A Year of Living Profoundly

Shelly Jones and her adopted Ugandan daughter, Shakira - photo by Martin Dee
Shelly Jones and her adopted Ugandan daughter, Shakira – photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 12 | Dec. 1, 2005

By Lorraine Chan

When UBC graduate student Shelley Jones, 43, traveled to south central Uganda last August to research her education thesis, she had no idea she’d be returning a mom.

But early into her first term of teaching high school in Masaka District, Jones began taking care of an 18-month-old girl who was extremely ill.

“I had gone to visit a nearby home and saw this little baby,” says Jones. “She was obviously very sick and no one was able to afford to take her for medical treatment or give her the care she desperately needed.”

The child, Shakira, had been orphaned and was left in the care of a grandfather and other relatives. “They were already quite burdened with other children to look after. They had very little.”

Soon, Jones began to look in on Shakira twice a day. Before going to work and on the way home, she would take the baby back to her house to feed and bathe her.

“After a couple of weeks, I began taking her to school with me and keeping her with me all day,” says Jones. “And then it just made sense for her to come live with me.”

Because Shakira had not been breastfed, the doctors told Jones that she showed all the classic symptoms of extreme malnutrition. As well, the girl suffered from malaria and other signs of ill health.

Jones carefully fed her easy foods such as scrambled eggs, milk, fruit, vegetables, and Shakira’s favourite, pasta, along with a cocktail of vitamin serums and prescription medication.

“She had this fiery determination to live,” says Jones, “That’s what really helped her to make a full recovery.”

After nine months, Jones made the adoption official. And when she returned to Vancouver this August, Shakira — now almost three — was her irrepressible seatmate on the flight home.

Jones has found an apartment through UBC Family Housing. And Shakira is enrolled in daycare, while Jones focuses on keeping all the balls up in the air as a single mother, working part-time and shaping a year of profound experiences into a PhD thesis.

Despite the challenges, Jones says she has no regrets. “Shakira is this totally joyous and amazing child. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.”

UBC Faculty and Students Have Established Strong Research Links with Uganda

Shelley Jones’ study is but one of three UBC Faculty of Education research projects in that country.

  • Her supervisors, UBC Education Profs. Maureen Kendrick and Bonny Norton, are leading studies on adult and family literacy. With Harriet Mutonyi, a UBC education student from Uganda, they’re also exploring HIV/AIDS education for adolescents.
  • Faculty of Medicine’s Shafique Pirani, clinical professor of orthopaedics, is training Ugandan doctors to use non-surgical treatment to correct clubfoot
  • The Liu Institute for Global Issues is co-ordinating multi-agency research that will advance human security issues, which include on-the-ground mechanisms to protect civilians from violence and abuse.
  • To promote global oral health, UBC Dentistry Assistant Prof. Shafik Dharamsi has focused on delivering health promotion and early-childhood development initiatives in several African countries, including Uganda.