Archive for February, 2013

Another field trip and a kitten update

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Sunday 10th February to Saturday 23rd February

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO

I have mentioned here before that many of the businesses here are run by Eritrean people (and others by Kenyans and Ugandans). Some of them are political refugees and others are economic migrants. This week we learnt that one of the refugees who we know quite well has been accepted as a refugee by the Canadian government and will be travelling soon to Canada where he will start a new life. It is a tremendous opportunity for him and will change his life, although of course it also takes him even further from his family.

Although my plan is to return to the UK soon I do have a number of things to do first and one is to make another field visit, this time to one of the States further north where again VSO have volunteers at both State and County level. This time the traveling was by air, using United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Service planes. Several people from the previous trip in December came on this one too so that we could make some comparisons.

The town was interesting, big wide streets and a much calmer pace than Juba. An interesting large cathedral and impressive mosque. Less developed with lots of donkey water carts and other horses and carts. During the day it was nearly as hot as Juba but the evenings, nights and early mornings were much cooler, very pleasant. However it was very dusty and during each night my mouth and throat were so dry, and in the morning I found I had lost my voice.

We stayed from Monday to Friday and in that time we met senior people at the State Ministry and two of the County Health Departments. We also met the two main NGOs working in the area, visited a number of health facilities and attended the State monthly cluster meeting. The staff there have all the right ideas of trying to strengthen the County Health Departments, to get the NGOs to collaborate more and coordinate their work with the counties but it all reminded me of how fragile many of the county departments are and how much they need to develop if they are eventually going to take the lead in managing effective services locally.

This is after all the whole point of my placement here!


Yesterday I had lunch with some of the South Sudanese colleagues of one of the other volunteers here. I have met them before and have enjoyed hours of interesting conversation with them about South Sudanese and East African politics. One of them was due that afternoon to travel to Torit a journey I have done by car. Most of it is on dirt roads and it took us 3½ hours. He was planning to do it by motorbike and said it should be a bit quicker.

We heard later that evening that he had had a puncture 5 miles from Torit and he had had to push the motorbike the last 5 miles to the town. Such is life here.


I have realized that I have not talked recently about the kittens. Sadly at roughly weekly intervals one after another died so that we were then left with just one. Of all of them she was the most likely to survive as she was always the most pushy – and has therefore been christened “Rambo”. This past week my housemates managed to find a visiting vet and get some worming tablets. Next time the vet comes he will bring the cat inoculations – so maybe she will stand a chance. Hopefully when she is bigger she will catch the odd rat that makes an appearance but she will have to grow some.

A new plan for my placement

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Sunday 27th January to Saturday 9th February

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO

During these 2 weeks I have been ill, a new group of volunteers have arrived and I have come up with a plan about my placement.

Being ill! I have been very lucky really and had been pretty healthy since arriving. I have lost a lot of weight which I put down to the heat and lots of exercise (walking and cycling) and I feel better for it. However one evening after dinner I suddenly felt strange and I started 2 days of a stomach upset, quite a virulent food poisoning bug. After that I felt a bit better and went to work but realised how much energy I was missing. I wasn’t properly better until the following Monday.

During these few days the latest group of volunteers arrived – another 19 making about 52 in the country. 5 of the new ones are to work in health making 19 in total. I met them all at the welcome meal and then I got to know the health group quite well when I led one of the sessions for them during their in-country training. Then they went off to their placements, 1 at a State Ministry of Health and the others to County Health Departments.

Over the last few weeks I have been giving a lot of thought to my placement. It is due to end on 30th June and while I have considered that I might come back for short visits later if appropriate really I could do with being here in July and August to help with the consultation stage on the work that I will have been producing.

In fact the next stage of the work is to set down and write the guidance material I have been preparing, and actually I could do that from anywhere really and communicate by email.

On the other hand, from a personal point of view I think it would be good to be at home for a bit to support Barbara and the rest of the family. And I realise how tiring I find it here (and that’s not just because of being unwell recently)


So I have devised a plan by which I would return to the UK, perhaps in mid-March and carry on with the work there. Then I would return to Juba possibly in mid-June and stay for maybe 2 months. I have discussed this idea with both VSO and my boss at the Ministry of Health and both have agreed!

So I need to firm up my work plan for the rest of the time here now, for when I am in the UK and for when I come back later in the year.

Now that a decision has been made about this I have to say I am really looking forward to coming home for a while.

Cats and committees

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Friday 11th to Saturday 26th  January

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO

Back to Juba, starting with the usual melee of people at the airport. However I am much refreshed for having had 2 lovely weeks with Barbara.

