Aspen Ambassadors Trip – Day Six – Leaving Uganda

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 Six.

By Susan Cannarella, Aspen Rocky Hill Office

As I sit here on the plane on my way home from Uganda I am flooded with emotions ranging from great joy to deep sadness. I am very happy to be heading home as I have missed my family and friends, but at the same time I am also sad to leave my new friends and “family” from Aspen and Kiwoko Hospital.

Having been part of the first group of Aspen Ambassadors that travelled to Kiwoko six years ago, I understand how difficult it is to throw nine virtual strangers together for a week in a world that is so very different from what we know. At times the accommodations and conditions could be quite trying and less than comfortable. Having said that I must admit this group of ambassadors was exceptional, never complaining and engaging wholeheartedly in everything that was asked of them no matter how uncomfortable physically or emotionally.

I was asked to write my reflections of the trip and as Cabrie had a dream, while at Kiwoko, that I was an expert at making lists I decided to list my highlights and challenges chronologically.

• Meeting the Aspen team for the first time at Huxley’s in Heathrow and chatting so long we practically missed our flight.

• Arriving at Entebbe airport to be greeted with hugs by the ISIS team, Cabrie, Maddy and Daniel. Also, discovering that our driver, Abas, was the same man that had driven me six years ago and he remembered!

• Touring the hospital with Dr. Rory and seeing the great work that he and his team are doing at Kiwoko.

• Completing the Kiwoko Chase, walking in 2:31 hours, to the shouts of “Bye bye Muzungu” (goodbye travelers) from the people in the surrounding neighborhoods and then celebrating Ugandan style with the staff, students and community.

• Walking hand and hand with Racheal, the ISIS office assistant and housekeeper, through Kiwoko town shopping for groceries. I met Racheal on my last trip and seeing her again was like meeting an old friend.

• Tea and shortbread at Bosco’s café with the Ebenezer boys.

• Singing at morning prayers, both a highlight and challenge as I cannot sing – ask my daughters. Ian representing the Aspen Ambassadors with his heartfelt words to the staff and students.

• Seeing Maria and Viola at the Afaayo Club. I met these two little girls on my first trip and it was the biggest highlight of the trip to see them so happy and healthy – my heart almost burst!

• Seeing the NICU and Maternity ward that we at Aspen have helped to fund, up and running and saving many lives. The difference in the NICU and Maternity ward that I saw six years ago is astounding.

Making bracelets • Meeting the craft women, especially Joyce and Rose who make the beads I use for Beads4Dreams, and seeing their reaction to the jewelry I make with their beads. Also, teaching them how to make a slipknot for the first time. This may sound like a little thing, but it brought huge smiles and words of gratitude.

• Lunch prepared by Racheal, at the ISIS house. The luncheon included a dish that she made from a recipe I shared with her, my mother in law’s eggplant parmesan, made Ugandan style – delicious!!!

• Watching the Aspen guys play football against the students from the hospital. Any differences disappeared – fabulous!

• Sharing experiences, stories and laughs with the staff and doctors at dinners.

• James embracing his role of Aspen Ambassador with gusto, engaging with all of us as well as with everyone he came into contact with at Kiwoko; all pretenses of social/professional status in the world outside of Kiwoko left behind.

• Farewell given by Dolu at morning prayers. So moving, she commanded the room.

Moses playing with Ugandan baby• Community visits with Moses. It was incredible to see how much more confident and poised he has become in the past six years.

• Meeting Annette, an intellectually disabled young woman, being cared for and accepted by the community.

• Seeing the students perform traditional Ugandan dance – wow. Then performing for them with our rendition of African dance, which brought peals of laughter and applause.

• Talking to Sister Christine about her experiences at the hospital at our farewell dinner. I told her she should write a book. She laughed and said if she did the title of the book would be “The Woman With the Key Has Come”. (Ian Clark, founder of Kiwoko, wrote a book entitled “The Man With the Key Has Gone”).

• Seeing Kiwoko anew through the eyes of this group of ambassadors. I felt like a parent watching their children experiencing something for the first time.

• “You are most welcome”. This is the greeting we got everywhere we went and we truly felt welcomed and appreciated by all those we met.

I feel quite honoured to have been chosen to return this year. Having the unique perspective of having seen the hospital six years ago and seeing how much the hospital has evolved from the support of Aspen and its staff I have to say that we should all be extremely proud to be a part of this amazing partnership with the ISIS Foundation. Although great strides have been made at Kiwoko there is still so much that needs to be done.

“Do a little bit of good wherever you go, it’s these little bits of good that put together overwhelm the world.”

This quote from Desmond Tutu is one of my favourites. I think we at Aspen can all do these little bits of good; whether it is paying to wear jeans on Fridays, organizing a table quiz, running twelve marathons, participating in Tough Mudder or simply buying chips from the snack cabinet; that will overwhelm Kiwoko’s world.

Bye bye Muzungu!

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