KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
Thursday night 4th September 2014 gave me a great opportunity to talk to people who care about others. I talked to Bridge to Health, our core partners in Toronto, and their main corporate and personal supporters that day, which exposed me to a new chapter in life. The whole audience was
interested in why I founded KIHEFO and my struggle with life from childhood to the present, though most of my speech was about KIHEFO and the work we are doing in Rural Uganda.
I narrated to them how my life was affected by my father’s alcoholism that forced him to abandon his family. How my mother over the years had to struggle alone to see that we survived. I talked about the innovation of growing pineapples that supported my education through high school. At school I was always performing because I knew how my mother was toiling to give me the best in life, and by the grace of God, I was given a government scholarship that took me to the only medical school in the country – Makerere University. The whole audience was quiet and one could see maximum concentration on everybody’s face and easily hear a pin drop in the house.
At the end of it all, my mind went to many people who are going through my footsteps but could not get any opportunity to come and tell their story to this kind of audience that cares to change other people’s lives. Memories started rolling back, I remembered some incidences and later that night my mind ran
straight to Francis Twesigomwe, the 13 year old boy who had a spinal deformity and could not go beyond primary two because of the intense stigma he was going through at school. We identified him among many during one of the rural health camps supported by Bridge to health, in Ikumbya. There were more than fifteen people who needed referrals beyond Kabale, but because of the limited medical facilities, in consultation with Bridge to Health we eventually picked Francis, because he was younger and with a future ahead of him.
At the camp, we had got information from one of the volunteer doctors with Bridge to Health that some spinal specialist doctors from Toronto, Canada would be camping at Mbarara hospital for three weeks. We used the contacts we had kept in the file to trace the parents of Francis for over one week and finally they showed up. That is when we told them that we needed to send Francis to Mbarara Referral
Hospital for surgery. It was a hard decision for them but they finally consented and handed the boy to the KIHEFO team. None of them had ever travelled beyond Kabale and so we had to get one of our nurses to go with the mother up to Mbarara hospital and hand them over to another volunteer nurse who helps coordinate our patients whenever we send them to that hospital for specialized treatment. Grace, the volunteer nurse worked tirelessly to make sure that Francis made to the operation list. Over 5,000 patients had been presented with orthopedic and spinal complications and they went through a rigorous screening process but eventually less than 100 were able to undergo the operation. We were happy that Francis was one of the few patients who were successfully operated on.
When I visited Francis in the hospital I saw a smile both on in his face and his mother’s face that I had not seen before. With tears of joy and excitement, he said he never even thought I could visit him in the hospital. The juice, bread and butter I took for him brightened his smile. He said “I have never seen juice that is packed in a container…….I have never seen butter before and I have only eaten the hard bread that is prepared in the village, but I have never seen a soft bread packed like this”. That sparked the memories of my childhood and I said to myself “it is good for someone to be there for you when you need them”. When I talked to the joyful mother, she narrated to me how her husband is an alcoholic, and that she was there alone suffering with all the children. When Francis was discharged from the hospital in Mbarara we brought him back to Kabale and kept him at our KIHEFO General Clinic for three days to recover from the travel and fatigue before going back home.
On the second the day at the clinic, his father came claiming he had come to see Francis, yet he did not even go to the main hospital where Francis was treated. When I went to the clinic that evening after he had come, I found Francis’ mother in tears and I asked her what was wrong; She just said, “My husband came around and took all the money meant to feed Francis. He has gone to drink alcohol and now we have nothing to eat”. At mind, I concluded that alcoholism is a big problem, again it brought back a flood of memories of the terrible drama that I had gone through during my own childhood. We provided Francis and his mother with food that evening and the following day Francis requested me to go with him up to their home. He is a very jolly boy and he generously asked the mother to convince me to spend a night with him in his bed.
I was touched by this boy’s sensitivity, and felt that I need to go and see the kind of life this child is living. Our KIHEFO team travelled for over 100 kilometers up and down hills, and on reaching their home noticed that all of the houses were dilapidated, whereby it was even hard to imagine that there could be a man in the home. Francis gained the courage and requested me to sleep with him for at least one night. When I saw the mat and the ground I said to myself, “ I went through this several years ago, but I cannot go back to it. I will struggle to help him come out of it.” When I saw the joy from the village and the mother I felt touched, but then I only had to look at the other side of the garden to see the father, standing as if unhappy to see his boy walking again.
I wish Francis was there to tell his story to the audience that supported him. I want to thank Chris
Cummins for the inspiring talk that moved the crowd. He is an international speaker, but offered his services free of charge to us, you are a brother to us. Thank you the Board members and the volunteers of Bridge To Health for organizing the event; Izchak Barzilay and Prosthodontic Associates for hosting us, and special thanks to all the sponsors who have seen the importance of development assistance and how it can change lives, at both the personal and community level. These include Cole Engineering, Rotary International, Apotex, Levovic Enterprises, Ethiopian Airlines, Septodont, LOMCO, Canadian Tire, Eaton, Yonge Eglinton Center, Rotary Clubs of Richmond Hill, Scarborough North, Markham Sunrise and Scarborough Bluffs. We would also like to recognize Dr. Rob Simonsky; Mr. Lloyd Cheniak, Ms. Andrea Rovet, Ms. Virginia Cirocco, Ms. Caroline Iwasa, Ms. Shelley Diamond Bad Monkey Popcorn, Colgate, and many others who may not be mentioned here
We are dedicated to ensure that your money reaches where it is needed most and we are committed to utilizing all the resources in the most transparent way possible. On behalf of all the communities we serve, the staff and the volunteers, the Board of Directors of Kigezi Healthcare Foundation, I CONVEY A BIG THANK YOU AND APPRECAITE ALL THE EFFORT YOU HAVE INVESTED SO FAR IN THIS PROJECT. MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL.
I am committed to take Francis back to boarding school next year, and I hope I will get individuals interested in supporting similar children in the future.
Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo