SUSAN AMARIAT’s parents hail from Kumi district in eastern Uganda, but made their home a little south, in Mbale. Her father was a specialist in livestock and her mum a counsellor. Susan trained as a nurse in Lira district and worked with HIV/AIDS care organizations before joining IOM.
One day, Susan was at her parents’ home in Mbale – about four hours’ drive from the Ugandan capital Kampala – when a white vehicle cruised by, leaving its inscription “IOM” in her mind. What’s IOM, she wondered. Barely a year later, Nurse Susan, at her home in Kampala, was on the phone receiving the “wonderful” news from IOM human resource staff, that she had been hired. She has just made three years at IOM. When we meet, Susan is the migration health nurse in Kyangwali refugee settlement in southwestern Uganda. This morning she is meeting about a dozen refugees explaining the medical procedures they will undergo before being relocated to Kampala en route to their resettlement to the United States of America. With her husband David away for studies, Susan looks to her seven-month-old first daughter, Genesis, for her daily dose of pleasure. That is, besides the sheer pleasure of working with the community. Here is Susan’s story in her own words:
I had always wanted to work with in community health. Before joining IOM, I had worked with The Aids Support Organization (TASO) and Mild-May Uganda in hospital settings; but my heart was more in community nursing, and that is why I did a course in community health with AMREF and Moi University in Nairobi. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, but still with nursing I am the happiest because with us, it is a calling from God. We are called to serve the sick, the vulnerable populations.
When I joined IOM in July 2016, I spent about two months in Kampala before reporting to my duty station here and we were given people to mentor us on everything we were supposed to be doing.
Here, I am in charge of the migration health clinic and one of the most important roles is the pre-departure medical surveillance (PDMS). This involves screening refugees scheduled for resettlement and we screen for different conditions. The idea is that if people are migrating to another country, they should be fit to travel and not go with any condition that we should have detected and managed here. That way we help to keep migration safe. I also carry out, vaccination for departing refugees, follow-up of chronic cases such as hypertension and diabetes, and where necessary, I offer psychosocial counselling, manage the drug stock in our clinic, and administer treatment. If a refugee is being considered for resettlement and the medical assessment finds that he/she has a treatable condition such as TB, I carry out We have to make sure that the applicant with TB has adhered, completed and cured before the person can be allowed to travel. So, my morning starts with Direct Observed Treatments (DOTS) giving out medication and supplementary foods for instance to applicants who were diagnosed with TB. We give the supplementary foods to help the patients cope with the drugs because some of these medicines are very strong, whereby without good feeding, they could have adverse effects on the body.
Everything I do here is in consultation with the doctors and other senior colleagues at the IOM Country Office in Kampala. For clinical purposes, if there is any case that I cannot handle, I have to refer it to Kituti, which is now the district referral hospital under the new district of Kikuube. Previously referrals were sent to Hoima district, which is some 90 kilometres from here.
Every Tuesday I attend health coordination meetings with other organizations.
IOM gives me at least two hours every day for breast-feeding my baby, which is very helpful. But at times I have too many clients to serve and I can’t take all of them. So I have to find a way to balance these two roles because when you have this calling to serve the vulnerable, you can’t be comfortable leaving them waiting for a long time.
WHAT I LOVE MOST
The appreciation and positive feedback from the refugees that I serve makes me happy. At present I have a challenge of one applicant whose travel has been cancelled on medical grounds. He is disappointed, of course, but I believe we shall smile and it will make me very happy to see that this applicant has been booked and he departs for settlement. When they come with challenges and I support them and they go back when they are happy. Or if I have treated such an ailment and the person is declared free from the disease, I know, ‘yes, I have done my job’. Because when they first come, they have a lot of needs, they have gone through a lot, and they have a lot of expectations. But for the most part all I have are my nursing skills, some medication, and my counselling skills. I have to talk to them and convince them that there is hope, and get them to adhere to the necessary treatment routines.
Outside the clinic, when I go back to my residence and get my baby smiling, it makes me very happy. When I see her smile, I am the happiest mother.
Then also the team work we have the colleagues in Kampala means you can overcome any challenges at field level. Because whatever challenge you have, you know that you can count on your colleagues for support.
One challenge, of course, is the distance from here to home and the separation from other family members. But that is work; and if at the end of the day I am happy with my work and I am able to support my family, it is very much worth it.
* Susan Amariat spoke to Richard M Kavuma.
* Susan has since been transferred to Kampala.
* For more information, please contact IOM Uganda Public Information Officer, Richard M Kavuma. Email: [email protected] Tel +256 312 263 210. MOB: +256 772 709 917 / 700 646 403;