I was so impacted by my two trips to Mozambique in 2000 that I set about exploring ways in which I could be more involved with aid work overseas. My search ended up with me being accepted onto Tearfund’s Disaster Response Register (now called Disaster Management Team if I recall rightly). And within a month or two I was asked to consider a placement in South Sudan as the team leader for one of their four projects in the war torn and drought ravaged country. Following a series of orientation days, training weekends and various other meetings and preparations (including writing my will and signing my agreement to the policy that no ransom would be paid in the event of my being taken as a hostage) I found my self heading to East Africa in June 2002.
The first stop on the way to Sudan was always Nairobi where the regional headquarters for Tearfund was located. I didn’t really enjoy city life so I spent as little time there as I could! Next stop was Lokichoggio in the north of Kenya, at the edge of the town was the NGO camp which had developed into its own little community. Many NGO’s providing aid and relief to South Sudan had their operational base in the camp, there was designated office space and staff accommodation, buffet restaurants and every thing you need for the surreal life of an aid worker!
One of the features of life in Loki was the Sierras, a unique group of good looking ex military personnel with an overdose of testosterone. Taking their name from their call sign in the NATO phonetic alphabet, they were the security team responsible for our safety in the field, and when needs must they would search and rescue teams who had had to evacuate their camps. Before heading out to the field I had two or three days training with them learning how to survive in the Sudanese bush, on the run from warring factions and what to do if I was taken hostage. Nice welcome!
The camp that would be my home for the next 6 months was on the edge of a dirt air strip. Next to us was the Vets Sin Frontier camp and further down at the other end of the strip was the rebel army’s camp who held the area, just opposite them was the water pump that the camps and surrounding community used. I enjoyed walking out onto the airstrip at the end of a long, hot day and watching the people walk up from the pump with water jars balanced on their heads, silhouetted by the setting sun that cast long, long shadows in front of them. The downside to this idyllic African scene was that our only drinking water was from this pump which happened to be salty to the taste – I never got used to it and so was chronically dehydrated!
To be continued in a few days time…
(check out Tearfund’s website: http://www.tearfund.org)