For the past 12 years, we have had the great privilege of partnering with Aspen. Each year, staff members from Aspen offices across the globe visit Adara’s projects on the ground to see firsthand the impact of this partnership. This year, we had the pleasure of hosting seven Aspen staff members at Kiwoko Hospital. As always, they left inspired by the incredible experience and invigorated by the knowledge that so much of this work has been made possible by Aspen’s support. They have been kind enough to share some of their stories and reflections with us.
By Peter Bransden
Greetings from Central Uganda!
I am delighted to bring you the first of seven blog posts as the Aspen Ambassadors visit Kiwoko Hospital, to see the impact that our long-standing support of the Adara Group has had on the lives of thousands of Ugandans.
But first, I thought it helpful to give a quick introduction to the team. Having now spent the best part of 48 hours with these characters – most of whom I’d never met before – here are my initial findings:
Silvia Martinez (Legal, London) – Thankfully, Silvia tells me she is proficient in all aspects of Ugandan Law should we come up against the local authorities. To the surprise of everyone, Silvia threw down an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the 2018 FIFA World Cup when quizzed by a group of local 8-year olds, making her an immediate front runner for the end of week trivia quiz.
Gill Wyse (Compliance, London) – Gill seemed – to me at least – to be an unlikely candidate for the trip given her fear of flying, an activity that takes up the best part of 20% of our time away. We all got quite the scare when her stomach seemed to disagree with a Malaria tablet, having informed us just five minutes prior that her mum’s major organs all but shut down when she tried taking the same medication a few years ago (1)
Carolyn Leder (Claims, Bermuda) – Expectations run high for Carolyn in the 10-mile Kiwoko Chase on Saturday after it emerged that by way of preparation, she ran the New York City Marathon in the early 2000s.
Bryna Stiefel (Claims, New Jersey) – Conscious that the food on offer might not live up to her usual NYC standards (2) , Bryna bought enough granola bars to cause a momentary spike in the Kind Bar stock price. Special recognition goes to Bryna for winning the fundraising challenge by generating over USD10,000 ahead of the trip – a truly monumental achievement.
Ana Ortega (Excess Casualty, New Jersey) – Ana’s quest for coffee has fuelled the group through some dark periods of jetlag. We are all reassured knowing her husband, being a Major in the US army, is on speed dial should things get spicy.
Jorge Cañardo (LatAm Treaty, Miami) – Jorge’s trip almost ended before it had begun as upon seeing that his passport had no blank pages, the immigration official charged with issuing his visa initially tried to deport him. She clearly underestimated the powers of Argentinian charm, and five minutes later Jorge was through the gates, back to extolling the virtues of Lionel Messi (3) .
Tonight marks the end of this merry band of diplomats’ first day in Uganda. Although for most of us, our 24+ hour journeys began late on Saturday night and included an overnight stay in Dubai. The preparations started much earlier of course. In my case, besides being pumped full of vaccines and buying industrial quantities of mosquito repellent (4) , my wife demanded that I get acquainted with some local culture prior to arriving. She reminded me that there was a history of Brits visiting sub-Saharan Africa to check up on the public infrastructure, and it wasn’t necessarily a good one – I should at least have something to talk about when I get there.
So, with the ‘UGANDAN HITS – 2018’ playlist loaded on my Spotify (5) , and what Amazon sold me as ‘the great Ugandan novel’ under my arm, I set out from Miami believing I was as prepared as can be. And in fact, as we departed from what were frankly luxurious overnight digs in Entebbe on our final leg of the journey – taking us into rural environs of the Kiwoko Hospital – it did feel as though we were reliving the opening scene of The Last King of Scotland. Piling into a bus, we saw the hustle of Kampala come and go, making way to dark reds and lush greens of dirt roads and mango trees. Children wearing Premier League shirts of seasons gone by waved and/or stared at us (mainly stared) as we drove by. Sadly, Man Utd shirts outnumbered Arsenal jerseys by about 4:1 but I was glad to see that the youth of Uganda have largely rejected Tottenham. With the windows down, the bus ride was an exfoliating experience, and as the road quality shifted from pot-holes-a-plenty, to ‘tarmac-optional’ we were treated to the full spa experience complete with lower back seat massage.
We arrived at Kiwoko in time for a tour of the campus. I shall leave it to future bloggers to describe the set up in detail, but for now I shall share a few statistics from Dr Peter, the medical director, that really stuck with me. The mortality rate during childbirth in Uganda, is over 30x that of the US, with 340 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Currently, the country has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, with each woman giving birth on average to six children in her life, which if my maths is correct, means that 2% of women will die during childbirth. This, along with the effects of a devastating war, mean that over half of the population is under 15 years of age. These sobering facts set the scene as we toured the facilities, with Chief Nursing Officer Julius beaming as he described with pride the progress that the hospital has made with Aspen’s support over the last decade.
We finished the day by walking into the village to watch a local football game being played out as part of the Kiwoko Games, an annual community-building celebration which culminates in the 10-mile Chase on Saturday. Having struck up conversation with a discerning group of 6-year olds, I found out that the player widely regarded as the best in Uganda was in fact playing in the game we were watching! Later investigations showed that this gentleman was merely talking up his older brother (who later missed an open goal), who by day was in fact a student surgical technician at Kiwoko Hospital.
Nonetheless, an excellent day and we look forward to the experiences to come.
1. I’m pleased to report that both Gill and her mum were fine in the end.
2. Whilst Bryna works in the Aspen New Jersey office, she actually lives in Brooklyn, not Jersey. This is important.
3. It almost literally took Jorge all of 5 minutes to unpack his Messi shirt upon getting to the Hospital. You couldn’t write it.
4. The latter doesn’t seem to have worked, so fingers crossed the former does.
5. Full of bangers, 10/10 would recommend.