Senior nursing students Lauren Jurbala and Emily Carpenter landed on Ugandan soil after a 20-hour flight, where they would spend nearly two weeks making a pilgrimage through the country.
Jurbala and Carpenter, joined by 12 other students, Patricia Harrington, Ph.D., Charles Pinches, Ph.D., and three members of Pinches family, walked in the footsteps of the Ugandan people to experience their culture, healthcare and religion.
The two classes, Christianity in Africa and Health Care in Africa, traveled through the country together between Jan. 6 and Jan. 21.
Their trip to Uganda incorporated many unique experiences like visiting the Queen Elizabeth National Park, touring the torture chambers of Idi Amin, catching a glimpse of the rare mountain gorillas and swimming in the waterfalls of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The Health Care in Africa class visited the patients of various hospital and clinics and worked with the nurses of Uganda Nursing School – Bwindi.
Scott Kellermann, M.D., and his wife, Carol, who began traveling to Uganda as medical missionaries in 2001, founded the Bwindi Community Hospital in 2003.
The couple originally created a small clinic to treat the Batwa pygmies who were displaced from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest when it became a National Park in 1992, according to the Kellermann Foundation website.
The clinic grew into a full hospital that services more than 100,000 Ugandans from the three sub-counties of Kayonza, Mpungu and Kanyantorogo.
Kellerman and his wife continue their aid in Uganda by “empowering the Batwa to break the cycle of poverty,” according to the Kellermann Foundation website. The Uganda Nursing School – Bwindi opened in order to train locals.
According to the Kellermann Foundation website, the new nursing school was opened in response to Uganda’s desperate need of trained nurses. There is only one registered nurse for every 40,000 people in southwest Uganda.
“The Bwindi nursing students are so smart. They’re dedicated to their education because it’s so rare in Arica. College education is taken for granted here, but from some of those students, it’s all they have and they’re sacrificing a lot for their education,” Jurbala said.
Interim Provost and Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs Patricia Harrington is working with other professors to create a curriculum for the Bwindi nursing students. She will return to Uganda this spring to monitor their progress.
While The University students did not treat patients, they spent time with the nursing students and collected valuable medical supplies, Carpenter said.
“We were really there for support, to encourage the students and answer questions,” Carpenter said. “We also brought them medical supplies like blood pressure cuffs, stethoscope and sterile gloves. The stuff that we see in every hospital room here, they don’t have access to in Uganda.”
The students also promoted awareness of common African health issues like HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition and HIV, Jurbala said.
“Some people die when they could be treated just because they’re too scared of the stigmas and don’t seek help for their conditions,” Jurbala said.
The students also had the opportunity to visit with the last of the living Batwa pygmies who lived in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
“They were so excited to show you their culture,” Jurbala said. “They showed us how they lived and taught us about how they use the herbs and leaves of the rainforest for medical treatment.”
Jurbala and Carpenter said it is an experience they will never forget.
“I think it made me more grateful and appreciative of what I have and it made me want to work more and put more effort into my relationships with other people. The most important thing is caring for others and I think that’s something I would like to take into my profession as a nurse and care of a person as whole; not just their physical well-being,” Carpenter said.
“It changed my life,” Jurbala said. “They were such genuine, hardworking, generous, happy, God-loving people. You realize no matter what situation you’re in, you can be happy. I realize how lucky and privileged we are as Americans, but in a way I think that they are luckier than us. They have so much more positivity. They’re grateful, loving and welcoming. They’re underprivileged and have less money, but they should have the same care as we do. I hope one day I’ll get back there and work with them.”
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