Uganda Blogging Community 21 days Challenge

Day 8: Thoughts About Uganda’s Health Care System

A Ugandan nurse at the front line of the COVID -19 pandemic battlefield.

The Baganda have a saying when loosely translated says: It’s good to have a heavy downpour ; you differentiate  a solid house from a simple hut.  This is exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to health care systems worldwide.  It has brought to the surface what has  been simmering below for many years.

The pandemic has shown the strengths of the health care system like professionals that can lead in the control  of a pandemic and weaknesses like overstretched , underpaid workers with little Personal Protective Equipment(PPE)  working in an underfunded health care system.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their unwavering commitment and dedication to the  noble profession and the people of Uganda.

I feel that I am  well positioned  to  comment about our health care system  than many other people for I worked in it for twenty years and by then  it was delivering free, effective services to all. Those who felt that they needed to pay a little to be seen by the consultants would attend the Private wing of the New Mulago hospital and be admitted in the private wards on the top floor.  President Amin Dada’s son, Moses , had his tonsils removed on the 6th floor when I was  the internee on duty. His many wives delivered their babies in the 6th Floor maternity Ward.

 I left for greener pastures in Botswana, southern Africa in 1994 then came back almost four years ago.

After the National Resistance Army bush war of 1981 to January 1986, I had great hope that the our health would be given the priority it deserved. A country’s greatest asset is  its people because people have to be healthy to participate fully in their own development and that of their country.

I left because I could not get a decent pay  as a health worker and the tools I needed to perform my work were inadequate. There was no way I could realize my full potential  and  at the same give my children  a better education and more opportunities than myself. I practiced the best clinical medicine in Botswana, a middle income country, an oasis of good governance  and prudent management of the natural resources  for the good of every citizen.

All along I followed what was going on in my country more so in the Health sector.  Whenever I visited home, I would cry silently because of the deteriorating state of the health care system.

Do not get me wrong; some remarkable achievements were made in areas like the control of HIV/AIDS epidemic and  the control and management of Ebola epidemics.

I thank all those workers who stayed on to sustain the thin thread that held the health care system together . I salute them for their commitment and dedication and acknowledge their relentless struggle to support their families under tough conditions.

 On my return home, I was shocked to the core when  I recognised  that there were two tiers of the health care system: one for the rich and another for the poor.  70%  of Ugandans live in the rural areas depending on subsistence agriculture. Falling sick in such an environment is close to committing suicide. They sell whatever they have to have the sick treated in dilapidated facilities lacking even the simplest drug like Paracetamol. They are seen by the health workers  then prescribed the necessary drugs .  Most times they cannot afford  to buy the drugs thus compromising their health.

 It is strikingly different for the privileged few who can be flown out with attendants to be treated in India, South Africa, UK and Kenya.The irony of things is that in some of those places, they are treated by Ugandans born and trained in Ugandan Medical schools!

 In this day and age, what nags my conscience fiercely every day as a health worker , is the fact that  16 women continue to die every day in Uganda from complications from  pregnancy or childbirth. Indeed the rate has reduced in the 22 years I was away but 16 is still high. Considering that most of those mothers die from preventable or treatable complications  like excessive bleeding, severe infection  and unsafe abortions and that each mother who dies  leaves behind  5-7 children, it is one of the biggest tragedies of our time.

The number of women who die from complications of pregnancy or child birth per 100, 000 live births per year is  known as MMR- Maternal Mortality Ratio.

  According to  data.worldbank.org

   Uganda  has a Maternal Mortality Ratio of  438 per 100.000 live births (2014). It is unacceptably high.

Kenya has  a MMR of  362 per 100,000 live births per a year.

Rwanda’s  has a  MMR of 216 (2016)

Botswana 144 deaths per 100,000 live births( 2017)

High MMR  are a  combination of:

  • limited access to quality maternal health services,
  • poverty,
  •  distance to facilities,
  • lack of information
  • Cultural beliefs and practices.

All citizens have a right to quality health care from the womb to the tomb.

 Similarly, we are all part of the solution.

 According to  the ubos.org , in the years I was away , Uganda’s population increased from  19.79 in 1994  to 36.91 million in  2014. However, the increase in functional health facilities did not catch up and the government expenditure on health in 1995/1996 was 9.8% of the total budget and  a mere 7.4% in the 2018/2019 budget.

 The Abuja Declaration of 2001 requires each country which is a member of the African Union ,to spend a minimum of 15%  of its total yearly budget on Health. At the peak of the HIV/AIDS  epidemic  in Botsawana, 2002-2006, Botswana  spent 40% of its total budget on health  to avail universal  Antiretroviral Treatment to its people and care and support the orphans of the epidemic.

As a health work who took the Hippocratic Oath to save all  lives these are my simple ideas on how to improve our health care system so that it delivers quality, effective , affordable services to all citizens wherever they are:

  1. Prioritise  Health-  Like any other government of a developing country, our  government has many demands  made on it but the planners should take health as a  priority by increasing the expenditure on health closer to the Abuja requirement- minimum 15% then put in place transparent mechanisms of accountability.

Health structures can be revamped, well stocked with medicines and the health workers can be retrained regularly and paid more so that that they can be retained. A satisfied worker would strive to deliver of her/his best.

2.Empower Communities to be in charge their health- The 1995 Constitution mandates the Ministry of Health to focus on  Policy and Regulation while the Ministry of Local Government runs the health care system below the regional  Referral hospitals  as it is done in Botswana. Emphasis on Primary Health Care will focus on Prevention other than the treatment of diseases. Communities will be healthier and will require less of treatment of diseases. Uganda is known to have excellent policies  on paper which are never implement or take over ten years to implement.

3.In this 21st century, governments cannot shoulder and finance the running of a functioning health care systems alone. It will require the government, the citizens themselves and  business partners to set up a locally appropriate Health Care Scheme that covers all. Botswana has had a Medical Aid scheme since 1991. I greatly benefited from it though I could still get free treatment from my local clinic.

Consultations should start at the grass roots and move up so that the groups involved agree amicably on an arrangement that satisfies all. The scheme has to be inclusive, effective, of good quality , affordable and sustainable.

     4. Education- the role of education in changing people’s behavior about important issues in society like accepting immunisation or use of health facilities is well known  so the Ministry of Education should continue to educate the young about the strong relationship between health and development. By the time they are adults, they will be able take informed decisions about their own health and the health of the population in general. They will be empowered enough to demand more from the governments of their day.

COVID- 19 pandemic has forced us into lockdown and affected the economy negatively but at the same time it has done us a great service by showing us the biggest gaps in our health care system. I only hope that the numbers of new cases will not rise above a hundred otherwise the fragile heath care system may collapse.

The Great Depression of the 1930s taught the Americans many things and forced them to design policies and programmes to help them stand strong if a depression of such magnitude were to recur.

This is the right time for all Ugandans to focus on our health care system, to change it into the type of system we want  for ourselves : the one that  can effectively deliver services to the population whenever they are and survive another pandemic in future.

Day 6 of The Uganda Blogging Community 21 days Challenge.

 

 WHAT I DO FOR SELF CARE

Health is defined as a state of physical, mental and social well-being not just the absence of disease.

Most of us know the old adage: A healthy mind in a healthy body. Self care is taking care of one’s body. mind and spirit.

