Happy volunteer helping Ugandan children


My first encounter with ISIS came about when I was doing a volunteer placement in rural Uganda and my father in Australia sent me an article profiling ISIS founder Audette Exel. Many aspects of the ISIS Foundation’s projects were relevant to me – more than the obvious Australian and Ugandan connections, I want to work in neonatology and healthcare in developing nations. I spent an incredible day at Kiwoko, touring the hospital and meeting the ISIS staff. Stepping into the neonatal ward at Kiwoko – the quiet focus, the tiny limbs squirming under incubator lights – was a profound moment.

After leaving Uganda, I started university in New York. When the question of summer internships arose, I thought of ISIS and, before I knew it, I was headed for Missoula, Montana, to work with ISIS researchers Kimber Haddix McKay and Catherine Sanders.

I transcribed and organised data from Uganda and Nepal, focusing on information from Ugandan mothers, expectant mothers and traditional birth assistants at Kiwoko Hospital and the antenatal clinic. The questionnaires were rich with information about the decisions, challenges and needs of mothers and babies, and it was fascinating to get a peek into these lives. Many women recognised the value of hospitals and clinics for antenatal and postnatal care but were unable to attend. Some common reasons for staying away were shyness and fear of reprimand, and feelings of embarrassment about lack of hygiene or being unable to keep regular antenatal care appointments. And, in many cases, choices about which programs and services to use were made by husbands and other family members

With this wealth of content came the challenge of creating meaning from it, so I wrote answer codes for the questions that could then be used in the data software. This was a delicate balancing act, as we had to break down descriptive responses into categories, retaining the integrity of the responses while creating data that would reap results. By the end, I felt like I knew the women and was starting to understand some of the challenges faced by ISIS.

Ugandan women encounter significant obstacles when trying to use the programs offered by ISIS and the hospital, despite education and information about the importance of antenatal and postnatal care. This will be an important issue to resolve. While these programs are incredibly valuable, helping women to gain access is vital to ensuring the most effective, efficient services.

Community education will be important because of the influence of husbands and other family members. I experienced first-hand the emphasis that ISIS places on community based healthcare and education, and I think this information will guide and inform these efforts.

I am excited to see where the information we uncovered will take ISIS. I am so grateful for my time with ISIS – I honed my skills, gained an insight into how social science research informs practical development, and was exposed to career options outside a clinical medical setting that engage my passions and interests.

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