As always, the women gathered early, jostling for their places on the lines of waiting benches. Each was registered and interviewed individually by one of five nurses and trained volunteers, and any gaps in care discussed, counseling given to those that were not taking their medication or attending regular clinics. Then I reviewed each child's status, sending the infants for a PCR test done with a drop of blood on filter paper that can identify the presence of virus earlier than our conventional tests, allowing early treatment. Uganda's new policy is to treat ALL infected children under the age of 1 year because of the historically high mortality in this group. These tests are sent to a lab in another part of the country, so many of the women were also looking for the results from last quarter's tests on their babies. We would search through the file of papers while they searched my face, more skilled in reading my emotions than the writing on the page. All but one new result I gave back yesterday was a negative, very fun. Each woman and child was weighed and measured, to track the impact of the food. About 80 of the 259 opted for family planning services which we offer on the spot, allowing women to remain non-pregnant as they care for their own health and their child's. Two elders from the local church sat in a side room to pray for any who wanted prayer. Those who were waiting in between weighing and testing and prayer stations sat sipping the cups of porridge we provide to give them stamina through the day. It takes about 5 solid hours to process everyone. By 3 they re-gathered, the only time in the day when the entire group is addressed as a whole. Scott preached briefly about the Good Shepherd who goes to find His lost goat (we don't have sheep here)--appropriate in a day when we are counting and numbering everyone, calling them up, and demonstrating that they are valued. The day ends with each person being handed a 20 kg bag of beans, a kg of salt, and a large bottle of cooking oil, plus a small transport stipend to get all of that home.
And as always, I came away from the day awed by team work. Locally, our entire team present right now in Bundi pitched in, working solid through the day without a break to serve these women. Another dozen health workers and community members joined us, lifting bags or praying or recording blood tests. The entire process is made possible by former team mate Pamela's heart and vision as she raised the funds from a very generous couple from her church in New York, whom we prayed for as a group yesterday. It was our first time, I think, to manage without Pat, who is usually the soul of the entire process on the ground but is currently on HMA. After some rounds of cheering as Scott greeted the women and announced what they would take home today (biggest cheer was for the salt) . . . he told them that Pat and Pamela would both be back for the next distribution in July and the entire place erupted in a spontaneous and thunderous roar of shouts. Pat and Pamela have made a real impact on the lives of HIV positive women in Bundibugyo. There is even a pair of two-year-old twin girls named after them, who happily escaped transmission of the virus from their mother, thanks to this program, and were toddling around yesterday.
By 5 we were beat, drifting back to our house for a late team meeting . . . which was subsequently taken over by the unexpected arrival of a delegation from a nutrition NGO called NuLife. Along with a Save the Children representative, they decided to come and meet us to set up plans for the training of community nutrition outreach volunteers within the next month. Very good stuff, I do think their coming was a God-send (literally), just a lot at the end of a long and hungry day. By 7 it was almost dark, rain was threatening, our kids were past the point, the meeting was not ending . . . so we invited them to stay for pizza, and the same great team who rallied through the distribution re-rallied to make dinner and serve our guests. As it began to rain, we sat by candlelight under the bougainvillea eating hot pizza and laughing with this group of energetic and committed Ugandans.
A real Kingdom day.