In Uganda, we spend much of our two weeks on a bus, for hours at a time. Everything we do is far away, but if you want to get in there and help people in some of those out-of-the-way places, there’s no other way. Your butt will become good friends with our bus.
For today’s short and fun blog post, here are a few photos taken of Ugandan signs, from the bus with my iPhone. That means they’re not the best quality, because usually we were moving (at least a little bit). But here they are, with explanatory commentary gladly provided…
The Acholi Quarter is a neighborhood in Kampala, where around 11,000 people from the Acholi tribe live. Or maybe more accurately, where they’ve ended up. After a few decades of atrocities from Joseph Kony and others in Sudan and Northern Uganda, 11,000 Acholi people are living in one of the world’s worst slums in Uganda, or anywhere in the world.
Today I spent most of the day in the Acholi Quarter with a Loving One by One team, providing deworming treatment for over 800 kids, and then full medical care for nearly 700 adults and children. It was a long, but necessary day.
Words and photos don’t describe the place. You have to walk through it, and smell it. You have to have random Acholi children come and grab your hand, even though they don’t know you. You have to see a girl named Winnie, whose legs were severely bowed a few years ago and who basically dragged herself along rather than actually walking. After some surgeries Loving One by One provided, Winnie was playing jumprope today with other kids.
The place is horrible and beautiful at the same time. It’s horrible because it’s filled with thousands of people who have little to no chance of any better life. Those old enough to remember witnessed entire families slaughtered in front of them. They’ve now settled into an area of safety in Kampala, not so much because they’ve been welcomed but because they’ve been reluctantly accepted. Most people from southern Uganda don’t like people from northern Uganda; actually, hate is a more accurate word. Apparently the Acholi Tribe isn’t one of the cool tribes in Uganda. So they live there in the Acholi Quarter, next to sewers with diseases like malaria and typhoid running rampant, and there’s a chance most of them will live the rest of their lives that way.
Unless, developers come in and level most of the tiny homes to build whatever they’ve decided to build. That’s a good possibility. If that happens, most of the Acholi people will discover the one thing that’s actually worse than living in the Acholi Quarter – and that’s having no place to live at all.
I said it’s beautiful as well as horrible. The beautiful part is seeing the change in health as Loving One by One (and other organizations) have taken an interest in the Acholi Quarter. We’re here every six months, providing free medical care. In Uganda, that’s a huge deal. We’ve been able to provide education to some of the Acholi children. It’s a seemingly hopeless place, but somehow hope is coming alive here. We don’t know how long the neighborhood will be here, because at some point the land will likely be taken over by developers. But for now, it’s one of our neighborhoods and these are our friends, and we’re not leaving them.
Today, the Acholi Quarter was our last big project for this summer’s Loving One by One Team One (go Team One!!!). We have a few easier days ahead, and most of us are out of here and back to the U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Acholi Quarter was the perfect place to begin to wind down our time here – everything about it reminds me of why I keep coming back to Uganda.
Today in Uganda (July 4, 2017) we held another medical clinic, this time at a small village church about 45 minutes from where we’re staying. As usual, I worked in optometry – which means, I gave reading glasses to people.
For some reason, on these teams people associate me with reading glasses, and that’s actually my favorite thing to do in our medical clinics. I’ve worked in the pharmacy department before, but the pace is too fast for me. And I’ve worked in crowd control, trying to keep people moving into the right areas, but I think the Ugandans have figured out by now that I’m just not all that intimidating. I could try working in vitals I guess, but that seems kind of important (i.e., “vital”) and therefore scary. I’ve done de-worming, which is about as attractive as it sounds (HA – actually it’s not that bad). Anyway, I’m usually in reading glasses, hanging out with mostly older Ugandan women. Not a bad way to spend a day.