In a patriarchal society like ours, women and girls are preordained to be the primary caregivers-taking care of the husbands, the children , the elderly and the sick. The majority of us end up being so consumed by this role that we forget or fail to find time to take care of ourselves. We end up suffering from burnout or being too stressed. In my late thirties, while juggling a demanding career and motherhood, I almost suffered from burn out. That is when I realized that I needed to care for my body, mind, and spirit every day of my life for a lifetime if I were to lead a meaningful and satisfying life.

I took time to dig deeper to know myself-my strengths, weaknesses and my limits then strived to take care of myself within those boundaries. The rewards have been great. I keep adjusting a few things as more time becomes available to me.

This is what I usually do for self care:

Taking care of my body

  1. Adequate sleep at night- after the day’s activities, a body needs 7-8 hours of sleep to repair itself  and to produce the proteins that fight off infection and inflammation. I know very well that less sleep results in poor immune response; opening up the body for recurrent infections. This is extremely important during this COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Timely healthy balanced meals- I plan each day’s meals  well in advance to allow me to stock up on what I shall need during the week. I am even lucky that I can harvest fresh lemons, sweet bananas, avocados, jackfruits,  sour soap, carrots, beetroots, celery and rape, dodo and some fresh herbs like mint and rosemary from our garden.
  3. Water-  Up to 60% of my body  is water so I need to drink a minimum of two litres of water to stay well hydrated in 24 hours.
  4. Regular exercise- I start my day with simple exercises in the house mainly to strengthen and tone my muscles. I also take long walks in the evening but the bodabodas that never follow the flow of traffic can be threatening.
  5. A regular haircut and treatment at a salon is part of the package.

      Taking care of the Mind

The routine things that  I have learned  over the years and  practice often like taking a bath do not challenge the brain; the brain needs to be challenged by doing new things like learning a language or complex things like  solving a Sudoku number puzzle. At my age, if I do not challenge it regularly it will lose its function; I shall become slow in action and slow in making decisions.

I do this by reading novels usually two at a time, reading medical journals and writing. Every day I make time to write a page of a short story or a blog post, read newspapers and fill the crossword puzzles, Sudoku number puzzles. I also read blog posts on the Blogs that I follow.

 Every day I listen to some regular programmes of the BBC World Service, listen to Classic music, Country music and Gospel songs.

In the evenings I call my children and friends or chat with them on WhatsApp. My childhood best friend and I have for a long time nurtured a habit of meeting over a meal or a drink and catching up on our lives at least once in two weeks. It gives us something to look forward too.  Connecting with loved ones releases the “feel good factors” in my brain making me relaxed and happy.

At least twice a week in the evenings, I work in our vegetable garden mainly to connect with Nature and find my place in the universe. It is both calming and relaxing not forgetting the leafy green bumper harvest at the end of the season.

I regularly take time to be alone, I call it “Me’’ time . I use this time to reboot, meditate, focus and be more creative. I follow that old Greek  motto : Know Thyself. The more I get to know myself, the more I get to know and understand others so I become more human and compassionate. It has made me more honest and authentic. It keeps my body, mind, heart and soul in harmony and when I create things they express who I am organically.

Taking care of my spirit

I believe in God and his promises. I count my blessings every day; it gives me hope and joy and lines me up for more blessings.

I read and study the Bible with the intention of living it in my day-to-day life. After the early morning exercises, I read the day’s spiritual nugget and a chapter of a chosen book in either the New or Old Testament. I then pray to seek God’s guidance throughout the day. I always end the day with a prayer late at night.

As a Christian, I do some voluntary work like Career Guidance in Schools through my church, the Women Doctors’ Association and my school’s Old Girls Association. It is my way of giving back to the communities that shaped me.

Self care is an integral part of taking care of one’s health and I feel that young professionals especially the women  should be made aware of it as we support them to give without maiming themselves and others.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves but then if I do not know how to love myself, how will you love others?

A RAINBOW OF HOPE

Colours speak to Us

  

The COVID-19  pandemic  rages on , affecting all aspects of society- health, financial, movement and getting down to our relationships and choices. All of us are longing for the world we know and yet we know that it will definitely be a new Normal.

 The majority of people in the world are under some form of lockdown to control the spread of the virus in communities and to ensure that that health care systems do not get overwhelmed by the number of patients. It happened in Italy, Spain, UK, New York right before our eyes. No  government would want to see it happen in its country.

In Uganda, as of last night, we were in day 8 of the lockdown and  a curfew from 7pm to 7am. The total number of confirmed cases was 61 of which  51 had been  treated and discharged.  Thankfully, we had not suffered any deaths among the cases or the health workers. The strict lockdown  is set to continue until the 5th May 2020. We all hope and pray that the numbers of cases will not surge to warrant an extension of the lockdown and curfew. The government has done a commendable job in adhering to the advice of WHO and  health professionals in the Ministry of Health and Uganda Virus Research Institute as well as supplying food to the most needy  around the city. Digital technology has made it easy to collect information and data which is then analysed to determine the next course of action and to keep the public well informed and part of the control plans.

I have come to trust the face and words of Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health  and to appreciate the dedication and heavy burden on the health workers who are at the frontline of this battle. They have energetically tapped into their experiences of managing the Ebola epidemics  of the recent past.

Citizens and professional all alike, our priority now is to protect ourselves from this invisible enemy, survive the lockup and move into the New Normal.

We are confined to our homes knowing very well that the environment always sets the rules  and we have to live by those rules. In these confined spaces, we are forced to learn to be alone ( in some cases)or be congested , to be quieter and to entertain ourselves.

These are difficult but temporary  times so we live one day at a time under a cloud of uncertainty. Under such environment, each one of us has on purpose to tap into the child in her/him to be able to make a game out of this lockdown . It is the only way to keep mentally, physically and emotional in top shape.

I remember some years back, one of my sons misbehaved and I punished him by locking him up in an empty room. He went in screaming but within a few minutes he was strikingly quiet. Like a monkey, he had climbed over the burglar proofing of the second door and was looking at the people passing  by in the road. He was enjoying it! He had turned a punishment into a game!

Children approach any situation with spontaneity and openness. We cannot allow ourselves to stagnate during this lockdown; time once lost, it cannot be recovered.

With childlike enthusiasm, we have to explore and create some laughter, fun, adventure  and colour in our confined spaces. The child in each one of us never goes away though as we grow up, we tend to be too focused on the past or the future to be fully open and spontaneous. Lockdown time should give us an opportunity to regain what is natural to each of us as children. We would all be alive if we responded creatively and anew to each new experience.

It is time to talk, laugh, play music, write, read, cook , paint,  to do gardening or a  DIY around the house or anything daring or outrageous to break the routine. Do it with childlike abandon with no sense of guilt. Take one day at a time. Do it on purpose; it will help you adjust to this temporary and difficult time. The complaining and whining will only make an already difficult time worse.

While researching for material for this post I came across some encouraging quotes that can uplift us.

