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May 2019 report - Extracts from Alan Clegg's report on his recent visit to Acheru
Report from the Anniversary celebrations:
Alan Clegg, who worked for some years at Besaniya and oversaw the development of Cherub, sent the following report on his visit to Uganda for the tenth anniversary celebrations:
"It is thirty years since I first set foot on African soil and much has changed. There is now a brand new highway which feeds onto the new Northern Bypass, but any illusions you might have about the traffic situation having improved are well and truly shattered. It is the same old situation of taxis everywhere. Mix that with all the other traffic chaos and you have what could be called Crazy Kampala. The boda boda motorcycles seem completely undisciplined and ruthless.
On our way to Kabembe our vehicle stopped in the middle of the road and we pushed it into a nearby service station. It had run out of diesel and was not easy to restart. After another 10km it began to splutter and we free wheeled into another service station. It turned out the driver had just put in about a litre of fuel in the hope that the next filling station might be a little cheaper.
Eventually we reached Acheru after two hours negotiating traffic, to be met by Margaret, the matron/housekeeper. There's an expectation that instant communication is available no matter where we travel. Unfortunately I have become part of this culture so my first question was 'do you have internet'? Soon there were three 'experts' trying their best to get me up and running on the internet, and there was an attempt to get the television working, but it was discovered that the 'three bananas' were missing. It took me a while to realise this refers to the three headed cable which connects the TV to the decoder. When this was located a few days later it was then discovered that the fee for the television hadn't been paid, so I told them to just leave it as I wasn't that interested in Japanese soapies or Pentecostal preaching anyway.
So here I am back in Uganda, my spiritual home. Most people I know who have spent time in Africa always want to come back. Acheru developed from Cherub, which was originally set up at Besaniya and functioned very effectively until it became difficult to work with the Church of Uganda. It was decided to relocate to land purchased at Kabembe, that was ten years ago and occasion for celebration. I have visited there twice since it opened, once when it was just starting to function and again for the official opening in 2011. A lot has happened in the meantime, thousands of patients have been treated which is quite extraordinary considering the size of the operation. It is an effective means of outreach as the family will probably have taken the child to 'traditional' healers or witch doctors before coming to Acheru, with more harm than good resulting, but at Acheru a disabled child is successfully treated, speaking volumes for the work there and also God's benevolence and goodness.
Some of the most common conditions treated are osteomyelitis, post injection paralysis, club foot, cleft lip/palate, and post burns contractures. There is also a community outreach with staff travelling into the villages to speak about health care and personal hygiene and what to do if someone has an injury or disability. The situation is improving, but this has to be the main component of the programme in the future. It makes me sad and angry to see so many ailments which are preventable being presented at Acheru. Children who have been to some of the main hospitals may be passed on to Acheru because the staff there have the time and the empathy to attend to them in a sympathetic manner.
The aim twenty years ago with Cherub was to set up a facility where young people with disabilities could receive treatment such as post operative care for infected wounds, correction of deformities, and physiotherapy. Parents could be trained in treating or preventing many conditions. So now, almost twenty years later, what has changed?
One of Cherub's first osteomyelitis patients was so neglected he was there for almost a year. Currently there is a young man in Acheru with the same neglected condition, treated for nine months already and he will be there for a long time yet. So is there still a need for a facility such as Acheru? The answer should be no, because in that length of time one would have expected other similar institutions to come on board, but that does not seem to have happened. Osteomyelitis is an infection caused by a wound which has not been properly cared for. This is an old story, it needn't happen, but it does happen. In my opinion nothing has changed in this regard in the last twenty years, and this is where the problem lies. It is easy for a person coming from a developed part of the world to question the need for Acheru. Most of the ailments are preventable, even birth defects such as club foot, cerebral palsy etc can be dealt with so much better with early intervention, and education is the key. Acheru can have a major role in prevention in the future and this is the direction in which it should be going.
The key to this is to reduce the number of surgical cases by handing them over to one of the other facilities now developing. If this could be achieved it would release some Acheru money so that there could be emphasis on education in the villages, reducing the number of surgical cases presenting. Another big saving would be the amount of time spent in the heavy traffic moving patients around. Running an education programme costs money, but it may be more effective in the long run.
The ultimate success is the 'Acheru Smile'. Part of its success lies in the fact that it is focused on the holistic treatment of the patients, not just treating wounds or disabilities but looking after the individual as a person, and this includes the family. This holistic approach includes the Christian ethos, work ethic, and family atmosphere, including the small Acheru school. There are not many other places which offer these invaluable facilities, so this has to be measured against any changes which may take place.
The main components of a party or celebration in Uganda are food, speeches, music, singing, praising God, and birthday cakes, and the Acheru anniversary celebrations were no different. Preparations started some time beforehand. First there was production of the anniversary magazine; reading it brought to mind the building of Cherub when I was asked 'do you think it will ever be full'? The celebrations started with a sponsored walk, accompanied by a band, through Kabembe village. It was amazing to see all the kids taking part with their crutches, wheelchairs, Ilizarov frames, fixators, plaster casts, and bandages. This was followed by speeches and dancing and more speeches, then a speech from a government minister, followed by lots of food.
When Cherub was started, children were happy and there were many smiles there. Looking through the Acheru magazine and from what I saw for myself, there are still many smiles. The emphasis always has been on a caring Christian atmosphere. The publication of the magazine was a major achievement for a team whose first language was not English."
The above is an extract from Alan's report. He had many other comments and observations on staffing, facilities, development etc. He also visited the old Besaniya Children's home, and caught up with some of the children he knew during his years there. We will be taking his observations into account as we prepare for the future. We still have a few Acheru magazines, so please ask if you would like one.

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