Aspen Ambassadors Trip – Day One – Airport and Arrival

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 One.

By Aidan Kelly, Aspen London Office

“Oli otya” from Kiwoko!

Leaving London on Thursday feels like a lifetime ago. Thinking back, it was fortunate that none of the staff at Terminal 5 asked me whether I’d been given anything to carry, as declaring my ISIS laptop may not have gone down very well. This seemed like the least of the group’s worries, though, once we had looked up from breakfast to find our flight on final call. Clearly time had flown by, which was surely an indicator of how quickly we had all managed to gel, though almost leaving Sam behind at the gate may not have endeared us to him at first.

The flight whizzed by and we arrived in Entebbe to be greeted by Cabrie and Maddy from ISIS with such enthusiasm that it woke even those of us who had travelled for hours more than the breezy eight from London. A short hop to the hotel, followed by the last hot shower for a few days and I hit the pillow at once. The morning brought breakfast and an introduction to ISIS’s Uganda Programme Manager, Daniel Kabugo, who, later that day, recounted to us his incredible story. My summary will not do it justice but knowing how much work he has done for ISIS it feels like giving a sense of his background is important.

Dan with the ambassadorsDaniel was still living near Kiwoko during the later years of the Luwero or “Ugandan Bush” War. After fleeing their home, his family had trekked for days through the jungle, evading rebel soldiers, and found themselves in a village which was soon attacked by the same rebels. Daniel and his family were the only ones to survive the attack and, after many more months on the road, were eventually able to resettle in Kiwoko after the war. He recounts the story with a half smile, which is perhaps a combination of relief but also a way of coping.

Kiwoko is 16km from the “main road” running north from Kampala which stretches all the way into neighbouring South Sudan. We turned off onto an unpaved but seemingly solid track which tested the suspension of our 4×4 jeep to the limit. It is only as you approach the hospital itself after winding through the small houses and farms of the lush Nakaseke region before reaching the village, that you realise what a focal point the place really is. The hospital services a catchment area of a phenomenal 500,000 people.

A short while later we arrived at our lodgings for the week in the Kiwoko training centre which sits next to the nurses college run by a number of local teachers, international volunteers and medical students. Bags were dumped, mosquito nets were checked for holes and squat toilet logistics were contemplated before we set off on our first tour of the hospital.

Dr Rory hospital tourWe were met at the gates by the modest but quietly inspirational Dr Rory. Rory had first visited Uganda from his home in Northern Ireland as a medical student in 1993, not long after Daniel had survived his ordeal. At this time, the hospital was a single building but now extends to a lab, ante-natal centre, male, female and children’s wards, all with operating theatres, care centres and visiting facilities, not to mention a blood testing clinic and an HIV community care centre. It has taken years, but ISIS and the hospital staff know this. It is clear from talking to everyone here that there is an underlying belief in patient progress bringing about far wider change over time.

Compare this to the local referral hospital back on the main road: If you visit a government hospital, there may not be a doctor but you may be able to pay someone to try and find one. There is always a doctor at Kiwoko and moreover the hospital is an extremely peaceful place to be. The staff are welcoming and caring, there are smiles wherever you look and families are encouraged, where possible, to help share the load of looking after children who are on the mend. This year, the hospital has treated 130 HIV positive mothers and, of those, only 2 have given birth to babies with HIV.

We returned to the training centre exhausted but inspired and, after a carb-heavy dinner in preparation for the 10mile Kiwoko chase race in the morning, hit the hay without much prompting.

As the cow outside the window started to settle down and the Nicki Minaj album music from the nurses college started to fade, my mind drifted back to something Daniel had said earlier that day. Uganda’s civil war ended just over 20 years ago and the country still faces huge social, economic and political challenges, many of which we have been talking about this week and, as you can imagine, have no easy answer. What hits you in the region around Kiwoko is that no-one is rushing to solve them all at once; people are still happy just to celebrate peace.

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