At the end of last year, a group of MAF UK visitors flew to Moyo airstrip to visit the work of one of our partners, Medical Team International. MTI are regularly booked on our Northern Shuttle to various locations near to the refugee settlements. The Regional Director, Andrew Hoskins kindly offered to host our team and arranged for 2 vehicles to drive us from Moyo Airstrip to the Palorinya Settlement where 185,000 refugees are housed. Andrew told us on the 1 hour drive how MAF save MTI the 8 – 14 hour drive from Kampala, depending on the weather and also if they make the once a day ferry crossing. Instead the flight is only 1.5 hours and it is so much more comfortable and safe!
On arrival, it was instantly apparent how organised the MTI clinic was. The white tents provided by UNHCR were lined up side by side, each one full of refugees waiting either for consultation, lab tests, injections or admission. The doctors and nurses we met throughout the course of the day, displayed an obvious warmth… you can tell they actually love their work. As with many of the 145 partners MAF fly to the north of Uganda, their hearts are in it for the refugees and not for themselves. MTI were approached by the UN High Commissioner to help provide medicines and doctors for the settlements which suddenly exploded in size back in November last year when South Sudan imploded due to large scale militia raids and fighting and 1 million became internally displaced…47% of South Sudan’s bordering states population have fled over the border into Uganda. Because of MTI’s speedy response, many refugees have been saved from health epidemics i.e. Malaria, Typhoid, Dysentery and Cholera. Since being approached, MTI have managed to set up 45 facilities within Uganda, 10 of which are in Palorimya. 1400 of their staff are Ugandan, 10-15% of which are refugees; only 2 are long term expats. They also have short term staff volunteering with MTI as nurses etc. Andrew mentioned his driving force and love for working for MTI, “I want us to have a vision of excellence and look at what we can do better”. He also mentioned his intentional focus on coaching and mentorship rather than supervision. Whatever Medical Team International is doing, it’s clearly working.
A woman was sitting on the ground with her baby who was trying to breastfeed, even though the mother was skin and bones. The baby had orange-coloured hair, a tell-tale sign of malnourishment for an African baby…. The mother had cataracts on both eyes and was barely able to see me. She relayed with the help of a translator that her husband was arrested and had disappeared near Kajo Keji in South Sudan. She has 5 children to provide for but is unable to dig or plant because of her sight and so depends on the emergency food allowance provided by UNHCR. Her feverish baby was given the all clear after having a blood test for malaria and she was sent home with antibiotics for her little one. This woman’s courage and her situation will once again remind me to never ever complain…what do we know of the struggles the isolated and displaced face on a daily basis? But what would happen if organisations like MTI hadn’t assembled?…if people like Andrew Hoskins and his family decided not to move away from the US to help MTI in Uganda?
We drove to a second clinic providing mainly maternity care. We were led through to the labour suite, which one of our visitors, an anaesthetist commented, “Its so organised!” clearly impressed with MTI’s level of health practice. One of the refugees we met was chatting amicably to us for about 5 minutes telling us that she was from Nimule and that she knew friends of mine from the area. We then discovered she was actually in labour and had gracefully hidden any signs of discomfort even though she was having contractions every 5 minutes! Being her first baby she was feeling a bit scared so we prayed for her and assured her that once she had the baby in her arms, it would all feel worthwhile..
Throughout my day, I was quite amazed to encounter one refugee after another from places I had visited with MAF in South Sudan, from Yei, Kajo Keji, Rumbek, Juba and Nimule. Each person knew someone I knew from these villages. It has been sad to have seen these familiar, close-knit villages be thrown into disarray and the people chased into Uganda. And yet, the large scale effort that has been speedily set up to keep the South Sudanese alive and safe is quite remarkable. MAF has been able to play a key role in getting these phenomenal NGO’s into where they need to be and the MAF Uganda program are keeping their finger on the pulse since the winds have changed over South Sudan and this influx occurred. Having opened Adjumani last year which is much closer to many other settlements in the area, there is now talk of possibly opening another airstrip closer to Yumbe which is next to the largest settlement in the world, Bidi Bidi…at present it requires a bumpy 2 hour drive from the closest airstrip.
Story: Jill Vine
Photography: Dave Forney