  1. God put rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in dreariest and most dreaded moments- can see a possibility of hope.” Maya Angelou
  2. Acting from  a  negative attitude attracts more negativity in your life. It’s your life; live it well.”- Judge Judy Sheindlin
  3. You may chain my hands, you may shackle my feet, you may even throw  me into a dark prison; but you shall never enslave my thinking, because it is free.’’ – Kahlil Gibran.
  4. “In life you either choose to sing a rainbow, or you don’t. Keep singing.” – Catherine Lory
  5.  “There comes a point in life when you realize that your darkest times  are your best times, too- you will see the rainbow of your life.” Roy Bennet
  6. My parents survived the Great Depression and brought me up to live within my means, save for tomorrow, share and don’t be greedy, work hard for the necessities  in life. Knowing that money does not make you better or more important than anyone else. So, extravagance has been  bred out of my DNA.”- David Suzuki
  7. The greatest generation was formed first by the Great Depression. They shared everything- meals, joy, clothing.  – Tom Brokaces
  8. “ It took capitalism half a century to come back from the Great Depression.” – Ben Shapiro
  9.  “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” – Raymond Lindquist
  10. “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”– Wayne. W. Dyer

11.“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. ” – George Bernard Shaw

  12.  “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward.

  13.    “ True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” Leo Tolstoy

  14.“ All things are difficult before they are easy.” – Thomas Fuller

  15. “ Delays are valuable challenges. Stop complaining and whining instead exploit them to create a rainbow. The rainbow will show up.” –Anonymous.

As we wonder when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, how it will end and how it will change  us and our world, we have to understand that the COVID-19, Corona virus Disease, will not just disappear, instead it  will become part of our lives. We just keep hoping that the drugs to treat it and  the vaccine to control it will be discovered  sooner than later, to help us  go on with our lives.

 In 1978, I took six months of internship in the paediatric department of the New Mulago Teaching hospital . To my shock and horror, I recognised that a minimum of ten children under five years of age were dying of the viral infection , Measles, and its complications.  Each time I was on duty in the Acute Care Unit, I would leave the place shaken and crushed in  spirit.  That was one reason why I could not specialize in the care of infants, children and adolescents- Paediatrics.

WHO archives show that in 1980, before the widespread vaccination of Measles , the disease caused an estimated 2.6  million deaths each year in the world. Amazingly , by 2015, due to the widespread use of the safe  and effective vaccine, the highly infectious viral infection caused an estimated 134, 200 deaths worldwide , most of them in the under five children. The vaccine had reduced the deaths caused by measles by 79%! The Global Vaccination Action Plan targets a 90 % immunization coverage. The current Immunisation coverage of measles  in the under five years in Uganda  is about 82 % while Botswana has an Immunisation coverage of all childhood diseases  of 97 %. In the two decades I worked in the Primary Health Care department  of Botswana,  I only saw two cases of Measles and they were mild. I picked them quickly due to my haunting experience in the Paediatric department in Mulago.

Companies in USA, UK, Israel , China and other countries are working round the clock to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. It is encouraging to hear that trials in human beings have started in USA and UK. Normally it takes years to develop any safe, effective vaccine but thanks to the new technology like genetic sequencing, the vaccine to this new vaccine may take 6 to 18 months!

Before we know it, we could be walking around with a mild infection of CODIV-19.

Meanwhile , let us keep ourselves safe and others safe. We all stand to gain from this strict lockdown.


The innocent smile of a child.

QUESTION:

What is the biggest challenge that you face every day during this COVID-19 Lockdown? How have you tried to solve it ?

Please stay safe and stay healthy.

UGANDA BLOGGING COMMUNITY 21 DAYS CHALLENGE

 The Blogging Community of  Uganda came up with a challenge for its members to blog on a specific topic every day from 19th April to 9th May 2020. I considered it a useful challenge during this COVID-19 Lockdown.  It is a rainbow-giving us hope and inspiration while at the same time challenging the child in each one of us to create a game out of the lockdown. I accepted the challenge and started on it yesterday. I am playing catch up gladly ; aiming at being where I am supposed to be  by the weekend.

        Day 2 :  20 Facts About Me

  1. I am Jane Nannono, a Ugandan female medical doctor who has lived and worked in Uganda and Botswana, southern Africa.
  2. I am a mother of two boys, one girl and a guardian of two of my nieces.
  3.  I am a grandmother.
  4. I juggle medicine, motherhood, Creative Writing and Voluntary work.
  5. My parents are my best role models- they taught me to love, respect, and loyalty and to give without expecting anything back.
  6. I consider myself a work in progress so I am always looking out for opportunities to improve and package myself so as to stay useful and relevant to myself and my community.
  7. I have a strong network of friends who would drop anything for me and I would do the same for them.
  8.   Reading books has been part of my everyday life as far as I can remember. I would be very miserable without one.
  9. I am a published author: The Last Lifeline (2015) was my first fiction novel followed by And The Lights Came On (2016)
  10. Both books  are available as ebooks on my Amazon .com link: amazon.com/author/tz31_maaso_06
  11. I also write short stories. Two of these were published in the Volume 1 Anthology of the Africa Book Club – The Bundle of Joy (2014)
  12. Two others were published on the 2 Drops of Ink, Online Literary Blog.

13.The Story that Grandmother Never Wanted to Tell  was featured on the Yours 2 Read online platform for African writers  in London in March 2020.

 14. I have been running a blog for personal development: to share my wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences with others with the intention of impacting their lives positively. I post an article on it consistently every ten days.  Writing the posts hones  my writing skills, connects me with other writers and readers. It serves as a platform to promote my Creative Writing works. Its link is : https://www.apagefrommunakusbook834350529.blog

15. I am a member of several Online Writers Cartels like Write Practice, Africa Book Club and 2 Drops of Ink.

16. I am a member of FEMRITE- Association of Uganda Women Writers and AWT- The African Writers Trust(Ug)

17. I attend   workshops for writers  regularly to hone my writing skills. The most rewarding that I attended was organized by AWT last September. Prof. Okey Ndibe  who teaches Africa and African Diaspora Literature at Brown University, USA, was the tutor.

18. I have two other hobbies: travelling and amateur photography. They feed into my writing and enable me to explore some of the places that I visit in my wide reading. Most of the images I use in my blog posts were taken by me during my travels.

19. I am also a keen gardener. Connecting with Nature helps me to find my place in the universe and gives me the responsibility to nurture and preserve it for the next generation.

20. I consider writing as my second career after medicine.  I have been  featured as  a Guest Blogger  on these blogs:mulerasfireplace.com, http://penandprosper.blogspot.com   and http://writingandwellness.com

I think this will give you some ideas of who I am.

Day 1 of the UGBlogMonth Challenge.

WHY I WRITE

I have four main reasons behind my writing

  1. My Fascination with the Written Word.

I have been a voracious reader since the age of six and my parents played a crucial role in helping me to cultivate this habit.  In the secondary school I attended, I was caught and punished many times for  hiding in a pantry  to read  a novel after the official Lights Out at 10pm. In the process, I acquired so much knowledge, joy and fun and  became a global citizen long before the invention of the Internet; all at the price of a book!

By the time I was thirty five years of age, I felt that I had read enough books- fiction and non fiction to write my own. This was my simple way of giving back to the Literary world in gratitude. Surprisingly , my English teacher of Literature in English had seen this potential and drawn my attention to it. I considered Medicine as my noble calling.

2. Writing to express my thoughts, feelings and desires.

As I grew older, I continued with my obsession with books but I also developed the quest to find out who I was at a deeper level. Slowly, but surely I became a better person and rose above mere humanity. I became an artist- creating something meaningful, lasting and something of value. I stretched my imagination and began to write short stories. I wanted to share my knowledge, experiences and skills with other people with the intention of impacting their lives positively.

