The HUMAN side
I am back in the US from Africa. How is it possible that I can board a few planes and go from one side of the world where the heater is on to the other side where the sun is so hot that it burns the skin?
Many times I have landed on the African continent. Many things were the same in Uganda since the last time I had been there, but one thing was different. Everywhere I went, if someone saw my skin color they approached me to ask if I was an American and if America was going to abandon them. They begged for us, as Americans, to not forget them and leave them in their despair. One person even stated, "we are not terrorists." I questioned myself asking how could I turn my back on this woman holding her baby and an old foam mattress rolled under her arm? How could I turn my back on her after she had walked for days with only what she could carry to escape fighting? Of course not. She was just running for her life. I would do the same if I had to.
Because I was unable to access our work in DR Congo, three of our staff members from there, the Country Director, Administrator and Doctor, joined me for my time in northern Uganda.
It was an eye opening experience for them to visit GRI's Odubu Clinic in Rhino Refugee Camp, northern Uganda. We woke up early to the sound of roosters crowing and children playing. It is amazing how children who have seen so much wrong with the world can still giggle and play.
The clinic day began with over 100 men, women and children waiting out front in the intake area. The staff began the first 10 minutes with a lesson on how to prevent diarrhea. People seemed interested and ready to absorb any investment in their lives that day. The staff members then handed out numbers to everyone who had come and the medical investigation and treatment began. It was late afternoon by the time the staff had provided medication to the last patient. This wasn't the last to be treated that day but the last to be seen in the "outpatient clinic." After eating lunch behind the clinic at the staff quarters a woman came in active labor and this started a chain of 3 babies being born that evening.
Another day we visited as near to the South Sudan border as the guards would allow us to go. We hid our cameras and phones and got out to walk around a bit. A small tent housed three intake people employed by UNHCR. They did a basic registration on each person who had arrived in Uganda that day asking questions like where are you from and how many children do you have. Most of the people crossing that day had walked between 3-5 days to the border and many had entered DR Congo from South Sudan and then into Uganda as it was supposedly the safer route. From there the mostly women and children were loaded into large trucks with tarp coverings and transferred to another check point where they would undergo a simple medical evaluation, be given Mebendazole for intestinal worms and asked questions about communicable diseases.
The people were then required to wait another time on big trucks as things were organized for them to move to the next site. This process was so similar to how I used to watch cattle be inspected and treated at my grandfather's farm. I couldn't help but wonder where the "humanity" in humanitarian aid had gone. It broke my heart because we truly believe we are there to restore the value in peoples' lives, not to reinforce the feelings that they are just a number.
As we left Rhino Camp heading south, we passed 7 large trucks carrying weapons headed to the border of South Sudan. I got a knot in my stomach. I asked those I was riding with where were these weapons coming from and who is supplying them. They shook their head and smiled. Some questions are best left unanswered in Ugandan culture, but I wondered if we should stop leaving them unanswered and call out the other countries supporting the killings in South Sudan.
We cannot stop these wars in DR Congo and South Sudan. We cannot make the fighting and killing stop. We cannot make the wrongs right but we can meet people where they are, in their moment of possibly greatest need, and meet those needs with hope. This is why we work in DR Congo and Uganda.
Over the next few weeks I will be giving some insights into our work. Please follow along and ask questions as they arise. We are so proud of the care being given under the outreach of GRI to those in such desperate situations around the globe! It is a team effort!
Light guides our steps. The clinic that was built last summer in Rhino Camp is working great during the day but not at night. When patients are kept as inpatients, meaning they are admitted to the clinic, they stay in the new clinic building. The staff checks up on them at night and at times must do procedures or deliver babies. This is all done with a headlamp or a flashlight.
When I was recently at the clinic we had a mother deliver her baby on the way to the clinic in the middle of the night and when she arrived she needed to have the baby and placenta inspected and the mother also checked out for hemorrhaging. This was all done by Lydia while I held the flashlight. Therefore a solar powered electrical system is the next step. The builders who built the clinic plumbed it for solar so it is prepped and ready. We are doing this work because we really believe each life is valuable. We desire the best environment to provide our patients the care that shows them their life has value. Would you join us in this effort to increase the capabilities of our medical work among the displaced in northern Uganda by contributing directly to a solar power system?