Dr. Henry Reitzug of Puyallup, a member of the board of directors of Lakewood’s Northwest Commercial Bank, is on a mission to Darfur, Sudan, as part of Tearfund, a leading relief and development charity, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches worldwide. Dr. Reitzug has been sending his observations of the country and people and we are reprinting them (in a series) with his permission. Read the other installments (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen)
Ed Daein, South Darfur, Sudan – Monday afternoon June 9, 2008,
It’s been three days since the haboob sandstorm, and the rain of Biblical proportions. No further rains have ensued. This is fortunate because the ground has not swallowed up the previous blessings. In fact, in the market area of town, there are entire streets still underwater. The rain also released a plague of bugs, most of them flying, jumping, or helicoptering onto you. By far the worst of these offenders is the large flying cockroach. They’ll land on you, cling to furniture, left-over food, even hang from the ceiling and then drop on you. They start coming into the house around evening, following the light, and from 8 until 11 pm, sitting around is absolute hell. Thank God for mosquito tents and for my red headlamp light designed not to attract bugs.
Two nights ago I got so edgy, partly from bug-alertness, that I had trouble settling down to sleep. Yesterday I thoroughly studied the promises of Psalm 91 and made them my own.
That gave me great comfort – and confidence. Shortly after reading that I read the security briefing for El Geneina and Beida where I am going next. I will share details of those briefings when I get home; too much needless fear and worry. I would not have been able to assimilate the contents and details of that situation, however, had I not received such a peace from Psalm 91 and from its promises only moments before. As it was, I had no problem getting to sleep last night. It was a very hot and humid night so sleep was choppy. Additionally, the water pump that brings the water to the living compound broke yesterday, eliminating any chance of a shower last night or this morning.
This morning we went to the Therapeutic Feeding Program in Ed Daein, located near the market. The ride took us through a jumble of flooded streets, open displays of wares and grains very similar to other provincial African towns, and a jumble of donkey carts, horse drawn carts, bikes, and an occasional Toyota Land Cruiser. I was told that later in the morning there was a bike – donkey collision near there, with minimal scrapes to the bicyclist and the donkey. I can see how that can happen. If there are any traffic rules here, they are a well kept secret. In a country where stealing manhole covers can’t be prevented, I would not expect traffic signs in Ed Daein. If the road is wide enough, they do drive on the right side ‚Äì unless that side has the deeper holes.
The feeding program was well attended and women modestly covered in bright, wrap-around scarves sat with their babies on the mats that are provided. With my showerless, sweaty state I had a measure of solidarity with a number of them. Any olfactory offensiveness though was overcome by the nearby stench of a flooded latrine in the market area.
Many of the children, although severely malnourished, had beautiful fine features, large eyes, disproportionately large heads (that’s the last thing to stop growing in starvation ‚Äì fortunately), and a pleasant disposition for the most part. Of course, when I get close, screams often start ‚Äì I am too white, they have never seen anyone this white before.
To monitor their progress, the children get weighed weekly, on a scale with a hook hanging from the bottom, from which hangs the harness they are placed in. They don’t much care for that, nor the monthly measuring of their length on a long board. But they do like the Plumpy Nut, which they receive along with vitamins, antibiotics as needed, worm medicine and measles vaccinations. Then they get assessed by the health nurse, and unless they have gotten ill, in which case they get admitted to the stabilization center for in-patient care, they get their week’s ration of Plumpy Nut, and then have the weekly health education.
The whole thing is well organized and there is a pervasive sense of order, calm, peace and assurance, and the parents pick up on that. They have no need to get edgy if there is a wait ‚Äì there is, since appointments can’t really be made ‚Äì and they seem genuinely glad and enjoy being there. Different than any other relief effort I have ever been involved in.
After that we went to the Blanket Supplemental Feeding Program. Another example of great organization, with over 100 people waiting in a covered area with no crowding, line-jumping, grumbling, or ill spirits ‚Äì and this was in an IDP camp. Many of these people had some damage to their meager shelters by the haboob of three days ago but their spirits remained good. They receive 4 kg per child of a corn – soy blend mixed with sugar and oil, plus they get the usual vitamins and worm meds. They get this every two weeks. It is a massive operation with 50 pound sacks of the corn – soy blend placed in a vat, measured amounts of sugar and oil are added, and then some strong men with paddles stir the mix until it is homogenous enough to be placed in 4 kg plastic bags.
I don’t know what it tastes like. I guess you cook the stuff with water and it makes an agreeable porridge that is well tolerated, even without a Coors to wash it down. I do know this, it is exactly what is needed here nutritionally, and it is making a difference. Because of the amount of community and camp-wide malnutrition, it was decided that during the hunger gap ‚Äì the months before the rainy season starts when foodstuffs are depleted ‚Äì that this blanket feeding program for children 6 to 60 months would start in March and run for 4 months, in hopes of decreasing the occurrences of severe malnutrition. Statistically it is doing that, but equally important, it is giving hope to a much larger number of disenfranchised people, and the massiveness of this effort, very visible to them, makes them realize that they are not forgotten. They also receive health and sanitation education, presented in a very reachable, understandable way.
A quarter mile from the feeding station is the local safe water station. A bore hole was drilled and it produces enough water for most of the El Neem Camp. The Tearfund Water and Sanitation experts are managing that. It was quite a lively scene at the well today. Numerous donkey carts with tanks on them, waiting their turn, all orderly, no confusion, and it seemed to be a social place. It is my hope that all this effort to provide proper nutrients and safe water will eventually result in a people open to the life changing message of the Gospel of Jesus.
In spite of the edict against photos I have been assured it is OK in the camps. Like kids anywhere in the world, these kids love having their picture taken and seeing themselves on the camera screen immediately afterwards. It’s a great ice-breaker and it does draw crowds.
Meanwhile, tomorrow I helicopter to Nyela, the next day I fly to west El Geneina, a lawless, dangerous place, and then the following day helicopter to Beida in the southwestern corridor, near the border of Chad. It is Tearfund’s hope that I can advise and help them bring the Nutrition program in Beida closer to the level ofthe one in Ed Daein, and up to what is known as CTC standards. I have also been promised that I can play doctor a bit more there. I’m looking forward to it.
Blessings from Darfur