Out of Africa

Sarita England

The following is a web-log contributed by Sarita England, a committed Christian heading off to Africa to get a first hand view of the Kingdom work being carried out in some of the most difficult conditions on earth.

Sarita England works for the Archbishop of Sydney's Appeals Unit, which raises money to help those in need both within the diocese and overseas. It includes the Overseas Relief and Aid Fund (ORAF), the Archbishop's Overseas Ministry Fund (AOMF) and the Community Care and Development Program (CCDP).
Sarita attends St Michael's Vaucluse, is a synod rep and a member of parish council and South Sydney Regional Council, and is the Archbishop's Representative on Cranbrook school council. She is married to Ian and has three children.

Home again. It is marvellous to see my family again ­ three weeks is a long time and I have missed them very much. But the trip has been incredible ­although the word Œenjoy¹ is not one that immediately springs to mind. Sometimes my heart has literally ached with the sights we saw and the terrible stories people shared with us. The inevitable question has to be asked and answered ­where is God amongst all this suffering?

The memories that will remain are of the amazing and brave people we met. The grandmother in Rwanda caring for her grandchildren with AIDS; the Sudanese refugee family living in one room with no windows, or electricity; the laughing orphaned children who love to have their photos taken; the little boy who will not live long enough to be a teenager; the missionaries dedicated to others and spreading the gospel. I hope I won¹t forget them or the lessons they have taught me, and I really hope it helps me to raise more
money to help those that I have met and the thousands and thousands others like them.

Kibera in Nairobi is one of the largest slums in the world. Although it only occupies around five square kilometres it is estimated to be home to up to 1 million people.

Effectively ministering to this hugely needy and disenfranchised population is tough work indeed, and requires very special training. AOMF is sponsoring a total of six students who are undertaking an Urban Mission course through Carlile College. All of the students live in the slums of Nairobi, and the Centre of Urban Mission where they undertake most of their course, is located a 30-minute walk into the centre of the slum. All are committed to
serving the people of the slums.

We visit the centre after night of heavy rain. The mud is unbelievable! Rev Colin Smith, Director of the Centre of Urban Mission and CMS missionary from the UK sensibly wears gumboots ­ I can¹t help but wonder what Australian customs will say about the state of my shoes!!

Living here is as basic as it comes, and it breaks your heart to see so many many people with so very very little. The Centre of Urban Mission is a very grand name, for what is basically a shack with four small rooms ­ but the students who study here are inspiring. They are absolutely dedicated to serving others and bringing the good news of Christ to people who would otherwise have little opportunity to hear it. It makes you feel very humble
indeed. These students have very little themselves but they are willing to share their lives with others.

Last stop Nairobi, Kenya. We arrive late at night with lots of warnings about the dangers of the city. We stay at the Anglican Church guesthouse, which is meant to be in the safest street in Nairobi ­ because it s very close to the Israeli embassy. Surrounded by barbed wire, the embassy is guarded by the equivalent of Kenya¹s SAS, local police, and plain clothed Israeli agents. They might be in plain clothes, but they are very obvious, in regulation issue khaki trousers, white T shirts and big black sunglasses!!

We travel with Sydney CMS missionary,  Dr Max Collison out to Nyeri clinic where ORAF is funding the set up of a medical clinic within a slum area. Max greets us with the comforting fact that you are 50 times more likely to die on Kenyan roads than you are on Australian roads. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the unwritten road rule appears to be that all overtaking must take place on the crest of the hill!!

Nyeri is famous for being the final resting place for the most well known Boy Scout of all time ­ Baden Powell. It is also close to ŒTreetops when Elizabeth went to bed a Princess and woke up a Queen.

Until 10 yeas ago Nyeri was the centre of a large coffee growing industry. With the collapse in the price of coffee has come massive unemployment. Now with a population of around 60,000 close to a quarter of the Nyeri population live in the slum on the edge of town.

The medical clinic is now in the process of being built and will open next year. The Nyeri clinic is based on the successful clinics that Max has opened in the Nairobi slums. The clinic should be self-funding for although it will only charge around A$2 per treatment, it is expected to have a very high turnover as people access this much needed service.

A whole day is taken up visiting the Ibulanku Community Health Centre a proposed new project for ORAF about three hours out of Kampala. We travel through Jinja, which has the distinction of being the town ³at the source of the Nile.

The health centre has only been opened for two years, and is probably the closest thing you will get to a 24-hour medical clinic in Uganda.  With the limited resources it has available, it is offering a very much needed service, to a community that is not only extremely poor, but has been severely affected by the twin scourges of malaria and HIV/AIDS. In a recent survey in the area some 12 per cent of the population were found to be HIV positive. Health care options for communities such as these are very limited, and without services of this sort, people simply die. It is as simple, and terrible as that. At the centre they are offering treatment for children for less than A$1. ORAF would be very keen to assist in a project
such as this, which would really make a difference in the quality of life that people experience.

