Lots more volunteers

November 14th, 2012

Monday 12th November

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.

Interesting work development this week. Overall it’s still very slow and a question of finding out as much as possible, meeting people who are going to be useful contacts, and taking satisfaction from very small achievements in trying to influence things.

However this week I got to meet the Health Minister. We had heard that he wanted to meet the various “Technical Advisers” working in the Ministry which includes the volunteers. The other Ministry based volunteer had met him a couple of weeks ago and this day I went to the Private Secretary’s office hoping to make an appointment. He went in to the Minister who said come in straightaway. During the conversation he invited me to come to future Senior Management Meetings, the weekly session of the Minister and all the senior officials. So that will be really useful  – up to now because my partner has been away, I have not been able to link in to any of the management structures.

More generally this has been the week when the new VSO volunteers arrived. There had been 26 volunteers in the country (8 working in the health programme of which 3 are in Juba). This week another 19 arrived of which 6 will be in health. Most of the new volunteers (16 out of the 19) will be going elsewhere in the country but it will feel different and it will help to develop a network of people working at different levels of the system (in Counties, States and 3 of us at the Ministry in Juba)

I knew 2 of the new volunteers from training course I had attended in the UK and it was good to see them and get to know the others at various events over the weekend.

Moving house (& still catching up)

November 14th, 2012

Monday 5th November

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.


The big event this week has been moving house. Negotiations about the contracts were still going on but progress was being made – slowly – and it was agreed that we would move on Saturday.

So up early and packed (didn’t take long as I’ve only acquired a few extra things since arriving). Went to my language lesson which was to be the last with this teacher. We hope to arrange more with someone else.

We had help from the VSO office and (crucially) use of their vehicle. We moved everybody’s stuff in a couple of trips and then spent the rest of the day going around buying things for the house – some basic garden type tables and chairs, cooker (electric and gas rings) , various kitchen pots and pans etc, and some bed linen. We caused a stir at one point. As we were driving to the main store, the others spotted a street seller with a garden lounger that they really took a liking to. We stopped the car and ran after him. A policeman and several members of the public thought we were chasing a thief and tried to help. We had to explain that the poor chap had done nothing wrong.

Sunday was spent doing lots more shopping – food and things for the house and in the evening we had our first home cooked meal!

The house is similar in some ways to the guest house, with single rooms (each with bathroom) around a courtyard – all within a secure compound. But it’s smaller – there are seven rooms and because there are 4 of us we are the main occupiers and the kitchen area is just for our use. But of course we have to do things for ourselves here, cleaning, making and changing beds and so on.

The building is actually in 2 parts – on the other side is a family home with its own entrance where the landlord, his wife and children all live. They are from Eritrea as were the people who owned and ran the guesthouse, and a number of other businesses. Before leaving the guest house I was talking to the manager and thanking him for looking after us. He told me something of his story and about living in a number of countries since leaving Eritrea. He and the others there have become friends and we go back there quite often (it’s a 10-15 minute walk).

Out of the city!

November 14th, 2012

Monday 29th October

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.

The big news is that I have been out of the city for the first time. Yesterday we went to Nimule, a national park beside the Nile, down near the Uganda border. There were 6 of us, 3 Brits, 1 Dutch, I Canadian and 1 Sri Lankan plus our guide, an enterprising South Sudanese man who, alongside his main job, is developing an embryonic tourism business. Not much activity now but there must be potential. It took over 3 hours to get there but a fairly good road – only completed early last year. It is the only tar road in the country outside the urban areas. Saw small monkeys in various places. Along the way we went through our guide’s home village. He left as a child in 1992 and spent the next 14 years in Uganda in a refugee camp. A typical story.

At the park we picked up a ranger (armed) and drove down to edge of the Nile, went on a boat for 20-30 minutes. Landed on bank and then walked for 1 to 1½ hours, very quietly through the bush. Saw antelopes – nothing else but it was still a great experience.

We got back in the boat and went further upstream. One bank was in Uganda but the border was pretty informal. In fact we got messages from the mobile phone company welcoming up to Uganda!

As we set off from the border town for Juba we were stopped by a police woman checking papers as the road from Uganda is used extensively by all the trucks coming through with all supplies, and some people.

First half of journey back was OK but then it got dark and that was no fun. Vehicles delayed putting lights on for ever and then later there would be vehicles parked on side of road with no lights at all. Very pleased to see the hustle and bustle of Juba again!

But it had been a good day – and good to see something of rural Africa – away from the city.

A few thoughts from the week (catching up)

November 14th, 2012

Saturday 27th October

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.

 On our way to work one of the dirt roads goes past a school and if we hit it at the wrong (or right) time we arrive as they are singing the National Anthem. Children are posted outside and they make sure that everybody, cars, motorbikes, pedestrians and us all stop until it is finished. Great pride in a new nation!