Today there were two new Loving One by One team members working with me; first-timers if you will. Of course they were rock stars at the glasses thing – one, because they’re both amazing people, and two, it’s not that complicated. That’s why I do it all the time. New team people are fun because they ask a lot of questions, similar to the questions I had when I first came to Uganda in 2011. One of the questions today had to do with a 15-year-old girl, who happened to also be a mother with her baby – “Do a lot of 15-year-old girls here have babies?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Teenage girls in Uganda are in a really hard position. Chances are they’re not in school, or if they’re in school for any length of time, chances are they won’t finish school because the families probably won’t be able to pay for it. Which makes them more susceptible to making choices to become sexually active very early. Of course, rape is fairly rampant throughout Uganda as well. So – yes, a lot of 15-year-old girls have babies.
So this particular 15-year-old girl along with her baby came to the glasses area, asking for reading glasses. Because reading glasses are a bit of work to get over here, and because we want to do our best to get them into the hands, uh, I mean eyes, of the right people, we have a general rule that we don’t give reading glasses to anyone under 40. You wouldn’t believe how many kids come up to us asking for reading glasses (“Doctor!!! My eyes are paining me!!!). But we try to keep that rule. Most people under 40 don’t really need them, although admittedly yes, some will. But most younger people who ask for glasses fall into a few categories – 1) they have another optical problem, which reading glasses won’t solve, or 2) they think the reading glasses look cool and they want to look cool, or 3) they want to take the glasses and try to sell them elsewhere. Most likely, the reason is #3.
Hang with me here. I’m trying to tie all this together. So why would a teenage mom want reading glasses? My guess would be another optical problem – probably nearsightedness, which comes at any age; it came to me around 12 years old. I’m sure kids in Uganda need glasses for the same reasons kids in America need them. So maybe this teenage mom just needed normal glasses, which unfortunately we’re not equipped to prescribe and provide.
I’ve gotten used to so many quirky things here – including people under 40 asking for reading glasses – that I don’t think about it that much anymore. But for some reason, this girl wanting glasses was hard to let go of. I think it’s because more than anything, this girl has had a really hard time, and sees nothing but hard times ahead for many years, and she just wanted a break of some kind.
I hope she somehow finds a way to get real glasses, if that’s what she needs. More than that, I hope she finds a way to be the best mom ever in Uganda, and through the help of our organization and others, to turn things around for herself and her baby.
Sorry this blog post has been a little heavier than most of them. However, please enjoy this photo of some of our reading glasses, with cows in the background, who also aren’t allowed to have them if they’re under 40.
Today (July 1) was our 2nd neighborhood medical clinic, and we held it next door to the place where we’re all staying – New Creation School. New Creation School is part of an area Loving One By One owns/operates, and the entire complex is called Graceland. No, Elvis isn’t here. That’s a different Graceland. So, we’re staying in our houses at Graceland, and we set up our neighborhood medical clinic at our school at Graceland.
So, as for today – look at the above left photo. The line was like that ALL DAY LONG. Our preliminary numbers were just under 900 patients, though it felt bigger than that. Of those patients, 157 people, mostly children, tested positive for malaria. Several people were hospitalized or sent for further medical evaluation. One woman was on a stretcher, because she broke her back several years ago, and was told she was fine using a wheelchair – nothing was ever actually done for her back.
Today, here on my fourth trip with Loving One by One, I felt proud and overwhelmed at the same time. Proud, because on my first trip in 2011 this place we were working today was just a bunch of wild, undeveloped land we had just purchased. Today there are three houses and a school, as well as a permanent medical clinic under construction, hopefully opening later this year or early next year. I was proud that we could provide free medical care for all those people, including malaria treatment for so many children; malaria is the number one killer of children in Uganda. I was proud that 90 people can see better because of the reading glasses so many of you continue to donate each year. I was proud that 35 people could come together thousands of miles from their homes, and run like a well oiled machine.
But it was also overwhelming, because some days it seems the more needs we meet, the more we find. The 800-something people we helped are just a drop in the bucket in our community, a community full of all kinds of preventable/treatable illnesses.
So we’re in the right place, doing the right things. It’s just going to take a long time.
**Photos: left- the never-ending crowd. Right – another wife possibility for me.
Today (Wednesday June 28) was our first day in Uganda, or maybe the second day if you don’t count the travel day as a day. Anyway, today was the first day we woke up here and had a somewhat normal day.
