UMSL student Sam Mugaya is a junior studying nursing who was inspired to help others by experiences in his native Uganda. Photo courtesy of Sam Mugaya.
 

By: Anya Glushko

Assistant News Editor

Most of us have reliable access to resources such as food and pure running water. We often take luxuries like cell phones, cable and internet for granted. Many people cannot even go a day without missing an episode of their favorite TV show. Can you imagine getting away from the America’s “concrete jungle” and its web of fast-food restaurants and living in conditions where the sophisticated appliances of “civilization” are scarce? In countries such as Uganda, this can be a part of people’s everyday routine.

 

A Ugandian woman is cooking a meal for the orphans, Photo by Sam Mugaya.

Samuel Mugaya, junior, nursing, comes from a poverty-stricken family in Uganda. He grew up in an environment where access to water and food was limited. Mugaya’s whole village was dependent on a small spring well that would almost evaporate during the dry season.

According to the www.africa.ufl.edu, even in the urban areas of Uganda where water purification tends to be more effective, only 59 percent of the population reported having access to a clean water source.

During his childhood, Mugaya saw many burials but he did not realize what caused people to die until his adolescent years. When his friend’s mother passed away due to high blood pressure after being misdiagnosed and neglected, he watched that friend become an orphan.

After graduating from Iganga High School, Mugaya faced financial hardships in funding his higher education. He was barely surviving — missing meals, walking long distances in search of water, and living in a beat-up shack made of water, mud, and grass.

However, Mugaya said that the majority of Ugandans earn less than a dollar per day and that his case was not the worst. He became a volunteer at Kiboga District Health Services. His responsibility was to inform the community about the importance of hygiene, immunization, and nutrition.

Only a small percentage of Uganda’s population is aware of the reality of disease prevention.

Many people are not aware how [HIV] is spread,” Mugaya said. “They seek the treatment too late because of their limited education on the subject.”

As he progressed through life, Mugaya saw many people suffering from different illnesses—children born with HIV, severe cases of malaria, and fungal infections. “Some came with infected wounds in the head…all over the skin, children bleeding,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

One day at a community meeting, Mugaya realized that the majority of those attending were children. He later found out that most of the adult population was dead and that those children were household heads. “I thought that I was suffering and then I realized that I was not,” he said.

HIV and AIDS hit Uganda in the early ’80s, catching thousands of people off-guard and claiming many lives due to initial misdiagnosis. By the time the country woke up, the disease had drastically spread.

Africa holds more than half of the world’s HIV-positive youths. In hyper-endemic regions, at least one out of ten young people are infected, according to the www.unicef.org.

I felt like somebody needed to do something, and that somebody had to be me,” Mugaya said.

Mugaya mobilized youths in his community and his church and started to raise funds through music. He and six orphans recorded CDs and performed in Uganda. His villagers also helped him by selling goats, chickens, and other goods.

To help stop the suffering of children and adults living with HIV, Mugaya started a program called Care for Orphans and Community Development. It is a non-profit organization focused on improving the lives of orphans, at-risk children, and people living with immune deficiencies.

Mugaya hopes to establish a medical facility and help improve Uganda’s health care system. “A candle loses nothing from lighting another candle,” he said. He is working on getting his bachelor’s degree to perfect his medical knowledge and skills. He is also planning a medical mission trip to Uganda in the summer of 2013 and is looking for volunteers from America.

“There is nothing impossible, given the combination of determination and passion for one’s goals, “Mugaya said. “Teamwork is a key virtue to the attainment of such goals in life.”