I'm packing my suitcase for its journey to Africa, thousands of miles away. As I pack, I can smell the spices of street markets with their pilau rice and grilled whole fish. I can visualise all the bright colours, the elegant movements of people going about their daily lives. I can hear the horns of public buses blaring in time to the belching smoke leaving their exhausts as they cough and splutter forward. I feel myself cringing in the humid heat, thinking this time the conductor is not to going to be able to hold on to that rusting piece of metal he seems to trust so fully. They are there and I am here ; preparing. I have been doing this since 1993 and yet each trip is different. Once again, I have no idea how this one will turn out. Oh I have planned. I've been planning since I was there last year. But this is Africa. Planning is not a familiar concept. They will wait till I arrive and then say 'Twende' Lets go together! I can't wait to get started.
When I arrive, I am going to meet Rehema, widow of pastor Joseph. They were so hospitable in giving us a place to rest between arriving from UK and departing on the long slow train journey to the Burundian refugees camps. that was between 1996 and 2007 when the refugees went home. I promised Joseph as he lay dying from motor neurone disease, that I would make sure his children went to school. With help, I have been able to do that and give Rehema a small business to relieve her poverty. I am also going to meet Grace, daughter of refugee pastor Isaya who now lives in Burundi. I helped Isaya's wife to have surgery on a huge goitre. Isaya said, 'You transformed my woman into a lady. I will never forget that.'
Grace is married to Stanford who is a trained lab technician. He has employed Grace's brothers. I had forgotten that I put them through school and college and helped two of their sisters to train as nurses. It's amazing how the price of a daily cup of coffee in town can keep a family reasonably well off. In turn, they help others. They offer a wonderful health service in their locality. It will be a joy to see them again.
I am going to meet someone else. Her name makes my heart skip a beat. Agness. Our refugee midwife. She had just given birth to her youngest daughter in hospital in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. She had not even had a wash when they heard gunfire. Someone came in and said that Tutsi were gunning down all Hutu that they saw. Agness was Hutu. She and her minutes old daughter hid in a cupboard. The gunfire got nearer and more explosive. Agness was advised to run and was helped to a back exit. She found her sister in law and together with their children, they headed to Tanzania. Two weeks later, exhausted, hungry and dehydrated they fell into the welcome embrace of the Red Cross Tanzania. Agness phoned home to Bujumbura. Her husband said he would leave tomorrow to join them. That night, rebel forces took the capital and Agness heard no more news. We employed her as a nurse midwife. She was wonderful. Her home was always full of women who found comfort in her presence. I cannot wait to see her again. Maybe she will have news of the doctor (Nikodeme) that we had to smuggle out of the country. He was in danger from rebel threats.
Then with my friend Penny who lives in Dar es Salaam, we will drive to the Maasai people in her car. The sheer anticipation of the luxury of a car ride instead of a bus seems better than anything a Cornish spa day could offer. Together, we will meet up with pastors Timothy and Jacob and their wives, Rebecca (our midwife) and Judith and devise our programme. Hopefully it will include meeting the families of the current, previous and possibly future school girls. I would like to try (underline try) to give the programme more structure. I'm keen to know about progress of ending the practice of Emorata, female genital mutilation. (see previous blog).
I want to meet all of my beloved Traditional Birth Attendants and hear their stories of how they always wash their hands with clean water and soap. They will be beaming with pride as they report this. Throughout the meeting, I will be assessing numbers of infections, haemorrhage and other complications and hope that the number of deaths of both infants and mothers has stayed very low. These dropped dramatically as soon as Rebecca started training.
Of course I want to hear about all the other projects too including the women's income generation initiatives. And then, with baited breath, I want to get on to the topic of the cow project and savings group. We have been writing the business plan for one year but there are still adjustments to be made and practical issues to be worked out. I have been given a list of 12 women. None has any means of earning money. All have young children. The basic plan is that the women will 'rent' the cows over a 24 month period. It will work like a hire purchase agreement. After 2 years, the women will own the cow. This system worked well with the sewing machine project. It would be so easy to just give the cows to the women but I want to make each project fair and without bias. Milk production will be seasonal. The women will have to learn to budget and will be obliged to save a particular amount in a ViCoBa (village co-operative savings bank). As well as providing for the families' immediate needs, they will hopefully have saved enough to send their children to secondary school when the time comes. This is much more sustainable than constantly sending fees from the UK. We can then concentrate help on those who don't presently have a way to help themselves.
I cannot say a big enough thank you to everyone who has journeyed with me. It's as if we have been packing together. I am taking more than the obvious things in my suitcase. Although I will board the plane alone, I will have confidence that I am in good company and will have the resources that are needed. Thanks to everyone who has gift aided money. One granddad is even getting a share of a cow for his August birthday! It's not too late to donate through our partners, Links International. We are Project 3064. A small one off gift can make a difference. You retain control. Just say what you would like your donation to be used for and I will personally sort that for you. Of course, a small monthly gift can make a bigger difference. The strong British pound means that the exchange rate is extremely favourable so your donation achieves more than ever before.
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