Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Recognizing the Hero Inside Myself

by Tess Waldrop, International Internship Coordinator

Women from the recent cohort of UVP's reintegration program
practicing their tailoring skills.
Laughter and singing echoes over the gate as we walk down the familiar red dirt road that leads us to our destination on a sunny morning in Iganga Town. As we cross the threshold of the house, I admire the numerous classic foot-powered Singer sewing machines that occupy the light filled space, where scraps of colorful kitenge litter the floor, vibrant hand sewn garments hang from the ceiling, and delicious savory smells waft down the hall. With the obvious joy that is emanating from the occupants that fill these rooms, one would be surprised to learn that their recent pasts might not match the bright smiles which now adorn their faces.

Loy and a program participant discuss UVP's
work at the International Day to End Fistula in
Mbale, Uganda.
Only months earlier, the women residing here were all suffering from obstetric fistula, locally referred to simply as “leaking.” Often ostracized by their communities, left by their partners, or even told they would never be cured, the women who now surrounded me had reached their momentous UVP Fistula Reintegration Program Graduation day. An ever-evolving and expanding program done in close partnership with various experts and community based organizations, the UVP Fistula Reintegration Program provides an opportunity for those living with fistula in eastern Uganda to receive screenings, counseling, surgical repairs, and vocational training skills. The average time UVP’s patients have suffered from fistula is an unimaginable 11 years - for most of us, it is hard to conceptualize the true weight of living with incontinence for such an extended period of time. Thus when invited to assist with conducting exit interviews with the graduating participants of this cycle of the program, my colleague Maria and I jumped at the chance to hear more about their stories and celebrate their new found health.

Evelyn and a participant from UVP's reintegration program
enjoy the festivities at the International Day to End Fistula
in Mbale, Uganda.
We sit down one on one with each woman, asking them about their experience with fistula, what they had learned while spending time with UVP, and how their dreams for the future might have changed over the course of the past two months. It may come as no surprise that these sessions were filled with many tears and hugs. What might be surprising, however, is that these were not tears of sadness or hugs given in order to console those we were interviewing. These tears were tears of happiness; these hugs were initiated when recognizing the optimism and courage displayed by some of the strongest women we undoubtedly had ever met. Identified through UVP’s Fistula Ambassadors with guidance from our Fistula Coordinators Loy Tumusiime and Evelyn Nabwiire, it quickly became clear that the support given by these two dedicated colleagues of mine was paramount in our new friends’ lives in a way I could only begin to understand. This observation was confirmed when, after one particularly long interview and soggy hug with a survivor, she turned to look at us and poignantly said “Thank you for helping me to recognize the hero inside myself.” To me, this woman had summed up in 11 words what all of us should be striving to achieve and what UVP works to do every day. Loy and Evelyn have plainly made it their job to not only make sure that they are assisting their patients in recognizing the power and opportunity which exists inside themselves, but more importantly helping them recognize that it is up to them to seize that power and opportunity and never let it go. Though many of the patients were older than my colleagues by many years, it was clear the patients looked up to Loy and Evelyn, and were ready to begin their lives anew and make their mentors and families proud.

Upon completing the program, the participants
dance with excitement to return home and start
their new businesses.
 At the end of a long day of celebrating with mounds of matooke, lots of dancing, pictures galore, and smiles from to ear to ear, we presented the survivors with the mantras which they themselves came up with. Mantras which would help them to find motivation in the days ahead and remind them of just how powerful they are:

··· “Believe in yourself!” ··· “Never give up!” ··· “Be strong, be patient, and work hard to achieve your dreams!” ··· “If you love something, you can achieve your goals.” ··· And my personal favorite, “Work with happiness every day!”

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