KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
Francis Twesigomwe aged 13 has lived with a spinal defect for eleven years until the Kigezi Health Care Foundation
(KIHEFO) Team offered him a new life. His mother was lit up with too much joy as she looks back at the realization of how her son’s life has been changed for the best. Topista and Henry the parents of Francis, are both peasants in a rural remote area of Kabale.
“Francis has been a survivor and strong fighter; I have had nine children, five of whom have since passed on, leaving me with four”. with a sad look she continues narrating of how her son Francis was born at home because the area had the closest health facility 78km away. “At the tender age of three, Francis, started experiencing a lot of pain in his back and it’s at this point that we started getting a little concern about the swelling that was growing on his back because this later turned into something unbearable. Not knowing what to do next, I visited a health unit in Kabale town only to be told that my son had become disabled”, she painfully explains the ordeal.
The “Ibango” (spinal defect) as commonly known by the natives, started as a small swelling on the back which the parents ignored not until the boy turned three years that they realized his retardeness in growth. Coming from a peasant family with less education background, the parents were unaware of what would come up from the small swelling and had they known about it, they could have sought earlier treatment.
The pain that later became intense brought about other problems like painful dry coughs and intense chest pain which were recurring time after time. This caused him a lot of hardship doing the domestic work other children in society were doing. But above all was the stigma Francis faced at his school as he was shunned by both his teachers and fellow students who laughed at him calling him names like “Ibango” literary implying “boy with a swollen creature on the back.” At the age of four he dropped out of school because of the insults and humiliation from the community.
Until now he has not attended a proper education like his fellow children do just for the fear of being looked down upon by his classmates despite efforts from his mother to enroll him into a nearby private primary school which became a great burden too as it turned out still too expensive. Topista faced challenges since most of her meager income was coming from her small garden with no help from her husband whose only work is to drink alcohol from morning to Sunset.
One of Francis’ primary teachers at his former school said “Francis was affected by the defect as he could not stand straight and his trousers kept falling down every time due to lack of a waste line and when he tried to pull them up, they would still fall. This later affected him academically as he was always slow at whatever he did hence no longer performing well in class.”
The turning point
KIHEFO with the help of other partners from Canada, Toronto, offered to operate on Francis. Though the KIHEFO team under Dr. Anguyo Geoffrey led the group, they lacked the equipment and personnel to carry out the operation in Kabale and opted for Mbarara referral hospital. Hope started lighting in this family once again and the boy was operated on by these doctors from Toronto in Mbarara Hospital, 120 Kilometers from Kabale Town. But still it was by luck that this little boy made it as the doctors at one point ran short of oxygen which they had to purchase from other hospitals around.
Journey home after operation
It is about 9:30 am when the KIHEFO team sets off to Kashekye village approximately 81km from Kabale town. To ones’ disappointment there is not a single health unit that this
community can get immediate treatment. After climbing many hills, we are able to reach Francis’ humble village where, the whole community awaits his return. On arrival at Francis’ home, the house was rather a weak structure with a collapsing kitchen with no bathroom or toilet at their disposal and for a boy who is just healing, life will continue to be a living hell. One cannot stop thinking of how they will keep that fresh wound from infection. The mother could not hide her tears of joy and later offers our team a local drink known as Kashera as a sign of hospitality and I noticed that these people even lack what to have for a daily meal. Many community elders showed their happiness and even praised the Lord in their local songs, tradition dances and I could not help but appreciate this spirit of togetherness.
As any mother, Topista never gave up on fighting for her young boy’s life and not at one time did she think of doubting the Lord at any time. When asked about the situation, she said that she opted for God’s guidance at all times and now all her queries have been answered. Francis was finally home and his dream of continuing with education had been reborn as he could not stop telling the mother of how he wants to become a doctor in future.
Thanks to KIHEFO, an organisation that I am currently volunteering with that has offered a new hope to the hopeless and
a new belief in a brighter life for the people living in the Kigezi area. Thanks to the doctors who travelled all the way from Canada and the management of Mbarara Hospital for the helping hand they offered to Francis. It’s true that medical care for example is important given that life expectance is low in Uganda. People have to travel miles across villages to access medication forcing some to become reluctant. But still with the Community health camps and mobile clinics in the different sub counties, KIHEFO manages to reach the large population and identify such cases.
Namulinda Asha is a journalist and media practitioner who has worked with various media houses in Uganda. She was attracted and inspired by the works of KIHEFO to the Kigezi Community and is now volunteering with KIHEFO. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.