My stay in Ireland was a wonderfully unique experience especially given the amazing seasonal changes as well as the various activities that I was able to do. I was met by Doireann McKenzie at Carton Square after the drive from Dublin airport. I was to meet the rest of the CDPC team during the next few weeks that followed. What struck me most initially was the amazingly radiant colours of the tree foliage; oranges, yellows and reds! This was especially so at the Southern campus with its beautiful old buildings some of which had brilliant creepers growing on them!
The lovely colours of the leaves!
I trained in three labs during my stay in Ireland and I had a most fruitful time. The first lab I trained in was the Host-Pathogen lab in the Institute of Immunology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Under the guidance of Dr. Martina Schroeder, I was able learn a variety of protein techniques that I hadn’t done before. I transfected mammalian cells and learned how to take care of them in addition to carrying out experiments with them like reporter assays, protein expression, western blots as well as ELISAs. At other times, I would go to Dr Bernard Mahon’s lab to learn some ELISA techniques in addition to attending lectures with the MSc Imunology and Global health students as well as Bioinformatics classes.
My timetable was quite full but I also managed to visit some second-level schools in Portlaoise, Carndonagh, Co. Donegal and Carlow with Joseph Clowry (CDPC Education Officer) as well as Patsy Toland (Self Help Africa) together with fellow trainees from Uganda, Madina and Phoebe, and Stephen from Kenya. At these schools we helped facilitate workshops on HIV/AIDS to the young people. It was interesting to hear the various myths they believed about this disease like getting HIV from mosquitos, something even a primary school student in Uganda cannot say. It made me realize that probably the low HIV infection rate had sort of made the Irish health sector complacent in this critical area of sex education with teenagers who are at the experimental stages of their lives.
Outside a school in Trim with Phoebe
After facilitating workshops with three different schools in Portloaise
The trip to Donegal was very interesting with picturesque scenes of the countryside. We drove past huge farms dotted with fat, wooly sheep and occasionally horses and cattle! I was on the lookout for animals given my veterinary background. As we made our way to Donegal, Patsy and Joe relayed to us the stormy historical relationship of the republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and how Northern Ireland has neighborhoods split along religious lines, with Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other! It was eye-opening to see first-hand how faith could cause such great rifts in a nation.
Scenes from Derry or Londonderry!
While in Donegal, we met with more second-level students as well as their teachers. These schools had partnered with schools in other parts of the world and I was glad to be able to meet a school that was partnering with Watoto Ministries in Uganda. They were so excited as they spoke of the various activities they planned to do with their partner schools.
The biting cold at the beach in Donegal, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean
The day we travelled back to Maynooth from Donegal spelt the last of the previously ‘mild’ Irish weather: we entered what the news reporters kept referring to as the ‘cold snap’! It was more than a snap to me! We arrived back from Donegal on a Thursday and that Saturday we woke to find everything as far as the eye could see covered in white! It had snowed the previous night and yes, it was exciting to see the snow!
Scenes outside our window on Day One of the snow!
What I hadn’t bargained for though, was the snow bringing everything to a grinding halt especially the transportation system. By the time it begun snowing, I had begun travelling to the Institute of Molecular Medicine, St James’s Hospital in Dublin, to carry out some work on the Immunology of Tuberculosis from Dr Joe Keanne’s lab. Seonadh O’leary, was great and she made my time in the TB lab a pleasure. The weather disruptions though contributed to my missing some days because there were times when the buses were no longer travelling to some routes while the trains were still running but with delays and over-crowding. As the cold weather continued we were advised by the weather people to remain indoors and only travel when it was absolutely necessary. But despite all that I was still able to attend a Computational Biology and Innovation PhD symposium held at University College Dublin, another beautiful campus as well as the Irish Forum for Global Health, Biennial Conference where we also marked World Aids day.