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, 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 Four.
By Dolu Ilori, Aspen London Office
I wonder why I thought growing up in Nigeria would prepare me for Kiwoko. It didn’t. Not even one tiny bit. I woke up on Monday morning saddened. For a small part of the night, I had thought of Florence, an expert client who was HIV positive who also had a baby with Down’s syndrome. ‘How bad could things get?’ I kept thinking to myself as I slowly dragged my feet and heavy heart with me to the morning prayers.
We hadn’t sat for long on the wooden bench, when we were all asked to rise to sing the selected hymns. The songs bounced off the walls as young and old alike sang with childish gusto. Slowly the knot in my stomach started to loosen and the pain slowly eased away as I joined in singing ‘it is well with my soul’ with my croaked voice. Somehow, as verse after verse escaped smiling lips I re-found my smile and I finally understood. I understood how in the midst of so much poverty and suffering, there could also be so much joy. Joy unspeakable lurked in every corner; it was visible in every smile and it followed every welcome and goodbye until it wrapped its arms around you and you were sucked in the ebullience of each moment.
With my new found smile on my face, I marched with joy with the other ambassadors to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and that was where I fell in love. There were babies everywhere. Some very tiny. Some really fragile. Some all smiles, milk-drunk and ready to go home whilst others remained to fight for their lives. I fell in love with two babies; Baby blue (James Few would later name him James), was laid in an incubator with blue bili lights shining down on his bandaged face. He looked small, way smaller than other babies yet like other babies he kicked the air again and again like a true soldier. I lost track of time as I stared transfixed at his little body.
My second love was a baby who had a serious skin infection and no eyeballs. Sister Christine who is in charge of the NICU told us how no one had even wanted to touch the baby when it was first brought to Kiwoko. Even though the baby’s skin was still badly battered and his eyeballs were missing, he sucked at his mother’s breast happily without a care in the world! For the second time that day, I had to assure myself that all was well and all will be well.
But hey, there were so many other happy moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing my very first newly born baby. It was born while we walked round the wards. The baby was 27 mins old when we all had the opportunity to peer at its chubby face.
Our next stop, after a lot of baby cuddles, ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhhs’ was the HIV/AIDS craft ladies. If there was a word to describe this group of ladies it would be fighters. Some had battled HIV for years, some were widowed, some had 9 kids to feed yet they all had a smile and were full of appreciation for all the support they got from the Aspen-Isis partnership. The excitement was doubled when Aspen’s very own Susan Cannarella showed the ladies the jewelries she made. They marveled and laughed with glee as they tried it on and showed them off to each other.
Not one to be left out, the ambassadors quickly enrolled in the crafts school. I had no luck whatsoever and was very quickly expelled. Ian Walker, Kristy Simons and Brandon Lewis’s good looks kept them for a while longer but it was Sam DeGiovanni and Aidan Kelly who both took home the craft king awards.
As a thank you for all the “back-breaking”, hardwork, Isis’s Rachel Hope hosted us to a massive feast at the ISIS house. With a stomach 10 times bigger, I couldn’t complain. It had being another great day in Kiwoko.