PallCHASE Impact Story, World Refugee Day, 20th June 2023.
Written by Hannah Ikong.
When I hear “Nyumanzi Health centre,” I think of Phillip Amol Kuol, who works there as a translator and community health advocate. Phillip also has joined the Village Health Teams (VHTs), a government-established group linking the community of Ugandans and South Sudanese to the local health centres. Phillip lives nearby with just one relative, in an area marked with wide, open skies, often dry vegetation, and hand-built homes of natural materials, which are common in Adjumani district.
Adjumani district is in Northwestern Uganda, close to South Sudan, which was Phillip’s home until 2013. Phillip told us the story of his journey to safety in Uganda. “It was a long way to run because the fighting started at night, at Bor town,” he explained, “and people started running in the darkness. And where we started running it was the river point actually; people were just swimming, looking for a way to escape the bullets … We struggled coming to this side of Juba and then started moving towards Uganda where we settle at Nyumanzi.”
Encounter with palliative care
While Phillip was working as a translator at Nyumanzi Health centre, he encountered palliative care. He first met Vicky Opia, a palliative care nurse and executive director of Peace Hospice, and then later the staff of the Mulago Palliative Care Unit and Cairdeas International Palliative Care Trust (Cairdeas IPCT). As a VHT, he joined a palliative care training from these organisations in 2019. He shared that he put the palliative care into practice from ‘day one,’ and so he was able to identify, refer, and provide basic support to patients with palliative care needs. One of such patients was an elderly ‘Mzee’ (gentleman) who lived with his son.
Phillip brought medicine while he counselled, encouraged, and prayed with both the Mzee and his son. Initially the son did not know how to nor want to tend to his father, but with Phillip’s guidance, he became an active carer for Mzee. Phillip then told me about his last visit with them both, and he recalls that Mzee was smiling, laughing, and chatting. “It was around 6 in the evening when the son was taking him inside,” he narrated. “He told the son, ‘My son, I never know when I am going to die. So take this goat … you pick it when I die and you slaughter it, the people who are going to bury me are the ones going to eat that goat.’” Little did anyone know that within the same night, the Mzee would pass away. With Phillip’s holistic approach to palliative care, the Mzee had a good end of life and peaceful death. “When you take care of someone very well,” Phillip concluded, “the person will leave you with his blessings and die comfortably.”
Cairdeas IPCT scholarship
Later, Phillip received a Cairdeas IPCT scholarship to study social work, as well as social administration and community health. He cites the palliative care trainings as a VHT that have encouraged him in social work, with an emphasis on the heart of the social worker (or carer) to stand together with those in their suffering. As a refugee, Phillip is well acquainted with suffering like many others have in the Nyumanzi community. As he draws closer to finishing his studies a social worker, he both feels and sees the great need of counselling, education, and the open sharing of ideas in such areas as his own. These needs further compel him to do social work and to pursue higher education to better serve those around him.
Hopes of being an international social worker
When I asked Phillip whether he wanted to work more with South Sudanese refugees (like himself), he replied yes, and even more; in time, he wants to be an international social worker. He looks forward to collaborating with other social workers and change agents, including the palliative care units and other healthcare teams, to reach more people. After he described his dreams and what he hopes to achieve in his community and other places, I remarked that, “Sounds like your dream is about making the world a better place,” and Phillip could not agree more. “Social work needs commitment, it needs a lot of time, and it needs that kind heart and good heart to sacrifice yourself,” Phillip told me. “And I am ready to sacrifice myself for that.”