In January 2019, Kaitlin Smith boarded a one-way flight for Uganda to serve as a coordinator of several medical clinics in villages outside Kampala.
Sheâ€™s spent the last year working with a team there to make various improvements, from updated lab equipment to running water.
Recently, weeks before Uganda confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 22, Smith took time for an email interview with the Daily Reporter.
Some people have stereotypes about what ministry on the continent of Africa might look like. Have you encountered any odd questions or misconceptions about your daily life?
You get quite a few strange misconceptions. I complied a list of most frequently asked questions â€¦
â€śIs your house like â€¦ a mud hut?â€ť No. I live in Kampala, the capital city, where there are some houses that are quite nice! My house is located near Heritage, an international school, so that I can be close to a community of teachers and staff that are around my age. The place that I am renting has a cute little backyard and a wall that encloses the compound.
â€śDo you have electricity?â€ť Yes. However, occasionally I have power outages that last up to six to eight hours at a time. Luckily I have a gas stove, so I can still cook, and a solar charger for my phone.
â€śWhat about air conditioning?â€ť No. But the temperatures here range from upper 80s in the day, down the the mid-60s at night. So its usually cool at night when you are trying to sleep. Plus I have a fan by my bed in case Iâ€™m feeling hot.
â€śDo you go to that bathroom â€¦ outside?â€ť Those are called latrines. Yes, I use them, but only when I am traveling to the village. At home I have the porcelain throne.
â€ťWhat is something interesting or funny about the culture you live in?â€ť When I was on a trip to the village, I stayed at a local pastorâ€™s house. They made dinner and starting bringing dish after dish of food into the living room. Then they disappeared outside, and I thought they went to get the rest of the food, but they were gone for over 15 minutes. Finally, one of then peeked back in and said, â€śWhat is the matter? Is there something wrong with the food?â€ť
â€śNo!â€ť I said. â€śI was just waiting for you guys to start.â€ť
â€śOh no,â€ť she replied. â€śWe could never eat with our dear visitor. We must leave you alone to eat. That is what you do for your most honored guest.â€ť
â€ťDo you like it there?â€ť YES! When you know you are doing what God has called you to do, it is quite possibly one of the best feelings in the world.
Describe new foods youâ€™ve encountered and/or a food from here that youâ€™ve introduced to your new friends.
At my house I can make almost any recipe from back home. I may have to go to four different grocery stores to find what I am looking for, but I can usually find it â€” with the exception of a few things like nuts, relish and chocolate chips.
Local Ugandan food consists of rice, beans, matoke (boiled or steamed mashed green bananas), chapati (the African version of a soft tortilla), one or two chucks of meat a little bit smaller than the size of a golf ball, posho (sometimes called ugali; fine white corn flour is mixed with water until it stiffens into a dough consistency), and mandazi (their version of a doughnut). I eat these items when Iâ€™m staying in the village.
I was preparing for a weeklong trip to the furthest clinics when I had a craving for a taste from home. I decided to whip up a batch of delicious ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookies. â€¦ I decided to leave half the batch at my house for my guards to enjoy and to take along the other half for my driver and myself. â€¦ One guard said, â€śI tried to explain to my wife what this thing was that I ate, and I donâ€™t have any way to describe it other than that it is Jesus bread.â€ť Another guard said, â€śMadame, The next time you make this Jesus bread, you must show me how to make it!â€ť Their pure joy and excitement was fun to watch.
As I reflected on this, it struck me that we, as Christians, are the â€śJesus breadâ€ť of life. There are people in the world who have never seen or experienced anything like a relationship with Christ. When we, Christians, are salt and light to the world, people will taste our goodness and want more. They will want to to know how we â€śmakeâ€ť the goodness that flows from us. They will want to know what the secret ingredients are. They will be so overcome, so excited about experiencing it, that they will want everyone they love to taste Godâ€™s goodness.
Whatâ€™s something about life in Uganda that most of us here might not know about or realize?
Most people are shocked to learn that in Uganda patients are usually responsible for bringing their own drinking water to a hospital or clinic. In addition, family is responsible for bringing food and bedding for the patient.
Luckily, we found an organization that offers a water filtration system for approximately $60 USD. They gave us one water filtration system for free, and we are saving up to buy a water filtration system for our other four clinics. It is an amazing feeling to be able to offer our sick patients clean drinking water when we have never been able to before.
