Hannah Brightman shares her experiences after 5 weeks in Uganda - Feb/Mar 2018


Hannah enjoyed 5 weeks working in the school and the medical centre as part of her Medical Elective training, as a UK registered Children's Nurse.

- “It's been magical & unforgettable - if I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat! I just think if you're even thinking about doing something like this, then just do it, it's amazing and I certainly have no regrets."

Here's a 15 min video with Hannah sharing more of her experiences and insights from her time in Uganda:


 Video transcript:
Hi guys, my name is Hannah and I volunteered at Uganda lodge for about five weeks at the start of February 2018.

So I just wanted to put together a little video of why I did the experience I did why I loved it and why I think you should do it too.

So a little bit about me then so I am a registered children's nurse back in the UK, and I work on an intensive care unit nursing has always been a huge passion of mine, and I've always wanted to go to somewhere completely different, to help wherever possible. I have previously looked at medical and nursing electives, especially during my nurse training, but I never undertaken any just for the fact that I always thought that they were far too expensive.

When I initially started inquiring at Uganda Lodge, about the sort of things that I would be interested in doing whilst volunteering, they assured me that this was something that I could really get stuck into. So when I arrived in Uganda, they put me in contact with the District Council where I was approved to help volunteer at the local hospital. The hospital that I volunteered at was called Itojo, and it was about five minutes from the lodge itself. 

I mainly spent time on the paediatric Ward, where I would assist in treating conditions such as malaria, typhoid, gastroenteritis. Lots of coughs and colds with bronchitis and pneumonia, severe malnutrition and lots of different types of wounds and burns, and conditions we wouldn't actually see here in the UK, just because of the risks of injury.

The other departments that they have in the hospital, include a male and female adult wards, they have a dental clinic. They have blood bank pharmacy, outpatient casualty in an A&E department, and then they also have a maternity and labour ward. And here I was able to assist the delivery of two healthy babies, which I have never, ever done before. And that was just magical in itself, and definitely a personal ambition that I managed to tick off while I was out there.

So, back at the Lodge itself, they also have a health care mission, and so they have set up the McNeil Medical Centre in about 2004. It's run by local nurses out in the community, 24-seven. So, it's a health centre which helps support the treatment and health of the local schoolchildren at the Ruhanga Primary School, which is also part of Uganda lodge at the school there are about 560 children.

Whilst I was volunteering I worked alongside the health centre to complete medical checks on all 560 children, and give them basic health care should they need it for things such as the conditions I mentioned earlier. I think, when we were performing this we completed about 40% of treatment on people's who we detect symptoms. So these checks include things such as baseline measurements, height, weight, etc. and a baseline set of observations including your pulse, respiration rate, temperature and head to toe assessment and that's where we generally found out if they had an ailment or an illness that we could just treat fairly easily with the resources we had at the Medical Centre. [And there is a report that has been written on so it should you have an interest in it. I'm sure you'd be able to have access to it and to read it.]

The centre itself also offers services to the local community. They have a few patients that are elderly in the community that are less mobile and quite frail, so the services they would provide would be to deliver medications and pain relief and continually assess their needs. They would also occasionally take them food and water to they need it. And sometimes what they would need is just a bit of company and a bit of love. So these patients when they couldn't move they would generally sit on their mattress all day every day. And when you would visit you would open the door to their heart, that would let light in, as well as the letting yourself. But by spending about half an hour of time with them that would just complete their day and make their week, even make their year. And it was one of the most heartwarming things that I feel I've ever done in my life - just to put a smile on someone else's face, that wouldn't be there otherwise.

So if you have the chance I definitely say to go and visit them, and their living conditions are completely different to ours and very eye opening so it's definitely an experience worth having. And the McNeil Medical Centre also offers immunisations to the community, and they have these days that are actually supported by a tertiary hospital where nurses from the hospital come over and set up the immunisation schedules, with the nurses who work at the medical centre and they work together to help immunise the local community.

