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13 Herschell Sq,
Walmer Kent CT14 7SH.

The ROI became a recognised UK
charity on 2nd September 2004
and its number is 1105706.
Reflexology Outreach International
ROI EXPEDITION 2003 TO UGANDA

A Personal Reflection

I joined Reflexology Outreach International last year after reading an article in Reflexions. Having worked as a volunteer Therapist at the Landmark Trust (now part of the Terrence Higgins Trust), HIV/AIDS had become an issue close to my heart. The idea of travelling and teaching Reflexology to carers of people with HIV/AIDS in Uganda was something I felt would be a once in a lifetime achievement for me.
Initially there was a weekend of HIV/AIDS specialist training at The Mildmay Hospital in London which was also my introduction to some of the other members. I discovered that I lived only minutes away from The ROI Treasurer and Vice Chairman, Marilyn (who in those months before the expedition turned out to be a real treasure with lots of good advice, enthusiasm and energy.

Then came a bonding weekend in Dorset where I met even more members and previous expeditioners. By the end of the weekend I knew that I wanted to be on the June 2003 trip and after an interview I was accepted as part of a team of eight.
The next 8 months started slowly and ended in a frenzy of meetings, e-mails and phonecalls as arrangements were finalised and plans put into action. The team consisted of Betsy Keating and Louisa Guy as Co-ordinators (both had been before), Al Hunter, Sylvia Bates, Sandra Hamilton, Jane Nightingale, John Parham and myself.
Lafuma donated 4 chairs to teach with and which we would leave for various organisations to use in Uganda. I took one as part of my luggage and luckily had a very nice BA check in Lady who allowed my 10kg over luggage on board (without the £250 extra cost). Everyone was in the same boat but we all managed to get through.

I had absolutely no expectations about Uganda and after an overnight and delayed 8 hour flight we landed in a grey and miserable Entebbe. Two taxi's were waiting for us driven by Robert and Mattia who became our drivers in Kampala. We were meeting John the next day and taking two volunteers to the Sanya Orphanage so nine of us plus luggage were piled into and onto the cars for the drive to Kampala. After dropping off the girls we looked around the orphanage, which takes in children up to the age of 4. Even in my weary state, I couldn't help but be moved by the little children playing or lying in cots. Clearly all that worked there do their best to love, support and educate the children but are doing it on very limited funds. This sadly became the same story over and over again in a country torn apart by death, disease and poverty.

After Sanya we went to the Foyer de Charite Convent just outside Kampala, where we would stay under the hospitality of Sister Harriet. Betsy and Al went to The Foreign Office to check whether it was safe to travel to Mbale as they had just pulled out 40 British workers from that area due to the kidnappings of over 50 local children by the Lords Resistance Army, an opportunist terrorist group. They gave the FO our itinerary and were given the go-ahead advising that we should keep a low profile.
Meanwhile at Charite we all went for a walk through the surrounding smallholdings to stretch our legs and acclimatise. We all had a lot to do over the next day to get ready for our first days teaching; photocopying teaching packs, organising supplies for the next two weeks etc. By the time we had dinner we were all tired and ready to get some sleep.

We travelled to Mbale on the Sunday with our helper for the week, Louis (an ROI trained Reflexologist), who had organised a small coach for us. As it turned out Louis was a real star with a big, big smile. His organisational ability was perfect and nothing was a problem. He would be helping us with the teaching, admin and just about everything.

The hotel in Mbale was excellent and I shared a room with Al who turned out to be a very good room mate conversing into the early hours. We all decided to sample the local Nile and Bell beer while settling in. That evening we had a group meeting to finalise everything and another beer to steady the nerves for our first day.
As a town Mbale was lovely and friendly with a safe feeling. We were teaching in a round hut with a straw roof at The Aids Support Organisation (TASO). Eventually we were ready and as our students came in I started a register and handed out name badges. We all introduced ourselves and arranged small groups to teach. I think that it was a bad day for everyone and I certainly left there a little disheartened with my group. It was decided that the next day would be split into morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate the groups.

