Gerald Atwine remembers his friend and Bulamu co-founder Jim Balassone, whom he met in a Santa Clara hospital room when assisting Jim as he recovered from surgery.
Bulamu, which means “well-being” in the local language of Luganda, was launched due to a chance encounter between the two co-founders. Gerald Atwine, 39, was born and raised in Uganda, the youngest of ten children in a rural town. His father, a high school teacher turned businessman, was shot and killed during the brutal regime of the infamous Idi Amin when Gerald was only 8 months old. His mother, widowed and illiterate, somehow successfully raised her ten children. Gerald managed to secure a U.S. student visa, gain acceptance to the University of Michigan, earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing, and become a licensed R.N. in California. There, he found himself in a Santa Clara hospital treating Jim Balassone, 75, a retired technology firm executive who was recovering from surgery. The two bonded, and a few months later Jim traveled to Uganda with Gerald to explore the potential for starting an NGO to improve the health of poor Ugandans. They soon had formed Bulamu Healthcare International, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, with Jim as chief fundraiser and Gerald in charge of program activities, personally overseeing on-site each medical camp while continuing his nursing work in the U.S. between camps.
Tragically, Jim Balassone passed away on May 6, 2017 after three weeks of hospitalization due to a rare lung disease. Bulamu has continued with the same growth momentum, however, as Jim’s role on the board of directors was taken over by a Princeton classmate, Dick Chandler, who was an early Bulamu donor and is now Board Chair. In Jim’s honor, Bulamu has established the Jim Balassone Memorial Challenge Fund, with $125,000 now committed, that will match on a dollar-for-dollar basis all donations made between November 20, 2017 and December 31, 2018. The $250,000 that we expect to raise as a result will fund all six medical camps planned for 2018, as well as the operation of the walk-in Bulamu Cancer Clinic that operates as part of the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. Because of that chance encounter in a Santa Clara hospital room between co-founders Jim Balassone and Gerald Atwine, Bulamu will treat over 60,000 patients in 2018 who would not have otherwise seen a doctor, all for a cost of about $4 per patient. And this is just the beginning.