Uganda: The Country, The People

The Uganda IBD experience was a whirlwind, one that almost didn’t happen. After postponing the trip due to ongoing riots, we landed at midnight Monday, broke off into two teams of two on Tuesday and spent the first 14 days in 12 different hotels, driving on average four hours a day. Collectively the two teams traveled over 2,500 miles over potholed dirt roads, visited 29 health clinics, interviewed over 40 people of interest, pulled one all-nighter, delivered a 40 page case study and increased our project scope to include a internal workshop with top management. During the two weekends we had free we cruised down the Nile River, visited the equator, were less than 15ft from multiple lions during a safari, visited a rhino sanctuary, hiked up one of the steepest volcanoes in Uganda, trekked for the almost extinct mountain gorillas, took in one of the most beautiful lakes in a dug-out canoe and cheated death during a harrowing eight hour car ride back to the capital.

What made the biggest impression on me however, wasn’t any of the above. Rather, it was the people of Uganda. Only a few decades removed from one of the worst acts of genocide in the world, I found them some of the most welcoming, polite and hard working people I’ve ever met. Waving to strangers was common, asking somebody a question was always preceded with introductions and asking them how their day was. I never felt lost or ignored, I never felt out of place.

There were no beggars or homeless on the streets. It was explained to me while poverty is rampant; people there understand that working hard is the “right” way to live life. Help yourself, help your family. Even kids in school understand this concept. During lunch breaks, they don’t go home because not only do they know there probably won’t be any food there, but also because they can procure food themselves. Instead, you’ll see them throwing sticks at trees trying to get some fruit to drop.

Almost as beautiful as the people, is the country itself. Receiving plenty of rainfall year-round being high above sea-level, Uganda sports comfortable weather and is one of the greenest African countries. It calls home to Africa’s largest lake and second tallest mountain, the source of the Nile, some of the best safari game parks and the most bio-diverse forest in the world and over half of the worlds remaining mountain gorilla population.

Working with PACE offered a very eye-opening first look into the NGO world. PACE management are among some of the brightest and passionate people I’ve ever worked for and their actions are having a huge positive impact on the health of Ugandans. PACE is a very well respected NGO in the country and one that many health service providers said was key to their existence and success. However, I was stunned and in disbelief at all the NGO politics that threatened not only the very existence of PACE but also the health of Ugandans which its mission was to serve. PACE is a great organization, one that can use our help and our voice.

—Alex Chou

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