Dr. Asa Ahimbisibwe could have easily not become a doctor. Growing up in Uganda, Africa, the young professional always had the world pushing against him, but his desire to obtain an education persisted until he found success.
Even though his dream of becoming a medical professional came true, his female family members have not been as fortunate due to the lack of support for women’s health and education in developing countries.
Dr. Ahimbisibwe recently published Hopeful, a book about the challenges of the many children growing up in developing countries who yearn to have an education. Hopeful is an account of Dr. Ahimbisibwe and his cousin who, born in disadvantaged villages in Uganda, embark on the uphill task of changing their lives, but end up in completely different places.
The obstetrics and gynaecology resident and author sat down with us to discuss Hopeful, his passion for advocating for women’s rights, and his journey to success.
What inspired you to write a book that was based on your own life experiences?
I wanted to write this book to help tell a story of courage and hope, and to tell my readers about the gift of education. Education sets a stage for every child in developing countries to break away from the cycle of poverty and deprivation, and unlocks the potential in each of us to become our best.
I decided to write about myself because my life is a testimony to what education can do. Sometimes all someone needs is one person to come along and help them succeed. One changed life can impact so many lives.
Hopeful contains a lot of ups and downs, and ultimately shows how difficult life can be for some people. Was any of this tough for you to write about?
Yes — some of the memories were not easy to write about. But I was determined to do it so that when people read those difficult moments about a child growing up in rural Uganda, and yet manages to fight on, they will be encouraged to give themselves another chance.
One memory that was not easy to write about was my father needing to take on another job. He worked for a few cents on our neighbor’s farm, but he had no working boots and suffered recurrent malaria attacks because of mosquito bites. It was very tough to recall — I shed a few tears.
Have your life experiences and the struggles you have seen helped shape the person you are today, and the doctor you would like to be?
Absolutely. I tell my friends that I have failed so many times in my life that now the fear of failure does not hold me back from taking on any challenges I face. For me, failing an exam in medical school would simply mean that I would have to try it again and find a different way of doing things.
Although I took on the profession of “lawyer” in Hopeful, my life has informed my philosophy in medicine. I do not believe in competing with my fellow colleagues — I believe in all of us being the best we can be and recognizing that together we can make a great team. When I see patients, I strive to treat each one like I would treat one of my family members.
I have also learned how important it is to treat people with respect. I’ve learned that people do not care about how much medical professionals know, unless they see that we sincerely care about them and their health.
What made you become so passionate about advocating for women's rights, particularly focusing on health and education?
Uganda has a population of over 35 million people, with its size being approximately one quarter of the province of Ontario. At the end of the day today, 20 to 30 young women will have died while pregnant or giving birth in Uganda. These women die of preventable causes, such as having too many babies too frequently, in a health system not equipped to save their lives, because they have no choices and no voice.
I have had my close relatives die in childbirth — my close aunt who spent so much time caring for me as a child died after shattering her uterus while I was a medical student. Women are the backbone of child rearing, so when mothers die their children have an increased chance of dying as well.
It is time to speak up for these women, who are not given priority at school compared to the boys.
What do you hope people will take away from reading Hopeful?
I hope the readers will take away the feeling of what the poor children in developing countries go through to get an education. More importantly, I would like the young readers to reflect on the privilege of the education they have received and use it as a platform to help those who only dream of one day receiving an education.
I would also like my readers to ask themselves what I believe are the most urgent question of our entire lives: how can we make change, and how can we make our lives count? We do not have to change the entire world, but by investing in just one person you can change generations to come. My parents could never afford shoes in order for me to go to school, but they changed my life and the lives of all my patients I have treated.
You're currently a resident with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, but it seems that you also have a passion for writing as well. Do you have any plans to write more in the future?
Yes, I do have plans to write more books. I have two drafts on my computer, but they will have to wait until I complete the Royal College Exam.
I also contribute newspaper articles to a national paper in Uganda on the subjects of health equity, women reproductive health rights, and preventing maternal morbidity and mortality.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Many people spend half of their life planning how they will live in the future, and convince themselves that there is nothing they can do right now. They wake up only to spend the next half of their lives regretting the time lost, the things not done, the friendships not nurtured, the lives they have not changed. Do not let the fear of failure stop you from reaching out to do what you believe in.