Sarah calls me one Monday afternoon and she requests me to be part of a team she is raising to visit Butabika Hospital specifically the children`s Wing.
We call these visits our outreach campaigns .We use them to go and deliver a message of hope to people in an otherwise hopeless situation.
The last one we had was in June where we had visited the Luzira Prisons and had very rich interactions with the inmates, we have also visited the cancer section in Mulago hospital but those are stories for another day.
So as I pondered over Sarah`s call many questions run through my mind:- Butabika is for the mentally sick people – how are we supposed to deliver a message of hope to the inmates in ways they understand, Was our personal security guaranteed from the unpredictable inmates?
She had even suggested we will go and have them a bath – did she know how that exposes us? Does it have to be me on this trip? The more I pondered the less answers I got. Anyway, she had said we would meet with others soon and plan the trip.
We had the meeting a few days later and truthfully many of my questions were not fully answered even when I was told some others had been at this before. At that time I didn’t realize that many of my questions were really masking real fears in dealing with this section of our population.
I was tasked to share the plan to a wider group that had a team of more volunteers so as to create a critical mass for the trip; at that moment it was only 2 people who had confirmed their participation.
As the plan was shared the response was muted and I suspected many had similar fears or questions.
On the morning of the visit, Saturday October 25th, I had a perfect excuse; my Wife had, had an accident the previous day and needed my presence around. When I shared this with her she instead encouraged me to go for the trip.
It was therefore time to face my fears head on and I obliged.
The eight of us who had confirmed the trip had a central meeting place and we set off with two cars to our destination, we were apparently also supposed to be joined at the destination by another team coming all the way from Watt Biira…
It was a wet morning and we gotten to the destination about an hour earlier than the other team.
As we got to the gate the security man asked for our letter, we did not have one but there had been a prior discussion with the Reverend of the Butabika Church Rev Dismas Mwesigye a very fine confident servant who together with his family had been serving at this facility for over 8 years and looked unfazed but relayed his experience with such passion and exuberance even when he talked of the challenges they had faced..
That morning he was also excited because they were having their first wedding celebration at their worship Centre and he would be presiding over it.
As we wait for the other team and have a chat with the Reverend, he does go a long way to allay some of the fears. For example he states that in all his more than eight years history at the facility he had witnessed only one violent incident and even then he blamed it on the approach of the security guard.
By this time there was no retreat or surrender for myself.
The second team arrives and we are taken through a brief which included the dos and don`ts. We are handed to Mrs. Tusubira Faith .the head /coordinator of the children’s section which we are to visit that morning. This is another person deeply passionate of what she is doing at the facility. She leads us to the gate and calls out to the teams who come to the gate and include a nurse and inmates, dressed in their stripped pink outfits of light material on this cold morning ,they all seem to quite understand that they were hosting us visitors. I thought Ms. Faith was also a nurse only to discover she is a lawyer by profession and has opted to sacrifice a lot of her time to serve these people
We are initially taken through a tour of the ward by the nurses and we are closely watched, admired and touched by the inmates, we find some sleeping and many looking drowsy, I guess effects of the medicine.
However, there is this young inmate in my estimation around 8 years old who looks very hyper, running around and I guess he was sizing up his visitors. Before I could know it , he had jumped on me in search of that cuddle , I quickly give it to him while the nurses tried to manage him , I guess they had noticed the anxiety in my eyes .
We are told that they have already had their bath which is clearly evident and therefore will not need another bath; however one of our team insists we can give them a second one since they love it.
I quickly offer to keep watch of the bags of those who are going to offer the baths. We interact and as the minutes turn to hours I noticed we have all started enjoying our environment and developed a connection with the inmates.
They offer to sing for us as entertainment. I also notice they have some form of hierarchy which they recognize among themselves
We mingle, chat, listen to their sometimes incoherent stories, apply Vaseline to those who have had a bath and offer them the little eats and drinks we had carried. You clearly see they are enjoying. I recall this particular inmate telling me his parents were picking him the next day (not true). Then there was this girl probably about 14 years who could not just leave my presence after my initial hugs and inquiring of her personal details
At the end of our interaction we take some group photos and make our exit. Clearly they did not want us to leave. I could not stop to appreciate the nurses who are in the front line with these inmates on a daily basis and yet serving with dedications.
As we gather for our debrief we are told the key challenges like limited resources to feed and take care of the inmates , many are just dropped by KCCA having been picked on the streets and cannot trace their families .
We are also told many of the kids come from broken homes.
However, apart from the wonderful people tending to them we can’t fail to realize the very well-manicured and kept premises, in fact we are told it could be one of the cleanest government health facilities.
As we leave the premises I can’t fail to be so glad that I was part of the trip and glad I did not pull out in spite of the huge temptation to do so. It showed me the reality of a world so many of us don’t understand and look away from. Faith conquered my fears that morning.