We can be heroes

Ruby wrote this and post in January 2016.

Ruby wrote this and post in January 2016.

Last night we sat under the stars watching a movie projected onto a white sheet billowing gently in the breeze. It was The Secret Life of Walter Smitty and the song ‘Space Oddity’ seemed to be playing on a loop throughout the film. I love that song and hadn’t heard it in ages. The next morning we awoke to the news that David Bowie had died.

I’ve arrived in Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp, a camp created in the spring of 2014 when about 30,000 people fled the conflict in Unity state. The PoC camp became a major project for MSF. We saw it evolve from a putrid lake dotted with numerous makeshift tents and desperate people enduring diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases; into the now highly organised camp with rows of purpose-built tukuls on well-drained land.

Though the conditions in Bentiu PoC have improved in many ways, the camp continues to pose a challenge. In the summer of 2015 the camp population quadrupled from 30,000 to 120,000 in just two months. This was soon followed by a hepatitis E outbreak.

The team, which was already grappling with the increase in consultations due to the population increase, was now preparing for an outbreak of a disease that most of them had never seen before. Yet from leftfield the camp population was hit by a huge malaria outbreak. At the height of the epidemic, MSF was treating almost 5,000 malaria cases per week, the majority of which were children aged less than five years.

Queuing for water

People queue for water inside the Bentiu Protection of Civilians camp. © Ruby Siddiqui

This incredible team of doctors and nurses worked round the clock treating vulnerable patients. But malaria is a killer, particularly in young children. We lost young patients to cerebral malaria and severe anaemia. And the team was distraught.

The population influx continues today. At the last count (we carry out fortnightly exhaustive population counts) the population was 122,000. There is not enough housing. Families that had opened their homes to the new arrivals now have no more space. The camp management is trying to erect some temporary tents but there are around 5,000 people with no shelter. Although this is dry season and the days are stiflingly hot, the nights get cold. We are highly concerned about this population forced to sleep in the open.

Dry season also means there simply isn’t enough water. There are long queues at the water points and fights have started to break out. MSF’s Water and Sanitation team spring into action. They decide to pump extra water from the source that’s meant for the hospital, until a solution can be found for the water shortage in the camp.

We sit in the MSF ‘Bar’ (basically an outdoor shed with one wall missing!), feeling sad and playing David Bowie songs (we only have about five). And ‘Heroes’ comes on and it dawns on me that I work with heroes every day. MSF is full of them. All working together to make small miracles happen.