The month of May marks two internationally recognised days that honour midwives and nurses and recognise the tremendous work that they do. The International Day of the Midwife was first celebrated May 5, 1991, and has since been observed in over 50 nations around the world to recognise and honour midwives. International Nurses Day is a world-wide day observed on May 12 each year to mark the contributions that nurses make to society. In light of this, People’s Ines Rutayisire Umurerwa met with Loy Uwamwezi, a former nurse and midwife, who shared her journey in the field since 1974. Motivation 65-year-old Uwamwezi was raised by her parents who seemed to be struggling to take care of her and her younger sister. When she saw that the family needed financial help, she decided to suspend school, go for training, and later work as a nurse and midwife to help her parents run the home. When Uwamwezi, now a widow, was done with high school, her younger sister left to live with a man illegitimately, leaving her alone at home with her parents. During that time, she felt that the best way to help her family was to join the health field. Loy Uwamwezi with her daughter started work as midwife in 1974. Photo/ Courtesy “My sister went to live with her ‘husband’ illegally, and I was left at home with all the responsibilities on me, like taking care of my family, and even helping my sister’s family as my parents weren’t earning much from agriculture,” she narrates. The family left Rwanda when Uwamwezi was very young, and life in Uganda where they fled to was not easy, she recalls. Her parents could only be cultivators because they had no educational background that could help them find jobs, and so they couldn’t fully provide. Although ditching school seemed to be the solution if she wanted to help her family, there’s a part of Uwamwezi that feels like if she had waited a bit and pushed on with studies, she could have been better and could have helped her family even more. “Sometimes we make decisions because we need to solve problems fast. I was meant to be an obstetrician, but because I was eager to help my family I decided to stop studies and go into what I could do at the time, which was midwifery,” she says. Nevertheless, being a midwife was not a bad decision for her because she managed to take care of her family with fewer difficulties, and due to the love she had for the job she felt it was a great decision. She says that ever since she was little she always believed that she would be a doctor, and if not, a nun. Joining midwifery She started by receiving training in midwifery in 1974 and completed it in 1978, and was positioned in the same hospital, Mulago National Specialised Hospital, also known as Mulago National Referral Hospital, in Uganda where she was trained. Uwamwezi eventually got married to a soldier and started a family. After years of working in Uganda, she went to Kenya in 1984 but decided to go back to Uganda to be near her family in 1992. With her husband and kids, they returned to Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and as she recalls, the situation was not an easy one. “It was a hard time in Rwanda, there were lots of people that needed care, healing, and counselling and so I told myself that it was a good time to be here and assist where necessary. We weren’t receiving much as payment, but I did it for the people that needed me so they could have a normal and healthy life,” she says. In Rwanda, she started working at Kanombe Military Hospital in 1995, and also joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) making her a member to this day. Her only challenge being a midwife was working late hours, and was most times afraid to sleep through the night while on her shift. “I feared the night a lot, and so I couldn’t even close one eye during the night which affected my sleeping schedule. I couldn’t even sleep or rest even when I was not on the night shift, it was so hard and tiring but I never wanted to quit,” she says. Uwamwezi was forced to quit midwifery due to back complications in 1997, as she couldn’t assist people as well as she used to anymore, and her back worsened. Her husband died later in 2003 leaving her with four children and 14 others she was taking care of. It was quite hard to raise all children alone, without a solid job and back complications that made employment hard. She eventually opened a dairy store and sold milk for some time, using the money to cater for the family. When her husband died, he left her with land, on which she eventually built a house and now uses the garden to host wedding ceremonies in Kanombe. She says that the hardest part for her was having to raise school fees for the children, let alone feed them, but was lucky that her children were smart in school and eventually earned scholarships to university. The cost of living was also high because they were too many in the house. “My life after midwifery was a better one, I tried different businesses but now I am at a happy stage, I lack nothing,” she says. Working in the health field requires you to have love in you, sympathy, and attentiveness to what you do, Uwamwezi says. “The health sector in general needs people who love what they do, people that are patient, that have sympathy and that are attentive. I have seen here in Rwanda that some nurses lack that, it would be very useful if they received career guidance, and also if the people chosen to work in this field could have love for the sector, everything would improve,” she says.