Before I arrived and before they all went on holiday, the three girls (well women but they are all much younger than me) who also live at the guest house had arranged for a lady to cook and bring in their evening meal. This week we started the arrangement again – for 3 days of the week. It was very nice to have one’s dinner brought in, especially because the food is so good. The lady is Eritrean but apparently used to work for an Italian company so it is mixture of food traditions.

At work it is quite common for people to wander into the office. Most are looking for other people in the Ministry but two stood out. One was when a tall thin young man came in. He couldn’t speak any English, so he hung around for a bit then produced from his bag a letter which had a heading of the Ministry of Culture, introducing him as a musician and asking for people to support him with cash or in kind. The second time a man appeared with a letter from the hospital saying he was a poor farmer whose wife had just had triplets and they couldn’t afford milk.

There’s been a development on accommodation – the girls have been negotiating for months about moving to a different house and there has been a series of delays. Suddenly it’s coming together and they have asked me if I would like to move to it as well. I was quite flattered really and although I have enjoyed the guest house, it would be very different without the company in the evening.

This week the bike broke – the crank arm with the pedal fell off after a nut came loose. Friday was a Muslim holiday and we were off work; I managed to get one of the local places to repair the bike. Seems alright but it’s making some pretty awful noises

Getting around Juba

October 23rd, 2012

Sunday 21st October

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.

My second week at work! Still feels fairly slow with a lot of time spent reading and working my way into things. However during the week I met some useful contacts including the project manager for one of the 3 big initiatives rolling out standardised health care across the country. This one involves two of the Northern states and this led to a meeting with him and senior representatives from the 2 states. This was very helpful in identifying the real practical difficulties of delivering the planned model of care at local level. I think I will be able to do some useful work with them.

Also during the week I had a good discussion with another volunteer who is based in a county health department. She has been here over 6 months and is clearly very involved and doing great things. There has been a project to bring over 70 people with cleft lip and palate from all over the place to Juba for surgery by a specialist team who have come in for the purpose. Most are children but there are also adults including a 55 year old lady who has spent all her life shut away from society. The surgery will transform all their lives.

This week I have been getting to and from work by bicycle. The route is slightly complicated because it is better to keep riding on the main roads to the minimum possible. So I go on the side roads which of course are much quieter but the hazards there are different – negotiating the bumps and pot-holes, not to mention the goats and ducks (and children) which are frequently in the way. Still I much prefer it to riding on the boda bodas.

Together with the other recently arrived volunteer I am having lessons in Juba Arabic, the local language; they are on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning and are held at a secondary school by a teacher at the school. The first Saturday it was very quiet, just us and the teacher but this week when we got to the school it was a hive of activity, lots of children and adults, a big marquee and lots of chairs. It was the Annual Prize-giving and there was no way we would have our lesson that day. But everybody was very welcoming and we met the Head, Deputy Head and a lady from England who had been involved in UK Church funding for the school. It’s clearly a very good school with tough admission criteria and very good results. The prize-giving was due to start at 10.00 and we were invited to stay but while it was due to finish at 2.30 we learnt that last year it went on until 6.00pm so I am afraid we declined and spent the day exploring another part of the city.

Started work!

October 15th, 2012

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.

Sunday 14th October

End of week 2 in South Sudan. In terms of daily living I am settling into a sort of pattern although everything is still very new and even simple things can take a long time. There are 3 other volunteers living in the guest house and they have all been here for 6 months so they are able to show me where things are. We support each other and it’s good to have the company, especially in the evenings. We eat out all the time as there are no cooking facilities at the guest house – mostly this means food (very cheap) from one of the many street vendors who cook good food on charcoal stoves in near darkness. At weekends we treat ourselves to a better meal at one of the posher restaurants.

There is such a contrast between the rough streets, cheap food places and shops on the one hand and some very expensive and good quality hotels which are being built and opening all the time.

This week of course has been my first week at work. My daily pattern has been to get up early and get tea from a shop just round the corner, perhaps with some bread which I might have with a banana for breakfast. Then I have to get to the Ministry of Health which is perhaps 3 km away. This first week I have taken boda bodas  -the motorbike taxis but I don’t like them at all. 2 days I got a boda back as well but the other days I walked – it takes about 40 minutes, not unpleasant although I did arrive very hot!

Mostly the weather has been hot but 2 days we have had some rain and when it rains it really does pour. It can last for several hours but so far it has either been in the night and stopped before it was time for work or during the day when I have been in the office. But I will get caught out in the rain at some stage.

I have been made welcome at work but it is very early days and I have not yet met many people and it is not yet clear how I get into the work. So the week has been spent reading lots of background material and starting to make a few contacts. It feels rather frustrating but everybody says this is what it will be like, taking it steadily and gradually getting into it. Still very early days.

Last Saturday and yesterday I have spent time with another volunteer who had arrived the same day as me. We have decided to use Saturdays to explore different parts of the city, the first week we went to one of the big markets and then also had a drink at one of the places which is springing up next to the River Nile, very peaceful and quite different from the city a few hundred yards away.

