Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mission in Africa: Week Four

Sunday 12
After the church service at Yei UMC, which includes three “hot songs” during which we dance (actually, jump), we walk across the soccer field to the two new school blocks, which form a U shape with the one old one that I remember from a year ago. Phyllis and Boo lead a dedication of the new school blocks, with Phyllis playing an adaptation of “Bless this House” and then going around to each of the classroom doors to anoint them and pray. In the late afternoon, we go to the weekly prayer group/Bible study on Mark, which this weeks focuses on going out in mission with a minimum of possessions and knowing when to persist and when to shake the dust off your feet and move on. I'm supposed to lead the study next week.

Monday 13
With most of the visiting team we go the Logobero United Methodist Church, which had to relocate when a local tribal clan decided they wanted the land the church was on. Even Boo and Phyllis haven't been here; we go as far as we can get the Landcruiser, then Isaac Sebit leads us up a narrow path for a mile, over frequently wet ground, two streams spanned by wiggly logs, to a wood-and-thatch church they built in two months. Boo introduces each person and when its my turn to talk, I give my usual summary of what Diantha and I hope to do by working alongside each congregation/village to help them make a plan to address their biggest needs, and provide specific help in health, agriculture, and microenterprise. The pastor responds by thanking me for my “sweet words”, which I understand to mean our approach of listening and working beside them, as much as the concrete help we hope to bring. We worship by dance-jumping a second day in a row, and as the worship winds up we see dark clouds gathering and thunder. We stand up to go but are not allowed by the pastor, who shouts to the “kitchen” to hurry up: they have lunch planned for us, and by gosh we're going to eat it! So as the clouds burst and rain drips through the thatch down our necks, we accept their hospitality with a smile and eat the posho (corn mush) and chicken stew. The rain stops right before we start back down the mile-long path, which is much more slippery now and the puddles are bigger. The streams we have to cross are much bigger and the logs more slippery, so a couple of us visitors end up stepping into the water despite help from 2 or 3 Sudanese men. We make back to the Landcruiser, and home, a little wet but unhurt.

Meanwhile on Monday Diantha is spending the day at the Yei General Hospital as part of Africa ELI's community service day for students from Yei Girls Boarding School. She has been asked to do a training on the use of bed nets to prevent malaria; as part of that training, she leads the students in a skit to show hospital patients on how malaria is spread and the importance and means of preventing it. With the students, she helps present bed nets and soap to expectant mothers on the maternity ward. The contrast between this local government-run hospital and one of the exemplary clinics run by an Episcopal mission group that Diantha visits is like night and day. The Episcopal clinic has 12 or so beds for overnight admissions. They have just opened at new children’s ward, (there are no pediatricians here), and are preparing to open an eye clinic (the only one here; another clinic has just started the only dentistry clinic). They see sick patients for the equivalent of about $2. Many people in the villages cannot afford transportation to come, nor the fees and medicines, as they are struggling subsistence farmers. All of their staff are well trained, which actually is a novelty here. Plus the grounds and the buildings are clean. In contrast, the government does not have enough money for services, so the government hospital is abysmal. In fact most missionaries recommend people do not go there, as it is poorly staffed; sometimes people may wait, admitted, for 3 days before anyone sees them. To Diantha, it seems third world; families must cook, clean, do laundry for and care for their patients; some latrines are there for the several hundred people on campus, but are not always used, which is the predominant custom in the bush. While she is there it rains heavily; the children’s ward includes a screened-in veranda with no shutters, so all the mothers have to take up their children, mattresses and belongings and rush inside; there is an inch of water left on the rough unswept concrete floor. On the positive side, there is a nurse there on duty, who has gloves on and is administering medicine; there is a container of water outside for hand washing. Mothers in the maternity ward keep their babies and bedding clean. Inside are about 40 beds, up next to each other, with only 1 mosquito net. Diantha leads the students in carrying out a skit to show how best to keep mosquitoes out.

Monday night my calves are really sore from two days of dance-jumping.

Tuesday 14
Four of the six visiting team members fly to Uganda, while two stay a couple more days. I (Steve) attend the weekly security briefing at the compound of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). This week there are reports of tribal conflicts over roads, about 30 miles away; an increasing problem with crashes between the “Boda-Boda” motorcycle taxis in town, and an unsuccessful attempt at robbery at another NGO compound foiled by a guard. I'm relieved there are no new reports of attacks in Sudan by the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group) though there is news that the second in command in the LRA has relocated from Darfur to Western Equatoria (the state just west of ours.)

