"This past Sunday MSF had a blood drive in Aweil. I volunteered to go along and help"

I frequently look for ways to get out from behind my desk and see the work we do. This past Sunday MSF had a blood drive in Aweil. I volunteered to go along and help. No, I was not putting needles in people’s arms, but was setting up tables, arranging an intake tent, and loading/unloading the MSF truck of supplies.

We set up next to and in an administration building for a school run by a church for the local community. The tent outside for intake interviews, a room in the building with two cots we brought for the blood draw, a second room for rest/recovery/snacks, et cetera. We have a blood bank at the hospital where we get donations from visitors and caregivers, but stocks are getting low. So we go out into the community.

While waiting for the church service to end and the blood donors to show up, there gathered a group of kids. I find that anywhere we stop, kids just migrate to us. You look one way, then look back again and the group of kids group has doubled—sometimes I think they just sprout out of the ground. They are so curious with their look of: “Why are you here? What are you doing? Look at that interesting stuff.” Some of them helped us put up banners announcing/directing people to the blood drive location.

With that done, and after about five minutes of staring at each other, I picked up a stone and drew in the dirt a simple HopScotch board, and started to play. What was this man doing? Jumping on one foot, then two, then balancing on one foot picking up the stone he tossed, then jumping some more? The kids picked it up right away and soon we were all laughing, pointing, cheering … shoving. “Who’s next?” There was a language barrier, but only the spoken kind.

In one sense, sadly, that was the highlight of the day. There were only five to seven donors giving us blood that is badly needed at the hospital. Like in many countries you are fighting a knowledge and information barrier. In that environment folklore or baseless generalizations take root.

Talking with the driver about why people do not donate blood he had many stories; the most outlandish one I heard was: “Some believe that if you give blood, and they give that blood to a patient that dies, then you will die too.” My father-in-law used to say: “What goes around, comes around.” Maybe this is a folklore version: the realization that we are all connected somehow. And the challenge we have is pointing out that the cycle goes the other way.

We are organizing a blood drive at another church; the expectation is for a good turnout. Last time the priest was the first one in line making the donation.