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Surviving Off the Grid in Uganda

Imagine yourself standing between two children, both desperately ill, but you have only enough treatment options for one child. What do you do?

This is a question that faces Dr. Jessica Ankney more often than not.

When Dr. Ankney answered the call to the mission field in Uganda in 2011, she wasn’t quite prepared for all that would confront her. In fact, she said, “For some reason I thought … following Christ and His path for my life was going to make life easier somehow. I really don’t know why I thought that….”

From the time she was eighteen, Jessica had felt the pull of the mission field. But she never imagined it taking the shape that it has. “I thought that someday maybe I could marry a pastor and that’s how I could be a missionary,” she laughed.

During college and medical school, Jessica had participated in some short-term missions in West Africa, in the country of Niger. It was the children that tore at her. About a third of the children die before they reach the age of five, and Dr. Ankney was not prepared for that. “It’s a really hard place. In the U.S. children don’t die very often.” In Uganda, the death rate for children is around twenty-five percent.

In fact, even though she felt called to missionary work, she prayed that it would be to any other continent but Africa. She was on track to head out to China, but doors began closing. She thought about going to Southeast Asia, to Burma, where she had ministered before.

But one night God spoke directly to her heart, and His direction was Uganda.

Landing in Entebbe, Jessica thought she was prepared for the nine hour trip to Bundibugyo District, which is tucked away from the rest of the country by the Rwenzori Mountains, a mountain range that is located on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The last three hours of the trip found her driving through the mountains, an arduous process because, even though it’s only about 47 miles from one side of the mountain range to the other, the roads make travel difficult.

“There are a lot of holes and switchbacks on the roads,” Jessica explained, “as well as blind curves and tall grass that makes seeing very difficult. You keep driving and honk your horn, hoping the other person will slow down or honk back. And then there are the people and the goats you have to avoid as well. You need all your senses to drive.”

Jessica lives in a small town called Nyahuka, a small trading center that is roughly a 40 minute drive from the town of Bundibugyo. From the first night she arrived, Jessica discovered that she shares her house with many things—including rats, bugs, lizards, and snakes, to name a few. The battle is an ongoing one.

“I have agreed to peacefully coexist with the lizards and several ant species,” she writes in her blog. However, “the rats must die. The snakes must die. The cockroaches must die.” Bats, golf clubs, and indomethacin (an anti-inflammatory medication used for gout) are all brought into play in the never-ending saga of pest control.

The hospital in Nyahuka lacks in a lot of areas. The nearest X-ray machine is a three-hour drive away. There is one operating room and it’s messy, with various items strewn across the floor, a cart with random supplies on it, one surgical light (which doesn’t work because there’s no power connected to it), and one light bulb that has been jury-rigged to run on solar power.

There are no drapes (sterilized cloths) to cover patients in the operating room to create a sterile field. There are no sterile gowns for the doctors. Plastic aprons and rubber boots are worn instead. There are no masks or safety glasses, and scrubbing for surgery consists of rubbing a bar of soap over the hands while someone else pours water from the river from a bucket to rinse you off.

Mountain surgery is chaotic and wanting, especially if performed at night. Bugs fly around the one light, the lack of instruments to properly perform surgery can be frustrating, and the constant interruptions in electricity and lack of water makes surgery difficult.

It’s the children though, who make sleep difficult. A 3-year old boy named Gilbert was brought into the hospital in December, weighing only 13 pounds. HIV positive, compounded with suspected tuberculosis (there’s no way to really test for the disease because of the lack of PPD serum for doing a skin test) plus malnutrition made Gilbert’s prognosis poor. Despite all the care the child received, he died after several weeks.

His story is all too common in Uganda.

The health care system in Uganda is a government-run enterprise, and the funding is wholly inadequate. The hospital in Nyahuka receives a pittance of what is needed to operate effectively.

How does Dr. Ankney cope? “Counting my blessings gets me through the hard times,” Jessica explains. Cultivating the idea of grace and allowing it to fill her life allows her to move forward. “The Bible tells us to be thankful in all circumstances, and whether we have electricity or running water, there are still many blessings in our lives that we need to be thankful for.”

Dr. Ankney is developing a nutrition program to tackle the malnutrition that is rampant in the area. Fifty percent of the children are growth-stunted from malnutrition, and many come to the hospital little more than skeletons. The BundiNutrition Fund has been established not only to offer supplemental food, but to educate the families in the importance of nutrition.

In addition, Dr. Ankney’s medical partner will be returning stateside for six months, and they are looking for another doctor or physician assistant or nurse practitioner to come out on a short-term basis for 3 to 6 months.

We here at Off the Grid News are judicious in the charities we choose to promote. We have, in fact, only promoted one to our readers. However, we would like to offer our readers another charity at this time – the BundiNutrition Fund – to help with the overwhelming malnutrition that exists in the Bundibugyo region. To watch a child die from something totally preventable is the worst type of agony to endure. Dr. Ankney sees the suffering every day, as well as the grace that is bestowed each and every day.

The BundiNutrition Fund is used to run several projects at this time. One is providing a supplemental milk supply through milk-based feeds and medical care for children who are hospitalized with malnutrition. Motherless infants under a year of age are provided with formula or a small food stipend is provided to women who are willing to wet-nurse an infant.

Another project of the BundiNutrition Fund provides nourishment to moderately malnourished children, as well as educating the populace about good nutrition, proper hygiene, and how to treat common illnesses.

Donations to the fund are used in three ways:

  • To buy food and milk for children who are malnourished or at extreme risk due to the death of their mother.
  • To employ a Ugandan worker who will be assisting with the nutrition programs.
  • To support community-level changes in nutrition practices through the introduction of more nutrient-rich foods and through education and outreach.

One dollar a day will ensure the survival of a baby whose mother has died by providing formula for the child. Fifteen dollars will buy enough milk to resuscitate a severely malnourished child. We would like you to join with us in this wonderful outreach program for the children of the Bundibugyo region in Uganda. There is so much heartache, so much loss. What we spend on a candy bar or soft drink each day can bring life to a child.

There are many needs for the Bundibugyo District, and in particular the Nyahuka hospital. However, more than supplies are needed. “Pray for our ministry team,” Jessica asks. “I definitely believe that God works through prayer and there are so many hard decisions to make and we need wisdom and direction on ways to help. Just pray for the missionaries to be sustained there. Pray for God to continue to sustain us and give us the spiritual food we need and bless us with relationships within the culture so we can share God’s Word.”

Survival off grid is more than the inconvenience of a power outage, is more than the loss of watching your favorite television show. Living off-grid is harsh, can be cruel, and many people die. Even in our dwindling economy, Americans are rich beyond measure when compared to the rest of the world. If your heart is so moved, please consider donating to this very worthwhile charity.

To donate to the BundiNutrition Fund, please go to

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