Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part V

I’ve been spending this weekend back home in London. Unfortunately, it didn’t start off quite so smoothly…

I developed a bout of conjunctivitis towards the end of the week, and was slowly recovering from that. It was also on the Friday when I headed to London, that I heard about the terrorist incident at Parsons Green earlier that morning. People were naturally more cautious about their travels and that included me. What made things more difficult, was telling my family that I was going to the Uganda-UK convention in central London the next day. They were NOT happy.

While I was brainstorming on the train, and trying to think of what I would like to achieve from the convention, I received a certain-toned phone call from the family, asking about the sort of convention I was attending.

Then that classic saying came along:

“We’ll talk about this when you get home”.

No, not an unfamiliar saying. But if anything, it probably fired up my drive more so. Listening to some of my favourite movie themes (yes, this includes How To Train Your Dragon), I was even more focused in my planning for the convention!

I tried to think why it is that parents don’t want us to do certain things. Do they think differently from us? Do they feel like they are losing us? Are they worried that we could fail? Maybe all those things. Or maybe, we’re supposed to be “settling”.

I don’t think such a thing as “settling” exists. To settle and accept things as they are, almost means giving up on life. I actually think that’s somewhat disrespectful to life itself. To strive, however and whatever you decide to pursue, means to live life to the fullest. If you choose to be of service to others, why shouldn’t you? Anything which increases your options is a good decision. If you do the same actions, you’ll get that same results. If you do different actions, you’ll have a different life.

So I went.

After an early morning wake up (6.45am on a Saturday morning is early for me!), I got ready and headed out. The convention itself was quite easy to get to, only a few stops on the underground and just a couple on the railway. Once I got there I signed in, was given my pass and waited around…unfortunately for a long time! It turned out that not only I had gotten there ridiculously early (I thought 9am was quite decent!), but they were running very late. The hall where the convention was being held at was divided into two parts. The front consisted of the stage, the tables at the front and the stand alone seats at the back. Behind were all the exhibition stands. The people who attended were spread across the two parts, though the exhibition area was naturally much louder! Before you realise people approach you, and you can’t help but network as well-exchanging contact details and dishing out calling cards (I was probably one of the few who DIDN’T have one, I don’t think your NHS smart card quite qualifies!).

Sneaky photo before the crowds came

Before the rest of the people arrived 

The chairman opened up the convention with a saying I thought was clever, in the context of us being allowed to use our phones to take pictures!

“Life worth living is one worth recording”.

The convention commenced with the singing of the Ugandan National Anthem. This was soon followed by various speeches given by many distinguished invited guests-such as the Ugandan High commissioner to the UK, and the Vice President of Uganda, Edward Ssekandi.

Vice President of Uganda Edward Ssekandi giving his speech 

One of the presentations which interested me more so, was delivered to us by Dr Ian Clarke-a physician, philanthropist, entrepreneur and the chairman of the International Medical Group. I found his work inspiring, particularly how he used agriculture from his roots to keep his medical work sustainable. I adored his motto:

“Sustainable Development with Social Impact”

I was very fortunate to have a face to face meeting with him, which was just as well as I missed a part of his presentation (because it was during his presentation that we had to register to meet with a specific speaker…funny that!).

The meeting itself was a delight! I had my notebook with my questions written and my pen at the ready, to write haste his answers and advice. However I soon as I sat down, I didn’t even look at my notebook properly. It didn’t seem all that appropriate. I asked just one question, and the rest of the time we just chatted away, completely informal and relaxed. He was taken aback that I was a doctor, as I think he thought like many others, I was seeking for an investment! It was almost like we were uni friends, getting to know each other and comparing notes about medicine and life. I felt absolutely honoured that we spent the length of time we had talking. To me he was like a celebrity, and it was probably my highlight of the convention!

After leaving the meeting room, I walked through a very crowded hallway where out of nowhere, a calling card flung across, hit my face by accident and landed on the floor. I picked it up and didn’t think much of it when a gentleman said:

“I’m really sorry, did that hit your eye?!”

“No no it didn’t, not to worry”

“Oh then you can have it!”

