The Rotary Foundation introduced its new Vocational Training Team (VTT) grant model in 2013, Rotarians in District 1090 in the Thames Valley took advantage of it immediately.
At the time, none of us realised that it would lead to ten visits to rural mission hospitals in Uganda visiting Kamuli Mission Hospital and then Ngora Freda Carr Hospital, training hundreds of nursing students, hospital staff and health centre staff in emergency birth skills and neonatal care.
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I have supported the administration for the VTT since the start, and was lucky enough to visit Uganda in November to see the team in action and visit three hospitals.
Visits have been mostly funded by three Rotary Foundation Global Grants, plus a few Foundation District Grants, with support from clubs and friends of Rotary, within and beyond our district.
Our first emergency birth skills team went to Kamuli Mission Hospital, north-east of Kampala in 2014. Building work was completed in November 2014.
The first visit was in March 2014 and the second in September 2014. Following the success of these visits, we were able to fund three more visits, partly from Foundation district grants.
Two Rotarians in particular have been completely dedicated to the projects in Uganda: Gillian Pearce of Maidenhead Bridge Rotary has led the training teams since the start, and Jim McWhirter of Reading Matins Rotary has led on the global grant applications, identifying mission hospitals in need of support.
The training visits have been a fantastic way to build relationships with staff at the Freda Carr Hospital and nursing school.”
On this latest visit, the training team – Rotarian and midwife Gillian Pearce, with three senior nurses from the Royal Berkshire Hospital: Claire Carter; Sam Fleming and Lydia Franklin – spent their time at the Freda Carr Hospital.
They were training nursing students, hospital staff and those from local health centres with a focus on birth skills and neonatal care.
Jim and I, along with Mark and Sarah Barrett from Reading Matins Rotary spent most of our time with Rogers Kabuye, a Ugandan doctor who Jim has worked with for many years on hospital projects.
We visited three hospitals: Freda Carr, where we met the team and attended the hospital’s centenary celebrations; Kumi, where we heard about the plans of the new medical director; and Kyengera, a hospital in Kampala where Jim and Mark are planning a new global grant project.
The training visits have been a fantastic way to build relationships with staff at the Freda Carr Hospital and nursing school.
The focus for the original visits was on training the trainers to develop a sustainable improvement in care on the maternity wards. Hence when deciding on which hospitals to work with, Jim and his Ugandan colleagues looked for a hospital with a nursing school attached.
The team members have trained lots of nursing staff and non-clinical staff in addition to the tutors and nursing students.
Claire was on her third visit to Freda Carr Hospital. She explained that if a maternity ward was short-staffed, anyone could be called in to help, having received basic training to assist in an emergency.
These projects are not about Rotarians identifying a need, and showing Ugandans how they might do things as we do them in Great Britain and Ireland.
The nursing staff, medical directors and administrators knew what they needed to do to improve their hospitals.
Partner club, Kampala Central Rotary, is key to the projects, providing that link with the hospitals and completing community needs assessments.
Our host, guide and driver for the week was Dr Rogers Kabuye, who was previously a surgeon and a medical director of a rural hospital. As a medical director, he developed a computer system to manage hospital finances, which was copied in other rural hospitals.
Rogers met Jim McWhirter in 2011 at Kamuli Mission Hospital while Jim was on a six-week clinical visit, and Rogers was meeting the medical director to discuss the computer system installation. The two have worked together since then.
At the three hospitals we visited, it was clear to see that Rogers had developed long term relationships with hospital staff and an in-depth understanding of the operation, issues and opportunities at each hospital.
This was my first visit to Uganda. I expected to see the poverty as we travelled across the country. However, I hadn’t expected to see so much activity on the roadside – so many bedframes and doors being made and sold on the highways.
I was expecting to see the litter and the potholes in the unsurfaced roads, but I was still shocked by the amount of plastic waste on the ground, and particularly when it spread into streams.
However, my overriding memory will be of the meetings which Jim, Rogers, Mark and I had with the hospital directors, administrators, the sisters running the mission hospital and the Rotarians.
It was a privilege to be there, hearing how everyone had so much to contribute to the conversations, the planning and the development of the hospitals and the healthcare in their communities. And all thanks to The Rotary Foundation.