My favourite author Maya Angelou said: ” When you get, you give. If you learn, you teach.”

 I write about what I know, what I feel is beautiful and of significance in my life. All that I create emerges out of the truth about who I am at that moment in time. I block out the past or the future and concentrate on my creation. I begin with childlike spontaneity and openness and finish with maturity, skill and wisdom. The process of creation is more liberating and thrilling than the actual product. I gain more confidence and enlightenment as I continue to create.

3.Writing to give hope and joy while honing my writing skills.

In October 2016, I started blogging mainly for personal development and to inspire others. I tap into my wealth of experience, skills and knowledge to uplift , inspire while honing my writing skills. I also use it as a platform to connect with other writers and readers and to promote my creative works.

4. Writing just for the fun of it.

After being away from Uganda for more than twenty two years, I returned to find a radically changed place. I found it tough to get assimilated into the new systems.  I have been able to move forward and to find joy by clinging to what I love and what makes me fulfilled: reading, reading and Writing. Writing reduces the stress, gives me the ability to cope, improves my memory and concentration, helps  me to live a balanced life and improves my sleeping habits. For as long as I can , I shall keep reading and writing to keep my mind, heart and soul in top shape.

BRIGHTEN UP YOUR LIFE WITHIN YOUR LIMITATIONS

The lockdown intended to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to help in saving lives, is likely to continue in most of our countries. In my country, Uganda ,  we have 55 confirmed cases so far of whom 5 have been discharged, Thankfully, we have no associated deaths among the cases and the health care providers. The Lockdown  was extended for another 21 days  as of 15/04/20. We expected the extension which even includes a curfew from 7pm to 7am the question was : for how long?

We brace ourselves for another 21 days; confined in our homes for our own safety and for the safety of others.

  In today’s world, we want to control things to the point of predicting the outcome in a given situation but then this new virus has rendered us all: rich and poor, black and white ,powerless . No one knows when it will end or the overall social and economic effect it will have on our lives. Consequently, we are stressed , anxious and confused . Looking back at Wuhun, China, the first epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took 76 days of tight lockdown and testing to relax the restrictions gradually.

What can help us to go through this lockdown with relative ease, is for us not to lose hope and to remain positive. Nothing lasts forever, it will end and each day brings us closer to that eventuality. To remain hopeful and positive , each one of us has the responsibility to be kind and to spread joy other than panic and fear. Having said that, I would advise that you also pay attention to what you experience every day so that you pick the lessons you need to learn to inform the resetting of your life now and in the future. In life, no experience is ever wasted.

Do not throw a grenade, it is already messy,” I have had someone advise.

We should all be striving to brighten up our lives and other people’s lives too.

 In my own simple way, I am trying to bring colour and energy into our lives by sharing some colourful photos from my collection.

I hope they will colour your life too and keep you hopeful and enthusiastic about life.

A plate of fresh tropical fruits

Colourful and inviting to the eyes and to the palate. The yellow colour evokes warmth and comfort while red evokes love and excitement.

 Lush green shrubs and trees- the leaves glistening in the sunlight, remind me that to live is to be really alive: aware of who you are and your surroundings and engaging fully with life. Connecting with Nature helps me find my place in the universe and reminds me of my important duty of  protecting and preserving it for future generations.

The calm blue ocean

 It calms and relaxes my soul. It always reminds me that I have to be calm and peaceful to think rationally.

The iconic, rugged Table Mountains , Cape Town , South Africa.

When it rains long enough, even the desert blooms

The tall coconut tree-  able to survive hurricanes! It belongs to a family of old trees which have evolved over million of years to withstand their harsh environment. They have spongy tissues and root ball systems that spread  over a big surface area to tap nourishment and water.

I agree with the behavioural psychologists that  our true perception of colours is deeply rooted in our experiences and culture.

At the moment, the majority of us are living in confined spaces but each one can make some  effort to go out and simply create the life he/she wants under these difficult  and  unprecedented times. Like the professional artist, little by little , day by day, each one of us can create beauty and significance  in her/his life using her/his gifts, talents and imagination.  Being technology- savvy keeps you kilometers ahead.

Even in this COVID-19 – induced lockdown, the clock has not stopped and life is still an adventure . I am required to apply  some passion, perseverance, patience, a sense of adventure and discipline, to  create the life I want for myself. I have all the colours of the rainbow to choose from as I paint the canvas of my life.  Using bold, bright colours will help me to keep my enthusiasm for life. Every day, I have to motivate myself by believing that I have to go through this experience to rise to another level of mastery. Challenges and struggles make our lives interesting and overcoming them gives us more confidence and power.

Like the coconut trees which evolved to become flexible and adaptable to withstand hurricanes, during this pandemic , we are truly growing, hardening and evolving.  Many of us will still be standing when the COVID-19 pandemic  is over and we shall be stronger, wiser and more adventurous .

One famous quote by Robert H. Schuller has come to my mind: Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

QUESTION:

What kind of routine have you developed to  help you  find optimal well being physically, emotionally and mentally  during this Lockdown period?

STAY SAFE, STAY HEALTHY.

THESE ARE STRANGE TIMES

Nature brings colour into our lives

Had it been rain, I would have said that a trickle has become a flood

Had it been a  fire I would have said that the simplest bonfire has  become a wild bush fire.

But it is the new Coronavirus, COVID-19,  which slowly crept on the world in late December 2019 and has now spread almost to the whole world. According to worldmeters.info, the new virus has infected  1.4555,522 , killed 83,664 and 309,825 recovered from it to date .It  has forced us  to be locked in. In Wuhun , China, the strict lockdown lasted 76 days! It caught us unprepared and unable to tackle such a huge health problem which is now feeding into an economic  crisis!

Lockdown has become very familiar; Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa are in it. Japan joined the group on the 7thApril 2020 and Ethiopia has  just joined.

I must admit that African countries like Sierra Leone, Uganda and Liberia  which had the painful experience of managing the devastating Ebola epidemics   in the past, came out aggressively on COVID-19 from the onset.

As of today 8th April 8, 2020, here in Uganda ,we are in  day  9 of the 14- day of the  government – imposed lockdown and a curfew from 7pm to 7am.

Everyone else has to stay at home except those offering essential services in hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets, food markets and security.

What is happening in the whole world has never happened before so no country had time to prepare for it. Initially, it felt so far away in China but now we have 53 confirmed and linked cases in Uganda and thankfully, no deaths yet. The ministry of health has been giving a consistent message about the COVID-19 ,follow up reports on suspected cases and daily update of new cases.

By 6pm today, BBC had reported  10,700 confirmed cases in Africa, South Africa having the highest number -1749  while Algeria follows close by with 1,468.

 This morning, wearing a surgical face mask, I walked down to the nearby open pharmacy to buy my mother’s regular drugs. Life is almost unrecognizable: streets  are almost empty,  pavements are free of street vendors and bodabodas and  the whole area is relatively quiet.

A herd of cows was crossing the street at leisure. Mobile money kiosks were open to allow people to send  and receive money from loved ones. I crossed the ever crowded street with utmost ease.

These days, the commonest sound in the streets is the wailing of the ambulance sirens as they rush  seriously ill general patients to hospitals. On the  30th March, both  public and  private transport  were  banned. The dusk-to-dawn curfew could be extended depending on the surge in new cases.

