From California to Uganda: Bulamu Healthcare’s Unlikely Origin Story

Gerald Atwine next to a poster honoring Bulamu cofounder Jim Balassone

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 and Jim Balassone.

Gerald 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.

It was as an R.N. that 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 $250,000, now committed, that matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis all donations made between November 20, 2017 and December 31, 2018. The $250,000 raised was enough to fund all five Bulamu Supercamps in 2018, as well as the operation of the walk-in Bulamu Cancer Clinic that operates as part of the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital.

As President and Co-Founder, Gerald built Bulamu to its current preeminent status among medical camp operators. We greatly appreciate his many important contributions and the leadership and resourcefulness he provided.