Local Rotary club visits its partners in Uganda

This month a Rotary group from Des Moines visited the clinic they support in Uganda. Photo: Rotary DMAM

By Steve Dinnen

Unless there’s a blizzard, it’s pretty easy to visit your favorite Des Moines charitable organization. But to check in on a health care clinic in Uganda, you cross three continents, pile into a van for an hourslong slog over potholed roads, dodge stray cattle and arrive to find hundreds of people sitting under a tent, patiently waiting with a sick baby or an aching tooth.

I was part of a team from the Rotary Club of Des Moines A.M. that recently visited a clinic in Kikandwa, in south central Uganda, which the club supports. During the visit, club members had a chance to talk with local health care providers and religious leaders — the clinic stands on property owned by the Church of Uganda, an Anglican affiliate — and reaffirm their support.

Rotary DMAM’s ties to Kikandwa began in 2012 when Drake University student Emily Raecker visited Uganda with classmates to learn about sustainable development projects. Under the direction of Jimmy Senteza, an associate professor of finance at Drake and native of Kikandwa, the students interviewed villagers and learned about their goals for better health. Emily discussed the trip with her father, Scott Raecker, who leads the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake. He also is a longtime member of DMAM Rotary and chairs its international committee. Emily, now Emily Adreon, eventually joined the club, currently serves as its president and, with her dad, was part of the club’s latest trip to Uganda.

Guided by their motto, “service above self,” Rotary club members have gathered medical supplies for the clinic over the years. One of the first projects was for “mama kits” full of soap, gauze, exam gloves and razors that are given to pregnant women before they go to the clinic to give birth.

Little by little, the Rotary club sent more aid to Kikandwa. More recent purchases have included a dental chair and a sonogram machine. All told, Rotary DMAM and its partners have funneled about $750,000 worth of equipment and cash to the clinic.

The purpose of this month’s trip was to see what has been done and how to move forward. Trip participants Dan and Deb Timmins of the Des Moines-based nonprofit Shining City Foundation committed their organization to fund an oxygen concentrator and hematology analyzer, which samples blood.

Or maybe even an ambulance? The clinic could use one of those, too. Earlier, a woman had arrived unconscious, on the back of a motorcycle. She was sandwiched between two other riders who kept her from falling off.

Self-Help International lives up to its name

The Rotary Club of Des Moines A.M. is certainly not alone in supporting Uganda. British academics estimated that in 2021, upward of 14,000 non-governmental organizations — NGOs — were active in the country to promote economic development, health care and religion.

The numbers grow when you add in neighboring countries, like Kenya and Rwanda. And then there’s the rest of the world. There’s plenty of need. And lots of help.

One Iowa-based NGO that’s working for a better planet is Self-Help International, which recently relocated its headquarters from Waverly to Des Moines. The group was founded to improve farming methods, and entered Ghana in 1989 at the behest of Iowa Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug.

When babies and toddlers are malnourished, they can face lasting mental and physical limitations by age 3 or 4, so Self-Help International encourages farmers to plant Quality Protein Maize. Like Rotary DMAM, the group’s leaders occasionally visit their target countries, in this case, Ghana and Nicaragua, where hired local staff manage the programs.

Self-Help International also promotes microfinancing, a strategy that sets up lending programs for entrepreneurs, often women, who want to start their own businesses. One woman in Nicaragua used a Self-Help International loan to buy four pigs. She fattened them up, sold three males and kept a sow that soon bore nine more pigs to sell. After that, the woman bought a cow. Then more cows.

And now her family lives in a wooden home with a metal roof.

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