The Oncology Project in Uganda and Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Didar in Canada


250px-Uganda_Gulu location_map
Gulu (pop. 152,276 according to 2014 census) is the commercial and administrative centre of Gulu District in Northern Uganda. It is served by an airport and a railway line, and is 340 kms from Kampala, Uganda’s capital and largest city. Map: Wikipedia.

I found out about the Eastern Canada didar announcement on a Whatsapp group at a connecting airport in late October 2017 on the way to Uganda — ten minutes before boarding a very long flight.

The entire silent overnight flight journey to Uganda itself was obviously an extremely emotionally turbulent and tearful roller coaster, as I was trying to digest the reality that I would be missing a once-in-a-lifetime occasion — the in-person blessing of my spiritual leader, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam.

But luckily, by the time I reached Uganda, after many hours of silent reflection, I had a surprising state of relative peace with the upcoming reality. I felt certain that the Imam would have been fairly satisfied with my reasons for being away, even if I couldn’t necessarily see him in person this time.

As I am an oncology pharmacist by profession, my project at Lacor Hospital in Gulu, Uganda, luckily progressed much faster than I had earlier anticipated. On the exact same morning of the didar in Montreal, Tuesday November 21, I presented to the team as to the progress of the four phase pediatric oncology project — of which the initial three phases were somehow nearing completion.

The first phase was the creation of a safety system in administering certain chemotherapy. The second phase was the creation of short educational monographs (concise information guides for health care professionals) for each of the chemotherapy being administered, to help to treat and monitor side effects. The third phase was the creation of new chemotherapy protocols with new items incorporated to prevent severe vomiting in kids undergoing chemotherapy.

The presentation on the day of the didar went smoothly, and the roll out and implementation of the four phases of the project was surprisingly smooth with very few minor hitches, thanks to the teamwork, hard work and enthusiasm of my Ugandan colleagues — two very inspiring and brilliant physicians, two equally incredible nurses, and my very determined and hard-working  pharmacist colleague.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether this project will save any pediatric cancer patient lives. But hopefully, because of the continued work of the people I mentioned above, it will very likely improve the quality of life of some kids with cancer.

This is a matter of faith, but I often wonder whether the roll out of the phases would have gone so magically smoothly if the didar had not been taking place while I was away.

It makes me feel like perhaps, despite my initial emotions, perhaps everything was just meant to be.

And I have no regrets. None. Instead I feel extremely blessed for having this incredible amazing gift of an opportunity.

Instead of vainly congratulating myself for only five weeks of work, I am completely in awe of the dedication and kindness of each of the members of the Ugandan physicians, interns, nurses and  pharmacists that I have worked with during my time here.

Year after year, these incredible men and women, with their friendly smiles, hilarious jokes, and unbelievably kind hearts, continue to dedicate everything they have to the hospital.

They are at the forefront of truly selfless patient care. They are the real superheroes of northern Uganda.

And as for myself? I’m their biggest fan.

I thought I’d end with two quotes which have somehow much more meaning now than they did before I left for Uganda.

“You can’t dare greatly without being courageous; you can’t get to courage without constantly walking through vulnerability. Vulnerability is therefore the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” – Brene Brown

“Spirituality should not become a way of escaping from the world, but rather a way of more actively engaging in it” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Tutzing, Germany, May 20, 2006.

Goodbye for now Uganda.

Goodbye for now — but not forever.

Date posted: January 8, 2017.


Shellyza Moledina SajwaniShellyza Moledina Sajwani is an oncology pharmacist currently practicing in Ottawa, Canada. She travelled to Gulu, Uganda, to implement a project for St Mary’s Hospital Lacor as part of her PharmD doctoral rotations from October 2017 to December 2017.

Due to the extreme poverty determined by over 20 years of conflict which ended in 2007, most patients are treated for free or at very subsidized rates. Over 70% of the hospital’s operating costs must therefore be covered from abroad. Funds for development are unfortunately often tied to very specific goals like new buildings and activities, and therefore supporting the costs of existing activities is rarely taken into consideration. Thanks to donors, the Foundation has played a key role in helping the hospital survive.

Every little bit helps – the average cost to Lacor Hospital for treating a child in the pediatric ward is 25 Canadian dollars, while the average cost to Lacor Hospital for a nurse’s monthly salary is only 250 Canadian dollars. Please consider making a donation at


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Note: This blog, Barakah, is a special project of and has been undertaken to celebrate 60 years or the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan.


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