This Saturday we explored Juba Town which is the older part of the city and which has a slightly different feel to it. Also on Saturday I bought a bicycle in one of the markets – so that will mean I don’t have to use the bodas which I will prefer and will also save me some money (to set against the cost of the bike!)


Week 1

October 9th, 2012

Sunday 7th October

I have now completed my first week in South Sudan!

I arrived at Juba Airport on Monday afternoon, having flown via Addis Ababa. This was my first impression of the country – the airport was quite basic and not many flights – and here I was aware of the heat for the first time. The arrivals room was congested and we had to queue for passport checks and then to have our bags checked in the one small area. I was met by VSO staff and taken to my accommodation which is a guest house similar I think to many others. 12 rooms are arranged either side of a courtyard, each one with bed, garden chair and small plastic table – and a hat stand and with an en-suite wet-room, shower, WC and basin. From the road (a very rough back street) access is through a pedestrian door within a bigger door which slides back to allow vehicles to come in and park. It feels secure – the staff/owners are always here. Electricity is via a generator which is usually running between 7.00pm and about 2.00am each day. At the moment I am not sure how long I will stay here as many volunteers move into shared house but this may be fine for me.

There is lots of activity locally – small shops and street stalls everywhere, including a tea place, internet café and hairdresser just yards from the Guest House and restaurants, food stalls and shops just a little further.

There is a real energy about the country and people are open and friendly. There is fantastic potential here but a lot to do. The country is huge and sparsely populated; the infrastructure is almost non-existent in rural areas and communications very difficult.

Juba is growing fast, and one has to accept that is not yet organised like the cities we are used to, only the main streets have names and there are no proper addresses, or post service. The main roads are tarmac but as soon as you turn off those the others are very rough indeed. The traffic is very busy and confusing. There are thousands of motorbikes, many private and also the motorbike taxis – boda bodas – which are the main form of transport along with minibuses which run along a few set routes.

It is striking how many international agencies and NGOs are working here to help establish the country. You see their vehicles everywhere and I’ve already met a number of their staff. The number of volunteers here with VSO is due to increase a lot over the next year as the country is seen as very high priority.

The weather is very hot although occasionally cloudy. It feels quite uncomfortable even when sitting quietly but apparently this is not the hottest time of the year!

Most of last week was spent with the VSO staff on in-country training but on Friday I met my partner, i.e. my boss at the Ministry of Health, and I started work there yesterday and this is where my main time here has started.

Nearly time to go

September 15th, 2012

The last few weeks have meant lots to do to prepare but also lots of travel vaccinations, rabies, hepatitis b, meningitis, cholera – and an order for a great many malaria tablets. And the practice nurse suggested I also have a flu jab! Should be prepared for anything now.

I’ve now got my flight details, flying from Heathrow on 30th September, an overnight flight with Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa, then a short flight to Juba.

Until last week the advice was that I would get my visa on arrival at Juba airport but then it all changed. I was to  apply in person at the Embassy in London and it might take 14 days before I got my passport back. So I cancelled everything and went to London on the train on Tuesday. I found the Embassy address – a nice building just off Euston Road but the only sign on the building identified it as the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers. The Receptionist directed me to the 4th floor where another Reception Desk served 60 different organisations who were based on the 3rd and 4th floors, including the Embassy. A very tall African lady came and found me and I followed her downstairs and around a maze of corridors until we came to a door with no name or anything on it. Inside the office were two men working at computers and also the lady’s desk. This seemed to be the Embassy and it was another salutary reminder of how different a developing country and its resources are, compared with our own society. But the process was straightforward and very efficient and my Visa was entered into my passport there and then – no question of keeping my passport for 2 weeks.

So everything is set in terms of official papers and transport – I expect my next post on the blog will be from Juba!

Getting ready

July 26th, 2012

Time is rushing by – only about 2 months to go now. Lots to do to organise for being away- and also for not being here if that makes sense.

Quite a lot of time is being spent on training with VSO. I went on a 3 day residential  weekend in Birmingham and both before and after that I did e-learning modules assocaited with the course which was called “Preparing to Volunteer”. Met some great people through the course including one other person who is going to South Sudan. I am back to Bimingham in a couple of weeks for a 4 day course – this time it will be more on the countries we are going to in our placements.

Amongst other things I am also trying  to fundraise as all VSO volunteers are expected to raise at least £1500, not for themselves but to support the development programmes. I’m writing to lots of people and asking them to sponsor me (and to act as a support network while I am away) and I am also approaching organisations for help – I’ve got 2 talks to local Rotary Clubs lined up soon.

And the rest of the time – well I’m still working for the Nursing and Midwifery Council chairing disciplinary panels, and quite busy with the church and with Abbeyfield.


July 4th, 2012

Hello and welcome to this blog which has been set up to record my experiences with VSO in South Sudan.

I’ll be writing about my preparations to go in October and then about my time in the country. In the meantime this is just an introductory message to get started.