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My story: Grateful to volunteer in Uganda

(Editor’s note: JP Conly of San Diego’s North Park community has just returned from two weeks as a nurse and volunteer in Kampala, Uganda, and will be writing a series of articles about his experiences.)

As nurse and a man who has been a part of the LGBT community since I was 21, I was deeply moved and inspired to get involved with the activities of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and their work in Uganda.

I was also motivated after meeting Bishop Christopher in San Diego three years ago while he was touring the United States and fundraising for St. Paul’s Center in Kampala.

After hearing Bishop Christopher and his story about how the marginalized and the LGBT community were being persecuted, I felt driven to help in some way. I needed to get involved, and contacted the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, head of the San Diego-based foundation. Three years later, I was able to raise money and I had my first experience working within the beautiful yet difficult conditions for LGBT Ugandans.

My journal will become several articles about my recent experience in Uganda. These personal stories will cover different aspects such as health care, the role of religion and spirituality, and being LGBT in Uganda.

I was very nervous before my trip because I wasn’t sure what my role would be. I knew that I would be working in a clinic and would be a part of the Good Samaritan Consortium that supports training, education and activism for many of the organizations working with the most marginalized people in Uganda: Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM), IV drug users, sex workers and LGBT.

The foundation introduced me to Maxensia Takirambule. She was my primary contact in Uganda and quickly became a new friend. She is part of a movement bringing together the Anglicans and the Catholics to create change and inclusion for the marginalized.

Maxensia and the Lugunjja Community Health Clinic

Maxensia has lived with HIV for 16 years. After her husband’s death from AIDS, Maxensia decided to open Lugunjja Community Health Clinic out of her home to serve other HIV people and caregivers who were living in her community. This is the clinic where I volunteered for my two weeks in Uganda.

I was surprised and yet, sadly, not surprised by the conditions in which they work. In the clinic, there is no running water, no functional bathroom attached, and not enough medications to provide to the patients. The clinic doesn’t have appropriate medical equipment or supplies, and proper sanitation is an issue. They serve their patients with what they have.

The humble clinic is vital to Maxensia’s community because it serves more than an urgent care. They also perform procedures such as circumcisions and other minor surgeries under the supervision of a local doctor. The clinic also has a classroom to provide education for locals who were unable to finish their primary education. They teach women how to read and write, and empower them to function in their community. They learn how to bargain at their local markets, for example.

Several years ago, a Rotary Club in Tulsa, Okla. donated a container of medical supplies to give more resources to the clinic. Sadly, due to government bureaucracy, the clinic has been unable to obtain the container. They have spent $10,000 in fees trying to get it. Each time they meet the requirements to pick up the container, the government adds new requirements. The latest obstacle is that they are being required to label or embroider some the donated uniforms with the name of clinic in order to meet code requirements.

Maxensia has had to take a loan of $1,400 to meet these requirements. They don’t know why the government is doing this, and Maxensia said that she was about to give up. I encouraged her not to give up and told her I would do my best to help her raise the money needed for her and the clinic.

The Good Samaritan Consortium and Max’s clinic is the process of organizing a model for home-based care that will train healthcare workers in Kampala. The model educates healthcare workers to serve the marginalized without discrimination and stigmatization, a concept that they have already used and seen effective results.

The model was used on a training program for the Good Samaritans of Maxensia’s church, where she is Secretary to the Council of the Laity. As a woman, she has become one of the most respected Catholic lay leaders in Uganda. I witnessed the amazing the results of her ministries first-hand and, believe me, this is a project that needs support! You can read about it here and even make a PayPal donation.