in Muyumbu last week and witnessed over 200 people who had come to the clinic, and were “waiting so patiently” – hopeful to receive services.
She recalled the intensity of the first day in Muyumbu. Rain, no electricity, and working in a cramped, small space to dispense medication to patients who’d been seen by the Canadian and Ugandan doctors. Jill, alongside the Ugandan nurses, was responsible for sorting through hockey bags stuffed full with medications and dispensing to the patients. The waiting line for the dispensary wrapped outside and around the building. Urgency hung in the air, and her team rushed from their arrival to dusk.
Jill enjoyed working closely with the Ugandan nurses, and in particular, one of KIHEFO’s nurses, Peace, who taught her how to complete prescription forms, and properly dispense to patients.
“I’ve learned so much from working with the Ugandans,” Jill said. “They look after one another, and care for children who’ve been orphaned. It’s a society that, no matter how little money one has, wants to help people less fortunate than they are.”
Despite working long (and sometimes stressful) days at the dispensary to provide nearly 1000 patients with medication, Jill reflected positively on her experiences in Uganda and at the medical camps.
“I’ve given and gotten a lot,” she said. “The Ugandans have been so friendly and welcoming…put that in your story!” she exclaimed, laughing.
Jill plans to return to Canada to share her experiences at the medical camps in Uganda with friends, family and community groups. She is hopeful to visit Uganda again, and continue supporting the work of TO – the WORLD and KIHEFO.
Many thanks to Mercy, Jill and the many Ugandan and Canadian volunteers who help make the medical outreach camps a reality. KIHEFO is grateful for your time, energy and commitment to serving the health needs of people living in Kigezi.
Visit KIHEFO’s website for more information – click here.