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Bwindi Nursing School Brings Healthcare to The Community

September 18, 2019 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

Tourism is the world’s largest industry, growing exponentially every year. Hand in hand with this has come an unprecedented level of interest in responsible travel and a rise in philanthropic programs, with travellers increasingly seeking to give back to the communities they visit. This has, in turn, placed greater pressure on tourism suppliers to improve their social and environmental responsibility.

Boutique luxury travel operator Sanctuary Retreats is a company that has long been committed to conservation and responsible tourism ever since opening its first camp in the Masai Mara in 1999. Says Michael McCall, Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia the company has always endeavoured to build long-lasting relationships with communities in the areas in which it operates, making a point of identifying and supporting enduring, viable and self-sustaining projects. “Our aim is to ensure that all projects are supported by our staff and guests, and we work closely with communities to identify their needs, so we can deliver outcomes that really have an impact.”

One of the programs of which the company is particularly proud, is its work with the Bwindi Nursing School and Community Hospital located on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Founded in 2003 by American missionaries as a weekly clinic under a tree, the hospital now boasts 112 beds and provides a healthcare outreach program to some 100,000 locals in the surrounding area, treating a wide range of conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, dental treatments, HIV and malaria at its clinics.

Like many of Uganda’s remote communities, one of the biggest challenges confronting the Hospital has been a perpetual shortage of medical staff. Nurses are scarce in the region, largely because they train in the capital city of Kampala and, after a year or two of rural living, return to their families in the city. Thanks to the vision and determination of one woman, Jane Anyango, the hospital is successfully tackling this issue head on.

Anyango’s decision to pursue a career in nursing came about thanks to a pivotal moment in her childhood. When aged just 10, her younger sister suffered from painful stomach aches and sickness. While many local community members attempted to cure her with local herbs and remedies, she remained critically ill for two weeks. Eventually, the family looked to medical professionals for help. Looking back, Anyango remembers with crystal clarity the moment when a nurse, dressed in white, arrived, correctly diagnosed the illness and administered some medication which stopped her sister’s pain in just one hour. “In that single moment, I knew I wanted to become a nurse, and dedicate my life to helping others”, she says now. “My sister was suffering from a preventable disease, common within the community, and one of my main aims, now, is to help eliminate what are often very preventable diseases through education.”

Just 34 years old, the inspirational Anyango has been instrumental in establishing initiatives that are attracting an ever-increasing number of promising local students to attend the Nursing School. With almost one in three students unable to afford the USD750 annual tuition fee, key amongst these has been working with Sanctuary Retreats and its guests to come together and provide scholarships so that the wider community served by the hospital has access to certified nursing school graduates who are from the region, speak the local language and understand local customs.

With the support of Sanctuary Retreats and Sanctuary Retreats Gorilla Forest Camp guests, Anyango received funding to complete a Master’s Degree in Nursing at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, subsequently returning to the Bwindi Community Hospital as Head of Nurses and Midwives. One of her biggest hurdles was how to combat a highly transient workforce, with many trained nursed only willing to stay in Bwindi for a few months, thanks to its remote rural location. In 2010, she introduced a program to train and educate people who had dropped out of school, and who could also speak some English, about how to prevent diseases through improved hygiene. These newly minted Health Advisors were then despatched into the local community, sharing their knowledge with the local community, leading to a significant reduction in avoidable hospital admissions.

The Bwindi Nursing School’s first intake students arrived in 2013 – a class comprising just eleven men and two women. Since then Anyango’s tireless efforts to address the gender imbalance and grow enrolments has paid off in spades. The School currently boasts 402 students, 305 of whom are women. It is also regarded as one of the best in the country; of 22 distinctions awarded to nursing graduates nationwide in 2018, 14 of these were achieved by Bwindi students.

The future is looking bright for this facility as it continues to go from strength to strength. And, as a result of Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp guests’ support, in August Anyango left for America to commence her PhD. Once she has achieved this, she hopes to expand the Bwindi Nursing School even further, investing in new staff accommodation, dormitories, and a push to recruit students from neighbouring Rwanda, Kenya and The Democratic Republic of Congo, as the school transitions into a university.

Guests staying at Sanctuary Retreats Gorilla Forest Camp have an opportunity to visit the Bwindi Nursing School and Community Hospital where they can meet students and explore their learning lab where they are training to become skilled health care providers for the community.

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