We get a call from David Muwaya saying that Bishop Wandabula is coming this Thursday instead of next Tuesday, so we call the Sudanese United Methodist pastors to alert them that he may come by their Thursday meeting at the end.

Wednesday 15
Today is “International Democracy Day”, a day I didn't even realize existed while I lived in the U.S., though during the day-long speeches in the center of town there are many references to developing an accountable system of democratic government and a balance of powers like the U.S. I look around and realize I am the only U.S. citizen at the speeches. At suppertime we have a birthday party for David Muwaya, one of Bishop Wandabula's staff who happens to be in Yei, along with Fred and Libby Dearing from the team, and Pat Hipp who is hear helping with Africa ELI. We have a truly scrumptious meal with beef stew, rice, cabbage, green beans, fresh pineapple & bananas, chocolate brownies, and banana cake,

Thursday 16
This is the day Phyllis teaches the pastors English, and after that Diantha is going to give them a brief workshop on handwashing, so Boo and I drop them at the Yei UMC compound across town. Diantha takes with her the “tippy-tap” I made the day before, from a 5-liter plastic juice container, string, a stick and and a bar of soap; you hang it by the handle from the tree, tie a 1-meter string to the (capped) spout and a stick to the other end , and make a hole in the side a little below the spout so that when you step on the stick it tips the whole thing enough for a small stream of water to come out the hole. And there is a bar of soap hanging by a string on the tippy-tap too. These can go near latrines and kitchens to promote handwashing.

After we drop Phyllis and Diantha, Boo and I start toward the airport to take Fred and Libby Dearing to catch their flight. On the way to the airport we get a call from David Muwaya saying that Bishop Wandabula has missed his flight and will come next Tuesday instead. We say goodbye to Fred and Libby and head back to get Phyllis and Diantha only to find that a large dump truck is stuck in the only passable stream to get to the compound. So we walk in a half mile to get them and walk with them back out to Land Cruiser.

In the evening Diantha continues her preparations for the Saturday workshop on health with the United Methodist Women, and after talking with Boo and Phyllis I write up a proposal for funding a series of trainings and meetings at the village churches, our work for the next 4-5 months.

Friday 17
Di meets with 3 of the Yei UMC women to plan a special lunch for the Saturday health workshop that will illustrate balanced nutrition. I study Arabic, research an obnoxious weed that's a problem for farmers growing grains, prepare to lead the Sunday night Bible study, and try unsuccessfully to set up the brand new printer we bought in Uganda on our way here. Apparently, after several emails back and forth with tech support, there is a problem with the power supply. Too bad the only place I could possibly take it is Kampala, Uganda.

Saturday 18
I go with Diantha to help her with the workshop she is leading; 43 women show up representing 14 of the 17 Sudanese United Methodist churches, an excellent turnout! About 8 women bring their nursing babies. Diantha is glad she had lots of experience planning for the county leadership program back in Tennessee, and also the WASH (WAter, Sanitation, Hygiene) local training she had her second week here with Sudanese community health workers. But still this workshop represents a big unknown for her, as communication is different here, and she is just getting familiar with how people think, and their customs. All in all the workshop seems to go well. The women report a lot of sanitation related diseases; many places do not have latrines; little access to clean water, and little use of handwashing especially with soap. Some of the challenges are that they can’t afford soap and have to carry water on their heads. At the end the women start asking questions about the causes of various diseases, and shared a few of their traditional beliefs. One was that leprosy is a curse on a family because the grandfather has committed murder. They also misname many diseases, so she will have to do research to find out exactly what diseases are prevalent, but they named diarrhea, vomiting, malaria, and polio, malnutrition. We have heard from other medical missionaries that there is some Vitamin A deficiency. The women ask for another workshop with a nurse or doctor who could explain more about the diseases and answer their many questions, and we tell them we hope to arrange this. Some of the churches they come from are 20 miles away; one young mother had walked 16 miles to come. Cell phones don’t reach the rural areas and there are no land lines or postal service, so we rely on sending messages to the churches through the weekly pastor’s meetings. United Methodist churches in the U.S. have raised enough money to buy each pastor a bicycle, so that will help them.

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