A team of seven St George locals recently travelled to Uganda with a worldwide organisation that aims to provide improved health and wellbeing for women and children in a country ravaged by war, poverty and disease.
When Robyn Brumpton went along to see the Ugandan Watoto Children’s Choir perform in St George she did not realise it would be the trigger that would send her on a life changing journey. Robyn was moved by the beautiful smiles, the big hearts and the amazing outcomes that the Watoto organisation brings for women and children in war-torn Uganda. “I sat in the audience and thought, ‘I am going to Uganda to volunteer!’” Robyn is the nursing director for quality and safety based at the St George Hospital and the next day she went to work and announced, “I am going to Uganda – who is coming?”.
Two and half years in the making, a team of 13 volunteers from Queensland and New South Wales travelled to Uganda including seven people from St George – Robyn Brumpton, Patrice Robinson, Desley Marshall, Elesia Grieve, Jayne Davidson, Jenny Blokland and Robyn Todd. After many months of fundraising efforts, the entire team raised just over $29,000 for the holistic care program, Watoto Childcare Ministries (Watoto). A number of fundraising events were held in the St George area including a coffee and dessert night and a high tea. Jenny Blokland, long-time child health nurse at the St George hospital, said that when her sister, Annette Coward, and her friend Michelle Bender, offered to host a high tea, she was humbled at the generosity of others especially due to the drought conditions being experienced in the district. The event took place in the beautiful gardens at ‘Barra’ (south west of Boomi). “It was a special day with family and friends rallying together to assist. My Mum baked for weeks and gathered tea cups and my Dad collected cake stands!”.
The volunteer team packed their bags to the brim with medical supplies and equipment, assisting in the three villages of Suubi, Gulu and Bbira. With three doctors, nurses, an occupational therapist and other medical practitioners amongst them, they worked for two weeks in a program that aims to impart knowledge and review practices for sustainability. Watoto, meaning ‘children’ in Swahilli, was established in 1991 by Canadians Gary and Marilyn Skinner.
In Uganda, 48.7 per cent of the population is 14 years and under with a life expectancy of 54.46 years and there are one million orphans. Watoto’s model includes Baby Watoto, Living Hope and Watoto Villages. Baby Watoto is a home for abandoned and vulnerable babies who then go on to live in a Watoto Village. At the three villages, the strategy is to build ‘real’ homes to cater for children with a mother role model taking care of up to eight children. Schools (with qualified teachers) are also built and the villages operate their own clinics and medical centres. Living Hope provides empowerment for vulnerable women through training as well as a means of earning an income. Money raised by the visiting group will go towards fabrication of beds for Baby Watoto, the salary for a special needs teacher, laptops for Allied Health and a haematology analyser.
“It was a life changing experience,” said Robyn. “It was difficult not to be deeply affected, however the fact that our work can keep going long after we return gives us all hope.”
Words by Kerryn Suttor | Images by Robyn Brumpton and Jennifer Street