Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Camps


It's been a whirlwind of activities since landing. I arrived on Tuesday, and within 48 hours, I was in the north (a quick briefing and then on a plane again!)

I took a flight from the capital to a city in the north, via a small town. I was handed an envelope that I was told to deliver to a person at the stopover who would meet me at the airport. Did I have to clear security? How would I know who this person was? What if I couldn't find the person in my short 30 minute layover (and our flight was delayed!)? When we landed, three of us were continuing on. They told us to go to the "transit area" - beneath the shade of a tree aside the dirt airstrip. I couldn't find my handoff person, so the alternative was to hand the envelope to one of the UN workers on the airstrip. Envelope handed to some random lady? Check.

Three of us boarded the plane. That's it, just 3. It was a 15-seater Bombadier, and the pilot gave us the emergency information from his seat. I asked if he would be serving refreshments - yes! You can have refreshments 45 minutes into the flight, when you are on the ground and on your own tab.

The view as we landed was sparse. Yellow sandy soil interspersed with faded green palms, the colors muted by layers of the dry season. Small grass-roofed toukels dotted the landscape in clusters of three (the largest of the three, we later learned, is reserved for cattle, the animals often having an even higher status than human beings.)

The landscape of northern country.

My purpose here is to visit each of the three bases where we have WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) activities, meet the WASH team, and coordinate the next few months of activities. After a short meeting when we landed, we drove an hour west, where I would spend the next few days visiting IDP (internally displaced person) camps in the area. While I initially speculated the paths through the charred farmland were from people, I soon discovered they were paths drawn by cattle, hundreds at a time, moving from one location to the next, seemingly without destination.

Hundreds of cattle stir up dust, hazing the horizon in the afternoon sun.

We visited three of the four camps during my visit. These camps are made of people who have fled from the fighting in the eastern part of the country, only to find themselves living without means, without shelter, and without much to do. The children were incredibly bored, the women concerned each day about food. The shelters are rudimentary, usually just some sticks with plastic tarps tied haphazardly atop. With the pending rainy season in one month, much of the areas where IDPs have settled will become flooded, leaving people without refuge.

A typical home in the camp, unprotected from the elements and without privacy.
The work that we (as the WASH team) are doing in the camps focus on providing water, assiting in the construction of latrines and bathing shelters, and promoting hygienic practices within the camp. The latrines are basic, and often a distance from the camps, although they provide some opportunity for reduction of exposure to pathogens. The challenge, of course, is with tradition, habits, and comfort - a dark, smelly (scary!) latrine, or somewhere out in the open, under the stars? I know which I would choose. As we wait for the rains, we also wait for the unfortunate spread of diseases. The Hygiene Promotion team works tirelessly to spread messages of safe hygiene practices, an effort to cull these health complications.

A latrine stand at one of the camps.
We have also been coordinating with the local government and other organizations for the drilling of new boreholes in camps. Especially at this time of year, the region is extremely hot and dry, and water is scarce. Deep boreholes provide both a safe source of water, and sufficient access for households. While the number of people vary within the four camps, as do the number of boreholes, all seemed to have a very sort wait time, and general happiness by the community (I will also note that these camps have been set up usually adjacent to an existing community, so any new water works also benefit the local community, long after the IDPs have left the camps.)

Jerry cans waiting to be filled with water from a borehole in an IDP camp.
And as challenging, inspiring, heartbreaking and motivating this all can be, if you need a push, you can always count on your team to get you started!

Staff pushing the vehicle to get the engine running - new battery please!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Amanda, I love reading your posts. You have motivated me to get my blog going now that I am getting settled in Uganda. Stay safe and keep the sharing coming! Deborah (Foti)

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    1. Please update your blog, and send it along, would love to see the adventures you're up to!

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  2. Keep on doing what u r doing Molly ... we are proud of you ! i enjoy reading your blog and thanks for ypur contribution to humanity !

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  3. Thanks Behrang! I glad you enjoy and support it :)

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