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Tragic events unfold during a team visit to our proposed South Sudan clinic site

Written by Carwyn Hill, HHA CEO

This time last week some of our UK team joined members of our East Africa team on a visit to Kajo Keji, South Sudan; a community that’s been devastated by the war.

We started the day visiting the region’s public hospital which we’d recently donated a large range of emergency drugs to due to their severe shortage of essential outpatient materials.  As we left, an ambulance pulled up outside a new MSF emergency facility within the hospital that had just opened.  A man covered in blood from a gun shot injury staggered out the back in a state of shock.  There was no immediate appreciation as to where this victim had come from or why he’d sustained such an injury.

We then headed to the church compound of Edward, our HHA EA Chairman (pictured right), where we plan to develop a new clinic in 2023.  The site includes an old church, and a gutted nursery and primary school which was looted during the war and now needs refurbishing.  After walking around we paused to have some lunch.  Edward then turned to us and shared that whilst we’d been eating, around 200 displaced individuals had just arrived in the church.  They’d just fled fighting about 35kms north of where we were. We went out to see the unfolding situation. Sure enough, the site was flooded with IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) - many women and children.  Some huddled in small groups in a state of bewilderment. One lady sat isolated, weeping on her own.  Others gathered to elect leaders within the group to help manage the situation.  Rumours circulated that 2-5 people had been killed in an indiscriminate attack, with many more injured.  We now new the story of the man at the hospital.

Edward had offered this same community a sanctuary at the church compound in 2017 when they'd faced similar atrocities. 5 years on, they remembered such love and returned seeking support once more. Without a moment’s thought, Edward welcomed them and instructed his church treasurer to give all they could to support these desperate families.

As we returned home and sat reflecting on the day's events, news on the full extent of the situation filtered through.  Tragically, it turned out that about 30 people had been indiscriminately killed through this massacre. Thousands more had been displaced. There was a sombre and heavy atmosphere amongst the team that night as we tried to process what we’d seen.  By the following day, Edward now had around 600 displaced individuals to care for on his compound.  They arrived with nothing. I spoke to one man who sat with bare feet. He hadn’t even had time to put on shoes as he fled.  Yesterday these families had homes and I presume livelihoods.  Today they had nothing but the clothes they wore.

HHA have since responded with some emergency humanitarian items and we will continue to work with Edward to try and help.  The day was a desperate reminder on the tragic reality of war. Yet it was also humbling seeing Edward’s profound faith and love in action.  A church with very limited resources, stepping out and saying - whatever the cost, whatever the need, you are welcome and we will care for you.