By sheer coincidence, 41 years ago around this time, Kampala streets were empty as many people had fled to their villages to avoid being caught in the cross fire between the UNLA and Obote 11 government soldiers fighting to control  the city. This was a physical war unlike the current one where we are fighting an invisible enemy and trying to stop it spreading while at the same time trying to save as many lives as possible.

At home, there are three of us in a house surrounded by a perimeter wall, my octogenarian mother ,our young helper and myself . We have kept to ourselves since the 22nd March. The young helper keeps herself busy watching soap operas on the television while my mother  prays relentlessly on the Catholic Radio Maria. However, the three of us listen to the late news , official Ministry of health updates  and the President’s weekly  public address about the pandemic together.

 Never in my whole adult life  have I ever I had so much  free time  to  myself with minimal distractions and with my mother as well.  It has allowed me to do a lot of things that I had pushed to the side.

I am concentrating on keeping my body, mind and spirit in top shape in this confined space. I remain hopeful that the pandemic would be over sooner than later.

At this moment in time, I am religiously applying the mantra: A healthy Mind, a Healthy Body, knowing very well that health is my greatest wealth.

I have to pay attention to what I eat, think, feel and do every day.

  1. Taking care of my body- I have struggled to maintain a routine by waking up by 8am, keeping active during the day and sleeping around the same time at night.

Out of habit, I start each day with some exercises for almost an hour; to strengthen and tone my muscles. I  have been  doing fifty push-ups every morning for a long time.

I take timely meals; eating to be healthy, eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, I can still harvest  lemons ,some vegetables like red and green Amaranth (Dodo) ,carrots , beetroot and rape from our small garden.  Our regular bodaboda delivery man can buy us oranges, watermelon, passion fruits , pawpaws from the nearest markets. The mangoes are scarce.

By habit I take more than two litres of water daily but I must admit that my old mother  beats me at this. Water keeps us hydrated and helps to remove toxins from the body.

Adequate sleep –  As human beings, our bodies follow a daily cycle, responding to light and darkness in our environment. This is the 24 hours natural internal clock in our brains known as the  Sleep/Awake cycle or  Circadian Rhythm. Our energy and focus dip and rise according to this cycle . Generaly, it dips from 1:00pm -3pm then again, between 2am and 4am.

Regular sleep habits keep this circadian rhythm working at it best. Each one of us requires 7-8 hours of quality sleep to function normally.  During sleep, the  body repairs itself and the proteins needed to fight infections and inflammation are released .  Getting less sleep results in poor immune responses, opening us up to recurrent infections.

To stay healthy especially during this COVID-19 pandemic , ensure that you sleep 7-8 hours at night. Adequate sleep  combined with healthy balanced meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables  will keep the immune system functional and protect you  further  and reduce the stress on you.

2.Keeping your mind healthy –  Mental  health is essential for a healthy body. Adequate sleep and regular exercise contribute to your mental well- being too.

We have been living in a fast-paced world and then suddenly we are forced to slow down. It has never happened in our time nor were we prepared for it and yet we are expected to figure out what to do and make it work for us positively. Otherwise we can easily tip into depression or become too angry and resentful.

I have been keeping my mind active by reading novels, writing short stories and blog posts, going back to do the Cross Word puzzles and Sudoku Number puzzles in the old newspapers that I never had time to complete. I have had time to check and file all my important documents. With strict discipline, I limit my time on the Social Media and instead lose myself in reading inspirational blogs, current medical advances relevant to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I have attended two webinars about Creative writing. I read one Anthology  of 52 African  short stories second time round in one and half days.

 Listening to the daily update of the pandemic on BBC leaves me depressed and I  begin to wonder when it will end. I pick up myself by remembering what I was taught by my parents in childhood: In a difficult situation avoid being distressed by focusing on what you can change under the circumstances. Usually it requires me to change my attitude towards the problem thus helping me to regain some of my power and control.

I have been listening to Classic music and digging out some funny jokes that I share with friends for a good belly laugh.

 I never forget my professional responsibility so I look out for opportunities to be useful by giving out the right information to alley fear and panic, to encourage and uplift others .These are difficult times for the young and old, married and single , employed and non-employed.

I am  Incredibly grateful for the Mobile phone that  connects me to family and friends instantly. The mutual love and support is a strong anchor to us. I have a few essential  WhatsApp groups that I contribute to. We try to hold together by giving kindness and inspiration. COVID-19 may have taken away our freedom of movement and control over many things but it has given us an opportunity to develop strong relationships. This lockdown period has clearly emphasized to us how interconnected we are from  the family level to the community, to the nation and to the world at large.

3. Spiritual nourishment.

I believe in God and his promises. I count my blessings every day; it gives me hope and joy and lines me up for more blessings.

For some years, I have made time to read  and study the Bible with the intention of living it in my day-to-day life. The lockdown has given more time engage in this.

All in all, the Bible tells me that there is nothing new; what is happening now has happened before. In all these desperate situations, there is always a group that survives and flourishes. It is very comforting to know that there is a loving God watching over us and walking us to the other side. We shall come out more resilient and wiser.

The news that the first epicenter of the COVID-19  pandemic, Wuhun, China, was fully reopened at midnight on the  8th April(  a day after the official World Health Day) gives us all some hope. It may take a while for us to go back to close to normal: the New Normal but it will come.

Nothing lasts forever but what I know for sure is that the pandemic has changed our lives and the world forever. The lessons  we shall  learn from this painful , frightening and strange experience will richly inform us as we reset our lives and our world.

The  famous 1985 song : We are the World by  Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie  demands collective and coordinated global effort to defeat such a huge health and economic problem .

Our forefathers always knew the best approach to solving enormous challenges:

“ Sticks in a Bundle  Cannot Be Broken.” – African Proverb.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb.

QUESTION:

How are you filling up your free time?  What are the biggest challenges to achieving what you want to accomplish during this Lockdown?

STAYING HOME TO STAY RELATIVELY SAFE

I read my Bible regularly and that Book of the Philosopher known as Ecclesiastes, verse 15 of the third chapter confirms what we all know: Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same things happen again and again.

While I was reading about pandemics under Medical history and Ethics , I found out that influenza pandemics had occurred regularly every 30-40 years since the 16th century and the question that was always on people’s minds was: When is the next one?

The most deadly Influenza Pandemic of modern times was the Spanish one of 1918-1920. It did not originate in Spain but the 1st World War was raging in Europe from July 28th 1914 to November 11th 1918. The influenza pandemic was spreading quickly in war- ravaged Europe and regulations did not allow journalists  to talk about the pandemic  but Spain was a neutral country in that war so its journalists could report freely about the pandemic and its economic effect on Spain. This is why it was called the Spanish Influenza. Investigative research later suggested that it could have originated in Kansas, USA in the spring of 1918. It spread quickly to Europe, North Africa, India and Australia.

The movement of people and the military during the war, the poor food supplies, and the malnourished state of  the people, facilitated the spread of the virus. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic  is believed to have caused 500 million infections and killed 50 million of them. It killed people mainly between 18  and 45 years of age. The death rate of 2% caused great economic disruption and decline. It was declared a global public health problem and guidelines were put in place to contain it.

