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Unsung: Andree Wilson-Nixa

Unsung: Andree Wilson-Nixa
November 12, 2015 No comments

I am a senior nursing major at Saint Mary’s College and I was born and raised in South Bend. I have a passion for helping people, especially those who are underserved and vulnerable. Nursing is my calling and I feel most alive when I am able to care for a person, both body and soul. I love practicing both the art and the science of nursing. I wanted to pursue global service especially in Africa because I grew up in an area where most people were poor and lived in poverty. I saw the lives of children and their families living in brokenness and wanted to find an avenue to serve those living in similar situations. I studied abroad in Rome sophomore year and I wanted a different, more fulfilling, and a challenging experience, which is why I chose to serve in Uganda. Serving there was humbling and incredible. It opened my eyes to so many different lives, ways of interacting with people, and ways of thinking about the world and nursing.

A typical day of the week entailed waking up around 7am and attending mass in the morning (either at the convent or the church across the road). We would then come back and make breakfast which usually included toast with butter or nutella and some form of fruit and hot tea. We would leave for the clinic sometime between 8:30 and 9 each morning. Each day at the clinic began with morning prayer/song. It was the best way to start every day, thanking the Lord for health and granting healing on the patient’s that we would serve that day. Then we would either observe in the ART clinic, go on rounds with the clinician, attend to patient’s who were in the process of getting admitted by inserting IVs or administering medication, working in the pharmacy, or packing up our bags to go to school health. School health was one of our favorite activities because we were able to actually give immunizations and run the show on our own. At school health, one of the clinic student nurses from Uganda would give a health talk and we would set up our immunization station. The girls would line up and we would administer the Teatnus vaccine to them (usually between 30-90 per school health visit). There was a cook at the clinic who prepared chapatti and tea for all of the workers every day. We were always back by 5pm and then we would rest, go to evening prayer or play with the kids across the street.

Can you please describe what life is like for the people that served in your region?

Almost all of the patient’s that came to the clinic walked (between 20 min to an hour) or took a Boda (motorcycle). On days where it rained in the morning, patients would not be able to arrive until the afternoon and had to wait a few hours until the rain stopped. Of the children that we served, about 60% had malaria and the other 20% had other conditions such as hives or an injury from working in the fields. The adults that we served also came in with malaria. Mothers came in for antenatal care or to give birth to babies. There was a maternity ward, and ART (HIV) clinic. We also did community outreaches to churches and schools and provided immunizations to babies, mothers, and school aged girls. The people had very little material things and ate food straight from their gardens. A very slow and laid back lifestyle, people lived in the moment and made due with what they have. The people are filled with happiness and JOY. The clinic we worked at was not free or cheap, but there was a Health Center 4 down the road that was government funded and all services were free. We did a few home visits one day and one of the women we interviewed made a comment about how she didn’t like how the clinic was expensive. She said that the rich people are going to continue to get the care they need while the poor people are going to die because they cannot afford care.

If you could give advice to someone serving at the same region and/or clinic what would you advise? How could it be improved or optimized?

Appreciate the clinic for what it is and the resources they have. Try to see from the perspective of a local. Consider the culture and the way healthcare and health in general is viewed in Africa. I think coming from a western culture and health system, we are often quick to criticize the method of the local health clinics. Who are we to judge and what makes us think that our way is the only way? It is so important to realize that the resources the local clinics have are nothing compared to the States and though the education of the health clinic workers is very limited, they make do with what they have. Their method is safe and efficient; they are able to see patients, care for them, and send them home. It is an incredibly different system of handling patients, but you have to step away and look at it from an open perspective. The vision of the clinic was to “serve with love and care” and they did just that. Observe as much as you can, step in from time to time, and help as much as you can! Also be aware that the concept of a volunteer or intern isn’t something people there are too familiar with, so we had to express to the clinicians that we wanted to try to give an IV or ask if we could watch a certain procedure. They weren’t used to offering internship-like experiences similar to the structured programs organizations and hospitals in the US regularly provide. We also brought many, many supplies for the clinic. Though we were able to use much of the supplies while we were there (especially gloves, hand sanitizer, alcohol swabs, infant onesies, blankets, and pads for mothers), some instruments were more useful than others. Other supplies we brought were a good idea in theory, but if the local clinicians didn’t normally use the item, as soon as our team leaves they will revert to using what they are comfortable with using.

Was there a need greater than medical concerns?

There is and always will be a need greater than medical. Patients needed education, needed emotional support, and basic knowledge of health. Some of these items were provided at the clinic for HIV patients and pregnant mothers. Group sessions were provided for HIV patients and a peer mother educating program for pregnant mothers that educated mothers about prenatal care. Many times we wished we could interact with patients one-on-one, but the majority of patients did not speak english which made it difficult to communicate. We compromised and offered our smiles or sat beside them to hold their hands.

Did you form relationships with the people you served?

The local clinicians were the nicest and most welcoming people! I really got to know them and developed a very special bond with them. One of the most meaningful parts of my time in Uganda was interacting with the local people every day on our walk home from the clinic. Everybody was so happy. They would point to us and kids would jump up and down and run towards us. They were filled with awe and were so happy to see us. We made friends on our journeys home and sang and danced with them. Children with no shoes and hands sticky from mangos would join us hand-in-hand. We would walk until we told them that they should go home as our lodging was too far away. They had the biggest smiles and most joy-filled hearts. It always struck me with how content they seemed with their simple lives. It was truly truly humbling. Every day when we would come home from the clinic, the children would be at the gate peering in and shouting our names to come out and play. Some days we were too tired, but they would stand out at the gate for hours – even in the rain. They wanted to know about our lives in America and we wanted to know about them. They taught us rutooro (the local language) and would quiz us every day. They brought us mangos as gifts and hugged us, jumped on us, and begged us to stay out for just a little longer every day. They loved us from the day we got there and we loved them unconditionally. I could go on and on, but the relationships built with the local people and the children were by far the best part of my entire trip.

Unsung, is a feature MDF proudly brings to the MDF community highlighting the incredible MDF’ers who are truly #CraftingWellness. We hope to inspire, encourage, and connect humanity by sharing the stories from the thousands of anonymous individuals whose imprint can be seen in the lives of countless others.

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