FIRST Minister Carwyn Jones will learn how volunteers from South Wales are helping to transform health and education services for people living in eastern Uganda on a visit to the country.
He will spend four days in the Mbale region in January visiting some projects run by PONT – Partnerships Overseas Networking Trust – including a motorbike ambulance scheme and work to train community health workers to recognise and treat signs of serious illness.
The First Minister will also visit the region’s main hospital, Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, which has strong links with staff based at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, in Llantrisant.
Mr Jones said: “For more than a decade PONT and its volunteers have been having a transformative effect on the lives of the people of Mbale, helping to significantly improve health and education services.
“My visit to Uganda in January will allow me to see first hand the positive impact the people and communities of Wales have had on the country through various projects including health, education, and business links.
“I’m very pleased that the Welsh Government, through our Wales for Africa programme, is able to support this work and I hope that my visit will draw attention to the commitment and hard work of everybody involved.”
The First Minister will officially open a new girl’s hostel attached to a local secondary school in Mbale, which was built with the support of Pontypridd High School.
He will visit the PONT engineering workshop in Mbale, which uses donated equipment from Tata Steel in South Wales and manufactures pushbike ambulances and mountain rescue stretchers and he will open a latrine in the Namatala slum in Mbale - a community-led project with support from the University of South Wales.
While in Uganda, Mr Jones will meet people who have benefited from the relationships established between Rhondda Cynon Taf and Mbale over the course of the decade PONT has been working in Uganda, as well as meeting some of the hundreds of volunteers from South Wales who have been making regular trips to Mbale.
Among those will be Martin Blakebrough, who is head of Kaleidoscope drug and alcohol service in Wales. Martin is on an eight-week placement as part of the Welsh Government-funded International Learning Opportunities programme and is giving organisational support to Uganda Women’s Concern Ministry, which works with women living with HIV and Aids.
The First Minister’s visit comes a year after a unique consortium was set up to share the PONT model of integrated primary – emergency health care work further across Uganda. Welsh charities PONT, Vale 4 Africa, Care for Uganda and the Gulu Mission Initiative were awarded a grant of £250,000 by UK Aid (through THET – the Tropical Health and Education Trust) to train hundreds of community-based volunteer health workers in Ugandan villages.
The four charities are working in four districts of Uganda – Mbale, Tororo, Luwero and Gulu –to develop primary healthcare and ensure sick and injured patients, including pregnant women with complications, get speedy access to hospital.
The grant will train more than 700 Ugandan volunteers and support the provision of emergency motorbike ambulances, together with funds raised by a UK Midlands Rotary group.
Dr Geoff Lloyd, a GP in Rhydyfelin, near Pontypridd, who founded PONT, which links Rhondda Cynon Taf with Mbale, said: “This is a great opportunity for the First Minister to see firsthand the huge amount of work going on in the Mbale region and the enthusiasm and energy of the hundreds of volunteers from South Wales who get involved with PONT every year.
“This is a very exciting time for PONT; we are building new links in other parts of Uganda, which mean more communities will benefit from having access to community health workers and a motorbike ambulance.
“PONT is much more than health – it’s about linking communities with communities. The First Minister will have an opportunity to see the breadth of work that’s been accomplished by these partnerships during his visit and the opportunities for further collaboration.”