The main focus was on  Prevention and Control of the spread of the pandemic by :

  1. Identifying the classic symptoms  and alerting the public
  2. Obligatory confinement of suspected cases followed by tracing their contacts and quarantining them.
  3. Symptomatic treatment  of cases – many of the patients died of pneumonia  caused by a bacteria in lungs already weakened by the virus infection.
  4. Closure of all public places and stopping all public gatherings and congregations.
  5. Minimising travel and quarantining travelers from areas where there were outbreaks of the infection.
  6. The people were given the right information and empowered to take on their individual responsibilities of keeping themselves and others safe.

After this unprecedented pandemic, many lessons were learned from the mistakes and what was done right.  Public health was strengthened and Essential guidelines were  developed which are still being used today to fight pandemics

Coronavirus  disease – COVID-19

These are different times ; we are living in  a well-connected world ,connected through quick modes of transportation like aeroplanes, trains, marine, vehicles on connected roadways. We are living in the science and technology –driven 21st century. The Internet allows the generation, analysis  of data and transfer of it over networks. People can easily influence each other.

Since the Spanish flue pandemic, there have been many medical advances in the diagnosis , management  and  control of common diseases and new ones like SARS and Ebola.

By April 1948, the United Nations had established the World Health Organization(WHO) as the co-coordinating and authority on International Public health and one of its main functions is to fight diseases and  to stop them from spreading.

WHO declared COVID- 19 as a public health Emergency on the 30 th January 2020. The Corona virus is a new virus,  it is a respiratory virus, has no treatment or vaccine and no one has immunity to it. The first cases were reported by 27th December  2019 as  mysterious pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan, China. Available records of last week from Wuhun showed    81,470 confirmed cases, 75,770 recovered and  3,304 deaths. Wuhan Province has been in total shut down for eight weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to mainland China and other countries of the world.

UGANDA

The first case was confirmed on 21 st March 2020 and immediately, some restrictions to movement and to public gathering and congregation were put in place for at least 32 days.

The Ministry of Health has done a commendable job in educating us about the new disease, how to protect ourselves and others and what to do if you suspect you have the main symptoms and how to boost your immunity to infections.

Daily updates on the progress of the pandemic at home and worldwide keep us on the right path and empower us to do the right things during this period of uncertainty. I only hope that we are being told the truth about the spread of this invisible killer.

As of today 30th March, 33 cases have been confirmed  at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe. They are all imported cases- people who travelled and returned home from countries like United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, the virus has not yet spread into the Community. This must have dictatated the total lockdown declared by the president last night and  being effective from 10pm. Uganda is a developing country, has limited resources, if the virus spread into our community fast, the numbers of patients would definitely overwhelm our fragile health care system.  The fact that 78% of our population is under the age of 30, could be an advantage to us and so are the lessons learned from having lived through and controlled the Gulu Ebola epidemic of 2000, of the west  in 2007 and the Luwero outbreaks of 2011 and 2012. They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger and wiser.

 We are following the WHO guidelines to the letter: early detection by quick testing and quick isolation followed by contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus together with the provision of Protective  personal equipment to the health workers on the frontline.

The most vulnerable among us like the elderly, those in self –isolation, those on HIV /AIDS treatment will need to be supported by the government through this pandemic. No doubt, the lockdown  will shrink the economy  and family incomes but staying healthy takes the priority for now.

 Being in the high risk age group, I have not left home since the declaration of the first restrictions on 21st March.  I cannot thank God enough for giving me this opportunity to be with my octogenarian mother during this unprecedented situation. It has allayed our anxiety and fears. But as a typical Ugandan family, our close relatives are scattered as far as Australia, Canada, UK, Sweden, Italy, USA, Kenya, and Cape Town, South Africa. We are closely connected on Social Media and mobile phones. We are asking two questions: When will it end? and Will life ever be the same again?

 As a health worker, I find it extremely disheartening to see what is happening in hospitals in Italy. I pray that it does not happen elsewhere.

 South Korea is a notable example of a country which slowed down the spread of the virus without applying the strict lockdown strategies taken elsewhere.   In January, the country quickly confirmed that they had some COVID-19 cases and immediately restricted  movement  while testing widely and  aggressively. They isolated  the cases and quarantined suspects. They used digital technology like mobile phones, ATM cards to trace contacts. It reduced the spread of the virus without lockdown .

The reopening of Wuhun, a  Chinese city of 11 million people  after eight weeks of total lockdown  gives us some hope.

This global pandemic is reminding us of how interconnected we are to each other and that we can only defeat the virus if we engaged and worked collectively. Each one of us has a small role to play that fits in the big picture.The reality is that drugs have to be developed, tested and approved  for use in human beings. A vaccine is likely to take 6-18 months to be developed but life has somehow to go on.

I for one have been reminded of not taking life and loved ones for granted and that I can only live a bigger life if I am connected to others. And that my health is my greatest wealth!

 Life never ceases to surprise; on the 29th March 2020, BBC World service featured Bob Weighton of UK as the oldest man in the world. He was celebrating 112 years on that day. What was most interesting about him is that he had lived through the great Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1919 and was now locked down in his home due to the current CODIV-19 Pandemic!

As they say, it always gets worse before it gets better, we all need to prepare ourselves for the worst and to do everything possible to support each other through the pandemic.

“ May you see sunshine where others see shadows and opportunities where  others see obstacles.- Unknown

QUESTION:

Are you playing your role seriously in protecting yourself and others from this infectious virus?

MY UNSUNG HEROINE

Uganda’s ultimate multitasker

 

In many countries of the world, women  are poorer and are marginalized compared to the men. The earliest Women’s Day was observed in New York in February 1909. On March 8th 1917, a demonstration of the women working in the textile factories  in the then Russian Empire, over food shortages and a weak economy  sparked off the Russian Revolution. A week later, Tsar Nicholas 11 of Russia abdicated and the women won their rights to vote.

At the first UN women’s conference  held in Mexico in 1975, the United Nations declared  1975-1985 as the Women’s decade. It  was to draw attention to the plight of women and  to focus on policies and issues that would  improve their status  in the world. It also adopted 8th March as the International Women’s Day.

The day serves to recognise the women and girls contribution towards the development and progress of society. It also serves to acknowledge the achievements made and how far women still have to go in the battle of equal rights. In Uganda, the day was first officially celebrated in 1984, a year before the end of the UN Decade for women. The conference to mark the end of the UN Women’s Decade and to chart the way forward was held in Nairobi, Kenya July 1985. Women delegations from 160 countries in the world converged in Nairobi. Surprisingly, I was included in the Uganda delegation as a medical doctor at the eleventh hour. Women have been graduating as medical doctors in Uganda, since 1959!

I was the youngest member of our delegation. A military coup occurred in Uganda during the three weeks we were away. The Obote 11 government was overthrown by a faction of the army headed by  Brig Bazilio Okello and six months later, the National Resistance Army commanded by Yoweri Museveni toppled  Okello’s government.

When the dust settled, a few of us lobbied the new National Resistance Movement government for a Ministry of Women in Development to drive the agenda of empowering women to actively participate in the development of Uganda and to fight for their rights. Since women’s health and development feed each other, I organized a group of Women doctors around Kampala to establish the Association of Uganda Women Doctors .Our main objective was  to promote and protect the health of women and children and the general population. We strongly believed that  women had to be healthy to participate fully in development.

