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Latifah Kiribedda '12 works to build health center in Uganda

Bundondo residents outside the Suubi Health Center, currently under construction
Bundondo residents outside the Suubi Health Center, currently under construction
Photo by Hunter Holder.

Latifah Kiribedda '12When Latifah Kiribedda graduated with a degree in public health in spring 2012 and left St. Kate’s, she knew she wanted to make a difference, and she knew where some of the greatest need was. A native of Uganda, she knew her calling was to work in Africa.

Kiribedda (pictured, right) completed a public health internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The government agency works to end extreme poverty all over the world, and has a large presence in Africa, where three of four people still live in poverty. Kiribedda was assigned to work with three districts — the equivalent of counties in the U.S. — where she worked on coordinating health services.

She admits that she was frustrated at times, seeing that there was a large amount of aid that wasn’t being used in the best ways. Some areas received more aid than necessary, while others went without. Some areas received different types of help than they really needed. Many countries, including the U.S., were sending help in a variety of forms, but the aid efforts were not being coordinated in the most efficient manner. Kiribedda saw that the ministers of health were not as involved in the process as they needed to be.

Margaret Dexheimer Pharris, associate dean for nursing programs at St. Kate’s, says “Latifah did an impressive job navigating through a very complex and male-dominated political system. She could see that the ministers of health needed to drive the aid efforts. That’s the story. She’s doing impressive work at a young age.”

As a way to prepare to make an even bigger impact in her work, Kiribedda became involved with the Mama Hope organization. Mama Hope is a non-profit that helps aid workers learn the skills necessary to be effective advocates. Mama Hope uses the Connected Development Model: listen to local communities, connect funds through awareness and enable sustainable projects. The organization believes there is no one-size-fits-all solution to poverty, and that listening to the people in local communities to hear what their needs are is the critical first step.

One of the things that drew Kiribedda to the Mama Hope organization is that they don’t play on pity to draw attention their projects. Mama Hope does not depict poor, helpless Africans. Instead, the organization looks to re-humanize Africa and showcase the positive changes that are happening.

Bundondo, Uganda residentKiribedda became involved in the Suubi Health Center project in Bundondo. A village in eastern Uganda, Bundondo faces a lack of maternal health services. Families desperately wish to improve their situation but do not have the resources. Issues such as poor sanitation, malnutrition and a high incidence of disease impact the lives of the residents on a daily basis.

The Suubi (Hope) Health Center will serve 26,000 people who currently have to travel 24 kilometers to the nearest health center. Given that many Budondo residents use bicycles for transportation, gaining access to the nearest health center is challenging, especially for expectant mothers in labor. The Suubi Health Center will serve women with family care, maternal health care and midwifery services.

The main health center block is nearly complete, with the next phase of the project starting soon. The next phase includes construction of the mini-surgery theatre, which will serve as the operating room for Caesarean section births and other pregnancy-related complications.

As part of her commitment to the Suubi Health Center project, Kiribedda is working to raise $20,000 by May 1 of this year. The money raised will be used to complete the health center, and make sure it’s built in a way that will be sustainable. Kiribedda has raised over $10,000 so far. Anyone inspired to donate to the effort may help Kiribedda meet her fundraising goal with a gift online.

“I’m investing in potential and progress,” said Kiribedda. “This project has a good foundation. There’s already a great leadership team in place, and the land for the center is already owned and ready for building.” She notes that there are residents eager to see the center open, and she knows the community is invested in the completion and sustainability of this project. “There are already women who come to visit, asking when we’ll be open.”

Kiribedda’s St. Kate’s connection is playing a role in her current work. While a student at St. Kate’s, she worked with Stacy Rooney ’06, then director of the University’s annual fund. The two remained in touch via Facebook after Kiribedda’s graduation. This winter, Kiribedda sent an email to Rooney about the fundraising project for the Suubi Health Center. Rooney was so moved by the solicitation and Kiribedda’s work, she made both a personal gift toward the cause and an offer to help in brainstorming other fundraising options. The two women connected over Skype, where Rooney was able to make some important connections for Kiribedda.

About a month after their Skype conversation, Rooney’s birthday was approaching. She believed strongly in Kiribedda’s project, and sent an email to friends and family, as well as wrote a post on Facebook asking that people make donations to the Suubi Health Center project as a way of wishing her a happy birthday.

“Over a week’s time, we were able to raise over $1000,” said Rooney. “I was so impressed with the generosity of my family and friends. I have offered to help Latifah in any way I am able. She is incredibly compelling and inspiring. I am truly honored to have been a part of this project.”

This summer, Kiribedda will return to Uganda to supervise the project in Bundondo, then has her sights set on the next steps in her career. As she fulfills her call to improve health care in Africa, she will be returning to Minnesota in fall 2014 for an MBA program. During her time with USAID, she saw how the lack of coordination and efficiency could sometimes hinder aid efforts. She wants to further her education in the areas of management and business affairs so she’s better prepared to be an effective leader when she returns to Africa. Kiribedda’s career aspirations are deeply rooted in reducing health inequities in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, and she feels the MBA program will help her be successful.

“Latifah’s work is inspiring, we’re so proud of her,” said Laurie Svatek, director of campus ministry at St. Kate’s. “Her story is a great one for our current students to hear. She graduated just two years ago. I hope our students are thinking ‘What will my story be in two years?’”

Related Content

SCAN Q & A with Latifah Kiribedda from October 2011

April 1, 2014 by Sara Berhow

See also: Alumnae/i, Healthcare, Social Justice