Connecting classroom theory to real life skills application through community based initiatives

Working through a partnership, Clarke International University together with Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation (USCRF) provides a platform where students get hands on experience in community activities organized to promote sickle cell awareness. The community activities help students transform theory into practice through the provision of regular structured and supervised opportunities for applying and testing knowledge, skills and attitudes. In addition, these initiatives also offer real life experience to problems and issues to trigger student thinking and active participation.  

Sickle cell disease is associated with progressive organ damage coupled with episodes of acute painful episodes and illness resulting from the sticky and stiff red blood cells which clog tiny blood vessels. Estimates suggest that about 25000 babies are born with this condition, however up to 80% die before their fifth birthday. CIU and USCRF work to address this burden through increasing awareness and advocating against the associated stigma in communities.  In Uganda, 13.5 % of our population are carriers of this condition while the disease prevalence varies from region to region.

Being a carrier means that a person has a chance of having a child with sickle cell if they have a baby with another   carrier.  Such unions continue to add to the sickle cell burden in Uganda.  This means that every one, has a responsibility to know their sickle cell status. Couples are encouraged to take a sickle cell test.   Knowing your sickle cell type and making conscious decision in regards to choosing one’s husband/wife can result in a sickle cell disease free society.  Screening is the first step in breaking the cycle of sickle cell disease.  

Today, this program not only seeks to allow students apply knowledge and skills in a practical setting but also strives to progressively develop competencies through participation in a range of practical experiences involving educating patients, phlebotomy or offering a sickle cell test. The program also works to test student commitment to their career through the ability to volunteer time. Through volunteering, students gain useful insight into professional practice.  We also work to continuously evaluate progress and identify areas for additional personal or professional development for the students going through the program.

Further, students going through the program undergo an orientation where they are helped to better understand the general knowledge about the disease, nature of stigmatization, how it might impact screening efforts and self-awareness of trait. One student Amos Magala BMLS II reported that “It was a great time of practice which helped me improve my skills in bleeding of patients which has increased my confidence in bleeding skills. It was a very good learning experience and worth being a part of”. This program has also had major success stories, where students who have gone through it have been transformed into young leaders.  For example, Flavia Nakawala  joined the program in her first year as a Direct BMLS student who would volunteer her time with USCRF every Monday and Tuesday. Now in her 2nd year, Flavia was selected for the prestigious leadership program the Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) for Women Leaders program at University of Delaware.

As CIU, we believe that empowering students and providing access to learning opportunities is key in addressing Uganda’s development needs.  We therefore focus on using this model for real world application of class theory.

The writer of this article, Sharifu Kiragga Tusuubira, is the Executive Director of Uganda Sickle Cell Rescue Foundation and is a Mandela Washington Fellow who lectures in CIU’s Institute of Allied Health Sciences.