Frank Gramsen Kizza
The morning came just as fast as the night had. I woke up thinking of how this day would go: the first day at the School of Public Health Makerere University (MakSPH). The campus excitement had worn off already since I had not gotten the course-Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery-which I had wanted to pursue. After a lot of unsuccessful attempts to change course, I had to settle for this course – Bachelor of Environmental Health Science, one I knew little about. It was a course that no one could actually give me a clear picture about. However, I still had hope, that maybe one day I will change to the course of my choice. As all these thoughts ran through my head, I remembered that I had to attend a freshman’s orientation at the College of Health Sciences at 8am in the Davis Lecture Theater. At the freshman orientation, I managed to find some three old friends despite the fact that these were in different schools. After about one hour into the orientation an announcement was made that Environmental Health students were to go the School of Public Health in Room 317.
This was a relief in some kind of way so I left the room set for my next destination. Unlike the previous auditorium full of people, the room was occupied by only five male individuals. I also discovered that no one in the room knew a thing about what was happening; all they knew was that they were supposed to be in this room. As time passed a few more individuals joined us. Some continuing students came in, welcoming us to the school and to the course. Most of those introduced themselves as student leaders majority being from the students association, Makerere University Environmental Health Students’ Association (MUEHSA). We were asked if we had chosen a Class Representative. The answer was an automatic NO. We had no idea who the person was and what they were supposed to do. After explaining to us, I gave it some thought and I decided to volunteer as it would help me get first-hand information about what was happening at the school and I hoped it would enable me better choose my career path. Finally – a lecturer, Mrs. Ruth Mubeezi come to orient us and to introduce the first course unit; Human environment. Incidentally, she was the patron of MUEHSA and she gave us a brief mind-blowing insight as to what we could accomplish as Environmental Health Scientists. This was through sharing some of the success stories of public health research work, health interventions and published papers. She then told us to check out all the public health journals so that we can familiarize ourselves with what environmental health was all about. Her passion about environmental health drew me in. Day by day, things got better as I got a clearer picture of what environmental health science was about. This was through various interactions with lecturers, students and alumni who on various occasions talked to us about the course. After a month, part of me was contented to continue with the course.
Being a class representative came with a lot of benefits and challenges. It came with the extra responsibility of coordinating the class and making sure things moved on well. This also opened up opportunities that one couldn’t easily get by being just a student. Being an Environmental Health student makes one a direct member of the association, although this doesn’t guarantee students’ participation in the association activities, unless one was interested in the activity being carried out or had the love for the association. At first, I was not driven by either of the two reasons above. I was driven by the mere curiosity of getting to know more about the course I was doing.
My first MUEHSA activity was the 2015 celebration of the World Environmental Health Day that happens every 26th September. It was themed “Children Are Our Future – Let’s Protect Their Environment and Health. This took place in Entebbe and was celebrated alongside Save Our Lives (SOS) children’s home. This celebration involved tree planting along the streets of the town council and MUEHSA members visiting the SOS children’s home. This was a great thing done by the association but to me the most interesting part of all this was during the preparations for the day. During prior discussions towards this day, there was a disagreement among the members on whether to do a cleanup activity. The other members had protested that we should embrace the other fields of environmental health and not just focus on only one component of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). For the previous celebration, the association had focused more in the WASH area. The argument was that this was portraying an image of the course being WASH based, to the public. It was decided that we were to do something that was in relation to the theme being used worldwide for the celebrations. This was to be followed in all the coming years as a way to embrace all the other fields of environmental health sciences.
Through the 3 years as a member of MUEHSA, the environmental health day has always been celebrated with more activities being introduced to make the celebrations colorful. These include: a writing competition where students in high school and primary school write essays on a given topic in relation to the theme of the year. This was aimed at improving students’ writing skills and making them more aware of what is going on in the environment around them. The winner and the first runner-up are rewarded. I am grateful for having been the first organizing chairperson of the writing competition. The other activities that were introduced include a public lecture and radio talk shows that were aimed at increasing public awareness about environmental health.
If you talk about MUEHSA, one thing you can’t skip mentioning are the scientific conferences that have been organized by the association annually for 15 consecutive years. Being part of MUEHSA, you not only attend the conference but participate through the step by step preparations of the conference from setting up the theme for the conference, lobbying for funds, reviewing abstracts and the managing and directing of activities at the conference. Throughout the three years at the School of Public Health am glad to have participated in all the conferences within that time period which included the 1st Community Health Workers Symposium. All these came with different learning experiences, different opportunities and interactions with different individuals. At these conferences students get a chance to meet and share ideas with people from different areas in the field of environmental health as well as individual in other fields. Students also get inspiration from those who have been successful in the field of environmental health
Through various interactions in MUEHSA, I got a chance to meet different people of diverse interests and ideas, students with ideas to make greater changes and impacts in community health. There are two student-founded organizations that caught my attention over the period I was at the school of public health. These were; ICHIO (Integrated Community Health Initiative Organization) and SCOFOH (Students’ Coalition for Health). These groups comprise of students with an aim of improving health within the community. Throughout the time I was at SPH, I got an opportunity to carryout out various activities with the groups. With ICHIO, I participated in a community outreach on sanitation and hygiene in Kisenyi slum. We sensitized community members about proper hygiene practices and solid waste management. For SCOFOH, it has been more than participation; I happen to be a pioneer member through which I learnt and achieved a lot. We carried out health campaigns, the most notable of all being the SHIVA (Students’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign).
Being part of MUEHSA and serving as the Vice President (2016-2017) was such an honour. The association has not only united Environmental Health students while at campus and after campus but it has continuously fought for the rights of the profession of Environmental Health Science at all levels.
‘For Health prevention is our Priority’.