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 Silvia Martinez
It’s day four at Kiwoko and you know an adventure awaits when you see Jorge at breakfast wearing his Patagonia convertible vest. “Jungle Jorge” seems a fitting nickname but the entire town already knows him as Messi. Conversation during breakfast centres on Hurricane Dorian, which hits particularly close to home as two of the ambassadors (Peter and Jorge) live in Miami. Before we take off, the chef pulls in on motorbike with two live chickens hanging upside down on the back of his bike, perfectly placed to breathe the fumes. Not surprising, there is leftover chicken at lunch.
Although we have only been here a short while, we recognize familiar faces as soon as we enter the gates of Kiwoko hospital. We stop to greet the various doctors and nurses, whose smiles are contagious, on our way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where we are given a tour. More than 1,200 babies are admitted to the NICU in a year and today there are 41 preterm babies under their care. There are beeping machines everywhere and the heat lamps aren’t particularly inviting given the already high temperature. However, it’s immediately clear upon entering that the NICU is a truly magical place. Were it not for the NICU, these babies would have no chance of survival. In the corner, the only male neonatal therapist in Uganda is teaching the new moms vital skills to ensure the wellbeing of their babies. I immediately recognize him as Tadeo as he kindly took some of us on an early morning jog the other day to prepare for the Kiwoko Chase. Tadeo later informs us that he is actually the only male neonatal therapist in all of eastern Africa. This warms my heart but is a sharp contrast to the lack of fathers in the room. Are they taking care of other kids? Working? Is their home too far? As the tour continues to the maternity ward, I contemplate the stories I haven’t heard behind each and every one of those babies.
The maternity ward is packed to the brim which is not surprising given that half of Uganda’s population is under 15 years of age and women give on average birth to six children. The women look very young, which again is not surprising given the mean age of a mother in Uganda at first birth is 19 years old. Despite the little bundles of joy scattered around the room, I can’t help but imagine the weight that many of those women must be carrying.
Following a shopping spree of arts and crafts, we learn about the Hospital to Home (H2H) program that Adara established earlier this year. H2H tracks the progress of babies that are discharged from the NICU via the help of more than one hundred volunteer village health team members who are equipped with basic supplies (bag, weighing scale, thermometer, pulse rate monitor).
We are fortunate to visit some of the newly discharged babies in the community with some of the volunteers. Following a bumpy car ride (otherwise known as an “African massage”), my group arrives at a house to visit two-month-old twins. Immediately upon entering, I am overcome by despair. The house consists of one habitable room, with a small mattress on the floor where the mother and her twins are laying. The only items occupying the small space is a suitcase in a corner, a wooden bench and some clothes hanging. Before we even see the babies, we hear them coughing and wheezing. The volunteer checks their pulse and temperature and confirms what we already know – these babies need to return to the NICU. We learn that the father has not seen his children and that the mother, who looks undernourished, is living with her mother. Four people live in that room and share a small mattress. We also learn that the mother has no money to take her babies to Kiwoko, let alone pay for any treatment. We sit in silence, apart from the struggling sounds of the babies, for what seems like a very long time and I fight hard not to cry. Luckily, the volunteer convinces the mother to return to Kiwoko Hospital where the babies will be treated via the help of the Kiwoko emergency fund.
As the mother packs, it dawns on me that all of her belongings are in the suitcase which is not even half full. We help the mother pack her pots and pans, straw mat and blanket and I can already picture her laying in the courtyard of the Kiwoko Hospital among the many others accompanying family members who are being treated. But who will care for this young single mother?
The Kiwoko Chase is tomorrow and we are informed that we will compete against management on the tyre challenge following the race. We start practicing and it becomes quickly apparent that this game is much more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Dinner is served by candlelight as the electricity is out. Carbo-loading seems unnecessary given we have been eating rice and potatoes for lunch and dinner for four days straight, but we nevertheless happily tuck into the pasta. Jorge has decided to bike the Kiwoko Chase and his bike is delivered later in the evening. It turns out, the bike does not have brakes or gears.
Day four in Kiwoko ends as it began, with the sounds of students signing gospel at the chapel down the road. I hope the twins are able to sleep more soundly with the help of the amazing NICU staff and I look forward to receiving an update tomorrow about their progress.