So on Friday, a few of us piled into an extended size van and took a trip to the eastern part of Uganda to a town called Soroti. Soroti is also the name of the district as well (similar to our States). The members of this trip were: Faustine (Executive Director), Dr. Emma (senior Clinician), Jonathan (Senior Lab Technician), Abdon (Accountant), and one of the St. Francis drivers. We started off around 6am since the trip it is about a 400-450km trip each way. The path took us through towns such as Iganga and Mbale. At Mbale, one could see Mt. Elgon only about 10km away. On the other side of Mt. Elgon is the land of Kenya. I was told that on a clear day, one could actually see the waterfalls on the mountain from the downtown area of the city! From there, we turned north and headed to Soroti. The purpose of the trip was to meet various District officials and members of the local councils to explain the purpose of our visit and the intention of starting a satellite clinic in the Soroti area – more specifically in a parish called Aloet. This very fast effort was started by one of the St. Francis counselors, Angela, who is married to a man who originally hails from the region we were visiting (she is also the one who gave me my cultural lesson after I first arrived at the clinic). She explained that there was a great need for holistic HIV/AIDS treatment in the east and she began her inquiries in November. By the time we had arrived, a clinic site had been located and work had already commenced on constructing the facility. The work was being ably assisted by a counselor who currently works for TASO.
Some background on the area: The people of this region are called Teso and they speak a different language than the area St. Francis is located. In fact, most of our business was conducted in English since it would be difficult for some of the St. Francis people to understand Teso otherwise. The Teso are known for cattle herding and also farming. In the past, they had a major meat packing factory in the area. The region has fallen on hard times in the recent years. Mainly from several insurgencies in the past. One being from refugees from northern areas escaping from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and also from the Karamajong tribe. The Karamajong are a tribe of warriors/cattle rustlers who are known to drink cows blood and are expert with spears and bows and arrows. They are somehwat similar to the Maasai warriors that reside in Kenya. They are fearsome warriors and often steal cattle from the Teso. The Teso people have made attempts to fight back. For instance, a local man organized some local men and boys and armed them with bows and arrows to fight some of the insurgents (I heard they were called “Arrow Boys”). Armed mainly with these bows and arrows, they had actually successfully fought these insurgents who were often armed with automatic weapons to a standstill! Even driving some of them away! The leader of the Arrow Boys went on to become the Minister of Disaster Preparedness from what I understand.
We first met with the District Education Officer and then the District Medical Officer. They both explained the process that would be required to ensure that the clinic would be certified to handle patients. Much of the leg work had already been accomplished by Angela. We next met with a Catholic nun who represents the district we would be working in. She explained that it is important that some time is scheduled in the near future to meet with the local Bishop in order to receive his blessing. You see St. Francis is accredited by the Ugandan Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB) via sponsorship by the Lugazi Catholic diocese – which is the local diocese to St. Francis in Jinja. Part of this is to have the project endorsed by the local church in order to help receive future accreditation. We then finally went to the site of the new clinic and there we met a whole group of local representatives. They ranged from the basic parish level (or Local Council level 1) to the district level (or Local Council District 5). In addition representatives from various villages and schools were in attendance. Faustine explained later that this was an impressive showing. If this had been done in Jinja, many of the local representatives there would probably not have shown up. Since it was not as great a deal there in a larger city. Several prayers were given and many speeches were made. The locals had also cooked lunch for us which was apparently a surprise since Faustine believed that we needed to pay to encourage attendance at the meeting. One thing I ate was different was a purple paste-like dish that was chewy and tasted very grainy and slightly sweet. It was explained that it was made from millet which is what the area is known for. They also make a beer from the substance as well. We ended up staying much longer than we had originally planned and finally hit the road at 3pm. We did not reach Jinja until just after 6pm.
I have attached some pictures of the Soroti trip and a group photo as well in front of the new clinic which is actually scheduled to be operational in May sometime believe it or not (again this is something that has amazed me about Uganda – there can be a lot of corruption and inefficiency but if people are just and have the willpower, anything can be accomplished here)! There is a picture of what seems like a dirt road that is lined with trees. What is special about the trees is that they are mostly Mango trees which are prevalent in the area. Mangos were just lying on the side of the road – one could just climb a tree and even get some if desired! Another picture is Soroti rock which is a prominent feature near downtown Soroti.