Everyday Living

by Madelaine Thiel, Development and Partnerships intern

I am well into my internship at Shanti Uganda and I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by.  Ugandan time is “loose” at best and one loses track of time as the heat stretches out the hours.  Then the sun sets and before you know it, it is dark within 30 minutes.

Shanti UgandaI really like my Project Coordinator, Trine.  She is a very practical person, and she clearly loves Uganda.  She has so much experience here and has learnt to embrace the culture and go with the flow, all the while sticking to principles that prevent her from being swept away by the river.  And this RIVER IS WILD.  What has surprised me most is how blunt some people are.  Ugandans are very polite and hospitable; they are always worried about saying what you want to hear.  However, they don’t mind showing up 2 hours late or asking you if you have frequent sex with your husband.  Yes, I am married to all drivers and vendors who ask.

My job is starting to look pretty cool.  I am applying for grants and will meet with business partners in Kampala.  Lately while in the capital, I have been checking out new markets, specifically ones that cater to ex-pats, to sell the handmade jewelry and handbags produced by the women’s income generating group that meets weekly at Shanti.  I am also to help procure a new guest speaker for an upcoming fundraiser.  Politicians attract the most funds, so we had the Minister of Transport as our VIP speaker but he got arrested this week on corruption charges. Welcome to Uganda.

Power OutageI was worried that applying for grants was going to be a job easily done from Canada, so I wondered why I was travelling to Uganda to do it.  Turns out there are many opportunities for professional development and I am enjoying meeting the staff.  Getting to know them and the dynamics of the clinic means that I am better able to assess what exactly they need funding for.  I am particularly enjoying Ssanyu, our head mid-wife.  She has a lot of great ideas about what she would like to see happen at the clinic and it is always nice to sit down and chat with her.  The sunshine is definitely a perk, compared to all the snow back home, so how can I not love Uganda?

The other night, while I was peacefully falling asleep on my top bunk, a cockroach FELL ON MY FACE.  I wish I could say I was cool about it, but I yelped loud enough to wake my two roommates.  He used the distraction to make his escape.  We then searched both bunk bed cots’ linen because the only thing worse than a cockroach is a cockroach you know is there but you can’t see.  We eventually found the little guy after he crawled onto the lower bunk and disappeared behind my laundry hamper.  Trine, summoned by the sound of our shenanigans, picked it up and flushed it. She said it was dead when she touched it.

A cockroach can survive radioactivity, droughts, pesticides… Crawls into my dirty laundry? Dies.

The funny thing is I was thinking of all the bugs of Uganda right before one fell on my face.  I went back to bed thinking of money, ice cream, and grad school acceptance letters.

So far, being Partnership and Development Coordinator has gotten off to a great start!

Chai with Sarah






by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.


Laboratory Medicine is one of the most common – if not the most common modality used for the diagnoses of patients entering a health care facility. Even in resource stricken regions around the globe, a rudimentary medical laboratory often exist to detect common diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other sexually transmitted infections. I sat down with Shanti Uganda’s medical laboratory technician Sarah Makawande to discuss her roles and responsibilities at the birthing center.


IMG_0735 (sadie st.denis's conflicted copy 2015-02-25)

Did you grow up around this district Sarah with your family?

I grew up in a nearby town called Nakasongola, with my mother, father, and six siblings (four boys and two girls). I am the eldest of the girls in my family. I did all my schooling from P1 to S6 in Nakasongola, and then spent two years training in medical laboratory sciences at Kiwoko Hospital. It is a great learning center and I met lots of interesting people there.

How did you hear about this position at Shanti Uganda?

I had a friend named Danielle who was leaving his posting at Shanti to continue his studies in Kenya. I applied for the position and got it. I’ve been here for six months now and like it because it’s not too stressful, it’s a quiet and peaceful environment, and the staff are nice to work with. I also like it because I am promised a paycheck at the end of the month and I get it on time – unlike other health care centers here in Uganda.

Let’s dream a bit Sarah. If you or I had a million dollars to spend on the lab, what would you have done?

First off I would paint all surfaces white, so that I can be sure that all areas are clean. For example, if blood was splattered, I would see that it needed cleaning with a nice white surface. I would also tile the floors as it is better than concreate.

Secondly, I would buy lots of new equipment that would increase the services we provide here at in the lab.  I would buy a hemocue machine, which would detect conditions like anemia…etc. That machine would cost about 1.5-2M UGS which is about 450 CND. I would buy a new fridge that would be able to run off the solar power we generate here at Shanti. Currently it cannot run because we don’t have enough power to run it. Things like reagents, vaccinations and medicine that needs to be cold stored would have a place if we had a working fridge. I would also buy an autoclave or sterilization oven so that slides, urinalysis containers and other equipment can be cleaned properly. And then I would buy an agitator which is helpful when we do our blood testing. I would like to see routine blood testing’s like CBC’s, WBC, RBC, platelets, thrombolytic testing, sputum analysis for TB diagnosis and electrolyte testing available for our community.

