If you had asked me a few years ago what was the most rewarding part of Maranatha Health in Kamwenge, I would have said without a doubt, the staff community.
If you had asked me what was the most gut-wrenching thing about closing the clinic and leaving Kamwenge, my answer would have been the same.
In Australia, I really missed being a part of the Maranatha Health Uganda team, especially when coupled with the grief that it may not ever exist again.
But when I reflected on our Kamwenge team, wearing the rose-coloured glasses of distance and with the nostalgia of time passed, I often wondered if the memories I had floating around in my head were deceiving me in the way memories often do.
Memories of hard long hours but with people that really cared about outcomes for those we were serving. Memories of staff giving of themselves to others. Memories of making a difference in peoples lives, together. Memories of laughing and frustrations and chaos and fun. Memories of real community. Certainly not perfect. There were also lots and lots of hard bits.
So we are back.
And do you know what the absolute coolest thing is?
Most of the staff DO want to come back and work for Maranatha Health again, just like me!
Since we have arrived back in the country, most of our old staff – be they nurses or cleaners or receptionists or security guards – have contacted us asking for their jobs back. They have called us from new work places, from training schools they are attending, from their gardens in Kamwenge, and from various places around western Uganda. But the message is almost always the same – when can we start?!
And then when staff come to talk with us about their position, there are reunions as those that are already here greet those returning. There are hugs, questions about families and marriages, stories of new babies (at last count there are 5!) and lots of excitement in finding out about who is returning.
Some of the staff are taking pay cuts to come back and work for us. Some are relocating families.
The whole experience of gathering our team back has been extremely counter cultural – for Australia also but definitely for Uganda. Generally, money and conditions are the determining factor in jobs here. Ugandans aren’t generally very sentimental people.
But again and again, staff are saying that they miss the team, they want to work with us to make an actual difference to patients, and they want the experience, skills and training that comes along with being a part of MH in Uganda.
Which is good news, considering our new project is very much focused on sharing all of those aspects of MH with other clinics!
The other day, Michael met with a key former staff member – someone we were hoping would come back to join us for MH#2.
That staff member agreed to join us, a decision we are incredibly thankful for. But in discussion with Michael (which he relayed to me later), this staff member thanked us for returning to this place and for trying again, and acknowledged that almost nobody would have come back to this country, after what happened last time (read here).
That is the first time someone here has openly acknowledged us for this.
And do you know what? Despite knowing I should be here, and despite enjoying the first few months, moving back to Uganda has been tough.
And so here it is. The acknowledgement I needed to give myself: It should be tough!
My trust was broken. Last time I was in this country, my idealistic, hopeful self – the self that wants to see the best in people and tries to downplay the corrupted agendas of others – took a good ol’ beating.
The staff returning, however, has helped to heal some of the cuts and bruises I collected from the last time I was here.