• Emily Stynes

My Most Memorable Moments as a Nutrition Volunteer in Kisiizi Hospital, Uganda

Updated: Feb 13

In July 2019 I spent a life changing month working as a Nutrition volunteer alongside a multi-disciplinary team of physiotherapists, nursing, nutrition/dietetic and healthcare professionals in Kisiizi Hospital, South Western Uganda.

The main aim of our project was to run a two week camp for mothers and their children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a motor neuron disease that affects movement and muscle tone or posture.

The camp had an attendance of 25 children along with their caregivers. Our focus was on providing all of the children with medical screening, physiotherapy, nursing and nutrition assessments both at the beginning and at the end of camp. We also conducted educational workshops both within camp and out in the surrounding communities on topics such as ‘Healthy Eating and a Balanced Diet’, ‘Weaning and Breastfeeding’ and ‘Hydration and Constipation’. Myself and the nutrition team also carried out a presentation on ‘Dysphagia and the importance of Nasogastric Tube Feeding in Patients’ to the School of Nursing and Midwifery located within the hospital grounds.

There were so many memorable moments that I shared with the team. However, my two most special moments were within the rehabilitation unit of the hospital during camp.

The physiotherapy students originally set up a session of ‘play therapy’ with the children and their caregivers and myself and the nutrition and nursing team all got involved also.

When I was first asked to come and join, I thought this should be interesting as I did not feel I had sufficient knowledge or experience to help support a child to stretch or give any advice regarding their impairment. Nevertheless, I scanned the room and approached one little girl who didn’t seem to have a team member sitting and playing beside her. She had the sweetest and most innocent face. As I started to play with her, one of the team leaders informed me that she needed to exercise her left hand as she seemed to keep it tight and enclosed more often than not. I saw a toy on the ground that she could clench her fingers on to but didn’t want to be too forceful on her ability and strength either. Surprisingly, one of the physiotherapy students showed me that her hand actually had the strength and capability to move, it just hadn’t been exercised, perhaps due to a lack of stimulation.

As I started to gradually push her tiny fingers back more and more, she began to hold on to her toy as normal! Her mother’s face instantly lit up as did mine when she saw her child making steady progress there and then.

This was quite an exciting, joyful and rewarding experience for me to have been part of. It really demonstrates how important both adequate education, physical and mental stimulation of the children is for their health in order to see any improvements with their condition.

Another one of my most memorable moments was the first time I saw the mothers from camp dance. ‘Mommy fitness’ was run by our Physiotherapy Tutor, Edel McDaid.

This exercise class gave the care givers the opportunity to take time to enjoy themselves through dance. The idea behind mommy fitness was that in order for the caregivers to look after their own children, they also had to look after their health and wellbeing through self-care.

Not only was I amazed by how much rhythm the mothers and grandmothers had, which no matter how hard we all tried it just wasn’t quite the same.. but it was really their energy and how their faces lit up all of a sudden once they gathered together and formed such a unique bond that made it such an amazing and enlightening experience for me. The sensations and emotions I experienced were somewhat overwhelming and I will be honest, I found it quite hard to hold back my tears! But it really did show me how strong, resilient and powerful these women were despite any of their struggles, worries or hardships that they were experiencing.

This is a moment and a special memory of mine that I share with all of my friends and family back home and use as an image for myself to stay strong and persevere through any of life’s challenges.

Picture of Kisiizi, South Western Uganda

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