Sunday, July 01, 2007

Soweta - 23rd June

At 7am on Saturday morning we picked up Rachel and Gaye and headed for Jinja. This time, we weren’t there for the white water. Twenty five of us, including fourteen VSO volunteers from Kampala were heading for Soweta. It’s a displaced persons camp just outside Jinja. Hardly anyone knows it’s there and, it seems, even fewer want to know. Four thousand mainly women and children from Northern Uganda, displaced by the war, live there in unbelievable squalor. No latrines, a few standpipes, open sewers, mud huts crowded together, no place to grow food. An overpowering smell of home brewed banana spirit hangs over the place.
Mark and I had gone to visit the week before and had met the extraordinary Mary Kafuka and her daughter Grace. Mary is a social worker who volunteers there with some financial help from the Catholic church. Grace helps her mum “because she gets very tired”. Together they provide the only source of hope and assistance in the whole place.
“What can we do to help?” I asked.
“Anything” she replied.
So we went. With de-worming pills and vitamin A and cream for ringworm and sticky eyes and antibiotics and malaria tablets.
In the longest surgery ever we saw 720 people. They queued patiently in the sun, a number on one palm in marker pen and a cross on the other when they got their pills. We saw everyone who wanted to be seen, and some of the more enterprising ones twice.
And we “did a good thing”. And we left. Driving away in our four-wheel-drives to cold beer and hot showers and good food and a comfortable bed for the night…

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