Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christine Dranzoa - a remarkable person.

I’d like to share a story from Africa that is very much linked to a small slice of Saskatoon life.

Chrsitine Dranzoa outside the Faculty of Vet Med, 2002
I have a long history in Africa and for the last eight years of my career as a wildlife veterinarian I took Canadian students from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine to Uganda. We would not have been able to carry out this program if it had not been for the head of the Department of Wildlife and Animal Resource Management at the Makerere University veterinary school. Her name is Christine Dranzoa and through several exchanges of letters and email she laid on a tour for me in 2002 to see what was what before I actually took students there.
After that introductory tour it was relatively simple for me to convince the powers-that-be in Canada that there was a really worthwhile opportunity for Canadian students to learn a huge amount about veterinary medicine, and much more, in a new setting.

I also found out that Christine has a remarkable history, which I will compress (and which does not appear on any website). She was born in West Nile, the region of the country where Idi Amin came from. When he was ousted the equally gruesome despot, Milton Obote, targeted everyone in West Nile. Christine, aged 12, fled to Sudan as a refugee. She managed to get out of that nightmare and finished high school, got her BSc and went on to her PhD work. At age 27 she spoke to the dean at the vet school about the lack of a wildlife department and soon found herself not only founding one, but also becoming its head! We worked with her near the end of that tenure as this rather grainy old footage, shot with an early version of a digital camera, shows.

For the first three years Dr. Dranzoa traveled with us in the field and worked with the students on her specialty, which is birds. Her thesis work had been on the nesting ecology of birds in partially logged forest fringes. We visited Kibale National Park where Christine did her studies and used mist nets to capture birds, ring them, and collect blood samples for disease studies. We even found a couple of cases of avian malaria.

We were also able to secure funding at the WCVM to bring Christine to Saskatoon to deliver a moving talk about issues related to wildlife in her country. When my wife and I took her to one of our favourite places, Prince Albert National Park, we were lucky enough to see a huge swirl of snow geese above a slough near the appropriately named town of Duck Lake.  

Snow goose cloud. Photo by Trudy Janssens, Photogrpahy One2One

When her eight years as department head were up Christine was promoted to the post of Deputy Director of the School of Postgraduate Studies for the entire university (30,000 students, 3,000 graduate students) at age 35!

Artist's impression of the new campus
Dr. Dranzoa has gone on to meet new challenges. Two years ago (in her forties) Christine was tasked as one of the team founding a new university in her home region, in the district of Arua in the West Nile sub-region. This was after elders in the community petitioned Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni.  It  was founded in 2012 and has now been registered as Muni University. Christine is the current Vice Chancellor.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Christine has been active in other fields, especially in ones related to women’s issues in Uganda and beyond. Although we came to know her well and enjoyed our many visits with her, she never told us that she co-founded and is Chairperson of Nile Women Initiative an NGO which aims to address gender disparities in her home region. She is also Honorary Secretary of the pan-African Forum for African Women Educationalists.

Christine (r) with Fifi in 2003 and Angela, Chrstine's sister
Over and above these remarkable achievements she has now raised 18 children, none of them her own (she has never married). Most are kids of her siblings who were either killed in Obote’s pogroms or died of AIDS. The youngest, Fifi, is about to finish high school. A few are not even relatives, but just orphan children who are friends of her extended family. When we visited Christine’s home we discovered that the bedrooms were set up as dormitories – boys and girls. How could it have been otherwise?

The nursing clinc is under construction
Christine has written to me seeking help with equipment for a nursing station, a small but much needed part of the campus, especially during the construction phase when not only builders but also the  general public, will have it handy. She had heard that there were organizations in Canada who could ship containers of stuff to needy areas. After a bit of sleuthing I met (so far only by phone and on line) a Regina-based nursing PhD who has shipped 79 containers to 19 countries in the last 10 years. Her name is Pammla Petrucka. Dr. Petrucka has a well-oiled system and access to a large warehouse in Regina. She can also get hold of a full array of medical equipment ranging from bangages to bedpans, tilt beds to tubing and walkers to wheelchairs. On top of that she has a team of volunteers who can fill a container in a single day. All the equipment is donated, in good condition, and free. The problem is the shipping. It costs about $25,000 to ship a container. This covers the cost of the container, the physical act of transport, and the paperwork. The container is not returned and is likely to end up being a useful addition at the destination. I have even heard of containers being fitted with air conditioning before shipment.

My wife and I, and several of those former students have managed to raise part of the funds needed to get one container to Uganda, but cannot reach the full $25,000 needed to complete the shipment. We are channeling our funds through the Hospitals of Regina Foundationwhich has NFP charitable status so that our donors will receive tax receipts.

Apart from being an author and retired professor I am a storyteller and have told stories about my career as a wildlife vet on 4 continents. The Africa stories often have threads about Christine in them. I hope that this comes as no surprise.


Unknown said...

She sounds like a remarkable lady - thank you for sharing her story!

Jenny Oak said...

Well, a real success story! Dr. Dranzoa has been instrumental in coming up with a veterinary service for wild animals its really thoughtful of her. And I am happy to see her achieve her goals!
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