Allow me to share with you a remarkable email I recieved below from our Head of the Emergency Hub Mairo Retief, where she describes all the challenges our fellow colleagues have been facing in setting up a new operations for LWF in Upper Nile South Sudan for the past 6 weeks. I also attach photo of the team, and hope it shows you why LWF is doing what it is doing in South Sudan.
Article below by Mairo Retief, Team Leader, Emergency Hub (East Africa) – written yesterday 18th October in Juba – when there was no internet access.
LWF in Maban has all been worth it!
Today I finally knew why I had spent 6 weeks living in the mud, heat, rain of Maban. 6 weeks of constant sweating, having insects flying all around me day and night, snakes in the compound and rats in my tent.
The last 6 weeks have been more than a challenge to say the least. Our cargo was the first hitch getting delayed due to tax exemption. This delayed us from starting up as we had no tents to put up in the camp as classrooms. We were reliant on lifts as we had no vehicle for a few weeks until UNHCR agreed to loan us a pick up, while our 2 UNHCR vehicles arrived in the country.
Then the area was flooded and we could not reach the camp nor work on our compound. A riot in one of the camps meant that tension was high and camps were again not accessible for a few days.
The final straw was an UXO that was found on our compound when our workers were digging up an ant hill. This means that none of us can move onto the compound until a demining group is brought in to deal with the UXO. Currently our national staff are staying in different places in town which is very difficult for them and not good for general morale. We are hoping that a team will come in soon to deal with the UXO.
Despite all these challenges we have now begun to see glimmers of silver lining in the muddy mess of Maban.
This Monday the first of our equipment entered South Sudan from Nairobi in a cargo plane. It has taken up to today for the first of 3 trucks to arrive in Maban from a place called Paloich where the cargo plane landed. This morning the truck was being off loaded and I saw some of the classroom tents, exercise books for children, volleyballs for child friendly spaces and chalks for teaching. It was such a good feeling knowing that we can finally move forward with our work.
In the past week our team has worked very hard to train the teachers and volunteers in the camps. We received our two programme officers who are South Sudanese – one for education and one for Child protection. Our education and child protection coordinators have been working with them in the camps to train the teachers and volunteers and to get our first school ready to be opened.
This morning we held the opening of the new school. It was a very emotional moment for me. Having been on the scoping mission to Maban in June, then on the assessment team in July and finally leading the set up team in September I now can say that despite the challenges I know why LWF has been brought to Maban and that it has all been worth it.
I walked into the school with a representative from the ministry of education, UNHCR and Unicef. The school ground was filled with up to a thousand children all waiting eagerly for the classes to start.
They stood still in rows for 30 mins in the boiling sun, sweat dripping from their foreheads, but smiles beaming from their faces. We held some speeches including the local Umda (leader) giving some words. The people of Blue Nile see education as a top priority for these refugee camps and have been more than welcoming of LWF setting up schools.
Once the speeches were through the children were all taken into different classes according to their ages where they were registered by the newly recruited teachers. Some of the female teachers brought two girls to us and informed us that these girls were separated children whose parents were still in Blue Nile. This was an opportunity for our child protection staff to follow up and make sure that the girls have a home where they are taken care of, and to further follow up with ICRC on reunification of the girls with their family. Part of LWF’s child protection work is to follow up on such casers of unaccompanied minors and separated children, and here we were seeing that on the first day of our first school there was already a need for our child protection team.
I flew out of Maban at midday to Juba and will return to Nairobi tomorrow. I am leaving with a feeling of contentment knowing that we are going to do great work in these refugee camps and that we will make a big difference to the future of these children, by being there.
Please think of the team as they continue setting up more schools, and child friendly spaces in the camps whilst dealing with the numerous challenges that arise every week. For now the biggest issue is the UXO which means that we cannot bring in any more expat staff as we are still visitors in the UNHCR compound. It also means that our national staff are scattered all over the town in various compounds which is not ideal when they have only just been recruited into the LWF family.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and hopefully in the future you will all get an opportunity to visit LWF projects in Maban.
Mairo Retief, Emergency Hub, Team Leader, LWF (in Juba, 18th October 2012)