Suddenly there was a loud uproar of laughter and I couldn’t help but join in. But it wasn’t until I left the hallway, that I realised who the card belonged to-the Ugandan High Commissioner!

After a cup of tea and a croissant for lunch (the queue for lunch was incredibly long and I didn’t have the stomach to wait), I managed to speak with some other people in the crowds, before taking my seat at the table. The lecture after lunch was provided by a Ugandan Physician, which captivated me yet again. She first talked about the Diaspora in Uganda. Ignorant as I am at things, I had to look this up. She then spoke about how the healthcare system there is “corrupt and broken down”, and that a lot of work still needed doing. This was followed with a story, one which almost brought me to tears…

A senior physician at her hospital became unwell and needed a ventilator. Unfortunately the ventilator broke down and he was deteriorating. “Hospital X” where he was staying would not let him go to “Hospital Y” to receive treatment via their working ventilator, until he and his family paid the fees. This was in the hundred thousand region and despite appealing to the administration, they would not let him go. “The fees were coming in but his health was getting worse”.

Once the payment was made to Hospital X, Hospital Y refused to take him in. This was because he now needed to pay for the ambulance, and this was even more expensive (in the millions region). SOMEHOW they managed to get this payment sorted and thankfully, he was transferred across. Maybe it was the way she told us this story (which is far better than how I am saying it here), but this sorry horrified me and I was heartbroken.

After a couple more speeches I decided to call it a day. I had taken more than enough knowledge and insight than I could have hoped for and decided to head back, to spend the rest of the day with the family.

My trinkets from the day 🙂 You could only speak with the guest speakers if you applied for a VIP pass-so worth it! 

Attending this convention only reinforced what I want to do with my life. There are many messages which I took home with me, but one of my favourites still is this one, which was mentioned by the Ugandan physician. It couldn’t be put more simply:

“It was just something different and that’s what I chose to do”

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Keep the Faith

I’d very much like to share my thoughts with you, about a certain book I read over the summer. It’s become one of my favourites, and I personally think it’s up there on those ‘top books to read before you die’ lists. It’s an autobiography called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, written by the neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.

It changed my outlook on everything.

The book is a ‘timeless formula for survival’, accounting his 3 year experience at Aushwitz and various other concentration camps. I don’t think there is any point in me describing these here. How he does it is so accurately chilling and terrifying, I wouldn’t even come close. However, I wanted to touch base on just a handful of his insights. I found his book to be incredibly eye-opening and very heart breaking. I’ve cried watching movies, but never by reading.

Dr Frankl talks about how to suffer (if unavoidable) in life is a way to experience the meaning of life, and therefore the meaning of your life. It’s meaning is unconditional, ‘paralleled by the unconditional value of every person in this world’, and their responsibility to humanity. Dr Frankl states that it was the simplest things which helped him persevere. Things such as images of loved ones, humour (what he calls the ‘soul’s weapon in the fight for self preservation’) and glimpses of nature such as a sunset, despite knowing that he may not survive.

One of the reasons why Dr Frankl wrote this book was to demonstrate to us that life can hold potential meaning, under any circumstances, even in a concentration camp. You can’t choose the suffering or change your fate. But you can choose your attitude, your personal values, your inner freedom-things nobody can take away from you.

If there is a meaning to life, then there is a meaning to suffering. The suffering should be undertaken as a task. So if you’re going to suffer, do so with courage and dignity.

‘Tears bore witness that a man had the greatest courage. The courage to suffer’.

Other things Dr Frankl talks about include the importance of documenting events, particularly those you’re happy to reflect on with pride and joy. Everybody has the potential to ‘actualise opportunities’ and therefore realise the value of creative work, fulfilling their meaning of life. These actions are never lost, but are stored and treasured. Again, they can never be taken away from you.

The last thing I wanted to quote here is directly taken from the book. One of the many things which altered my outlook on life…

‘Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensure, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication, to a cause greater than oneself’.

Song of the Month

Here’s my song of the month! I know I haven’t posted my favourites for the past couple of months…but I still hope I can make up for it, by sharing with you the latest song I’m finding pretty epic right now.

