Good Cause: Nurse goes to Africa, finds friendly patients

Warrenville resident Linda Erickson recently spent 12 days in Uganda mostly working as a nurse in a small clinic.  |  Submitted
Warrenville resident Linda Erickson recently spent 12 days in Uganda mostly working as a nurse in a small clinic. | Submitted

Linda Erickson is used to other cultures. The Warrenville resident and nurse spent 20 years living in Bolivia with her husband. Africa, however, was something new. Erickson spent 12 days in Uganda earlier this summer mostly volunteering her time in a rural clinic for Juna Amagara Ministries.

“The one thing that impressed me about the Ugandan people was that they were very friendly to us,” Erickson said. “They had a cute little statement, ‘You are most welcome here.’ It was pretty amazing because some countries don’t like North Americans.”

Erickson works for BrightStar Care Central DuPage-Wheaton as a nurse. She goes on school field trips when nurses are requested (because the regular school nurse can’t leave the school) or works shifts as a hospice nurse. But while living in Bolivia, she often accompanied a doctor into rural areas where there was no medical care.

The trips were intended to help the residents but also to see if there was enough interest in the community for a local clinic. And in Uganda it was much the same.

“I would love to see that happen in Uganda, but I don’t know a doctor there like that yet,” she said.

The trip came through Village Bible Church in Sugar Grove where Erickson’s niece and two teen daughters learned about it.

“My niece said, ‘They need medical people you know,’” Erickson said.

While she and her husband have been back in the United States for four years, she thought it would be worth the experience.

According to the Juna Amagara website, 2 million children in Uganda have no parent because they died from AIDS. The organization wants to help these children, and Erickson was impressed with what she saw in the orphanages.

“They were well fed, and they loved to interact with you,” she said.

The children were fascinated by smartphones and seeing the instant photos taken of them.

“They didn’t care if they didn’t get to keep them,” Erickson said.

While she said they had some toys, mostly soccer balls, each person on the trip took a suitcase filled with items for the children and other needed items. Erickson’s was filled with jump ropes, pajamas and medical supplies.

She also brought toothbrushes and gave them hygiene lessons on the correct way to use them.

Erickson used her nursing skills in a six-room schoolhouse that was converted to a clinic, and the people waited outside. Because there was no electricity, when it got dark, they closed down for the day and started up again the next morning.

“They didn’t seem to get frustrated,” Erickson said of the waiting line. “It was so rewarding how thankful they were to get medical care.”

The community is a long way from the city, so residents often can’t get the care they need in time. Some women die in childbirth, a fact that Erickson found sobering.

Many of the women spend their days gardening and digging in fields, picking potatoes, and they suffer from joint pain. The clinic doled large amounts of over-the-counter painkillers allowing the patients to go on with their lives.

She also pointed out that the clinic did not give out much birth control because of a cultural difference.

“They aren’t orientated to time like we are,” Erickson said of the pill that needs to be taken the same time each day.

BrightStar Care marketing assistant Samantha Isdale said the organization encourages its nurses to take these kinds of trips.

“It’s important to see our nurses are well rounded and use their skill sets and time to help others,” said Isdale, acknowledging that usually the nurses stay closer to home to do their service work.

And Erickson said she might go back.

“When I left they asked, ‘Are you coming back? We hope you are,’” she said.

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How to help

To learn more and to donate to Juna Amagara, visit www.amagara.org

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