I went back to the house and met my housemates who told me that they were about to rescue some kittens that seemed to have been abandoned to die in the streets. They duly arrived – 4 very tiny kittens looking pretty sorry for themselves. We didn’t know how old they were – obviously very young but their eyes were open and they were perhaps 4-6 weeks old. Not sure how they would get on but at least they had some chance with us – none at all if left where they had been.

The real story of these 2 weeks has been preparing for and then taking part in the workshop for all volunteers in the country. A couple of people couldn’t get to Juba for it but basically all 43 volunteers across the 3 programmes were there. It was quite a logistical nightmare to get them all to the capital from the various locations and to find somewhere for them all to stay but it all worked. It was really good to see everybody and meet those I had not met before but more important it was really helpful to share experiences and, particularly in my case to develop the network of volunteers at State and County level who will be very useful in taking forward my work here and (hopefully) ensuring that it is sustained after I have left.

There has been discussion over recent weeks about establishing a volunteers committee for South Sudan, to represent the volunteers in discussions with the Country office. I had done some work on possible Terms of Reference for it and then found myself as the convenor of a planning group to pull it all together.

That culminated in a session at the workshop when the Committee was formally set up, and representatives from each area were elected. I became the representative for Juba and was then elected by the new committee as its Chairman. I was happy to do the work to get it up and running but I did make it clear that as my placement was relatively short I could only do the Chairman role for the 5 months that I would remain in the country.

I do seem to find myself involved with running committees – wherever I go! There must be a learning point in there somewhere.

New Year in Kenya

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Friday 28th December to Friday 11th January

I am a volunteer with VSO but all entries on this blog are my personal responsibility alone and do not represent the views of VSO

These two weeks have seen me on holiday in Kenya. I hadn’t been expecting to go but when at short notice Barbara said she was coming to Africa, we set to and organised ourselves. With a combination of our own searches on the internet and the services of a very helpful travel agent we made all the bookings and on Friday 28th December Barbara flew from London and I flew from Juba, and we met at Nairobi airport on the Saturday morning.

After a tour of Nairobi itself by taxi (in the pouring rain) which included the Railway Museum and the National Museum and Snake Park we went to the Elephant Orphanage – where the baby elephants really enjoyed the rain and the red mud. Later we went through a very English sort of area to where we were staying for the first 3 nights, in a very relaxed country style hotel. It was cold! We had log fires in the bedroom and the restaurant.

The following day we went to Lake Nakuro National Park – a long journey by road but spectacular as we descended the side of the Rift Valley. The park is famous for the birds which were indeed amazing but there were also a great many animals to see, including white rhino.

The hotel was in a tea growing area and the following day we went by mutatu to a tea factory where we had a guided tour of the whole process, and bought some of the local tea.

New Year’s Eve was spent at the hotel and on the next day we flew to Mombasa- so very different – hot and humid, a real mix of cultures and history, African, Indian, Arab, Portuguese and British. We stayed in a city centre hotel and over the next few days visited the old town and markets, the old harbour with its history of slave trading and Fort Jesus. We also went out of the city to some workshops for disabled people, very impressive. As we walked in to the compound a man who was to be our guide came up and said, do we know about Oxfam – yes. Do we know about Traidcraft – yes! And do we know about VSO (they sometimes have volunteers there) – yes!! They not only make craft work they also build and sell wheelchairs.

When it was time to leave the city we got a shuttle (non-stopping) mutatu up the coast road. We got off at Gede and took a tuk-tuk to where we were staying, a field study centre right by the coast. It was lovely, quiet with basic accommodation, simple but very nice food and good fellowship. While there we went to Mida Creek, walked on a rope walkway across the mangrove forest with all the different types and went in a canoe across the creek. Magical! We also visited the Gede Ruins, once home of a thriving and successful Swahili Community.

For the last part of our stay we went by taxi back to Mombasa, across the ferry to the south coast where we stayed in very comfortable surroundings in a beach hotel. Lovely beach, swimming pool, beautiful accommodation and good food. While there we went in a glass bottomed boast across the coral reef and swam and snorkelled off a sandbank. It was very nice to have had that at the end but we were glad that it was not our only experience of the country.

The next day it was back to the airport, flying back to Nairobi and then flying off again in our very different directions. During our time we had stayed in 4 completely different areas of Kenya in 4 very different styles of accommodation and we felt we had had a wonderful time together.

Not bad for having organised it all in less than 10 days!