While setting up her business for purpose model, founder of the Adara Group (formerly the ISIS Group), Audette Exel, attended the Davos World Economic Forum where she met the First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni. Not long after, Audette travelled to Uganda, to the ‘killing fields’ of the country just recovering from civil war, and soon after made plans to help support this scattered, war-torn community.
Here, the Chief Executive Officer of Adara Development, Susan Biggs, shares with Thread Publishing the story of Adara’s early involvement in Uganda.
We first got involved in Uganda after Audette had a fortunate meeting while attending the Davos World Economic Forum. Audette happened to meet the First Lady of Uganda, Mrs Janet Museveni, in a coffee shop. As you do. When they spoke about starting something in Uganda, Mrs Museveni said: “Well, if you ever do come to Uganda, I will open all the doors for you.”
It’s a jungle out there
Audette then drove around Uganda to begin to identify somewhere for Adara to work. And so she drove to the killing fields where political leader Milton Obote had gone to war a decade before. It’s about two hours’ drive north of Kampala and it’s all beautiful lush jungle. It was a great place for the rebel forces to hide during the war.
When the Milton Obote government troops went there to try to find the rebels, they left every village decimated in their wake – pretty much wiping out an entire district of people. Many people disappeared into the jungle and lived there for years. They had no food, no clothes, nothing.
One of our programme managers, who now runs the Ugandan office, was actually one of those kids. He was 10 years old when he was moved to the jungle and he lived there for three years with his brothers, sisters and mum. He tells harrowing stories of the conditions, when their mum used to go out to find food every day and the kids would stay together. Some days she couldn’t get back across the government lines. The kids would wait for days without food, wondering what was happening.
A hospital under a tree
By the time Audette arrived in this former jungle in the Luwero Triangle, nothing had really grown back after the war. But there was a little hospital that had been started by an Irish missionary called Ian Clark. He started the hospital under a tree and then moved it to the church portico. Then he got a little building, and then the building and its surrounding site began to grow. That’s when Audette arrived and said, “This is the place I want to work.”
The Kiwoko Hospital became a partner and we worked with them to provide maternal infant and child health services. We started in community-based healthcare, working with mums who were giving birth in their villages. There had been a small community growing up outside the hospital. Today it’s a much larger, thriving community, and Kiwoko Hospital now services a community of 500,000 people.
Protecting new life
We also moved into neonatal intensive care not long after, thanks to a young neonatology nurse called Debbie Lester. Debbie had started talking to the nurses at the hospital, including Sister Christine. Together, they started the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU). It was tiny to begin with but it grew quite large over the years. We have since brought clinicians from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s hospital and Brigham Women’s hospital for two to six weeks at a time to train the Ugandan doctors and nurses.
Many people said: “It’s crazy! Why would you want to set up a technologically savvy NICU here? Babies are just dying as soon as they are born.” But Audette was determined and inspired, as were her peers at the hospital, and Debbie remains with Adara today.
These were early days, and the journey since has been no less incredible. Our data is now showing that there have been stunning increases in the number of babies surviving because of the work of the NICU.
Read the next part of the story here.
Adara Development’s (formerly The ISIS Foundation) objective is to work side by side with communities and children in remote areas in Nepal and Uganda, improving their lives through health, education and other community development projects. Since 1998, they have grown to provide services each year to more than 30,000 people in poverty.
The Adara Group have had a wide range of financial supporters over the years. From inception to the end of December 2013, Adara Development had received about A$22.8 million (US$19.1 million) in donations.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
Photo credit: Adara Group, Jonathon Torgovnik.