Supportive Sisters – Interview with Harriet and her birth partner/ sister Justine

Shanti Uganda Project Coordinator, Trine Rasmussen talks to sisters Harriet and Justine about how they support each other as birth partners.

Harriet is 28 years and just gave birth to her second baby Sunday night at Shanti, a baby boy- 2.9 kilo. Her birth partner was her younger sister Justine, who is 26 years, mother of Gladys age 2 and 5 months pregnant with her second child.

Harriet, please tell me why you decided to ask your sister to be your birth partner;

Justine and I have always been close, growing up together, and now living 10 minutes from each other. During my pregnancy Justine has been by my side, going with me to my antenatal appointments, helping me plan and shop for the baby.

Long Roads Ahead

By Madelaine Thiel

Development and Partnership Coordinator

My time at Shanti is coming to an end! I can’t believe I will be leaving next week. It has been an incredible four months.  I remember thinking I had forever to spend here back in January.  With a departure date looming I am suddenly wondering where all the time has gone.

There is so much left to do here before I leave.  Asides form packing and saying goodbye to all my friends on the Shanti staff, I have some practical matters to take care of.  I need to set up a platform for the new intern coming in.  When he takes over my role, I want him to have a solid understanding of the priorities of the last 4 months and a sense of direction for his own internship. It is hard to think of this house moving on!  Memories tend to freeze capture individual experiences, while ignoring the changes that happen outside that specific window.  I can’t wait to hear how Shanti grows over the summer.

Here is a list of things I will miss most about this place:

Ugandan Medical System

by Madelaine Thiel

Development and Partnership Coordinator

I have had some personal experience with the Ugandan medical system.  I was hit by a motorcycle some weeks back and I am on the mends, but saw some interesting aspects of the health care system.  As a side note-let this be a lesson about the importance of travel insurance.

Mother’s day: Tears and gratitude

By Emilie Salomons Dr. TCM, FABORM

Tonight I attended a screening of a documentary film called ‘Sister’, hosted by Shanti Uganda, and then moderated a panel on preventable maternal and infant mortality. The film ‘Sister’ tells the story of health workers from Ethiopia, Cambodia and Haiti, exploring how they find meaning while working under difficult circumstances and revealing maternal and newborn death as a human rights issue.

I will admit that the film was not easy to watch. As I held back tears I was reminded that no matter how long you work in the field, or how much you know about the politics, history or socio-cultural conditions around preventable maternal and infant mortality; when it looks you right in the face as it did tonight, the pure gut reaction is one of horror and an almost frantic desire to fix the situation. No woman or child should die from a preventable issue, plain and simple.

I am now siting here in my dark, quiet home, both my husband and son fast asleep. And suddenly I am deeply humbled, saddened and filled with immense gratitude at the same time. I am grateful for my family, my home, and my job. I am grateful for my own mother, whom I adore and owe so much of my personality (quirks and all) and my almost dangerous love of good food to. But mostly, I am grateful for all those lucky enough to have access to good healthcare and perinatal care. We should not feel guilty about having access to good perinatal health care; we should feel outraged that so many women still don’t have access to it.(Developing countries account for 99% of 289,000 maternal deaths a year)

I won’t get into all of the social, economic and political details associated with preventable maternal mortality that were so eloquently articulated by Dr. Shroff, Dr. Shaw and Mrs. Bitek, mainly because I wouldn’t do it justice and because this blog would turn into a novel.

I will say this though. Tonight, on the eve of Mother’s day weekend (as I like to put it), I will be taking a moment to think about the mothers who died when they shouldn’t have. I will think of the babies who were lost too soon, whether from preventable issues or not. I will think of the women who suffer this weekend because they have lost a child, or those who suffer because they are reminded of their longing to have a child.

This weekend I will remember mothers with tears and gratitude, and a renewed motivation to do everything in my power to support the true foundation of human existence.

Re-posted with permission from 

Learn how you can support our work to provide safe and affordable maternal and infant health care services to families in Luweero, Uganda: 

Become a Birth Partner today!

Contemporary Uganda

by Rebecca Bell, Assistant Project Coordinator

Contemporary Uganda is a globalizing Uganda. It is a place where you can get traditionally made matooke or a cheese pizza at the local restaurant, Stoneys ginger soda or Coke zero, or see a Hollywood or Bollywood movie at the cinema (and get your Nollywood fix on television). Even in the most remote villages, the influence of the outside world is visible, even if it takes a bit more searching.

