Nursing students learn in Uganda

by Alvin McEvoy

Uganda, 2006

Kate Murphy and Ciara Dunne from Dundalk Institute of TechnologyThe trail had diminished to a mere barren track. Banana trees and bushes scraped along the sides of the jeep. Long straggly leaves edged in through the windows. Jolting along through this stubborn terrain, bumping our heads on the roof, we made several turns and passed scattered mud-brick houses, children spilling out to wave to us along our path.

Eventually, we came to a halt, with several houses preventing our progress. Leaving our vehicle, we trekked further down a human-trodden path. The community leader and healthcare workers invited us to observe one poor family’s plight. A man lying on a threadbare blanket raised his head towards us. Through interpretation, we discovered his story – so similar to other tales that we heard on our visit. He had contracted HIV. His wife left him, taking their newborn baby, leaving behind their two older sons, aged four and six, with their grandmother caring for them all. She was living under a tree, while the man lived in a house with no windows or door, no amenities and half-covered by a corrugated roof.

He had a large open fungating wound in his groin. The smell of infection circulated within the room. Ravaged by the illness, he was unable to move or seek help. The villagers had contacted the community leader who arranged the visit through the Sisters’ mobile health service.

This is one example of the Sisters’ work in Uganda. This home visit assessed the man’s health and social status. The medical team organised a new roof to be built, and medication and food supplies for this family.

Dundalk Institute of Technology, in conjunction with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, planned this life-changing experience for nine youngish people. The School of Nursing, Midwifery and Science within DkIT, had planned this visit to two of the primary health care services by the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Uganda at Masaka and Makondo. This is part of a new initiative between the Institute and the overseas healthcare facilities of the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

Six students and three staff members were chosen to participate in this fusion of cultures. The students were Orla McEntee (Monaghan), Rachel Heffernan (Limerick), Stephen McGrane (Carlingford), Kate Murphy (Meath), Ciara Dunne (Skerries) and Shona Power (Kilkenny). The students were accompanied by staff members Nicola Larkin (Blackrock), Mark Cunningham (Newry), and Alvin McEvoy (Dundalk). As I write, four more students and three staff members will be involved in another visit to East Afrcia, this time to Arusha, Tanzania. They will be involved in a further service administered by the MMMs. This trip will mainly focus on psychiatric and special needs services provided by the Sisters there.

The group visited other important aspects of the Sisters’ health and educational initiatives. These programmes spanned urban and rural areas. Members of the group were involved in observing the intricate details of primary health care within the sparsely scattered villages, visited periodically by mobile health and counselling teams.

Some of the services we saw in Uganda were centralised in Masaka, a large town 80 km south of the capital, Kampala. At Makondo, 50 kms west of Masaka town, we observed rural services including a medical clinic, vaccination clinic, community home-based care team and an orphans’ programme. All these services were directed and monitored by the Sisters.

These services greatly enhanced the lives of the local people of different ages who have many life-threatening illnesses. As well as the fine services provided at Kitovu Hospital in Masaka, the mobile health services provide a vital lifeline to isolated villagers and communities, deep in the Ugandan countryside. Whenever the team arrived at a person’s home or community meeting point, there was immense gratitude and praise. One of the most indelible memories the team would have is of the Ugandan people’s fortitude in such grave times of poverty, hunger, drought and ill health.

Visiting students meet Sister Helen Ahern's education programme for street childrenSome members of the group had opportunities to work closely with the Sisters in other works, like visiting a women’s prison, experiencing palliative care home visits, taking part in a street childrens’ education programme, assessment of children with special needs, and the food programme to fight malnutrition.

The street children’s programme offered some hope and security to the many young boys and girls living in Masaka’s streets. They receive several hours of positive attention, a hot meal, a wash and counselling. The boys, aged eight to twelve years, were wonderful young people, looking for some hope. You could see their individual characters leaping out at you. The long-term goal of the Sisters is to enable these children to escape from their present predicament and develop. This is enabled through primary and secondary education.

The group wishes to thank all the staff in Masaka and Makondo for their kindness, flexibility and for the tremendous work ethic they displayed.

Alvin McEvoy is a nurse tutor at the Dundalk Institute of Technology.