Aspen Ambassador Blogs – Day Five – Saying Goodbye

Since 2007, The ISIS Foundation has had the great privilege of partnering with Aspen. It has been an amazing partnership, which has shown us all the exponential power of linking the business sector with those in need in the developing world. Together, we have been able to provide the hospital with a new and expanded neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and a brand new maternity ward. In addition, Aspen helps people living with HIV to stay happy and healthy through various programmes. Most recently, Aspen has committed to supporting the ISIS Safe Motherhood projects as part of the larger community based health care programme.

Each year, eight Aspen staff members from offices across the globe come to Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda to see firsthand the impact of this partnership. Every year, they leave inspired. For the next week, the ambassadors will be writing a blog each day about their experience at Kiwoko. This is Day Five.

By Brittni Burke – Aspen Ambassador – Rocky Hill Office

The sun had just began to peek through the slight opening in the curtains and the faint sound of rustling in the bed next to mine indicated the start of a new day. Blinking a few times, allowing the room to come into focus, I noticed Dee, fully dressed in her long skirt and t-shirt bustling about the room… She was packing her suitcase. A slight pain in my chest grew as I was reminded that today was our last day at Kiwoko Hospital. We had met so many amazing individuals over the course of five days and Kiwoko Hospital had become our home away from home – a warm and welcoming family.

I slid out from under the large, white mosquito net that surrounded my bed and prepared for the day ahead. Grabbing my camera and satchel, I made my way to the dining hall where our cooks, Lorna, Ester, and Sam were waiting with breakfast. Everyone shuffled in and began dishing up fresh bananas, toast with jam, cereal, and of course, much needed coffee and tea. Breakfast was consumed rather quickly in order to ensure enough time to walk to the church for morning prayers and a sad farewell. The singing had already begun and was reverberating through the tops of the trees. The sweet melodies were quite literally music to our ears. It was the perfect way to begin our last day at Kiwoko Hospital.

Sliding into our pews and opening our hymnals we chimed in with the rest of the church, the feeling of unity and togetherness almost palpable in the cool morning air. The singing came to an end and a powerful sermon began.
“You can achieve your dreams if you give 100% in all that you do. Do not be discouraged by those who tell you that you are not strong enough, attractive enough, or good enough. Hold steadfast. God has a plan for you and will support you every step of the way.” Glancing around the room I noticed several heads nod in agreement. This community relied on faith and hope to carry them through difficult times – they were strong, determined, and focused. Much like the constant and unrelenting smiles on every face surrounding us for the last five days, these virtues were ingrained in every individual in the community.

As we poured out of church, we made our way to the training center to meet with the doctors at Kiwoko Hospital who provided crucial details of the challenging cases from each department the night before. One such case entailed a young female. She was about twenty four weeks into her pregnancy and was suffering from a spike in blood pressure, failing kidneys, and several other health complications. The doctors asked a series of questions to one another in order to determine whether or not to induce pregnancy at twenty four weeks or to risk the mother’s life and wait another two weeks when the likelihood of the baby surviving would be increased. It was a highly conflicting situation and thus, would need to be revisited upon careful consideration.

A heavy and sorrowful discussion gave way to an exhilarating game of trivia. The German medical students studying abroad at Kiwoko Hospital had created a game that was divided between three teams consisting of doctors, Aspen Ambassadors, and ISIS staff. We were asked a series of questions about Kiwoko Hospital, Uganda, and Africa. Unfortunately, my team, “Tigers, not Cheetahs,” did not come in first, but the game brought forth laughter and we all began to visibly relax. This was a much needed change of pace following the prior meeting.

Before we knew it, we were en route to our next activity – a visit to the HIV clinic where we would meet with the staff and observe the inner workings of the clinic. It was there we met with Richard, the Uganda Country Director for The ISIS Foundation and William, the head of the HIV/AIDS programme at Kiwoko Hospital. We were escorted into the clinic and told to stand at the head of the room. Sitting before us were about fifty HIV-infected adults who, upon our introduction, clapped, smiled, and cheered for the amazing work that Aspen and ISIS have done for them. This work includes, but is not limited to, providing the funds for their treatment and ensuring they receive the nourishment and food required to improve and stabilise their health conditions. We felt truly humbled by their gratitude and determination to remain healthy and happy, despite their condition.

William guided us out of the building and sent us in the direction of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and maternity ward. Arriving at the large, red double doors of the NICU, we quickly learned that this building and all of its contents (medical equipment, etc.) are completely funded by Aspen! With a swelling of pride in our chests we entered. The staff kindly asked us to remove our shoes – an imperative step to reducing the probability of illnesses carried into the ward. Kiwoko Hospital is doing a remarkable job at maintaining a sterile and safe environment for the NICU babies!

