People & Power

I came to Uganda in 1972 and have never looked back

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Brigittie carries an orphan in Masaka.

Brigittie carries an orphan in Masaka. Courtesy photo 

By Henry Lubega

Posted  Sunday, December 15  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

Towards graduation, there was an advert by the White Fathers looking for volunteer nurses to work in some third world countries like Uganda. I told my parents about my planned application to volunteer in Uganda, but they didn’t buy the idea because of the fresh news about the 1971 Idi Amin coup.


Brigittie Daley first came to Uganda as a volunteer nurse trying to recover from a broken relationship. She fell in love with the rural Uganda where she is fondly called Musawo by the older people and Jjaja Nassali by young ones, Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega caught up with her.

When I first came to Uganda in 1972, I was just a 20-year-old fresh graduate of nursing, and I knew little about the country.

Towards graduation, there was an advert by the White Fathers looking for volunteer nurses to work in some third world countries like Uganda. I told my parents about my planned application to volunteer in Uganda, but they didn’t buy the idea because of the fresh news about the 1971 Idi Amin coup.

However, I followed my heart and applied; in August 1972, I arrived at a White Sisters run hospital called Villa Maria Masaka as a volunteer nurse on a two-year contract.

Adjusting from the Western kind of life to that in a rural village in Uganda was not as hard as I had thought. And because I learnt Luganda very quickly, I settled in quite easily. During this time, I learnt a lot about the common diseases, especially those affecting children, and in the process I got so comfortable and overstayed my permit.

Sometime in 1975 while at the hospital, army men came looking for a muzungu nurse. By then, I was the only White nurse at the hospital. They asked to look at my documents and they found that I had exceeded my stay period by one year. I was asked to pack my bags and was driven to Entebbe where they left me with the White Sisters, giving the sisters 48 hours to ensure that I was out of the country.

The sisters got me a ticket since it was part of the terms of my volunteering. On the second day, the same soldiers picked me from the Sisters place and drove me to the airport.

Although I got back to Canada, I still had Uganda in my heart and I knew one day I would come back.
I got married and raised my two sons and when they could live on their own, I told my husband, Bruce, that we should relocate to Africa and my choice was Uganda. My husband gave me a month to come and see the place I wanted to come and stay.
I first returned in 2004 for a month, then I went back and told him I liked what I had seen and I was sure we would be happy here. We had to sell our house and buy a condo. It’s easier to rent and manage a condo than a family house when you are away. The condo was to be our source of income since we were not coming to Uganda to make money.
The return
In 2005, Bruce and I came to Uganda. Upon return, I was recruited as a nurse with International Hospital Kampala as I waited for my move to Masaka - the place we were to stay in.

The pay was good but my heart was not into it because I had not really come to Uganda to look for a job.
After six months, I quit my job to move to Masaka where I registered at Masaka Comprehensive School of Nursing for a refresher course to be enrolled by the Uganda Nursing and Midwives Council.
During my refresher course, I worked as a mobile volunteer with a Danish organisation which was looking after orphans. I used to go out in the villages visiting the sick and immunising children.
However, during that time, I was not allowed to treat children who were not registered with the NGO. To me this was not fair, the system was segregative.

I talked to my husband about my experience; coincidentally he was also seeing the same thing. To him the NGO system was introducing a welfare system in Uganda which had failed in the West.

After the refresher course I was placed at Masaka Hospital as part of my registration process. During that time, I met a young lady called Alice (Second name forgotten) who helped us with the needs assessment exercise.

We decided to concentrate on Tekera Village because the nearest health centre from was 10 miles away and people were very poor.
Starting the Centre
We identified an old man - Francis Kiwewa - a Kibanja owner who out of passion for education was conducting nursery school under a tree in his Kibanja. We asked him to give us part of his Kibanja in return for a permanent building for him to conduct his lessons.

As the construction of the clinic started, the locals thought we were like other NGO’s giving out freebies. When the clinic opened, they came for free services; they thought so because the place was built by Whites.
My husband has always been passionate about agriculture and farming in general. He suggested that we use part of the Kibanja we were given as a farm to generate income for the clinic.

The farm was to support the clinic because people in the community were too poor to pay for the services yet they needed them. We asked the village leaders to encourage people to come for treatment whenever they were sick and once they had recovered, they would come and work at the centre’s farm as payment for the treatment.
Unfortunately, the arrangement was abused. After treatment, people were not willing to work, thinking it was for free. We were forced to close for two months.

Within that time, they realised the importance of the centre and their need to work for the services they were getting. The residents and their leaders came asking for the reopening.
The peso
When we reopened, people were to work when they are healthy and get treatment incase of sickness later. We introduced a community currency called the peso. It is a piece of paper that one gets once they have worked at the Centre and can be exchanged for service. We encouraged the residents to get as many pesos’ as they could, as this covered the entire family.

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