By Meddy Katende
I would like to share my experiences to the 2019 annual Global Health Conference on the RUFC blog. I have no idea where to start. From a frustrating visa process to exciting moments in LA, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Chicago, to an academic tour to some of the greatest universities in USA and a family reunion in Chicago and Ohio. Here is my story in bits!
I first learnt about this opportunity in September 2018 when Prof. Heather Wipfli informed me that our applications to present RUFC work at the annual global health conference was accepted. She requested my company to this historic event and this was one of the most exciting news I have ever had in my entire life. At this moment, I didn’t know that it just the beginning of a process that scares every Ugandan citizen irrespective of how educated or important they are: the “U.S visa application”
In October 2018 I started the process and, after doing enough research, filled and submitted my online application in December. At this moment, I was asked to pay a total of UGX 640,000 which RUFC provided. I then scheduled a date for my interview on the 15th of January, did all the research, asked people who had been in the process and by 15th was ready to go. I will live to tell a story about this day, here is what happened!
Having my interview scheduled at 8:30am, I woke up at 6am to prepare, made sure I was on time, got in and answered all the questions asked by the consular in an interview that lasted for less than two minutes. After asking a couple questions, the consular faced her computer and said to me “Am sorry Mr. Katende you’re not eligible to enter the U.S at this moment." I didn’t know what to say to her really. At this moment she returned my passport accompanied with a rejection letter that made it clear not to appeal this decision unless circumstances for which the visa was denied had changed. I left the room in complete disbelief, didn't know why she said I was illegible for the visa. But this is where the story gets interesting!
I immediately wrote to Prof. Heather informing her about this whole experience. I asked her if I should challenge the decision and her response was like everyone else's. “I don’t think reapplying will change anything”. She encouraged me to stay focused and wait for other opportunities in the future.
NEVER GIVE UP!
When everyone else thought it was never going to work, Ray’s opinion was different. Through his blog and other RUFC social media forums, Ray criticized the Embassy’s decision to deny people opportunities to travel due to what he referred as political reasons that had nothing to do with any of us. This gave me fresh energy and I decided to make an appeal, reapplied and was given a new appointment after making endless calls to the Embassy. Thanks to Ray’s cyber activism and my tenacity, my visa application was finally accepted on the 14th of February 2019.
At exactly 12:00am on 1st March, I set off from Entebbe airport for the much anticipated trip and it was a bit of a fluke because it was my28th birthday at the same time. Celebrating birthdays has never been my thing, but this was a special one. After traveling for over 28 hours, from Entebbe through Dubai and finally landing in Los Angeles at exactly 2:00pm, still on March 1st! And so after traveling for more than 24 hours, given the 11 hours’ time difference it was still my birthday. For the record, this is the longest birth I have ever had!
Great thanks to the Wipfli family for making that day even better, from a warm welcome at the airport, to a fundraising event where Ray and I shared a lot about RUFC and Uganda, to dinner where I had a Mexican meal for the first time in my life. At which point I thought it was done, but the party was just getting started! After dinner we went home and this was the most amazing moment, I found a very big chocolate cake waiting, and moments later was showed with gifts from the entire family.
The following days we visited lots of places in California including Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean. On the third day Prof. Heather gave me an opportunity to interact with her class at the University of Southern California on mhealth and public health in Uganda. I was happy to answer a lot of questions about health Apps and solutions from these exciting young people.
There were lots of other events during my first week in Los Angeles, including great meals and reuniting with some of the students that have been part of our RUFC program in the previous years.
On 6th March, we travelled to Chicago for the annual global health conference. The weather in Chicago was far different from LA and of course the familiar Ugandan weather. I had never experienced so much cold ever before, but life is about adventure and this was part of a wonderful experience.
While in Chicago, we visited a number of famous places including Millennium Park and Willis Tower. But one of the most exciting and favorite things about this whole trip was trying different types of food from the diverse ethnic groups in USA, including Italian, Mexican, Japanese and Indian (see pictures below!).
I also attended a number of important sessions on global health and we were able to present our posters on RUFC work in Uganda. We interacted with a number of people and was I amused to find so many people who have worked in Uganda addressing different health challenges.
Family Reunion and Academic Tours
While in Chicago, I was able to see my brother and meet his family for the very first time. There’s nothing that’s as beautiful as meeting family, especially people you have not seen in a long period of time. In the last week of my trip, I visited other family and top universities in Ohio and was able to connect with quite a number of people in the different academic departments of interest.
Great thanks to Ray Wipfli for doing his utmost best to see that this trip happened. Ray put up a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to fund my air ticket and did a lot of activism to ensure I was granted a visa from the Embassy. Second I would like to thank the entire Wipfli family for hosting me and taking good care of me throughout the trip. Lastly to everyone who donated to fund my trip and supports RUFC activities, thank you very much!
Ray Wipfli, RUFC founder, shares his thoughts.