Fluvanna residents help at Uganda medical clinic

Fluvanna residents help at Uganda medical clinic

Contributed by Robert Maher

Africa – no other continent invokes the imagination, mystery and fascination than Africa. Five of us from all walks of life departed Palmyra in the depths of winter’s bleakness and arrived in Uganda, a country dubbed by Winston Churchill as the Pearl of Africa, during the peak of its summer.

Our arrival at Ugandan’s Entebbe International Airport was as shocking to us as it would be for an African villager arriving for the first time in New York City. The hustle and bustle of people and traffic overwhelms the senses, especially after disembarking the confines of the shining plane that carried us on our twenty-hour, 7,300 mile journey.

We landed at midnight and were greeted by Father Gerald Musuubire the pastor of both Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Palmyra and St Joseph Catholic Church in neighboring Columbia. Father Gerald, a Ugandan native, his brother and a few friends, transferred our bags that tested the airlines weight limits from the luggage carts to the awaiting vans. Our gear was laden with 350 lbs. of medical supplies and equipment destined for a clinic in the remote village of Kitakyusa, a hamlet that can only be pinpointed on Google Maps using coordinates.

In 2012 these two local parishes lead by the Knights of Columbus Council 11475 began a fund-raising campaign and by January 2013 they broke ground on the St Francis of Assisi Medical Clinic, the only facility within two day’s walk from the village.

Since the door opened in 2014, the four-person staff has treated nearly 4,000 patients each year in the sparsely equipped facility. Last year the most treated ailments were dysentery, malaria and pneumonia. Daily services rendered include prenatal and postnatal care as well as immunizations for children when the injections were available. Limited by fifty pounds per bag the supplies we carried only filled the shelves about half way, enough to serve patients for about six months. While the shelves were being stocked Father Gerald and Bob Maher, the liaison between the Africa mission and its Virginia supporters, received updates on the clinic’s progress, a report on general patient statistics and discussed plans for the next phase of the project including electric and water.

The clinic operates without commercial electricity or potable water.

Today’s power source consists of a battery charger sitting in the corner, two motorcycle batteries and a roof mounted solar panel. The batteries power single 20-watt ceiling lights in each of the seven rooms until about midnight. After the batteries discharge the nurse carries solar charged flashlights to check on their patients. In our upcoming phase we hope to provide a generator for lighting and to power a 300-foot-deep bored clean water well, that will provide the village with clean water.

Today rainwater is harvested during the two rainy seasons as it runs off the roof and piped to the 2,500 gallon outdoor holding tank. That’s enough water to last the average U.S. household eight days; at the clinic it has to last six months. This water then must be boiled before consumption. The nearest clean water well is nearly four miles away and that’s a full day’s haul for a child to fetch six, five-gallon water cans lashed to their bicycle if they have one. Our goal is to fund a 300-foot bored well at the cost of more than $20,000 providing clean water for more than 4,200 local families.

Our serious mission also had an adventurous side. We traveled to the equator where we observed a simple grade school science experiment. On both sides of the equator line, merely six feet apart, were small pans filled with water as a delicate flower rested on the surface. When the water drained in the northern hemisphere the flower spun in a clockwise motion; however on the southern side it twirled the opposite direction! Intriguing? During our journey to game parks, we also encountered lions, crocodiles, giraffes, elephants, hippos and ten near-extinct black rhinos – simply amazing sights.
In northwest Uganda we traversed Murchison National Park where we climbed several hundred feet to the top of Murchison Falls to watch as the clear waters of the Victoria Nile river plunge through the mist 140 feet as it crashed into to the river below. Later we traveled by boat up the same river to the base of the falls where the water churned and bubbled as the fast-moving current flowed to the west. Film fact: Murchison is depicted in the 1951 movie The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Our most cherished memories from Uganda are the friendships, hospitality and spirit of the people. In spite of their daily hardships their lifestyle reminded us of what is most important in life – faith, family and friends. We look forward to our return in 2019. For more information or to make a donation please stop by or call the Saints Peter and Paul Parish office located at 4309 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Palmyra VA 22963 at call 434-589-5201.

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