Tuesday was much better but our afternoon sessions were less populated as a lot of the students worked at TASO and mornings were better for them. I was teaching 3 new students and so had to go through two days training, but they were all eager and picked it up quickly. Each days teaching was 3 hours long with the course 15 hours in total. There was a Basic Training and Advanced for those who had already taken the Basic. Every student had to commit themselves to all of the training sessions in order to be awarded with a certificate which would be given in a ceremony at the end of the week.

We also gave treatments and had to complete a certain amount of case studies. I gave 3 treatments to a lady called Joyce who had HIV/AIDS. Almost all of her family had died; husband, brothers and sisters. Esther her youngest of 6 children would come with her and within an afternoon had started doing Reflexology on people, quite a beautiful and moving sight. By the end of the week Joyce was asking if we would take Esther back to England with us as she would die soon. While understanding that as a mother Joyce wanted to secure a future for Esther, bringing her to England was impossible and unfair. It hit me just how desperate someone could be to hand their child over to a stranger to take to away to a far away place.
There were many of these stories and they never became easier to listen to. The spread of AIDS and the number of deaths is incredible. It is unlikely that no family is untouched by it and I came to think that in UK the nearest similar occasion must surely have been WW2.

The Ugandans are so warm, hiding their pain behind wide smiles and genuinely welcoming of what we were doing. Teaching them was a pleasure and they were all so eager to learn this new skill knowing that they could, in turn, help others. Each of us founded our own attachments and the support of daily group meetings helped to cope with these.

We visited Mbale hospital and were shown around the children's ward. I wasn't alone in shedding a few tears. Although the building was relatively clean and airy and I knew that the medical staff were doing all they could on limited resources, the bottom line is that many people here ultimately die from poverty.

On Friday it was graduation day. The week seemed to have flown by!! TASO put on a wonderful show for the students; there were speeches, singing from their drama group and of course the handing out of certificates and then sadly goodbyes. Between us we had trained 40 people and they were all very grateful. It was heartening to see that TASO were taking Reflexology seriously and intended to pick a handful of the most promising students to start up a clinic. They desperately need someone to stay there long term to help start up a clinic. A thought for the future!
Back at the hotel and running behind schedule we hurriedly had to pack our belongings into 2 matatas (taxivans) and get to Tororo near the border with Kenya, whilst the roads were still safe. We were staying at the Benedictine Priory a little way out of the town and got a very warm, big, huggy welcome from the nuns.

Due to Sister Benedicta's 50th Jubilee we would only be teaching for 4 days, so there was much to do. We each had our own room and the sisters had put our names on the door. After a massive organic, home grown dinner we all settled in and went to bed.

The next day visited some orphans from another charity that Betsy is involved with. I spoke to a young boy, Moses, who told me his story and I was extremely moved, not just by the sadness of loss but of his bravery in running away from abusive relatives to find his Father's family.

On Sunday I spent the afternoon planning with Al how to space the teaching as I would be sharing a large group with her. We would be teaching the afternoon sessions and as we had a list of names already, we did our register and name badges to save time.

Our group were lovely and really eager to learn. They came from a variety of organisations including TASO, Marie Stopes and Tororo Hospital. We decided that having warm up of our two usual start and finishing songs, to add the Hokey Kokey to our repertoire. It went down really well and became a regular. The students were quick to pick up the reflexology routine (based on the Ann Gillanders method) and some were surprisingly promising. They asked questions, turned up on time and were a real pleasure to teach.

In the mornings I gave treatments and one of my MYMOP cases was Sister Benedicta's 93 year old mother, who I built up a really strong bond with. She didn't speak any English but the opportunity to talk at length with someone who had seen such a lot of change in a country was too good to miss. I sat with her one night and through the help of a young novice at the priory, Mary, listened to her many interesting tales.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings Sylvia and I held a clinic at TASO which saddened us both. I saw things that I'd never seen at my clinic in England, including Kaposi?s sarcoma. We were in a tiny room with just enough room for us and two patients. When we looked behind us through the little window we could see the hundreds of people waiting for medical help. Around 75% of the people waiting were women, reflecting the proportion of male/female HIV/AIDS ratio. Thursday was the worst day because every time we opened the door to let a patient out, a whole crowd would push forward for treatments with us. I had only 20 minutes with my last client but showed her some hand reflexology to treat herself and she was so happy when she left that I knew that those 20 minutes had helped.