I celebrated the International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020 ,  a day early with the young medical students at Makerere University Teaching Hospital, Mulago. The students organized some activities to mark the day under the theme: The Woman Within. The activities included aerobics and Salsa and a panel discussion about the Women Doctors’ Association, etiquette, entrepreneurship and relationships.

Then on Sunday , I chose to attend the Old girls-led worship service at my old school, Gayaza High school. The singing, the praise and thanksgiving was comforting to all of us after last Friday’s fire that gutted Corby house . The Lord of the storm was in our midst.

At home, my octogenarian mother celebrated the day watching the official government celebrations in Mbale,  about 225 kilometres northeast of  Kampala. The activities organized under the theme:  Celebrating 25 years of the 1995 Constitution, were to celebrate the women and their contribution to the development of our country. The 1995 constitution made women and men equal before and under the law and entitled to all the rights and freedoms in it. All in all, some achievements have been made but still there is a huge gap between policy and practice.

 My mother watched in fascination, pausing only to pick water or fresh fruits from the refrigerator or use the bathroom. The degenerative arthritis has slowed down her movements but she still has the will to struggle against it. Currently, among the things she looks out for on the television  are: the consecration of a Catholic bishop,  the church services celebrating the Kabaka’s  coronation anniversary and birthday and the Women’s Day Celebration.  She is one woman who struggled to find her sense of autonomy by committing to her children, work and belief system but still remained feminine.

At 12 noon, I found her glued to the television watching the march -past parade led by the women in the Army and Police. A number of speeches followed while I went in and out of the sitting room doing my usual chores. It did not end until twenty minutes to 4pm! She called me out loud to watch the grand finale of the celebrations: the presentation of medals to honour  82 women for their distinguished service to our nation.

“ Do you know any of these women being recognised today?”she asked.

I laughed, “Mama, I’ve been away for more than two decades, I ‘d not know any of the young officers who have come up through   ranks.’’

I listened more carefully. At least I knew Angelina  Wapakhabulo, Lydia Wanyoto, Tsekooko and Beatrice Namukabya.

A Message  alert signal  led me to check my phone. It was from Faith, a classmate in Gayaza High School. She is an engineer married in Kenya. She was informing me that her mother was among those being honoured .

I sat tight and waited . Mrs. Miriam Lumonya ‘s name  was read out , unfortunately I  did not see her join the group. As the Coronavirus has taken over our lives, there were no handshakes with the President or among the women themselves.

“ Does anyone ever remember to honour in some way the women in the villages? They ‘re the architects of our communities. They give until they can give no more.”

“ I ‘ve no idea but I ‘d think that each district would honour its own heroines.”

I understood my mother’s concern for the women deep in the rural areas of Uganda. 70% of Ugandan women live in the rural areas, starting their day at 5am and ending it 11pm!

Our patriarchal society has preordained them  to being the primary caregivers- they take care of their husbands, children, the elderly and the sick. They  are so consumed by this role that they forget to take care of themselves. They have little power, authority and they undervalue themselves. They tend to sacrifice their autonomy to relationships.

In this state , they can never find their unique rhythm, their wisdom or their sense of what is uniquely theirs to give. They cannot factor their own needs into the network of caring relationships. They badly need help to find the balance between responsibility for others and responsibility to oneself.

To me, these are the unsung heroines  of the Women’s Day and the best one known to me is my mother!

My mother lost her father at a very tender age , she had one big sister and a younger brother. They grew up with their mother who refused to remarry into the husband’s family as the culture dictated. She instead committed to her children. The elder sister walked about three kilometres to the nearest Catholic school of the area. Recognizing that my mother was too small to walk that journey, my grandmother pleaded with the headmaster of the nearby Protestant school  to take on her daughter. It was done but it was unheard of at that time!

A Catholic priest from the Lugazi Diocese  was on his routine tour of the parish when he was told of a Catholic girl attending a Protestant school. Father Bohn talked to my grandmother( through an interpreter) and persuaded her to allow her daughter to join the Catholic boarding primary school of Mt. Saint Mary’s Namagunga.  The Irish missionary nun , Mother Mary Kevin Kearney ( 1875- 1957)had in February 1942, opened the school to promote the education of girls. She wanted to increase the opportunities and  help them lead better lives in our patriarchal society.  She also believed that if these educated girls grew up and married educated Catholic men , they would bring up Catholic children.

My mother spent six years in Mother Kevin’s school then joined Nsambya Catholic  Nursing and Midwifery school for three years. The school had also been started by Mother Mary Kevin since she believed that  Uganda needed its own teachers and nurses. The midwives would reduce the maternal and infant deaths.

My mother completed midwifery and was planning to take up Nursing after two years but then my father appeared on the scene. Recognizing that my father was much older than my mother,  my grandmother  was reluctant to give away her daughter.

” My daughter needs a cushion to fall back on. No one knows what the future holds.”

My mother worked for three years then out of my father’s persistence, grandmother blessed their union. They had six of us and we were what I would call a happy family.

Then thirteen years later, without any warning, my mother left home and went back to work as a midwife.That is what she wanted for her life. Probably she found her identity in work. My father never understood why she had traded-off her easy life for a working one!

For thirty years she worked in several maternity centres in the central region. She worked with passion, took opportunities to train and grow. She rose through the ranks. She worked for more than ten years at her last station, Nakifuma, 26 kilometres  northeast of Mukono.

At one time , she had delivered most of the children of the village. It earned her a new name :Omuzaalisa we Nakifuma ( the midwife of Nakifuma) and it earned her a lot of respect and free gifts. Her Maternity unit became a teaching centre for the Lugazi area.

Two weeks ago, I met Dr. Adam Kimala, one of her supervisors , he was full of praise for her.

My happiest moment was in 1982 when I was a first  year Postgraduate student in Obstetrics & Gynaecology  at  the  University Teaching hospital, Mulago. A young woman was referred to us  from Nakifuma maternity centre because she was bleeding  in her late pregnancy. We quickly operated on her, delivered a normal baby and saved the mother. I recognised my mother’s handwriting on the referral  form! By then things were operating relatively well,  there was a functional referral system; one ambulance served four clinics in the district. My mother  was extremely proud of being a member of a functional health care system.

I asked her about her concerns at the present time.

She lives near the Kawempe  Referral Women’s hospital and  her niece  works there as a senior midwife. The niece has told her that the patients overwhelm the number of staff.

My mother wonders why many women are being delivered by Caesarian section  and that a number of these mothers and the babies die. The fact that a number of women still deliver unassisted by health workers and  that every day, 16 women die in Uganda from pregnancy  and childbirth –related causes  , nags her conscience.

The teenage pregnancies also concern her. She begs the adults to allow these girls to become adults before they become mothers.

The last time she visited Nakifuma maternity centre, it was a rundown place. She is not likely to go back.

She has a great sense of radical thankfulness and celebration of her life; she mothered seven children, committed to midwifery, saving women’s lives over thirty years and was able to be both true to herself and to commit to the things and people she loves. She has remained a staunch Catholic  and feels that she has in her own way played a role in raising the status of women in society like her teacher:Mother Mary Kevin.                                              

She remains my unsung heroine.

A woman becomes better at multitasking when she becomes a mother.”– Anonymous

QUESTION:

Has this post helped you to see how in your own way you can assist the  woman in the rural area balance her responsibility to others with her responsibility to herself?

