Did I bite off more than I could chew? That's exactly what I was thinking on my first day at clinic.
A classroom at one of our clinic sites, a rural primary school
Let's back track some before I continue that thought. Before signing up for the Bridge to Health 2019 brigade to Kabale, Uganda, I'd never left the North American continent. Well...I did have a short 4 day trip to Iceland less than a year before; however, nothing as substantial as a two week humanitarian mission to east Africa! I mean, I don't even like camping! Nowhere to plug in my espresso machine.
Nonetheless, I was inspired to help by two of my colleagues – fellow chiropractors – who were involved in previous missions to Uganda. The experiences, personal insights and growth they both recounted to me really resonated with my desire to explore not only my limits, but a deep seeded urge to help those who need it most. I think this human trait is innate in all of us but can rarely be experienced in a North American urban setting. So, I decided to enact change, challenge my boundaries (or at least find where they were) and signed up. About two short months later, 36hrs of travel time and I was in an entirely new environment that my mind and senses have never been exposed too.
Here I am, in a remote village, asked to practice in a field, covered by a tent, communicating through interpreters who I've never met, dispensing medical care and advice to individuals whose cultural background is immensely different from my own...I felt useless. That first day was rough. I didn't feel I helped anyone, or at least in any substantial meaningful way.
Before we left that village I saw a little girl, and I knew then and there that I'd never forget what I saw...she could not have been more than 4-5 years of age, wearing only one shoe, covered in dust and had the most inquisitive face.
It appeared to me she was actively deducing who we were and why we were there. I suspect she's never seen the set up we erected in her small village, let alone a group of Caucasian, Asian, Indian, and other foreign doctors, dentists, hygienists, researchers and support staff frantically working.
That's when it dawned one me...irrespective of how I felt that day, I knew my presence was having a positive impact on her and her community now and in the future. We weren't there to mend cultural divides or provide flyby night treatments. We were there to engage the community by training and guiding local Clinical Officers (mid-level providers that provide the majority of healthcare due to the lack of local doctors), and other local healthcare providers, in clinical acumen that could help sustain a level of care not seen in that country before Bridge to Health's arrival. That was my turning point. From then on my focus was to help train my Clinical Officers imparting all the clinical pearls taught to me and that I amassed through the years of practice, which will remain and disseminate even further, long after I leave. That to me is Bridge to Health in a nutshell: sustainable healthcare.
I'm writing this entry less then 24hrs after returning back to Canada. I still haven't fully realized the complete impact of my experiences. However, I do know that I am not the same person I was when I left and I'm excited to learn who I am now after this journey.
Enjoying the view with fellow volunteers
Checking out the local beauty products (food?) in the Kabale grocery store
A message on a classroom wall