By Ronald Smith, past governor of District 7430 (Pennsylvania, USA) and a member of the Rotary Club of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
I began planning a vocational training team with my son Ryan in 2006, when he was still a medical student at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, USA, with an interest in doing a rotation in Africa. My previous experience with Rotary grants, and my friendship with fellow district governor Francis Tusibira “Tusu” of District 9200 (east Africa),” inspired me to form a team.
I first met Tusu at the San Diego Zoo while we were both taking part in Rotary’s annual training event for incoming governors. Later, we reconnected at several Rotary conventions, and collaborated on Rotary Foundation grants for medical projects. Later, as Foundation chairs for our districts, we were excited about the idea of bringing medical professionals together to exchange knowledge.
With the help of the Rotary Club of Blue Bell, a detailed plan evolved.
I met with the Rotary Club of Kampala North and faculty at Makerere University in Kampala in January of 2013. Meeting with faculty and local Rotarians, we identified the need for improved maternal and child healthcare education in suburban and rural areas of Uganda. As we visited more than eight health centers and conducted interviews with health professionals and ministry of health officials, we honed in on the need for midwife education in emergency obstetric care and childbirth interventions.
Our plan sought to:
- send Uganda medical staff to the U.S. and U.S. doctors to Uganda to deepen skills and exchange knowledge
- Develop a sustainable computer network to educate healthcare professionals.
- Provide equipment and supplies to improve the community health center infrastructure
We selected team members from Drexel’s faculty and from Makerere University in Uganda. In Uganda, the Drexel team worked alongside obstetricians to treat patients and provide pediatric training for health center staff. Drexel faculty were trained in Helping Babies Breathe, an infant resuscitation technique used in resource-limited settings, and Helping Mothers Survive, an innovative training initiative designed to equip health workers with the knowledge and skills they need to prevent mothers from dying during birth.
The team helped set up health camps, train midwives, and establish a computer network that will assist with continued self-training and serve as the back-bone for distance education learning. During the Uganda team’s visit to Drexel, members were trained in developing distance education courses on healthcare.
These teams of doctors, nurses, midwives, and information technology faculty have exchanged visits. Both teams immersed themselves in the other’s environment and culture. Through the personal and professional relationships they have forged, these universities have now signed major collaboration agreements that will sustain this effort well beyond our project. Additionally, the Ugandan health centers will become Centers of Excellence in Midwife Training.
Through this model, Rotary clubs and universities in Uganda and the rest of Africa can work together to develop sustainable technology-based education that will enhance health care and save lives.
- Read more stories about Rotary’s commitment to saving mothers and children
- Download a fact sheet about vocational training teams