Three weeks in Uganda builds a lifetime of memories for Judy Beaudoin

Former Estacada School nurse volunteers in Uganda in what seems to be a hopeless situation for many
by: contributed photos Judy Beaudoin of Estacada (blond hair with sunglasses) gathers with friends after a meal at a refugee farm in Uganda.

As a nurse, longtime Estacada resident Judy Beaudoin often sees the fruits of her labor in either providing direct patient care or setting up sustainable health services.

But when she took her work to the beleaguered African country of Uganda earlier this year, she took a leap of faith in doing work that had no guaranteed positive outcome in a situation that often seemed hopeless.

In January, Beaudoin joined Sustainable Health Abroad in its third trip to Uganda with a mission to strengthen an already strong relationship between Ugandan groups and American volunteers as well as provide sustainable health education. This work included following up on the group's previous years' projects by installing mosquito nets, building a latrine and teaching classes on sanitation, clean water, nutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS, dental hygiene and healthy parenting.

After arriving in the country, the group of American volunteer health professionals traveled from the country's capital, Kampala, to a refugee farm set up for families fleeing the war in northern Uganda, as well as several orphanages that house children with HIV/AIDS and children without parents.

Beaudoin previously worked and traveled in Third World countries, had a good idea of what to expect when she first arrived to Uganda and has faced the woes of its citizens firsthand. What she didn't expect was the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that Ugandans face on a daily basis.

'I wasn't expecting it to feel so hopeless,' Beaudoin said in an interview last week from her home near Eagle Creek. 'I am not sure I feel like the problems in Africa will ever be solved. Not to say we shouldn't keep trying, though.'

Going abroad again

You might say Beaudoin has seen it all as a dedicated nurse. She spent 16 'wonderful' years as the Estacada School District's nurse, setting up health services for kids in the district, teaching staff first aid and CPR.

When their two kids graduated in 1998 and in 2000, Beaudoin and her husband, Kim, decided to do what a lot of college graduates do, and they joined the Peace Corps. The two found themselves on a remote set of islands deep in the South Pacific in the Republic of Vanuatu.

Because the Peace Corps doesn't traditionally have nursing positions, the Beaudoins found themselves in a very rural community teaching English, first aid and math to island villagers. As Peace Corps volunteers, the two lived out in the middle of nowhere without electricity and running water, working to better the community's education. (You may have read Judy's journals in the Estacada News during their visit.)

'It was hard and a rough place to live,' she said. 'We were the first white people in their village ever. They were so honored and appreciative to have us there, it completely fed our need to do meaningful work.'

When the two returned to Estacada, they were able to secure a loan to build their dream home on the Clackamas River, and Beaudoin landed a nursing job at Kaiser Sunnyside Hospital in Clackamas. Truth be told, she planned to work there for only a year and then wanted to go back into working with public health. But with good pay, 'wonderful people' and a work schedule she loves, Beaudoin decided to continue working at the hospital.

One of the nurses Beaudoin works with graduated from Linfield College, which has a strong world outreach program where nurses travel abroad, mostly to Africa, to get a world vision of nursing. Beaudoin supported the group by donating money to their previous trips to Africa. But this time, there was an opening, and Beaudoin decided to jump in and take her work to Uganda last January.

Rewarding, yet perplexing work

After getting the needed three weeks off work, collecting donations and paying for airfare, Beaudoin found herself in a group of eight volunteers - seven nurses and one dental hygienist - in Kampala, from where the group set off on its three-week journey to help provide sustainable health education to Ugandans.

The group returned to two sites it had previously worked at, including the Caanan Farm, a privately developed safe haven for families/victims fleeing form the violence of the war in northern Uganda. While the war has been over for years now, many of the war's violent effects, including children who became soldiers, are still felt.

Beaudoin said the Caanan farm was exceptional in many ways, but especially in one: It is a safe place for both families and victims of violence as well as many of the child soldiers who were perpetrators of much of the violence. Here they work and live together and have reconciled in peace and unity.

'I am a mother, you know,' Beaudoin said. 'I hate it when I see children suffering. I don't think these kids will ever escape the damage that's been done to them. The women and children I talked to and held, I felt like, 'How is their life ever going to be measurably better?''

The group did what they could to make it better. The dental hygienist helped nearly 20 people a day by cleaning teeth and taking care of any problems as best as possible.

'In Uganda, you have a man who will pull your teeth out with pliers,' she said. 'That's dental care.'

All of the dental-care equipment was left behind, and the hygienist taught another man to perform some of the dental work. She also documented a lot of the problems the Ugandans were having, so next year the group can bring a dentist to fix a lot of those oral ailments that didn't get solved this trip.

The group was able to learn Swahili and Acholi (the language spoken in the north and by those relocated in the Caanan Farm area), but almost all of the group's health lessons were translated into both languages as they spoke.

'The nurses themselves built on the work that had previously been done, like working on malaria prevention, distributing mosquito nets to orphanages and teaching them how to live better and cleaner,' Beaudoin said. 'We took money and bought bricks to build a latrine, which was really necessary.'

The group traveled to several orphanages that house children with HIV/AIDs and other children whose parents have died.

'The biggest challenge was making sure you were doing something that was meaningful,' she said. 'There is so much need and everybody knows you are there to help them. How do you choose? If I am teaching something to somebody, it is rewarding at every level. It is rewarding at the same time that it is perplexing. You hope the work you are doing is going to have a lasting impact and you don't always get to see the results.'

And while Beaudoin believes the work the group accomplished and continues to accomplish in Uganda is having positive effects, her return back to Estacada made her realize how lucky most Americans are in their way of life.

'People can get so complacent and petty about the policies of their job, their hours are too long, or something like that,' she said. 'We are so lucky. I was renewed in that sense when I returned.'