‘Charity Begins at Home’: Florida Southern Brother Works to Improve Health System in Uganda

Featured image courtesy of Shem Opolot

Shem Opolot always dreamed of improving the health system in his home country of Uganda, but the roadmap to this goal was unclear after finishing secondary school. Opolot had a tough decision to make: stay in his home country with the uncertainty of truly making a difference or take a plunge into the unknown by continuing his studies in the United States.

And so Opolot (who had never been on a plane, nor away from his home country) set out to the United States. In the spring of 2010, Opolot began his undergraduate career at Florida Southern College, thanks to a scholarship, with the intention of becoming a physician.

While he was at Florida Southern, Opolot met several Lambda Chi brothers. That bond changed Opolot’s life for the better.

Opolot aims to make sure surgeons have everything they need for successful surgeries. Photo courtesy of Shem Opolot

“Ultimately for me, joining Lambda Chi, even before learning about what it meant, it was a lot easier to join Lambda Chi, because I knew I was in a good place because of the kind of people that were there,” said Opolot.

Joining Lambda Chi helped Opolot kickstart his drive to give back.

That drive took him to Duke University where he pursued a master’s degree in global health, with a focus on health economics and health policy, after serving time with a doctor in Ohio. What Opolot learned about himself was he wanted to effect greater change in the country of Uganda, and he was hopeful his experience at Duke would lead him there.

As a part of his program working with the chief of neurosurgery at Duke’s hospital, Opolot was automatically enrolled as a member of Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neuroscience (DGNN), that (conveniently) played a large role in Uganda. Opolot couldn’t believe his luck and soon found himself writing a proposal for a full-time job in Uganda.

Opolot secured his position and was finally moving home to do what he had dreamed of his entire life: making a change in the Ugandan health care system.

DGNN has been working in Uganda to improve neurosurgery for the past nine years, but when Opolot arrived, they were at a crossroads with funding: they wanted to find a way to be sustainable without the constant need of donations.

Opolot hopes that the NSU will become a beacon of hope in Uganda. Photo courtesy of Shem Opolot

So, Opolot’s position shifted to focus more on the needs of the Neurosurgical Socieety of Uganda (NSU) as the executive director in an effort to help shoulder the cost of supporting neurosurgeons and providing the best care for the people. Though he still serves as DGNN’s program manager and helps with local programs, his transition into his role for the NSU was part of DGNN’s process in seeking to partner with the NSU to advance neurosurgery in Uganda and make it sustainable.

Opolot’s goal as the executive director of the NSU is now to create efficient, flexible, and lasting systems of operation to provide the physicians and related medical staff with everything they need to be successful. He hopes that this will subsequently transform neurosurgery in Uganda and make the NSU a beacon of excellence that can help drive an overall transformation in the Ugandan health system.

While it is certainly not the path Opolot thought his life would take, he could not be more excited for where his experiences have taken him and the idea of making a real difference for his country.

“I’ve been dreaming about contributing to the betterment of our health system for ages, as long as I have been alive and so to be able to sit in a position where I can actively see myself do something like that, to be able to sit in a room with surgeons that are treating people who are getting better…is incredible,” said Opolot.

Though he is worlds aways from his brothers at Florida Southern, he is forever grateful to their support and acceptance that helped propel him to where he is today.

“Without that kind of support, I don’t know what I would be doing right now,” stated Opolot. “Lambda Chi was a lightning rod for my hopes and dreams.”

To read more about Opolot’s work and how you can help, click here.

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