Prof Jean Chamberlain is the founder of the Save the Mothers’ programme at Uganda Christian University. She worked on the project from 2005-2017 after which she left Uganda for her homeland Canada. On February 18, she travelled back to Uganda to witness 20 students from her programme graduate. The Standard talked with her.
How did you end up at UCU?
Initially, I came to Uganda as a volunteer through the Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in conjunction with the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda. I started off my work in Kiboga on a project for safe motherhood. This is when it came to my knowledge that over 6,000 mothers in Uganda were dying annually due to preventable pregnancy complications. To me, this was unfair and unfortunate because in Canada, only 10-15 mothers die annually during childbirth yet the countries have the same population. In 2005, I came back to Uganda with my family, to help start up the Save the Mothers project with an aim of getting more people involved in saving the lives of mothers because, yes, there are hospitals here but women don’t often reach to them. We also wanted to change the mindset of Ugandans have towards women dying because it is not normal for a mother to die.
What inspired you to come for voluntary work in Africa?
The needs around the world. I grew up in a church setting and I always knew at one point in life, I would be called to do missionary work. However, I did not know that my focus would be on maternal health.
What exactly does Save the Mothers programme at UCU entail?
It is majorly a Master of Public Health Leadership course that focuses on ensuring a change of mind. For instance, it appeals to the community’s involvement in the process of child delivery and use of antenatal services.
Who funds the programme?
There were fundraising in churches and Rotary clubs in Canada.
How impactful is the programme?
Our graduates have involved the community to solve the causes of maternal deaths. Some have even created projects, like one of them called Jeremiah established the Mother’s Heart, which addresses the mother-baby friendly situation in hospitals. So far he has reached out to 10 hospitals in Uganda. Another one Boaz has created special units in several hospitals for mothers that need special attention due to health complications. However, it always starts small, you don’t expect to cause complete change immediately.
Do you keep track of your graduates?
Yes absolutely, we do that through newsletters, reunions and walks. There are varieties of programmes that bring us back together.
There are concerns that the number of students in the programme could be reducing of late?
The programme is competing with other similar programmes at the university.
Why did you leave Uganda?
It was time for someone else to take on the programme. I had to move on to other things. I had spent 12 years in Uganda.
Where are you working now?
I am at McMaster University Hamilton, Canada, as a teacher and doctor.
How did it feel leaving Uganda?
It was stressful since I was going back to the computerized medical system that I was not used to.
What do you miss about UCU?
I miss the community spirit, the energy of worshipping God, Sunday school and the freedom in the place. The kids run anywhere they want without the fear of anything.
What lessons did you learn from Uganda?
I don’t take things for granted. For instance, you find people in my country complaining about small things in the hospital because they don’t know that there are people elsewhere without even a bed to deliver her child from. I also got to understand people more and handle them accordingly.
What worries did you have when coming to Uganda?
I was worried about the health of my family especially the children because I had a three months old baby and a two-year-old child. I was wondering if I could easily access good health services in case of anything.
How do you gauge the Ugandan health system and the Canadians?
It is all the same, the difference is that there are no tools in Ugandan hospitals and health centres and this demotivates the health workers. Otherwise, they are dedicated people.
Are you proud of your legacy at UCU?
Yes, but its people to judge. We hosted the first lady twice. Also having five Members of Parliament as students.
What word of advice do you give to Ugandans involved in outreaches?
Hudson Taylor says, at first it seems impossible, difficult, and then done. Use the tools at hand and share them with others. Look at what is in your hands and start from there.