I’ve become a new fan of ‘Two Steps From Hell’, their songs are all I listen to now…I wish you all a seriously EPIC life

The Story of the Funky Pigeon

Apparently today is my one year anniversary of blogging…yay!

I therefore thought it would be nice to share with you a story which my mother told me a few days ago. I call it, the story of the funky pigeon.

It was on a Friday when my mother was getting ready to head out to work. She was already running a little bit late, so her natural priority was to leave on time. Whilst making her breakfast, she looked through the kitchen window and noticed that a pigeon had entered the bird house. The problem was that my dad had built it so pigeons couldn’t get in. How it did was anyone’s guess.

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The bird house in the back garden, taken in the recent few days I was back home

My mum thought that the pigeon might leave the bird house on it’s own, and so left it alone. She carried on getting ready when she looked out of the window upstairs, and saw that it was still there. She now started to worry a little, it was almost time for her to leave! She came out into the garden and used a milk carton (don’t ask me why) to try and shoo the pigeon off. Unfortunately it didn’t budge. She thought that might still be hungry, and decided to let it be for a further five minutes, before trying to take the pigeon out of the bird house herself.

Five minutes later my mum came out to the garden where to her horror, she found scattered feathers on the floor. The pigeon was wounded and a black and white cat was circulating the bird house. It was obvious that it wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.

Now my mother panicked. She shooed off the cat, but realised that if she left home with the pigeon inside the bird house, the cat would surely come back for it, for it knew that the pigeon had nowhere to go. It was trapped and injured. So what did my mum do? What any loving mother would do, she took the pigeon into our home.

The problem however was that it was injured and it needed medical attention. Not knowing how to rescue the pigeon safely from the bird house without injuring it further, she did the next best thing…she brought the whole bird house inside our house.

My mum rang the RSPCA and after explaining what had happened, she was informed that it maybe a couple of hours until somebody would come to take the injured pigeon. Now that she was definitely running late for work, she had to get reinforcements. Who better to be available than my dad, who was almost finishing his early shift! She rang him and after he managed to calm her down, she headed off to work. It was not long until my dad came home and awaited for the RSPCA team. Once they arrived they took the pigeon from the bird house safely and transferred it to their facility, to receive the appropriate treatment.

When my mum told me of this story down the phone, I literally couldn’t believe my ears. I imagined that it was something you could base a mini movie on, and had it running in my head! The fact that my mum carried that tall bird house through the back entrance of the house, with a fluttering pigeon inside shocks me even now. It was a simple yet sweet story about caring for another creature and doing what you can to save it. Yes it was a story of my mother and a pigeon she saved. But it is also a story I would be proud to tell my children.

Life is a Movie

This weekend was a good weekend. I think everyone needs one of those weekends… you know the sort where you don’t set an alarm, then get up late and are happy that you did.

When I did wake up, eventually, I decided to drive to the city centre. There were some errands that we needed to do and we still hadn’t seen Wonder Woman! Despite having left the house at almost 2pm, the city was still buzzing and it was a very sunny day!

On the Friday, I watched the British movie ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’…the true story of a homeless man, who was literally saved by a stray cat.

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Isn’t Bob the cutest?!

Having previously done a 10k marathon to raise money for the homeless shelter, there is now a part of me who will try and give more money than I previously did, to a homeless person I see. Whilst we were in the city, I saw a homeless man on the floor with an empty paper cup in his hand. The movie I had seen the day before came straight to my mind, his story and his troubles. He even looked like the man in the movie. He was miserable and had a sweaty forehead (it was a hot day). I fished out a £5 note and gave it to him.

‘Are you sure?’ His face completely changed.

‘Yeah, get some food it’s past lunch time’. I said.

He thanked me and we carried on. I turned around and I saw him run into Subway.

Having completed our errands, we stopped for a coffee and later headed off to see Wonder Woman.

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I thought my ‘flat white’ coffee looked pretty, so I took a picture

This movie was better than I thought and by far my favourite DC movie to date. The characters, the scenery, the story line, even the music which is definitive of Wonder Woman, all absolutely amazing. It encompasses a central theme which I adore-the importance of leadership. 

