One of the areas we work in when we are in the mountains is a village named Bibwe. It is remote. There are hardly any vehicles that go there and there is dense foliage on either side of the road. We are the only NGO which works there. Another NGO had rehabilitated the road just till Bibwe. It is fascinating to see where the road ends and the forest begins.
For the past year, our team had been doing weekly mobile clinics in Bibwe. In March 2012, after intensive repair and construction works, we finally established Bibwe as a permanent health centre with a basic package of primary health care, staffed by nurses from the health ministry. Soon after, fighting began between different armed groups. The population was looted. Hundreds of families left Bibwe for safer villages. Our staff in Bibwe were obliged to evacuate for their safety. Our health centre was pillaged twice. Medication and furniture were stolen. Our Watsan (water sanitation) items were damaged. Men had broken the concrete covers over our waste pits thinking that there was money hidden there, they broke our sharps receptacles looking for money, they slashed our water tank with machetes, they broke our latrines and stole the plastic sheeting.
We were finally able to return to Bibwe in May. It was a very slow start as our trips were often interrupted for security reasons. Our health centre in Bibwe could only function as a health post with the most basic of services. This was a frustrating time for everyone. Delivering babies is an integral part of our healthcare. However, we were not able to provide this service as we did not have adequate materials. Women were asked to go to Mpati for their deliveries. Mpati Health Centre is another structure that we support. It is a 2 hour walk. However, due to insecurity, these women were choosing to deliver in their own homes.
I felt sad as I walked around Bibwe village near our health centre. What used to be a busy, lively village was now a collection of burnt out homes. I had a chit-chat with some women who were coming back from their fields with their crops. They were heading to Mpati where they were now living. I asked if the journey between Bibwe and Mpati was safe. They smiled and shrugged…."It depends on our luck. Sometimes no one stops us. Sometimes we get stopped by armed men and they either take everything or leave us something. The men are not violent as long as we do what they say. All our corn was stolen from our fields but at least we did not lose all our crops."
In the past couple of weeks, we have finally managed to deliver water tanks, furniture and other materials. We have started our maternity services and we will finally function as a 24h health centre next week.