This semester I have been working with the Biomed Elites team at Makerere on the oxygen splitter project. The team consists of Success, Christine, Bridget, Peter, and Martin from Makerere along with myself, Stacie, and Sanjuana from Duke. The project is focused on optimizing the oxygen flow rate to neonates in the current oxygen therapy system used in the neonatal ward at Mulago Hospital. Stacie and I traveled to Uganda to meet our teammates in person and make progress on the project. This trip was critical in building a lasting relationship with our teammates that would benefit the project and increase the likelihood of its success moving into the future.
During our time in Uganda, we had two work sessions with our group and a trip to visit the neonatal ward at Mulago hospital. We had the opportunity to talk with Success, Christine, Bridget, and Peter during these team design meetings. It was a great experience being able to talk in person, rather than waiting for a response on WhatsApp or dealing with slow connectivity during a video chat. Additionally, we had not previously had the opportunity to talk with all of the members of the team, since we had been solely communicating through a point person on the Makerere team. This was beneficial because we were able to directly hear the thoughts and inputs of each the team member and interact with them. During the first two design meetings, we narrowed down the overall system approach and had begun talking about the specifics of the flow meter & regulator and valve design. The team had some differences in approach to the problem that stemmed from our different engineering backgrounds and experiences. They were addressed first by thoroughly explaining our ideas based on engineering principles and then we discussed any potential issues with the suggested design before coming to a consensus as an entire group.
The trip we took to the neonatal ward at Mulago hospital with Success and Christine was an eye opening experience and a critical turning point in our project. Despite having visited the facility before and having grown up in Uganda, both of our teammates were as surprised and affected by the current situation in the Mulago neonatal ward as we were. The sight of 20 babies sharing a bed and being connected to the same oxygen source was heart-wrenching for all of us. Their dedication to improving the situation was also evident in our team meetings. They wanted to tackle every single problem revolving around the oxygen therapy system, rather than just the most important one because they wanted to improve all aspects of the situation. Being able to share this experience with our teammates was important because it united us in our purpose and goals. For the first time, we had a similar frame of reference for the need of our design and a shared motivating experience, which will go a long way when it comes to the continuation of the design and creating a prototype.
Our interactions and experiences in Uganda with our team went far beyond the team meetings regarding our project. Outside of meetings we played card games, talked about the political climate in the US and Uganda, talked about all levels of education, visited the African Craft market, visited the hostel one of them lives in, and shared our college experiences. Overall, we integrated well into the team during our week in Uganda both during project meetings and socially and consequently formed a strong relationship between us. Two of the team members took us to an African craft market where we bonded over fashion as we looked for the right skirt to buy and they helped us bargain for a fair price. Their interactions with us throughout the week showed their positive attitude towards Americans and other foreigners. They were concerned that we would be taken advantage of by local craftsman and that we would get lost and taken advantage of when using a public taxi as transportation. Their concern about us going to the market alone showed that they cared about how we were treated in their home country and wanted us to have the best experience possible.
They also showed us their hospitality by inviting us over to a hostel where one of them lives. We learned what the life of a college student in Uganda was like. Among all of the differences between our experiences, this gave us a chance to relate to one another through our college experiences and studies. We also discussed internships, the interviewing process, and how it differs between Uganda and the US. Having this common ground helped to deepen our relationship. We also spent free time with some of our team members at the Edge house where we were staying. During a night of card games with the Duke and Makerere students, their sense of humor became evident. One game we played with them required you to lie and not get caught; however most of the Ugandan students were not good at keeping a poker face because they were laughing too much. Overall, our interactions and conversations with the team gave us an insight into Ugandan culture and helped us to find commonalities.
This time with our group members outside of working on the project helped us to bond, which strengthened our relationship and communication. This experience has changed our expectations for this project and the partnership. We did not have a lot of expectations prior to the trip in terms of the quality of communication and relationship we would had with the Ugandan team. By getting to know them personally, we have raised the expectations on how much and the quality of communication. With a better sense of the situation at the neonatal ward, we also have increased expectations on the impact this project can have. This change in expectation of our collaboration with the Biomedical Elites will help us after the trip when we return to working on the project remotely. Being able to meet the team members in person and learn about who they are and what their daily life is like will help us to work as a cohesive unit instead of two separate teams. It created a sense of unity among us and shaped the overall group dynamic by reaffirming our common goals, which is something that would not have happened without interacting in person.