Group Visit During Mission 2022

With over 149 million stunted children in the world, according to UNICEF, there is little time to waste. GlobalRise works with communities that are passionate about addressing this “human affliction” – extremely poor families who desperately want to rise above generational poverty.

We are focusing on three areas: Subsaharan Africa, the only area in the world where the rate of stunting is growing; India, hosting the largest population of stunted kids on the planet (63 million); and, Guatemala, the only red stunting zone in the Americas per USAID. Building Digital Food Systems in these areas by 2030, as demonstration platforms for government, we want to provide a new vision for helping extremely poor mountainous communities.

Hearing about our work, delegates from HIMSS (Health Information Management Systems Society) and BMS (Bristol Meyers Squibb) decided to visit our site in Kasese, Uganda. For 2 weeks we hosted an amazing group, showing them the mountain jungles where we work and explaining our vision of the power of a digital food system.

Our journey began at Christalis Home, an orphanage, where we held “Digital Health Day”. All of the children’s medical records, and some staff, were reviewed. GlobalRise was already tracking child growth with anthropometrics so this activity helped to ascertain progress. Karen Salazar, RD, oversaw our work, assisted by Sylvia Klinger, DBA, a board member of GlobalRise, and other orphanage personnel. Elen Blochin, MD, provided clinical reviews of the children and this kicked off our process for data collection with personal health records, managed by Dana Castro, Executive Director of HIMSS Institute. Using a computer, she tested PocketPatientMD’s beta offline health record – yes, we were one of the first to use it! And it worked perfectly! (Thank-you Mark Wein!)

While the clinicians were busy, a family traveling within our group provided games and books to the kids. They were so excited! Groups were huddled in different areas learning new games with Alex, Maya and Ian (father, daughter, son). It was a wonderful experience for everyone to share with each other.

The following day the group met with a local peace-maker and institution builder. Dr Nathaniel Walemba founded a secondary school, the 4-story Kasese Better Living Center and the recently licensed Rwenzori International University. He explained how critical it was to have a local university versus traveling by bus for 8 hours on weekends trying to complete a degree. He also showed us an adjacent property, he is angling to purchase if funds come in, that will help the University with space and a new innovation and workforce development center. The story behind the University is truly inspiring – it is a home-grown university where funding is never guaranteed yet they press on. Their motto: together we will!

The next day started early. We had an eight-hour drive ahead of us to visit Kisoro, located near the border of southwest Uganda and DRC. Here, Alex Morozov, MD, (who was with BMS and brought his family), arranged a group meeting with Doctors for Global Health. Working in the area for 20 years, this amazing team of clinicians mentored by Dr Gerald Paccione who leads Doctors for Global Health Uganda from Montefiore Hospital in NYC, are training local doctors using a rigorous, evidence-based community program. The effort scales the impact of Kisoro District Hospital deep into the surrounding hills and is superbly executed with field teams using strong documentation. What if this program was in Kasese?

After a fun-filled weekend our group met with leaders at Kasese Hospital to do a site visit and hear about their current healthcare challenges. We also met with the new Mayor who dropped everything to take us to Kilembi Mines Hospital – a skeleton of what it should be. During the pandemic heavy rains turned to flash floods that swept large boulders into the hospital complex, destroying buildings and human life. The hospital was moved to another location where they lack beds, equipment and supplies.Next day: we took a walk up the mountains to show how Bakonzo live. Children gathered around us with no shoes and clothes that barely fit to play. Arriving at our work site, we showed how we are training the locals, our materials, our soap making program and more. The site, known locally as the Mbalhamia Healing Forest, is located on 2 acres in the Rwenzori foothills and is being prepared to host our drone platform. Here, we are currently conducting Village Trainings in nutrition, soil fertility and financial planning; it was so great to show them where we work and how we operate.

Finally, everyone took a small plane to Kampala, capital of Uganda, to visit Baylor Uganda, a project of Baylor University and BMS. We met with the lead team at Baylor and decided there was so much in common that in 2023, we intend to join hands to apply for a grant…and to potentially engage in other projects too. It was a substantive visit and we look forward to working with the dynamic team at Baylor Uganda!

We also visited Kyabirwa Surgical Center that is located in an inconspicuous setting near Jinja – making it a bit hard to find! This actually is done on purpose – the facility is intended to blend in with the fabric of daily life in this jungle location. It appears to be the brain child of Dr Michael Marin, who is head of the surgical department at Mt Sinai Hospital in NYC. The center is located in an internet-enabled location, (they dug a trench to a main internet trunk running through the area). Donning surgical scrubs, our group learned how advanced technology is being used to treat patients; for example, doctors in Uganda can show doctors in NYC what they are doing in real time with a HoloLens supported by Microsoft. Local doctors instantly gain valuable and life-saving expertise during surgery. The building is environmental-friendly, uses solar panels for electricity and made with local materials. Personnel are local including the surgeons

In conclusion, the torrent of activity we experienced in two weeks was simply amazing – our eyes were opened to new resources in the area evenas we opened the group’s eyes to the plight of the poorest! Learning about the work in Kisoro and Jinja invigorated our team and truly amplified our mission.

