Since the last time I blogged, I had the opportunity to travel to Entebbe, Uganda for my first GHC retreat. As part of GHC’s program, groups of fellows are convened once each quarter for collective training and reflection building upon the two week institute that was held at Yale in July. For Q1, all 30 fellows (15 American, 15 Ugandan) placed in Uganda came together Friday through Sunday at a lovely hotel called Banana Village.
The retreat was kicked off Friday afternoon at the Fairway Hotel in Kampala where GHC was co-hosting their 1st Annual Health Symposium with the Uganda Youth Forum (UYF), centered on health sector challenges in Uganda. UYF is a Ugandan NGO originally founded by the First Lady, Janet Musevni, working towards a vision of “an empowered, healthy, and focused youth.” Personally, a few highlights of this afternoon were:
- GHC alumni, Nargis Shirazi, reminding us of a lesson she learned during her fellowship: Don’t focus on what a community doesn’t have. Focus on what they do have and work from there.
- Mr. Leonard Imanishimwe, Executive Director of UYF, noting the funding inequity for neglected tropical diseases despite their profound impact in Uganda (Note: The next day, Uganda launched their NTD Strategy!)
- Several attendees, including the Executive Directors of the Global Health Network Uganda and ACODEV, coming to consensus that improved training in leadership, throughout Africa, is the way forward in development.
- Ambassador Francis Katana closing the day with stories to remind us of the importance of empathy, resilience, passion, volunteerism, and the spirit of community.
After a delicious networking reception/dinner (oh how I had missed green beans!), all 30 fellows and GHC staff piled into two buses for the drive to Entebbe. What should be a 45 minute drive stretched to 2.5 hours – a testament to Kampala’s horrendous traffic (called “jam”). Since my placement site is a full day of travel to Kampala and I don’t often get to see many of these fellows, being stuck on a bus and learning new car games was, actually, a treat. In typical Ugandan fashion, there was MORE food when we arrived at our hotel for the weekend – Banana Village. And if you can believe it, I had better guacamole there than in any Mexican restaurant back home! (Thanks to Uganda’s abundant, delicious, monstrous avocados.)
All day Saturday and half-day Sunday there were programmed sessions led by the amazing GHC staff, including program managers that traveled from Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, and Zambia to be with us. This included cheesy ice breakers, presentations, videos, group discussions, and small group activities. The sessions that most interested me revolved around these two articles that I would highly recommend, if you’re interested:
- “How Resilience Works” – Harvard Business Review, Diane Coutu
- “Don’t Solve Problems – Copy Success” – Excerpt from Switch, Dan & Chip Heath
But the highlight of the weekend wasn’t any of that. It was spending time with our unique, vibrant GHC Uganda family and all of the moments in between the programmed agenda. We watched monkeys roam the hotel early in the morning. We walked to Sky Beach on Lake Victoria and drank beers while watching the sunset. We shared stories and frustrations. We danced in the evening until our bonfire died. It felt like summer camp, but better.
Though I was sad to leave everyone on Sunday afternoon, I so much appreciate the effort that GHC puts into building and sustaining a sense of community. The weekend was a wonderful time away from Kasese to reconnect with friends and focus us on the coming quarter with a re-energized perspective.
Door to door, the trip back to Kasese took 10.5 hours (only 371 km/230 miles), including 2.5 hours sitting waiting for the bus to fill up before leaving. But if poor transportation is all I really have to complain about, I think that’s pretty great. And after living out of a small, stuffed backpack for almost a week away, passing out in my own bed reminded me how much Kasese feels like home these days.
Next up for retreats: mid-fellowship, in January, reuniting all 55 Eastern African fellows from Uganda, Burundi & Rwanda.