Tag Archives: Maranatha Health

The enthralling exhilaration of the unknown…

Maranatha Health in Kamwenge has received a gob-smacking, hideously ridiculous, completely unexpected setback, and by way of association, so have I. Before I share my thoughts about it all, here is a link to a letter we sent to our supporters recently posted on FB on the MH page, to give you some context and information into the issue that has arisen. If you haven’t read this, the rest of the blog probably won’t make much sense. In summary, a maize mill factory has been constructed next to our health centre, and now chugs out noise and dust 24/7, forcing us to close the health centre and move off-site.

So, less than ideal, obviously. Frustrating. Unjust. Corrupt. I could think of some less-creative, four letter words as well, but will spare my readership the full brunt of my frustration.

To be honest, I don’t really feel like writing today. In fact, today I feel like crawling up into the foetal position, eating copious amounts of chocolate, lamenting the world and my place within it, and reading some of the more sinister of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

But alas, I write. Partly for therapy, partly to let everyone know that my world continues to spin, and partly to share this journey with all of you because the fate of Maranatha affects so many inside and outside of Kamwenge.

Once again, for the millionth time since being involved in this Organisation, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed into the enthralling exhilaration of the unknown.

Once again, I am reminded that I am a teeny-tiny person in this very big, very wide world and my comforting illusion of control has again been mocked and exposed by that same afore mentioned world.

Despite the dramatic dialogue in this blog, we are feeling quite positive, generally. Things are really looking up. We have had some extremely positive developments in the past few days. In addition, media is now splashing the story (albeit slightly inaccurate, tabloid-esque versions) around Ugandan newspapers and TV news.

I’m just having a bad day.

The first few weeks, when we discovered that yes, it was definitely a factory next door, and yes, they were running their machines 24/7 – things were tough. At that point we knew very little about Ugandan law, about industrial and residential zones, about environmental acts, and so had very little understanding of how we could challenge such a situation. We lacked voice and a platform. At least now we know what we are dealing with and the channels for redress. Of course, on a day-to-day level, that knowledge doesn’t make it much easier to manage the constantly oscillating situation and our parallel emotional response; one day we feel we are close to winning the battle and will be reopening the clinic in no time, and the next day we wander around our home listlessly wondering if we should start packing our bags for Australia.

Michael and I have prayed in the last month more than I think either of us has ever prayed before. Not that it’s a very noble prayer these days – most of my prayers consist of a repeated request to finish my season of ‘character building’ and a demand for life to get easier, speckled with a less selfish appeal for justice for the poor of Kamwenge.  But I have never before been so aware of how frustrating it must be, for God to continue calling people to love, when the world is so interested in other sinister motivations and agendas.

Every time we think we are moving closer to a solution, we face serious set-backs and suffocating scenarios, reminding us again of the complexity of Ugandan concepts of justice. In a conversation with our Ugandan father, we discussed concepts of justice in Africa, and how the law is applied. Justice here is tangled and twisted with power and relationships, with desires for peace and amicability, with political and business motivations confusing responsibilities. Often it feels as if justice is a negotiation process between parties towards a resolution, rather than a direct application of law. The problem with this, of course, is that unless someone wise and fair is mediating this negotiation, those with more bargaining power and a louder voice will always win. The poor, thus, will always lose*.

Since this issue has arisen, we have found so few people outside Maranatha in a place of authority – a leader, an MP, a government technical worker – who immediately recognises or assumes the position of the law. Time and time again, we are required to remind those involved in resolving this issue exactly what Ugandan law states about residential vs industrial zones, about factories and Environmental Impact Assessments, and the simple ethical and legal realities of our case. More likely, they are interested in what the district leadership ‘thinks’ about the issue, the identity of the investor behind the factory, the size of the two investments for comparison, and what the political ramifications are.

Instead of the acknowledgement that I crave – that we did all the right things, that this project is necessary for the community, and through no fault of our own we are experiencing a grand injustice – many leaders patronisingly explain that this situation is ‘complex’ and ‘politically sensitive’.

It doesn’t FEEL politically sensitive to construct/approve a massive maize mill factory that pumps out dust and noise 24/7 next to the only decent health-centre-soon-to-be-hospital in Kamwenge district. To me, it just FEELS really, really, really stupid. Politically. Ethically. Environmentally. Legally. Everything-ly.

Of course, we have come across many compassionate Ugandans over the past 2 months who hear the story and immediately get behind our plight – who have offered so much of their own knowledge, networks and resources to help us fight this. Our Ugandan family have been a core support to us (we joke that we are currently Kamwenge refugees seeking asylum from the noise, residing in their home in Kampala), and our father, as the chairperson of our board, has wisely led us through the decisions we have had to make.

