A vision of compassionate and collaborative care to the poor.
With Sr. Gertrude Kabanyomozi, Dr. Priscilla Busingye & Sr. Juliet Asiimwe
The Banyatereza Sisters are a religious Institute based in Fort Portal, Uganda and founded in 1937. Their primary work is teaching catechism. But the nearly 400 Sisters have also moved into other areas of development. Such as teaching in schools (from university to nursery), community economic empowerment, agro enterprise, and health services. Among the most impactful health projects is the St. Therese of Lisieux Rwibaale Health Centre.
A CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE
The Rwibaale Health Centre is a private not-for-profit organization. The Centre began in 1995 as a simple clinic, under a temporary shelter in the compound of the Sisters’ house. The clinic was a response to the cry from the surrounding community for a health facility in the area.
In March 2017, Rwibaale Health Centre started a Universal Health Pilot (UHP) Project – supported by AMH and Watsi – paying for primary healthcare through the capitation model. In this model, a set amount for each enrolled person is paid, per period of time, whether or not that person seeks care. The project is managed using Meso which is a suite of mobile and web applications, developed by the Watsi team of engineers.
The Centre was elevated to Health Center IV in January 2020 after constructing and operationalizing the surgical theater.
Rwibaale Health Centre is 215 km from the capital city of Kampala with a service area of 27,000 people. The people in this area are poor subsistence farmers. The majority are migrants from within the country, whilst others are refugees from Rwanda and DRC. Most people only get money for healthcare when the crop yield is good. Others, who have neither a stable source of income nor land for cultivating food, remain home even when seriously ill. This situation is aggravated when there’s a need to spend money on transportation to public health facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has traumatized countless health workers and families in Uganda. It has brought with it other problems. Such as domestic violence, early pregnancies, suicide, and maternal death due to inaccessibility of services as a result of the lockdown.
The Sisters’ vision for Rwibaale Health Centre is to advance it into a regional health system. So it can serve as a model for compassionate, collaborative care to the poor and vulnerable.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Pace Able spoke with the Sisters about their work.
Q: Tell us what you’re most proud of with Rwibaale Health Center.
First, we do our work with compassion and love in the present moment. It’s joyful to see people coming to access healthcare at a subsidized price who previously thought it was too expensive. They’re happy and healthy. We have six villages enrolled in universal health coverage, thanks to donors like Pace Able. Our patients have boosted their family household incomes. They’re able to rear some pigs, goats, and chickens for the basics in their households. In pursuit of this dream, Dr. Sr. Priscilla, Obs/Gyn won the L’Chaim Prize which will cover projects that will allow us to set the foundation for the future.
Q: What do the ideas of proximity and accompaniment mean to the Sisters?
Having been founded within the region, our mission is to bring life to its fullness to all people. Looking at the distances people travel to reach a good hospital, it was important to deliver services within their reach. So they can have the best they can. We are all entitled to the best things.
We try to involve the community so they can own everything we’re doing. We go to opinion leaders in a spirit of transparency. Even simple people who are vocal in the village, we call meetings to get their opinions so they can make decisions and get to know what we’re doing. For external partners, we ask them to please come and see firsthand. In a spirit of Prayer and driven by love, we do these things. We also gain strength from retreats, where we get spiritual accompaniment. And for our clients in this health facility, we offer counseling services too.
Q: How has your work been affected by Covid-19?
It has not been easy, especially for the patients. Due to the effect of lockdowns, women could not come to the facilities for delivery. So within Uganda, there were many maternal deaths. We have witnessed domestic violence too in many families. And knowing that we are religious women running a facility, many people ran to us. We had a surgical camp and the turnout was overwhelming from women who have had birth injuries that were never repaired. Most of them have delivered by themselves at home. For us, due to the lack of PPE we have found ourselves in danger. We have lost healthcare workers, not in our facility, but across the nation.
Q: Do you have advice for other changemakers serving their communities?
Live with the community and know their needs. Identify them together and find solutions together. Then secondly, find ways to care for yourselves and the community to serve better. We even sometimes get broken and we’re in pieces, asking if we can step up again and move on. Especially in the medical field, many times we get stressed. You must realize in many areas of the healthcare system, we keep solving people’s problems and patient’s problems. But for us who are trying to do that, rarely do we have that time. Every time you lose a patient, the patient goes with part of your life. Every time you see a bad incident, you’re so sad. Especially in this time of Covid, we need resilience. So we do frequent retreats and recollections just to refresh ourselves spiritually. We need care of the caregivers.
For those outside the community being served, first step into that community. Live with them. See for yourself how things move. Listen to their stories. Seek advice from those who have done it before. Then design something.
Please join us in our dream as Banyatereza Sisters. We are one body serving the one universe.