Next stop is Uganda. For anyone even marginally aware of current affairs in the 1970¹s Entebbe will probably always ring a bell for the hostage drama that was played out on the airfield. It is a trifle disconcerting when the plane lands at Entebbe Airpot to look out the airplane window and see discarded airplanes off to the left. Have they just passed their use by dates, or did they overshot the runway?? Perhaps best not to know!!

The capital of Uganda is Kampala, which is about an hours drive from the airport. It is meant to offer the second worst driving experience on the African continent ­ after Cairo. I can confirm that they have the same disregard of the concept of lanes that the driver in Cairo do, but driver in Kampala have along way to go before they can match the demolition
derby/precision driving panache of the Egyptians!

We are staying at the Ugandan Christian University where a wastewater project ORAF is funding is about to commence. . Kampala like Kigali in Rwanda is having an electricity crises and every second night the lights turn off at 6 o¹clock for at least four hours. We therefore reacquaint ourselves with the joys of kerosene lights!! I knew there was a reason I did not go camping.

Due to the vagaries of African airline travel schedules we found ourselves with an extra day in Rwanda. So decided (at our own expense of course!) to take the opportunity and visit the gorillas (of the primate kind) in the north of Rwanda just near the border of Uganda.

It truly was a once in a lifetime experience, being up that close and personal with such massive animals. When I say close,, I mean CLOSE, at some stages within centimetres!!

The day began early ­ up at 5am so we could make our way to the meeting spot by 7am.  We were divided into groups, each party of humans assigned a different group of gorillas. Our group consisting of four tourists, one guide, two armed guards and trackers who had gone ahead to find where the gorillas had moved to overnight. After a 45minute rough car ride, we reached the starting point of the trek.

They are not called mountain gorillas for nothing. They live in the mountains, which means that the climb to find them is up, and up and up . . . The guide does not raise a sweat, but the rest of use huff and puff up the mountain, first along a thin track, and then along no track, grabbing onto bamboo stalks for balance, and slipping and sliding up muddy embankments, and walking hunched over through tunnels of bushes.

After an hour and a half we are rewarded as we reach the spot where the 36 gorillas are currently crunching their way through bamboo and other delicacies. We hear them before we see them. Loud snapping of branches, slurping and sucking! What follows is an hour of what feels like being in the middle of a David Attenborough film!! The gorillas seem unconcerned by us. We see a rare sight indeed - a mother with her twin babies about 5 months old. It is unusual for both of the twins to survive, it is the first recorded time that both twins have survived to this age, and the rangers are now hopeful they will grow to adulthood.

The patriarch of the group is a massive Œsilverback¹ with the biggest fleshiest hands you can imagine. The gorillas amble around the clearing, sometimes they move towards us, and we hastily back into the bushes, but sometimes there is simply nowhere to back into ­ and you have to hold your breath and hope the guide is right when he says he has not lost a tourist yet!!

Once our hour is up we are led away ­ there is only limited contact allowed with the gorillas, as the rangers don¹t want them to become too familiar with humans. We stumble back down to the car ­ this has been a magical interlude in our trip.

Outside of Kigali in Rwanda small villages dot the roadside. They are not what I expected a traditional village to be " rather mud brick homes, sometimes covered with a thin layer of concrete with a galvanished iron roof. No running water, no electricity no santiation.

It is to these villages we go when we visit the beneficiaries of the ORAF project we fund through Barakabaho. Immediately you step from the car you are surrounded by children. They love to have their photo taken and collapse into giggles when they see the photo on the digital camera.

But as you visit families you are left with the sense there is very little to laught about. One particular case leaves us in tears. Afisa is a 56 year old grandmother. Her husband died of AIDS, two of her daughters have died of AIDS which has left her with four orphaned grandchildren to look after, as well as four more of her own. Three of these grandchildren have AIDS, and Afisa is too frightened to go herself for testing.  Afisa cries as she tells us that the children are shunned by others in the village, children do not play with her grandchildren because they know they are "sick'.. While through ORAF funding the children can be treated for secondary infections due to AIDS, anti-viral drugs are simply not available. More simply needs to be done to assist the despartly poor in Rwanda.

Travel in Africa was not meant to be easy . . . .If you are not cancelled off your flight, subjected to road rules such as all overtaking should be done at the crest of the hill, then you have to deal with the tricky issue of money.

Forget credit cards, or ATM's " they simply don't exist.  Don't have any expectations that you can change Australian dollars " requests to change Aussie dollars are met with the sad shake of the head. Even American dollars travelers cheques can take an hour to change at the bank and require an overseas phone call!!

