What has life been like for students during their first term at the ICMDA National Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS)? AID hears from Dr Anil Cherian, Director of the NIHS.
Wonderfully, the ICMDA NIHS opened in Mengo Hospital, Kampala, Uganda on 1st June 2014. The purpose of the NIHS is to improve healthcare in South Sudan (where a 15 year old girl is more likely to die during childbirth than to complete her education) by training healthcare professionals. Earlier this year, the Institute looked unlikely to open due to ongoing conflict in South Sudan. However, a generous opportunity was provided by the Mengo Hospital in Kampala to locate at their site and, in June of this year, 51 Sudanese students were able to travel from Juba to begin their studies there. Students are studying to become clinical officers, nurses and midwives.
Partnership with Mengo Hospital
We thank God for the partnership with Mengo Hospital, Kampala, which has enabled the project to get going. The NIHS is able to use a well-equipped lecture room as well as the medical laboratory, Mengo’s School of Nursing skills laboratory, a computer laboratory and the hospital library.
There have inevitably been teething problems as the students settle into the hospital and have to work around Mengo’s own students. There have been some room-clashes and timetabling issues. For example, the main lecture room is only available after 4 pm and so the NIHS students have classes each day between 4 and 8 pm.
Staff and Volunteers
When the NIHS opened, the faculty was made up of just three full-time teaching staff: Dr Anil Cherian and two Ugandan nurses. In June they were joined by Anil’s wife, Dr Shalini Cherian (a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist) and, in August, the NIHS received its fifth tutor, Ms. Jasper Damaris, who has an MSc in Nursing and has worked as principal of a school of nursing in India. Now the NIHS exceeds the government requirement of a 1:15 staff to student ratio, with a ratio of 1:10.
In addition to the teaching staff, the NIHS has employed an administrator, two administrative assistants, someone to oversee financial and legal requirements, an academic affairs officer, a warden, a cook and a housekeeper.
Dr Anil Cherian says: ”’Even though we have five full-time teaching staff, the team will need additional help to reduce some of the teaching burden.” In August the teaching staff were supplemented by three Egyptian nurses from the Egyptian Christian Nurses Fellowship (CNF) and Dr Anil hopes to welcome more volunteers like this to the NIHS. Ideally, there will be one or two medical volunteers working at the NIHS at any given point during the year. If this is something you might be interested in, please contact Alice Caisley at firstname.lastname@example.org
The average age of the students is 27 and most have completed their schooling in Uganda or Kenya in the last 3 to 4 years. This means they generally have a good standard of English but have found the full-time study programme a bit of a shock to the system! Further, the NIHS opened slightly late in the academic year and now needs to cover a 12 month curriculum in 11 months. Students have been working 44 hours a week, attending classes in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. Many have requested an end to Saturday school and school hours will reduce in the second term to 40 hours a week.
Classes began with English, Maths, Basic Sciences and “Learning to Learn” courses, before launching into medical modules such as Anatomy & Physiology, Socio-psychology, Microbiology, Primary Healthcare, First Aid and Nursing. As staff numbers have grown, students have been able to take more specialised modules.
Tests, Tests…and more Tests!
So far the students have demonstrated great commitment and passion for their studies. During this first semester, most students had an attendance rate of over 95%. Dr Anil reports, ”they have been arriving punctually for classes and are committed to learning.” Test scores show that 75% of students are coping well though most are struggling with the pace of learning, 25% are struggling academically and of those about 10% (5 of the 51 students) are finding it very difficult.
The NIHS has created a Student Guild to improve governance of student affairs. Students were elected as office bearers and members of a ‘cabinet’, to provide a forum for student-staff interaction and to organise events. This has already been useful in addressing students’ concerns as well as being a good way to help students develop leadership skills.
Upon arriving in Uganda, as well as commencing academic teaching, the NIHS staff were faced with a barrage of administrative tasks such as sorting out visas, providing accommodation and food for students and setting up financial systems. This was made all the more challenging as a result of having to negotiate a new culture. Through much hard work and perseverance, the NIHS was up and running within the first two weeks of arriving in Kampala.
As well as academic stress, there has been a certain amount of emotional challenge for the students, many of whom have difficult backgrounds, as they settle into a new lifestyle and environment. Dr Anil Cherian says, ”I am happy to report that most of them have done well and have shown commitment and determination to study and cope with the pressures of student life. However we have felt a need to provide them with professional support through hiring a part-time Christian counsellor.” Please pray for the implementation of the right person in this role .
In amongst the long hours of study, there have been moments of fun for the students. On the 4th July there was an official inauguration ceremony for the NIHS, with special guests, speeches, dancing and cake-cutting. Students and staff enjoyed a picnic on a beach on the edge of Lake Victoria, Entebbe on the 12th July and, in August, the Student Guild organised a sports day: ‘‘the highlight of the day was the staff versus student tug-of-war.”– Dr Anil Cherian.
The first annual NIHS retreat was launched at the end of August, and this provided a much needed opportunity for students to relax, learn about God and reflect on their faith. There were speakers from CMF Uganda, as well as devotional sessions led by the NIHS staff. Some of the students also took the opportunity to share something of what God was doing in their lives.
We thank God for the many successes we have seen with the development of the NIHS and the commitment and resilience of the students over these last few months. Please keep praying for the students and staff, practically and spiritually. Pray for patience and the ability to overcome practical frustrations such as visas for staff, timetable clashes and resources procurement, and for students to be able to cope with the heavy workload and to learn well. Pray they would be well-fed from the bible through devotions and bible studies and that God would be preparing them to serve their country in healthcare in the future.