GertrudeGertrude became our first Ugandan-born Strongest Oak in 2012 at the age of nineteen, while she was completing high school in her village.

Gertrude’s father died when she was only four years old, leaving her mother to care for two young daughters. Their primary means of income came from producing and selling vegetables and poultry, which they sold from a small retail stall out of their home.

Despite her economic hardships, Gertrude managed to successfully complete high school in 2012, thanks to financial support from her uncle and former TSO Uganda Oak Leader, Elijah Kyamuwendo. Elijah tragically died in 2012, leaving behind many young people who relied on his support. We wanted to honor Elijah’s contribution to The Strongest Oak Foundation and further his legacy by finding a suitable Oak candidate among his dependents. We found such a person in Gertrude, who received funding as one of “Elijah’s Kids” from a Rotary/TSO scholarship fund.

When we met Gertrude, her goal was to complete a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and pursue a career as a medical worker, caring for the poor in her community. In 2013, she temporarily strayed from that path and registered in the Uganda Christian University in the Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Entrepreneurship program; she felt her job prospects might be better since Uganda has an agricultural-based economy. However, her dream of becoming a nurse did not fade and, as fate would have it, just after completing her orientation at the Ugandan Christian University, Gertrude was accepted into the Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Gertrude began her studies in nursing in November 2013. Her practicum work over the next three years was diverse, exposing her to a number of areas of medicine: first aid, health education, surgery, emergency medicine, labor and delivery (midwifery), pediatrics, psychiatry, and neurology. Although she enjoyed all of her practicum assignments, her favorite placement was in labor and delivery. During her practicum in the emergency department of a local hospital, Gertrude was able to assist in a breech delivery, which inspired her to transfer from the emergency department to the labor ward to improve her midwifery skills. While she was doing her practicum in psychiatry, the draw of midwifery was strong: on her days off, she would go to the labor ward to gain further practical experience. She can now conduct a normal delivery and provide the necessary care to the new baby. She hopes, one day, to find work as a midwife.

With all this hands-on practical experience, Gertrude still continued to attend classes, in which she did very well. In June 2016 she began working on her final research project on the knowledge, attitudes, and practices in HIV/AIDS testing, specifically among the female nursing students at her school. Her project focused on voluntary HIV counseling (teaching mothers about the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS) and testing services in Uganda.

In December of 2016, Gertrude successfully completed her nursing studies and registered with the Uganda Nurses Council. We are proud to report that, in her final year, she received distinction in palliative care, pediatrics, mental health, and her practical internship! Gertrude’s graduation ceremony was in February of 2017.

When not studying or doing her practicum, Gertrude was busy helping others. She volunteered with a Christian youth group, did some community outreach with orphans at TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) hospital in Jinja, joined the Red Cross Club at Jinja Hospital and volunteered with the St Mugaga Jinja Boys School in a program for orphaned children. She also was busy helping her family: working in her mother’s restaurant business and tutoring her two brothers in mathematics and sciences.

Gertrude secured her first paid job in January 2017 at Vine Pharmaceuticals Ltd. In her on-the-job training, she was learning about medications, skin care products and the management of acne.  In March 2017, she landed her first full-time nursing position. Her contract began April 1, 2017 and will end on December 31, 2018. She is a Study Nurse for a research project, conducted by Makerere University, that studies post-discharge malarial chemotherapy in children with severe anemia. Gertrude is posted in the children’s ward of Mubende Hospital, one of five hospitals in the study. She is part of a team that also includes a clinical officer and a social worker.

Gertrude’s responsibilities include identifying potential participants, obtaining their informed consent, pre-study screening, and collecting participant information (e.g., vitals, weight, etc.). She works hand-in-hand with the clinical officer to take samples for malaria screening and hemoglobin estimation, and a dry blood smear for future studies. She also provides the nursing care required by patients until they are well enough to be discharged.

This position will be a valuable addition to Gertrude’s CV, as will be the two online courses she completed. The courses covered how research participants are treated, especially in general clinical practice, and protected as human subjects. Gertrude is focused and determined and has tremendous leadership qualities, so we are confident she will continue to be successful.

Gertrude is extremely grateful for the support she has received throughout her academic studies. We would like to thank her donors: all of the Rotary clubs in Calgary and Airdrie that organized and participated in the Elijah’s Kids fundraiser.