Mountains and Valleys Don’t Meet, But People Do

August 29, 2016 • mhugo • No Comments

Michelle Hugo is a 2016 Global Engagement Fellow who spent the summer working with Northern Uganda Medical Mission (NUMEM) in Pader, Uganda

There is a very common Acholi phrase that roughly translates to “mountains and valleys don’t meet, but rivers and people do.” This adage definitely brought a lot of comfort to me and my friends in Pader in our final days. We were reminded that people meet in the world, that the world is smaller than we think it is, and that we are blessed with this technological age where it is so easy to stay in touch with people. I would have loved to be able to promise the staff at NUMEM that I would be back next year, but they eventually understood that I couldn’t make that promise and that didn’t mean I loved them any less. I know I will continue to work for NUMEM from the states and I hope and pray that my path will lead me back to NUMEM, even if it is to just visit.

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Our last few days in Pader were filled with joy and laughter, but ended in a lot of tears. Saying goodbye to all the friends we made, all the people who had welcomed us into their lives, all the inspiring people who are working to make their community better was extremely difficult. I won’t lie, I definitely had mixed feelings, I was torn up about leaving and ecstatic to get home and see the family again. However, Nalini and I leaving (at least as far as we know) had no upside for our friends in Pader. It was simply the end for them.

We were able to do amazing things with our time with NUMEM. One of the major projects we’d worked on was data mining and analysis. It doesn’t just sound boring, it was boring. However, once we had collected all the data and started to analyze it was pretty interesting. To see how NUMEM’s patient number have increased from year to year is amazing. It shows such incredible growth and that money that is invested in NUMEM is paying off. They are treating more cases of malaria and seeing more patients in general than they were six months ago. After creating some pretty cool graphs showing the difference in the 6 months before and 6 months after than acquisition of a subsidy program we went to show Ben. That’s when all the time and effort we put in became more than worth it. While explaining and showing Ben the graphs I could see it click that he understood how much the subsidy had helped and how much NUMEM had grown. He was over joyed! He hadn’t seen any tangible effects of the subsidy and was concerned it wasn’t doing anything but this proved that it had in fact made an impact in a huge way. Seeing Ben thrilled about NUMEMs progress clearly revealed his deep passion for NUMEM and the work it is doing in this community.

The other main project we are worked on, outside the training, was redesigning NUMEMs website. This includes staff profiles and interviews, project descriptions and slide shows, and patients personal accounts. Learning about the directors and staffs’ pasts and why they work for NUMEM was very interesting and inspiring. Most were brought to NUMEM because of a passion for the community and providing health care to people who lack access. Every single one of the staff were adversely affected by the LRA. They were either displaced, taken as child soldiers, lost loved ones in the war, or were forced to leave their families and live alone in the bush. Very few people in Pader were immune to the effects of the war and the after effects that still create ripples in the social and economic standing of the north.

Beyond projects and work we completed, we made incredible bonds with the people we worked with. Ben and Denise, two of the founders became our closest friends, as well as Anna, a nurse at NUMEM. I was honored to be allowed into their lives even for such a short time. We had the opportunity to travel with Anna to see her village. Her village, Adilang, is about an hour drive north of Pader. It is amazing to see how a hours drive can change the landscape so much. The land became hilly and mountainous and vibrantly green. Adilang was beautiful for so many reasons, one of which was the actual physical scenery. It was also to see how Anna’s family lives now, still all the children together. They lost their parents at a very young age, by the time Anna was 6, and so she looks to her sister as her mother figure. The closeness that exists between all her siblings was beautiful! We also got to go and see Anna’s ancestral home which is under the care taking of her uncle right now. Her family owns roughly 3,000 hectares of land. Beautiful, fertile, rich land. Anna took us up the hill she and her siblings played on as children. It was beautifully simplistic. I felt so privileged that we got an opportunity to visit her home. I think some of my favorite evenings throughout the trip were in Anna’s compound cooking, talking, and dancing.

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What still amazes me about the people in Pader, and much of the north in general, is their great ability to forgive. They were war torn for a very long time. Often it was brother against brothers. Children were ripped from their homes and forced to be child soldiers in the LRA, or they were required to live in hiding in the bush, or coerced into fighting for government against the LRA. Families were forced into displacement camps that were cramped and unclean. They were removed from their lands. Sometimes the LRA, to insight fear and respect, forced the child soldiers into cannibalistic practices against their own kin. The people and land still wear these scars. Yet, generals in the LRA now live next door to the people they may have terrorized and they work hard to get along. The community as a whole has made a huge push towards peace and harmony despite the past. For so many reasons; prioritizing relationships, the love for one’s neighbor, and the welcoming friendliness; I love Pader and the people inspire me.

It was very difficult to leave, but I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to work with NUMEM and to meet such incredible people. I will continue to work for NUMEM while at school and hopefully into the future as well. I will forever cherish the memories and the people from this summer.

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