Nursing student travels abroad for experience of a lifetime

NIAMH GIRDUSKY

CONTRIBUTOR

During intersession of 2019, I had the incredible, undeserved privilege of travelling to Uganda to take the theology course: Christianity in Africa. The trip is offered as a nursing, health administration or theology class. As a nursing major, I was allowed to work alongside the nursing students in their medical-specific work. However, the theology aspect of the trip reminded me of the importance of reflection, and helped me overall to be more deeply connected to the impossibly important moments I was experiencing.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NIAMH GIRDUSKY

The trip brought us to three different regions of Uganda. We started in Entebbe, right near Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. We then travelled south to Masaka, and from there we continued down (over the equator!) to our final stop in Bwindi.

I had a number of very specific experiences that will stick with me for a long time. It is so easy to put the physical, literal interaction into words, but I find myself unable to articulate why exactly these moments have become embedded in the deepest corner of my heart. One of these beautiful moments was found in a mother handing her child to me with a smile. We did not speak the same language. We had not been able to really communicate in any way. In the U.S., a mother handing her child to a stranger with whom she cannot verbally communicate would be frowned upon, and even potentially dangerous. But this woman trusted me. She did not have to trust me, she did not even know me, but she trusted me nonetheless. I held the baby as he nuzzled into my chest and clutched the string of my bucket hat, and I rocked on my feet as he slowly began to fall asleep. It was overwhelmingly peaceful, and provided me a sense of connectedness with people who are so different from me.

A more difficult poignant moment that I experienced was whilst visiting a hospital in Masaka. The wards each consisted of one big open room with approximately 30 to 40 beds. At least one of the wards had mattresses where patients slept on the floor. My initial reaction was shock. I was not afraid of the unsanitary, desperate conditions, but instead sad. My negative feelings were quickly pushed to the side as patients and their families grabbed my hands and invited me to sit with them and tried to communicate through gestures. So many of these families were so hopeful, and I was ashamed to compare my trying and difficult experiences to theirs. I remain motivated by their optimism. One specific moment from that hospital that stamped itself on my heart was with a man in the tuberculosis ward. TB is highly contagious, and those infected with it are required to wear masks when around others. I took the time to speak with some of them, and I was devastated to see that many of them didn’t have any visitors. As I was leaving, I saw one man reach out feebly.

“Please just pray for me. My name is Jimmy. Please pray for me,” he said.

He shares my father’s name, and so I felt drawn to him. I held his hand and promised him that I would pray for him, and I promised myself that I was going to work incredibly hard in everything I do. That I will actively make the world a better place, and that I will come back to Uganda- a place where I learned so much.

One thing I would like to really bring back from Uganda that I can realistically implement into my daily life is being hospitable and welcoming. People greeted us by saying “you are most welcome.” Even just walking outside, people welcomed us to the country. They were happy to see new faces and new lives. They did not care how different we were from them, or if we could even understand what they were saying. They practiced unconditional welcome and unconditional love and I think that that is the most beautiful philosophy to exist by.

Oh, and we saw some really cool animals. That was pretty neat too.

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