They also hold a baby clinic, which was one of my favourite days. This is held once a month, and that helps complete developmental checks on the babies in the community. So trying to undo their makeshift nappies with various pieces of cloth and material that the mums have found is challenging but hilarious, so if you have been trying to do something like that, you could get involved with days like the baby clinic. They also have health awareness days, I know they've recently done one on polio. And we also helped introduce teaching to the schoolchildren on these health topics. So I think the ones that we focused on with the schoolchildren were things like HIV, malaria and typhoid, just because they're very common out there. And it was just a way of telling the children about the signs and symptoms so that they could refer themselves to get treatment if they were thinking that they had suffered from this, but also a way to teach them how to prevent getting these illnesses in the future.

So, the McNeil Medical Centre is part of Uganda Lodge,  as is the Ruhanga Primary School, and they have a vocational training centre. At the moment I know that they have a sewing skills centre. They have a hairdressing centre. They have a man that makes flip flops from recycled tires so I definitely purchased a pair of those - you can choose your own colour beads and everything. And they're also in the process of building a restaurant which will teach locals how to make food and teach them culinary and cooking skills, and that will also provide them with an income as well as future employment opportunities, so the vocational training centre is just focused on teaching people in the local community certain skills and trades, which might brighten their future opportunities.

So if you have anything to offer, I'm sure your skills would be much welcomed out there. And it's just really great to see that Uganda Lodge is quite well rounded and offers services that will enrich the whole community. So my time at the lodge, as you can probably tell was quite heavily influenced by my nursing background, but there are loads of activities you can get involved in. Having the Ruhanga Primary School on site brings lots of teaching opportunities with it. So if you have a teaching background or you wanted to get involved with teaching out there, it's most welcomed and sport activities are also a huge part of the day to day life for children in Uganda. So if you can kick a ball, you're in - the lessons out that are always so much fun. So if you have an interest in sports or wanted to even conduct your own lessons or introduce different sporting games, then I'm sure you'd be able to do that.

Of the children at the school, I think about over half of them board, so there's dormitories on the school site as well. Unfortunately the dormitories are really full, and they have triple bunk beds and not just double bunk beds, they have triple bunk beds. And, unfortunately, even some of those bunks are actually doubled up with some of the students so they have over spilled into some classrooms and donations at the moment are being used to build more dormitories and rebuild classes that have been used as makeshift dormitories in the meantime. So, yeah, for children that board, there's always activities to do with them outside school hours, and also on weekends. I know during half term periods when the children tend to go home to their families, that there is always a revamp then of the classrooms, so hopefully you'll find some pictures of the classrooms somewhere. But a lot of them are decorated with pictures of the solar system, maps, various posters so if you have an idea of how you'd like to revamp a classroom, then I'm sure that'd be really welcomed as well. And so, yeah, any painting decorating building trades or skills that you might have are going to be utilised easily at Uganda Lodge. Creativity is a huge thing to come up with different lessons sessions, just time with the children. So loom bands was a really big thing. And we also some, some volunteers brought out paper plates and loads of craft materials and we made like animal faces for the plates and things like that and cut holes for the eyes so that was a really fun session too. And the activities that you tend to do, you're never alone, because all of the volunteers get involved, get stuck in together. And everyone there just, gets completely stuck in.

