Thursday, December 26, 2013

South Sudan Trip Cut Short - Back in the U.S.

Hello to everyone (or jambo as they say in Kenya, where I just returned from),

I arrived back in the U.S. last night.  Flights out of Nairobi, Kenya were difficult to get.  I was lucky because the airline didn’t charge me for changing my flight from January to December.  Delta waived the fee for travelers affected by the conflict in South Sudan.

By now, I’m sure that most of you have noticed South Sudan’s situation in the news.  I saw that NBC Nightly News and other major news agencies have been covering it.  President Obama has made statements, as has the U.S. representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power.  A few stories on the continuing conflict are here:

The Sudan Tribune has some good updates, also Twitter (#southsudan #southsudancrisis #juba are some good hash tags to search).

The Alaska Sudan Medical Project (ASMP) has pulled all volunteers out of South Sudan.  We chartered private small planes from Kenya directly to the village of Old Fangak, in Jonglei State, where ASMP works, and back to Nairobi, Kenya.  Other volunteers and I were in a holding pattern in Nairobi for several days waiting to see if we could go in after all, or if the violence would get worse.  UN Peacekeepers from India were killed last week during an attack on a UN compound, and an American plane was shot at while trying to land in Bor, South Sudan and 4 U.S. military members were wounded in the incident.  It’s been a stressful past couple weeks, and I feel great sorrow for the people of South Sudan.  Their 2.5-year-old country has so much promise (The Economist magazine named it as one of their finalists for “Country of the Year 2013” due to its impressive economic growth). 

While there is no way of knowing how this will progress and when nonprofit organizations, Embassy staff, and aid groups will return to the country, I wanted to emphasize to those who donated to ASMP through my fundraising project, it was not in vain!  ASMP has been at work this year since October in the village of Old Fangak, and this money was able to go toward multiple projects that were completed before ASMP evacuated.  During the 2013 building season (October-December), the following was accomplished, thanks to donors' generous support:
  • Five water wells were drilled.  In the previous two years, one and two wells were drilled respectively.  This large increase in productivity was due to new drilling equipment, personnel, and the generous support of donors.  Each well costs around $5,000 to complete, including the well casing, pump, pipe, personnel, etc.
  • The foundation for the new tuberculosis clinic was substantially progressed.  The foundation is being built out of concrete and steel.
  • Some repairs were made to the main health center.
  • ASMP’s agriculture project made great leaps forward this year.  The farmers participating in ASMP’s micro loan and farmer training program had a good harvest, ensuring food security this season (main crops are sorghum and maize).  Notably, several women are participating in the program.
  • Numbers of those suffering from Kala-azar are lower this year in the village.  This parasitic disease that is spread by mosquitoes normally affects the very young and the very old, and is a debilitating, deadly sickness.  The reasons for the low numbers of infections are unknown at this time.  It could just be part of a multiple year cycle, or due to increased education and work by ASMP in this issue.
  • Two medical incinerators were purchased.
  • Volleyball equipment, cotton balls, syringes, tuberculosis medicine, and various other medical supplies were purchased.
  • Many of Dr. Jill Seaman’s local South Sudanese staff (around 60 individuals) were sent away to training and school to increase their knowledge in public health and medicine.
  • Three South Sudanese men were trained in well-drilling and how to repair the wells.
I was able to meet and spend substantial time with this year’s ASMP volunteers, most of whom had already been in South Sudan for 6-8 weeks when I arrived.  It was wonderful to hear about Old Fangak and ASMP's work from these people.  There is substantial need there, but also lots of progress.  Dr. Jill Seaman (who has worked in South Sudan and this village for over 20 years) has been evacuated (pretty unwillingly) to Nairobi also, but is standing by to return as soon as the violence calms.  If ASMP continues to operate in South Sudan, I will definitely be returning.  My experience in Africa was amazing and cemented in me the fact that I want to volunteer there and be a part of ASMP.  

The volunteers that work in this region are gifted, selfless, and generous... I met David who works as a peony farmer in the summer outside of Anchorage, and for 3 months a year in South Sudan with ASMP.  Elyse is an EMT in Colorado currently and spends 3 months per year in the village with ASMP taking care of everything from cancer to tuberculosis to snake bites.  Denny is a construction worker most of the year in Anchorage and spends 1-2 months annually in South Sudan.  Rob works for a contractor for oil companies in Alaska most of the year, and this is his fourth year volunteering with ASMP.  They all had to return to the U.S. earlier than expected, like me. 

I will keep you all updated on developments for ASMP and South Sudan.  I still have hope that this crisis can come under control, or at least stabilize, and ASMP can get back to work.

Here is a photo of Patrick, a Kenyan who works for ASMP as a well driller.  One of the nicest people I've met, with a real heart for helping others.  He's sporting one of our team shirts.

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