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SS Refugee Crisis Blog 4: Mums and malaria

Time flys here and everyday is packed with enough for several blogs.   But…I’ll try and be concise (relatively) sharing a bit about the personal stuff following Reninca’s last blog, and some of the more work related matters (skip the first few paragraphs if you just want that!).

Despite the amazing blessings Reninca shared last time and the many highs, this last week has also been testing, stretching us personally.  For instance, on a good day, our little charcoal burner which we use for cooking is a fun, adventurous part of daily life.  On a bad day, like when you’re late for church and desperate for a coffee or the kids are hungry…it's a real pain (based on Western standards of living of course!).

More seriously though, strangely the hardest thing I’d found about being here has surprisingly been the vast cultural differences in what a father is perceived to be or do.  The town seems to find it fairly hilarious watching me carry either Abi or Joseph on my shoulders/back as we go about shopping.  I’m not suggesting all the laughter is malicious, the Ugandan people we’ve met are wonderful.  However, Joseph (who has Down’s Syndrome) and I perhaps attract a bit more attention, giving me renewed admiration for those who live here with children who have a disability.

We have faced stigma in Haiti and indeed the subtle agenda on Down Syndrome in the UK is at times harrowing; but in both places we have a community of families with disabilities so you some how feel united.  Here we are more alone, and in a culture that often views disability as a ‘curse’, I feel more isolated at times facing these laughs.  On a good day I graciously smile (like all good missionaries should ;-), on a bad day, I find it hard to bite my tongue.  Joseph really doesn’t mind and as always he brings a joy to many here.  I have much to learn from my son!

For Reninca, perhaps the greatest challenge has been the mosquitos.  We’ve both dealt with these before, but with two kids, the battle takes on new meaning.  In the early hours of the morning as Abi awakes, with normal sleep deprivation issues, and the added discomfort of the heat and un-relenting sound of mosquito’s, the stress of breast-feeding reaches a whole new level, as you try and stop the bites.  HHA have been caring for malaria cases since we first begun, but this trip has given me a more personal connection and again, admiration for parents here.  We’re one of the privileged few who have mosquito nets and anti-malarials, drugs most could never afford.  However, all around us others aren’t so blessed.

Today I had the immense privilege of meeting the Coordinators of our South Sudan emergency food distribution project, in partnership with BMS World Mission.   Two weeks ago HHA helped deliver food to 114 vulnerable households, reaching 542 people.  It was humbling reviewing the data.  Of the households, 84 had someone with a disability, 43 were headed by widows (a further 38 by single parents).  Other households had individuals with TB, HIV, Leprosy, Mental Health issues etc.  And…amazingly, 44 households had malaria.

I shouldn’t’ be surprised.  I’ve not seen a single mosquito net in the refugee camps and the housing is worse than poor.   Even our more privileged HHA national staff suffer here, with two family members hospitalized in the last week.  Alarmingly, malaria kills a child every 2 minutes globally, of which 90% of those deaths are in Africa, no doubt some in the camps we’re working in.  There is good news though.  Since 2000 there’s been a 60% decline in global malaria mortalities, it’s something we can respond to and can tackle. 

However, whether it be nutrition or malaria, the challenge we face is which issue do we try and tackle.  Every meeting we come out of I feel slightly overloaded by the need.

Yet, little by little we make progress.  Following permission from the Ugandan Government to start our formal work, we spent most of last week training a team of 9 people to carry out a disability needs assessment in two zones of a northern Ugandan refugee camp, and two areas at a South Sudan IDP camp.  

It was an amazing time, not least the surprise of meeting Pastor Julius again (pictured below), a young Pastor I’d met in March whilst he was in hospital, recovering from a gun shot wound from South Sudan.  This week he and the rest of the team are on the ground carrying out the survey.

Aside from the disability survey, in the next week we also wish to complete a brief education survey and a more comprehensive nutritional review.  The outcome of these assessments will heavily influence our strategy for the coming year.  Pop back soon to hear how we got on and what we found.  Thanks for your continued support.

P.S. Today marks the first day of Refugee Week.  If you'd like to get involved with our refugee work, let us know.