KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
I went on a medical/dental mission with TO – the WORLD in early March, not really sure what to expect. I’d never gone on a trip like this before, let alone been to Africa. However, after just a short time after working with KIHEFO, our local Ugandan non-governmental partner organization, I left feeling that I was able to be an active part of not only the clinics, but other KIHEFO projects, as well.
First-time “Pharmacist” at Medical & Dental Camps
Though I don’t have a medical or dental background, I worked closely with fellow TO – the WORLD volunteer, Jill Cherniak, to set up and run our “pop-up” pharmacy throughout the medical/dental camps. During our first rural outreach clinic, Jill and I forged a strong working relationship with a couple KIHEFO nurses, Peace and Grace. Together we set up our pharmacy, a makeshift operation consisting of a couple of school benches, several flashlights, pens, a notepad, and 10 or so big hockey bags filled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of medicines.
Before we even finished organizing our supplies that first morning, patients started lining up in the room, where the only source of light came from one window carved out of mud walls. In what seemed like a whirlwind of a day, Jill, Peace, Grace and I managed to fill over 200 prescription orders. The process went something like this: a patient came up to our pharmacy “counter” (a long school bench with an adjoined desk), the KIHEFO nurses told us what medications were needed, and Jill or I would go digging through the hockey bags stocked with everything from antibiotics and antimalarials to hearing aids and eyeglasses. We would grab the correct pill bottles and quickly count out how many of each we needed, and then give the entire order back to the KIHEFO nurses to communicate appropriate instructions to the patient in Rukiga, the local language. We were filling 3-4 scripts at once, making for a very interesting first day on the job that ended in a resounding “Pheewww!” once everything was all packed up to go.
For the next couple of days I worked with Jill to help streamline the process of dispensing medications. We organized our bags and made better use of the benches and tables provided to us to lay out the medications so that we could more easily access them. Before we knew it, we had a full mobile pharmacy running smoothly, with Jill slowly taking over as “head pharmacist” and ultimately overseeing and filling approximately 2000 prescriptions during the course of our clinics.
Marketing with Kigezi Tours
Because of my marketing and branding background, I soon transitioned over into working with Martin Ngabirano, another KIHEFO volunteer and manager of Kigezi Tours, a subsidiary company that functions under the umbrella of KIHEFO. The remainder of my time in Kabale was spent working with Martin to understand the current marketing strategy of the tour company and then developing a new website to help increase traffic and drive user engagement.
With Uganda being home to more than half of the world’s 880 or so remaining endangered mountain gorillas (in addition to breathtaking safaris, white water rafting adventures, and world-class mountain hikes), I am a firm believer that, with the right marketing help, Kigezi Tours will be even more successful, helping to drive even more revenue into all the other initiatives that KIHEFO is managing, including a new maternal health center.
Designing for the Youth Media Centre
In my last week in Kabale, I also worked with another KIHEFO volunteer and entrepreneur, Ronald Tumusiime, on developing a basic brand for his brainchild, a new Youth Media Center dedicated to providing media education and grooming young, intelligent, and creatively-minded professionals to produce high-quality media materials.
And, a couple days before I left, I set up a blog for another KIHEFO volunteer, Patricia Letiru, and her local Ugandan crafts business, Patsy’s Crafts, taking photos and helping to develop the initial website copy and blog post.
A Part of Something ‘Bigger’
While I’m glad I was able to be of assistance in these projects in addition to helping run TO – the WORLD’s pharmacy in the few short weeks we were there, I know that there is so much more work to be done. Setting up a website won’t help to make a sustainable impact. Creating a logo won’t bring a business to reality. But I know that I can continue the work I’ve done in Uganda, here in North America. I can offer what I can, when I can, to help strengthen the efforts of KIHEFO and the community at-large in Kabale.
While you hear about it all the time, sometimes it really takes going to underserviced places in rural areas and meeting young innovators who aren’t lacking in ideas, or determination, but rather, capital and resources to make their dreams happen.
As a global citizen, it takes realizing that you can use what you know to help enact greater change, whether down the street or across the world. As one person, I know I can make a difference and be a part of something BIGGER.
I encourage you to do the same.
-Kristine A. Co (TO – the WORLD Marketing Director and March 2013 mission volunteer)
To learn more about international volunteer opportunities with KIHEFO, please visit our website – click here.