An internship in a Ugandan village was at once inspiring and horrifying for a local university student.
“We were called the muzungu,” said Kirsten Cotter, 21. “We were the only non-Ugandans in the area.”
Of native heritage, Cotter signed onto an aboriginal youth internship, a pilot project that stressed sustainability and cultural sensitivity. She’d long harboured a dream of working for a humanitarian agency in Africa. She spent the past four months in the village of Kytegume, three hours’ drive from the capital, Kampala.
There, she and two other interns worked with the Ugandan Rural Foundation and helped develop a community garden for community. She has only praise for the foundation and its ability to rally limited resources to support basic needs, such as housing for child-headed families, education and health care.
“You are surrounded by people of limited means, but I’ve never felt so calm in my entire life,” she said.
Equipped with a health-sciences degree in midwifery, Cotter figured the experience would serve as a health internship. She did support one woman in pregnancy, but overall the experience was a transformative one, one that changed her career interest.
While she loved the cultural experience and the opportunity to work directly with villagers, health care is not her calling, she discovered. Africa was more than a wakeup call in terms of health care, it was a call to action on a broader level.
“I found doing health care, it really hurt my soul, so I’m going to UBC in September to study international relations.”
Health care in Africa bears little resemblance to that of her own country, she found.
“I saw a lot of really terrible things,” she said. “I want to come at it from a different perspective.”
It costs a Ugandan 5,000 shillings, or $2.50, to go to hospital. That may seem like a trifling sum in Canada, but it’s beyond the reach of many Ugandans.
“I met a child with polio whose parents couldn’t afford health care, a man who was blind because he couldn’t afford glasses, a woman who was raped and needed an abortion.”
Polio is all but eradicated in most countries, but not in Africa, and the abortion had to be performed in grim conditions.
“She probably has already died from infection. People had all sorts of conditions and it goes way too far.”
Overall, hers was a positive experience of friendship and camaraderie, including with her Ugandan best friend, who she hopes will be able to visit B.C. this summer.
“I found a lot of role models and inspiring people.”
Through her blog site — kirsten-abroad.blogspot.com/ — she shared her experience with people back home.
She’s now raising money to send her midwifery and nursing texts to a new university in Uganda. The idea is to encourage other midwives to follow suit, creating a foundation for learning. She welcomes community donations of $5 or $10 to help pay for shipment. To that end, she’s opened a Bank of Montreal account. The account number is 0720 3993-024.