Keisha Graziadei-Shup is an employee of Kissito Healthcare living in Uganda. She played an active role in Kissito’s emergency response in the aftermath of the landslide in Bududa District. Below is a memoir of her experience during this time.
Rain pounded and streams of water poured down in front of me from the edge of the tin roof above me. All the roofs here are made of tin or banana leaves. I shoved my heels closer to the mud wall behind me as I stood shoulder to shoulder with Ugandan villagers.
Rain comes with little warning in Bududa District. When it does, villagers scramble for cover. Bare feet begin sinking in mud as the people search for large banana leaves to hold overhead or find a square foot of space under a ledge somewhere like I had done. There I waited for maybe 40 minutes or so. Our bodies were wrapped tightly around every village home and shop, like packing tape around boxes, to keep dry.
Families murmured in Luguisu, the local language. Honorable Wanjuzi told me they were talking about their relatives and friends that had been buried in the landslide. Two days ago and less than a kilometer away from where I was standing, a massive landslide buried two neighboring villages, including people and their livelihoods.
I stood there for a few minutes, watching the rain splash in big puddles in front of me and for a moment the world grew distant and quiet as if I were under water. I tried to fathom what it might have been like to hear the ground rumble, look out of the window of my home and watch the earth closing in on me so quickly that I knew that this would be the last moment I was alive because there’s no time to escape.
I tried to fathom what it might have been like to run for my life with a tidal wave of mud closing in on my heels like a pack of wild, hungry dogs.
What would it feel like to turn around and see that my parent, sibling or child was just buried alive? Maybe I would be tormented, wondering why it was them and not me.
I tried to fathom the moment that I realized I was still alive but everything I had worked for my entire life was destroyed within minutes.
I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t empathize. The truth is, I didn’t know how those people were feeling but I was heartbroken for them. I couldn’t give them back what they had but I could help them clean up the mess. And that’s what we did.
After the rain settled, we set out into the mud to proceed to the site of the landslide. I was ill-prepared, wearing flip flops. One time I hiked in snow in flip flops. I have a thing for flip flops, but as it turns out, you can twist your ankle in the snow wearing flip flops and they also relentlessly stick to mud, making it nearly impossible to walk. So as I was in Uganda, I did as the Ugandans and went barefoot. The mud here is clay so it was slick between my toes.
After getting some video footage and photos, we navigated through the chaos that would inevitably follow any natural disaster and were eventually able to identify the people we needed to speak with, the meetings we needed to attend and the actions we needed to take. We didn’t want to duplicate what was already being done by another NGO. Instead we worked side by side with organizations like World Vision, Red Cross, UNICEF and others to comprehensively address the needs of the distressed community.
In the end, with the funds Kissito had allotted us from what had been raised, we were able to provide drinking water, hand washing stations, gloves and masks for the uncovering of bodies, and medicines for the first aid tent. There may still be work to be done in the area of cholera prevention.
We also were recruited by the Bududa Regional Referral Hospital to care for an injured pregnant mother named Christine who had literally outrun the mudslide. The hospital was unable to detect a fetal heartbeat, so in an effort to save the life of this young mom and her baby inside, we rushed her to a hospital in Mbale and covered the cost of an ultrasound and her stay in the hospital. It turned out the baby was ok and Christine just needed some help healing.
The sunburn, eating dry white cookies for two days, trekking barefoot through mud and later through a foot of cow poo sludge (I was wearing boots that time luckily), the many meetings, and whiplash-inducing car rides on dirt roads were all worth it to know we had done all we could to help the victims of the mudslide on Mount Elgon.
You can donate to continued efforts in Bududa or Kissito’s other life-saving efforts at www.kissitointernational.org/donate.aspx.