Shot@Life 28 Days of Impact – Fort Portal, Uganda

by Ilinap on February 4, 2013

He seemed a tish unsure, not in a reticent manner, rather he was shy, I think. He smiled easily and held the little boy’s hand ever so tightly, so as not to let him wander into what was becoming quite a crowd. He was tidy and polite, as was the boy. The boy had pinch worthy cheeks that my mother would have caressed, yielding to temptation. He was a happy boy, this was apparent. His eyes were full of curiosity and stifled smiles, though I mistook his first little grin for a sign of cheeky mistrust. And there was clearly, between man and boy, a loving, trusting bond. This much was palpable upon my first interaction with the two at Family Health Days in Fort Portal, Uganda.

I still have to pinch myself when I say that, hardly believing the privilege I had to travel to Uganda and interact with local families in a much more intimate manner than the standard tourist. To see the impact of Family Health Days firsthand is poignant and powerful. As much as we bicker and debate about health care in this country, we really take for granted the life saving care we get. Vaccines, for one. As much as everyone I met left an imprint on my experience in Uganda, this gentleman’s and little boy’s faces stick with me. Their expressions are tattooed on my brain and in my heart. I can still their faces, shining as beacons of what health and happiness can mean.

I approached this gentleman, who looked to be about 25 years old. He had a young boy with him who appeared to be 3 or 4. Their hands were clasped in a comfortable way that made me mistakenly believe they were father and son. The man was actually the child’s uncle. The boy’s mother was 23 years old and left her village to attend school in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. She was unable to care for her son while getting an education. She made the conscious choice to leave her baby in her brother’s care while she went away to school. It was a difficult choice since she rarely got to see her son. As the mother of two sons, I cannot imagine making this Sophie’s choice of sorts.

The mother had vaccinated her baby because she was trying to break the cycle and ensure a healthy life for her child, just as she was trying to ensure a secure future for herself and family. The uncle told me he brought the boy to get updates on vaccines, and he clutched the pink immunization record in his hands. He held it out proudly for me to see; it was a trophy of the paper variety. The uncle was injured in his factory job so he agreed to care for the boy since he couldn’t find work. The father is nowhere to be found, and the grandmother is in ill health. The uncle was basically acting as the boy’s father, and his love and dedication were unequivocal. I love that the mother laid out a plan for her future and her family’s future, with immunizations and health at the forefront of her plan.

The effect of vaccines in regions riddled with health woes, among other things, is profound. I am not speaking of statistics and faceless research subjects. These are real human beings, little boys with giggles and marble brown eyes like my own sons’ and uncles like my brother who would sacrifice everything for a shot at life.

 In a nutshell:

  • Vaccines currently help save 2.5 million children from preventable diseases every year.
  • Vaccination efforts have already made a difference. Thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the number of new cases of polio has dropped 99 percent, and the Measles Initiative has vaccinated one billion children in 60 developing countries and has decreased measles deaths by 71 percent.
  • Vaccines can level the playing field so that all children, no matter their circumstances, have a shot at a healthy life. In fact, I am one of those children

Join me in supporting the fantastic work of Shot@Life. Follow along with the hash tag #vaximpact.

The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Now, you can help sustain the impact by sending an email to your member of Congress. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action and make an impact!

This story comes from UNICEF Uganda and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign. A follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Each day in February, you can read another impactful story on global childhood vaccines. Tomorrow, don’t miss Katherine’s post over at Postpartum Progress! Go to www.shotatlife.org/impact to learn more.  

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily McKhann February 4, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Ilina, Your 28 Days of Impact post brings home the importance of vaccines so powerfully!! And I love the photos from your trip – gorgeous!!

~j. February 4, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Nailed it. So much good happened in Fort Portal that day.

Julie Marsh February 4, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I’m feeling rather cynical and grumpy today, so my comment would probably be far more upbeat on another day, but reading this lovely story makes me wonder how many Americans would miss the generosity, the devotion, the commitment to family that’s inherent here, and focus on the perceived negatives (mother leaving child, uncle not working, opting for “deadly” vaccines).

So here’s my positive outlook: How wonderful that we had the opportunity to view others’ circumstances as they really are, and to recognize the hard work, determination, and self-sufficiency therein. I continue to be so grateful for what I have in light of what we observed, and so impressed by what the people of Uganda do for themselves.

Elena February 4, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Thank you so much for sharing this glimpse into what you experienced in Uganda. The trophy of the paper variety, the relationship between uncle and nephew, the importance that these vaccines that are taken for granted by so many–but not to those that need them so desperately. xo

Karen February 4, 2013 at 11:30 AM

This story reminds us that, yes, the people we can protect with vaccines are real people with real hopes for their children. You’ve done a wonderful job introducing us to them. Thank you!

MelodyRN February 4, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Your poignant post really sums up the whole experience and reason people reach out to help others well outside of their community. Thank you for sharing your story, pictures and participating in Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign.

jyl @momitforward February 5, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Love hearing your personal experiences from your trip to Uganda. Really shows the importance of organizations like Shot@Life and the good they can do.

adrian February 5, 2013 at 11:04 AM

What an amazing trip. Shot@Life and their partner organizations are doing such terrific work on behalf of these people. I will be joining them next week for the Champions Summit and I am so proud to be affiliated with them. Thanks so much for sharing your moving story. I’m a big fan of brown-eyed boys too!

Jill Greenlaw February 5, 2013 at 2:32 PM

It sounds like you had an amazing trip. I am thankful for Shot@Life and the good that they are doing.

Ana Flores February 9, 2013 at 3:49 AM

Your trip seems like a blessing in so many ways. Your gift of storytelling really brings their story to life in a celebration of love. Thanks for sharing this!

GCarroll February 12, 2013 at 6:01 AM

Ilina,
What an extraordinary experience for you– the perspective shifter of a lifetime! Thank you for sharing your story and the story of the peole you encountered. Now I am going back and reading ALL of your posts about your trip! So glad to have finally met you!

Miriam Lwanga February 20, 2013 at 12:55 AM

Thank you Ilina. You’re so right at the end of the day this is all about people. Parents with dreams and aspirations for their children and families and children full of hope and potential. As a Ugandan I thank you for bringing attention and focus to a very simple, extremely effective and life saving intervention we call immunisation

Jen Burden @WorldMomsBlog February 27, 2013 at 11:01 AM

What a great example of “it takes a village.” Love that the uncle took his nephew for his vaccines, and I loved sharing the Uganda experience with you, Ilina. Let’s give more kids a Shot@Life!

Jen :)

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