The road to Jinja bends and twists through Southeastern Uganda. It’s a narrow two-lane road, one that somehow manages to sustain all of the traffic exiting the capital city of Kampala. And it pulses through manicured fields of sugar cane and black tea, fields so full and plush during the rainy season, you could rest on top of them.
It’s off of this road that you’ll find Henry’s home village of Buvuunya.
We arrived at Henry’s home one evening after a particularly heavy rainfall. Though it was late, his sweet family greeted us in typical Ugandan fashion with endless amounts of chicken, mattooke and chipati…
Henry has been a clinical officer (C.O.) at Engeye since 2015. He is often the first person in the clinic and the last one to leave. His job doesn’t end with the workday either—Henry is always mulling over new medical concepts at lunch or perusing old textbooks at night. He’s intelligent, dedicated and humble.
And though he’s not a very loud person, he has a way of drawing you in and demanding your attention. Of conveying his passion for both medicine and the world until you share the same fervor.
And that’s why Matt and I were here, in Buvuunya.
You see, Henry has been building a clinic of his own, a place where people in his village can receive personal and quality health care. As Henry said of his village, “It’s where I grew up and among the places in Uganda that are still underserved. Underserved in terms of labor, economy, transportation and especially healthcare. These people [in the village] don’t have so much money, so you need to give them these basic needs. You have to save these people somehow.”
Henry began saving for his clinic in 2013, through local jobs like bricklaying and farming. When he completed school and became a C.O., he was able to start construction. Now, the building—located a mere minute from his childhood home—is nearly complete.
While we were in Buvuunya, we got to walk through Henry’s clinic as he explained his vision:
“This room is for the lab and this one is a waiting area, “ Henry said, his eyes gleaming. The walls still need paint, the windows still need panes and we spent much of the weekend mopping and sweeping the dusty floors. But the foundation is there, as are the necessary resources and equipment.
“Everything—saving, planning etc—was so hard at the beginning, but now it’s not so bad,” Henry said, “It just needs to start.”
Working at Engeye has inspired Henry further.
“When I started at Engeye I thought, ‘this is what I have been thinking about but never seen,” he said. Being at Engeye has given Henry excellent clinical skills and a better understanding of the challenges that accompany running a clinic. More generally, Engeye has given Henry an example of sustainable, long-term growth.
“Engeye has things like cost-sharing that I hope to use. I want to put up something that patients can both like and afford. Using Engeye as a model, I think I can do it.”
Herny’s ambition is undoubtedly admirable. Yet, sometimes his vision seems a little lofty, a little hard to reach. For instance, while we were touring his clinic he explained his plans for the future:
“Over here, that will be a maternity center and I’ll get another floor. Maybe ill put water tanks here,” he motioned to the side of the clinic. I reluctantly remembered how hard Engeye worked this past year to get a maternity center. How long it took Engeye to install water tanks.
But then Henry acknowledged his tendency to dream and proposed more practical next-steps: “I don’t want to seem unrealistic…I think my main priority will be to offer good diagnostic services, so patients don’t have to go to Kampala,” he said, “I want it to be roughly the size of Engeye, not any bigger otherwise our staff will be stretched thin. But I want it to be run like Engeye.”
I kicked myself for having doubted Henry. After all, look at how far he’s come in such a short time.
As a twenty nine year old entering the prime of his career, Henry is also unique in his decision to return and serve his community. Unlike much of his generation, Henry has defied the ‘Brain Drain’—a phenomenon all too common in the developing world. Instead of abandoning his home country for a potentially lucrative career in Western medicine, Henry has chosen to remain right here, in Uganda. He is fully committed to his village, to addressing the vast need in this nation for better quality health care.
And it’s commitment like Henry’s that will promote a culture of sustainability, rather than handouts or band-aid solutions.
It’s commitment and determination like Henry’s that—ultimately—will change the course of Uganda’s future.
Henry would like to return to medical school in the coming years to become a surgeon. But he will remain involved in his clinic as much as he can. As he said, “I don’t just want to oversee it. I want to be a part of it through and through.” For now, he plans on dividing his time between his job at Engeye and his home village.
As for his clinic, it finally has a name and is due to open this month.
“Taasa, that’s what I’m going to call it,” Henry said.
When I asked him what Taasa meant, he looked at me and answered emphatically.
“Taasa—it means ‘To Save’.”