Luana Gilles guesses she must have at least a couple hundred blankets to take with her when she meets her daughter Joanne in Uganda.

Blanketing Ugandan newborns with care

For nearly six weeks, Invermere native Joanne Gilles has been performing a work placement in the African nation of Uganda.

For almost six weeks, University of British Columbia (UBC) midwifery student and Invermere native Joanne Gilles has been performing a work placement in the African nation of Uganda and come Thursday, she will receive a little help thanks to her mother, Invermere resident Luana Gilles.

“What happened when [Joanne] got there is she let me know that one of the shortages was baby blankets,” Luana said. “They want to send the babies home with a blanket, and sometimes mothers don’t arrive with anything.”

To that effect, Luana will be bringing a massive stockpile of blankets — at least a couple hundred by her estimate — with her when she arrives in Uganda on Thursday (July 12). Joanne first arrived in Uganda on June 1 and Luana plans to meet her near the end of the work placement so they can do a bit of travelling together before returning home to Canada.

“It’s an amazing experience, [Joanne] is learning things and actually doing things that she might never experience in Canada, because they are so short on resources,” Luana said. “There’s all that problem solving that goes on just to make do.”

Joanne is one of seven UBC midwifery students currently working the placement, which is split between three different medical centres. The students are currently finishing their third year of a four-year program and each is given the choice of working in either British Columbia for the summer or Uganda.

The difficulties of working in Uganda are many — a severe shortage of resources means students bring as many medical supplies as possible when they arrive. Further complicating matters is the condition of many of their patients. The students have been placed in what are known as referral hospitals, meaning they receive many high-risk mothers and babies. The vast majority of these mothers also have little to no prenatal care, which can cause even further issues come childbirth. The students have been keeping a blog about their experience, which spares no detail when it comes to the problems facing Ugandan midwives.

“Those stories tell it all in the blog,” Luana said. “The stories are at times heartbreaking, but also extremely heartwarming. I think that all of those women are quite courageous.”

When Luana was first told of the need for blankets, she began emailing a large number of people for help and says the response has been tremendous. As a member of the Valley GoGo Sisters, she said many other members donated blankets and Luana also credits local quilters and some local businesses for their donations.

“I’ve had an amazing response… I have such a pile of blankets that now I’m looking for hockey bags to transport them all,” laughed Luana. “It’s the kind of cause that touches people’s hearts, and they know the blankets are going to get there, because I’m bringing them with me.”

To read more about the students’ time in Uganda, visit their blog at

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