Travel delves much deeper than simple relaxation or pleasure, it can mean changing your perspective, or impacting the lives of others. Elizabeth Rowley, the head of T1International, an organization that fights for the rights of those with type 1 diabetes, traveled to Uganda not long ago.
She was appointed to share the organization’s tools for helping type 1 diabetics gain access to life sustaining insulin and other vital supplies. Sharing the passion to fight for their rights, Elizabeth connected with residents, and a completely different culture. This is what she had to say about the experience.
What inspired you to travel to Uganda?
As the Founder and Director of a charity (non-profit) called T1International, I was invited to go to Kampala and Gulu, Uganda to provide advocacy training to young people living with type 1 diabetes at a Camp Waromo run by the Sonia Nabeta Foundation (SNF).
T1International created an advocacy toolkit to help people improve their access to insulin and diabetes supplies around the world, and after discussing the toolkit with SNF, we agreed that it would be ideal to have the chance to really work through the contents of the toolkit and create an action plan with the young advocates. A few months later, I was on a plane headed to Entebbe, Uganda.
What was your impression when you first disembarked the plane?
I was pretty exhausted at the time, but caught some glimpses of beautiful green scenery out of the window before we landed. Entebbe is right near the coast so there is usually a lovely breeze. As we got closer and closer to the city of Kampala, traffic increased and lots of honking ensued!
Where did you stay?
Most of our time in Uganda was spent in Gulu, which is about a 6 or 7 hour drive north of Kampala. We stayed in a hotel near the boarding school where the diabetes camp was held.
What did you eat?
As someone with type 1 diabetes who tries to eat a lower carbohydrate diet, the food in Uganda made low-carb very difficult. Meals were very heavy in starch with lots of rice, chapatti (a type of unleavened flatbread), ugali (a stiff maize porridge) or matoke (a cooked plantain mash). They also served chicken, fish, and beans. The chapatti was definitely my favorite.
Can you talk a little about the people and moments or connections you had with them?
My experience was unique because I was surrounded by people living with diabetes. I have travelled quite a bit and it always amazes me how easily people with type 1 diabetes can relate to each other. No matter what our background or culture is, we can find some strong things in common. I particularly connected with a boy named Gadhafi when we shared our diagnosis stories with each other.
Were there any moments of your trip that stood out more than others?
SNF did a fantastic job with the camp and facilitated useful sessions. There were a variety of education and recreational actives for the campers to participate in, including a visit to a national park with sightings of countless giraffes, plus hippos and elephants in the wild!
We spent most of our time at the camp but also enjoyed an afternoon exploring Gulu. We stopped by the hospital and university, to see what the facilities were like, and explored the marketplace, taking in our surroundings. It was wonderful to see the colourful and diverse market stalls with everything from clothing, to fruits and vegetables, to dried fish, to live chickens!
What was the most rewarding part?
I had the chance to talk to all 53 campers about advocacy. I also facilitated two sessions with the eight Camp Waromo counsellors about their advocacy plan of action. Together we picked a goal and talked through collecting data and taking action. The goal: get the government to provide one syringe per day to people with type 1 diabetes by the end of the year. Knowing that these young people are ready to advocate to improve their lives, and that they now have the tools to do so, was incredibly rewarding.
What would you tell someone who may decide to travel to Uganda?
Do your research and, whenever possible, travel with someone local or someone who has a good understanding of the location. It is not only safer, but it allows you have a more authentic experience where you can learn more details about the local people and culture. Take any opportunity you can to see as many parts of the country or area you are visiting so that you get the full experience.