The internet in Atiak will prove difficult in regular blog updates for the next few weeks, but I’ll try to keep things fairly up to date on here! This entry is also rushed, so the quality of writing will hopefully improve with the next entry!
I arrived in Kampala on Saturday and spent the night in a hostel where I promptly passed out for about 18 hours. Sunday, I took the bus up to Gulu and met Rachel – the co-founder of Earth Birth. In spite of my jetlag, Sunday turned out to be incredible. We stayed in Gulu at Saint Monica’s Clinic, which is run by Sister Rosemary, a CNN hero. Saint Monica’s takes in former child mothers and their children, rehabilitating them and training them to sew, cook, and work so that they are employable after a two year stint at the clinic. Child mothers are the young girls and women who were abducted, and more often than not, raped by the Lord’s Resistance Army during the war here in northern Uganda. Many of the children who stay at Saint Monica’s with their mothers are the products of those rapes. Apparently, Joseph Kony (the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army) would call out to Sister Rosemary over the radio during the war and storm her compound where she hid the women, while Sister Rosemary would hide in the bushes with babies and young girls. Eating dinner with a woman like her, especially coming from the development angle that I do, was rewarding, to say the least. To this day, she still does amazing work with women and children across the region.
On Monday I arrived in Atiak and met Olivia, the other co-founder of Earth Birth. Not 30 minutes after our car pulled in, a laboring woman arrived at the clinic to deliver her SIXTH baby – but six kids is hardly out of the ordinary here. Before I came here and witnessed it, I really had no idea how I was going to handle watching childbirth. After being forced to watch “The Miracle of Life” at Sacred Heart Academy I was pretty sure that when it came to any work I do in maternal health it would be from a purely policy angle, out of sight of any placentas, but it turns out I was fine!
Atiak is the poorest and most rural place I have ever been, let alone lived for three months. I stay in a small hut, with cement walls painted a pretty pink (courtesy of Olivia) and cow-dung/cement floor covered in colorful straw rugs. The roof is thatched straw and withstands heavy rains, but is also home to mice. Luckily, there is the Earth Birth pet – a kitten named Baby Jesus! Since his arrival, the mouse count has plummeted. Thank god.
I share the hut with our cook, a woman my age named Nighty, and her baby son, Stewart, who is just over a year. Nighty was abducted during the war and forced to marry a leader of the rebel movement before escaping after a year of hell. She also has three other children who do not live with her here. Can you imagine being her age and a mother of four, having endured everything she has? And her story is just one of many. In just three days in Atiak I have met people who have gone through things I can’t even properly imagine, not that I am sure I would want to.
That’s all I can offer for now – a storm is coming in and the internet won’t be cooperating for much longer! Check back later this week for a more in depth look at exactly what Earth Birth does and what my role will be.