Tell us about the medical clinic that you’ve been running in Uganda.
Chris – A local pastor, David Rapp, was taking groups of teenagers from Southern Oregon from all walks of life on mission trips to East Africa. Our two children, Lauren and Austin, went on the trip with Pastor Dave in 2011. They returned frustrated by how little they could do to address the poverty they saw on their mission trip. Our kids knew that if Lorie and I could go to Uganda we could address some of the medical needs. So, they convinced us to take a family vacation to East Africa to go on a safari. And…. we would stop by the children’s home they served on their mission to conduct a one-day medical clinic with the children. We had no intention of starting medical clinics or building a school or anything in Uganda. We went to Uganda and fell in love with the people and the opportunity to help. I think all of us want to serve. All of us want to change the world and make it better.
After a few more trips, we formed the Amahoro Children’s Community Team (ACCT) as a nonprofit to help us accomplish our service mission. The ACCT has graduated from doing spontaneous medical clinics outside under the shade of a tree to doing clinics in churches with partitioned exam rooms. These clinics have a pharmacy, a lab, an eye examination area and even radiology. So, now we have a full-service clinic.
How many years have you been doing clinics and how to you staff them?
Lorie – Chris and I went on our first trip in 2013. Initially our clinics were staffed by American doctors, nurses, and some volunteers that went with us. We met a Ugandan doctor, Dr. Franklin, and once we started working with him, we would combine our nurses, doctors, and volunteers with his Ugandan doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and lab techs. That way the ACCT is able to see 400 to 500 people a day at our clinic.
What is at the core of your work?
Lorie – The ACCT is a service organization. Many people, when they are first involved think, “Oh, this is great. You’re teaching the Ugandans all these things. You’re teaching them about God.” Actually, the Ugandans already have a deep understanding about God. Their church services are incredibly emotional and uplifting. When we first started our service trips, we were giving something to the people of Uganda. Then we shifted to doing things for the people, like planting mango trees. More recently we’re working with people, holding clinics by partnering with Ugandan medical professionals. The key to success is to really work with people.
How did two doctors get involved with a school for orphaned children?
Chris – We didn’t do it alone. We partnered with people in the U.S. and Uganda to make it possible. I’m a doctor and as a doctor, that’s kind of all I know. One of the keys to be a successful doctor, and maybe a key to being successful at anything, is knowing your strengths and your limitations. We did not intend to build a school. A director of children’s homes in Uganda, Caleb Rukundo, came to us and asked the ACCT to help them finish building a primary school. A group from Minnesota had given Caleb’s children’s home $50,000 to acquire property. They purchased the land and put up walls but didn’t have enough money to finish a roof over the school. We shared that need with people in Southern Oregon, raised money, and the school was finished in about five months.
What age groups does the school serve?
Chris – Kindergarten through seventh grade. There are about 300 kids at the school. These young people might not be going to school otherwise, since Uganda does not have free public school. The ACCT is raising money to help keep orphaned and abandoned kids fed and housed and to help them go to school. Having this school makes everything more sustainable. Kids from the children’s homes and kids who live with their families in the village can attend the school, but only the orphaned and abandoned children attend for free. This way, the school brings in enough money to sustain the orphans’ homes. This model was developed by Caleb Rukundo the Ugandan director of children’s homes. He grew up homeless and has a gigantic heart for these kids. We are so thankful to local groups that gave seed money to start the school.
Now, we’re working on bringing electricity to the school. Electricity in the school will allow us to get computers. Unfortunately, this project has been stalled. There’s been a locust infestation this year in East Africa and now with the coronavirus pandemic we, may need to raise money for food rather than electricity.
Why have you determined that women’s health should be a focus?
Lorie – We initially focused on children in orphan homes. Many have been abandoned when they were babies. We started to think more about how we could intervene early and prevent these kids from becoming street kids and to help build a healthy family for them.
Chris – We have to allow women to have healthy pregnancies and healthy deliveries. We have to allow women to have their own reproductive choices. We can’t continue to say, “You need to lift yourself out of poverty, but you have to have 12 kids.” It doesn’t work.
Doctor Franklin seems to be a key figure in making this all happen. Tell us about him.