A few weeks ago I was sitting with some of our staff, after we called a meeting with all of them to discuss the issue. Annet, our receptionist and a compassionate woman who has grown up in Kamwenge, was sharing with me that she was called to help a relative in town. The relative’s child had severe malaria, and needed a blood transfusion. Since we have been closed to patients, the only way to get such a transfusion is to travel 1.5 hours in a vehicle to the next district. The 2 ambulances, owned privately by the churches, both charge fees of $40+ to transport people out of Kamwenge. The average wage per month in Kamwenge would be below this figure. Annet shared how she had to find the money immediately, to save the child. But she clicked her tongue and sadly asked “what do others do, those who can’t manage to pay?” then shook her head and quietly ushered to no one in particular “they take the child home to die”.

We have experienced some really tough stuff in Uganda to date. Some big challenges. But this one is a doozy. This one feels like one of those life-defining-moments, where until you see it resolved, there aren’t many answers to life’s questions, and the future looks like a blank canvas.

I honestly wish I could write a blog that stated that I know 100% that Maranatha Health will still be in Kamwenge in 1 year. I wish I could write that the district will fight long and hard to keep us here, since they know we are essential for this community.  I wish I could write that despite the corruption in Uganda, I still believe in the Ugandan legal system enough to say that we would win such a black and white case. I wish I could write that I am sure God will magically and miraculously end this problem.

I try to convince myself of those things every day.

But I don’t know.

All I CAN write is that we will give 100% to fighting for the poor of Kamwenge and their right to access quality health services– until we have won or lost.

And that God WILL be cheering us on, just like he has cheered on those who have challenged injustice throughout history, calling on those in this country that know him well, to act justly and righteously.

*On re-reading my description of justice in Africa, it occurred to me that this concept is more of a description of justice everywhere, at least at an international and corporate level.

The elephant in the room…

Money.

There. I said it. The inevitable subject has been raised.

I really like writing a blog. And there is a whole bunch of complicated reasons I write on here.

Writing for me is extremely therapeutic; I have written for this purpose my whole life. I love that people now read what I write; I like to make people ponder. I love being able to demystify every day existence in another part of the world. I love being able to champion social justice issues. I love being able to tell the stories of people I have the privilege of meeting in Uganda.

I do not write to raise money for Maranatha Health. In fact, although I regularly write about life within our organisation, this blog is not for the purpose of promotion at all. It is refreshing to have a forum to write, separate from the marketing and grant writing and articles that often have to be a little bit slick and a little less honest. This is my place to be Kim

But right at this moment, what Kim is thinking about a lot is money.

Not because I like money. In fact, I often feel quite a legitimate loathing for the stuff. I wish with every beat of my hopeful heart that this world was a socialist utopia, where we all could live happily (and equally) without it. Unfortunately, it’s not. Far from it. In fact, as I write this on my laptop computer plugged into a powerpoint providing electricity, drinking water that has come from a tap in my lovely home, I am acutely aware that most of the world – most of my neighbours for example – do not have the safety, the security, the basic necessities, the opportunities, the freedoms, the choices that I have had access to from birth.

They live their lives with intense vulnerability, trying to remain resilient to the shocks of life, often moving one step forward but then two back: lacking power over decisions that affect their lives and lacking power over and access to resources. For many this isn’t some extraordinary experience of ‘poverty’ that will pass – this is simply life. Many accept it without blinking.

My world view is changing rapidly as I live in this environment; particularly over the past few weeks as I have witnessed several children – one as young as 3 days old – die of simple things that nobody should ever die of. I have seen little bodies being covered with material then placed in boxes. I have seen mothers stricken with grief, but accepting with fatalistic resignation the harshness of life. I have witnessed a woman choose to go home to die despite our pleas, because she had so little faith in the health system. I have questioned again and again a God who sees all of these things, but seems to remain distant.

In those moments I have become acutely aware of my own anger, my own desperation to see things change, and my illogical hope in the transformation of culture and life in this place. Then I realise it is not my anger, not my desperation, not my illogical hope. It is the hope of my God, who has again and again chosen to express his love for this world through human beings. Regardless of how ridiculous I feel his choice was, we’re it.

And I am part of that. Part of that change, that re-creation, that hope, and that transformation of this world into one that is good.

So alongside of our team at Maranatha I am trying really hard – failing much of the time – but trying, to do what I can. My experiences over the past few years, and most acutely over the past few weeks, have meant that I am ruined for any other life.

The problem is, the one important thing I don’t have enough of to do this work is MONEY.  This is what I stupidly spend a lot of my time stressing about.

Money to treat more children at a subsidized cost

Money to pay more community workers to spend time in the village transforming attitudes

Money to set up agricultural co-operatives so people can demand a living wage

Money to keep our organisation running – to buy drugs and stationary and fuel and pay electricity and water bills and salaries.

