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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Alfredo Durazzo
Summer 2001

Seven Weeks in Uganda

My trip to Uganda proved to be an extremely rewarding experience. We spent the first part of the Crossroads program at Hofstra University in Long Island for a two-day orientation, during which we met our group members and shared our interests and experiences. After knowing each other for only 48 hours we embarked upon our "journey". We flew from New York to London, to Entebbe airport, roughly one hour from the capital, Kampala. The next morning we met with officials from PDR (Program for Development and Rehabilitation) who gave us a few guidelines about our project and helped sensitize us to the culture and the history of Uganda. That same day we drove to Luwero (roughly 50 miles from Kampala) to meet our host community and "get settled in". The clergy members with whom we spoke were overwhelmingly friendly, and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The Bishop of Luwero was kind enough to have a guesthouse ready for us. Having expected that each of us would be staying with a separate family, living in our own house with mattress beds and electricity came as somewhat of a shock. Though I wish I could have had the experience of staying with a Ugandan family, our living arrangements worked out quite well. We were able to do our own cooking, use charcoal stoves, and wash our own laundry by hand.

Though we were originally supposed to be stationed at Kiwoko Hospital, roughly 8 miles from Luwero, the Church of Uganda made last minutes changes in the program. We spent the first two weeks visiting various health centers in Luwero. Given our limited medical experience, we weren't able to provide much help to the patients in terms of medical care. However we did gain a great deal of experience by talking to the medical staff and observing local healthcare practices. One of the wards at Kasana Health Center was dedicated entirely to testing and counseling for AIDS patients. Talking to these patients and the counselors proved to be extremely fascinating. On one occasion a group of HIV patients set up a dance/performance aimed at conveying the experience of the disease through dancing and music. We were able to visit Kiwoko Hospital during the third week of our trip, however. Most of our time there was spent shadowing doctors (most of them Ugandan) and observing surgeries.

Perhaps my greatest feeling of satisfaction came from teaching at the Luwero primary and secondary schools. We went to about eight schools to give lecture on AIDS prevention, birth control and sanitation. What amazed me most was how attentive and disciplined the students were. We always had a lot of participation from them, and though they were already quite knowledgeable on some of the topics we discussed, I think we were very successful in dispelling some of the commonly held myths regarding birth control practices. The images of those children definitely left an impression that will never fade. We were able to make friends with several of the kids as well as the teachers. To return their hospitality, we invited them for dinner on several occasions, though I could tell they were not used to our kind of cuisine. The food in Uganda was simple, yet very tasty. Most meals consisted of matoke (boiled and pureed plantains cooked in banana leaves), beans and rice, poscho (similar to millet), and a delicious ground nut sauce to ad more flavor.

Having developed strong friendships with the bishop's family and other members of the community, it was hard saying good-bye to Luwero after such a short period of time. We gave most of our belongings to kids we had met from school—or in our neighborhood. The remainder of our trip was dedicated to travel. We spent two days at a gorilla park, in which we were able to observe gorillas in their natural environment. Next we went to Murchison falls in northern Uganda to see the famous waterfalls and go on a half-day game drive. We took part in our last outdoor experience near Jinja, where we went white water-rafting on the Nile. I have returned to the United States with a heightened social and economical awareness of Ugandan culture and of the major issues that affect the country, both from a positive and from a negative standpoint More specifically, the direct contact with medical patients and medical staff in Uganda has helped me gain a firsthand perspective of medical care in the developing world. I hope that by sharing the stories and the knowledge imparted to me by my host community I will be able to sensitize as many people as possible to the conditions of a country so often ignored within the world stage.