Heidi Nakamura, Global Health Director
I love springtime. It brings a respite from the grey, winter skies of Seattle and signifies transformation and hope. I watch a mother duck with her downy ducklings as she waddles towards the lake, gently shepherding her babies when they fall out of line. At first, these tiny ducklings will depend solely on their mother to show them the way. Over the summer, they will grow to be independent and by autumn they will be mature enough to fly beyond the protection of their mother’s watchful eye.
My first trip to Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda was in 2005, as a medical volunteer for Adara. As a nurse with a background in neonatal care, my role was to provide training and education for the staff, as well as input in the development of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The early days were not without their challenges, but over the next 13 years, I would watch the unit grow and progress. I remember celebrating with the staff the first time a baby weighing 1000 grams went home. Before that day, no baby that small had ever survived. I saw a transformation in the staff that day- I saw a newly found pride in their abilities and the light of hope.
Sister Christine Otai, an incredible midwife with years of experience (a mama duck of sorts), provided strong leadership in the NICU from the very beginning. She was motherly, yet stern, and could be seen “shepherding” the young nurses when they needed direction. Under her guidance, the Kiwoko NICU has come to be known as a centre of excellence, providing some of the best newborn care in Uganda and Eastern Africa. The overall survival rate for babies in the NICU is 89% (up from 31% in 2005).
Sister Christine retired from the hospital almost a year ago and is now working for Adara as our Uganda Global Health Manager. The nurses who were just “babies” when I met them so many years ago, are now providing the leadership in the NICU. They are strong, confident and independent. They are flying solo and doing an incredible job. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
It’s a 30-minute drive from Kiwoko, down a dusty, bumpy road to reach the nearest government run hospital, Nakaseke Hospital. Our work began with Nakaseke in September 2017, as part of Adara’s commitment to knowledge sharing and reaching as many people as possible. Having 20 years of experience in the development of the NICU at Kiwoko Hospital, we hope to use our learnings to expand our reach- saving the lives of even more newborn babies. Part of our holistic newborn care programme consists of education and training as well as a strong mentoring component. The nurses and midwives of Nakaseke come to Kiwoko to learn and work side-by-side with expert NICU staff to gain invaluable hands-on experience.
Sister Christine spends time at Nakaseke, mentoring the nurses as they work and evaluating the progress of the programme. Just as in the early days of Kiwoko, we encounter challenges. However, despite the challenges, there is an excitement from the administration and the staff of Nakaseke . This is a time of transformation and a time of hope. The young nurses are hungry to learn, wanting to run before they can walk- already hoping to fly. They “text” Sister Christine on days when she’s not there, wanting to know when she’ll visit again. As she talks about it, Sister Christine laughs. She loves this role and it’s a role that suits her well. She once again becomes the mama duck, providing them with gentle but stern leadership and lovingly tucking them under her protective wing. With her guidance and support, I have no doubt that someday soon, these baby ducklings too, will fly.