Money to put up more staff houses

Money to buy more essential equipment

Money to conduct research so we can learn from what we are doing and make sure it is having an impact

Money to set up transport mechanisms to strengthen the health system in Kamwenge

Money to educate and improve health literacy in the community

Always I sense this limitation at Maranatha Health, like most NGOs do. I am constantly in discussion with people within our organisation about sustainability, about income generation, and about how to ensure funds. We are continually trying to figure how to do more, with less. Because we need at least $150,000 every year to run Maranatha Health Uganda.

Many of you already contribute to the work of Maranatha Health. Some of you contribute to other important work around the world. Thank you. Your generosity spurs me on, it humbles me, it encourages me and it allows me to live my calling.

Some of you may not be giving. Some of you may not think you have a lot of money. But I imagine that anyone reading this in Australia is most likely amongst the wealthiest fifth percentile of the world’s population. So I invite you to join Maranatha Health in making some very positive change in Uganda.

We need regular supporters, that we can count on to give each month. I invite you to contribute not only because it is amazing to make a real tangible difference in the lives of the world’s poor. Or because by a fluke of geography you ended up with opportunities and wages the rest of the world dream of. Or because it is good to give. Or because MH are doing transforming, quality work. Or because you get a tax break when you give.

But also, because the work of Maranatha Health cannot continue to impact the lives of people in Kamwenge without it.*

 

*If you want to give a tax-deductible donation and/or sign up for regular giving, visit http://www.givenow.com.au/maranathahealth

The end of the beginning…

Something occurred to me the other day.

We’ve made it.

It seems like an eternity since Michael and I were sitting opposite each other at a restaurant in Adelaide, sharing with each other our passion for Africa and our desire to move there and try to DO something one day. It was then that Michael mentioned his idea – then in the very initial stages – of ‘Kamwenge Maranatha’. I remember sitting there excitedly listening and sharing, ideas already swimming around in my head about the possibilities, about the logistics, about how to transform this vision into reality. And then, embarrassed, I sheepishly tried to bring myself back to reality. This was our first date – I didn’t even know Michael, let alone whether I could be a part of such a vision…

So here we are. Over 4 years later. I am writing this from my dining room table in our house, which is on the Marantha Health land, in Kamwenge. I spent the day out in a remote village with a colleague, meeting families and hearing their stories to build relationships which will form the beginnings of our community development program. Two weeks ago, we opened our ward, and now see many patients, many who are from far areas of Kamwenge. Our staff are working hard!

In the community...

And at the clinic...

Maranatha Health has well and truly begun.

I am a little in awe, to be honest. I think Michael and I have been so busy with our heads down working hard over the past year we have forgotten to look up and see what is growing up around us. We have so often missed the twisting and turning of our vision, the first breaths of this living thing, the grand achievements, the God-inspired moments and coincidences, and most importantly, the proud ownership of Maranatha Health Uganda by our staff.

But the other day I became intensely aware of it. Of this living, functioning organisation that is so much a part of Michael and myself but growing far beyond who we are. I am amazed. That it has all actually happened. That God has taken our humble efforts and naive youthfulness and turned it into something great.

Something that is so defined by the people within…

More than anything I am amazed by the MH staff. The kind of people we have found and the way many of them have caught the vision is rewarding. We have asked a lot of them, much more than some workplaces ask of their staff.

We ask them to have passion for what they do, and give above and beyond

We ask them to take initiative and dream big dreams with us

We ask them to show compassion to the communities we serve

We ask them to be counter cultural on issues that matter – like the treatment of women, and some traditional health practices

And most importantly we ask them to contribute and invest themselves into this vision, so that they become leaders in their community.

Last month all of us celebrated our record breaking day (50+ patients) with a soda. Everyone was included. Everyone celebrated. Everyone seemed proud of the part they had played in getting us to where we are.

Waiting to be seen at the MH clinic

Enjoying a soda at the end of a long day!

Our administration staff, who at times work long hours overtime to balance the books, count money at the end of the day, and are so committed to stretching MH funds as far as they can go…

Our clinical staff, who show the kind of care and compassion for patients that is a rarity in Ugandan health services, as well as high quality practice that sets a standard for other clinics in Kamwenge…

Our first community development worker, who has joyfully and skilfully accepted the challenge of trying relationally based community development, excited by the opportunity to employ creativity and innovation in our work…

Our grounds staff, our cleaners, our cook, our askaris, who are happy to work hard for an organisation where they have the opportunity to make a difference, to input and suggest and interact and have their say in an organisation that values each staff member…

I was talking to Kiiza the other day, a groundskeepers who was one of our first staff members, and helped build the clinic before that. He has now finished his 6 month probation. Like always, Kiiza’s positive outlook and appreciation re-energised me, as he pointed out how only 6 months ago, we had almost nothing to show for ourselves. He reminded me of how far we had come, and how much of a difference we are making.

He reminded me of the LIFE that is in Maranatha Health. God-breathed life.