We have a guest blogger today! Sharon, our executive-director is in Gulu as we speak visiting our partners and seeing first hand all the amazing work they are doing. She is a pro at this as she has traveled to Uganda many times.
I am looking forward to updating you as I get more information.
I have always had mixed feelings about coming to Uganda. The first time I was scared; I had no idea what to expect about where or how I would be living, but I felt confident that I would be able to do what I was sent here to do – diagnose Ebola. Months later I was thrilled to be returning with Pete, my husband, so he could understand how my time in Uganda had changed me; but we were both nervous about the trip, having found out only that morning that I was pregnant. Each trip is both anxiety-provoking and calming in its own way. This one is no different.
I am calm about my safety. I know what to expect and pack with precision for every possibility. But I am hesitant as always about leaving my boys at home. Of course they are fine without me (we all know Pete is the one who keeps our home running anyway); and they assured me that Dad will spoil them in my absence. But still I feel guilty. What does it mean to leave your children behind to care for other children I wonder? But I remind myself it is only for a week. Plus, I have Katie Cuddeback with me.
I have known Katie since I was in kindergarten with her son Brad. She is the ultimate cool and collected traveler. Nothing worries her and nothing surprises her. She didn’t even bat an eye when her duffle bag arrived at the guest house in Kampala ripped completely at a seam, on our first night here. Katie is a good antidote to my ever-present worrying. She just listens to me and says things like “I bet it will be okay” or “don’t you think it will work out?” And of course she is right.
Nonetheless I am conflicted. The very idea of an orphanage pains me. How can so many babies be abandoned? When will the situation stabilize here? But then I see the space being cleared to build a new art room for the children, and I am filled with hope for their happiness. Meeting the German volunteer, Ewa, who has re-arranged a room and made it into a nursery school room you would proudly send your children to (complete with shelves full of the books you all donated years ago!), impressed me beyond belief. Ewa is loving with the children, but also seems to know the ins and outs of the giant storehouse full of grains and rice. How can one person be so wonderful and how were we so lucky that she is at St. Jude’s? I also met Josephine today. Last spring she replaced Julius as deputy director of St. Jude’s. I have to say I was nervous to meet her. Julius was a rock. He wrote grants, he understood the big picture, he was professional but compassionate. I am extremely happy to be able to report that Josephine is a perfect addition to the St. Jude family. She is kind and smart and thoughtful. Watching her interact with the mothers at the orphanage was beautiful. She was patient and supportive and strong. The Home is again in excellent hands.
My ups and downs continue with Lacor. The hospital is bustling and is clearly a success. The best sign of a vibrant, quality hospital is that people want to use it. And Lacor is busy. But the pediatric ward is too busy. There are 105 beds but over 300 admitted children. When I was here two years ago, malaria rates were dropping so quickly that it was no longer the number one reason for pediatric admission. But with the end of the indoor residual spraying campaign last spring, the numbers have shot back up. And perhaps in conjunction with that, or perhaps because of the drought last season, there are 33 children being treated for malnutrition when just a year ago they closed the malnutrition ward for lack of use.
Little things also keep me happy here. We managed to buy a cheap cell phone and load it with minutes in the airport before leaving – just in case no one arrived to pick us up. But there was never really a reason to worry, of course. Simon Peter from Lacor was there waiting for us and brought us safely to the Guest House in Kampala. The pineapple at breakfast there was delicious. The drive up to Gulu was smooth and easy on fully paved, pothole-free roads! Seeing the incredible Brother Elio for the first time since 2011 (he was in Italy the last time I was here) filled me with joy, as we dove right into talking about the business of St. Jude’s and Lacor. Today Katie, Brother Elio, and I saw a beautiful kingfisher fly up into a mango tree. Meals give me the chance to talk with the wonderful people currently living in this Guest House, each of whom have remarkable stories that I hope to share with you. Some were old friends and some I just met. All amaze me and help my worry to recede and my hope to intensify.