The below blog has been written by new HHA volunteer Emma, as she starts 2.5 months with us in Uganda helping with the refugee crisis...
I arrived in Uganda with HHA last week, my first time in Africa, and initial thoughts were “this country is incredible”. Having left my job as a nurse on a busy A&E department in London, I feel like the most fortunate person on the planet to be here, they have everything– Sun, limitless mangoes & pineapples, $1 beer, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and warthogs etc, literally couldn’t have a more ideal location for a new job.
Speaking of jobs: I’m here as a volunteer to run a project (a collaboration between Kings Health Partners, UNHCR and HHA), in BidiBidi, now the largest refugee camp in the world. Pictured below is the CRADLE VSA, a Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Shock Index monitoring Device (which HHA have used in Haiti). Having been implemented around the world to monitor signs of pre-eclampsia in the maternal population, this will be the first time its used within the clinics of a refugee camp, to monitor the health of not just pregnant women but the whole adult population. The aim is to assess whether the implementation of the CRADLE VSA device improves detection of significant morbidity in the refugee population.
I arrived 2 weeks ahead of the rest of the research group to help get the project started (mainly involves loads and loads of admin – my fave). In addition to this I have been able to visit schools & churches to try and get my head around what this population have been through.
HHA's South Sudan team, most refugees themselves, greet us with such warmth and smiles. But I soon realise that behind the warm exterior, the South Sudanese refugees each have harrowing experiences of fleeing the war.
I joined the HHA team on a school visit - to run leadership training and disability advocacy with the teachers. A teacher asked the question “how best can we look after the traumatised children?” On first glance, they looked so upbeat; laughing, singing, dancing and running around. It wasn’t until I overheard 2 boys proclaim, whilst waving a long stick at a group of children, “you cannot cross my border!” A sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach began to emerge knowing the pain they'd faced crossing borders…these children have seen situations that are too unbearable to dwell on. 15 kids alone in this one school are orphans, we believe most due to the war, a reality too close for comfort. Whilst we're in the school, adult refugees look across the landscape towards South Sudan just kilometres away. Whilst kids sing and dance with us, the sound of shelling and gun fire can be heard across the border as a new wave of fighting threatens a group of IDP camps HHA has been trying to help. Those who hadn't fled into Uganda remained in hiding in the bush.
Again, in church on Easter Sunday, looking around I thought, wow there are so many women here! Amazing! And then, I found out why…their husbands, sons, fathers…never made it over the border - 86% of refugees here are women and children. Then you think of your own family and imagine fleeing the house you grew up in, rebels pointing guns at you and your baby, watching unimaginable horrors occur…and it really begins to sink in. I was so fortunate to have been born in the UK.
I was chatting with a South Sudanese HHA fieldworker, he described the first time he saw elderly women & pregnant women stumbling into Bidibidi refugee settlement with heavy loads on their head, in 40.C temperatures. He said it was so sad to witness, but how soon that became a daily norm. I was troubled to hear such a situation became ordinary, no person deserves that.
These people are stoic in every sense of the word.