Chris – Some people say, “God doesn’t have accidents, things happen for a reason.” When we complete our service, we finish with a brief safari. Dr. Franklin happened to be our safari guide. “You guys are medical?” and we said, “Yeah.” Then he said, “Yeah, I’m a doctor too”. At first, we didn’t know whether to believe him, but Franklin is not only a doctor, but an outstanding doctor, very well trained. He could make more money as a safari guide than as a doctor in Uganda. He’s the one with the vision and the connections. His dad was Minister of Education under Idi Amin. Dr. Franklin is very savvy, he understands the politics of education, the politics of healthcare, and the politics of transforming a country. Dr. Franklin had a vision for how to make the medical clinic self-sustaining. Our medical clinic charges those who have the financial wherewithal and provides free care to the others. Both Dr. Franklin and Caleb Rukundo, with the children’s home, are extraordinary leaders. They are working to make Uganda a better place.
What’s your inspiration?
Chris – I think we all want to make Jackson County, Oregon, the United States, or the world, a better place. When it comes down to it, when we leave this world, that’s what we’d like to leave. That is the inspiration. Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation is inspiration. Father Gregory Boyle is inspiration. Father Boyle spoke in Ashland a year ago about his work to make the world a better place. I knew he was on the right track and was inspired by him.
What do participants say about how the trip has impacted them?
Lorie – It changes lives. People say, “Wow, that really opened my eyes to what is really going on”.
Chris – I promise everybody, when they go that it will change their life. They all look at me like, “Uh-huh,” and I say, “Profoundly change your life. You will not be the same person.” One of my patients said, “I never understood when I came to your office, you had pictures of Ugandan people on the wall. Now I have pictures of Ugandan people on my walls.” When you see suffering, when you see humanity, when you see need; it forces you to be more generous, more compassionate, and more focused.
What do you see in the next 10 years for your Ugandan mission?
Lorie – There is a lot of interest in family planning. A lot of women in Uganda spend their whole adult life pregnant or breastfeeding. Their children, because they’re so close together, don’t get a healthy start. The mortality for children under age five is really, really high. And maternal mortality is really high too.
We’re hoping to raise money to build a permanent clinic, a physical structure where we can provide medical equipment for young families who can’t afford care. We help local physicians provide medical services to neighboring communities. We’ve also been working to get an ambulance.
Is Uganda going to be a permanent part of your lives?
Lorie – I think so, a forever part.
Shifting to Southern Oregon, how have you seen medical care in the Rogue Valley change?
Chris – We’ve practiced medicine in Southern Oregon for almost 31 years. Medicine has changed a lot in the Rogue Valley, but a lot has stayed the same. We still have some social inequity. We still have people who don’t have healthcare. The Oregon Health Plan has done a lot to fix that, but some people don’t know how to navigate the system to get coverage. We still have people in the Valley who are hungry. The Valley is richer and more prosperous than I’ve ever seen, yet we still have people with very little. We have a long way to go, equity-wise, even in Southern Oregon.
What do you like about living in Southern Oregon?
Lorie – I like the people here. I like the size of the community. I find going to a big city; San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, fun and exciting for a couple of days, and then, I can’t wait to get back to the Rogue Valley.
Chris – We are at an interface of urban and rural. We can jump on a plane and be in a city in 45 minutes. Yet we can be in the mountains at a lake or a stream in 45 minutes or less. What I like about Southern Oregon is our ability to be with nature, our ability to have a nice space between ourselves and our friends without feeling stacked on top of each other. I think we have a prosperous community, so most people feel there’s hope and there are jobs. There’s a lot to like about Southern Oregon.
If you could wave your magic stethoscope, what would you like to improve in Southern Oregon?
Chris – I would like to see Asante and Providence Hospitals work together better: to share specialties, to share beds in the hospital, to share testing. We’re duplicating a lot right now. It would save the Valley an enormous amount of money. We’ve made inroads from time to time only to have step-backs.
Is there a message that is important to share?
Chris – I think people underestimate the value of service. Father Gregory Boyle said every time he helps people, he has feelings of guilt, because they’re helping him more than he could possibly help them. When you really give of your heart, it comes back 10 times what you give. You don’t have to get involved with our mission in Uganda but, get involved in something. Make the world a better place. Help others and it’ll lift you up higher than you’ve been lifted before.