Nurse links Danville and Uganda thanks to Bay Area foundation
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DANVILLE, CA: Thousands of miles away from her native Uganda, Sister Cathy Nakiboneka, a nurse visiting the Bay Area last week to talk about the Danville foundation that gave her a scholarship, sprang into action to do what she does best — help save a life.
Nakiboneka had just delivered a sermon at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville when a parishioner’s shin wound opened up, gushing blood. Without skipping a beat, she intervened to take care of the woman’s severe wound before paramedics arrived, showing the congregation her training first-hand.
Nakiboneka is the first graduate of the Gretta Foundation to visit the Bay Area since the foundation’s inception in 2008 and is touring the area talking about the challenges facing health care, nursing and midwifery in Uganda.
She benefited from the scholarship of the Gretta Foundation, founded by Meg Styles of Danville, whose mother was renown nurse and humanitarian Margretta “Gretta” Styles who died of cancer in 2005. Nakiboneka not only received a scholarship from the Gretta Foundation to help obtain a bachelor of science in nursing, but became a nurse leader — she now oversees the applications of other nurse scholarships with the Gretta Foundation in Uganda. She’s also the head of instruction at the Ugandan Catholic Medical Bureau.
Nakiboneka addressed nursing administrators Tuesday morning at UCSF’s School of Nursing, where the namesake of the organization that helped fund her scholarship was dean of nursing from 1976 to 1985. Also part of her visit was meeting with Father Robert Herbst, the chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, on Monday. The two chatted about a potential collaboration between Catholic churches and schools in the diocese in Oakland and the Gretta Foundation.
Nakiboneka said she was inspired to become a nurse after watching her own mother’s condition worsen in the 1980s. Her mother suffered from hypertension, and when she was taken to the hospital to monitor her blood pressure, she was placed next to another patient who ended up dying through the night.
With the stress of the situation, her blood pressure skyrocketed and she had a stroke the next day. Nakiboneka said her family took care of her, bringing her back and forth between the hospital, where she wasn’t properly managed and didn’t get the best attention that she could have gotten. Nakiboneka said had she been a nurse, she would have known how to properly care for her mother.
The Gretta Foundation scholarships are $6,000 and pay for a three-year program in Uganda. For those who already have a nursing certificate, the scholarship is $2,500 toward a bachelor’s degree. The scholarships include room and board, a medical allowance and a stipend for basic necessities. By comparison, tuition alone for a nursing master’s at UCSF for non-residents is $40,000.
Sister Cathy said the war and conditions in Uganda have put many of the nursing applicants she oversees in two categories: candidates who have suffered yet survived conflicts in the country, and those who are AIDS orphans. Despite these obstacles, they’ve developed a passion for nursing, she said.
She spoke of one such candidate, Precious, whose mother was abducted on her way to school in northern Uganda. Her mother was raped by a commander and became pregnant with Precious, and that father was later killed. Precious was born in captivity, the nun said.
“Going to school, you put your life in your own hands,” Nakiboneka said.
The political climate has become more stable since those days of the Lord’s Resistance Army, she said. But the need for educated nurses is crippling, said Styles. The foundation aims to increase the number of hands on the ground. According to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report in 2006, “the African Region suffers more than 24 percent of the global burden of disease but has access to only 3 percent of health workers.”
The lack of nurses “directly translates into lives lost, and disease that spreads out of control,” said Styles, a real estate agent who previously worked in the corporate world before starting the nonprofit.
Styles said most of the nurses in Uganda operate at a certificate level, and do not have bachelor of science degrees. She said with such a high disease burden in the country, it makes sense to educate nurses more in their country, and keep their skills within the country. The foundation has helped fund 29 Gretta graduates since 2008, and another 11 current scholars.
For more information on the Gretta Foundation, visit grettafoundation.org.