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 One.
By Stephen Perella – Aspen Ambassador – New York Office
It is generally the case in group dynamics, that when a group of strangers first meet, a period of comedic awkward stumbling is usually followed by conversational episodes of feeling around in the dark trying to find some common ground, usually focused on the state of the weather. Looking back, it is now apparent that our very first meeting would serve as a harbinger of the warm and easy dynamic that flows so readily through our group now, after only two days together.
David (London) and I travelled to Heathrow together and sat down at the bar of Huxley’s to wait for the rest of our team to arrive. We called a few members of our group and finally got Brittni (Rocky Hill) and Kim (Atlanta). Lo and behold, they were also at Huxley’s. “Wave your hand,” Brittni suggested, “and I’ll do the same.” The two women sitting at the bar next to Dave began waving frantically. The four of us sat down, leaving a spot open for George (London), thinking that the five of us would be traveling together. With sitcom-style timing, additional members of our group arrived one-by-one as we added chair after chair to our burgeoning table. George and his guitar were soon followed by Dee (Bermuda) and then Andrew (12-In-12 Olympian sensation from London). Mario (New York) made the group temporarily complete until we met Amit (Singapore) the following day in Kampala. The point to be made is that as each person arrived and the waiter was called over to add one more dish to our growing order, you got the impression of friends already familiar with each other who were gathering for an evening to enjoy each other’s company, rather than a hodgepodge of people, most of whom had never met each other. Each arriving team member was like a piece of a puzzle falling into place. Joining up with Amit (Aspen, Singapore), Anubha and Cabrie (ISIS, Australia) the following morning made us complete.
The ride to Kiwoko was something of a comedy sketch in itself as our van took a detour around some road construction and wound up rocking wildly over dirt roads, sandwiched between buildings so close you probably could have reached out the windows on both sides and touched them. The thrill of this experience was repeated – though amplified – when we had to do it in reverse as we had hit a dead end. All the while groups of children who had come out to watch our vehicular acrobatics chanted “Mzungu! Hey Mzungu!” and waved frantically as we passed. The word Mzungu apparently is derived from a Swahili word which, loosely translated, respectfully means “white traveller who makes you dizzy (through our penchant for frenetic expenditure of energy)”. Well, we did nothing to disappoint.
We arrived at Kiwoko, got something to eat and then settled in to a tour of the hospital with Dr. Rory Wilson, the Medical Director of Kiwoko. The whole point of this trip is to spend some time getting to experience all that they do here at the hospital and then relay back to our colleagues at Aspen some of the emotion, determination, hard work and eventual successes that spring from this mutually enriching partnership that we have formed with the Kiwoko Hospital through ISIS. Words will fail miserably in their attempt to adequately portray the emotional engagement of the members of the hospital team. Justice might only be done to the level of their commitment and strenuous effort by recounting some of the frankly startling success that the hospital has enjoyed in a relatively short period of time. The following are just a few of the many examples of the impact that the hospital has made on this community over the past one and one-half decades:
• Formerly, one in ten women presented with a pregnancy complication that eventually turned out to be fatal, to her, the baby or both. Now, through the efforts of the hospital – on the grounds but also supported by community-based health care efforts – very few such incidents currently manifest themselves.
• The nursing school that has been established as part of the training centre on-site, ranks among the most successful nursing schools in the country. Dr. Wilson indicated that it is his goal to position the hospital in such a way that it will eventually sustain itself through the community and will no longer need to rely upon bringing professionals in from places like Northern Ireland, where Dr. Wilson himself hails from. It would appear that they are well on their way.
• When efforts first began at the hospital, very few women would make use of the hospital’s services, relying instead upon placing their hopes in local shamans or “witch doctors.” When the maternity ward was built it was oversized considering the utility to which it was placed. Dr. Wilson described their joy at having arrived at a point where the facility is now not big enough to serve all of the women who currently make use of the collective expertise of the hospital staff.
When you lay the story of this sort of success against the backdrop of what the community has gone through in recent history, the results are nothing short of inspiring. In the civil war during the 1980′s which rocked this community to its foundations, roughly one-third of the population was eliminated unsettlingly near to the site where the Kiwoko Hospital would eventually take root. When meeting many of the locals who work at or with the hospital, you can’t help but be stunned into silence when listening to some of the inhumane circumstances that these people suffered, while large portions of their families suffered far more horrific ends. The very next emotion that strikes you is one of awe, that there is no fatalistic pall hanging over this community. In reality, just the opposite is true; the joy with which those we have met take up daily life and the hopeful determination with which they approach the future is disorienting, given what they have just told you. The cliché response would be to chalk it up to an appreciation of life after experiencing the sickening spectre of extreme human cruelty. Candidly, that approach unjustly minimizes the complexity of the situation and is probably appropriate for a Hollywood epic where all emotional loose ends must be neatly dispensed with in under two hours of film. The reality would appear to be more deeply rooted in the strength that everyone here draws from the indelible sense of community and that they find within themselves. All of the ambassadors have openly shared this sense of humbling inspiration at their collective spirit.
The people in this community and at the hospital have worked together to bring about life-changing shifts in perspective and attitude. Our Aspen families at home all over the world, should be proud of their commitment to this project. It is said that many things in life will catch your eye, but that only a few will catch your heart. You should pursue those.