Check out the hospital in a rural area near Jinja here:

Meet Emmanuel and Michael!

Ever since 1998, Emmanuel has been working for the betterment of his community. He is a champion for saving indigenous knowledge, skill development of smallholder farmers, building a farmer coop with a micro-financing component and so much more.

When we met Emmanuel, he had already built a mountain center on 2 acres of land that had a coffee pilot with plant starts, a jackfruit drying program and a tree farm with a variety of medicinal and other plants. We spoke to him about our Vision and together, we began planning almost automatically…it was like magic!

Mbalhamia Healing Forest

Striving to help the local people, Emmanuel pulled together the people and resources that we needed to implement our survey and CNP. As part of our broader vision to build the areas first Digital Food System, his mountain center will become the site of our first prototype for Village Training, drone crop transport, implementing personal health records that will monitor progress with stunting and more.

Emmanuel, and his younger colleague Michael, were the first to be trained in our CNP and are continuing to roll out the new program.

Welcome on board, Emmanuel and Michael! We are so grateful and honored to be working with an educated field team that are offering unyielding commitment and support to the people of Kasese.

Community Nutrition: Armed with Knowledge and Tools, Kasese Families are Fighting Back

community nutrition kasese families fighting back
bakonzo children nutrition

The beautiful, rolling hills of the Rwenzori region hide an uncomfortable fact; nearly 55% of the Bakonzo children are stunted or chronically malnourished. Throughout their lives, if health conditions are not addressed with better nutrition, they will have infections, cognitive issues that stifle learning and even premature death.

Families are fighting back.

Nestled in the hills of Kasese, Joy lives with her three children. She represents thousands of young mothers who struggle daily in gardens to eke out 82 cents per day. Joy is one of 32 family heads that took a new community nutrition program designed by GlobalRise; and it’s truly changing her life.

“Our field workers are trained and spreading the program in the community,” said Karen Salazar, RD, a nutritionist with GlobalRise who has dedicated the past 6 years creating both an orphanage and nutrition program that meets local dietary needs. The program is being rolled out in the Rwenzori Mountains where the Bakonzo population is estimated at one million.

Faced with poor nutrition and extreme poverty, zero infrastructure and climate change, leaders in the community gathered at the Kasese Better Living Center to develop a plan and created a battle-cry to “Kick Stunting Out of Kasese!”

Officially tasked to build a community nutrition program, GlobalRise, after 5years of research, is building a Digital Food System – a multi-thematic community initiative that impacts nutrition, health, finance (linking mountain farmers to markets using drones), soil fertility, saving indigenous knowledge and more.

“The plight of the Bakonzo represents the height of inequity across so many issues,” said Tom Dean, chair of GlobalRise. The organization believes that by improving nutrition in a sustainable way, GlobalRise can send a wave of improvement in household income, health and more; helping families to pay for school, improve home sanitation and more. There are many ways that a Digital Food System could transform life for extremely poor mountainous farmers.

Building our Community Nutrition Program

To design a useful and sustainable program, GlobalRise first surveyed how local foods are used, cultural practices, dietary preferences, infrastructure and much more. The team was already working in the field for three years so, equipped with knowledge from implementing a “Farm to Plate Protocol” at Christalis Home (local orphanage), GlobalRise designed a meaningful survey. Specialists in surveying indigenous populations at the University of Costa Rica were consulted as well.

Next, two local Bakonzo were trained to administer the survey using the local language, Lukonzo. As they delivered the survey, they geo-marked each home so we could return with any questions.

Once administered, the survey data was shared with nutrition experts including Sylvia Klinger, DBA, RD, board member of GlobalRise, and Lauri Wright, PhD, president-elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Executive Director of University of Northern Florida’s Center for Nutrition and Food Security. GlobalRise’s lead nutritionist, Karen Salazar, RD, then authored the Community Nutrition Program or CNP, engaging with our field partners for local context.

Working through the pandemic, the CNP was finally completed and ready for implementation during our 2022, three-month mission. Three villagers, all Bakonzo, were selected for our “train the trainer” education – an intensive 2-week program that included a focus group of 6 families. Adjustments were made before it was re-tested with two more focus groups in succession – both over 13 families. Finally, our CNP was born!

Today, our trainers continue to administer and improve the CNP with families in Kasese. Our nutritionist, working remotely, guides the program’s effectiveness and collects outcomes that will be used in our first grant. GlobalRise is writing this grant in 2023 in a teaming relationship with Baylor Uganda, a 20-year project of Baylor University in Texas.

With our CNP in operation, GlobalRise is focusing on a cargo drone system to carry crops from mountain farms to food markets and settle financial transactions. This “uber in the sky” is being designed to help the local people to improve finances – a key requirement for sustainability.

An exit survey of CNP attendees showed enthusiastic acceptance of this technology, especially among the women heads of household who indicated it could save over 12 hours walking every week. This could improve finances, increase time with family and improve family life.