Five of the Jamies Fund trustees headed for Uganda in mid-September for a Professional Development workshop for 30 Mental Health Staff from our partner hospitals across the country. This was followed by visits to some of our partner hospital. Travel was much easier than it was early last year, when there were the Covid restrictions and requirements to follow. The atmosphere in Uganda generally seemed more buoyant too, and Kampala was bustling (unpleasantly so at times, in the choked traffic!). For the first time since 2017, Avril, the mother of little Jamie who died, came with us, which touched the hearts of many people there.
As trustees, we have been wrestling with the difficult decision of when to close the charity. Our involvement has grown from a partnership with one hospital, to a network of 25 hospitals and Health Centres. We knew that our support was making a significant difference. But as a small group in this corner of the UK, we could not keep the fundraising efforts here, and the support there, going for ever.
We had always hoped that others would step up to take our places in the UK organisation, but that hasn’t happened. So we’ve been working to ensure that our partners had the opportunity to roll out training for staff and community leaders this year, and to strengthen their services. Also, the seven staff we sponsored to train as Psychiatric Clinical Officers will all have qualified by the end of 2023. It was time to talk of handing over to our friends and colleagues in Uganda.
It felt important to be able to share this in person, and to be able to work it out together. It was emotional for all of us. What was really inspiring, was the way in which almost all our Ugandan colleagues responded with a commitment to continue to build on what had been started. Within 12 hours, the staff at the conference had put together a plan for a nationwide mental health network, to support each other and advocate for mental health care.
As we travelled west and east to meet the hospital managers and mental health staff in partner hospitals, that same commitment was repeated in various ways. At Kisiizi Hospital, where Jamie’s Fund had begun, management asked, ‘What should the hospital pick up, as we plan our budgets?’ and Bwindi stated, ‘Mental health now has a big place in our day to day operations. The impact will continue.’
At a hospital near the equator, we met Village Health Team volunteers and recovering patients, who tell people in the villages that mental ill health can be treated. Elsewhere, a newly qualified psychiatric clinical officer took us to her first ever outreach clinic at a ‘nearby’ (it wasn’t!) Health Centre where over 20 people had turned up in the rain because they’d heard her announce the clinic and talk about mental health on local radio. At other hospitals, staff with the basic mental health training were evident in every department.
Finally, the peer-led, volunteer-supported therapeutic community, The Epicentre, which had taken us by surprise last year, surprised us again. They now accommodate nearly 50 people recovering from mental ill health and addictions. They have moved out from the rented building and have built on a nearby piece of land, with space for exercise and activities. It feels peaceful and safe. When people are able, they help out by taking up a role in the centre, such as cook, or receptionist, and contribute a little towards their keep if they can. The Archbishop and the District Health Officer, as well as the nearby hospital, support them with donations of food, funds, transport and medication. Everyone – including the Archbishop – is turning out for a parade through town on World Mental Health Day to challenge stigma and promote a positive message about mental health!
Once we have met all our existing commitments, the charity will formally close at the end of 2023, but I don’t think we will be allowed to lose touch with our friends and former partners in Uganda … nor would we wish to!