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War and wheelchairs - distributing 250+ wheelchairs to the most vulnerable

We have some exciting but also sad news.  A call to praise and a call to pray. 

Over the last few months HHA have been busy working with one of our long term Haiti partners, The Walkabout Foundation (WF), on a new partnership for Uganda.  Just in the last few days it's been confirmed that this Sunday a joint HHA and WF team will be heading to northern Uganda to distribute 250+ new, purpose built, off-road wheelchairs to local Ugandan communities and South Sudanese refugees in the camps.  This is an extraordinary privilege and answer to prayer.  We're incredibly grateful to The Walkabout Foundation for making this possible and Euromonitor International, one of their partners who sponsored these chairs.

When Reninca and I were based in Uganda earlier this year carrying out a needs assessment of disability provision, 81% of families who had a child with a disability performed badly in the area of 'access to disability services', including wheelchairs.  The World Health Organisation states that ‘providing appropriate wheelchairs not only enhances mobility but begins a process of opening up a world of education, work and social life’.  During our time in the refugee camps we were moved by the many people who needed a wheelchair, many who'd never owned such a vital piece of support.  When The Walkabout Foundation subsequently asked if we'd like to partner on the distribution of 250+ wheelchairs in this region, we obviously said 'YES!'; news that was greeted with great rejoicing and celebration by our local East Africa team in the refugee camps.  Just yesterday, our local team picked up the wheelchairs (pictured below) in preparation for our trip.

However, alongside this wonderful announcement, our anticipation of this exciting trip has been impacted by the sad news that many of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) we have been supporting in South Sudan through local partners, have in the last few weeks had to flee their camps following renewed and intensified fighting.  Some of you may remember our past blogs on this IDP camp, a place desperately challenging to live.  Yet, with your support, over the last 4-5 months some genuine progress was being made, equipping over 1,000 people with the means to grow their own crops and overcome critical food insecurity.  Now, many of those very families (up to 17,000 individuals) are displaced again, reports stating some living in the bush, others temporarily in Uganda.  One of our team reported this week how a lady had given birth during this turbulent time, obviously with no medical assistance.

Aside from the anger we've felt at the injustice and disappointment of the renewed fighting having it would seem, stolen many of these families hard fought harvest, our primary concern has of course been to everyones safety.  Individuals we know, some who have been volunteering with us for close to 6 months.  Fortunately, those we know seem safe, though of course I am nervous and apprehensive as to the state of living I will find when I travel to Uganda with the team on Sunday and carry out a needs assessment early next week in their new temporary settlement.

Despite this set back, I have been humbled and inspired by our volunteer disability workers, working under The Baptist Convention of South Sudan, that even amidst such chaos they have still managed to identify and gather information on persons with disabilities needing wheelchairs.  We hope at a time of fresh loss and injustice, our presence will bring some hope, giving some people their first wheelchair and subsequently their first chance for a more dignified and inclusive life.

I will be blogging through out the next few weeks and would ask that you'd pray for the team. A few pointers for those who wish to:

- First and foremost for the individuals and families displaced again from this last wave of fighting and for a peaceful resolution to be found soon

- Safety and success for our team.  Distributing 250+ wheelchairs in two weeks is ambitious, not least with some of the challenges described above

- Wisdom and discernment as to how best HHA can respond to this new emergency and assist the IDP community