There are other activities that you can do outside of the charity type work within the lodge. So these include doing a chimpanzee habituation which is what I did. So this is where you have a full day tracking and following the chimpanzees around the forest, and it's really for a research and conservation point of view. So, by habituating them and getting them used to human presence that means trackers can conduct necessary research and conservation on them to make them last, hopefully a bit longer than they would otherwise. And whilst I was there I was also able to do a mountain gorilla experience. I think if I remember the fact right there are about 850 mountain gorillas left, and they are based in Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda, so I managed to do it whilst I was out in Uganda. And again it was set up for by the lodge for me. This is a day where it was a full day tracking again but we weren't following them around, we were merely going in deep into the mountains to find the trackers with the gorillas, and then we had about an hour or two where we could just sit and observe them. So my tour came across 13 gorillas which included two Silverbacks and some young brothers as well. And we were just able able to witness them in their natural environment just kind of picking it to the armpits and swinging on trees and doing what critters do. And we also did a few day trips so we went to lake Binyoni as a group of volunteers, and on the lake there are 29 Mini islands, I say mini but some of the islands actually have schools and hospitals on them themselves. We've got our boat and we want all the islands for the day. And we had lunch out as well so that was really good. And there's also Queen Elizabeth National Park which is in Uganda and Denis who is the founder of Uganda Lodge he has some land inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park, and he has his own Safari which is two or three nights. In tents camping alongside hippos, lions and elephants so if you wanted to do that, that's something that they offer there, and the volunteers that did do that absolutely raved about it and they managed to get pictures where they looked too close to the animals. I didn't do that because I did an overland Safari trip down South East Africa after my time volunteering. But Uganda Lodge itself offers that and you could kind of do with your voluntary experience that you wouldn't have to do it and go to different countries to get that experience.

The location of the lodge itself is about a six hour bus journey once you've flown into Entebbe Airport down to Ntungamo which is where the lodge is, and it's on a main road. So, you have the volunteer area which is separate to the rest of the facilities that the lodge. So you have your room which is your own room and it's padlocked, it's next to a food Banda which is where you get to serve your meals. And then there's a bar area with a snooker table and a fire pit so most nights, the volunteers will just sit up there and we'll just chat and have a few beers. And so, next to the volunteer centre on the same side of the road. There is the school which is where the classrooms and the dormitories are on a big sports field. And then, opposite on the other side of the road is where you have the vocational credenza, the up and coming restaurants and McNeil Medical Centre. It's kind of set within a valley, so you've got hills on either side which the kids will run up and down 10 times, by the time it's taken me through to the top. And the views are just 360 degrees, all around amazing stunning views, try not to get burnt by the midday sun because you need a good bottle of water and a lot of sunscreen on. But it's definitely worth going.

Another thing that is very special about Uganda Lodge is the fact that the school have a choir. And these songs, aren't just like normal type songs they are extra special. When the volunteers come to Uganda Lodge and when they leave the choir actually sing a welcome and sing, and say farewell to them. I know I was in tears when I was sung farewell to. I know these choir songs, I don't think they'll ever leave my brain. They are ingrained on it, they are so catchy and so much fun. And the kids will get you up and dancing in the choir as well. So, it's, it's amazing it's a very very joyous occasion.

I think I've pretty much covered all basics of the lodge, other volunteers that I was out there with, were people from like gap years to retired ages, we were from all around the world, all different walks of life, and we all just wanted to have kind of the same experience and bringing our own stuff to it, and our own personal objectives which I definitely ticked mine off and more.

I think the one thing I probably have left to say about Uganda, is what a teenage boy told me when he was explaining his country to me - the country of Uganda has a national bird called the crested crane. If you get a picture of this up, it will make a lot more sense what I'm saying. But this bird is black, yellow and red in colour. So the teenage boy - he was called justice. He told me that the bird is black, because they have a Black Heritage, and they are black in colour. He explained that the bird has red on it, because we all share the same blood, and all across the world we are all the same and we'll all equal. He said it has yellow on it because Uganda is sunny and happy, and it is a very hot country. And he also then said that the bird itself has like feathers at the top which meant like a crown. And he said it has a crown on it because it's something extra special. And that's exactly what my experience has been, it's been something extra special it's been magical, and it's been unforgettable. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat. I just think if you're even thinking about doing something like this, then just do it, it's, it's amazing. And I certainly have no regrets. So yeah, if you need any more information, then don't hesitate to ask me or anyone else who is on the volunteer programme, and let me know how you get up,

So, enjoy guys, and good luck.


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