Finally, I would like to go for some continuing medical education where I can learn the latest best practices and apply them to the lab here at Shanti. Oh, also, I would also replace the light bulb in the ceiling (laughing and pointing upward)!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time Sarah?

I would like to be married to my (boy)friend named Abel, who I have been seeing for two years now.  I would still like to be working at Shanti. Eventually I would like to also go back to school to continue growing in my profession of laboratory medicine. Mulago Hospital trains people very well so perhaps I will have the opportunity to further my studies there.

Mother Centred Care & Health: Shanti at Save The Mothers

by Rebecca Bell, Assitant project coordinator

Shanti is incredibly fortunate to have some wonderful people both interning and working for us here in Luwero. Yesterday, a few of us were lucky enough to see these colleagues being recognized for their hard work through another organization, Save the Mothers.

Save the Mothers has its Canadian headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario where current Monitoring & Evaluations intern, Dena Thomas lives with her husband and three grown kids. Dena is on the board of Save the Mothers, and so brings an incredible understanding of organizational governance, an academic background in public health, and vast maternal health experience with her to Shanti. We are lucky to have her!

Victoria Acen, Shanti’s competent and motivated Project Director has her academic background amongst the Save the Mother’s Masters of Public Health Leadership Program.  As a current student at the Ugandan Christian University, she works within the Save the Mothers family whose program is centered upon educating up and coming Ugandan leaders in the health profession in maternal health care.

Yesterday, Save the Mothers held a 10-year anniversary party in Kampala to celebrate what has been accomplished in this time. Myself, Trine, Dena, Ssanyu and Fred all trekked to the function in our high heels and snazzy outfits to support the incredible work others are doing surrounding mother centered care and safe births. The day began with a number of current students presenting a short dissertation of their research (their abstracts) in front of a panel of professors and a number of their colleagues. We were exposed to how individuals are working with the Village Health Teams (VHTs) throughout Uganda, a component of Shanti’s outreach that the current cohort of interns has been keen to improve. Similar themes were present throughout a number of presentations including the need to get women to go to clinics sooner, varying contraception options, the challenge of bringing in male (partner) involvement and the lack of financial resources to do all of this.

IMG_0326Victoria represented Shanti with her own presentation of our project and our goals, and how things have been going in Luwero. She was later able to make a plug about our work in maternal health care, as well as a quick comment about the HIV positive women’s income generating group (WIGG), whose textiles and beading work we had on display in the large banquet hall.


Both Victoria and Dena were asked to go up on stage to present certificates of achievement to Save the Mothers faculty who were being recognized for their contributions over the past 10 years. It was wonderful to see some of our own recognizing the achievements of others in the field. Not only that, but it meant that Victoria and Dena themselves had been selected as important players in their own right within the Save the Mothers community.


Finally, we were able to celebrate with the whole group, getting into the largest group photo I’ve ever had the chance to participate in. The dinner buffet was no small highlight either! As we left that evening, happy and well-fed, Ssanyu, Victoria and Fred picked up professionally printed portraits of themselves that the photographer had taken throughout the night. What a perfect souvenir for an inspiring evening!


By: Rebecca Bell , Assistant Project Coordinator
It has been a busy first three weeks here at Shanti. Amidst the unavoidable culture shock, name learning and sunburns, there is work to be done. The other interns here are phenomenal: inspiring, committed and hard working. We discuss the challenges we face, laugh over the staff’s antics, and share nightly pineapples (Luwero must have the best pineapples in the world!). Although at times the estrogen-filled house can feel a little small, these women share what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a sister and a woman in both subtle and overt ways.

IMG_3758_2Our Project Coordinator and two of the Shanti interns out for lunch on the weekend. Conversation ranges from what movies to download when we have WIFI to why corruption runs rampant in the Ugandan government.

I’m at that crazy age where some friends are getting married and having kids, while others, a decade older, are just starting to settle down (and some never will!). Personally, I am by no means ready for motherhood. The logistical part of the equation, the one that would seem the biggest challenge back home, barely comes to mind here. The women who come to Shanti haven’t had a chance to save up for the college fund, there are probably no babysitters lined up, and, if they are lucky enough to get maternity leave, they often begin their 3-months off the day the baby is born.

