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Into Africa: Holmen grad embarks on medical journey to test skills and help

May 27, 2008

Ammerman, 22, is a doctor of pharmacy candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy. The university has an ongoing project in Uganda for pharmacy, medical and nursing students and sends students for three weeks each summer. Ammerman and 15 other UW students will travel to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on May 24.

“I’m really excited,” Ammerman said. “I’ve never been outside of North America. Even though we’re prepared, we really don’t know what to expect. I don’t think I’ll be ready emotionally for what I’ll see. In America, we don’t see emaciated people sitting on the side of the road. It’ll be a culture shock.”

This semester she’s been in a special, for-credit class focusing on Uganda and its culture. “It gets you in the mood. You learn about different aspects of the country, what it has gone through,” Ammerman said. “After many hours of reading texts and discussing the frustrating injustices of life in developing countries, I am eager to offer my knowledge and skills to those who are greatly in need.”

Ammerman has learned Uganda is a country home to many diverse cultures and problems. “Abducted children are forced to fight as soldiers and are powering a rebel movement to overthrow the government in the northern part of the country,” she said. “The urban settings in Uganda have become crowded with displaced children who have fled their homes to escape abduction. The AIDS pandemic has also left many children without parents or a place to live. Most Ugandans live in extreme poverty and do not have access to the basics standards of living such as food, clean water and health care.”

Despite the bleakness of life there, Ammerman applied for the project because she wanted to experience something totally different. “I’ve never done anything off on my own. And I’d like to have other insights into other people. That will make me more empathetic and realize what I have in life, what I can do in pharmacy to help anyone.”

The first week of the trip, Ammerman will be touring clinics and other health facilities with the whole group of students. For the second week, each student will be assigned to a different rural village to work in a clinic. During the third week they will go back to Kampala and work on a project involving the culture and health care that will be presented to faculty and staff at Makerere University in the capital.

Ammerman is excited that one of her professors will be there at the same time and she might be able to work on diabetes research with the professor. While she is excited about the possibility of helping with the diabetic research, as a first year doctoral candidate with three more years to go, Ammerman hasn’t made up her mind yet about her options within the field of pharmacology. “Research will definitely be interesting, but I’m really attracted to the idea of an independent country. I’m also interested in being more involved with patients than say a Walgreen’s where the pharmacist just hands out prescriptions. I’m interested in the total patient care aspect.”

Having good relationships with her teachers has always been a trait of Ammerman’s. She still stays in touch with some of her high school teachers and is grateful for the education obtained in Holmen. “The academic background and skills and confidence it takes to enter such a daunting challenge in a different country, traveling with people you don’t know, requires you really know yourself, where you came from and where you want to go. Holmen did a good job preparing me for the future and giving me the skills for school, for graduate school and beyond.”

Not only is Ammerman interested in helping less advantaged people through health care, she is involved in an orphanage in Uganda. A friend of hers recently started up a small private orphanage and Ammerman is fundraising for it. “A Need for All Children Orphanage” is located 15 miles outside of Kampala. “Children at the orphanage are either abandoned by their parents or one of many who fled their rural homes looking for a safe haven. These children have nothing,” Ammerman said.

Fundraising activities for the orphanage includes T-shirt and food sales, a “Cup Night” at the Nitty Gritty in Madison and selling hand-made beads made by women merchants in Uganda. The goal of the fundraising is to raise enough money to give each child in the orphanage a new set of clothes, shoes, some basic furniture, some toys to play with and children’s books.

The orphanage is relatively new and has not applied yet for nonprofit status. However contributions are gratefully accepted. Non-tax-deductible donations can be made payable to Natalie Ammerman and sent to: Uganda Children’s Fund, W8060 August Avenue, Holmen, WI 54636.

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