I spent my last evening in Uganda with a wonderful physician named Henry. A hematologist by training, Henry is one of our International Outreach Program’s biggest stars. He has done a 4-month residency training and 1-year fellowship training here in Canada through our program’s affiliation with McMaster University’s medical school. He is probably the most highly trained and skilled physician in his field in Uganda and is now building an international reputation. He frequently travels throughout Africa and the rest of the world to speak at conferences and lecture at other academic institutions. He has recently discovered a promising treatment for a rare disease here in Uganda that until now, has been thought untreatable.
You might wonder, why on earth does he stay here in this country with a healthcare system that is deeply flawed? I think it has a lot to do with the things that mean so much to many of us – family, community, and a belief in changing things for the better. Henry could probably work anywhere in the world but having spent time with him this evening, travelling through his village on the outskirts of Kampala, visiting his child-hood home, and meeting his 80-year-old mother, it seems obvious to me that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
And then I realize how much impact our work is having. Not only have we trained Henry, but in doing so, he is able to support his entire family in a way that would be impossible without our help. In this small little village, Henry is “the man.” Driving with him along the dusty, bumpy roads, he honks his horn and waves to everybody. They all enthusiastically wave back.
For the people here, it seems like he is their hero. And to his family in particular, he is a life-line. He has built a pig-pen behind his mother’s house to provide further income for the family. He has facilitated the extension of clean water to the village and during our dinner alone, he spoke with his sister several times; two of her children came down with malaria and he was offering advice, comfort, and with a bit of our help, some anti-malarial medicine to treat the children. Happens a lot, he says.
Henry is courteous, affable, and confident. He credits his time in our program as a life-changer. I like to think that Henry had it in him and that we just enabled his development along the way. In spending time in Canada, he learned the art of the possible. Now, he’s taking that experience and bringing it to his people, his patients, and his family.
The great thing about Henry is that he’s not alone. I met dozens of young physicians who are alumni of our program. They’re all doing similar things.
These people are game changers. I am humbled by them. And I leave Uganda, knowing two things:
I will be back. We are making a difference.