Sr. Miriam was all set for returning to Ireland having spent almost a month in Kenya with our sisters and the internally displaced people in camps in Nairobi and Nakuru. Then she received a telephone call from Dr. Tumwesigye Elioda, the Honourable Member of Parliament heading the HIV/AIDS Commission in Uganda. He invited her to Kampala because the Uganda Government wanted to honour her together with other people who had spearheaded the whole initiative with HIV/AIDS some twenty-five years ago when the virus was first detected in this country. So Sr. Miriam, after consulting with her team in Ireland, prolonged her stay in Africa by a week and came to Kampala on 12th March, much to the delight of everyone here!
On 13th March, Miriam was invited to attend the Parliamentary session during which the position paper on HIV/AIDS in Uganda was being presented by Dr. Tumwesigye Elioda. Towards the end of the paper, Governments (USA, Ireland, France, Denmark, etc.) and organizations such as TASO, Kitovu Mobile, Mildmay etc. were thanked for their contribution over the twenty-five years. Then about fifteen individuals were mentioned –Philly Bongole Lutaya, Noerine Kaleeba, Major Ruranga, Sr. Miriam Duggan, etc. When Dr. Duggan’s name was called out, the entire Cabinet looked up to the gallery where she was seated and thumped the back of their chairs by way of applause. It was a wonderful moment, acknowledging Miriam’s tireless contribution to Abstinence, Behaviour Modification and Character Formation as well as the care for the sick through the years.
Then on 14th Sr. Miriam and I were driven to Zebra Hotel in Masaka by Mr. Francis Mbazira and Charles Serunjogi who acted as our escorts. Frances and Charles are the ones mainly running the Kamwokya Christian Community (KCC) activities. Zebra Hotel is where the Members of Parliament spent the night. There was entertainment provided by different groups, including people living with Aids from Kamwokya Christian Caring Community who performed their songs to a high standard. During the speeches, KCC received honourable recognition for the great community work carried out there. Of course, Philly Lutaya’s famous song was played more or less throughout the evening as we all sat under the star-lit night in the cool of Masaka. Several MP’s came up to Miriam and one thanked her for saving his life, mentioning how when he was leaving Nsambya Hospital, having had surgery for gunshot wounds, Miriam said to him, ‘God has given you an extra lease of life to be used for His good purposes’. He said this remark haunts him every time he goes to do something!
The next day we had a three hours drive over the most bumpy road imaginable, during which our livers definitely received a good shake-up, to Kasensero Fish Landing site, Rakai District. This fishing village was where this mysterious illness was first detected in Uganda and later identified as HIV/AIDS. En route, it was startling to see the number of graves and headstones in many homesteads. There was also a monument to the people of Rwanda who, during the genocide, came floating down River Kagera which empties into Lake Victoria, and were ‘fished’ out and buried in Kasensero. To date, there is no Government medical facility in Kasensero and President Museveni and his Cabinet were traveling there to mark the progress made in the last twenty-five years battling with HIV/Aids. They also laid the foundation stone for a Government health facility. As always the day was marked with songs, dances, displays by various organizations and lunch. When the President arrived, the speeches began followed by the presentation of awards. Sr. Miriam was called and the President smiled in surprise when he heard her name. When she went to receive her award, the President said to her: ‘I thought you were in South Africa! She replied she now had another assignment in Ireland! The Frist Lady, obviously delighted to see Miriam, came forward, hugged her, and in the ensuing conversation, encouraged Miriam to return to Uganda. It was another wonderful moment! At this point Miriam received the award acknowledging the contribution of all the sisters and lay staff over the years.
President Museveni in his speech was pleased that the prevalence rate in Uganda has dropped from 28% – 6.2% but he said that this was still unacceptable and we have to continue until we have completely eradicated the virus. He stressed again the need for abstinence and for married couples being faithful to one another, for it is among married couples that HIV/Aids is mostly spreading today.
Miriam’s visit was a time of renewing friendship with many friends of old – professionals and others - with whom she had worked and networked in the devastating early days of the pandemic.
On Saturday 15th as La Verna and Mbikko communities celebrated St. Patrick’s Day together, we too honoured Miriam and rejoiced in the award.
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