April Benak in Uganda

April Benak (right) working with a patient in Uganda. Photos courtesy of April Benak.

By MaKenzie Copp ’20, English and Writing and Publishing

Putting Core Values to Work Outside of Campus

Saint Joseph’s College student April Benak spent over two weeks in Uganda over winter break on a service trip, exercising the core values of the College beyond the confines of campus, and taking her time off to travel the world and help those in need. April regularly volunteers with Partners for World Health (PWH), but taking part in this medical mission was the first time that she had ever left the country. April is an Elementary Education major, and is the vice president of the Doctors Without Borders Student Chapter here at Saint Joe’s, saying that she enjoys volunteering with PWH, and that their mission aligns with the goals of the Chapter, that being to help sick people. This service trip was one of PWH’s monthly missions, which are open to anyone, and seeing as April wanted to help people, and experience different cultures and parts of the world, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

April says her days began at eight, when her group would leave their hotel and travel to different local clinics or hospitals. In Kampala, April volunteered in the Kisubi Hospital, the Angel Wing Hospital, the Mulago NICU Unit, and the St. Francis Hospital.April Benak assessing two women in Uganda April’s trip centered around the medical care of pregnant women, the distribution of birthing kits, and the evaluation of their knowledge of prenatal care— which they would then help provide in the form of lectures, using visual and communicative aids. After the lecture they would break for lunch, where April got to enjoy some local cuisine like rice, beans, posho, and chicken. At four, they would go back to the hotel, and most nights they would all go out to eat at local restaurants.

The different working parts of this trip are still a part of April’s life, not only because of the contact info gathered while she was there, so that PWH can check up on these different women after delivery, but because of some interesting problems April noticed while she was there, and that she hopes she can help rectify somehow. April says this about what she noticed in various clinics and hospitals: “Although we attended some hospitals and clinics in great need, I noticed that some supplies like hospital beds were not being utilized. Come to find out that even some of the high-tech supplies that PWH and other organizations send to countries in need do not actually get used in third-world countries because no one knows how to use them.” April points out that this practice is not useful, and not sustainable, and wonders how this knowledge gap can be filled so that the aid PWH provides can be used to its full potential. 

April Benak working with a baby in UgandaApril says that her favorite part of the trip was the day that she and three others in her group got to spend the day exploring and sightseeing in Uganda. She saw the Central Kampala Mosque, went shopping in a cluster of markets, and walked along the rocky beach of Lake Victoria. According to April, “It was a beautiful day… and I felt so grateful to have the whole day to appreciate the culture.” April also remembers one woman that she helped with particular fondness. Part of her job there was to assess the blood pressure of the pregnant women, and one woman’s blood pressure was found to be extremely high, which as April explained, can lead to “preeclamptic pregnancy (which restricts blood flow to placenta), and can result in premature birth.” This woman was taken to the hospital, and Elizabeth April Benak in Uganda over winter breakMcLellan, the founder of PWH, agreed to pay for her medications. April said that she visited her later that day and met her sister and brother-in-law, adding, “I find myself thinking of her often because the chances of our paths crossing were so slim, but this could've been lifesaving for her and her child.”

April says that this trip provided her with “an alternative perspective to the life we live in the US”. She urges everyone to consider doing service work, and wants students here at SJC to know that she felt completely safe the whole time she was in Uganda, and that these opportunities are open to everyone no matter their major or level of medical experience, explaining that she is an Elementary Education major, but that that didn't stop her from fully participating in and enjoying every part of the trip. 

Read the story the Windham Eagle published about April's time in Uganda.