Christina and Hyder in Uganda.St. Paul's GreenHouse.

Life is triage, says Christina Marchand with a laugh. Christina knows triage. The Applied Health Studies graduate of UWaterloo started her company FullSoul after a co-op term where she witnessed the desperate conditions under which many women in Uganda gave birth — a country where the one-day maternal mortality rate rivals the annual maternal mortality rate in Canada.

Triage is a question of deciding how to prioritize medical needs, but for Christina, it was also similar to the process she used to determine how to have an impact on reducing the complications of birth and delivery. While Christina was figuring out how she could help, she sat down with Dr. Eve, a Ugandan doctor, over mango juice and talked about “what we could do, what would help hospitals most, what would make the most impact for the longest time with the least money.” Over and over, the idea of medical kits came up.

Typically, a pregnant woman in Uganda arrives at the hospital with a box of supplies that will be vital to her labour and delivery — if she can afford them. This can include bedding, food and even the razor blades that are often used to cut an umbilical cord and help with complications.

There were alternatives that could be sourced in Uganda but someone needed to decide what was needed and to find the funds to provide them. Together with her partner and co-founder Hyder Hassan, Christina decided she would be that person.

She returned to Waterloo after her co-op term, determined to make a difference. Christina joined St. Paul's GreenHouse with the determination to make a difference — and came out with a working business model. “GreenHouse and Rotary were key drivers of the success of FullSoul. I always say that I came into GreenHouse with an idea and came out with a business.”

Christina and Hyder were recently able to go back to Uganda to deliver the first 15 medical kits to three different hospitals. Each kit — which contains kidney dishes, artery forceps, several pairs of scissors, a needle holder and a non-toothed dissecting forcep — can be used to deliver up to three babies a day, depending on how often the equipment is sanitized. “Even if they only deliver one baby a day with a medical kit, that impacts 15,000 babies over the 20-year lifespan of the kit,” says Christina.

The medical staff at the Ugandan hospitals were excited and happy to see Christina back again, while she experienced a wide variety of emotions. “It was great to come full circle. I felt like this time I was able to add value, to bring something that hadn’t been there before. At the same time, I found myself hoping we had thought of everything and that the kits would be used safely.”

Triage is an element of Christina’s current life back in Canada. While finishing an master's degree in public health from UWaterloo, Christina is considering a wide range of options for her next steps, and is traveling between Ontario, Alberta, and Uganda. She’s building alliances for FullSoul, and sharing her story. She’s been back at GreenHouse, renewing relationships with the people who helped her turn an idea into reality. She’s also reviewing FullSoul’s revenue model — FullSoul’s initial business model was to fund medical kits through selling luxury fashion online, but experience has shown that, particularly among their strong Rotarian partners, people are more interested in the Ugandan projects than the clothes.

The day Christina first returned from Uganda, she looked at a washing machine in her rental house and began crying: She had been washing her clothes by hand for four months. Her tears not only expressed her sense of Canadian wealth, but also Ugandan wealth: “Washing clothes in Uganda is something you do with other women and it’s a great chance to talk. On the other hand, it takes a whole day to do. In Canada, I can do my homework while my clothes are washed and 30 minutes later everything is clean.”

While Christina isn’t sure how her various worlds will come together, her recent trip to Uganda felt like going to “another place I can call home.” She adds, “We can make ourselves at home wherever we are loved — I was loved in Uganda.”

But Christina is also motivated by showing love to people in her Ugandan home. “I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 18,” she says. “In Canada, I got a second chance at life; in Uganda, I might not have been so lucky. In Canada, we have everything we need and are lucky to be where we are, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that. Instead, we need to use our advantage to help the world. We’ve graduated from one of the top universities in the world — I think we have somewhat of a responsibility to use our advantages to help out where we can.”

- Susan Fish is a Waterloo-based writer who operates Storywell, an editing company, and who has two published novels (Seeker of Stars and Ithaca).

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