There are a lot of things we do here at Loving One by One, but one way to categorize it is doing “our work,” vs doing “other people’s work.” Today we did other people’s work, taking our team members to visit the Akiba House, a home for kids with various kinds of cancer. I’m sure I’ve written about this place before on the blog, but in a nutshell, if you have a kid with cancer (far too common in Uganda), you can stay at this place FREE while your kid has treatment at the nearby hospital. If you can’t afford treatment, Akiba House pays for that as well.
There were 17 kids at the house today, all in various stages with various cancer. We saw a girl LOBO has been working with for several months, whose name is Grace, and Grace’s condition was incredibly good. I had been following her photos on Facebook for several months, and she has gone from having a tumor almost completely covering her face, to the tumor about 75% gone.
Unfortunately, there was also an 11-year-old boy named Latif, who was struggling with Stage Four of whichever cancer he has. His tumor is about the size of a football, and this is a pretty small kid. Sorry about the graphic photo – but this is Uganda, and this is what a lot of children are dealing with. Thankfully, the Akiba House is here, and they’ve made life better for hundreds of children and their families. I highly recommend checking them out – they are an organization worthy of your support.
Now as for “our work” –
Tomorrow (Thursday) we’ll do our first medical clinic, in the Sudanese Slums. Not that that’s the official name of it – it’s just a horrible neighborhood where refugees from Sudan live. It’s one of the poorest areas in Uganda – although that description will match just about every neighborhood where we will work in the next two weeks.
So tomorrow evening, internet willing, I’ll have a report on the Sudanese Slum stuff. Happy Thursday! Or Wednesday night!
**Below right – Latif. Below right – Kevin, a new boy at Akiba House. Not sure of his diagnosis or prognosis yet. That white object is a tumor.
This may be a disturbing post for some of you to read – it’s a disturbing post for me to write. Yet while disturbing, it’s necessary and worthwhile, because people like Maria and Elizabeth are why Loving One by One (LOBO) exists. Maria & Elizabeth are 2-year-old twin girls in Uganda, who LOBO team members found last summer.
Two years old – but when we found them last summer, they weighed 10 & 12 pounds each. A little over the weight of newborn babies. Maria & Elizabeth were found living in a home with a 7-year old brother who frequently took care of them, while the mother worked in the fields, or drank with the neighbors. The dad was and still is nowhere to be found.
Two years old – 10 & 12 pounds. Oh – Maria was blind in one eye and deaf; Elizabeth was blind in both eyes. And their 7-year-old brother took care of them.
Maria & Elizabeth’s situation has improved quite a bit, but they still have a long way to go. LOBO has been able to provide nutrition and medical help. Maria is able to hear now! We are looking into surgery to help Elizabeth have at least some of her eyesight. But there’s still a long way to go – in the U.S., local family services would be called in to intervene. In Uganda, social services are very minimal, and the reality is that no one is likely to intervene in Maria & Elizabeth’s situation. Or in thousands of other situations. But, Maria & Elizabeth are why Loving One by One exists.
Maria & Elizabeth’s story is still in progress. I read updates almost daily. There’s hope – but there’s a long way to go. The mother is thankful for our help, and is more or less cooperative – but, there’s a long way to go. I’m looking forward to meeting Maria & Elizabeth when I’m in Uganda in a few months, and I’m hopeful they’ll be healthier and in a better situation overall. But the reality is – there are way too many Maria’s & Elizabeth’s in Uganda.
That’s why LOBO is in Uganda, and that’s why I keep going back. You can help. You can sponsor medical care for kids like Maria & Elizabeth. You can sponsor a child, or a couple of children, in our school. And, just thought I’d throw it out there – you can provide a tax-deductible donation to help fund my work in Uganda this summer.
For more information on everything in the above paragraph, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! And, if you’re in SoCal on March 5th, ask me about the “Send Charley Back to Uganda” Concert. You’re invited.
And don’t forget about Maria & Elizabeth.