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Notes from a Solar Ambassador – Merritt Gates

On Monday morning, I woke up early in Kalulu house, crawling out from under my mosquito net, greeted by the calming sound of straw brooms sweeping the dirt compound.  One of the interns of Safe Mothers, Safe Babies (SAFE) – Anna- had already put a pot of water on the kerosene stove for coffee.  We piled in the hired car and drove 40 minutes on a bicycle path past beautiful mud-brick homes, rising corn stalks, banana trees, and children waving, screaming, “Jambo! Jambo!”  On the main paved road we were able to rendez-vous with two men from Kissito Healthcare International – Uthman and Johnson.  They had been my students the week before in a two-day Solar Suitcase training, organized for the Music For Relief program that has brought 50 Solar Suitcases to Uganda.  Our expanded group continued past the crossroads to Makuutu Health Center.  Last November, I had the wonderful opportunity to be an apprentice in solar installation with a friend – a fellow Solar Ambassador- down in Mexico.  But, this was my first Solar Suitcase installation for We Care Solar.  Safe Mothers, Safe Babies (SAFE) had decided months ago that Makuutu Health Center would be a great place for a Solar Suitcase deployment. Makuutu didn’t have electricity but it still provided antenatal and maternal health care- even at night.  As we drove up to the health center, there were hundreds of pregnant women sitting on the steps of the clinic waiting to be seen for their antenatal visit.

Together with Medie (the program manager of SAFE), Uthman, Johnson and I circled around the health center deciding where the solar panels should be mounted. We considered the path of the sun, the reach of the shadows, and the location of the delivery room before choosing the best spot.  I asked a woman in a shiny red dress, “Sister, can you please hold the ladder?”  Deciding on the spot we scaled the corrugated metal roof, being very careful to step only on crossbeams.  Uthman and Johnson came to this site to practice rooftop installations, so I kept my hands off the tools, adding tips only when they needed them.  Occasionally we would need something from the ground, so I would yell out, “Sister! Can you please come hold the ladder?”

After finishing the rooftop installation, we went past scores of pregnant women to reach the delivery room in order to permanently mount the Solar Suitcase to the wall and hang the new medical lights.  Since it was an antenatal care day, the staff was already using the fetal Doppler that comes with the Solar Suitcase. Jacquie Cutts of SAFE was showing the midwives how to locate the fetal heartbeat on each pregnant women who had come for care.  Uthman and Johnson meticulously hung the lights.

After the installation was finished, in the Lusuogo language, Uthman taught the Village Health Team and nurses how the Solar Suitcase worked while the midwives continued examining patients.  Jacquie then trained the midwives in the use of the Suitcase after they had finished up with their seemingly endless stream of patients.

Tired and satisfied from the installation at Makuutu Health Center, we drove the red dirt road as the sun was setting, heading back to the crossroads, leaving light in the space of darkness.


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