When we told our family and friends that we were moving to Uganda for six months, a few asked if we were going to live in a mud hut and have an outhouse. I’m not kidding! Don’t feel silly if you were one of those people – it was a fair question. The answer is no, we are not living in a mud hut. We are living in a modern apartment with electricity and running water (and indoor toilets). It may sound like I’m trying to justify our choice of where we live, but we feel like we need to provide our family with a safe and clean environment. When we work during the day at one of the mobile medical clinics with Africa Renewal Ministries, we do use outhouses and work in buildings that are just a step up from mud huts. These clinics have been located in various places, some far and some near. When we were told that we were going to work in a clinic this week in Namuwongo, I had no idea how near it was. Namuwongo is a stone’s throw away from our apartment in Bugolobi.
Okay, so maybe it is a baseball’s throw away. But it’s really close (about 500 yards). In this photo, you can look across the swamp and see the tiny buildings with metal roofs on the edge of the swamp. The only thing separating us is the swamp, which provides a sanctuary for many birds, but also mosquitoes.
The difference between Bugolobi and Namuwongo is like day and night. This is the worst area I have seen in Uganda in terms of poverty and unclean living conditions. The neighborhood we visited is made up of rows and rows of shacks, most made of wood planks and covered with metal roofs, with dirt floors and no electricity or running water. The church, where we set up the medical clinic, consists of wood planks for walls and an orange tarp for a roof. The 20 foot by 20 foot space was packed with wooden benches – barely room to move about. Our team was welcomed by Pastor Abbey who shepherds many of the people in this community. We were offering free medical screenings and medicine to children under 10 years old, and Pastor Abbey offered to counsel and pray with the families who visited the clinic. During the two-day clinic, 242 patients were seen and 41 people (parents of the children being treated) accepted Jesus as their Lord. A little girl who attended the church had been trying to get her mother to come to church with her, but she had refused to do so for a long time. The girl convinced her mother to come to the clinic with her, and her mother accepted Jesus. This clinic not only provided physical health, but spiritual health.
Jessica and I worked as pharmacists at the clinic on the second day. Actually, Jessica was the pharmacist and I was her assistant. She has had more experience in pharmacy and knows how to decipher the doctors’ shorthand. My job was to fill orders that Jessica would give me, most of which required counting and often cutting pills into child appropriate doses. As each order was filled, Jessica would explain to the mom (through our translator Eva) how to give the medications. It was a privilege to work with my daughter all day and see how good she is at doing her job.
The hard part of this clinic was working in the tiny church that felt like a sauna, smelled like an outhouse, was crowded with mothers holding crying babies and had more flies than you could shake a stick at (I don’t even know what that means, but I was wishing for a stick). We were thankful that we had newspaper to fan ourselves and to shoo away the flies from our pharmacy table. We sat on a small wooden bench on the uneven dirt floor, with sweat dripping off of us. We didn’t want to drink too much water because we would have to find an outhouse (not sure they even had one). Little children outside the shack would peak through the wooden planks behind us, calling, “Mzungu” (sounds like ma-zoon-goo). It was good that our work kept us busy, so we were distracted from the heat, sounds, and smells. But when we did have a moment, in between filling prescriptions, we could look up and see the beautiful faces of the mothers and children we were there to help. These are our neighbors across the swamp. These are the beautiful starfish we have been called to rescue.