Japanese Christian NGO that gives scholarships to ROM medical staff pays a visit to ROM in Uganda, meets community health workers and HIV-positive clients

By Annika McGinnis

Friends know no boundaries – sometimes great friendships are born across oceans, languages, and cultures. At Reach Out Mbuya, some of our greatest friends come from within our global Christian community, those who share our values of love, empathy and service. On Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, ROM hosted one of these friends: Yukako Matsuura from Tokyo, Japan.

Matsuura came to Uganda representing the Japanese Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service (JOCS), a Japanese NGO that gives scholarships to promising medical students in the developing world and collaborates on projects in Asia and Africa to strengthen health systems and medical service delivery.

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ROM Executive Director, Dr. Betty Nsangi, greets Yukako Matsuura at the Mbuya site.

Since 2005, Reach Out Mbuya has benefited from four scholarships from JOCS to pay for the medical degrees of four current or former staff. The current supported student is Hajjarah Nanteza, who works at the ROM Kinawataka site and is also a mother of three.

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Matsuura greeting Hajjarah Nanteza, the current beneficiary of JOCS who works at ROM’s Kinawataka site. Hajjarah also gave birth to a healthy baby boy last week.

On Tuesday, ROM staff presented an overview of ROM’s program to Matsuura and heard testimonies from some of the beneficiaries of JOCS’ scholarships.

Anne Grace Namubiru was the first beneficiary in 2005/2006, pursuing a diploma in counseling and guidance with the Uganda Catholic Social Training Centre under Nkozi University. One of the first clients to come to Reach Out Mbuya in 2002, Namubiru now works as a counselor for discordant couples, where one partner is positive and one is negative. In recent years, Grace has helped to grow the program from 40 couples to 150.

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Grace Namubiru, one of the first clients of ROM who now works as a discordant couples counselor. Grace was the first beneficiary of JOCS in 2005/2006.

Namubiru said she was grateful to Reach Out for having kept her on staff for more than 16 years. She has been able to support her daughter through school and in her university seeking a degree in clinical medicine. She also supports 3 additional orphans.

“To me, the sky is the limit,” Namubiru said. “In the future, as they progress through their education, I would also like to go back to school to pursue a degree in guidance and counseling.

“I also thank JOCS that despite the fact I was a client, they still served me,” she added.

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Matsuura with Patrick Kawooya, one of the beneficiaries of the JOCS scholarship who is now managing the award-winning ROM laboratories.

JOCS is supported by about 5,000 Japanese Christians. Along with Uganda, the organization also works in Cambodia delivering hygiene education at primary and junior high schools, in Tanzania strengthening hospital and clinic management, and in Bangladesh. This was the first field visit that JOCS had made to Uganda and to ROM.

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Matsuura visiting the ROM site in Kinawataka.

On Wednesday, Matsuura also visited the Reach Out site in Kinawataka, where the current beneficiary, Hajjarah Nanteza, is working. Nanteza said after she completes her degree she aims to come back and serve her community in disease prevention.

“I want to sensitize the community about the causes of these diseases because these are communicable diseases. With public health, it’s better you go out and meet people before you become sick,” she said.

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Matsuura at the Kinawataka site learning about how ROM staff monitor clients’ adherence to their medications.
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Christine Abalo, known affectionately as “Mama Christine,” is one of the longest-serving members of the ROM community. She shows Matsuura and Dr. Nsangi around Acholi Quarters.

ROM staff also led Matsuura to Acholi Quarters, one of the poor urban communities supported by ROM where about 700 of the 9,000 residents are ROM clients. There, a group of HIV-positive women who make and sell beads for a living presented a song to Matsuura about fighting AIDS and empowering children.

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Matsuura introduces herself at the meeting of a group of HIV-positive women beadmakers.

Matsuura also went on a home visit with ROM community health workers to a grandmother who supports 23 grandchildren. She stopped by a village savings and loans meeting, where about 30 members save small amounts of money and take out small loans to reap financial returns at the end of the year. One member had used that money to start a business selling sim-sim, a type of groundnut paste.

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Matsuura at a Village Savings and Loans Association meeting in Acholi Quarters.
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A home visit to one of the grandmothers ROM supports in Acholi Quarters.
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Matsuura interacts with a child and his mother in Acholi Quarters.

Matsuura also heard stories from two other beneficiaries of the JOCS scholarships at ROM.

Pauline Keronya was another beneficiary of JOCS through ROM, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Aga Khan University. She worked as an Outreach Services Supervisor for two years at ROM, supervising the medical clinic to extend outreaches to the Nakawa community. Today, she works with an NGO in Mukono that focuses on primary health care for mothers and children.

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Pauline Keronya and Patrick Kawooya, two other beneficiaries of JOCS.

“It’s a great thing, because at least with my bachelors’ degree, I was able to climb the ladder,” Keronya told Matsuura during her visit.

Keronya was also inspired to pay the school fees for another vulnerable child.

“It touched my heart to help others who are not so close to me,” she said.

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The Japanese donor reviews the diplomas of three beneficiaries of JOCS scholarships.

The final beneficiary to speak was Patrick Kawooya, who pursued a bachelors’ degree in Medical Laboratory from Mbarara University of Science Technology. He now serves as the supervisor of the ROM laboratories, which won an award last year for laboratory supply chain management skills from Medical Access and another award from the National TB Reference Authority.

“I think I’m one of the best, but all that is due to the training I received,” Patrick said.

Reach Out Mbuya expresses sincere gratitude to the thousands of Japanese Christians who have made it possible for these and other staff at ROM to further their education. JOCS has helped enable staff to have the capacity to improve and implement ROM’s holistic care for people infected and affected by HIV. Thank you and may God bless you. 

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Matsuura with the ROM team and beneficiaries of JOCS scholarships in front of the Mbuya site.
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