The kindness of strangers



There’s a frog in my bed! It’s perched on my pillow. I hope he’s not my Prince Charming because our Humanitarian Affairs Officer has just thrown him out!

The people in the camps are demonstrating. I don’t blame them. They’re sitting in a flooded swamp and there appears to be little being done about it. They don’t seem to be getting a sympathetic response from UNMISS. So people are starting to leave in their thousands, crossing over the moat at the back of the camp. Risking the bullets and fighting to head north to Sudan where they think they might be safer. But is it possible to be safe with your former enemy? South Sudan spent decades fighting for independence from Sudan and just three years ago became the world’s youngest country. Are memories that short?

But we at least are trying to do something. Leo has been studying topological maps and has worked out that there is an area to the north of the camp that is lower than us. Perhaps we can dig a channel and drain the camp. It’s an exciting proposal and the other agencies here are supporting it. And there is more exciting news. Adrien has managed to set up a surface water treatment plan. It’s converting the pond water into drinkable water and providing an additional 60,000 litres of clean water to the camp (a rise of 25%). And the people love it. They say it tastes better than the chlorinated water. I’m so incredibly proud of our WatSan team.

And we’re doing something rather exciting too. Ivan and the epis are piloting the use of electronic data collection systems with our outreach teams. We’re giving them basic smart phones and asking them to collect the data they would usually collect on paper. Surprisingly they’re all getting it! It’s taken some of them a bit longer than others but within an hour, everyone understands. This will make data collection so much simpler and will allow us to analyse what’s happening in the community so much faster. It might not sound like much but for a large, busy outreach team (more than 70 people), this could make a huge difference. And the outreach teams love this new technology. It makes them feel valued.

I’m supervising one of the teams with the new phones in PoC four when we visit the home of a blind man. He’s incredibly thin and has vitiligo. This is an autoimmune condition where you lose pigmentation of the skin so huge parts of him are pink. I’m worried about the weight loss so I persuade him to come to the hospital with me. I cover his face and arms, worried his pink skin will burn in this scorching sun, and tie his trousers with a piece of string. He’s easily lost five inches off his waist whilst living in the camp. But I’m soon regretting embarking on this journey. It’s taking far longer to make the journey than usual and it’s turning out to be such an obstacle course for him.

If only we had the donkey and cart ambulances we set up in Maban! But it’s incredible how many people help him on his way to the hospital. All these strangers that don’t know him but help him over every hurdle. A young boy picks up the man’s stick and leads him out of the camp. A young mother directs us away from the huge puddles. And a woman catches up with us to grab his stick and guide him over the rickety bridge. We’d seen her earlier and referred her to the hospital. Her husband had bitten her on her hand and it had become infected. When we finally reach the hospital I ask my colleagues to take special care of these two remarkable patients.