That afternoon was the graduation and after a lot of hanging about all the certificates were eventually given out, photo's taken and all of our students looked so proud. After the speeches the students got together a contact list in order to set up a Reflexology Group and decided that this should be their first meeting! Much to our amusement,a very heated debate followed and so by the time we left, we did so with a crate of beer. It had been a long day.

The nuns joined us for a drink and that evening an impromptu party started when members of the local Japadhola tribe (the entertainment for Sr Benedicta's Jubilee and from which her mother had recommended me a husband!) started rehearsing. Clubbing will never be the same again after seeing their Caterpillar Dance and listening to the amazing drumming. We managed to get them to come outside to show us and soon we were all up there, nuns and all, dancing little caterpillars in the darkness.

Overnight 3 marquees appeared, all set around the most beautiful old Acacia tree at the front of the priory. It would be a long day but something that we were all privileged to share. Sr Benedicta was the first Benedictine nun in Uganda and at one time had been the mother superior of the Priory. Today she was renewing her vows. As part of the ceremony we were to add to the entertainment and although John (aka The Blessed Man) had worked long and hard wording a Reflexology Rap, our rendition was not quite as musical as the Japadhola's.

Sadly we left Tororo the next day and headed for Jinja, a town at the northern end of Lake Victoria. Although we only had one night here we decided to make the most of it. That afternoon we did a quick tour of The Bujagali Falls and The source of the Nile before settling into the hotel. In the evening five of us decided to let off some steam and go out for the night, ending with The Hokey Kokey in the hotel bar and getting all those there to join in.

On Sunday after a wander around the town and some shopping, we set off back to Kampala to Hospice Uganda for the final week of teaching. Hospice offers palliative day-care and outreach for cancer patients. Over 70% of tested patients are HIV+.
Sandra and Louisa were spending the week teaching at Makond Convent and the facilities at the Hospice only allowed for 4 to teach, so Sylvia and I were allocated a week of PR work.

We planned our week around visits to Mildmay Hospital, TASO, outreach work at the Hospice and sitting in on practical exams for the students that were moving from Advanced to Trainer standard. We therefore became a bit detached from what was going on with the teaching.

I was very impressed with Mildmay's airy and relaxed atmosphere. Set in a beautiful and elevated position on the outskirts of Kampala with a cool breeze blowing through the building. We were given a tour but due to their policy on privacy, couldn't take photos. We managed to recruit a handful of Physio?s there as future students.
We also went on outreach with some of the nurses from the Hospice. I went on 5 visits, one of which was a bereavement visit to the family of a Sudanese refugee. It was amazing to see the use of medication and how the morphine was handed out in water bottles in 3 different strengths for the patients to administer themselves. There is only one Radiotherapy machine in Uganda so people with money usually travel to Nairobi for treatment.

We also visited the new TASO premises at Mulago Hospital and, after a successful presentation, hopefully secured both a new teaching venue and students for next year.

The good thing about the last week was having the time to find out about the work some of the organisations we visited do and what facilities they provide.
ARV drugs are available but limited and only the rich can afford the 60,000 shillings (£20) per month costs. Mildmay have sponsors that pay for the treatment of a small number of children. I didn't like to ask what happens when they are considered old enough to pay for themselves.

In total our team trained 126 students and some in the last week were onto their Trainer Certificates, a testament to how the ROI's work in Uganda has progressed over 3 years.

Working with the ROI has been a deeply rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally. The team were dedicated and motivated. There was laughter, tears and truly wonderful moments. With hindsight it never was going to be a once in a lifetime achievement and it has been agreed that Al and myself will be taking a team out in 2004.

On behalf of the team,

Nancy Porter, MROI





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