My Time in Kabale, Uganda

Hello, everyone! My name is Cassie Angu and I am a M.S. candidate in global medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. This article was originally posted in the Master’s of Global Medicine newsletter.

When I heard that the global medicine program was offering a trip to Uganda, I knew I had to go. As a first generation Cameroonian-American, my pride in my African roots has been constant, albeit in my younger years a little forced. The stories I heard in my childhood from my family gave the entire continent a mystical quality that lingered in my subconscious, even after fulfilling my desire to see Cameroon firsthand some 10 years ago. Since then, I had always tried to find ways to merge my love of Africa, healthcare, and community building, but could never afford it in undergrad. After hearing that our trip would focus on clinical medicine and socio-economic factors related to health in Kabale, Uganda, I could not resist applying for a spot.

Before our team left the States, we were divided into small groups that would be doing some basic investigations on the intersections between healthcare, culture, and socioeconomic status in Kabale. Each of the groups (rural health outreach, maternal healthcare and traditional medicine) created surveys for patients post-treatment at free outreach clinics in rural communities run by KIHEFO and sponsored by the Keck School of Medicine. My group, rural health outreach, set out to investigate how patients from rural communities heard about the free clinics KIHEFO was offering, average wait times and the most common illnesses, ailments and prescriptions seen in villages surrounding Kabale. The other two groups created surveys focused on patients’ preferences for traditional versus westernized medicine and their usage of midwives and prenatal care when pregnant.

I have made it a mission of mine to always try my best to serve in areas of lower income or access to care, whether I’m in Boyle Heights or Timbuktu

Upon arrival in Uganda, we spent our first days getting to know each other, celebrating the dawn of a new year and engaging in briefing discussions that acclimated us to Ugandan culture and KIHEFO, the health organization we would be observing. In this time, we began to see firsthand the importance of outside global health organizations partnering with local community health organizations to ensure the eventual self-sufficiency of the given community. Our mentors, Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo and Dr. Bill Cherniak, were so open and accommodating, answering any and every question any of us had while showing us how far humility, malleability and openness could go when working in rural communities.

Each day of outreach was a new learning experience full of opportunities to meet locals of every age, education level, profession, etc. and to lend a helping hand to an already well-oiled machine. We learned quickly that KIHEFO could and would do the job without us, but with our help could do a little bit more a little quicker. Each staff member was so well educated, dedicated to teaching others and did amazing things with the resources they had— things we in the States could learn from. We got to see people’s lives changed with a mere prescription, a mother see her baby on an ultrasound screen for the first time, children caring for each other while still maintaining their wide-eyed view of the world, and we met a traditional healer who showed us the power of using the foliage around us for treatment.

Uganda and its people are beautiful. I learned so much from them and would do the trip again in a heartbeat—even on the days we went without hot water, electricity or wifi. I left inspired to go back to Africa often and lend a hand to other well-oiled machines, remembering that there are some areas of Los Angeles County and the U.S. with similar health profiles to those in the villages in Kabale. Since then I have made it a mission of mine to always try my best to serve in areas of lower income or access to care, whether I’m in Boyle Heights or Timbuktu.

If you are like me and want to know how you can better serve lower income communities here are four major takeaways I had from my trip to Uganda:

  1. YOU ARE NOT A SAVIOR! Most communities are doing relatively well without you—extra hands and extra health workers could make huge differences but the powers usually lie ultimately in the community, not the volunteers. Stay humble.
  2. It is okay to say, “I don’t know.” A lot of the times when working in rural communities, you will see things that might stump you or that you just do not know how to do. Asking for help is okay and most likely in the best interest of the patient.
  3. Never forget you are working with other human beings, like you. Even if you have virtually nothing in common with the patients you serve, you still have your humanity in common. Patients can read if you are a safe space for them. In lower income communities, one bad experience with a health worker could change their perceived importance of healthcare. It is crucial we are loving, patient and respectful as often as possible.
  4. (If abroad) DO NOT EAT THE CABBAGE! For obvious reasons.
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