In classes, I was always made sure to be aware of the growing problem that is the global health disparity. However, while in Uganda, I saw this problem manifest itself into the struggles of everyday people. I heard stories of resilience and survival. These people were truly inspiring mostly because they weren’t activists or politicians, but shop-owners, farmers, mothers, and grandmothers. They were people who simply wanted to help their neighbors, their friends, and their families. They were generous enough to welcome us with open arms—literally embracing us once we stepped into their village, knowing we were from GlobeMed at Northeastern. The Lukindu village, in particular, treated us like family. They cooked us elaborate meals and gifted us all sorts of fruits and vegetables. They allowed us to walk into their homes and I even saw the water source from which they retrieve their drinking water.
I was stunned when I saw it. In front of me, was a murky, grey-blue, pond of water with empty wrappers and bottles scattered around the water. I was confused and shocked at how people could drink this water and survive. I was given a deeper perspective when a child, who couldn’t have been more than three-years-old, ran up to the water. As he ran past me, I saw that his shirt wasn’t really a shirt at all. It was more like a piece of cloth draped over one shoulder. The holes in his shirt were so large that I could see half of his torso. I then noticed him bend down and try to retrieve water with a can that was as big as his own head.
He struggled over the water, since it was far below the makeshift bridge that ran across it. If he fell, the water was too deep to stand and if he didn’t know how to swim, there was a risk of him drowning. But, having done this five times a day, he was used to the task and raised himself up with a full jerry can of water in one hand. He struggled again as he climbed back up the rocky, dirt road from which he came. I watched as he slipped on rocks and was unable to navigate around large holes with his bare feet. After a few attempts at climbing up the path, I snapped back to the present and ran to help him up the hill. In this moment, I truly realized how significant their problems were. The access to clean water was no longer a problem on paper, or a lecture from a powerpoint presentation, but it was tangible and real.
The next day my team and I were fortunate enough to help construct the well that would be placed in this very village. Our funds to our partner, Kitovu Mobile LTD, were allocated to the Lukindu village and, if kept in good condition, would give them a clean water source for the next 25 years.
In seeing the construction of the shallow well, I suddenly realized how grateful I was for our six-year partnership with Kitovu. I started thinking about all the projects we were able to implement in other villages. I was able to see the pit latrines (bathrooms), tippy-taps (hand-washing apparatus), and income generating projects we have helped fund. Through talking with villagers, I realized how impactful Kitovu has been in their lives. Our partner taught them simple hygiene and sanitation techniques that proved to be lifesaving. Kitovu staff taught villages how to properly wash hands with soap, to use drying racks for dishes, and to boil their water. They have also built health care facilities to allow villagers to receive the proper care they need.
The more villages I visited, the more of their stories I heard. I quickly learned in those conversations, that they all had the knowledge to stay healthy and knew how to achieve a better lifestyle. They just simply didn’t have the resources necessary to do it. How frustrating must this be? To know that shoes for your children would prevent them from getting parasites and infections, but that they are just too expensive to afford. This inspired me to change their realities. I have become engrossed with a passion to make Americans more acutely aware of others’ lack of basic health necessities for survival.
I realized that in the U.S. we truly take advantage of clean water, which is readily available to us from our very own faucets at home. GROW has transformed my outlook on health equity. I’m thankful that I found a place in GlobeMed that provides me with the tools necessary to share this experience and knowledge with others. Together, we can truly create a global health movement for equity.
—Kelly Eng – GROW Intern 2016