I was just 10 years old when I decided to become a Nurse. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. As I sat in school waiting my turn for a tetanus injection, I watched the nurse as she worked. She looked so smart in her uniform and was so caring in the way that she spoke to my class that I knew one day I’d do the same. 17 years later I have never once waivered from that decision.
I was one of the lucky ones. I was born into a supportive family that could afford to give me an education. There are 32 nursing schools in Uganda but tuition fees and lack of opportunities mean many young girls are unable to follow in my footsteps. Marrying straight out of school and starting a family at a young age often feels like the only option for many, especially in the rural area where I work.
Iyolwa Clinic is in Eastern Uganda, near the border with Kenya. We service a population of nearly 20,000 people and I am constantly faced with teenage pregnancies and young girls dropping out of school to get married. The best part of my job is being able to act as a mentor, to show girls they have other options, they can finish their education even with a baby and they too could be a nurse like me one day.
The problem is no one would want to be like me if it meant working in Iyolwa. The clinic buildings were on the verge of collapse, there was no power or running water, a lack basic equipment to do my job, we often ran out of medicine and it was rife with bats and rats. Why would any young girl have aspired to be me?
I wanted to be that smart nurse, standing in front of a group of young people, proud to work in healthcare. Instead I was constantly covered in dirt and dust, working in unhygienic and unsanitary conditions, often unable to help patients when they needed it the most. It’s not an example I wanted to set to the next generation.
Increasingly nurses in Uganda are leaving in search of better salaries and working conditions in neighbouring countries but instead of leaving why can’t we create better healthcare centres in rural regions that inspire young girls to follow a career in medicine and make them want to stay?
Like most sub-Saharan African countries, Uganda faces huge health challenges including high rates of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, but in recent years we’ve made great advances in healthcare and prevention and we need to make sure this doesn’t stop just because we don’t have adequate facilities to treat patients in.
This year something incredible is happening in Iyolwa. Comic Relief is shining a light on our clinic to help demonstrate these issues that are still affecting communities right across Africa. The building is going to be completely refurbished by a local workforce – the community are so excited that, along with the local bricklayers, electricians and engineers, teachers and boda boda drivers have also been volunteering to help with the build. We are all looking forward to creating a modern, hygienic and safe environment to work in, together
When I first came to Iyolwa many people called it the ‘worst clinic in Africa,’ now we’ve already had three calls from nurses asking how they can get a job in the new clinic. It’s so encouraging that motivated and well-trained health staff actually want to come and work at Iyolwa. I’m confident this is just the start.
Two of my patients are currently at nursing school and I can’t wait for them to see the new and improved clinic when they come home. I have a strong feeling that’s at least two new nurses who won’t be eager to take their skills out of the country.
This Red Nose Day I want people in the UK to fully appreciate how much we value their support. The refurbishment of our clinic is a symbol of the wider healthcare issues facing hundreds of thousands of people in communities across Africa. And here at Iyolwa, already the extra training we have received is being passed on to neighbouring districts so other communities can benefit from our knowledge. We will ensure this initial support from the UK has a long-lasting effect and Comic Relief supporters should feel proud that they are playing a major role in improving the health of so many families in rural Uganda.