Sister Christine, the Head of NICU and Maternity, and Dr. James, a surgeon at Kiwoko Hospital, greeted us at the door. They provided us with important details of the NICU’s progress and improvements. They also elaborated on the challenges facing the ward on a day to day basis. Most of the babies in Kiwoko are born premature and it is the hard work of the doctors and nurses that guarantee the babies’ live full, healthy lives.

As I scanned the room, I observed several incubators, UV lights for jaundice babies , and K-PAP devices. The K-PAP device is quite literally a Nalgene water bottle, with a tube attached to it, which assists new-born babies with breathing. This cost-effective device is used throughout the NICU. It costs the hospital about $10 to build as opposed to the thousands of dollars spent on high-tech C-PAP machines in the US. It works equally as well! The Kiwoko Hospital staff are not only brilliant, but thrifty as well!

We ventured over to the maternity ward with Sister Christine and witnessed dozens of mothers patiently waiting for their birthing process to begin. Some women sat side by side on benches spanned across each wall while some rested quietly in patient beds. Roughly 160 births occur at Kiwoko Hospital each month totaling nearly 2000 births each year. The Kiwoko staff are extremely busy individuals!

As we walked through the ward, the expecting mothers lifted their heads slightly, intrigued by incoming visitors. We smiled and waved at them and quietly whispered “oli otya,” a Luganda phrase meaning “how are you?”

Sister Christine explained to us the process that each woman undergoes in the maternity ward and then proceeded to bring us directly into the labour ward to explain further. Every curtain was drawn and the room was ghostly quiet. Sister Christine advised us that the entire room was filled with mothers in labour and in response we kept our voices low. I believe it was at this point that I picked my jaw up from the floor of the hospital in sheer and utter amazement. The Ugandans were strong on all fronts, even during birth! As Kim put it so perfectly – “They were so quiet, they could have been reading a book for all we knew!”

There is much more to be done in both the NICU and maternity ward, but it is Aspen’s donations through the partnership with ISIS that ensures supplies are delivered, buildings are constructed and the proper staff are selected. This guarantees that patients at Kiwoko Hospital receive the wonderful care they need and deserve!
The cameras began clicking away as we stood with Sister Christine in front of the maternity ward, thanking her for all of her hard work and dedication.

We were onto the next activity on our agenda and had little time to spare! Hustling back along the red dirt road, the Aspen Ambassadors and ISIS team arrived at the Kiwoko Hospital School of Nursing. We filed in and took our seats along the exterior walls and prepared to experience some incredible Ugandan tribal dances.

Their colourful skirts paired with a grass skirt and a furry waist piece immediately captured our attention. The nursing students sauntered into the room unaffected by the audience gathered around. They twisted and turned their lower halves, while their upper body remained almost completely motionless. Ugandan music blared through the speakers situated by a window in the far corner of the room. Everyone feasted their eyes on the talented young women before us and we were dazzled and taken aback by their dancing abilities.

Followed by the women were the male nursing students at Kiwoko Hospital. Their legs wrapped with maracas that hissed to the beat with every movement they made. Three traditional Ugandan songs carried on while the girls and boys sang and danced along. Each performance appeared better than the last!

Just as I began to reflect on my own lack of dancing capabilities, members from Aspen and ISIS were called to the front of the room to join the festivities. My two left feet moved awkwardly as I made several unsuccessful attempts to dance like the natives; swaying my hips to the beat. Then we all joined together to form a dancing snake that slithered and curled in circles around the room. It felt wonderful to laugh as hard as we all did!
The music stopped and we were asked to take our seats once again. We watched intently as Aspen and ISIS presented a cake to the students. Each and every student before us had defeated the odds and was en route to becoming nurses that would provide superior care to patients at Kiwoko Hospital. We thanked them graciously and made our departure.

As we walked back to our home base, the smell of dinner cooking wafted towards us. My stomach began to gurgle and I realised how famished I was. It had been an event packed day and I enjoyed every moment, but it certainly had drained us!

We met with the talented and selfless staff at Kiwoko Hospital for a wonderful farewell dinner. It was bittersweet as they thanked us for our contributions and assistance with several programs at the hospital and we thanked them in return for their unrelenting passion and care for the patients at Kiwoko Hospital. Our night ended with a wonderful song dedicated to Anubha, written by George. It was her last year working with ISIS and her work and love touched the hearts and lives of so many people. By the saddened looks about the room it was clear that she would never be forgotten and would always be a part of Kiwoko Hospital.
The hospital staff, Aspen Ambassadors, and ISIS staff hugged one another and said goodbye. We all began trickling out of the training center and headed to our rooms for the evening.

As I lay in bed and reflected on the amazing experience I was fortunate enough to be a part of, a solitary tear trickled down my face. I knew I would miss Kiwoko Hospital dearly, but I am proud to continue funding and supporting such a wonderful programme!

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