Thursday, November 22, 2012

Banquet in Bushenyi

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 staff house. 
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.
We didn’t 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. 
During our 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.



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