An account from the Bridge to Health Uganda Brigade 2019 from Sabrina Taylor, one of our wonderful volunteer nurses
The Bridge to Health team traveled to Kabale from Toronto via Ethiopia and Rwanda. Our flight from Toronto to Ethiopia touched down in Bujumbura, Burundi to let people off the plane and then continued on to Kigali, Rwanda. From there it was a two hour drive by bus to our final destination, Kabale, Uganda, where we would be graciously welcomed by the staff of Bridge to Health’s local partner organization, a non-profit called Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO).
I still remember touching down in Bujumbura and looking out the window. The level of excitement, the final realization that I was truly on the ground on a different continent was amazing. It was different than when we touched down in Ethiopia. The airport at Addis Ababa is larger and there's not much to see looking out from those floor to ceiling windows except the surrounding countryside.
The first thing that struck me when we landed in Bujumbura, and again in Rwanda, was the vibrancy of this continent. The contrast between the startling green of the forest and the red of the dirt. From the air the roads looked like red gold rivers winding their way through the lush green countryside. Little did I know at that time that that vibrancy wasn't limited to the scenery.
From the second I touched down in Rwanda and was met by Bill Cherniak and the KIHEFO staff I felt excited. I remember staring out the window of the bus during the two hour drive being both exhausted and eager to get started. We were there! We were welcomed at KIHEFO by the wife of Dr Geoffrey, KIHEFO’s Executive Director, and the other KIHEFO staff members. I so wanted to get started. Luckily for my over tired brain we were shortly settled into our accommodations and were able to rest for the night. The next day we would start.
Bridge to Health has a philosophy of working with the local health care providers to provide sustainable, long term solutions to health care in rural communities. And because of this philosophy of working withthe local people I feel our relationships were that much deeper with the local healthcare providers. We are not there to tell them what they need and what they need to do, rather Bridge to Health asks what they need and helps find solutions together. In working in the villages with the local healthcare providers I truly felt that they were our partners. The amazing local healthcare providers on the ground made it possible for me, and the other Bridge to Health volunteers, to make a difference.
It was in those relationships with the people of Uganda that I saw the true vibrancy of the country, of the continent. It was in the eyes and smiles of the staff working so hard to provide for their fellow citizens. It was in the eyes of the nursing students; I appreciated the opportunity to provide them with training to improve their clinical skills. It was in the staff setting up the tents and tables so we could run a comprehensive healthcare clinic in the middle of a rural village. It was in the woman who sat in front of me, never having seen a doctor but somehow trusting that I was there to help. It was in the mothers and fathers and children waiting patiently in the shade for their turn, having sometimes walked hours and waiting until end of day. It was in the people.
When I think back on the highlights of my experience, one patient comes to mind… I was helping to triage some of the children for the dental program. Clinics are often set up in schools as that provides the largest space in the rural communities. Because of this there are large numbers of children. Our dental partners and Bridge to Health provide preventative fluoride treatment to all these children and quickly examine them to see if they need further dental treatment. It was there that I met M. M was a little girl. She was playful and happy, and she was there to have her teeth checked. But there was one obvious difference with M. She had an injury that was very visible. We decided to get her seen by the medical team as well. It turns out that M had suffered from this injury for many years but had learned to not only live but thrive despite her limitations. It was the privilege of the Bridge to Health team to link her and her family with local Ugandan health practitioners so that her limitations are lessened, reducing their impact on her life as she grows into a wonderful and resilient woman.
I took some of that energy with me, at least in my memories. I hope to someday go back and once again work with the amazing people who are there, every day, striving to improve the lives of those who, simply because of where they were born, have less access to health care than many. I hope to see the vibrancy of the Ugandan people once again.