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From one of my many favourite scenes. It’s not about what you deserve.  It’s what you believe.’

Even after I returned home, I was still in that movie mood. I ended the day by going on Youtube (as you do) and watching clip after clip, of classic movies and new favourites. I wanted to end this post by sharing with you two of my favourite Disney movie openings, in the order I first watched them as a child. I hadn’t seen them in a VERY long time and yet I still get the chills. I think they are both so grand, magnificent and unforgettable. I still wish they did movies like these. Moana has now become my new favourite movie of the 21st century and one I am super excited about. I loved it that much that I went to the cinema twice just to watch it, but that’s for another post, another time!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Prince of Egypt

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part IV

After a fun couple of days of vegetarian home cooking (burgers and lasagne!), I had a few days off work and so set off to London. I was a little lazy at home but at the same time, hung out in the high street and enjoyed the summer sales!

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The view from the top floor of the bus, the best seat in my opinion!

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My sales items, totaling £62.75

It was also a good opportunity to meet up with a family friend, one who I’ve known for almost 25 years.

It was on the day that I met up with her, that I had an appointment with the dental hygienist in the morning. Just a typical appointment which I had booked the day before…or was it?

Everything was going pretty normal. My teeth were being inspected and the dental hygienist was doing a ‘deep clean’ on them, when his phone rang and he answered accordingly.

‘Oh I’m very sorry but I had to take the phone call’

‘That’s ok’ I replied.

‘Yeah it’s from Uganda’

‘Oh really?’

It was at this point that my voice changed to one of excitement. Of course I let him finish off the session, and then we talked about all-things-Uganda. We spoke about my trip there last year, his origins there and what we were both hoping to do. I told him about what I was setting up and interestingly, he told me about his plans to improve the dental hygiene there. We exchanged contact details and I left soon after. The very next day, I received an email from him.

He alerted me of the Uganda-UK Investment Convention which is scheduled for this year. I don’t know if I would have even be aware of it, if it wasn’t for the dental hygienist! Did I sign up for it? Well of course I did. I considered it a sign that he was there! Interestingly, I was contacted by two key organisations soon after-The Ministry of Health in Uganda that day, and the RCOG the next day.

So yes, things are still going. My next steps are:

  • Look into fundraising and obtaining the medical equipment.
  • Once this is done, we can set up the services for the cervical cancer screening programme and look into keeping it sustainable.
  • Make plans to go to Uganda towards the beginning of next year.

I wanted to end this post by sharing a Youtube link, because of the impact it has on me every time I watch it. I find it very inspirational, focusing the importance of creating change and making a difference in people’s lives. This is what I want to do.

Gary Vaynerchuk in Ghana, a country I have been to previously and love dearly. The ending of this vlog almost always gets to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

Run the World

After weeks of training and posts of typing, I’m thrilled to say that I have accomplished another task of the year…I did my first ever marathon.

Having raised £150 for the city’s homeless shelter, I was pumped up, excited and rearing to go. I don’t remember receiving so much support, not just from my family and friends but also from those crowds in the street…it’s not something you ever forget!

Instead of writing about my day, I’ve posted photos and attempted to vlog instead. I think this is my first time actually vlogging, so please excuse any imparted cheesiness!

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A sneaky opportunity to take a quick picture, after tightening up my shoelaces

The above two vlogs were taken 8k into the marathon, 2k left to go!

A few photos taken by the marathon professional photographers…surprising because I couldn’t see many cameras! I think it was around this point I was listening to Noel Gallagher’s ‘Everybody’s on the Run’. 

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The other side of the finish line!

I don’t know why I’m constantly blinking here either

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Some fundraisers for the homeless shelter

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A little memento of marathon trinkets

This was a day I truly enjoyed. Having never done a marathon before (let alone trained for one), it was a totally new experience for me. It kept me fit and it was all for a good cause.  Partaking in this was a golden opportunity for me to raise more money than the loose change I give to strangers on the street.

I’m passionate about reducing the levels of homelessness and helping people get back into the community safely. Everybody has a different story to tell and everybody is living a different life. However in this day and age, nobody should be living on the streets. This was a day of real service and one I am very proud off.