Despite all this we arrive in Rwanda, to the capital city Kigali which is affected daily by power cuts. First stop is the Women with Women project where we hand out the gifts sent by their donors in Sydney. The women gathered twop hours before our arrival and are just so grateful for the care shown by their overseas "sisters.'

ORAF would like to do more these widows, many bring up forster children and all are living with the effects of the genocide that happened 10 years ago.

The fact that a decade ago more than 10 percent of the population was murdered in a mass uprising of one tribe against another is a shadow that can not be ignored.

The Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia has always been one of my favourite projects. Dr Catherine Hamlin was rightly named by the National Trust earlier this year as one of Australia’s national living treasures for her unstinting work with poor Ethiopian women suffering childbrith injuries.
The hospital itself is an oasis of calm in a city whose streets team with people day and night and beggars are everywhere, wrapped in rags and lying in what looks like abandoned bundles on the side of the street.
The average age of the women arrving at the hospital is just 17, the same age as my daughter, and you can’t help thinking “there but for the grace of God” goes my own child. The stories of rejection and suffering can not fail to move you.
Through an interpretor I spoke to Sofia who had her first baby last year when she was 16. She was in labour for five days, attended to by her mother and sisters. But there was no one to take her from her remote village to the hospital. Eventually she gave birth but her baby was dead. As we talk she begins to cry “I was so sad when I realised what had happened.”
When her family found out that her long labour meant she was now incontinent “they did not want me to stay with them.” A condition like a fistual, brings great shame on all the family, and it is usual for these young woman to be ostracised from their villages. Rejected and alone she made her way to the nearest local hsopital. Sadly they did not have the expertise, and after botched surgery she was sent to the experts at the Fistula Hospital. When I met Sofia she was still recovering and did not know yet, whether she would be cured. She had no plans to return to her village, she said her husband no longer wanted her and she did not want to see her family who had abandoned her when she needed them the most. She wanted to try and get domestic work in the city - which will prove very difficult and pay the equivalent of about $15 Australian a month.
ORAF has been funding the Fistula Hospital since it opened its doors 30 years ago, and in that time literally thousands of women have been given back their dignity and a chance of a normal life. ORAF is now keen to get involved with the satellite clinics which are being established in remote areas of Ethiopia. This will enable women to not only access fistula surgery but also hopefully to avoid the problem in the first place through education and early intervention. Perhaps then the terrible annual toll of 8,700 women who suffer from fistula in Ethiopia can be reduced…

Lost in Egyptian cyberspace!

Flying into Egypt across the desert gives you new respect for Moses and his 40 year sojourn in the wilderness!! Thousands upon thousands of kilometres of desert, punctuated by small towns which the sand is contantly trying to reclaim.
Cairo, with a population of more than the whole of Australia remains todayas as it was in biblical times - a point of refuge for the desperate and the dispossesd. Placed on the edge of two continents with the highest Christain population (around 10%) in the Middle East, it is in a unique strategic position for the gospel.
ORAF supports Refuge Egypt, which operates out of All Saints Cathedral, near the centre of town and a three minute walk to the Nile. It provides a range of services to refugees, 80 per cent of which come from Sudan. It’s a deeply impressive place offering not only practical help but a spiritual home for those who have lost everything.
On the steps of the Cathedral on a Saturday morinig refugees gather for theTB clinic. There we meet Donna and her three year old daughter Whitney. Whitney has a terrible cough which will not go away and Donna is frightened Whitney has contracted TB. Both have escaped from Sudan in March arriving in Cairo in May this year. As a Christain, Donna had faced persecution and believed their lives were in danger. She has left behind her parents and brothers and sisters, and her husband is fighting in the war. Se has no idea if she will ever see them again.Her future is veryuncertain but she says “I will go wherever God wants me to go.”

Just a week to go until my colleague Dearne Cameron (Director of the Appeals Unit, and General Manager Communications, Anglicare) and I head off to the African continent on a three week trip for the Overseas Relief and Aid Fund (ORAF).

First stop is Egypt, then onto Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Except for a brief foray into Morocco and an encounter with a snake charmer in my early 20's, this will be my first trip to Africa. From Refuge Egypt who assist Sudanese Refugees, to the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, to a water project in Uganda, child-headed households in Rwanda and a variety of projects in Kenya it will be a packed program. I'm very excited to be finally visiting the projects that I have written about and promoted for a number of years, and to meet our partners who do such fabulous work with those living in desperate circumstances. As well as gathering stories and information, and looking for new project opportunities, we will also be examining the financial records of our partners to ensure that the money sent by ORAF to the projects was spent in the way it was intended.

The biggest challenge in the week ahead is to get organised " and to find a way to fit into my suitcase the 40 odd gifts to the Rwandan widows that our donors have kindly sent in.  These include scarves, material, hand cream, a soccer ball and a pair of crutches!! Yikes.