Rather, it’s the role of being a mother that occupies my mind.

Mothers here are strong.

It’s part of the culture that women make little noise during childbirth. Sitting outside the labour room at the birth house, you’d never even know someone is giving birth right on the other side of a thin wood door. We often see brand new mamas washing pots and pans and cooking food only an hour or two after delivering. Then they ride off on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) with their newborn back home. One of my favourite images so far is of a woman I walked past last weekend with a baby strapped to her back, a whole stalk of matoke (like large plantains) balanced on her head and a machete in hand.

Mothers here are inspiring.

Yesterday, I spoke with Yvonne, one of the women in the Income Generating beading group. She told me that she moved to Luwero with her husband 15 years ago. When he passed away, they were only renting their home. She has now been able to buy a plot of land and a house where she lives with and cares for her own kids and several grandchildren. She mentioned that if the interns ever have extra soda bottles, to please pass them on to her—she’ll use them to bottle her homemade pineapple wine! Did I mention how entrepreneurial women are?

Mothers here are supportive.

Yesterday at Shanti, there was a workshop on making liquid soap. All the women in the Income Generating Group were invited, as well as any interested staff. All who participated were invested and engaged. Some of the women also brought their kids along or sent their kids in their stead if they were unable to participate. When the facilitator brought around caustic soda and water, the women eagerly held out their hands to feel how the chemical reaction had made the cup hot. When the stirring began, multiple women got up to put on gloves and lend their strength to 45 minutes (!?!) of stirring. Long after the facilitators had left and the soap had been distributed, the women stood chatting, cooking and sharing food. It is energizing to see them under the hut each week, sharing their knowledge and supporting each other through their individual and shared challenges.


The WIGG women gathered around the liquid soap workshop facilitators, paying close attention and taking notes.

What is most remarkable is that women are respected and their potential is recognized. As we entered a schoolyard on Monday for Liberation Day activities, the sign at the edge of the road displayed, “Educate a girl and educate the nation.” I have no doubt that my perception of motherhood is changing daily and that I will leave Shanti with hugely different ideas than the ones I came here with. Who knows? Maybe I will leave convinced that I would like kids of my own someday.

Chai with Madelaine





by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.



When working on development projects in countries like Uganda, I am constantly amazed by the assortment of people I meet from around the world with interesting stories and backgrounds. One of the best ways to learn about where they came from, why they’re here and where they’re going is to sit down and have a favorite drink with them and talk. I sit down with Madelaine Thiel who comes from Calgary, Canada, and is part of the ShantiUganda team as a Program Development and Partnership Intern. She is also very modest about sharing that she is a nationally ranked rower and avid athlete.

It’s so nice to be working with you Madelaine and thanks for showing me around on my first few days here in Kasana. How did you hear about ShantiUganda and what made you decide to spend the next 4 months of your life volunteering ?

I found ShantiUganda after weeks of research trying to find an internship that didn’t have exorbitant placement fees and which offered me the opportunity to develop the skillset I wanted as a development worker. I also had strict criteria for deciding which organization to work with, such as their sustainability model…

Where else have you travelled in the world?

I was born in Guelph, Ontario but my family moved to France until I was in grade 5 when we came back home to Canada and settled in Calgary. I caught the travel bug from my parents, and have been to England, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and through the northern US with them on family trips. In the 3rd year of my undergrad, I studied abroad in Guatemala and travelled throughout Honduras and Nicaragua.

What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be here at ShantiUganda?

For me personally, I think my critical thought process might limit me from trying new things and allowing myself to learn and make some mistakes. I want to do a good job in my role, and above all do no harm to the people I’m most trying to help. I over analyse myself and sometime freeze with paralysis, so that’s an area I’m looking on growing in. I also want to keep up my fitness level, which may be difficult since a lot of my work is sedentary at the computer, so I need to build in time for morning runs before it gets too hot.

What do you think your biggest reward will be working at ShantiUgana?

To gain a practical understanding of the theory I learned in my undergrad. I’m looking forwards to the hands on work within the community. I also feel that I will gain knowledge from the other members of our team who have such diversity, both in terms of experience, age and background.

Chai with Flora






by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern.

Under the cool shade of a Gasiya  tree at Shanti, long time employee Florence Nagawa and I sit down to talk about her life and her experience working here at the birth house in Kasana.


