A group of us
in Mbarara was invited to the home of a colleague in Bushenyi, Dr. Celestine
Berigye. Dr. Berigye was a wonderfully
effective District Medical Officer before he was promoted to the Ministry of
Health in Kampala recently. His family
is still in Bushenyi so he commutes regularly on weekends.
This visit was arranged in part as a
celebration of Dr. John Godel’s involvement with Celestine and with Bushenyi. John is a pediatrician with a long history of
working in the aboriginal communities in the Western Arctic and Mackenzie River. He is now in his 80s. He has been coming to Mbarara for a month or
two each year since I began in 2000. In
fact it was because of John that I first came to Mbarara. John spent most of his time on the Pediatric wards teaching residents while I was mainly in the community with Healthy Child Uganda but most recently John has joined us in the community.
John and his
wife Marj overlapped with me in the medical education project begun by the
Hillmans at Makerere in the 1980s a part of the reconstruction following Ida
Amin’s reign. I met him at an
international conference in the late 1990s and heard about a new medical school
in SW Uganda that needed help from him.
He gave me a contact name and address as email was not readily available
at the time and I was there within the year.
Occasionally John, Marj and I would overlap, often we stayed at the same
John had come without his hat this day, so our hosts found a flower-bedecked sun hat for him, which did the job of shading his head. He jauntily wore the sunhat throughout the banquet on the lawn. It captured the practicality and spontaneity that John brought to hi work in Uganda.
have reliable information gathering in the beginning of our work in community. One of John’s forays into community was to investigate reports
that 17 infant or child deaths had occurred in a short period in one
community. Even in our areas with high
infant mortality, this was shocking.
John found among other things that there was no available health unit in
the area and that many of the children had died from easily preventable causes. He talked to the District Medical Officer who
was Celestine about the situation. Soon
there was a health center built, staffed by the District which was called by
the community the Godel Health Center. I
never heard John claim so or even to mention it but I am pretty sure that faced
with the inevitable delays of the system, John made a substantial contribution to
ensuring the health unit was in place quickly.
John also paid for a young man selected by this remote community to get
further training as a health worker.
Celestine and his wife also contributed to support for this young fellow
who stayed with them.
visit to Celestine and his lovely wife, Ruth, we were provided with a banquet of
delicious food, given a tour of his new home, viewed his garden and met his family. During a scrumptious meal provided by Ruth, a touching thank you speech
was made by the soon-to-graduate laboratory assistant. Ruth glowed with pride mentioning that he not
only communicated in English but spoke so confidently, so clearly and so well. The rest of us were touched by his heart-felt
expressions of gratitude, something Ugandans excel at in general.
We were taken
on a tour of the local winery in Bushenyi, met the owner and viewed not only the
vineyards but also the processing plant, a remarkable production, one of the
first in Uganda run by an 80 year old Uganda gentleman with a powerful
presence. It was a wonderful, moving day
for all of us.