Explaining this experience to friends and family back home, it is difficult to describe life in a small village. There are cows on the roads, children as young as five carry machetes in hand, and women carry babies on their backs and pineapples on their heads. Not exactly the picture of cosmopolitan culture. Yet in Kasana, ‘top 40’ hits can be heard blaring out of a small wooden hut near the market, illegally copied foreign movies can be bought on the sides of the street and I even took a matatu yesterday with a guy wearing a t-shirt from one of my favourite shops in Toronto. Heinz ketchup is available alongside local ‘Top Up’ at the local supermarket. These global influences are even more apparent the minute you step into the capital, Kampala.

IMG_4134_2Top Up Chili Sauce: We go through about a bottle a week. I have a theory that it helps kill any sketchy bacteria in our food- haven’t been sick yet!

This past Saturday, searching for some creature comforts, I went out to the latest Hollywood release, “Kingsmen” at the movie theatre, sorted through piles of imported clothing at Owino market (second hand H&M is a top notch find!), to an Italian restaurant for dinner, and finally an Irish pub. Moments like these feel a bit surreal- at any given moment, you really could be anywhere in the world. They feel even more surreal in drastic contrast to Kasana town, a little less than a two-hour drive away.

The multicultural dynamic here at the volunteer house also makes for interesting conversation and learning opportunities. Our project coordinator, Trine, is Danish. None of the current volunteers have ever visited Denmark and we often grill her with questions of what to see and do, what life is like and we whine about how jealous we are that all of Europe (and the world!) is at her fingertips. The rest of the current interns are Canadian; we await an American later this month! We hail from different provinces and try vainly to find ways in which we’re different. And we are, despite our citizenship. We discuss our travel experiences, our favourite Canadian coffee shops and destinations and our shared and not-so-shared political ideas. We share music from across the globe.

Shanti itself is an example of multiculturalism in the best way. Ugandan staff hailing from all across the country work with Ugandan clients and international interns to provide services like yoga! Yoga is definitely not originally Ugandan…

DSC00035Women taking a pre-natal yoga class at Shanti. I guess there is plenty of Indian influence in East Africa!

Although this experience is drastically different than, say, that of my parents’ generation of travels, I am constantly amazed at the ways in which outside influences change Ugandan culture and not overtake it. Ugandan traditions and languages are still alive and well, and they’re not going anywhere. But the influence of people and things from all across the globe are subtly changing the ways people live and interact. People are taking what works and leaving what doesn’t.

There is no one experience of Uganda, and that is what makes this such a personal and unforgettable experience.

Chai with Shanti’s Women






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. WIGG momenMeet Teopista, Jesca and Racheal – three women from the income generating group. Under the shade of a protective straw hut, we sit and talk together…

How long have you been coming to Shanti’s Women’s Income Generating Group (WIGG) for and how did you hear about it?

We started coming to Shanti in 2009, and since joining WIGG we’ve been coming most Thursday’s since then. We heard about Shanti through Bishop Asili Hospital, where we were being treated for HIV/AIDS. They teach us to make things that will help bring income for us so that we can live.

What type of things do you make?

We have learned to make beads which we string together to make necklaces, bracelets and earrings. We also have sewing machines and textiles which we make laptop bags, cosmetic bags, diaper bags, yoga bags, banana bags, baby bags, backpacks, coin purses, oven mitts and nalongo bags – oh, and table mats!

Which do you prefer making?

Most of us enjoy making beads because we all sit down together and spend the afternoon working, talking and sharing difficulties together. Making banana bags is also fine because they are more simple than oven mitts.

Your fabrics are so vibrant and colorful. Which are your favorite colors?

Well, when we are making textiles for Canada, we use colors that are good for the seasons. Blue, reds, browns, greens. We like browns and greens the most though.

Teopista, the blue dress you are wearing is stunning. Did you make it?

Yes!! I learned how to sew about 13 years ago from my auntie, and I made this one myself in only 1 day! (Shy giggle)

Jescac and Racheal, who taught you to sew?

Jesca: A friend taught me.

Racheal: I learned here at Shanti!

How long does it take you to make a necklace?

About 6 hours on average.

Well you guys are making some really beautiful items. Thanks for sharing your story with me.


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!