Dear Friends of Bwindi Community Health Centre,

My name is Eva Boyd. I am a medical student volunteer at the Bwindi Community Health Centre. I am writing to thank you for your generous support of this amazing organization and to share my experiences as a volunteer. I am currently a fourth year medical student at UC Irvine and I am spending one of the last months before I graduate in Bwindi. I remember hearing about the work in Uganda over 8 years ago; before I had even thought about going to medical school. During college and medical school, I grew very interested in international health and underserved communities. When I realized that I would have the chance to do an elective abroad during my last year in medical school, I instantly thought of Bwindi. Despite various challenges in getting here (including an Ebola outbreak!), I arrived at the end of March and began taking care of patients in the adult and children wards.

From the start, I was amazed at all the organization has accomplished in this remote part of the world. I have traveled and volunteered in Central and South America and Tanzania, but nowhere have I encountered a community with so much suffering and in such need of help. On the children’s ward, a beautiful airy building full of light and paintings of African animals on the walls, over half the children have protein-deficiency malnutrition (kwashiorkor), a disease almost never seen in the developed world. Children with kwashiorkor have swollen, edematous legs, skin that ulcerates and sloughs off especially around their genitals, and a high likelihood of infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea. They are also usually irritable (as you can imagine) and have difficulty tolerating regular food given their chronic malnutrition. As soon as they are admitted they receive High Energy Milk (a combination of cow’s milk and other nutrients), vitamin supplements, and antibiotics. They also receive lots of love and attention from the extremely caring staff. One of the best things about BCHC is the huge emphasis on preventive medicine and primary care. While the children are gaining weight and learning how to play again, their mothers are learning about nutrition, clean drinking water, malaria prevention, and family planning. If you walk into the children’s ward in the afternoon, you will often find mothers, babies, and staff gathered in a circle, singing, clapping, and drumming, while learning about the important components of a balanced diet. On a sunny day, you might find the mothers working with the staff and volunteers in the demonstration garden, learning how to grow the vegetables and beans that will keep their children out of the hospital in the future. By the time the children are ready to go home, you feel confident that the mothers have the skills they need to keep their families healthy.

One of my favorite patients is Mackline. She is four-year-old little girl admitted for marasmus, a state of general malnutrition even more rare than kwashiorkor, characterized by severe wasting. When I first saw Mackline, she was lying in bed, watching my every movement with her huge brown eyes. She could barely lift her head off the bed, her limbs were emaciated, her belly swollen, and the outline of her rib cage and sternum were completely visible under her taut skin. Seeing her made me feel like throwing up or crying or screaming at the world. I know that eventually one might become accustomed to seeing malnutrition, but coming from an American medical school where the biggest threat to our pediatric patients is obesity, I was completely overwhelmed with sadness.

Mackline gradually began to tolerate feeding, and when I saw her a few days later, gulping down a cup of milk while standing in the middle of the children’s ward, I was baffled. Now, she is barely recognizable as the patient who was admitted a few weeks ago. If it weren’t for her big brown eyes, I wouldn’t know that the smiling child in front of me was the same one I watched struggle to lift her head. Of course, Mackline’s problems aren’t over – she was abandoned by both her parents and left in the care of her mentally unstable grandmother. However, BCHC staff members are working to find Mackline a loving home in the community where she can be cared for and nutured. I wanted to share this story with you so that you can know that, even though you are on the other side of the world from Bwindi, there are kids like Mackline who are alive because of your support.

It is hard to imagine what would happen if this hospital was not here, if this organization didn’t exist. Where would a mother bring her baby who has been feverish and vomiting for days? Where would a son bring his father who has collapsed in the fields? Where would a mother living with HIV give birth without infected her newborn baby with this easily preventable but deadly virus? Bwindi Community Health Centre, surrounded by banana fields, dirt roads, lush jungle, and pervasive poverty, provides health, hope, and opportunity for change. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this organization. Thank you so much for your continued support!

All the best,