Flora was born in the Kiboga district of Kasaga in 1964. She would visit her grandmother as a young girl of 13 years, when she began to learn the skills of a traditional birth attendant. She stopped going to school in S2 when her dad refused to pay her school fees further.  She shortly married and had 8 children with her husband who was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident in 2009. She has also lost one daughter to HIV/AIDS at 24 yrs old. Florence was one of the original Ugandans involved in the Shanti project. She began as an advocate for Shanti Uganda in 2009, moving from one neighbourhood to another. Flora mobilized the community by placing posters at churches and township offices, and by talking to women about the services that Shanti provided. She was hired in 2010, originally for birth support and sanitation staff at Shanti, but her responsibilities have grown to include leading yoga sessions for the women every Thursday, advising mothers on health education: post natal care, nutrition, hygiene and family planning. She is also a doula for the mothers in labour at Shanti. Flora is very proud of her personal growth and over the past 5 years. She aspires one day to become a midwife and increase her involvement in the safe delivery process for Mums in the Kasana region.


She dreams about one day having her own set of scrubs that say:

Shanti Uganda

Florence Nagawa

Chai with Opio






by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern

One of the steadfast leaders at Shanti is Opio Job Odumo, an unassuming 28 year old man and single father of 3, who guards the birthing center every night between 6:00pm and 7:00am.  Opio and I rarely had opportunity to get to know one another, as our working hours were offset. I was advised from others that I shouldn’t leave Kasana without sitting down with Opio, as I would miss an opportunity to be inspired…

Tell me a little about the family you grew up with Opio, and where about your village was.

Opio (1)

I was born in Tororo which is in the eastern part of Uganda. My father had two wives and so we were 9 children in total. My mother left Tororo when I was very young, so my second mother raised me along with my other siblings. I went to school from Baby class to P7 in Tororo, and then when I was 18 years old I moved to Luwero to be closer to my first (biological) mother. According to the photographs that I had been seeing, I sought her out. I found her along with my sister at this time, and started my senior school education in Kasana. I completed S1-3, but then my mother had no further money to help with the fees and felt that I was spending more time in the garden and with cattle then with my school books. So I left school because there was a lot of quarreling about this, and she had no smile on her face anymore. I felt that I was a burden. So at the age of 19, I found a job working with New Hope Uganda as a night watchman.

So you found your first job at 19, and then what?

I worked for two years and one month at New Hope Uganda, and then was offered another position with more money at Nakaseke Primary and Secondary School. By this time I was 22 years old, and I worked both day and night shifts. I worked there for seven months and then my Uncle Ben (Shanti driver) brought me to Shanti Uganda Birthing Center, where a new position was posted as night watchman. I’ve stayed here a long time because I found the team to be very communicative, working well together, with good pay, and I feel respected here – more so than other places I’ve worked.

What are your main responsibilities as night watchman, Opio?

First off, when I arrive on shift, I survey the premises and especially the gate to make sure that no one has cut into the wire, and that everything is intact. When the gate closes and locks at nightfall, I am there to receive any mothers that arrive during the night. I sit over there (pointing to a hiding spot across the property) with my bow and (poison) arrow, should I need to react to an intruder or other threat. I know that I do a good job because the staff feel comfortable when I’m there. It makes me feel proud that Opio makes them feel comfortable and safe.

Opio (2)You have children, don’t you Opio? Tell me a bit about your family.

I have a son whose name is Joseph and is six years old. He is the eldest and in P1. Then comes Soloman who is five years, and then Shanitah who’s at home with her mother. Her mother lives separate from me because she wants to live at a better standard, so she’s found a man who can give her things I cannot. She is very beautiful and I first saw her when I would walk past her place on the way to church. I asked her to join me at my church on Saturdays (hers met on Sundays) and that’s how we started as friends. She (we) became pregnant at 16 and didn’t want the baby because she didn’t want to leave school and thought that she might be at risk delivering a baby at such a young age. She started taking drugs to end the pregnancy. But Joseph survived and was born very small – but strong!

Do you think you will find a new wife sometime in the future?

No – I’m done. My heart lies with the mother of my children. If she comes back to me, I may forgive her. But I will never take another (wife) because she may not treat my children well  – like take them to a witch doctor or turn me against them – and I’m not willing to chance that. I’m not interested in new love.

What is your biggest challenge right now Opio?

My life is very good. I have a good job at Shanti – I don’t have to work 2 shifts each day, only night shift which gives me time with my children and time to work in my garden. Before I had no rest; now I do. I have time to grow cassava, beans, matoke, green, potatoes, yams – everything we need to eat except for meat or fish (which we buy only once or twice a month). Sometimes when I need supplies for my job like a torch or boots or arrows, it takes some time for the funds, but eventually I get what I need. In the future it will be expensive to pay for all three children’s school fees, but hopefully there will be provisions.

Thanks so much for your time Opio. I’ve really enjoyed our talk. Let’s go meet your children now!!