What does your â€śwork weekâ€ť look like in hours, commute, tasks, etc.?
My work weeks and tasks vary quite a bit. As the medical coordinator of the five clinics, my role is administrative and big picture. I am in charge of making sure staff get paid, drugs are available, and other tasks that come along with daily operation. â€¦
I am working to build a Ugandan administrative team who will be responsible for the daily management of the clinics. This will allow the clinics to be strengthened and locally sustained. Once the management is controlled by Ugandan nationals that will free me up to do more fundraising for bigger projects like getting electricity and running water throughout all the clinics.
Are you seeing cases of COVID-19 there and/or having to take some precautionary or preparatory measures?
Yes, as of (March 24) we have nine confirmed cases in country. Uganda has completely closed its borders; no one is allowed to leave or enter the country (with the exception of cargo). Sanitizers are virtually impossible to find. Masks are being sold at a box of 20 for $100 USD. I placed our monthly drug order (March 24), and prices of all medicine have shot up. Other medicines needed in mother deliveries are unavailable across the country due to imports being restricted. Other counties are short on ventilators, but here even having access to oxygen is rare!
One of my biggest concerns is how the cost of food has shot up. A bag of rice that used to cost $8 is now $12 USD. People here already struggle to feed their families; with this price increase there are going to be many who canâ€™t afford food. In turn, this will cause an increase in crime as people are trying to survive. In addition, most Ugandans wouldnâ€™t have the luxury of being able to â€śshelter in placeâ€ť; most work to make enough money to buy food for that day. So if they are forced not to work, they wonâ€™t have money to buy food that day.
Describe a typical Sunday morning in a church there.
Church in Uganda is LONG. In the capital, services usually last three to four hours, and in the village they are usually four to six hours. Itâ€™s the social highlight of a lot of Ugandansâ€™ week, and many people walk long distances to get to church, so they wouldnâ€™t be happy to walk all that way for a one-hour service. Ugandans love to sing, dance, praise, shout and worship. Their services can be quite lively with plenty of moving and shaking.
You mentioned some new projects taking shape there.
God has beyond blessed us in this past year by bringing in funding for different projects.
We have sent two of our staff members, Fred and Joy, to attend a six-month ultrasound training course. They started in January 2020 â€¦ Ultrasound is an amazing diagnostic tool in rural health settings, and this is a huge step for us to provide better care for our patients. Please pray for them over the next six months and beyond as we launch our ultrasound program in the clinics.
In September, at Nampunge Health Clinic 3, we put new paint and tile throughout the clinic. The difference was dramatic. Since the renovation our average monthly number of outpatients has doubled. Including all of our departments, we are currently averaging over 1,000 patients per month.
We received funding for a full lab at Nampunge Health Clinic 3â€¦ We are the only clinic in the surrounding area that has these capabilities for over 30 miles. Having these machines will allow for more accurate diagnosis, testing and treatment: â€¦ a hematology machine, chemistry machine, centrifuge, immunoassay machine, urinalysis machine, microscope, and TB bio safety cabinet.
At the same clinic we ran solar electric throughout the whole facility and added enough solar panels and batteries so that our lab equipment can function through their frequent and long power outages.
Many clinics in Uganda donâ€™t have running water. At Kasubi Health Clinic 2 we were able to put sinks with running water throughout the clinic and a shower for moms after they give birth. In addition, we opened up some walls for increased functionality of the clinic and painted and tiled the facility, which allowed us to add labor and delivery services as well as family planning services.
A video shows the before and after: https://youtu.be/5jClunEBTHA
How can people support you?
One of the best ways you can support us is through prayer. Anyone and everyone can give simple prayers to the Lord to help us do more than we could ever ask, think or imagine. The best way you can stay up to date on what to pray for is by following along our journey via Facebook at www.facebook.com/medicalcareafrica.
Something that we have seen be very successful is having a person or group take on the role of being an advocate for a specific project. If you or your church would like to give financially, there are many projects you can support such as purchase of lab equipment, running water and electricity for our facilities, paint and tile so that we can make our facilities an inviting place of healing.
To give you can go to https://www.chogglobal.org/mission-projects/projects-africa/uganda-health-care/. If you would like learn more about projects or would like information about adopting a specific project, please email me at KaitlinSmith@Chog.org.
We asked Kaitlin Smith what the spiritual lessons of her first year in Africa have been. Weâ€™ll feature her response in an upcoming Hope for Living column.