This Easter weekend, we introduce traveler, volunteer, and heartfelt thinker Amy Petersen. Having spent time in some of the toughest environments on the globe–Uganda, Syria–Amy ventures to where people need her most.
A few years ago, Amy moved to Kazo outside the Ugandan capital Kampala and worked with UYWEFA, a nonprofit supporting HIV/AIDS-effected individuals in this East African nation. She supported the expansion of a nursery for 30 children into a primary school for over 150 including numerous scholarships for HIV/AIDS orphans.
Taken from her online journal entries at traveltrialstriumphs.blogspot.com, this is her story about helping a boy sick with HIV.
Friday, 21 June 2013
I was sitting in an important meeting about a funding opportunity, when a volunteer came running around the school yelling for first aid for Katongole. Katongole is a five year old boy in kindergarten. He is a sweet kid, slow to smile, but when he does his whole face transforms.
He is HIV positive and weakened because of it. He just finished fighting measles and has the fresh scars on his body to show for it. So my first thought is, “I have an HIV positive kid bleeding.”
But when I go for gloves the volunteer tells me, “He’s not bleeding. He’s trying to die.” A strange, terrifying phrase.
Grabbing the first aid kit, I sprint around the building and see a small crowd of teachers around poor Katongole in the midst of a seizure. He’s foaming at the mouth.
While I’m trying to remember the practicalities of dealing with a seizure, one person is calling for a cross to cast out the demons, while another is calling for garlic for unknown reasons. I take his pulse, and it seems impossible his little heart won’t explode at the rate it’s going. We keep him on his side and try to make sure he can breathe. One person goes to find Katongole’s mother, while the rest of us make sure he is breathing and not in danger of hurting himself.
I hold his hand. He only occasionally tenses, the worst of the seizure subsiding. He’s conscious and his eyes are wide open expressing an overwhelming terror.
When we realize the mother is not coming, we decide to go to the clinic without her. Luckily, the meeting I was having was with a gentleman who arrived in a car, and he offers us a ride.
The roads of Kazo are awful. Potholes appear as sink holes. You have to weave around the road as though avoiding a targeting system. So with poor Katongole still struggling, we bump and weave our way to the clinic.
We make it, and a nurse starts treating him. I join a small group sitting by his bedside. As time ticks away everyone leaves with things to do; I’m left to keep a bedside vigil.
Eventually, Katongole is sleeping and peaceful, but the memory of his tiny body convulsing and that look of fear in his eyes will not soon leave me. As the minutes turn into an hour, I begin to worry about Mama Katongole. (Her name is Florence, but nobody calls her that.) She is one of the women in the candle making project.
By 6:45 she’s arrived distraught but relieved to see her son sleeping. He wakes a little bit to hug his mom but quickly falls back asleep. After ensuring she was set, I head home exhausted but reassured Katongole was going to be alright. I’m grateful that my host mom boiled water for a warm bath. Feeling refreshed a short while later, I come out of my bedroom to find Mama Katongole sitting on my couch crying. The doctor refused to give more treatment to her son without money.
This is the choice for Ugandans: go to a private clinic and be treated based on when and how much you pay, or go to the government hospital and wait possibly days to be treated.
I put on a jacket and head back to the clinic. This is a 20 minute walk at a brisk pace; it’s a longer trudge with a woman weakened by worry and late stage AIDS.
As we walk in silence–she doesn’t speak English and I don’t have the words in Luganda–I wish Mama Katongole would have gone to anyone else. They could communicate. And when a white lady shows up to pay the clinic, they charge astronomical prices.
When we arrive the clinic, Katongole is up walking around and talking, a heartening sight. The clinic staff ignore Mama Katongole and say to me, “It’s 60,000 shillings.”
I haven’t brought enough money.
I open my purse to get my phone. I can see they think I’m getting money–the look that passes around expresses a disturbing greed. They have refused to treat a sick child because they hope they can milk the white lady for a tidy sum.
Instead of handing over a wad of money, I call a Ugandan friend to negotiate. The nurse has a sad epiphany, and with resignation in her voice she agrees to reduce the price. After hanging up they adjust the fee to 25,000 shillings. Still too much for four hours, but I decide not to fight this battle and paid the bill.
They remove Katongole’s IV, refer him to the government hospital for more treatment, and discharge him. I know Mama Katongole won’t be able to carry her son all the way. So I pick him up, and we go.
It’s 8:30 by now. I don’t love walking on these roads in the day. At night there are no street lights. It’s pitch black until a car or motorcycle’s lights briefly blind you. I tread lightly hoping to avoid holes and rocks, occasionally switching Katongole from hip to hip. Amazingly, he falls asleep on my shoulder as we take almost an hour to make our way.
When we reach the house–a door-less hovel would not be a bad description–I wake him and give him to his mom. Before I leave, I give her some money for medicine and transport to the hospital. As I turn around to go, Mama Katongole breaks our silence to thank me.
“Way by lay, nyabo. May God bless you.”
Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Katongole is back–not quite better than ever, but definitely back. A trip to the hospital, some medicine, some resting, and he is doing well. He should be back in school next week.
Today, Amy lives in the Twin Cities working as an Organizational Development Consultant for the health tech field (though she aims to return to aid work.) She helps identify organizational challenges and provides support for improved management, process implementation, and organizational realignment. For questions about her work or her experiences across the world, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.