Five midwives from Northern Ireland are getting ready to bring 21st century medicine to one of the poorest regions in Uganda.
Craigavon Area Hospital midwife Laura Donaldson, daughter of Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, will be travelling to Uganda on September 9 for two weeks with her friends and colleagues Nicola Brown from Portadown, Naomi Wilson from Richill, Rebecca Barr from Lurgan and Katrina Dickson from Belfast, who works at Antrim Area Hospital.
The friends were inspired by the sister of one of their team, Charlene Barr, who, as she lay in hospital waiting for a double lung transplant in 2009, decided to raise money to build a school in Uganda.
“Rebecca’s sister Charlene, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, died in 2010,” explained Laura. “One year Charlene’s dad decided to take them all to Uganda and it changed her life in particular.
“She was in hospital for the last few years of her life and she decided she was going to set up a school there. She raised £100,000 and when she passed away the family kept ‘Charlene’s Project’ going in her memory.”
The friends always knew they wanted to spend time putting their skills to good use in another country and, with Charlene’s sister as part of their team, it seemed logical to go out to the project in Uganda and do whatever they could to help.
“Charlene’s dad is a GP and her sister Rebecca is a midwife so there is a link to the medical world and we really wanted to make a difference,” explained Nicola.
“We all had a passion to do something to make a difference. We all prayed about it and came to the decision to go out to Uganda with Charlene’s Project.”
The five friends will be putting their medical training to good use when they are in Uganda and will be running health promotion workshops, setting in place emergency protocols, visiting the school set up by Charlene’s Project, and working in the slums.
‘‘We will be teaching healthcare workers emergency skills and we will be running health promotion workshops,” explained Laura.
“Most people in Uganda have their babies at home so we want to encourage them to go to the health centre so that they have a professional with them.
“We want people to know they are not weak for going to a hospital to have their baby.
“We will be spending a few days in the slums and working with young girls there, who live in horrendous conditions.
“We will also be going to the school that Charlene’s Project has built. We will be talking to the kids there about sexual health and general health promotion. We want to target people at a young age because there is a big problem with young girls getting pregnant.”
The women are planning to take some basic medical supplies out with them to the Diika Health Centre where they will be working.
“We are really lucky with the facilities and equipment at Craigavon Area Hospital,” said Laura, “they have nothing at the health centre in Uganda, not even simple things we take for granted.
“So we have been collecting small pieces of equipment that would normally be thrown out, which we can take with us.
“There are so many things that we have in abundance that could save a life there.”
The team has also been busy fundraising so that they can provide more resources for the health centre and the local community when they are in Uganda.
“We have paid for our flights and all of our expenses ourselves but we wanted to raise as much money as possible to provide some essentials for the health centre and mothers there,” continued Nicola.
“We have set a target of £5,000 and we have some events planned to help reach that. On August 26 a group of us will be doing a sponsored hike up Slieve Donard, We are planning to complete 12kms, which is the distance that villagers have to walk in Uganda to get to the health centre. We are also thinking of carrying a backpack equal to the weight of a baby. If pregnant mothers can walk 12kms to the health centre then we should be able to walk that far as well.”
The midwives are planning to use the money raised to purchase ‘Mama Packs’ which contain some essentials for childbirth.
“The packs cost £3 and they are given out at the ante-natal stage,” explained Laura. “If they don’t get a pack they have nothing when it comes to the delivery.”
They are also hoping to use money raised to get the health centre’s only ambulance, which is little more than a tuk tuk, an automotive rickshaw.
However, due to the expense of petrol and repairs, the ‘ambulance’ is out of action and there is no way of transporting patients from the health centre to the hospital in case of emergency.
“The ambulance is collecting dust because they can’t afford petrol for it,” continued Laura. “It costs £4 to get the ambulance from the health centre to the main hospital.
“So if someone donates £7 we can provide a mama pack and an ambulance trip, which will save lives.”
The team hope that this will be the first of many trips to Uganda to share their skills and help with the Charlene Project.
The five ladies are very grateful for all of the help and support they have received.
“We are hoping to do more fundraising and we are relying on the generous goodwill of people,” added Laura. “People have been so generous already.
“Even £5 goes a very long way in Uganda so any little amount that you can afford to give is valued so, so much.”
If you would like to donate to help the team provide some essentials for those in need in Uganda, you can donate online at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/uganda2017.