By Lucy Robinson
Five members of the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide are leading a project that will bring medical assistance to an under-resourced area of South Sudan.
Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, Lindy Driver, Emma Riggs, Andrew Marshall and Archdeacon Paul Mitchell will assist local community members in the town of Bor, located about 200 km north of the capital city Juba, to establish a healthcare clinic.
Several trips to Bor and neighbouring towns in Jonglei State since the Archbishop first travelled there in 2006 have helped them identify a desperate need for healthcare services.
“When you get to Bor it can be a bit of a shock – there’s very limited infrastructure,” Emma, who first travelled to Sudan on the Archbishop’s 2009 pilgrimage, says.
“The Bor hospital was destroyed in a conflict about two years ago and this has only further reduced the limited access to health care, particularly for women and children.
“If you are a women in Jonglei State is and you are pregnant, there is approximately a two out of three chance you will die, your child will die or you both will die.
“Access to health care and education is a serious issue … we were able to confirm in our conversations with the local government agencies, the hospital and the Church community that a healthcare clinic was the most valuable form of assistance we could offer to the people in Jonglei State.”
The transportable shell of the clinic was fabricated in Adelaide and has been shipped to Africa, where it is expected to arrive in January 2016.
In late January a group including Andrew and Paul will travel to Bor to oversee its installation.
“Our first priority is to get the actual building established and ready to go,” Andrew says.
“Phase two will be organising the sustainable staffing of it and the finer details of how it will run.”
Joining them will be Neil Carlsen, who moved from Zimbabwe to Australia ten years ago, and carpenters Jason Brook and Ben Versteegh.
South-Sudanese born engineer Garang Yiyieth from Adelaide will also play a vital role in setting the building up.
“It all happened quite miraculously that these guys were available to help out,” Andrew says.
“In addition we are grateful to have secured important donations from Kennards and Laser Vision SA to build and furnish the clinic.
“Everyone in the team has got a real heart for this sort of service – we share the view that if we’re not helping people we’re wasting our time.
“So between us all we’ve got a competent crew who should be able to make this thing work.”
A second group from Adelaide, expected to include Lindy and Emma, will travel to Bor in April.
During this visit they will complete the final fit-out of the clinic to make it operational as well as discuss future funding options and plans for ongoing staff training with South Sudanese government officials.
Emma says one of her team’s key concerns is leaving the community of Bor with more than just a “shopfront” as some charities have previously done.
A map given to her by the then Federal Minister of Health in Juba in 2013 showed a consistent spread of hopsitals and clinics across Jonglei State and Central Equatoria.
When she and Lindy tried to visit them, however, they found most were either empty, unstaffed or still half-finished structures – presumably abandoned.
“The Mothers’ Union of South Sudan are making sure we give them what they need and not just what we think they might need,” Emma says.
“They’re really driving this forward and they’re not afraid to set us straight if an idea isn’t going to work.
“For a project like this to work you’ve got to build up skills in the community – there’s always got to be at least one champion living in that community who has the drive to keep it on track.
“The Adelaide Diocese in consultation with our South Sudanese congregation in Adelaide will have lots of input into the setting up of the clinic.
“We will work closely with the clinic's staff for a few years but our aim is to gradually decrease our involvement.
“It’s ultimately a project for the people of Bor, and for the benefit of those in Jonglei State, to be run and maintained by the people.”
The clinic’s medical staff are yet to be confirmed but Bishop Ruben from the Diocese of Bor and representatives from the Mothers’ Union of South Sudan will take an active role in running the clinic.
Lindy is currently negotiating with SA Health and Adelaide’s universities to organise a roster of representatives to visit the clinic and provide ongoing staff training.
The group has tentative plans to establish a mobile health clinic that would operate from a four-wheel drive once they are confident the clinic staff are receiving adequate training and support.
“When we went to Bor we discovered that we were going to have a problem getting people to the clinic, not only due to the lack of infrastructure, but also due to a lack of education,” Emma says.
“The local people would see others go to hospital and never come out – there’s often a preconception that people go to the clinic to die.
“This needs to be addressed through educating the locals to enable them to identify serious health concerns and attend the hospital before you’re so sick there’s nothing you can do.”
A private donor in Adelaide, who wishes to remain unnamed, funded the purchase of the clinic building.
Funds to cover part of the team’s travel expenses have been provided by the Adelaide4Africa Foundation.
Lindy, in partnership with the Sudanese community of South Australia, has generated most of the fundraising for the shipping and medical supplies.
Strong links are developing between the Dioceses of Adelaide and Bor through their ongoing dialogue and visits, and Emma hopes the installation of the clinic will cement a longstanding partnership.
“When I initially went in 2009 the people told us they’d seen so many faces from Australia, Canada, the US … who would come in and promise amazing things but nothing would end up happening,” she says.
“We’re made to be very accountable through the relationships we’ve built.
“They know, for example, that we expect them to clear the land before we return so there’s a place to put the clinic, but they also expect things from us.
“It’s that two-way relationship that’s translating to actually doing things and not just sending nice words to each other.”
To find out more about the project, or offer financial or practical support, please contact Margie Messner at the Diocesan Office on 8305 9350.