THE YOUNG AND THE VIBRANT

The walkway to the school chapel

THE YOUNG AND THE VIBRANT

A few days ago, I was given an opportunity through the Pamela Kadama  Senkatuka Foundation to visit my old school to introduce the Career  Guidance Programme to the Form 1 students. The foundation was set up in June 2015  to carry forward the legacy of a young ,enthusiastic electrical and telecommunication engineer who in her short life played the role of  a change agent wherever she was stationed.  She was an alumnus of Gayaza High School.

Because of the examples set by my father and the young, vibrant church Missionary teachers at my school, giving back to the community I live in is as natural to me as breathing.

As a Christian I am very much aware of what is required of me:  To whom much is given , much will be required. ( Luke 12:48)

We are blessed  not to contain but to bless others through giving and sharing.

Maya Angelou said: “When you learn , teach and when you get, give.”

My fourteen years at Gayaza High School  endowed  me with many remarkable gifts and abilities like Christian values and principles, the Never Give Up spirit  and lifetime friendships. They shaped me into whom I am today. What I learned years ago on the school farm, during the housework period, in the school plays and on the sports teams still has meaning today. My way of giving back to this great school is to uphold its values and principles and become a role model  and create young role models by the way I live my life.

Among the most thrilling words that one can be told are: “ When I grow up , I want to be like you- helping people and enjoying it.”

 I have met many young girls who want to grow up and be like Dr.  Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, a surgeon,  wife, mother,  and the first woman Vice President of Uganda or Julia Sebutinde, a Ugandan judge on the International Court of Justice.

These  ordinary women struggled against all odds  to become extraordinary in  our patriarchal society! They ,changed the mindset and possibilities of young women much more and faster than the policies and laws on paper.

Many times, I have been thrilled to meet young doctors who became doctors out of the desire to be like me and women who became lawyers after seeing Mrs. Sarah  Bagalaaliwo’s voluntary efforts to help women at FIDA- the Uganda chapter of International Federation of Women Lawyers.

On a warm , sunny day , a group of us including grandmothers, mothers and  young women of different professions, spent almost two hours with the 280 newly admitted  Form 1 students in that majestic school chapel. They were seated on the same pews that I  had sat on  decades ago! For some minutes , I was confused whether the school uniform had been changed since they were all wearing white blouses and black skirts. These girls aged between 12-14 years  were the cream of the a thousand or so students who applied for admission to this 115 years old Church-founded school.This admission in itself confers upon  them some form of privilege and burdens them  with  huge  expectations from the school, family and society.

 I hoped that it was not lost on them that privileges are always tagged with responsibilities, more opportunities come with challenges and  that all choices  have consequences.The students of the Class 2020, looked so young, so vibrant  that they reminded me of my teenage years donkey’s years ago.  They are today’s young ones,  full of trust and optimism. In this digital era, they are the igeneration –defined by their technology and media use,  their love for electronical consumerism and their need to multitask.

During my time- the Baby Boomer generation, the school was the epitome of social progress; admitting students from all the districts of Uganda.  Miss Joan Cox(RIP),the headmistress of the time, would take off time to visit all the 35 or so districts, looking for bright, all – round students and encourage them to join the school. For the less fortunate students, bursaries would be arranged from their district education offices. I have to admit and with pride that the Gayaza High School  of my time was  the most integrated community in Uganda. This diversity of tribes would later pay high dividends to the students as they progressed through universities and their working lives.

Career guidance during my time took the form of old students of the school who had become teachers, doctors, physiotherapists, agricultural scientists, lecturers and some professional parents like the late Dr. F.G Sembeguya, being invited  to talk to us about their careers and lives. The talks would be arranged  during some selected Sunday morning chapel services. These exposures helped us to  find our passions, gifts and desires. In between , the teachers would  endeavour to  advance our career prospects. As expected, gifted students who excelled at both Arts and Science subjects  and were not sure of what exactly they wanted to do in life, would find it difficult to make the choices.  Parents and teachers’ pressures prevailed upon them.  Later in life, a few confessed that they  had joined medicine just because they were good at the required entry subjects  of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and others took up law because they were good at English, History and Literature in English and Geography. I know  of a few who took up professions just because their fathers wanted  them to. Of these, a few changed later  to professions or vocations of their choice

That seemed enough at that time but we are now in the 21st century; times have changed and many things have changed. In this science and technology-driven era, students need career guidance much more than any other time in the past.

Why Career Guidance is so important today :

  1. The world is constantly changing and changing fast too. Change is now the new normal. Tomorrow is likely to be too different from today.
  2. Digital technology has radically changed the workplace for ever. Some jobs are disappearing while new ones keep coming up. Automation and the use of Robots have eliminated some jobs while at the same time creating some new ones. The office space has changed too- some people can work on laptops or iphones  from home.
  3. There are no permanent jobs for life and there are no permanent skills in such a fluid  work environment
  4. Since the English scientist Tim  Berners -Lee invented the World Wide Web and released  it to the public in August 1991, the world was reduced to a Global Village.
  5. This technology –driven era is a Solution –orientated: those who innovate and create solutions to the biggest challenges facing their communities like deforestation, plastics recycling and clean energy will build viable businesses and make a lot of money.

Career Guidance offered at the earliest time possible in the life of a student is extremely essential.

It directs the individual on the right path, helps her/him determine the direction of her/his life and to adjust maximally to the environment.

Through career guidance, students  can make mature and informed decisions about their  lives and the future.

At the beginning of my conversation with the students, I asked those who knew what they wanted to do in life to raise their hands, more than half did. I asked those who were not sure of what they wanted to do in life, many hands went up and then I asked those who did not know what they wanted to do, five brave girls raised their hands. I reassured them that at their age it was too early to be sure and it was normal not  to know. Getting to choose a career or occupation is a long process that starts  on the day you get to know who you are deep down but could change at any level in one’s life. What will matter later is for the students to acquire the skills they will need to survive and flourish in times of change; making them useful to themselves and useful and relevant to society.

Most of us know and the psychologists confirm that each individual is unique; having strength and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Each one has unique gifts and talents if well applied, help each one to be integrated  into society and to make  a social contribution to the development of the country and the world at large. The moment one recognizes the great story that informs her/his life , he/she is liberated to explore ways of creating a life which facilitates the expression of that self. This long process starts at home and later follows through to schools , through university and through working life. Living your own story makes you feel deeply satisfied, feel that there is meaning  in your life- it just feels right to be useful and helpful to others.

No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy if it is not your life. And no life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own. You live your story day-to-day.

The happiest people in the world are those doing what they love and are being paid well for it. “ I ‘m doing this job because it is something I needed to do and because I wanted to give something of myself to others and I wanted to learn.”

As career Guidance is a process, and the global working environment continues to be dynamic, I have no doubt that I shall be visiting my school many times in the future to follow through our team work.

They say that,“ The hunt isn’t over until both your heart and your belly are full.”

The school still looks safe and peaceful so I would like to thank most sincerely all those teachers, students, parents , old girls and friends who have supported and maintained the school. To the teachers, thank you for helping the students to develop habits, skills and mindsets that build their social, emotional and academic capabilities. The school still promotes a sense of community and through sports, artwork, housework, student –designed projects and student-led conferences develops the “whole” student.

They say that, “ The future comes to us, one second at a time.”

QUESTIONS: Was it easy for you to determine which career you wanted to follow in life?

Do you think that offering Career guidance in schools helps the students to make their own decisions about their future?